Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): a growing awareness that all phenomena are empty and illusory and the only meaning and mana in any situation is what the people involved bring to it. [It’s a cool thing to realize that we humans are the arbiters of the meaning and mana in our own lives.]
The search for meaning and mana is a very human thing. It’s been going on for centuries now. The words themselves are so nebulous that it’s hard not to head off into the woo-woo zone when you talk about them.
ANOTHER FORM OF MANA
I was reading Tobin Hart’s book, THE FOUR VIRTUES: Presence, Heart, Wisdom, Creation, and it struck me that what he calls “presence” is really one more form of what I call mana.
According to Hart, Presence is that “tug of aliveness in the silence.” I do love that phrase. It’s beautiful!
However, it doesn’t really say much. (That’s the problem with all this wisdom-stuff. You end up spouting poetry and everybody around you just goes, “HUH?”)
Hart goes on to say that Presence is an “openness to beauty and mystery.” He says Presence requires the capacity to be silent and still, to endure emptiness in order to witness and open to the good, the beautiful, and the true.
Yeah, yeah. I know. More beautiful blather.
The components of Presence, according to Hart, are:
- Appreciation (that openness to Beauty and Mystery)
- Focus and Attention, which includes things like steadying your mind, not-doing, centering yourself, and pausing in your walk to notice the World around you.
APPRECIATION REQUIRES HUMILITY
Being open to the Beauty and Mystery of what is in front of you is often called “appreciation.” It does seem to require humility.
If you are complacent in your knowledge of the World and if you are armored in your sureness that you know what’s what and what is really going on, it’s sort of hard to get entranced by the Mystery of the World around you.
Mystery is what you don’t know. Mystery provokes wonder. When you think you know all of the everything, it seems to me, the World gets a lot narrower and shallower.
THE WORLD BECOMES YOU
It’s a funny thing: the World is pretty obliging. No matter how you think and no matter what you know, it’s pretty easy to see what you believe. Evidence mounts up all around you that you are right, right, right.
The World is quite malleable. It is perfectly willing to climb into the box you’ve constructed. You can get a heck of a lot of World into a very small box, apparently.
Do you think that people are out to get you? Guess what. You’ll find plenty of evidence that, indeed, they are.
Do you think people just naturally like to help each other? You’ll find lots of evidence that is true as well.
Do you find the World unsatisfactory and boring? That, too, can be arranged….
So if you want to glimpse the Mystery at the heart of the World, then you have to be really careful that you’re not letting your mind order the World around. Since it’s something we humans are really good at, this is a very hard thing to not-do.
IS IT ME? IS IT I?
In his writing, Hart seems to be separating out “I” and “me” from each other. They are both inside of you, he posits, but they are nuanced and different.
There’s a part of you that observes and witnesses the World in all its glory, trying to see what is really there. That’s the “I” part.
Then there’s the “me” part. “Me” is mostly just in the world, so distracted and caught up in the busy that it’s swimming around in one big chaotic soup. “Me” gets lost a lot.
I’m not sure what to do with this. I do know that I agree with Albert Einstein’s thought that either it’s all a miracle or none of it is.
I really think that it’s my “me” part that is responsible for most of my poetry.
The confusion that comes from immersing yourself in the World produces more interesting thoughts than the observer-“I” part that sort of stands back and keeps trying to sort out the glory and reduce it so it can fit into neat little boxes.
This thought reminds me of my ch’i kung explorations of Mountain energy…getting grounded in Earth energy and all that. I do notice that the one thing people with mana have in common is the ability to be still.
My Si’fu (teacher) once demonstrated a particularly powerful stance to our kung fu class. He stood there in the center of the circle, perfectly poised with his arms and hands at the ready. He didn’t do anything….and, literally, no one could attack him.
Remarkably, the man conquered us with his stillness. There was no opening, no invitation for an attack, and none of the students in the circle felt any sort of aggressiveness was warranted, even though we had been instructed to move against him.
It is a thing I have tried to emulate ever since with very little success.
Another kind of still focus is illustrated by this picture of a Tibetan Buddhist high lama, His Holiness Dilgo Kyentse Rimpoche. He is displaying the vitarka mudra, a hand gesture that signifies “teaching, giving instruction, reason and preaching.”
Perhaps this kind of centered stillness might also be effectively applied to the way an artist and a writer goes about making art as well. Art, after all, is only an extension of the one doing it.
It occurs to me that practicing any form of art is sort of like weapons-training in kung fu. We are taught that any hand-held weapon is just an extension of your arm and hand. It does things, but you’re the one directing it using your body and your mind.
The same thing happens when you use the skills and tools you’ve developed to make your art or your poetry. Your art, your poem, your dance performance takes form as your mind and body give it direction.
Stillness is the ground for focus and attention. If you can’t be still you are unlikely to develop enough focus to actually finish anything meaningful. (Mana doesn’t come with built-in octopus tentacle suckers it seems.)
And if you are flibbertigibitting around like a demented butterfly, it is unlikely that you’ll be capable of giving anything much attention.
Stillness, according to all the wisdom teachers, is also the ground for tranquility and for peacefulness, so it is probably a good thing to work on.
Hart has a number of guidelines for how to work with the mana mindset. Here are a trio of ideas I picked up on:
- Sensations and feelings can be used as a guidance system and built-in feedback loop which can help you stay aware of the world around you.
It’s sort of like that hunter-sense of terrain and place. If you know in your body where you are and what you’re standing on, you automatically move in ways that don’t disturb the world around you.
This one does take a lot of practice.
- Pleasure is a tool for understanding what nurtures you. That one, taken to the extreme, sounds like a hedonistic sort of thing –”It feels good, so it’s gotta be good.”
I suppose if I were an academic sort, I could probably get lost in the nuances of the differences between a pleasure like an ice-cream sundae and one like wild jungle sex or something….Hmmm. Might-be, could-be actually fun!
- Mindfulness is a way to experience the world deeply. Sometimes I can really get behind this and sometimes not. My problem is that Mindful-Me tends to be like that centipede lying in a ditch trying to figure out how to walk around with all those legs.
When I look at the people who I consider powerful and filled with their own kind of mana, I do see all of the qualities Hart mentions. The work these people produce does seem imbued with echoes of their own “presence.”
They are fully human, these people, so I am guessing that if I want to produce art with mana, it means I have to keep working on just being a real human being
Thank you for sharing in this bit of silliness with me.
As a reward, I offer this beautiful YouTube video, “Icheon Master Hand” that was put together by the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA) to celebrate the exhibit, “ICHEON: Reviving the Korean Ceramic Tradition” which was on display at the Museum in 2013.
The video features five masters, Lee Hyang-gu, Kim Seong-tae, You Yong-chul, Choi In-gyu, and Jo Se-yeon. They live in Icheon in South Korea, a designated UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art, and are part of the city’s efforts to revive a 5,000-year old tradition of Korean ceramics.
And here’s a poem:
Oh, I give up!
Dragon gets me into things
And then stands there grinning
While I flounder around
Trying to find my balance again
In a space turned upside down
Or sideways or inside out.
I Ching nags and scolds me
All the time to be patient
And steadfast and true.
Archetypes wander around in my head,
Making themselves at home,
Lying on the couch, watching tv, and
Checking out the refrigerator
On the commercial breaks.
My inner drill sergeant revs up
At the drop of a hat.
And that stupid knight in the rusty armor
Won’t go away and leave me alone.
And here I am, the fool,
Trying to find my way
Back to being ordinary.
Why can’t I be a normal, unconscious person?
They are probably very happy.
Ignorance is bliss, right?
Me, I have to aim for stars
And run after rainbows.
After all the striving and trying,
I’m not even conscious yet.
Definitely not post-coital.
All this cosmic stuff is getting me
Must be P.M.S. – Pre-Mastery Syndrome.
(Or maybe I’m just horny?)
by Netta Kanoho
Picture credit: Presence by zlaping via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
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