Question from a member of the October Intensive: “So, yesterday (Thus. AM), in class, when Core spoke of being a barbarian (‘don’t be a barbarian’), I knew that I was one of them – and something shifted. 🙂 There has been a bunch of Autumn yard work to do, and no one else to buddy up with for now. So, I overdid it, recruited muscles rarely used, and lost the connection with the Bubbling Well, Tan Tien, and Ba Wei (sp?) – central line of my system (ouch). This really taught me that I am seeking a more wholesome, even elegant, way of being, when practicing, working, and when at rest. I feel so grateful and excited for an acute awareness of why to focus on Qi along the central line, and the reason to practice until it is ‘top-of-mind’. My basic question is – is overdoing one of the biggest intrusions on a practice of all things ZZ? Is it a weak, or confused, way of being sufficiently patient that is (partly) what you were referring to as barbaric, Core? Is stopping to rest a bit more often essential to staying in the Bubbling Well, etc?”

I asked for clarification, and they wrote this: “Well I might be wondering if slightly under doing most things (chores) is a bit of a secret sauce when softening for ZZ.”

My thoughts: Well, in class when I said don’t be a Barbarian, I meant that many of us are not very sensitive to feeling what is happening when we move.  Our movements are clumsy and vulgar, unskillful. We kind of throw our bodies around without awareness.  It’s like we are fighting with life, fighting with the air around us, instead of manifesting this connected experience.

In practice, we slowly begin to learn how to move from this connected place. As we move more from the Tanden (Lower dantien), we begin to see that we can be centered in space, our bodies are supported by this sea of Qi(Ki) around us. It is not an idea but a reality we begin to feel and see how to meet. The same unification we find in stillness, we see that if we are creative and sensitive, we can keep that going as we move. As we let this bigger energy through us, we see that we can let go of tension and allow this true body through. At first this seems impossible, as when we move, we can’t process everything and lose this connection.  But as our practice matures, we see that we can stay unified, full of ki, as we walk around or go through the day. We know when we are in it, and it is obvious when we are out of it. We can be in the center of what is happening, the center of this connection. Our movements begin to take on a deeper sophistication.  We see that there is so much more going on as we move than we had been able to feel before.  We were vulgar barbarians walking around not feeling. Slowly we can work with it, but it is an extremely creative, counterintuitive process.

Some practitioners at first hold themselves tight and do not meet the sweet spot of being connected. They overdo it or force their bodies around.  Others don’t have the sense of connection, can’t feel it yet, so don’t know how to meet it and become it. People (like me) can even injure themselves in normal tasks because they are not unified, connected.  Not in their bodies. Physical practices and physical work are just very real ways to unify with it.  So for those who want to integrate this stuff, it is about using all aspects throughout the day to touch this true place.  And for some of us, it’s either suffering, or finding a way to harmonize with life. Over time, movement is a beautiful, creative work of art, communicating with the environment, a rich tapestry to explore. In the monastery we had bells and drums and rakes to test how to work with this all day long, but we can do it as well. That’s our creative work.

One way to look at this is to do what we are doing with “essence“. Are we doing what we are doing in a connected way? Are we losing it when we move?  Or do we creatively find a way to work with it all of the time. When someone is moving or doing something with essence, it is obvious.  When we see someone really good at this, it is like their every movement is just beautiful.  It is like the truth is dripping off of them. It is full of something indescribable (essence). It makes you believe in life to see them move and be in space. Our whole system feels it as a unification with reality. We see it as an expression of truth. And so we feel that possibility in ourselves, become happy, buoyant. It is truly inspiring. Seeing something unified with the universe is deeply touching. It might seem like they could just float off of the ground, or that they are ten feet tall.  Or their movements might make you want to cry, seeing something primordial coming through. Often in the monastery we would say that a person has essence, meaning their practice was overflowing with the truth.

I can say that on my own experience, seeing a couple of my sempai in the monastery move with essence was the inspiration which led me to move to Japan. Seeing Shinjo Jyl Brewer move one time across the kitchen, it felt like the room was on fire.  And seeing Doyu Albin walk across the zendo, I could see light coming up form the ground around his robes.

Even some actors or dancers or athletes or martial artists or craftsmen can do this to a limited extent in their chosen vehicle. But often they do not have the awareness to bring it into all aspects of life. This can be a type of limited samadhi, or flow state. This is not to be confused with a person who can manifest this throughout the day. But I believe this is the true goal of deeply diving into a practice or trade. To touch the essence through the practice and learn how to move through life in this way.

And so that’s what we can do all of the time.  How can we make our task of cooking a way to make the whole kitchen fill up? How can we merge with the singing of the pots and pans?  Or how can we allow the garden to saturate us, and move with our rake from this connected place? Can we do it with essence, the same way we learned to let go of tension in our bodies and be filled up in our stillness practice? This takes time, and it can’t be forced. It takes patience, honesty, and creativity. It might mean going slower, especially at first, as we learn to relax, but ultimately one will move more efficiently and with less effort, getting tasks done faster. We’ll know it when it happens because it will feel beautiful and harmonious and expansive. Even if we are exhausted, we will find this unification and discover the universe holding us up, supporting us in every moment. This is a long, beautiful process.  It’s a type of primordial dance training.  And it’s real, real, real. So, if you are looking for a teacher, my advice, watch them move.  

You can do it! Keep going! Please share this with anyone who might find it helpful!


Omori Sogen Roshi
Tatsumi Hijikata, Founder of Butoh