Metaphors of effort

We have a small meditation group at work that meets Monday and Friday over lunch, and somebody usually sends around a quote to ponder as we sit.  This week the quote (attributed to Buddha) was

Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.

*nods head* Seems simple enough. Discovering my world – both inner and outer – that’s what meditation/therapy/research/exploration is all about, so I get that, I think.  Then there’s the call to action:  “with all your heart give yourself to it.”  That one stopped me in my tracks, when I realized that I had no idea how to do that.

During the post-meditation discussion I brought this point up.  I know how to apply myself to some goals.  Improve my time riding up Old La Honda? A combination of good preparation (training) and knowing when to “kick it” and when to back off cruising up the hills. I know what it feels like to “pour on the effort.”  But how does one “pour it on” when giving oneself to the world?

A colleague reminded me that perhaps the metaphor of “leaning in” or “pouring on” wasn’t quite right. What if we adopted the practice of “opening up the heart?”  Ah!  That brought back memories. I’d started practicing Aikido when I first moved to California, and trained regularly for 4 or 5 years until I started graduate school. One of the basic principles – and one that has to be internalized to the core – is this dual idea of being grounded/centered and being open/receptive. Grounding/centering while being open/receptive allows immense energy (or “ki”) to flow – it’s a feeling of intense aliveness or vitality when one is “in the zone.”

I found this video on YouTube – someone testing for a 4th degree black belt going through the “randori” exercise (defending against a multiple person grappling attack, sort of like being pursued by zombies on speed).

As one can imagine, the energy gets intense when multiple people are coming at you. The examinee has to keep moving, using one attacker to block another, inserting himself decisively when there’s an opening, giving ground when needing to dissipate energy. But if you watch carefully, even on his knees he’s firmly centered, both allowing and controlling the action around him. This is an extreme example of “giving one’s heart to it” without “leaning into it”  (in fact, “leaning into it” is really bad form in Aikido, and is usually an aspect of an attack that’s most readily exploited).

So perhaps “giving one’s heart” isn’t about trying harder or applying oneself more diligently in the classic sense of putting one’s shoulder to the boulder. As I mentioned in the end of my last blog entry, Ecclesiastes suggests that most of the efforts of man are “vanity and chasing after wind.” I’m grateful to be reminded of an alternative way of being fully present and alive – to be centered, grounded, and open-hearted.  That too takes effort, but it’s a very different flavor of effort. For one, it’s non-directional, and non goal oriented.  As I continue to practice and observe perhaps I’ll find better ways to write about it. Personally, the memories of Aikido practice are the touchstone, but other people will have different experiences that resonate.

As for the “discover your world” part of the mission… I’m not sure that’s as obvious as I’d made it out to be, either. I’ll have to keep sitting with that one (which I think is part of the point).