We were reminded by Sensei repeatedly at Camp that even when you're waiting your turn in a group session, to be aware of what is going on and being "on". We often have a tendency to drift and not be in the moment when we are not directly involved. How many times do we daydream our way through meetings and seminars, not really focusing on what is being said and discussed? How many times do we blank out words said, deeming them irrelevant and not interesting, even though we are part of the greater conversation? Camp provided a cautionary tale to these habits. Sensei came by Ki testing people while they were waiting in line for their turn, and to our chagrin most failed the test. We were not "in the moment", not paying attention to our teachers at the time -- the pair performing the technique of the moment.
Recently I re-read some books on Zen meditation that I hadn't looked at for a few years. Once again I read about being in the moment, of progressing towards "mushin", the clear mind. Mushin is often translated as empty mind, but I was dissuaded from this translation by a blogger who made the point that empty is really dead; what we are looking for is like the still clear waters of a lake, where we can distinctly see the bottom. If a stone drops in the lake, the water ripples in proportion to the stone and then slowly becomes still again. Mushin is also often translated as "mind like water", but this is unclear without the context of the lake. What we are looking for is not an empty, dead mind but a highly reactive mind open to appropriate action when necessary, without blinders or prejudices or preconceptions.
Let me come back to why this is relevant. When we are waiting in line, we assume that no attack is coming and so we turn "off" -- a preconception. When we practice, we know which attack is coming and so we turn "on" after the attack starts -- again a preconception. Maybe a more loaded word here is prejudice. We are prejudicing ourselves in each of the above scenarios. This too is artifact, albeit mental. This is also detrimental to our progress. Apropos of my previous entry, such artifacts need to be peeled away. Always be "on", be aware, and you won't have to change when stimulated. This is crucial to getting to the "best possible feeling". You can remain in the same mental state and deal with the stimulus appropriately --- true "mind like water".