What is Chán
Chán is a Mandarin word for meditation or the meditative state. Its Japanese equivalent is the more well known word, Zen, and the Chinese symbol for chán (pictured) is almost identical to the Japanese symbol for Zen. In a nutshell, meditation is about bringing our senses home to the true self; a self which is much calmer, smarter and clearer than the ‘mode of operation’ or ‘state of consciousness’ that we are used to.
States of Mind
Usually our minds are distracted. When we are speaking to somebody we don’t just absorb the new information in a neutral manner. We interpret the words that we are hearing according to beliefs, expectations, our view of the world, what we want to achieve in that conversation and what we are planning to say to that person when it is our turn to speak. Our minds are constantly busy and that is only the tip of the iceberg. We are also carrying a stack of emotions that have accumulated over time; things we would rather forget, things we want to remember, things we want to do, fantasies, dreams and ambitions…it goes on.
Who Are We?
That may sound like a simple question but it isn’t. The last time you described who you were, how did you do it? Your name, your job title, where you live, how many kids you have? So are you the thoughts in your head? No. You can see your thoughts can’t you? You can see that you are calculating or verbalising or commenting or rationalising etc. If you are writing on a blackboard you are not the chalked out letters that appear in front of you, are you? Neither are you the board. Okay, so are you your feelings? No. How can you be? Feelings are what you feel. If it is hot in the room, are you the heat? If you are lying in a hot bath, are you the water that you feel embracing you? No, you are not the feelings either. So who are you?
The Watcher On The Hill
If you stop what you are doing for a few moments; I mean really stop. Stop. Steal your senses; listen to as many sounds as you can without labelling them or classifying them, letting them wash over you; feel your breathing, your body, become aware of your posture. When you stop and be still, listening and feeling, and close your eyes, you become more aware of what is going on inside. Much more importantly, you realise that the bombardment of thoughts and feelings within your mind are not you. They can affect you if you want them to, if you choose to embrace whatever mood they want to provoke; but the truth is that your true nature right now is like a watcher on the hill. It is the all seeing eye and it is peaceful.
When you watch your mind you realise that everything that goes on within it is no different than the music on the radio. You may not be able to shut off thoughts and feelings in the way you can turn off your radio, but once you understand that they are background noise, you don’t have to be an emotional slave to what is thrown up in your mind. Every time you practice this exercise you have an opportunity to get closer to your purest self – the very core of your being which is pure awareness. Make your mind your friend.
Let’s Get Real
Yes, I hear you say, it is very easy to feel calm and tranquil and have a better perspective when we stop and sit still for a few moments but life is not life that; we don’t live in a monastery and when the kids are screaming, the boss wants us to work faster and our customers are complaining, try telling them their noise is just like the radio. Of course we have to function in the real world but everyone knows in their heart that they would function far more effectively if they could rise above the emotions that accompany the stresses and strains of daily life. We have to feed the kids and we had to hand in that project yesterday but will being aggressive or stressed make things happen any quicker? No.
Meditation in Movement
Sitting meditation is a technique we can use to remind us of who we are not – the thoughts, the feelings, the emotions, the memories etc – and therefore get a closer relationship with who we really are. The next step is to be able to stand up, move on and take that perspective into our daily lives. A good stepping stone to do that is martial arts training.
Kobudo is a highly effective way of bringing about heightened awareness in movement. We have to stay in control of our own movements and also move in harmony with the mechanics of whatever weapon we are using so we can wield it correctly. In the case of nunchaku for example, their natural movements are so dynamic that once we have applied any force on them at all, they will move in wonderful ways and the potential for finding new and exciting creative movements is really high.
Be The Eye Of The Storm
Whenever I train with any prop whether solid metal sai, 6 foot bo or two pair of nunchaku, I find peace in the centre of all the movement, orchestrating the ceremony while being guided by the natural forces of the weapon. It is a dance; a dance that I try to carry into my everyday life. I call it ‘Flowing Like Water’.