Hello everyone, onegaishimasu. How is everyone? Nice to see you all. Tonight is another of Tohei Sensei’s favorite phrases:
“A lived life is never boring”
Sayaka, would you please read that in Japanese?
Now I’m going to read you something I wrote 15 years ago about this very subject. And I wrote it because Suzuki Sensei’s favorite thing to say was “You have to live your life completely!”
“We often focus on the big events of our life as being significant and put all of our concentration and anxiety there. When we do that, all of the little moments are just considered to be transitional…not so important. We imagine these events in our life are always in the future or the past. However, everything that actually happens in our life happens in the present moment. An event is something that thought creates. Living is actually outside of thought. By being attached to the idea of life, we often miss life entirely.”
Okay. Let’s do a little Ki Breathing.
(15 minutes Ki Breathing)
Suzuki Sensei used to say, “If you’re bored, you’re a boring person.”
He meant, of course, if you are bored, it means you’re not interested in what’s happening in your life. We’re bored, because we’re not interested in the moment when it’s happening. Instead, we’re more interested in something other, it can be in a different time, or it can be in a different place. “Well, if I just was in Japan, see, then I’d be really into my training. Or if I was just in India, then I’d be really enlightened.” This is missing the whole point of living our life.
And you know, when we start to suddenly take an interest in what’s happening in the moment, it even changes the way we talk about things. For instance, I don’t want to say to someone far away, that I “really miss them,” even though my heart maybe goes out to them, if it might mean to them that they should be looking forward to some future event, instead of now. This is living from event to event, in the thought world. First this happens, then this happens, and then this happens in a big way in our lives. There are the “big events,” like, when we met our first lover, when we had our college graduation, got our first job, bought our first car, etc., etc. These are the big thought events we tend to live for.
Albert Einstein said that when he got married, he told his wife, “I’ll be making all the big decisions, and you just stick to the smaller decisions.” And then after about two years, he realized there are no big decisions. They’re all little decisions. Because we are always right here in this stream, and each happening, or constructed event, is completely made up of a long string of “nows.” An “event” is just a concept.
For instance, one of the Ki tests that we give is to ask the examinee to raise their hand to be tested. I often notice that they raise their hand with their body only, without raising their hand first with the mind. They are thinking they are moving into the main event. And so they are very unstable. When this happens, I always wait, because of course, I want to give them a chance for their mind to catch up to their body. You see?
This is so we can experience mind and body unification. Tohei Sensei would always have us raise our hand twice, saying “I ke, ni ke,” or “one time, two time.” That’s why we do all our exercises twice, everything is twice. If you ask Tohei Sensei “why?”, he would always say that’s to let your mind catch up to your body. Because we have the habit of always anxiously moving our body and leaving our mind behind. Mind must always go first. Mind leads body. This is when we’re paying close attention to what we’re doing in the moment.
So when the examiner says, “Raise your arm,” you raise your arm with full awareness. This way, when I touch your arm, it’s already extending to infinity. In other words, “full awareness” means our mind is infinitely connected, through our body. It’s not just a body moving, it’s a mind and a body unified moving.
As Shinichi Tohei Sensei said in the seminar he just taught in Japan, mind and body unified means self and other unified. These are the same thing. So small self and universal self are unified.
An example is, when we get up in the morning, we go in the bathroom to brush our teeth.
So when that happens, are we fully aware as we take each step on the way to the bathroom? Or is our mind just back there in dreamland? Or is it forward into what you’re going to do when you get to the bathroom?
We must be aware during these “in between times.” You know, that’s when all the accidents happen. That’s when we’re so often “caught unawares.” That’s when you’re stub your toe on the bedstead!
When we have finished a seminar of classes for the day, a lot has happened, and everybody’s exhausted. And so we have to go back to our hotel room, take a shower, change clothes, and get ready for a dinner. That’s standard during a seminar, right? So where is your awareness between the time you leave the seminar, and you reach your hotel room? And then while you’re taking a shower? And drying off, combing your hair, putting on those nice clothes, and so forth. What is happening during all of this time? Where is our awareness, see?
That is our practice, to be completely present. That’s living life completely. So this is why we went to the seminar to begin with, to learn to be aware in each moment.
When my first child was born, I was very young. You know, I was the first husband to ever be allowed to be in a delivery room Maui Memorial Hospital. No one had ever done it before. I was so proud of it. There we were doing our Lamaze breathing together, and there was a lot of cursing and yelling, and I was so looking forward to the birth, this big event. My first child. It was all happening, and it was so exciting, and I thought I was watching so carefully. And then suddenly I looked up and the baby was in the doctor’s hands.
This huge event was going to take place. I was so excited about it, so proud of it. And I missed the whole thing. I didn’t actually experience it. Later, I was still very moved by the idea of it, my first child and all. But I was so puzzled because, even though I was right in it, I really didn’t experience any event. The event was the idea of the event, not the actual experience.
It’s like, just now as I was walking in here to the office, I noticed my mind was already going to the computer, and what might happen at this great big event, this class. As soon as I noticed this, I stopped at the door, took a breath, and opened it very carefully. And I closed it I noticed how I was walking, how I was feeling, and by the time I got over here and sat down in front of my computer, I was extremely calm, simply because I paid attention to what was actually happening, not what I thought about what might be happening.
John Hara is your moderator tonight, so he will move you to your breakout rooms.
I’m very interested to hear what you have to say about this. So I’ll see you in 15 minutes.
(15 minute pause for individual discussions)
Student: We had many different discussions about this lively topic. And one of our questions is “Can you sense a bored person? And what do you do about that?”
It’s usually pretty obvious. For instance, quite often it happens that in a meditation class, people that don’t have experience meditating maybe get bored, because they don’t know what to pay attention to. There’s nothing that takes their interest. And they’d really rather be somewhere else. It’s very obvious because they’re moving around and scratching and looking at the ceiling and checking the clock to see how long this has to continue.
And actually, the same thing happens, doesn’t it, even when I’m lecturing. So maybe the person is just not interested in what I have to say, or it’s just too intense for them, or maybe they just don’t get it. In some cases they think they didn’t come to listen to all that, they just want to get some exercise, jump around a little bit. And so they get really bored silly.
So, to answer your question, usually in class it’s very obvious when someone is bored. And, you know, I might add to that it’s also quite obvious when someone is truly paying paying attention. Sometimes the student may listen to the teacher like this. (stares at the screen) This is the “paying attention look.” Okay? But, of course, this is not paying attention at all, and only thinking about stuff.
These kinds of things are not always because of a lack of interest, but more likely a lack of experience. Many people just don’t know how to be interested and engaged in life. Maybe they just haven’t been raised in a situation where they’ve been encouraged to just enjoy being alone and complete. Only someone like this can really listen to someone else.
And so this is sometimes it’s just a question of being ill equipped for the situation you’re in or for the experience that is being offered to you. And so that results in boredom. But for us, since we’re practicing all the time, our process is to learn to be more and more engaged, and more committed to being engaged, and more grateful to be engaged. Okay.
Student: Our second question was, when you are paying attention for a length of time, and you’re physically tired, you may drift. Is there a way to get back to paying attention?
Yes, actually, there is. Remembering that it’s life and death will get your attention right away. Of course, we have to learn also, you know. It’s a skill, isn’t it? In other words, when you’re sitting in meditation, and you begin to drift off, maybe you’re not really tired, physically tired, but you’re tired of sitting. You’re tired of it, you’re bored with it, you’re not interested in it. And so you start to nod off. Well, if you can just remind yourself that while you’re nodding off you might die, that’ll bring you back into attention pretty quickly.
And remember, of course, that you cannot force yourself to be an attention. Attention is very relaxed. It is intense, yes, but it is a very calm, and a very relaxed state. It’s not something that you have to try to do. So I’m not suggesting that you threaten your own life in some way, and make yourself all upset. No, it’s simply remembering that everything that happens, happens right now. I mean, maybe death is a big thing that can happen. But everything that happens that you’ve always wondered about in Aikido, and in meditation, that happens now too, and never happens later. When it happens, it happens right in this moment.
Okay, thank you very much. Yeah. It’s practice, practice, practice. It’s a skill.
Student: We had a nice discussion. I think the best way of representing it is two examples of questioning. One was addressing your example of walking to the bathroom, and the importance of being present during that process as an example of the way to be in life. But we wondered if you’re concentrating on each step while you’re going towards the bathroom, are you extending Ki? We discussed that a little bit and kind of came to the conclusion that maybe concentrating on the steps isn’t quite the same as what you’re suggesting, which is being present during this movement.
The other example was Sally, who is a glass blower and has done this a good portion of her life. She said that when she’s in the process of creating a piece, and if she loses connection or attention, immediately this registers in her piece as a negative result. It ruins the piece.
And so we kind of compared the two of these. Is this focused concentration that you’re you are talking about, or is it something different? Sally gave us the example that it’s not thinking, and it’s not concentration. It’s really being aware of everything at once. She said it’s not that she is just here, and not thinking about the piece, but it’s more like a complete presence. And if that changes, it automatically registers as interference.
One more example, and that is that what I see in people that are bored is that they are involved in the result, rather than the process. And it seems like that’s sort of parallel to what we do in the day. We’re thinking about something else in the future, instead of actually being involved in the moment to moment process now.
So maybe this all comes down to the question of how we use our mind. In that first example, I think that concentration actually would get in the way. Is it thinking that gets in the way? Aren’t you still thinking, even when you’re in the moment? You can’t go through the whole day without thinking. So what is the difference here? Is it the thinking that gets in the way, and then the thinking that connects you?
These are really interesting observations. You may remember that I’ve taught this before, and Shinichi Sensei often teaches this. That is that we always have to be the one that’s looking, and never the one that’s being looked at. The example is, of course, if you’re giving a talk somewhere in front of a group, if you feel everyone looking at you, you may feel you’re being judged. Okay, so that’s one way of seeing it. If you want to prevent that from happening, then you can count how many people have glasses on, or how many people have beards, or how many women in the group, or how many bald men, etc. You want to get yourself out of nervously receiving people’s attention, so you turn it around and put all of your attention on them.
This reminds me a little bit about what you’re asking. When I wake up in the morning, and I put my feet down, my mind is sometimes still a little bit in the land of sleep. So the first thing I say is “thank you for this day, and, and may it be fruitful, may I be a useful human being.” That’s always the first thing I say, when I put my feet down. And that does it for me, so that then I’m here. But this is not “here” in the way that I am concentrating on me. That’s what I meant by you don’t want to be looked at, even by yourself. That’s the surest way to stub your toe. It’s the opposite. So instead we say, “Extend Ki.” In other words, when I say those things at the edge of the bed, that’s like, extending myself outward to everywhere, to infinitely. And then when I stand up and start walking, I’m full, I feel free. You know, the beauty of being alive.
I really liked what Sally had to say. When we are in the middle of some creative thing that is really delicate, we can’t miss a beat. But actually, let’s face it, our whole life is like this. We just don’t always recognize it as being such a delicate thing. We don’t notice that the glass broke just then. Because we’re somewhere else other than here. We’re not living our life in that way.
So Tohei Sensei says “living your life, you’ll never be bored.” He’s talking about living life completely. I mean, if you know Tohei Sensei, then you know, oh, okay, so this is not just like having a good time living your life, fully enjoying everything you do. That’s fine, but that may not be enough.
I was reading something about Barbra Streisand, and really, any successful person could have said this, because every successful person knows it. Someone asked her, “What’s it like to be Barbra Streisand?” She said, “Well, it was great while it was happening. When I was young and ambitious, I was always looking down the road to that glorious day when I am recognized. But that’s not it. It’s the process of getting there that is great.”
It’s exactly what you just said. It’s not the result, it’s the process. But we do put our minds always on the result of the action, instead of the action. And so what I’m talking about is just going into brush your teeth. That’s the same principle exactly.
When we are thoroughly engaged in every moment that we live, then our life is already successful, because it’s being lived. And that’s why any teacher will tell you that dreaming about enlightenment is completely missing enlightenment!
Student: We had a very interesting discussion. The subject is if we sometimes try to do two activities at the same time, for example, we’re running in the morning and listening to music, which is the activity that we should be most engaged in? Is it possible to be doing something now and planning for the future at the same time?
When I was first training with Suzuki Sensei, he taught me cadence walking. Cadence walking
is, as you’re walking or running, you are coordinating your steps with your breath. So let’s say three steps on the in-breath, then three steps, on the out-breath. When I walk in the morning, I take three steps with each breath on my way over to the hill, and as soon as I start walking up the hill, I can only have two steps per breath. And when I get to the top of the big hill, sometimes I’m so tired I want to take only one step per breath, but instead I have to pay attention so I stay calm, then I can stick with two steps per breath.
And then, when Suzuki Sensei and I were walking together one time, I asked him a question. He said, “Don’t speak. What are you doing? We’re walking. If it is important, I will stop and listen to you. Otherwise wait.”
It is not possible to do two things at once, so don’t try to do two things at once. If you use the example of sometimes you like to listen to music while you’re working in the office. If you want to hear the music, when you are writing a document, but you might stop and listen to the music. And you might tell yourself that you’re going to think about the document while you listen. But if you notice, if you’re listening to the music, you’re not thinking about the document. Our mind is not capable of paying specific attention to two things at once independent of each other.
What is interesting, though, is that we can pay attention to everything, all of our senses, all at once. And that is because we haven’t separated those out into individual units. Seeing smelling, hearing, tasting, touching. Instead, it’s the entire experience of being alive in the moment, which happens to include seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and much, much more.
Do you see people walking around with cell phones in their hand, when they’re walking down the street? Of course. And quite often they fall off a curb, or just run into a post. It’s very common. In some cities, you’re not allowed to walk and look at your cell phone at the same time.
Student: I had a question. I’m a trainer. So when I lead a class, I have like 40 people in the room, and I can really engage in it. And this comes very easy to me.
However, when I am listening to this discussion, I’m very, very super interested in it, but I have to fully pay attention to what people say because English is my second language, and it doesn’t come to me automatically. I have to really focus. And that’s quite tiring after the session. I get so tired because I’m so focusing and I’m paying attention. And then you mentioned about calmness, you know comes with this paying attention. So is noticing different from paying attention? And why do I feel tired?
You feel tired because you’re struggling to pay attention, not because you’re paying attention. Because of the language difficulty, you have to pay forced attention. You have to do this, and so there might be some struggle involved in that, okay? If you feel tired, it means you have been struggling, you have been working hard to try to accomplish something, instead of just sitting back and enjoying it.
However, when you’re with the group that you’re leading, you’re skilled and you are completely in it. Therefore there is no struggle. And when you’re finished, you might be physically tired, but you’re mentally alert and inspired by this 40 minutes or so of leading this group. You know, when I finish teaching a seminar, my body is exhausted. But I my mind is very inspired and alert. So I do know what that feels like. For instance I know that there was no passing of time during the whole time you are leading that group. But if you’re aware of the passing of time, then that means there’s a little bit of struggle going on.
So you’re a special case, too, because you have this language situation.
So, thank you. I admire you for paying attention!
Student: The language part I understand, but Isn’t it just tiring to pay attention all the time?
We say, “time flies when you’re having fun.” When we are really into something, fully attentive, then it is easy. When something if difficult to pay attention to, then we will be tired. Sometimes we have to just get into it. For instance, when you start on a run, in the beginning your body suffers a little bit. And then you’ll get your first wind after eight or ten minutes. And then you’re in it. Right? So sometimes it takes a little bit before you get your mind and body into it. So there might be a little struggle there. And that might make you a little mentally fatigued. But once you’re in it, then you’re inspired and you’re moving, and you only have to stop when your body gets tired.
Student: I love the example of coming to a road crossing and having to stop, look both ways, and listen. We were taught that so emphatically because our parents didn’t want us to die, of course. And as I recall, it was sort of like a complete change of consciousness as a kid. You know, as a kid, you’re all over the place. So, I’m wondering, which is really natural. Is it as a kid, you know, just being all over the place? Or is it doing what I’m taught to do, stop , look, and listen?
Okay, let me let me say something about that. Because this reminds me of something that I’ve heard you guys talking about a little bit lately.
Remember, when we are going through the process of learning, we identify the three stages as kaisho, gyosho, and sosho. Kaisho is practicing the form only, with no Ki movement. It’s not natural in any way. Gyosho is half and half: form a little bit, and key movement a little bit. And shosho is Ki movement, never mind the form.
Only when you can do sosho can you claim that whatever you do is natural. We work hard to learn the form, so we can forget it. It’s like playing music. I used to play Flamenco guitar. I had to practice every single day, to be able to do it when we get together in a group in play. But when we got into a group, I just forgot everything and just had fun. I never thought about any technique, or form. I was just into the music. I just loved the spirit of it. And you know what? That feeling remained the same through many years of this, even though I got better and better at the actual technique of playing the guitar.
In the beginning, I probably sounded awful when I played, because I hadn’t practiced that very much yet. But I still had a wonderful time when we would get together and play. Then as I practiced more, I didn’t have more fun, but I could say it was just much easier to have fun.
Okay, so I think when we learn to not just walk out onto the street and get whacked by a car, when that’s just in us, then we don’t think about it anymore. Then maybe we can say it’s natural.
Student: You have given us this example of walking, and if you want to reflect on something, then you better stop walking and look at that reflection, and then resume the walking. And what you describe is that we can only do one thing at a time. But don’t you think that we are wired in a way that pushes us to do things in a simultaneous way?
And to be a bit provocative, I’ll use the example of the Zoom sessions: This has evolved into a format whereby you start the session, and you bring forward a theme, you then share with us a bit of your reflection on the subject, and then you say, “Let’s do some Ki Breathing now.” This is as if there is an invitation here, a bit of food for thought. And now let’s have some Ki Breathing! And then you say we will come back to the subject afterwards. But this Ki Breathing gives us a bit of time. And of course, we are not obliged to think about the subject during the Ki Breathing, but these are things we might do naturally, these simultaneous way of handling this thinking of the subject and Ki Breathing.
I want to thank you very much. I know that this is a popular notion, that we can do two or more things at the same time. “Multi-tasking.” And some people claim to be very good at that.
Okay, let me just say that, when I bring up a tasty subject at the beginning of the class, and then I say suddenly, “Let’s do some Ki Breathing, and then afterwards we’ll go further into exploring this subject.” Of course, that is certainly like holding a piece of bait out in front of everyone, and saying, “Wouldn’t you like to try to think about this while you’re doing your Ki Breathing?” Exactly.
Student: And you do more than just bring forward the tasty thing. You put a lot of charcoal in the bar-b-que before, because you bring already anecdotes and food for thought.
Yes, it is indeed true. And the same thing happens in meditation class on Sunday. I always bring a subject. And here is why. I want you to see how you deal with this. This is the way I think of this: I think of it as allowing the subject to bubble on its own in me. My conscious self is completely engaged in breathing in and breathing out, universally extending and universally collecting. But this doesn’t mean that the subject at hand isn’t bubbling away in the background somewhere. And of course there are moments when I might even become aware of it in a way, in which case I may become distracted by it. And so if I start thinking about that idea, then I am not attending to following the breathing. So then I have to say “never mind,”
Do you see? It means that I’ll trust that the bubbling will take care of itself. So this is what I’m asking of each of you. I’m asking each of you to take in this idea that I project onto you in the beginning, and let it sink deeply into you and let it start working, bubbling. That is you let it start fermenting while you’re doing your breathing and paying full attention to the breathing. But at the same time, we can trust that this is happening deeply within us.
And then, when you’re finished with the breathing, I guarantee you, you will know something you didn’t know before, you will have some understanding, some clarity will be there.
Now, you know, this is probably the most important question that we had all night. Because understanding how to trust our higher self, let’s say, to reach a level of understanding without us making any conscious effort, that can effectively move into our conscious life is really, really our practice.
Because you can’t just not do what you have to do in your daily life. For most people, that’s all they’re doing. There’s nothing going on back there, in the “back of their mind,” as it were. No bubbling happening. And so when they sit down to meditate, all they hear is confusion because that’s all that’s going on is a whole bunch of chitchat. It’s mental and emotional gossip.
This is one reason why we always start with Ki Breathing. People often ask me this. We begin with Ki Breathing, and we move on to Ki Meditation, and we finish with Whole Body Meditation. This makes this process the easiest to master.
Anyway, that’s something to consider. And maybe if you have more questions, please come back next time, and we’ll look into it more.
Domo arigato gozaimasu. Thank you very much, everybody. See you later.
(Online Training with Christopher Curtis Sensei, 4. Dezember 2020)