The first thing I want you to do when you get this book is to watch your posture and frequently determine your state of mind.
This doesn’t mean to correct your posture. Just be aware of it. Every so often try to determine your current state of mind. This is not easy as it continually changes while you’re awake – and judging by dreams, probably while you’re asleep. Nevertheless, try to recognize the present state. Perhaps a noisy plane flies overhead while you are talking on the phone – mind with annoyance. You may be looking forward to a meeting with a friend – anticipation. Sometimes we wake up feeling sluggish – dull mind.
After a few days of watching your posture and your state of mind, you may make an unexpected discovery – that your posture is influenced by your state of mind and your state of mind has a great deal to do with your posture.
A man I know who is a manager of a stock brokerage firm walks around briskly all day while stiff and bent forward – almost a Groucho Marx position. One can imagine the tensions he is carrying inside him, unrecognized. If he would examine this circle, the state of mind and the posture, he would become aware of these tensions and perhaps the posture might slowly change.
When T’ai Chi Chih students or teachers come to me, I notice their wrists and their waists to determine how much inner tension they are carrying around. (Such tension is murderous to the health and is almost always unnoticed by the one suffering from it.) When the wrists are loose and flexible, so is the person. If the waist turns easily, tension is at a minimum. Conversely, I have seen people after they come off the freeway in Los Angeles and they are rigid. The wrists (and arms and shoulders) are almost immovable, frozen solid. Some suffer from neck pain. It is common to see such people slowly revolving their heads, hoping to lessen the tension in their necks.
Note these things about yourself. Do your wrists circle freely; are they loose or even limp? Or are they tight and unwieldy? The purpose is not to correct the faults (though knowledge of them often does just that) but to heighten awareness. From time to time, notice if these tensions are present in your body, then look at your state of mind.
When you have practiced on yourself for a while, you can begin to notice others. The wrists and waist, which you would not usually notice, are sure giveaways. Remember, it is not your purpose to correct others but simply to be aware of the other person’s state.
State of mind becomes habitual. A feeling of gloom may become pervading and one will gradually assume a morose attitude. This certainly does not attract others. The vibration is definitely affected (in what some refer to as the aura), and a new acquaintance may feel bad vibes upon meeting another person.
Conversely, there are people who go around with smiles on their faces, reflecting an inner contentment. Though we try to rationalize these attitudes by saying we’re gloomy because of some mishap or bad luck, the truth might be that we have the mishap or bad luck because of our attitude. To be aware of this state of mind can be very beneficial.
One who notices his interior landscape as well as the attitudes of others is rare. This is different from being introspective, where we probe our thoughts and emotions, possibly with the aim of finding out why we are not liked or why we are not successful, whatever that word may mean. The aim is to become aware, not to stick pins in ourselves.
Similarly, if we use our observation of others to condemn, we are not following the way of awareness. It is said that, “the Way is easy to follow. Just avoid picking and choosing.” In other words, there is choiceless awareness. Very few can do this. It’s so easy to find faults with others and even with ourselves.
Having checked our posture and our state of mind, having observed our wrists and waists, as well as those of others, I would like the reader to do one small exercise recommended by my friend, Zen writer Paul Reps.
Spread your feet apart, as you stand well balanced. Then lean slightly to the right so most of the weight is on the right foot – then gradually shift the weight to the left foot. As the weight passes from the right foot to the left, try to be aware of the exact second the weight shifts. At that short mini-second, become aware.
State of mind is a rather vague term that can be used in many ways. At a criminal trial, it may be asked what the state of mind of the criminal was when he committed a crime of violence. Technically, he might be labeled psychotic, or even criminally insane. Imposing such labels has nothing to do with our task in determining our state of mind.
Rather, we want you to be aware of the bias and outlook in your attitude at any given time. It will change constantly, though only a manic-depressive will go from an elated state of mind to one of deep depression in a few minutes.
These days psychiatry is chemically treating many states such as depression. Medicine seems to have determined that there are altered physical states, particularly in the brain, that bring on such conditions as depression. Or did the depression bring on the altered physical states? By correcting the one it is felt that the other may be alleviated. Tranquilizers, in effect, offer such short-term relief. By making small physical changes, it is felt a state of equanimity will be restored. This is somewhat like rolling up the window of your car to keep from hearing the knocking of the motor.
When we refer to such states as depression, we are referring to a chronic condition, or at least one that will last a while. However, in this book we refer to the constant changes (not so much in mood) that take place in our minds. Annoyance at the noise an overhead plane makes while we are using the telephone is not a lasting condition but a brief passing phase. It is these brief passing phases that we want to note. We are not looking for morbid conditions or chronic feelings; rather, we want to be aware of the lights and shadows as they flit by all day long.
It is too much to expect anyone but a monk to be constantly aware of these changes, but we can, at isolated times, take a quick look. We might do the same with our posture, whether sitting or standing. And remember, it is not necessary to write down these changes or make a progressive record of them. We are not trying to improve and note our day-by-day improvement. Far from it. Rather, we simply want to be aware of the state of mind and the posture for the moment. It is the awareness, not the state of mind or posture, which is important to this practice.