Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Full Circle Teaching / Enkyo, 2011
IN BODY-MIND practices, we aspire to “ground” ourselves, to “go inside ourselves” or to “reconnect with the Earth.” Gradually, this effort transforms to a quite different aspiration. The transformation takes some time because the authentic place of arrival is counter-intuitive. Paradoxically, to “go inside,” we go “inside” that which we vulgarly or popularly define as the “outside.” With repeated practice, the sense of apartness from our sensory experiences dissolves. Like Thoreau at Walden, “solitude” opens to an inseparable tapestry of universal companionship.
In Centering In Pottery, Poetry, And The Person [Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1962], Mary Caroline Richards suggests that centering yourself is not, finally, inside. Rather, it is “a state of total being.”
This centering or grounding is not only inseparable from any of our sensory experiences and all landscapes or "space," but also awakens a sense of ourselves as woven deeply into "time" far beyond the immanent moment. In adulthood, childhood is still there in each of us. It is still a state of being and not just a stage of life. And deeper than even this step back in time, the ancestors move in our gestures. And aunt or uncle may remark that we smile or move our hands like an aunt or uncle. And perhaps there are other gestures that continue to be expressed by us that come from generations past that are unknown now to any living elders. In an indigenous arctic culture, it has been said that one's voice is the soul of an ancestor, and the hair another, and on and on, as if each individual is a collective of "living" ancestry as much as a person in one's own right. And in body-mind practices, we meld with qualities that might be found in practitioners who originated the practice. It is as if they are carrying forward in our practice.
Every cultural product—aspirin, wall paint, a watch, window glass, clothing—is the consequence of the contribution of millions of human beings. Similarly, every piece of present knowledge—bacterial infection, tectonic plates, the composition of air—is the consequence of the contributions of millions. And every natural event, including our bodies, is a consequence of billions of myriad processes.
Feeling “grounded,” each of us and every event is more like a wave in an oceanus of being. And somewhat mind-bending, each of us and every event, no matter how remote each event may appear to be from the others, is at center point. Again, centering is “a state of total being.” We can be ego-centric and anthropocentric, but also Earth-centric and Universe(s)-centric.
Still, it is not as if one comes to know all aspects of “total being.” At its ultimate, awareness of this state can remain vague or implicit rather than explicit, and this state can also be transitory and elusive rather than finally attained. But when authentic, it is not esoteric. It is practical and meaningful and functional.
At center point, there is a strong sense of practical, calming harmony and balance. Without this center point, we can lose ourselves in the everyday details of our life, and lose a sense of harmony and balance. The body-mind practices are longstanding recipes that have been refined through the efforts of countless others to provide a way to access this state of being rather than completely attain it—to allow returns rather than completion.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Chen-tao / True Guide, 2011
THE BEDOUIN, looking at the monolithic-appearing Negev Desert, see something most others may not see. There, on a hillside, the glistening trails of gazelle. These trails might be at least as old as the gazelle species itself. And so, it is said, “The trails are wiser than their travelers.” The trails are models of efficiency—of shortcuts—as well as access to resources.
Similarly, in their “walkabouts,” Australian Aborigines retrace the journeys taken by the first animals following their creation—“songlines.” In The Songlines [NY; Viking, 1987], Bruce Chatwin writes,
The Ancients sang their way all over the world. They sang the rivers
and ranges, salt-pans and sand dunes. They hunted, ate, made love, danced, killed; wherever their tracks led they left a trail of music.
They wrapped the whole word in a web of song…
Looking more broadly at human life, Chatwin continues,
I have a vision of the Songlines, stretching across the continents and ages; that wherever men have trodden they have left a trail of song (of which we may now and then catch an echo); and that these trails much reach back, in time and space, to an isolated pocket in the African savannah, where the First Man opening his mouth in defiance of the terrors that surround him, shouted the first opening stanza of the World Song, ‘I am!’ 
Like human and animal and plant migration, the pathways of body-mind wind deeply back, not only back into the development of specific societies, but also back even further to the larger cultural complexes of vast geographic regions that are evidenced by shared root words. These base root words, in turn, find their origins as expressions of the encompassing physical and biotic landscapes—the actions of flora and fauna, and waters and winds and mountains and seasonal cycles and the turnings of stars.
And the pathway of our steps taken in this present moment falls into the future as a continuation of this deep history and prehistory.
The pathway is wiser than the sojourner, incapable of being surpassed or subsumed. The art of body-mind practices is the journey on these pathways, finding them, moving forward and creating within their parameters—spiraling, ascending and descending and roller coasting through time, rather than circling or simply repeating.
In The Beauty Of Gesture: The Invisible Keyboard of Piano & T’ai Chi [Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1996], Catherine David writes both of the wisdom and the unending dynamics of pathways, as expressed in the metaphor of ascending—spiraling—around a mountain:
The path toward the mountain of t’ai chi ch’uan is long and mysterious, its curves shrouded by the future. As one ascends, the landscape evolves, becomes vast and clear. Lights and colors, glimpses of the infinite, unexpected jolts. The distance grows near; the difficult becomes simple; what seemed easy turns out to be problematic. But the path winds on, and again, the obvious is turned upside down, the questions change. 
In The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through The Universe [NY: Walker & Company, 2003], Chet Raymo writes,
Any path can become the Path if attended to with care, without preconceptions, informed by knowledge, and open to surprise. 
Copyright Lance Kinseth, A Prayer of Flowers And Trees And Birds, 2011
SURPRISINGLY, RATS LAUGH when tickled, emitting “gleeful ‘chirps” in tones that are five times higher than human hearing. Dogs and chimps have been found to “pant-laugh” for what we might call their “Ha-ha-ha’s.”
And we are coming to understand that humans also have powerful emotional states other than the typical emotional responses such as happy laughter, sadness, fear, grief and anger.
“Seeking” is one such emotional state. And it is not simply present in the background of more obvious emotional responses. Seeking provides deep satisfaction that can drive behavior. Joy and happiness and even elation are the end-product-emotion of seeking.
Seeking may be the drive inherent in high-end spiritual quests and scientific research, in invention and design, in travel, in exploration in general, in entrepreneurial spirit, and even in everyday life in activities such as shopping and eating and gardening. Just seeking alone can “feel” rewarding.
In body-mind practices, the desire to keep returning to the practice is often difficult to articulate. In one’s introduction to a body-mind practice such as yoga. something may take place that feels different but good. It is not simply quietness or exercise. There ismay be a desire to return, to “seek” this effusive quality. And with practice, that which one experiences as feeling good may deepen. Still, no matter the effort, that which is good often remains subtle and implicit, and often more “meaningful” than explicit and possessing clear meaning and, thus, remains “seeking.”
Body-mind practices are practices of “seeking.” It is as if a gate is opened, and movement outside expectation begins. Everyday routine is left behind.
Across time, satisfaction may be expressed in terms of transformation in lifestyle, health, calmness, and so forth that may become quite eloquent and sophisticated. But even then, if authentic, if there is a softening of ego, a “beginner’s gate” still remains. And simply opening this “gate” can be experienced to be reward enough in its own right.
FRESH, Fresh, fresh! Something new, just around the turn, awaits us.
Each practice session is a prayer of sorts, a calling out, a quest that, should we really grasp it, runs deep into the heart of life, into the Earth and stars and universe(s).
Each body-mind practice session offers its own sesshin [Jap., “touching the heart-mind”]—a zazen moment for awakening to the way in which the the present moment expresses the universal.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Stillness / Chen Ji, 2011
BEGINNING A PRACTICE session, one may aspire, first, to still the body. Rather than intentionally bringing the mind to the breath, when nothing moves, the breath and heartbeat appear.
In stillness, nothing is really still. Everything is changing. Air is moving, blood pulsing, respiration, digestion, cells birthing and dying.
For a time, the fast pace of everyday life—left at the doorway--reappears and restless boredom knock against the stillness.
As the practice session continues, the pace slows, and offers the deep pleasure of moments of intentionally stilling the body. Going further, stopping the breath for a few heartbeats at the end of an exhale, one may fall into “perfectly peaceful pose.”
Stilling body movement, to the degree that this is possible, may operate metaphorically as a lens than can penetrate more deeply either internally or externally—widening or focusing, depending on the call of a particular moment. And unlike an ever-changing TV screen, we control the gaze.
The lens of our microscopic and telescopic perception is brought into focus with the “dials” of calmness and quietness. And no matter how minute or vast the landscape into which we peer, we may occasionally arrive at the same place—a stillpoint. At stillpoint, we will find both energy and restoration.
Discovering a “stillpoint” within ourselves may be somewhat akin to a sense of sitting before a serene, reflecting pool. Gazing into this pool, we may see things reflected from its surface that may seem apart from us. Our thinking tends, first, to take the world apart. In actuality, we look into a mirror. In our sustained view, we begin to see the larger reach of ourselves. Inside and outside transform to become a continuum into which we are woven. In every moment, external atmosphere and internal heartbeat are interwoven. In our quiet sensing, we awaken to this inseparability.
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Light-Hope /Komyo, 2011
Summer’s eve and the immanent world swells:
More light and verdant fire kindles a birthing-world.
As if magic overlooked, light is turning the world green.
And even more overlooked and, finally, not absurd,
We are transmigrations of light.
When we soften our breath and quiet,
We may swell to this way in which we are so very much more
Than we allow ourselves to imagine.
DAYS BEGIN TO swell to their longest hours. The light arrives sooner and remains longer. Summer solstice nears, when solar energy is rampant, and blossoming inside the life of everything.
In body-mind practice, we try open the very heart of living and being-ness, regardless of summer or even in Winter solstice, when light seems at its leanest.
Should we overlook the very heart of life, summer comes round to wash us in the obvious: Endlessly, our practice—our essence—is full of light, radiant, in a most concrete way.