Welcome to this week’s wisdom for the Inner and Outer You.
Many years ago I learned valuable lessons that even today I reflect back upon. Kind of like the old Kung Fu television series where Kwai Chang Kaine would have flash backs to his important lessons in the Shaolin Temple.
So this week I would like to to share with you one of those reflections. Enjoy and keep up the great emails.
I was completely overwhelmed!
Being promoted at the age of 19 to manager of our Scarborough Rd martial arts school was fantastic feeling at first! I was flying high with the new promotion and the fact that I now had a job doing something I totally enjoyed. It was more than a job for me: it was a way of life. One that was going to pay me money for teaching and training and that’s all I thought about in the beginning.
It was only three years ago when I was an apprentice instructor and was sent out to this school to help with the painting and clean-up preparation for its grand opening. Our schools were always spotless and it was the apprentice instructor’s main job to see that they always remained this way. Each school carried with it a temple atmosphere and there were simply no exceptions allowed when it came to cleanliness. This was made crystal clear, as apprentices I had known and trained with were dismissed as a result of deviating from the established cleaning protocol and what was required. It was sad to see them go but they were a great example to me of what not to do. Everything had to be spotless right down to the toilet bowl, and it was said that if the master instructor came in after you cleaned the toilet you had better have cleaned it well, because if you were asked to drink the water from it you would have wished you had! That never happened to me but it was always in the forefront my mind!
The cleaning was part of the discipline in our training program and also served as a method to practice working meditation. As you cleaned you put your attention on a single point of intention, thus practicing how to focus your mind. After you learned that, you would find yourself practicing your martial art moves as you cleaned. I can’t count the number of times I had mopped the floors while also practicing my stances and stepping patterns at the same time. After a while, it didn’t matter what you were doing in the school, it all became part of your meditation practice.
To this very day I bare the scar on one of my fingers which is a reminder of my clean up duty days. I was cleaning some fluorescent light fixtures on the ceiling while standing on a small ladder which was not quite high enough for me to see the very top. Reaching up and quite vigorously wiping off the metal wire housing cover where years of dirt had collected from the previous tenants, suddenly I felt something sharp! I pulled back my hand and blood was dripping everywhere, it was dripping so much that it started to form a pool on the floor that I had just previously cleaned. One of the senior instructors came over right away, looked at it and said, “That looks deep.” After I washed it out he brought me a cloth and I wrapped the finger up. He said, “Let me take you to the hospital and you can get some stitches” and I replied that I was fine and just wanted to keep cleaning and help get the school prepared for the grand opening that was one day away. As I cleaned I simply quieted my mind, took a few deep controlled breaths and visualized the blood flow to my finger slowing down and the cut staying firmly together. Through our training I learned that the mind and body worked closely together and the focus of the mind can have a certain affect on the body. I found that as I focused my mind on my cut with healing thoughts, my finger actually started to feel better and wasn’t bleeding as much. The senior instructor was right however, I should have gotten stitched because the cut took along time to completely heal and when it did there was quite a visible scar and a lump of excess of scar tissue.
Now here I was managing the very same school I cleaned years ago. It was my turn to guide the new apprentice instructors in their clean-up duties and I always reminded them to maintain a high level of awareness and caution when cleaning the metal wire housing covers. Then I’d show them the scar on my finger to make sure they got the message loud and clear!
As the elated feelings that came with the novelty and excitement of this new position started to wear off, proportionally heavy feelings began increasing and the realization of what I had gotten myself into started sinking in. Finally one morning it hit a tipping point where shortly after I awoke, it felt like I had been hit square in the chest with a sledgehammer! It was the stress and pressure of all that was expected of me in this new position. I was starting to feel anxiety, as the last thing I wanted was to fail at being a good manager in my dream job and way of life. I was in charge of doing all perspective students interviews, teaching private lessons every afternoon until the evening classes started, teaching all advanced student classes, teaching instructor classes, teaching and supervising instructors in retail presentations, sales and procedures in rotating the display in our retail room, and keeping the studio’s financial records in order. On top of all that I was attending three weekly morning meetings for management, philosophical and personal training. I had never been busier and was learning a ton of new knowledge but the learning curve brought with it feelings of immense pressure too.
Around the same time one of the senior instructors of our organization was testing for his black belt and I was required to help out on his test. The sparring component of his test would commence after all the student classes were over for the night; the fist art master conducted his test. It started at 10pm and lasted until 2am. Needless to say it was a long and grueling test. Bob Richer who was the head instructor at the time and I were to take turns being his sparring opponents. I’m not sure why, but I ended up doing the majority of the sparring against him. It was one hundred volleys where I was to attack him hard and he had to stay on his feet and control the situation. After a few volleys, I took one of his backfists to my head and I immediately noticed that there was an unusual bite to it. I just shrugged it off and kept on going. Then there came the time he threw another backfist strike that caught me in the face as I was retreating. I saw it coming and thought I had adequate distance to avoid harm but all of a sudden my nose started bleeding and I was so dizzy I thought I would fall over! I couldn’t figure out why I was so affected by these blows. I had taken hundreds of hits before and I was always able to maintain my composure. Well, all with the exception of the time where I was whacked so hard on the top of the head during staff training (long stick) that it knocked me out cold! At this point however, I really wanted to know what the difference was and why I was seeing stars from strikes that should never have produced such affects.
The fist art master noticed that my face was cut and he also was wondering how I could have had so many marks on my face. On inspection it was found the instructor being tested was wearing a metal brace for his wrist which he had injured months before and was simply using it for support. It had been hidden under the long sleeve of his uniform and sparring glove so neither I nor anyone else was able to see it. The master instructor loudly chastised the instructor for not taking it off prior to starting the test and at one point I thought he might stop the test. The instructor promptly removed it, apologized to the master and myself and after a 10 or 15 minutes of cleaning up my face and taking sometime to clear my head the test continued.
As I was working on clearing my head, I was feeling really drained of strength from being hit so many times by that steel plate. I needed to figure out a way to keep going. I was looking at this not only as a test for him but a test of strength and duration for me. I figured that this was a microcosm of what I was experiencing in my life at this time, especially the feeling of being overwhelmed as a new manager. If I could pull it together here and now I figured I could do it anywhere. I needed to find a way to get my strength and mental toughness back and fast. I knew the mind controlled the body, so even if my body was hurt or weak I could get it to go on with the right mental focus: this is called mind over matter! But where could I find the strength that would give me the ability to go on in my current weakened state? I remembered back to what the philosophy master once said in our sessions together: “Strength doesn’t come from outside of you; it only exists inside and must be summoned from within.” I knew this was the key; now all I needed to do was find the door it belonged to!
My mind drifted to diversity of nature as if often did in times like this and many images moved quickly through my mind: trees, flowers, streams, wind, animals, and then my mind all of a sudden settled. It was like pulling the handle on a slot machine, watching all the pictures move by until they all stop moving and line up. For me it was like having three of the same thing line up and you hit the jackpot; then bells and whistles sound off. Only in my case the jackpot was more the immanent feeling that confirmed I had found the exact image I needed: the image was that of an Immovable Mountain. As soon as this came to my mind I became calmer and immediately noticed my body was more relaxed. Somehow the image of a wide based huge mountain that rose high into the air with its peaks touching the clouds evoked my inner strength. I had the key and the door was now opening here I found enduring strength, after all a mountain was definitely solid and no one I knew of was able to displace it!
I closed my eyes and for a few minutes more I breathed deeply and focused on this Immovable Mountain. With each breath I felt closer and closer to the mountain until the moment came that there was no difference between the mountain and me…we were the same! Then my mind once again remembered something my philosophy teacher said many years back. At that time I really didn’t understand it but for some reason now I had greater clarity on it. “When sitting …sit, when walking…walk; above all else do not wobble!” I opened my eyes and stood up as a smile came across my face. I turned around and announced to the fist art master that I was ready to continue. I would finish my duty and be the best sparring partner there ever was and as long as I was conscious, I would not wobble in my resolve.
By the end of the test and after being punched, kicked and thrown to the ground for a little over three hours, to the surprise of the fist art master and the other instructor, I was far more energetic than when I had started that evening. The fist art master looked at me straight in the eyes and with a smile and a soft chuckle said, “With what I’ve seen from you tonight, Mr. Hodgkinson, I have no doubt you’re going to be alright…you’re going to do great!” With that smile on his face I knew his implication expanded beyond this evening’s activity. I knew that this was as much of a test for me as it was for the instructor who received his black belt. I had reached deep down inside and found what I needed and passed my own test.
I would take this experience and Immovable Mountain Meditation with me and practice it at the beginning of each day. The more I meditated the stronger I became. Soon the overwhelming feeling I had felt in the past was replaced with an enduring calmness and the nervousness transformed into the sensation of feeling better grounded. After practicing the meditation each morning before starting the day’s activities I would stand up and say often out loud to myself: “When sitting… sit, when walking…walk; above all else do not wobble!”
After outlining this meditation in my book, Memoirs of a Wandering Ninja – Walking the Path of Enlightenment, I also recorded it making it available as a guided meditation.
Quote for the week:
“Searching for praise and honor
Keeps mankind restlessly moving,
But in the warm sun and peaceful wind,
Things renew themselves naturally.
Needing no human control,
The spring brightness is both pale and deep;
In the mountains of endless rest,
There is a single tranquil person.”
– Gesshu Soko