Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Readiness Is All

When a pupil requiring vestibular re-education was sitting on a chair in front of FM Alexander, FM would teach the pupil not to be interested in gaining the end of standing but just to attend to the process (the ‘means whereby’) of allowing the neck to be free, to allow the head to release forward and up, to allow the back to lengthen and widen, while directing the knees and pelvis away from each other -- altogether, one after another.

In this way, FM would give the pupil a new experience of standing up without standing up.

As long as the pupil was able to inhibit his desire to gain the end of standing, the pupil would remain relatively free from what, in the act of standing, ordinarily governed him -- i.e. his faulty vestibular processes. With his pupil relatively free, FM could use his hands to move the pupil out of the chair, and thereby give the pupil a whole new experience of movement.

But, and it is a very big but, FM knew very well how difficult it is to pursuade somebody to give up, or inhibit, the desire to gain an end in view.

So sometimes FM would play a trick on the pupil as follows:

FM would pivot the pupil forward and up from the hips, so that the pupil was still sitting on the chair, but teetering on the brink of standing. The pupil would be poised on the chair, ready to stand. With the help of FM’s hands, the pupil would be allowing the head to release out of the body, the shoulders to release apart, the ribs to expand and contract freely, the pelvis to open up and let out the legs, et cetera. This allowing of freedom in all the joints rendered the pupil totally available for the movement of rising from the chair, and the pupil would experience this condition of freedom, of poise, of readiness.

Then, cunning old FM, instead of going ahead with the movement out of the chair would pivot the pupil’s torso back to the vertical. And FM would say to the pupil: “There! I disappointed you, didn’t I?”

This was a way FM used of demonstrating to the pupil that, on some level, the pupil had not in fact totally given up his desire to gain the end of standing. This was an expedient means that FM devised to make his pupil conscious of the gap between two kinds of thinking, or two kinds of volition -- supposed and real.

Experienced like this, it is not so difficult to understand what the gap is between what we think we are thinking and what we are really thinking, between what we think we are aiming for and what we are really aiming for, between how we think we are and how we really are. It is not a philosophical problem. It is a very real and practical problem.

Hence, FM used to say: “A child of three can understand this work. But give me a man who has been educated, and God help me!”

SHOAKU MAKUSA -- The non-doing of wrong. A child of three can understand that teaching, but an old man of eighty cannot practice it.

These past few days, deep inside, I have been feeling a little bit disappointed. At the same time, my understanding of what the gap is, has become a little less intellectual and a little more real -- a little bit less like the old man of eighty who cannot practice it, and a little bit more like the child of three who can understand it.

Even with sitting-zen four times a day and Alexander work, I am pretty much lost. Without either of those two teachings, I might be totally and utterly lost.


Blogger oxeye said...

mike - interesting, that with your said understanding being a little less intellectual, your ability to verbally express it seems increased. thanks

Sunday, July 15, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Oxeye.

As I wrote before, it has not been my intention to identify the teaching of Gautama Buddha, which is rooted primarily in a traditional form, with the teaching of FM Alexander, which is rooted primarily in emptiness. As Master Dogen taught us: Form is form. Emptiness is emptiness.

At the same time, it seems I may have begun to succeed in demonstrating to you the following principle:


So I would like to ask you, Oxeye, what you think: Is this the fundamental principle of the Buddha’s teaching, or is it the fundamental principle of FM Alexander’s teaching?

Sunday, July 15, 2007  
Blogger oxeye said...

Mike - It could be both. As you said, Form is form and emptiness is emptiness. But as you know, they are also each other.

I do not think any person's senses can be perfectly or imperfectly trained. I think once we give up that idea, we inch a little closer to reality.

Is anything actually gained by sitting zazen?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Hi Oxeye,

I will tackle your three points one by one.

(1) Form & Emptiness

In a chapter of Shobogenzo called Zanmai-o-zanmai, chapter 72, The Samadhi that is King of Samadhis, Master Dogen outlined the principle that there is mental sitting in the full lotus posture that is different from physical sitting in the full lotus posture, and there is physical sitting in the lotus posture that is different from mental sitting in the lotus posture. Going further, there is body and mind dropping off sitting in the lotus posture that is different from body and mind dropping off sitting in the lotus posture.

This passage is the key to understanding Master Dogen's fundamental idea on form and emptiness. It is not difficult to understand. It is very difficult to understand.

(2) Sensory training

If we eat a lot of junk food packed with sugar, salt and hydrogenated fat ( --> 3 poisons?), our sense of taste becomes debauched. But if we cut out junk food, our sense of taste can gradually return to normal.

Similarly, if we consciously stop responding to gravity either by slouching or by hyper-extending, the vestibular system can also gradually return to more normal functioning.

(3) What is gained by sitting-zen?

The Buddha's enlightenment exists momentarily in the mutual negation between bodily doing something ("sitting") and mentally genuinely wishing for a bit of nothing ("zen"). It is physical effort, centred on vestibular feeling, and mental effort, guided by conscious volition or thinking, cancelling each other out -- Not that! vs Not that!

Thus, sitting-zen is the practice and experience that gets to the bottom of the Buddha's enlightenment.

This point can be got.

Truly to get this point, however, might be not to gain something but rather to lose something, to get rid of something, to drop something off.

If I give you a more personal answer to your question, after more than 20 years of sitting in the full lotus posture four times a day, there are patches of skin on my lower legs where hairs have given up trying to grow. When I look at those patches, I feel a kind of happiness. I have kept my promise to myself.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007  
Blogger Michael Kendo Tait said...

Hyper-extension is a practise I was taught initially in zazen. A familiar one perhaps, 'tuck the chin in, stretch the back of the neck and the crown of the head up, push down the diaphragm...' There were even similar instructions for Kinhin. It was a Sangha obsessed with form, with the bells and whistles of Zen Buddhism, with hierarchy and proper conduct. At the heart of this large, wealthy and successful Sangha was a complete mis-apprehension of the fundamental principles of Buddhism. It is now endorsed by the Soto-shu and rapidly expanding.

Sometimes, in a dark moment, I think real Buddhism is a guttering candle flame and the windows are open. When I see and read the work of many so-called Buddhist teachers and masters now, the ‘Enlightenment’ claimants, the professional ‘priests’, I’m encouraged to do anything but practise Buddhism. In an infantile response I want to close them down, I want the transmission to mean something, to be enforceable – no charlatans, no bullshit please.

Since a conscious decision to throw away everything I was taught and to find my own way I have been gradually letting this strong tendency to stretch upwards or more importantly, to do something, rather than undo it, to slip away. Those liars and fools also slip away. This liar and fool slips away. What replaces it? I don’t know what that is but it is good.

But like my inability to use my legs properly in breaststroke, I revert often to what I was initially taught. It is the wrong way to sit, to live, that much I understand.

The right way is considerably more elusive. I hope I have the character (and donkey-like stubborn will) not to revert to a little life but to open up until there's nothing left.

Do you think that can happen?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

I don't know MT. Sometimes I dangle myself out all day without getting a bite. Today has been one of those days.

Heard any good jokes recently?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

My Maserati does one-eighty-five;
I lost my license, now I don't drive.

I spend all day dangling, from dawn until night;
An expert on angling, who can't get a bite.

Thursday, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Andrew said...

What do you get when you cross a Jehovah's Witness and a Buddhist?

A person who knocks on your door for absolutely no reason at all.

Thursday, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Two blokes are outside taking a cigarette break during a three-day Zen retreat. One has a Ph. D. in applied physics from Balliol College, Oxford; the other is a block paver.

"If you don't mind my asking," inquires the Balliol man, "what do you gain from sitting-zen practice?"

"I used to get lower back pain doing my job as a block paver," replied the block paver, "but feeling my sitting bones on the black cushion helps me to get my back working all in one piece. How about you?"

"I must say I find the injunction not to worry about right and wrong immensely liberating. You see, in my chosen career, there is no room for getting things wrong. Presently I am working on the design and manufacture of lenses for a space telescope. One has to get the curvature right within a tolerance of less than one hundred millionth of an inch."

"That wouldn't do for me, mate," said the block paver. "My work is spot on."

Thursday, July 19, 2007  

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