Note: Although I continue to offer group and private classes throughout the Summer, we all tend to go off schedule at this time with vacations. So, occasionally, my posts are not timely and the curriculum goes slightly off course. Although, this is how it should be. Short breaks in training are important. Consider the small dots contained in the Taijitu (Yinyang symbol).
The Great Teacher – Mother Earth
I just returned from my yearly vacation in Cape Cod; Provincetown, MA USA where each morning I practice at the ocean’s edge. Practicing on manmade pristine solid, smooth, and level hardwood floor is unnatural and builds a false sense of confidence in our abilities.
We tend to take many things for granted, until one day we find ourselves outside our usual routine and comfort zone. The foundation of our stability and the source of our body’s energy is the Earth below our feet. Buildings possess an artificial training surface called a floor.
I would not recommend practicing on loose dry sand because its potentially dynamic shifting can easily turn an ankle, especially if attempting to stand on one leg and kick. Instead preferably, wait for low tide and stand on the sandbar, or go to the water’s edge where the sand is wet and very compacted. Even there, our shifting weight will disturb the foundation under our feet.
The first day out will be very challenging, but don’t be discouraged. We improve, not by doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, but by experiencing our experimentations with variables during the year; Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. We must learn to yield to the impermanence of sand and be ready constantly to readjust immediately in response to our interaction with it.
After a few days, I realize I step very differently, then mindlessly relying on the foundation of a hardwood floor. The famous Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi warns us of training at inside schools (Dojo*), but instead train in the natural world; in water and mud, upon rocks and in sand, and on top of hills and in valleys. My late Zen teacher, John Daido Loori, explained, as a student becomes confident in their knowledge and skill, before it leads to developing arrogant pride, it is the responsibility of the teacher to “pull the carpet from under their feet”. Helping them to their feet may be done once or twice to encourage them to continue, but eventually no assistance is offered, and the student realizes they must help themselves.
It is not always welcomed with open arms, but venturing toward the extremes and experiencing failure is the only way to personally experience our limitations. Retaining a Shoshin (初心); Beginner’s Mind**” is an imperative to experiencing our ever-changing life. The Self is not merely incapsulated in the confines of this “Bag of skin; Body and mind” but is “Born as the Earth”.
Enjoy your Summer Practice
*Hall of the Dao; Way道場. As fighting with hand weapons became obsolete to the gun, schools that cultivated the ideals of a warrior became popular. Practicality became secondary to societal virtues.
** Research Shunryu Suzuki