A real lesson in not only mindfulness, but the power to use deeper senses within ourselves to connect with others intuitively and attain harmony in movement, sound and expression. Real kung fu.
“Preparing food is not just about yourself and others. It is about everything!”
– Shunryu Suzuki
It’s true that if I had a lot more time, or when I do have the time at all, I like to invest it in cooking a good meal to serve in my household. Yet when I ask myself why, the answer is elusive, not because I do not know the answer but because it is too difficult to get down into words. The one word I can think of is “joy,” although watching me you would see plenty of focus and no shortage of frustration here and there. Perhaps this is what any act of creation looks like as we learn that we cannot exactly control things, but we can do our best to set things up so that they will naturally happen of their own accord, out of their own nature. When we think about how interconnected everything is, we might also feel that our efforts to set things up from the outside are also futile, unless we realize that we are not working from the outside, but rather are ourselves just as connected. So in the end, we are in a very good position to set things up after all, as we set ourselves in place within ourselves and at the stove, set the prepared ingredients, and set the places for our guests doing our best to anticipate their needs (omotenashi). The result is halfway decent tuna steak with tapenade…at least that’s what it was last night. Tonight……who knows?
I enjoy making simple sushi rolls at home, but would like to give it some more focused effort and become a true tenzo. The film Jiro Dreams of Sushi has been very inspirational to me, not just in terms of its portrayal of Jiro’s mastery of sushi preparation, but even more so for its pearls of wisdom for following the path of mastery and attainment. Along these same lines, I aspire to own a great set of Japanese knives someday. I recently came across this beautiful and inspiring infomercial from Kamikoto. There is another one I will post that is even better!
“He always took the time to do everything. That’s being in time” (David Chadwick, writing about zen master Shunryu Suzuki).
The snow has arrived in Minnesota. Now my Kung Fu training will move from my teacher’s driveway to his basement, where we will practice in much more small confined spaces. In these little corners, we will learn that there are possibilities for movement and change no matter how tight circumstances become. This is also the time of year where the added difficulty of snow, ice and cold will teach us to give things (inside and outside of ourselves) the time that they need in order to happen, evolve, renew…or even just be as they are. I appreciate this time of year very much.
This past Saturday my kung fu teacher David Wong taught his first class since returning from his visit to Hong Kong and China. I was conscious of how much I had missed his personal flair, humor and guidance in my life. My morning thoughts on the way home were about my estimation that I could never learn and be as skilled at kung fu as much as my teacher. I fear that I could ever learn only a fraction of what he has learned in his lifetime. If I ever became a kung fu teacher, everything I know would only be a snapshot, a sample of what my teacher knows. Thinking about it as I drove, these thoughts came to my mind: You might think to yourself, “I will never be great. At best I can only hope to be a small vessel.” But it is important to remember that even a single drop of water contains the essence of all water. Small things contain the essence of great things. Conduct yourself accordingly.
Yesterday I purchased a copy of Chan Heart, Chan Mind by contemporary Chinese Buddhist monk Guo Jun. The book begins with Guo Jun’s account of his first teacher Songnian. As Guo Jun described the rough personality and teaching style of Songnian, it reminded me a great deal of my own kung fu teacher. More importantly, as Songnian taught the principles of grinding ink for use in calligraphy (shu fa), the essential principles reminded me of the important lessons my own teacher imparted to me especially with regard to the “pushing hands” exercises (tui shou) of taijiquan. Luckily, this chapter is also available online as a publication of Tricycle magazine, and I am able to share it here: http://www.tricycle.com/feature/calligrapher%E2%80%99s-apprentice.
One of the books that has had a huge impact on my life is Bones of the Master, George Crane’s account of his travels with Chinese zen (ch’an) master Tsung Tsai. Tsung Tsai himself came from to Woodstock (New York) from a remote mountain monastery, and the book narrates his journey back to that monastery in order to properly retrieve the bones of his deceased master. Crane’s narrative of his travels with Tsung Tsai include absolute gems of simple wisdom from Tsung Tsai, who seems to have one foot in the ancient past of the mountain mystics of China, and the modern day world. It is Tsung Tsai’s demonstration that ancient wisdom has a place in the modern world that makes this book one of my all-time favorites.
Since even before the time of legendary poet Han Shan, men (and perhaps some women too) have been moving into the mountains of China in pursuit of both spiritual insight and poetic inspiration. More recently, translator and author Red Pine traveled to the remote habitations of modern day mountain mystics and wrote about it in his book Zen Baggage: A Pilgrimage to China.
I find it inspirational to know that the mountain mystic traditions of China are not a thing of the past, but continue to be practiced in our time. Far from exercising a form of spiritual self-indulgence, the mystics of China’s mountains offer a much-needed alternative perspective of the challenges we all face in our daily lives, including alternative solutions.
Recently I came across the documentary Amongst White Clouds by Edward Burger of his travel to the remote spiritual communities of the Zhongnan Mountains in China. It is both informative and inspiring to watch, and imparts some wisdom that a person can immediately apply in their life. I know I will.