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January 2024

Do Not Empty Your Mind When Doing Tai Chi

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The Monkey Mind

Some people believe you should "empty your mind" when practicing or performing Taijiquan. Some also believe that Qigong and Zen meditation is about "emptying" your mind.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

These practices are mindful, not mindless. You don't empty your mind, you focus your attention.

If I am practicing a form and empty my mind, I'm thinking of nothing, including the movements I'm performing. That is an empty practice and your movement will reflect it.

However, if I calm my mind -- if I replace thoughts of my schedule, my bills, and other daily activities with thoughts of the movement I am performing and the body mechanics and jin that give my movements their internal strength -- that is when my practice benefits the most.

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to what you are doing in the present moment. If you are in a business meeting, that means paying attention to whoever is speaking and focusing on the item at hand. If you are talking with anyone, including your significant other, being mindful means paying attention to what they are saying, not letting your mind roam to other things. When doing Qigong, mindfulness means paying attention to your breath or to mental visualizations of energy. In Zen meditation, it means focusing on the present moment, being aware of everything around you without judgment.

Chen Xiaowang, at the beginning of a form or standing practice would say, "Calm down." Then he said, "Listen behind you." That meant that you should be aware in all directions.

This mindfulness should stay with you all day, being aware of everything around you, and the task in front of you. Someone who practices mindfulness will not be seen walking across a street absorbed in their phone. 

Most of us have a Monkey Mind. It jumps from one thing to another, in frantic motion. To become mindful in any activity, the first priority is to calm the Monkey Mind so you can focus on the task at hand.

My new book, "A Handful of Nothing," contains 88 short Zen stories. Some people mistakenly believe it is about emptying the mind. It is not. Zen is about being aware of this moment and remaining mindful.

Some people even watch TV with their phone in their hands. "I can multitask," some people will brag, but they are mistaken. Multitasking is a myth. It causes students to get lower grades. Adults who multitask perform less efficiently.

Have you ever done something, working on a project or writing something, and you get in the zone, focus on what you are doing, and suddenly you realize a lot of time passed and you didn't notice because you were focused? That's being mindful. And that is the focus you should strive for in everything you do, including any martial art.

--by Ken Gullette

 


A Review of My Book of Zen Stories - "A Handful of Nothing"

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Dan Djurdjevic, a martial artist and author in Australia, wrote this review of my new book, "A Handful of Nothing." Here is Dan's review:

I have just read an electronic preview copy of Ken Gullette's absolutely brilliant book “A Handful of Nothing”.

This collection of 88 vignettes/stories explores the fundamental tenets of Zen (Chan) Buddhist philosophy, with particular emphasis on the concept of “nothingness” or “emptiness”. Karate practitioners will be familiar with this from the expression “mushin” (“empty mind”) or just the character for “kara” - “空” (“empty [as the sky]”).

This collection is easily the most accessible and insightful treatment of its subject matter I have ever encountered - by far.

The engaging, simple-yet-profound, soothing-yet-powerful stories flick past with the pages - just like ephemeral moments of life. However, each of these “moments” floods you with insight and inspiration.

This is a book you might pick up off a coffee table or bookshelf out of idle curiosity. It’s also a book you’ll end up reading for the next hour or more. It’s that accessible, relatable, absorbing and enlightening. All in equal measure.

I rarely buy books of wisdom/philosophy. Indeed, I have only bought half a dozen in my life. My soon-to-be-acquired physical copy (hopefully, one signed by the author) will take its rightful place on my shelf next to my copies of “The Prophet”, “Hagakure” and “The Dao of Pooh”.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough - for martial artists seeking more than just a physical “way”, and anyone else who seeks to walk the difficult path to wisdom. If anyone can help you, it would be Mr Gullette - a true master of The Way (who also happens to have a way with words!).

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Check out more about "A Handful of Nothing" on Amazon through this link or by searching Amazon in your country.

You can order "A Handful of Nothing" through bookstores worldwide with this ISBN number: 979-8-218-36685-8


How to Use Zen Buddhism in Daily Life - "A Handful of Nothing" has 88 Stories Pointing the Way

Handful-Cover-webI began reading, studying, and contemplating Zen Buddhism and philosophical Taoism in the 1970s. It wasn't easy to figure out how to use Zen in my daily life, even with wonderful books such as "Zen Buddhism," by Christmas Humphreys. But I worked on it.

I could find no good Zen books that made it as easy to understand Zen Buddhism as the old Kung Fu TV series did back in the 70s. The writers of that show had the actors portray living versions of Zen koans, stories of a young monk being guided by old masters who imparted their wisdom. I started watching the show for the fight scenes (hey, I was only 19), but became fascinated by the philosophy. After growing up in the racist South in a conservative Christian church that told us we were sinners from the day we were born, the TV series introduced me to an entirely new and peaceful way to look at the world. I wanted to find a book that told me how to use Zen in daily life.

Most of the books I read on Zen Buddhism were abstract, focusing on the paradoxical statements that are designed to shock you out of linear thinking, freeing your mind to see the reality that lies between the lines of logic, statements such as, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" But that did not help me use Zen in the real world.

I waited fifty years to read a book that makes Zen Buddhism simple, accessible, understandable, and useful in daily life -- a book that is about people facing the problems and challenges of life, religion, ethics, and morality.

So I decided to write it. "A Handful of Nothing" is now available on Amazon. It includes 88 short Zen stories about a young monk in a monastery asking an old master about the questions on his mind -- questions involving Zen, religion, morality, racism, honesty, and more. Through the old master's answers, it provides instruction for all of us. I hope readers take one chapter a day and think about it, then try to adopt the message into their daily lives.

I tend to write books that I want to read. A few years ago, I wrote "Internal Body Mechanics for Taiji, Bagua and Xingyi" because nobody had written a book that explained, in plain English, the body mechanics that make Tai Chi "iron wrapped in cotton." Most books are abstract or focus on Qi instead of the how and why of internal movement.

"A Handful of Nothing" is the book I have wanted to read on Zen Buddhism. If you are interested in this way of seeing the world -- as it is, with no supernatural spin -- I believe you will find this book helpful. With Zen Buddhism, you seek a clear view of reality, with mindfulness, and you treat everyone you meet with compassion, empathy, and kindness. You seek the path to enlightenment with an understanding that our expectations and attachments lead to suffering. You can't live a full life without some suffering, but the goal of Zen is to eliminate as much suffering as possible.

Here is the link to the U.S. Amazon book page:

https://www.amazon.com/Handful-Nothing-Stories-Pointing-Way/dp/B0CTQMNG1B

If you live outside of the United States, you can find it by searching "A Handful of Nothing Ken Gullette" on Amazon in your country.

If you read the book, let me know what you think.

If you are unable to find it on Amazon, you can order it through any bookstore in the world with the book's ISBN number: 979-8-218-36685-8.

--by Ken Gullette