Thursday, April 16, 2009

Conduct yourself with dignity – it comes down to the breath again

- Every little action contributes to your overall air of grace and strength, and the samurai knew it -

I go for a run every morning as the sun rises. Down by the Yarra River, you see all styles of joggers.

Some huff and puff so hard their body starts flopping like an old thong.

Others power along, breathing steadily and cutting through the morning air like birds gliding above the river surface. Their minds must be equally focused.

Ballerinas, to give a classic example, have no room to be out-of-whack with their breathing. They have a beautiful aura, stability, and ooh baby, they got grace.

This reinforces the point in the last post on the connection of breathing and a beautiful personal aura.

Samurai incorporated breathing into all their movements, even at the everyday level. And they had good reason to place importance on the harmony of their breath and actions.

Well, actually, two big reasons.

1. While conducting yourself in harmony with your breath sure looks beautiful, it also looks powerful and dignified. In a climate where status was unstable and social structures could crumble in the blink of an eye, one’s dignity and power were critical.

2. The Momoyama period (1568-1598) was a ruthless time where the fear of death was present in daily life. Moving in harmony with the breath achieves quietude for the mind.

A samurai school of sadō, the Ueda Sōko School, highlights this best with the action of preparing tea (teamae).

The temae of the Ueda Sōko School

The temae of the Ueda School is often said to be dignified and beautiful. Again, there are two reasons for this appearance:

1. All actions in the temae are purposeful (no wasted movement) and are comprised of straight lines. Purposeful, direct actions emanate a ‘fresh’, dignified appearance (e.g. folding the purifying cloth (fukusa) and handling the bamboo ladle (hishaku)).

2. Actions are performed in sync with the inhale-exhale flow of the breath (e.g. cleaning the bamboo whisk (chasendōji), rotating the chawan and whisking the tea).

Whisking the tea in the Ueda School is especially unique. Other schools whisk in the same way you beat eggs with a hand egg beater: start from two or three o’clock (exhale) and pull your arm in towards your body, finishing at about six o’clock on the bowl (inhale).

In contrast, the method of preparing tea in the Ueda School starts from seven o’clock (inhale) and goes straight outwards, finishing at one o’clock on the bowl (exhale).

This is the natural order of breathing.

Try it: the fundamental order of a breath is to first inhale and then to exhale. (Think of the order when when your doctor asks you to take a deep breath.)

The two aspects of (1) purposeful, direct actions comprised of straight lines and (2) the strength of actions performed in harmony with the inhale-exhale flow of the breath contribute to the dignified and beautiful appearance of the temae of the Ueda School.

Even while preparing tea you can generate an aura of dignity and find quietude for your mind. If you can do it for tea, you can do it for any daily action or chore.

A little concerted effort to bring your actions in sync with your breath gives you a more fulfilling day and a more dignified presence. Before long, the concerted effort turns into second nature and you are dignified and your mind is quiet.

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