Sunday, March 25, 2007

Soen Yu, Soen Me

Barnsdall Art Park felt good Wednesday night. It was cool and the air felt washed by some recent rains. The park is on a hill in the Hollywood/Los Feliz area, up in the sky surrounded by hills populated with little houses.

Up here, we do Tai Chi once a week under the night sky.
Chris led us through some warmups and a series of demanding kicks. "We need to do more aerobic stuff," Chris said to me. "Soon we'll be old."

Starting a business is like becoming a parent in a few little ways. It keeps you up at night. You devote your money to it. If it needs something, you have to be there.

Between this and my very hectic job at APCH, I've been very tired. To help myself out, I've been doing a lot of soen yu practice. Soen yu is a kind of chi gong that was invented by Zen Master Seung Sahn in the 1980's. It's a simple and idiot-proof method of connecting to the dantien (the central energy point below the navel) and drawing energy up from the earth.

Last weekend, we were taking some photographs for the Theatre Dojo website, and I had to be doing some kind of activity. So I sat down and did a little soen yu. Chris snapped away and asked me questions about it while he took pictures.

Then came our Tai Chi class on Wednesday night, up in the park.

One of the neat things about the Theatre Dojo faculty is that we are all students of one another. We've each got a hold of a different part of the elephant. Jen teaches us yoga. Andrew has given us some private aikido instruction. Chris is an excellent Tai Chi and Push-Hands teacher: teaching the internal martial art and also applying its interactive aspect.

By practicing tai chi with a partner, as in "push hands" combat, one practices listening. As Chris explains it, push hands is a dialogue. It is also a friendly competition as the partners listen to one another's body language and look for an opening through which to knock the other person off their center of gravity.

Chris has been working with me on a couple of body habits that come up as I try this practice. It is so funny to notice how much baggage has been stored into the body's muscles and behavior.
Finally, Chris said, "Okay, we're going to do push hands and I'm just going to knock you down a lot so you learn what to watch out for."

And that's just what he did. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Down I went. The more effort I put into pushing, the more I gave him to send me off in a different direction - sometimes with as little as two fingers. Meanwhile, he is fluid as a weeble. In a previous entry on this blog, I described him as like a flag flapping in the wind.

After a lot of this, it occured to me: "Stop trying to do push hands. Do soen yu." So I opened the door and took a seat deep in my belly, sat down in there and breathed deep that good air.

Suddenly Chris was on the ground. He found this hilarious. His facial expression was a mixture of "What the hell?" and "Good!" Pretty soon, he was putting me back on the ground again, but I got him a couple of times.

He asked me what I was doing differently, and I ended up showing him soen yu , which we practiced together sitting on a wall, lit by the moon and some sparse streetlights, overlooking Los Feliz and the Hollywood hills.

Ananda, one of the Buddha's disciples, asked the Buddha, "Is it true that good spiritual friends comprise fully half of the good life?"

Buddha replied, "No, Ananda. Good spiritual friends are the whole of the good life. Take refuge in sangha (community)."

This is why we started the business in the first place: to make a practice community and assist in each other's awakening, to bring the combination of our tools together and make something beneficial for our country and our world. We have no idea how many people will join us, but that's our purpose.

It felt good. At a time when I have become disconnected from my local Zen Center, and with my teacher living 3,000 miles away, I sometimes forget the kind of homecoming that takes place when you sit down and practice with friends.


Hal Johnson said...

It's good to see you surface again here.

Theriomorph said...

Push-hands practice is such a fun way to work with balance and focus simultaneously - we do several variations of the practice where I've been studying & I find something new each time even as it's enormously playful.

Theatre Dojo sounds great!