chawan/expandable cup

The Practice: Just This, Just Now, Shoshin 

 As beginners, we are all nervous and filled with expectations. Some of this is overt and much is covert. We all start out wanting to do well. We want to “know all there is to know” about this new strange way of doing things. We are competitive with others. We are even competitive with ourselves. Some of us are combative in nature. We tend to be aggressive in this strange new place, or we may show the opposite by being shy; and we are unwilling to commit or be open and vulnerable. We all bring along ourselves and our baggage; both what we think of as good and also as bad. We can’t help it. We are human and as such, we are fearful and insecure.

One of the wonderful things about this practice, this “WAY” of life in the dojo, is that it shows us who we are.  

  Often we see things about ourselves that have been hidden to us. We see things about others that help us learn about them and, in so doing, about ourselves. This is all part of the practice. It takes courage and determination to do this practice. The relative level of physical ability in performing technique isn’t necessarily that important. Your commitment to the practice and the process and your willingness to look at these things is important. Always try to practice with an open, joyful spirit. Have faith and develop trust in your instructors and teachers. Do not give up your responsibility for yourself, and never take part in abusive behavior (on either side). Your sensei will put you in many uncomfortable situations but it should NEVER be for their own amusement or power.

  The ideal dojo is (as my son calls it) a “dilemma-rich environment” which gives you the chance to learn and desensitize ...then resensitize body, mind, and spirit.

 “...not an empty cup, but an expandable cup.”

The Japanese talk about shoshin or “beginner’s mind.” Many people think this means to always approach things with an “empty mind” or they quote the old Zen story of the man whose tea cup was full and could not accept any of the teacher's tea. This is not correct. We must have an “open and educable mind” while being responsible for what we already know. As Nishioka Sensei calls it,“...not an empty cup, but an expandable cup.” Another word in Japanese which describes the necessary mindset for learning is nyunanshin or “malleable spirit.” In traditional dojo, sensei would not accept anyone who did not have nyunanshin. Of course the ideal is to keep shoshin or nyunanshin all the time. A master budoka of forty or fifty years practice who has done the inner or spiritual work, along with the physical, will always show this willing eagerness to learn and change.

One of the pitfalls in this practice is to want to be different than we are now. We see some possible outcome of this training and get caught up in being “goal oriented” to the point that it is unhealthy. Forget the end of this journey and just walk the path, one step at a time. You will not get to the end in this lifetime. Practice for the sake of the practice.

© Copyright 1996 by C. E. Clark, All rights reserved