I’m looking forward to my warm bed at Gorham and the smell of burning breakfast accompanying the fire department (I’ve already promised no fires this year!). I can’t wait for the return of the opening ceremony and the sweat lodge but above all I’m looking forward to seeing people who I haven’t seen all year (some of them even longer…shout out Master Humble!!!!! So excited you’re going!). That has always and will always remain for me the highlight of the retreat, this opportunity to reconnect with wonderful people.
Now that I’ve told you my favorite part of the retreat, let me share with you my least favorite. It probably comes as no surprise for you to learn that morning meditation is the thorn in my side! No offense to all of you out there who love this part of the schedule but seriously…I’d rather gouge my eyes out! (Which, incidentally, is what Bodhi Dharma did in order to aide his meditation so perhaps he was onto something!). I really struggle with this part of the day. Mostly because it comes upon you so fast. No sooner does my head hit the pillow to go to sleep then the bell is ringing signaling the start of morning meditation (I’m not exaggerating here…this is literally what happens). So I suppose one way to combat my morning meditation blues would be to go to sleep earlier? I also dislike it because it is painful physically and I find it a considerable challenge to remain “focused” without focusing on anything (except your breath). I sit there and I sit there waiting for some amazing revelation and all I really want to do is crawl into bed. The stillness and the quiet that accompanies meditation is also very uncomfortable for me. This is not to say that I don’t see the benfits of having a regular meditative practice – even having one in the method which Master Pearson and Shin Ho Kwan prescribes – it’s hard to explain…I see why it’s good for you but I still don’t like to do it. It’s like telling someone to stop smoking so that they’ll live longer!
But I’ve been reading this book, One Day One Lifetime by Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura an instructor of Seido Karate, an art that apparantly, not unlike our own, emphasizes the mental aspects of martial arts at least as much as the physical. In his book, Nakamura provides a guide to the practice and philosophy of his school of meditation – much of which is strikingly similar to our own Shin Ho Kwan style of meditation which is practiced at each winter retreat (interesting….). Nakamura describes many things in his book, from the varied sitting postures to the completely bizarre ritual of the keisaku – a stick used to strike a student who feels himself becoming drowsy during meditation – I am incredibly relieved that this practice has not made its way into Shin Ho Kwan!!!! Although, an instructor, according to Nakamura, cannot wield the keisaku at will, rather a student must ask for it (who would do that! How weird!!).
At any rate, at one point in the book, Nakamura makes the following claim. “Sitting still is both a mental and a physical exercise…From the depths of this stillness arises all the motion, all the energy inherent in the word do (Way). Can you keep still until the moment of action? When your actions arise naturally from stillness, there is no interfering gap of conscious thought between the intuition to act and the action itself. What an amazing yet completely simple argument in favor of meditation. I know this sounds really stupid, especially coming from someone who is about to attend her 16th Winter Retreat, but I never really thought before about how meditation can benefit my actual martial arts technique and practice. I always just understood it as a part of the culture, at best a way to be a calmer, more composed, cultured, quieter, more relaxed martial artist – that meditation could make you a better person and by virtue of that alone, also a better martial artist. But the idea that action arising from stillness eliminates the necessity of conscious thought, thus making one a more effective fighter, is an amazing revelation for me.
A few years ago, we tested this theory at a Winter Retreat, but I never really thought about it until now (by the way — side note — I’m sure this concept has been explained over and over and over again to us by Master Pearson, but let’s just say I don’t always have my best listening ears on at the Winter Retreats, and hey, sometimes you just have to hear or read something in a different context for it to “click”). Anyway, a few years ago Master Pearson had us sit in a circle facing the outside of the circle and in the middle (to which we had our backs), he placed a single marker. He announced that when we heard a certain sound we were to turn as fast as we could and try to grab the marker. The first person who grabbed earned bragging rights and maybe some small prize, I don’t remember the details. He then had us do a short session of meditation (probably no more than 15 minutes). When the sound was made, it was incredible how heightened everyone’s reaction time was. I’m sure that if we had measured the time in which it took each of us to turn before the meditation session, we would have seen a drastic improvement afterwards…”From the depths of stillness arises all motion.”
I think I will bring this intention to the Winter Retreat this year. I will try to look at our 4:30 am sitting not as some horrible, god-forsaken, cruel, tyrannical requirement that makes me want to tear out all of my hair, but rather as just another training apparatus, no different than running through forms, or kicking targets.