Tuesday, September 17, 2013

No Left. No Right.

In many of the meditative moving arts, one of the hardest things to teach a Westerner is to give up their idea of “left and right.” We love “left and right.” It puts our world in order. We have even assigned whole moral judgments of good and bad to the leftness and rightness of things. When you begin to work the concepts of balance and harmony, you can’t hold on to this kind of separation.

What is one side becomes the other as the flow balance and intent shifts. If one side is firm, the other is soft. If what is hard is above, then what is yielding is below. If the green of the dragon’s back is seen, the white belly of the tiger is exposed too. The idea of balance only being possible if the separate states are both always in harmonious contrast and in constant movement. If I am sitting in absolute silence and stillness to meditate with all of my being calmed, it is the universe that becomes the balance and I am in harmony. It is a metaphor that every movement practice teaches.

Oddly enough, the thing that enabled me to go beyond the mere theory of all this and into being able to move with this balancing flow had nothing to do with a movement practice, it had to do with the cat. The mad kitten who roams the halls, Buddha belly swinging side to side, a portable altar in and of herself that people shower with offerings. She is…well compensated for her presence on Earth. I have understood through her company why it is said they are the only venerated animal for they are the last incarnation of a soul before it departs for the pure land. They have got it right and they are here enjoying life unless suffering is inflicted upon them.

I have had her as my constant companion for years. I am always looking for new ways of understanding her. It is one thing to live in happy habit with someone, it is another to live in habit with a creature that is so very different from you and doesn’t share a language. It is almost like we have an easy truce, she puts up with me for appropriate gift amounts and in return, I am allowed to project on her all my various interpretations of the leftness and rightness of her being.

It was my dog who taught me the value of animal behavioral research. I am still not sure why, but I had picked up a book on dog psychology by a researcher and learned a few things about how to relate to him. It changed our relationship quite a bit. He relaxed and became less my projected companion then a dog. I can’t judge if he was happy or not, but I can judge that he began to show more playful behavior and less behavior of fear (which we often interpret as affectionate behavior from a dog).

I tend to get up early in the morning, like very early – around 2am or so, to start my day. I also have a tendency to let myself follow trains of inquiry until about 4am when I have to pull my act together and get a little more productive. One of the trains I have been on is about cat behavior. In particular, following several articles about ways we interact with cats that well and truly either make them fearful or keep them on a defensive edge.

I was a little surprised to find out some things about eye contact and marking behavior. Some I knew, but I had assigned them different types of meaning. There were two that really struck me and I have been working on changing my behavior towards the mad kitten and the results have been…illuminating.

The two behaviors are:
  1. Eye contact is aggressive, if you make eye contact with a cat you have to break it up by doing an exaggerated blink periodically to communicate that you are not behaving in an aggressive way toward them.
  2. When a cat rolls over and exposes their belly, it is a form of expressed vulnerability that is not about submission, but is a desire for affirmation of connectednedness and bonding. When a cat exposes their belly, they don’t want it rubbed. They want the back of their head rubbed. It communicates that you are bypassing their vulnerable parts and stroking their head and sides of their face to mark them as being a part of your group. It is a very reassuring and confirming act.

So for about eight weeks, I have been careful to blink my eyes in this ridiculous and exaggerated manner when playing with the mad kitten and to rub her head whenever she throws herself down and exposes her belly.

This week…she suddenly blinked back at me. It was shockingly noticeable. It occurred on the same day she suddenly decided she neither had to hide from nor greet guests, but could stay asleep if she wanted. She also has become radically more playful and willing to play by herself when I am around. It is this subtle shift in our relationship together where it feels less like we have this close, emotional bond (my projection) and more like we are beginning to live in harmony as two very separate but dependent beings.

It lacks the…self-satisfactory feeling of believing the cat is hanging on my every mood and loving me unconditionally. It gives me pause to realize how I had been inadvertently behaving in a hostile way towards her, but it has revealed another depth to the concept of balance. If what is hard is presented, respond to what is yielding. If what is soft is given, support what is firm. In this way we create a space for all of the being to exist without a preferential state that demands they remain out of balance. When you give up your projections and desires for how you wish the world to be, you free yourself and everything else to breathe.

Green Dragon, White Tiger. When I teach people Chen Tai Chi, those directions make sense to them rather than “stepping to the left, or move your right arm” because everything is circular, everything flows and nothing ever remains the same.

But oh yes,
There is a constant in the middle,

But that is a door to an entirely separate (but harmonious) part of the universe itself.

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