Nidan Essay – Ian Sanderson – 5/12/13
“See things as they are. Think the right thoughts. Say the right words. Do the right actions. Live the right way. Move with initiative and courage. See the value of each moment. Stay centered.”
The eight-part code that guides Nidan - second-degree black belt - training may seem much shorter and more simplified than the fourteen-point code of mindful action leading up to it, but it is precisely because of its general ambiguity that makes it so remarkably challenging to interpret.
For me, the most challenging aspects of this eight-fold path have been seeing things as they are, doing the right actions, moving with initiative and courage, and staying centered. Of these, I feel that “seeing things as they are” is the most important, as I believe that it is the one on which the rest are predicated. The more we’re imposing a perceived reality that we think ought to be, as opposed to the way it actually is, the more likely it is that we will fail to then think the right thoughts, say the right words, do the right actions, and so on.
I’m reminded of a time when I was living in New Mexico: A group of us were out tracking in a beautiful place called Chaco Canyon, and came upon a baby rabbit sitting in the shade of a desert scrub-brush. The group gathered around and bent close to admire it. As we were quietly “ooing” and “aawwing,” a snake struck from under the same bush. In less than a fraction of a second, the baby rabbit was upside down in the coils of the snake, making terrible high-pitched noises. That snake had been there the whole time, within inches of the rabbit, and not a single person had noticed. It scared the pants off us. The sudden and unexpected violence of it shattered the reality we had imposed of an idyllic, Disney-like scene of the natural world. We were given a strong lesson in the “art of seeing” in that moment.
I can certainly think of times in my life when all I wanted was to see the baby rabbit and not the snake, and these times often resulted in a similar fashion as the story. However, my training on the path to Nidan in To Shin Do has given me the tools that can allow me to see the snake as well. In the last few years, I’ve made progress noticing the degree to which my own perceptions get in my way. However, I feel that most of the time I’m still in this “noticing” stage. Usually, I cannot yet see my misperception forming—and therefore change it—before it happens (but at least I’m noticing!). Hindsight is often my primary sight. However, there certainly has been an increase in the number of experiences when I am able to go beyond the noticing stage and into what I’ll call the “proactive awareness” stage of perception-- that moment that we can notice ourselves forming an inaccurate perception of what’s happening, thereby providing ourselves an opportunity to alter or dismiss that perception.
Being an instructor at the Boulder Quest Center has been the single most significant factor in allowing me to progress on this step of the path. In my best instructor moments, I’m asking what students actually need rather than what I think they need or want them to have. I am less likely than I once was to impose my own story or assumptions on their experience. I can see them not only as a part of my path, but more importantly, me as a part of their path. Through this lens, I can see more clearly the way they think, who they are, why they do what they do. When I’m teaching at my best there is only a small sense of “me” in that. I’m the one observing, but in the best moments I’m seeing them and I intuitively know what they’re thinking or feeling that’s getting them stuck, what the best metaphor to use for them would be, or how best to language something so that they will understand. I can see them with eyes unclouded.
I think that this ability can only come from experience—from doing it and noticing that it worked. In my best teaching moments, students often have an epiphany right away or within the week. The feedback is immediate and experiential. They tell me that what I helped them see fundamentally enhanced their understanding. I believe this can only occur if I have managed to see things as they are by really stepping outside of myself. From there I can think the right thoughts, say the right words, etc. - there’s none of my own preconceptions, assumptions, opinions, or judgments to get in the way.
In my personal life, then, this ability has helped me stave off unnecessary conflict or misunderstanding. When I am able to step outside of a preconceived notion or trigger- notice and suspend it- I’m more likely to see what’s actually going on for others as opposed to something that was going on for them that is now going on for me. I can see what is really happening. This has also translated into my facilitation work with groups of all kinds; I am better able to keep in mind that it is the group’s process--not mine. Suffering derives from expectations based on false perceptions. My assumptions can limit my reality to the single perception I’ve imposed, as opposed to remaining open to an infinite number of possibilities.
When I impose my perceptions of a past experience onto a present experience because of a perception of similarity, I am already operating from judgments and opinions, thereby limiting myself to that one stream of possibility that might have nothing to do with what’s going on. Relying too much on previous experience hinders our ability to perceive the specific context that defines the reality of the moment, thereby limiting what that relationship can be going forward. Without seeing this context, we might catalog it with previous experiences that seem similar enough, thereby only compounding the problem by adding another false memory of reality that we later impose an yet another situation—feeling even more strongly about it—even though most of it is potentially wrong. Suffering derives from trying to make reality fit our perception.
What I feel is needed next for me is to acknowledge that my previous experiences--and the judgments and opinions that were created with them--will cloud my ability to see things clearly in the present, even if I have gained greater understanding of those experiences. For example, being diagnosed 3 years ago with sleep disorders that I have struggled with for 20 years has not magically freed me from the perceptions I created about myself before that diagnosis. I know that to a certain degree these disorders are out of my control, but that hasn’t kept me from self-denigration or feelings of guilt, especially when I fail to accomplish things in a timely way. This acknowledgment phase needs to be first, but even the “simple” act of acknowledgement can be very tricky. I have things that affect my life in ways I don’t want. So I try to acknowledge that will happen and deal with it when it comes, doing my best to be in the proactive awareness stage as much as possible.
Once I develop the habit of acknowledgement, the next step on my path will be a neutral acceptance of all the pieces of me that I’m working on changing but haven’t yet. This will allow me to be more proactive to head off misperceptions. If I can accept those pieces without judgment, then seeing things as they are doesn’t have to be hindsight. I will be better able to see a situation forming in which I would likely have the tendency to impose my own reality. Once I can notice the tendency beforehand, I’ll then be able to change how I’m seeing the situation.
From neutral acceptance, I’d like to move into what I’ll call “confident acceptance”--that is, the ability to accept the fact that I will always have aspects of myself that I’m working to improve, but I have the utmost confidence that I will in fact improve them in time. It is difficult to see these limitless possibilities within myself because I am challenged to not ‘confuse myself with myself.’ How do I know if what I perceive as seeing things as they are isn’t just imposing further misperceptions from a different realm of consciousness? As I progress along the path, however, I feel that I will gain skill in discerning this.
The advanced Earth aspects along the path to Nidan have given me the confidence to begin to acknowledge and then accept those pieces of my personality that I struggle to change. I very much look forward to learning and developing those advanced Water aspects of introspection, strong sense of self awareness, and knowledge in action in order to truly cultivate the ability to “See Things as They Are.”
To see Mr. Ian test for his 2nd Degree, join us June 7 during the Copper Dagger weekend. https://www.boulderquest.com/events/stephen-k-hayes-copper-dagger/