How I became Enlightened

So if you have some time for entertainment watch the video of this 11 year old kid's TED talk.  His story is here! and worth a quick read too.  He is not actually a kid, he is an emanation of the Dao!  The take away from his talk is very simple, STOP LEARNING!


Of course the obvious corollary to this kid's video is: stop teaching.

The common response to someone who says, I'm not interested in learning, is, you're so arrogant everyone can benefit from learning.  Not true.  In learning, as in fighting, time is damage.

Particularly when it comes to meeting new experts or masters, everyone will tell you to show up with an empty cup. How can you learn if your cup is already full? they say.  The propagators of upright conduct will tell you that if you show up with an agenda it will obscure your ability to see what is there.

But I say nay! show up with a full cup and if you are lucky it will get spilled! The purpose of a class is to compare what is in your cup to what is in the cups of other people in the class, including the teacher.  It is a place to compare notes, to test your experiences against the experiences of others.  Who wants to teach people with empty cups?  That's boring.

I've spent the last three months working on a book while staying and clearing brush at a Buddhist Retreat Center.  There is a substantial library here and I've had a chance to interact with lots of people on the subject of enlightenment.  But actually I already had incredible resources among my friends and family.  

One of the many arguments spinning around is whether one needs to be subordinate to a teacher in order to pick up enlightenment skills.  The best argument is that the default relationship in our society is equality and friendship.  But to become enlightened your teacher may need to tell you that you are an idiot, a blind fool and a moral disgrace, for example.  In our cultural milieu of equality as a default, those kinds of words would end the relationship, so you need to be subordinate to the teacher.  Interestingly however, all of these enlightenment traditions come from Asia where hierarchy is the default relationship.  This creates all kinds of confusion.  They obviously have to overcome the hierarchy thing to become enlightened.  So my conclusion is that whatever ones default relationship to a teacher or a teaching is, has to be overcome.  It has to be overcome because it is an illusion and illusions take an enormous amount of effort to maintain.  However, if it is a default illusion, one everyone else in your culture shares, than that effort is a BLIND SPOT, and you won't even know you are exerting that effort!

The other interesting argument spinning around is about how you might know if someone is enlightened.

Here is a talk by the Buddhist Geek Society about the science of enlightenment:

What a mess!  What a mess!  Here is my take.  The only test we have for enlightenment that has any meaning has to do with how a person handles change.  Particularly changes to ones identity.  So to test for enlightenment we have to confront a person with a direct challenge to their world view.  We push them past their limits and see how they adapt.  Facing death head on would be good but perhaps impractical.  We could perhaps have them talk to a rapist who not only loves raping but thinks it is the funniest thing he has ever done or will ever do in his life.  It kind of depends on the person, I can think of a lot of things that would shock other people into an identity coma, but it's much harder to think of such a thing for myself.  Anyway, once we solve the sampling problem (from the mp3 talk) and the control problem (also from the mp3) then we can come up with a list of things likely to knock someone's identity into next Thursday and see if they react differently then people who have not had 5+ years of enlightenment hazing.

That's all folks!  




Martial Arts Lifestyle

I often find myself, willingly I suppose, in conversations where the notion of martial arts is limited.  I'm speaking here about the expectations of whom ever I'm conversing with.  If someone where to randomly ask me, "Hey, what do you think martial arts are all about?"  I'd be like, "I could easily give you a satisfying definition of all the elements of martial arts in a 22 hour lecture format."  And after pointing loosely to the theatrical, the actual fighting skills, the religious, the healing, the asocial, the psycho-social, the sensory-somatic-developmental, the intuitive, the improvisational, the heroic, and of course the hermit-culture ways of thinking about the arts--I might elicit this response, "Oh, you mean, like, martial arts lifestyle! yeah, cool."Self-defense Style

Wait a second.  Is that what I mean?  Not to be confused with self-defense lifestyle, I suppose.  Or the tai chi lifestyle.  

In any case, it seems really important to get the fashion correct.  I wonder about the possible usefulness of leggings, explained here, there may be some health benefits, and I would think that wraps made out of leather, silk and chain might be the next big thing in urban armor.  And I came across this umbrella page too, not really my thing but moving in the right direction.

China Beat, the blog, just gave up the scene.  The final post was a bit unfocussed, something about Twitter and social networking having made blogging uncool.  It hurts a bit.  I mean, I don't where we are going!  But the idea that I might be a representative of some kind of lifestyle is intriguing.  

I keep hearing about people who don't have jobs right now, and I'm thinking, what is a job?  Is there such a thing as job lifestyle?  Back in June I moved to the Montclair part of Oakland, California. It is like a Daoist paradise up here.  The gentle fog floats down in the valleys and all I see is a sea of spiralling mists with scattered trees poking up from the abyss.  I can sit out on my luxurious deck and absorb the warm, fresh, quiet air.  It's not that I'm consciously avoiding being busy in my languid effortlessly inspirational purple mist, it's just that the rest of the world is doing something important.  (Even my wife is doing acupuncture and milking goats.)

The idea of "lifestyle," may trigger a bit of ironic caution in me but it is a potent force none-the-less.  I remember living in San Francisco in the 1970's when you couldn't walk anywhere without stepping in dog poo.  It was a constant struggle to survive.  Perhaps we cursed the dogs, or the dog owners, but there was an inevitably about it.  It wasn't until people with a gay lifestyle decided it was cool to pick up dog poo that the average person started to think, "Hey this is a whole group thing we're doing here, we can end this!" And now it's gone.  A change in lifestyle, is a change in the social-mind fabric of spatial rightness and wrongness.

So that's what I'm thinking about, I'm thinking about the martial arts lifestyle, how can I make it happen?  I'm not sure what the elements are yet, but I'll take a jab at it.

Fashion is big, fashion is communication.  People who see us need to know we are living the martial arts lifestyle.  A type of loose fitting but strong pants? A hat that can be manipulated for view obscuring, or to draw fire?  A "business" knife?  A think-twice-about-that pencil? Nearly barefoot shoes?  A swagger? Clothing that rips easily? or perhaps indestructible tyvek?  Short hair or long? a top knot? Stretchy and tight fitting clothes or loose and flowing?  And what kind of bag is best?  Is there a martial arts smell?  Look, it is already obvious to me when a person has a bit of mojo, if we make it into a recognisable look, how far away could consciousness raising be?  

Obviously it isn't just about fashion.  It is about practice.  And practice is about making time.  

Ah time, we all knew it would come to this.  Birth on one side, death on the other.  I have stumbled into a career of sorts, teaching martial arts.  My enthusiasm drives me even more than guilt.  I'm like a kid in a candy shop, an archeologist in a tomb, a mountaineer on an ice waterfall! And yet, teaching ain't easy.  The world changes around us.  I started out as an artist, I did ceramics at the high school of the arts and then I moved into dance.  I started thinking pretty early about how I could get the time to be an artist.  How I could be free to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted to do it.  In the early 1990's before the Berlin Wall came down, there was a big fuss about the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  People were getting government money to make a type of art that was pretty offensive to a large swath of the tax paying public.  There was a lot of protest art being made, in general; I participated in a bunch of "no limits on what gets funded" performance projects.  For instance I danced naked at the LA Arts Festival and the Berkeley Art Museum, did the mud-people thing crawling through the financial district, weird public sex rituals, I'll spare you the details.  Fun stuff, inspired movement, iconic imagery, heck I don't know, whatever; but I came out of it thinking, "You know, I don't really see why people should pay for me to dance naked if they don't want to."  See I'm all for self expression, and breaking boundaries, and cutting edge, and protest, and offending the freaking pants off of people, but it just doesn't follow that government should be leveraged to that effect.  Some people argue that controversial protest art wouldn't get made if the government didn't fund it.  (Cricket sounds.)

Leg WrapsSo to make a long story short, if you want to practice, and have a martial arts lifestyle, you've got to get your money-time-eat-sleep-love-matrix in order.  Most people think they can show up to a martial arts class and just start learning martial arts.  But it doesn't work that way.  This is where I have to admit I have often failed my students.  The students who figure out how to practice on their own, usually have had some experience overcoming a profound obstacle to draw on.  The practice-every-day model that most music teachers try to instill is a good place to start, so is the meditate-for-an-hour-without-fail gig American Buddhists have going.  One would think that all the discipline we encounter in the world of sports and athletics would translate to a practice, but unfortunately these people are often motivated by a team, and even when they are deeply self-motivated they are often so aggressively goal oriented that the idea of practicing without a goal is too much of a leap.  The other problem with people who already have lots of movement training, dancers included, is that they are going to have to un-learn.  Un-learning is identity destroying.  To use George Xu's rather crude analogy, you have to un-pack your sausage.  Sausage, in this case, being a metaphor for muscles and minds conditioned to move in a certain way.  

In this Twitter-text(oid)-chillax moment, private lessons are all the rage.  Once upon a time, private students would get a time slot in my week, but now spontaneous flex-time is the norm.  Hey, I'm cool with it.  I'm thinking of making everything a private lessons.  In a way, I'm already doing it.  I mean, if you are going to a class, no matter what they call it, it's external martial arts.  Internal martial arts is taught one to one, period.  Even if I'm teaching a group, the instruction moves around the room, from person to person.  This, by the way, is another factor which disorients students who think they are doing exercise.  Internal martial arts might make you sweat now and then, but it isn't exercise in the sense of follow me, and now do twenty of these.  That's all a head fake.  Internal martial arts is about spontaneity and spatial mind flow.  

Okay, hold it right there!  I'm admitting I'm near the bottom and I don't know where we are going.  There are some very accomplished teachers out there who have fallen into traps.  Some become bitter, badgering their students for not being smart, or aware, or disciplined enough.  Some teachers of the internal martial arts claim enlightenment.  Some say you must do it their way!  Meaning that they try to make you feel guilty for going on a non-internal hike with your husband over the weekend, or a non-internal swim at the pool.  Yikes, it seems like there is this fence we're walking on, to one side it's all head-fakes and curriculum and goals and on the other side it's exclusive fidelity to a teacher's systematic, precious, transcendent ideology.  

Hey, at least I know where I'm not going!  That's where I got the idea for Martial Arts Cafe!  There are no rules yet.  If you want to come to a meeting of the Martial Arts Cafe send me an email and I'll let you know when it's happening next.  A space to fight, unlearn, drink coffee, and deliberately develop a martial arts lifestyle.