Nature of the mind
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Wed Feb 02, 2022 8:45 pm
There are some well known Suzuki's related to Zen including D. T. Suzuki and Shunryu Suzuki. But right now, my attention is instead on Shinichi Suzuki, founder of the Suzuki method of music education. I am only halfway through his book Nurtured by Love, but have already found great value in it's stories and principles. It is made clear beyond any shadow of a doubt the capacity for our mind to adapt in even extreme or fantastical ways if given the right environment and enough time. It highlights values like persistence, repetition, and always doing your utmost. It was very inspirational to read about the girl with half her body severely affected by polio learning to play well and even in the end fully regaining use of her body. It was very motivational reading some of the story there about the blind boy learning to play violin very well.

I have been working on maintaining presence all the way around the clock, asleep or awake, during calm meditation or lively conversation or sprinting while pushing my daughter in a stroller because she'll be late for school, in boredom, in strong emotions good or bad. This sort of feels like building a house brick by brick. It's clear to me it will take considerable effort and time, and that progress may seem undetectable. But, I know it is happening, even already.

Already it is clear to me that not only am I building the house, but I'm building the tools to build the house. One needs to build up methods and habits around recognizing what both presence and its absence feel like in various situations. There's a master habit building of becoming present when its absence is noticed, but there's also specific habits building around performing specific actions or having specific conversations while present.

On one hand, maybe yes, there's nothing to do. Just be there, in fact you cannot avoid being there. This is fine as far as theory goes. But at least in my lived experience, I can easily disappear into an autopilot mode where there is virtually no presence at all, for a long time. And that is not what I want.

It's strange to say, but in a way, to actually displace my ego, and a lot of foolishness, 'I' need to be present. We can have all kinds of fun conversations about what or who that 'I' is or isn't, but to do anything useful, it has to be there, and be awake. I actually need to be there to let go. And to be there, is something I have to cultivate.

I know, it's the natural state, obscured but never absent, perhaps. But for it to be a lived experience, to manifest, that I must cultivate. And in my life, for my mind, I see that's going to take some serious construction. Consistency and persistence. Giving in to "letting go of the presence thing for a few minutes" so I can knock out a quick email, or focus on a quick conversation, isn't an option on this road for me anymore. I need to build the mental mechanisms to stay present, especially when I feel I can't handle it.
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Wed Feb 02, 2022 9:04 pm
I want to add, hopefully some day for me, being present won't take any special effort, it will just be the default. But for now, it uses energy and some of my mental bandwidth. Again, funny to say, but the focus is distracting (from other things I'm doing). But I know that the only way it will become natural, is if I put in the time, the repetitions.
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Fri Feb 04, 2022 12:03 pm
Thank you for your inspiration, Bob! I will join you in trying to maintain presence brick by brick.
Although the bricks many times fall down I will keep on going...
Good luck!
Marijke
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Fri Feb 04, 2022 4:11 pm
Great to hear it Marijke! Thank you!

I want to add here some ways I believe Suzuki's philosophy and method applies to our enterprise:
  • Everyone can learn, everyone has a life force that drives them to grow: so as long as we persist wisely there is absolutely no reason for doubt of if, it's only a matter of when.
  • Technique is taught in the context of pieces rather than through dry technical exercises: so we must practice in the context of our life immediately, instead of hoping we can learn it all on the cushion first.
  • Exposure to the highest performance possible helps our mind to grow towards it: exposure to the right people helps here, as does our own very best effort on the cushion to give our mind a taste of what it should do off the cushion.
  • You don't just keep adding new pieces, you also perfect your playing of previous ones through repetition while also using them as stepping stones into harder pieces: although there are plenty of surprises and variations in life, there is also incredible repetition of situations so we must always aim to do even better than last time.
  • Students begin at young ages: I will be a kid at heart and maintain a beginner's mind. Wink

Lastly let me include a short excerpt from Nurtured by Love:
"When the children have learned how to play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" variations easily and freely, I ask them to play them, and I say, "Now let's play a game. I want you to answer my questions while you go on playing. Answer in a loud voice, and don't stop playing." Then, in a loud voice, I call out, "How many legs have you?" They think this is loads of fun, and answer all together at the top of their voices, "Two." Now, if they can do this while playing correctly, it mean., that the skill has been properly inculcated and has become second nature. If, among them, there is a child for whom it is not yet second nature, he will be so intent on his playing that he does not reply. Or if he replies, he will stop playing. I ask many different questions and they answer while playing. Smiling sweetly, they have acquired the ability to play games with me while they go on playing the violin. Every single child, without fail, gets so he can do this. We are able to do all sorts of tasks while we are speaking in Japanese because it is second nature. It is exactly the same with the violin."

That part, the "If, among them, there is a child for whom it is not yet second nature, he will be so intent on his playing that he does not reply. Or if he replies, he will stop playing." That's exactly where I am so often with this. The description is perfect. This is just learning, just training a new ability, plain and simple. It's clear to me that any frustration or excuses miss the mark entirely. Just continue to skillfully put in the time. Setup the right environment, dedicate the effort, arrive at the result.
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