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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Aware mind and Thinking mind in martial arts and other experiences....

This is part 3 of a series about the 'internal' aspects of martial arts training. Its nothing mystical...its simply the mental and emotional components we have that help or hinder our training and motivation. :)

Thinking, or more precisely identification with thinking, gives rise to and maintains the ego, which, in our Western society in particular, is out of control. It believes it is real and tries hard to maintain its supremacy. Negative states of mind, such as anger, resentment, fear, envy, and jealousy, are products of the ego.
                                                                                                                     - Eckhart Tolle

I was talking to someone about the meditation practice that I open to the public each month. I invited him to a session and he said "I'm not very good at it, I can't get my mind to shut off, I keep thinking."

"That's why its called 'practice'. Its not called a 'meditation master' class." I replied.

"I don't know how you guys do it..." he said. "I just can't get my mind to shut off".

"Its not about shutting off your thoughts....Its about not dwelling on them or passing judgments based on them. If you're not thinking, you're dead." I said. "But...we tend to over-think a lot of times. Meditation balances us out a bit, and allows us to to be open, honest, and aware. Its just sitting and experiencing each moment as it comes without judgement and without goal. Its a quiet awareness....not not overactive thinking. You could benefit from the should try it out".

I  haven't seen him at a practice yet.

So, what's the difference between the Awareness mind and the Thinking mind, anyway? I'm just going to present my view, based on experiences so far.....pardon me if I ramble.

Awareness is a 'moving stillness' moves from one moment to the next, not dwelling on the material from a previous moment, nor judging the moment or material. Our thinking mind can become judgmental or try to convince us that we can predict the future *based on past experiences". There's a catch to this "future prediction"....if your experiences with something are what you consider as "bad", then there is the possibility that you will "expect" the same if a similar experience happens.

Awareness is now, not the future or supposed possibilities. Awareness allows us to recognize and experience the world around us, whereas thought can give us the ability to change how we view the experiences. Awareness is acknowledging each moment and living each moment as it comes without trying to control, prove or disprove.

Thoughts are largely comprised of things we've remembered, imagination, even "pictures" and words. However, the thinking mind tends to bring out the judgmental sides of us. For example, consider the "Vulcans" of the "Star Trek" series.....Logic was a revered trait, and everything was based on this "thinking mind" and logic. It is possible to become obsessive with the thinking mind, logic and reason,... that it affects our ability to feel emotions fully. Some may turn overtly to the thinking and logical mind to avoid past emotions that were painful, or to maintain a sense of "control".

I'm not saying that logic and reason will turn you into Mr. Spock. We all need logic and reason to experience the world in many degrees. However, if we get stuck in logic and become overdependent and obsessive with it, it can probably prevent us from getting "full" experiences.
So, how can we use awareness in our martial arts training? Well, one good exercise is to feel your body as you practice a form or Kata. Feel each stance as you move....check your stance without looking down at it....does it feel correct? If not, correct it the best way you can, based on what you perceive a "correct" stance to be. If you don't know if it is correct or not, ask your teacher. If you make a mistake, don't concern yourself with "did Sensei see that?" or "I'll never get this right"....that negative self talk is your THINKING mind being judgmental. As we practice awareness in our martial arts training, we must be honest with ourselves. If we try to control everything and pay attention to every little thing, that is not awareness....that is merely the need to control. Its as if you impose your opinion on everybody else while saying you will hear others...., that is not awareness, that is still the need to be controlling. Its hard for us to let go....many people see this as "giving up control" or "relinquishing one's power" or even "giving in to delusions".

Awareness, however, is not expecting or waiting for things to happen. In my martial arts classes, we say the "awareness is the most important aspect of training". However many students assume that it means "paying attention to what is going on around us....and most times, they associate this awareness exercise with an exercise we do called "circle drill", where people in a circle randomly "attack" the person in the middle of the circle, who in turn has to defend himself/herself. In this type of attention, the attacks are already expected....the defender just has to react. Is it still awareness? Depends on how you approach the exercise.

Ever meet a martial artist or athlete that instantly knows what needs to be adjusted in their movement or technique? Those people have great body awareness. Ever see a beginner or intermediate martial artist be corrected by the teacher in class, only to repeat the same mistake over and over? Its not that they are necessarily "uncoordinated", its just that they need more practice at being aware and present in their own is common for beginners to concentrate so much on the outside form of the techniques, trying to get their fist to go this way and their legs to go that way.....and that can prevent the inner awareness from paying attention. This is expected. Practice is the key.

I tell my students all the time about how our minds can trip us up by being tricked by our own need to be in control.....and many have found that the harder they grasp on to control of their goals, the lesser grip they have on the process of getting to the goal. And some have found that if they get too logical and scientific with their martial arts, the less it makes sense and the less intuitive their reaction times are. When I say "stop thinking so hard", I'm often met with a blank look.

Again.....I'm not saying that logic, reason, and the thinking mind are bad. I'm not saying that at all (Did some of the judgmental minds think so??). As I said earlier...."Thought" is part of the content of awareness, and thought allows us to reflect...which in turn, allows us to grow intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually. Overthink, and you override the process of turning thought to intuition. Many people make the choice to not listen to their intuition or "follow their heart" because they believe that thinking with intuition or emotions only leads to heartbreak. I disagree. Whatever negative things that happen when you follow your gut, has nothing to do with you following your gut! If something doesn't go your way, its usually because you still tried to impose your control over the event or person. That's not following awareness of intuition.

I've taught students who are very concerned about the "science" of martial arts"...the exactness of perfect parries, the perfect stance, etc. To a certain extent, as martial artists we must embrace the science, but allow awareness.of "now" to develop into "intuition". Let's face it....when the crap hit the fan during a physical confrontation, the assailant won't give a hoot about how good your grasp of martial "science" is. You have to pay attention to "right now" if you want to fight effectively.

 I know other's views might be different, I've even been accused of having "negative" views of the overly logical bunch. I'm not looking for judgement or being told I'm wrong or be honest, I don't much concern myself with what anyone else thinks . (And I don't mean that in a mean way....I'm just saying that comments that come from people who feel the need to argue or to prove their point, don't bother me). When the judgmental minds start balking, they really aren't listening. Its kind of hard to listen when you are holding on to listening yourself think,and grasping so tightly to maintain control of your reality.

I'd be interested in hearing your views on Aware-Mind vs. Thinking Mind. Remember judgments! :)

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