Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nature And Self as Path and Destination


After an exhausting day long climb, we reached the top of Cloudsrest and marvelled at the beauty of the Sierras while looking down on the iconic Half Dome. It was time for yet another shugyo deep in the back country of California’s famed Yosemite. We put our 40 plus pound bags down, wiped the sweat of our brows and found new energy from the beauty that surrounded and engulfed us. Sheer silence, sheer presense and a complete sense of belonging was being experienced as we relaxed into our beings.

One of my students said “this is so worth it, this view makes up for all of it, I am almost ready to cry.”  I told him to let go and let the tears roll, and forget yourself and fuse completely with nature all around. And sitting there quitely later as the sun set on the horizon and the temperatures dropped drastically it stuck me that “Nature and Self are both Path and Destination” and how much this has defined my own philosophy and how I teach my expression of the arts I have learnt from my teachers.

There exists no conflicts or opposing principles in nature, the distintion of good/bad is a man made context. And within this seperation that all conflict arises. There is no inherent conflict in nature itself. As I ate my food before bed, i remembered the reruns of Kung Fu with David Carradine which I had watched insistently all through my childhood waiting for my Master Kan (and I was lucky to have not one but a few). In one of the first episodes of Kung Fu there is an iconic sceane where Master Kan tells the young grasshopper  In the Shaolin temple there are three kinds of men: students, disciples and masters. Development of the mind can be achieved only when the body has been disciplined. To accomplish this, the ancients have taught us to imitate God’s creatures…. From the crane we learn grace and self-control. The snake teaches us suppleness and rhythmic endurance. The praying mantis teaches us speed and patience. And from the tiger we learn tenacity and power. And from the dragon we learn to ride the wind. All creatures, the low and the high, are one with nature. If we have the wisdom to learn, all may teach us their virtues. Between the fragile beauty of the praying mantis and the fire and passion of the winged dragon, there is no discord. Between the supple silence of the snake and the eagle’s claws, there is only harmony. As no two elements of nature are in conflict so when we perceive the ways of nature, we remove conflict within ourselves and discover a harmony of body and mind in accord with the flow of the universe. It may take half a lifetime to master one system.”

At the crack of dawn I woke the 3 apprentices, as it was time to soak in the sun and train some more. Soaking in the beauty of the first rays of sun at 11,000 I notices my sense of self had expanded far beyond my physical body and was zooming through space to merge with the rays of the sun itself. Frank Herbert in his Dune Series had brilliantly said “Self is infinitely flexible, expanding to include desirable and useful others, and contracting to exclude the undesirable and harmful. Individually and collectively, how we fashion this entity determines the structure of the world we live in and the nature of the problems we must solve.” And at this moment it made perfect sense. And in those moments where everything is void, and therefore also possible, no limitations appear, no problems appear. The samurai have long called this Mushin or no-mind (which is a terrible term, but suffices for now). This is the state of clarity every samurai warrior longed for in the battlefeild and on the tatami mats. And yet it is here ready to be experienced, what is needed is a method to dial into it.

We worked on the tanto (Japanese Blade/dagger) forms, and had the three apprentices take a portion of their test on the granite rocks of Sierras. two hours in we wrapped up and were ready to now begin the long desent down the mountain back to our cars parked deep down in Yosemite. One apprentice spoke up and said “this is so wonderful, but now its time to go back, I am sad” and I smiled and expalined to him, that this beauty and sense of expanse is present everywhere, its not the domain of just the peaks/highs of life. This is how life is meant to be. Its not just the destination/arrival that matters, but also how we arrive and depart from there.” He looked at me half confused but started walking down, a few hours of silent walking interspersed by some discussions on Jesus, Osho, Bruce Lee and love lives I bought the conversation back to the topic of path and desitnation.

“Nature and self are both path and destination. Meaning we use Nature and the body proper as the gateway to enter, to traverse and to find that state of mushin/annyata/total fusion (martial arts/bhuddism/Tantra) which is ever present in nature and the body proper. By learning to tune the body, in our case using the martial arts of Kaze, we are able to dial into that state where the I&Thou dissappear – and something else entirely different emerges. It is that something different that does the fighting when need be, its that something different that teaches when you are ready, and its that something different that dissolves all tensions and brings about a sense of complete calm.” I had my students complete rapt attention as I continued, somewhat surprised also at my discovery and the words coming out of my mouth.

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