Discoveries and Innovations
Compiled by Level III Apprentice-Instructors Experiencing Cheng Hsin
Level III Apprentice-Instructor
What is the experience of Cheng Hsin? Consider the possibility of experiencing something directly — this event, that person, yourself, “Being” — in a way that is different from what we usually think of as “knowing” something. Perhaps an “experience” that is so fundamental, so absolute, that there is nothing to change, make different, or have happen in it. There would be no need to make it other than it is. It would be complete. You can see that there would be no place or use for believing in something, following a dogma, having faith, or being right or wrong. Also, notice that we don’t usually work towards an experience like this, we hold it as weird, abstract, “spiritual” or impossible. This is, however, the experience that is Cheng Hsin.
The Cheng Hsin “work” is to continually move towards a more “real”, more direct, more present experience of something. An experience of Cheng Hsin could be spoken of as experiencing everything as it is, simply and directly; getting what is so. We must consider that probably this is other than what we currently think it is.
At the Cheng Hsin school we approach much of the work through various forms, structures, or sets of movements. A form is a symbol of an experience, and not the experience itself. Those who attain a high degree of skill, grasp the experience that is only symbolized by the form. This is done through, or sometimes in spite of, the form — since the form is not the experience itself. For the most part, people think the form is the experience itself. The difference here is recognizing that there is an experience to grasp, thus encouraging us not to stop at the form, belief, dogma, or ritual.
Standard procedure in most martial arts schools is to teach a collection of techniques. In the Cheng Hsin schools, these are augmented with courses applicable to all martial arts, and to life. The Principles of an Effortlessly Effective Body-Being, the Mind course, and the Principles of Effective Interaction are all courses that include no techniques, but explore the essential elements and dynamics that make up body-design, thinking and emotion, or any interaction.
The demand at Cheng Hsin is to investigate for ourselves — to actually study body mechanics, energy, interaction, and ontology for the purpose of going beyond the form. We question the way we currently see the world, even what we “know” to be true. This demand for authenticity makes the work more confrontive, and our study continuous. What is needed is an experience, not just a collection of facts, ideas, beliefs, and forms.
Purpose and Benefits of Having a System for Measuring Progress
We must be vigilant in our practices to insure that we stay honest and on track. For example, our martial studies are grounded in and supported by an eight-level degree system, with a passed exam needed to graduate from one degree to the next. Cheng Hsin arts demand a transformation in the way the mind functions as well as in the way the body moves. There are many fantastic stories about masters and the abilities that can be acquired with much practice and understanding. All of this can inspire a student but also creates a danger of living in hope and fantasy. The degree system offers a definite path from the beginning all the way through advanced study, providing a means for students to verify and check their progress.
Some Cheng Hsin Discoveries
Peter Ralston is a key contributor to the Cheng Hsin work. In simple, he holds an experience of what Cheng Hsin is, and has created the possibility of doing this particular work. Following are just a few of Ralston’s contributions to the work of Cheng Hsin. What has been discovered may be useful in your own pursuit. These are not to be taken as truths, but as directions to be explored for yourself.
Principles of an Effortlessly Effective Body-Being
What is an effortlessly effective body-being? The human body has a particular design, and can be utilized in alignment with that design or not. In this exploration, it appears that there are certain principles governing the function of the body-being, and as we align with these principles we become more effective with less effort. One way to talk about these principles is with five distinctions.
- Being Calm and Present: Consider that naturally we are simply in the presence of “what is” at this moment, and thus in a state of calmness. This is the base condition from which we experience the arising of thought, emotion, desire, repulsion, upset, and anything that we call uncalm or not present.
- Centering: Anything appearing in form, as an object, has a center. The greatest integrity in moving the mass is when this movement is governed by the center of the mass. When alluding to a function of mind, centering usually refers to being present, calm, emotionally balanced, and aware of the body.
- Relaxing: The tissues and muscles are naturally relaxed. Tension is an activity of “doing” whereby something is held in place. Relaxing is a function of letting go of control and allowing the unbound and natural condition of the body to be present.
- Grounding: We are drawn to the planet through the force of gravity. A fact of our living on the planet is the constant presence of this force. Our willingness to surrender our body-self to this power is our first blend. It is a “lending” of our claim to things, to this flow, this force.
- Being Whole and Total: We appear as a complete, whole, and unified body-self. Everything is connected and belongs together as one form. Without ignoring any part or aspect of the body-being, we can perceive the entire scope and presence of what is so for us right now.
The body-self expressed through adherence to the above principles is capable of having incredibly open, receptive, and appropriate psycho-physical relationship.
Principles of Effective Interaction
What is effortlessly effective interaction? Exploring the body-being we find principles that support using the body more effectively and with less effort. So it is with interaction. The Principle of Effective Interaction is at the core of interactions that regularly turn out well. Although simple in design, the principle takes some work to dissect and understand in relation to everyday matters; therefore instead of presenting this principle directly, we offer four dynamics that are by their very nature aligned with it. Related to martial interaction, the following four dynamics prove very helpful:
Listening: A genius of being arises from the capacity to be with this event as it is occurring now. This capacity is found in authentically hearing the “communication” given by this condition and present circumstance.
Outreaching: Having a true connection with the condition of life is to fully embrace, lend ourselves over to, and be in relationship with the event as it occurs. All that is perceived through our listening is actually touched, and so a connection is made.
Joining: The power of joining begins by following the present force or activity. By allowing the occuring activity to be completely as it is, we accomodate and include it as we are being molded by it. We “join” with what is and can then relate to it more effectively.
“By learning to yield and follow, joining activity without resistance, we form a real union with that activity. We then have the power to be in control without leaving the grace of this union.”
Joining is allowing results to be created within the context of following. It is necessary for achieving an effortless power.
Neutralizing: The energies and forces that could disrupt our condition of integrity are neutralized. They are allowed to reach their conclusion of disharmony so that the interaction naturally returns to a condition of balance.
The Nature of Mind
What is mind? In practices such as the martial arts, it quickly becomes apparent that we are interacting with more than just a body; we are interacting with another being, which clearly includes “mind.” And perhaps what also becomes apparent is the fact that we are interacting with our own mind. So it seems wise to look into what that is.
In so doing, we discover an immense activity, much of which does not appear on the surface but includes all that we call thinking, emotion, perception, and our interpretation of things. Consider the possibility that thinking and feeling aren’t what we assume they are. Further reflect that the uncognized purpose that governs our mind-activity may well be inconsistent with what is necessary for effective interaction. What we hold as our experience is largely, or even entirely, conceptual; and it is this conceptual domain with which we are interacting. Discovering the truth of these matters can improve and empower not only our martial interactions but also our fundamental experience of being.
The Nature of Experience
These other considerations bring up the question: What is experience? Ralston has made many distinctions and observations about experience. The following is an excerpt of a talk he gave regarding the structure of experience.
We perceive through our senses (sight, sound, et cetera) and we perceive “mind” (thoughts, emotions, and whatnot), and then very quickly cognize and interpret what we perceive: that’s a book, an angry person, fear. This can happen so quickly that we may think our interpretation “is” our perception. Noticing that interpretation is an activity that follows perception creates the possibility that the way we interpret the world may not be true, or the way that it is. Since all that we experience — which includes everything that we know as “mind” as well as the “objective world” — determines our actions, it is essential to understand the nature and composition of experience in order to develop conscious direction of our own awareness, impulses, and actions.
It is very important and useful to learn to question effectively. One of the main contributors toward this end is a particular kind of questioning called contemplation. This involves “holding” or looking into a question for the purpose of discovering the truth of the matter or to directly experience the subject of your questioning.
For example, in exploring “mind” the question may come up: What is a thought? The purpose of contemplating this question would be to go beyond our ideas, opinions, and beliefs about what thoughts are, and to actually experience what they are, directly.
Ralston has discovered some components to contemplation that appear to support this purpose. We would like to share these with you. In brief they are:
- Stay in present time: with what is actually occurring here and now, since this is actually where your experience lies.
- Be clear: about what the subject of contemplation is, so that as other questions and distractions arise it will be obvious when you are off purpose and where to re-direct your attention.
- Feeling-attention: should be kept focused on the subject and question.
- Be open: to any possibility. Since you don’t already have a direct experience of your subject, you cannot rule out anything. In order to create such openness, and so true questioning, you must allow yourself to experience actually and deeply that you do not know. Allow not-knowing in this moment to bring you to an authentic emptiness-free from pre-conceptions, programming, and assumptions-in relation to your subject of contemplation.
- Question: Feel a natural sense of wonderment towards the subject, actually generate real wonder or questioning; really want to know.
- Intend now: to directly experience the matter in this moment.
- Stay on purpose: Whenever you’re off purpose, without making yourself bad or wrong, simply return to the questioning.
The Apprentice Program
The function of Cheng Hsin is to provide for people an opening into experiencing the nature of Being. This function takes place in classes, courses, workshops, intensives, and especially in the apprentice-instructor program where students train to become teachers and facilitators of this work. Because the matters addressed in this program are so valuable and applicable to human beings everywhere, we offer a simplified description of the development undertaken and a few of the insights generated by such a program.
In the first stage of apprenticeship, students learn to recognize assumptions they have about themselves and others, habitual patterns of behavior, and belief systems that are mistakenly seen as “just the way the world is.”
Once the students become grounded to a certain degree in this self-contemplation, they begin to see places where they get “stuck” — mental-emotional or physical places where an increase in integrity or understanding is hindered by some unworkable way of holding things that they are unwilling to let go. This is where transformation can occur. The individual must “break through” this barrier and experience that they themselves are responsible for the way they see and react to the world. This is an enormous task that requires great courage.
The purpose of Cheng Hsin is not to install some new belief system or a “correct” way of being. Rather the purpose is to create the freedom and capacity for deep contemplation and insight. Cheng Hsin encourages experiencing the truth of the matter for one’s self rather than blind belief. However, direction is given the apprentice via specific disciplines and areas of investigation.
Some of the distinctions that are presented and investigated: keeping one’s word or integrity, accountability, honesty, clear communication and responsibility, excellence, and conscious creativity. Any one of these, fully addressed and lived, creates remarkable shifts in the person investigating them.
The more advanced students train to facilitate others in this process while continuing their own study. The word facilitation means “making easier.” A person caught in a pattern of action that is not powerful can best be moved by a conscious communication of an experience beyond the one that presently limits them. A facilitator is a compassionately ruthless person standing in an experience of such a possibility.
By taking on this work, a person caught up in individual concerns becomes more compassionate and able to facilitate freedom and understanding in others. This is some of what is meant by the phrase “creating for people an opening into the nature of Being.”
In any endeavor where we aim to transform ourselves, become more powerful, or break through some pattern of behavior, it is absolutely necessary to be both open and grounded. The Cheng Hsin work is such an endeavor.
We remain open by attempting to constantly question our assumptions and beliefs. For example: In the Apprentice Program, openness is encouraged by showing the apprentice that there are infinite ways of being other than the “way of being” to which the apprentice is currently attached. It is demonstrated that there are ways of being that are more powerful and that the apprentice himself can make these changes.
We remain grounded by attempting to experience for ourselves the assertions made by our teachers, not by trying to live a fantasy of what the work is about. In the courses taught, homework or “lifework” is assigned, the goal of which is to experience the truth of an assertion first hand in the midst of our everyday life. Otherwise such an assertion becomes a hollow, blind belief.
Clear demands are made on people in the Apprentice Program. The design of the program is such that it is obvious whether or not the demands have been met. No matter how much “open thinking” has gone on, if apprentices cannot clearly demonstrate to themselves and others that they have understood a particular dynamic, they probably do not really understand.
In higher levels of the Apprentice Program, a demand is made to teach. When someone takes on teaching a subject they “think” they understand, it often suddenly becomes clear that there is no deep or real understanding. To effectively teach something it is necessary to be grounded in the experience of what is being taught. Thus being a teacher is a training for the teacher as well as for the students.
It’s important to remember that nothing here is presented as the truth or a fact to be believed or not. The purpose here is to offer directions and possibilities for your own exploration, wherever our explorations and yours may overlap. Remember, the pursuit is to question and discover for yourself what is actually so in the matter.
Students are constantly reminded of their responsibility for their own lives. Embracing this responsibility can be difficult, especially during those times when the trainer, discipline, or circumstance is seen as the “cause” of internal discomfort. In these situations a teacher who can cut through the emotional morass and assist in exposing what is really happening is a godsend-but also quite rare.
Sometimes a breakthrough is made and something new, fresh, and alive is experienced. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to confuse the circumstances surrounding the breakthrough with the breakthrough itself. The memory of the breakthrough becomes frozen and in this way a conceptual monument to the experience is constructed, and defended as what it is not. Ralston has dubbed this phenomenon the “lava syndrome” and addresses it with constant supportive challenging. This support allows for the removal of dead concepts and makes room for new and present experiences.
We may notice that, for the most part, how we live life is determined out of self-concern. Our energy is tied up in maintaining or improving the particular ways that we are, and struggling against anything that appears to destroy us or the way we are. This generally shows up as suffering and pain, with occasional moments of relief when nothing seems to threaten us.
Perhaps you’ve had occasion to notice times when this dynamic was not going on and you felt genuinely happy, free, and fulfilled. These were probably times when you were completely absorbed in something outside of or bigger than your own self-concerns, times when you were fully engaged in creating something other than your own particular way of being in the world.
Freedom from the limits of our own minds is a possibility to which we can consciously commit ourselves. Reaching beyond the confines of our exclusive event is what the Cheng Hsin work is all about.
Consider this an invitation.