Saturday, September 08, 2007

HI-SHIRYO: Not What I Think It Is

FM Alexander spoke of “carrying out an activity against the habit of life.”

What a struggle this is -- like constantly swimming upstream, against the current of end-gaining. But what an adventure also. Boredom cannot come into it.

Marjory Barlow began her apprenticeship under her uncle FM Alexander around the age of 17. More than 70 years later, she reminded me often that FM used to say, “This work is an exercise in finding out what thinking is.”

Nelly Ben-Or has been teaching the Alexander Technique for more than 40 years, and has been endeavoring to teach me for the best part of ten years. In a lesson earlier this year, when I ventured some opinion about what she meant by thinking, she said to me, “Listen! You don’t know what I mean by thinking.”

Fuck!!! How dare she tell me that, after all the bloody money I have paid her for lessons? I might hate her for that. Except that she was only speaking the truth.

So this is my testimony, my confession. I know from experience that there is truth in traditional sitting-zen. I don’t understand it fully, but I know there is truth in it, and I am sensitive to the tendency that there is in people, primarily myself, to taint that truth through the stain of their own fearful end-gaining habit. I know from experience that there is truth in the teaching of FM Alexander, but I don’t understand that fully either. I know that the vestibular system plays a much more central and vital role in governing human behaviour than most people appreciate, but I hardly understand how it works at all.

It is not for me to tell you what I think HI-SHIRYO means. And it is not for you to tell me what you think HI-SHIRO means -- although you can try if you want. Whenever we think that we know what it means, it is not that.

In the past I have expressed, with strong confidence, the dogmatic view that HI-SHIRYO means [action itself which is] different from thinking. But it is not that.

HI-SHIRYO is Master Dogen’s mature expression of the vital art of sitting-zen. Our struggle, each as an individual, is to find out for ourselves what it means. Starting from scratch, we should ask the question every day, and answer it every day -- though not necessarily in words.


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