Thursday, July 14, 2005

Meditation and no-mindedness

There are numerous types and ways one can meditate.

Zen meditation teaches one to quiet the mind in preparation for seeking spiritual insight. In contrast, Taoist meditation is mainly contemplative in nature. It stresses no-mindedness (wu-hsin):
Although quietude and calmness are necessary, it is the "nongraspingness" of the mind that mainly constitutes the principle of "no-mindedness." A gung fu man employs his mind as a mirror--it grasps nothing, yet it refuses nothing: it recieves, but does not keep. -Bruce Lee
In other words, wu-hsin is the process of training yourself to see the totality of the picture as opposed to segements. It is not concentration in the sense of focusing your attention to one single object. Rather, it is a quiet awareness that allows you to take in everything and react accordingly.

If you want to see this notion in action watch cats playing. When cats are jumping and chasing each other in play they do not consider the process of leaping, they just let go and do it.

Another analogy comes from various "hard" forms of karate. In Tae Kwon Do, for example, up until black belt level, most practitioners are taught to "respond" to an attack. That is, your training partner throws a pre-determined punch or kick and you respond with whichever block and striking combination that the instructor has told you to use.

The problem is that this kind of training does more harm than good because it leads to what the Taoist would call mental blockage. For example, when I was in TKO my long-time friend Curt, challenged me to a friendly sparing match. Curt was a pretty good amateur wrestler and his dad also had boxed. Consequently, Curt was used to setting a very fluid and dynamic pace of attack and defense or defense and attack. I, on the other hand, knew only to repsond to attack A with defense/attack B due to TKO's faulty training methods. The problem is that Curt came at me with a punch/feint/take-down combination that I had never seen before. So, much like a cat who thinks in mid-leap and consequently falls, I froze and Curt took me down and pinned me.

Now certain forms of combative arts (including advance levels of Karate and the style of Kung Fu that I am studying) help one to cultivate their no-mindedness. For example, in Wing Chun practitioners are taught that an attack can also be a defense and a defense can become an attack. In addition, practitioners are taught to defend their center line and their four gates (i.e., picture your body divided into four quadrants). So, rather than repsond to a straight punch to one of the upper gates with a rising block (a very pre-determined and canned response), a WC practitioner has a core set of varrying blocks that may be used against all punches.

Thus, in Wing Chun, boxing, and some of the other arts, practitioners are taught from the novice level to see the big picture and react without thinking. Which, of course, is a good example of the Taoist notion of wu-hsin.

In life, this notion might be known as "bending and surviving." That is, a sterotypical American response to adversity is to let problems pile up until they cause the person to snap. It's also seen in the notion of meeting every threat or percieved threat agressively. The problem with this approach is that it lacks balance and it fails to take in the bigger the picture--fails to consider the consequences of ALWAYS responding agressively (this is a lesson that I have learned the hard way and am still learning).

Again, this can be illustrated in the person who always dominates meetings, rolls over the suggestions of other co-workers, and always meets percieved threats with a forceful response. This type of person is not only stuck in Yang but they also have failed to achieve no-mindedness--they have failed to take in the bigger picture and see the potential consequences of their ridgidly narrow response to adversity.

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