Experiencing Empowerment

Most of the following are excerpts from short essays in the Internal Dialogue Anthology. They are compiled here to assist the casual inquirer in recognizing the significance and scope of the work of Empowerment.

From An Interview
“I developed contemplative skills in order to further my study in martial arts. Then, by and by, it turned around and my martial arts furthered my study of that — of discovery. Essentially, I was into understanding the fundamental nature of my own event; I just turned it around so that instead of studying my own event for the sake of martial arts, I began to use martial arts to study my event.”

~Peter Ralston

The Challenge Of Being
When an athlete or a business person or an artist develops skill in their techniques and have the knowledge required to be proficient in their profession, we say they are good at the work they do, maybe even very good. Then there are the greats, the major leaguers. The skills and techniques they train are usually the same as those practiced by others in their field, and the body of knowledge they work from is most likely the same. Yet, these people seem to be in an entirely different class, and the base from which they are operating is a different one. I’m suggesting that the state of being from which they pursue their arts is more conscious, and full of workable principles. How do they come by this possibility?

The Empowerment work is felt with an immediacy that we call real. At the same time, we are asked to give or bring something new to the way we are being now; one that is also real. This simple demand is the challenge of being.

Jef Edwards

Going For The Extra Stuff
It seems to require some experience to recognize how all of the stuff of Cheng Hsin fits together. My experience shows not only that the classes, courses and workshops are connected, but that they feed one another and work together to get across the whole of the communication of Cheng Hsin.

In the beginning of my studies I figured I was at the school to learn T’ai Chi and all this other stuff was extra and not what I was here for. This notion I applied especially to the aspect that is called “empowerment work.” These “Enlightenment” type workshops seemed to me to be for the people who like to share their feelings, like an encounter group. At that time I could not imagine anything more unrelated to my interest in T’ai Chi than an empowerment intensive, but I also heard in Peter’s invitation an opportunity to . . . actually learn the T’ai Chi Ch’uan he was capable of teaching me.

While in the intensive I was brought face to face with “me.” I felt openings, resistance, and unreasonable joy. It wasn’t anything like an encounter group or a place to tell everyone off, or be emotional. Rather it was a place to just tell the truth of how it is and move into the substance of me. The intensive ended and I didn’t feel what I thought would be more powerful and capable. Rather I felt true to my experience. I was left with a raw honesty that felt vulnerable, blasted apart from my armor of protection, and exposed. I wasn’t the powerful being I would have imagined myself to be, but I sure felt honest to the being that I actually was. And this was the me that resumed a study of T’ai Chi Ch’uan.

When I returned to my study I was capable of doing a level of T’ai Chi that was very different than the T’ai Chi I did before. Although I felt more vulnerable and at risk when doing my martial practices, I also found I could actually be with my partner. I felt more whole and in touch with what was going on with me and in the relationship. This was not just psychological. I actually “felt” more. For the first time I recognized these arts demanded openness to being in relationship with another.

All of this brought me to a radical shift in what I was up to in my study. I had an experience of what the “extra stuff” was really about and I could see it was not extra at all. The scope of the Cheng Hsin teachings actually includes all of what is offered. I started to learn the T’ai Chi Ch’uan that Peter is teaching, not the art I thought it was.

James Kapp

Freedom From Mind
When we are ignorant of the workings of what we call “mind,” there is nothing that can be done which does not already fall under its set principles. No change can take place as long as the nature of “what is presently” cannot be grasped. Just as posture cannot be corrected without an acknowledgment of poor alignment, there is no freedom from mind until one realizes that everything we do, every facet of our lives, and our experience of the world is a habitual formulation of mind.

Understanding gets us little if it’s not followed by the presence and practice of what is grasped. After all is said and done and all the books on the subject have been read, don’t we still find ourselves at the effect of fear, jealousy, desire, romantic love, hatred, pettiness, need, embarrassment and excitement, to name a few?

Obviously, more is called for than merely a lecture class or a seminar or a good book; we want to approach mind from an experiential familiarity. In the Empowerment work we endeavor to look honestly at “that which cannot be seen” to listen for what is not spoken and to participate fully in what does not appear at first to have value for us.

I encourage you to see that “thinking” about mind falls short, the way you “feel” about mind doesn’t matter, and there is nothing you can “do” about mind because it is already something being done! A disciplined and purposeful endeavor to match the purposeful habit of mind can be found here.

Jef Edwards

Facing The Beast
Peter asked the apprentices at our last meeting to tackle and challenge our “Beasts.” I realized that the first step to doing this is identifying the sucker. Not so fun to do. Peter introduces the Beast as the stuff you say you don’t like about yourself. It can be dullness, confusion, fearfulness, arrogance, anger, stupidity, or anything else that’s your main way of “showing up” in the world, your primary means of expression that isn’t what you want to express and isn’t what you feel you are underneath your bullshit – powerful, loving, open, creative, alive.

Your Beast is what drives you, controls you, leads you by the nose. Feeling “incapable of life” is at the heart of everyone’s Beast, but we each have our own particular way of being that supposedly enables us to cope with or get around our incapacity, or, often, to just avoid acknowledging the feeling of incapacity altogether.

I had never considered that there might be one core way of being that I do habitually, albeit with variations, in order to “survive,” though I continually observe many habits and reactions that I judge as contractive or constricting. It hasn’t been easy in the past week to keep looking for a common thread in the fabric that makes up Me. I want to keep believing in my complexity.

The more I look into it the more clearly I see how many of my habits spin off the same core. Procrastinating, doing my shy act and my little girl act, going unconscious, feeling that I don’t really know anything worth sharing and am not capable of “making it in the world,” being unable to decide what I want (let alone make a commitment to getting it), all come from a strong fear of putting myself out, of risking failure, rejection or judgment by others or by myself. The closest I’ve come to naming this Beast so far is “Paralysis.” Or would it be more inclusive to just call it “Anonymity,” or “Playing it Safe?” The payoff is “safety.” The price is my life.

I see that I’ve tackled “killing my Beast” more often and more powerfully in the past year than ever before, with the support of the people who are the Cheng Hsin Apprentice Program. I’ve killed the Beast when I’ve caught myself in “the act” and refused to play it out in my usual way right then. When I’ve gone ahead and done something I didn’t really feel capable of doing. When I’ve accepted responsibility for creating my life. But Beasts can and usually do rise again and again and must be challenged over and over.

Peter pointed out to the apprentices that you must kill the Beast many, many times. Perhaps it rises up less and less frequently. Perhaps it rises up more and more and with greater ferocity as it faces your challenge. Perhaps one day it decides to never get up again. But maybe it doesn’t. I don’t think it matters ultimately whether you put it away once and for all or not.

“In the challenge itself you take back your right to your life, your freedom, your beingness.” (Ralston)

Is there anything else to do?

Kathrynn Drahn

Inside The Empowering Transformation Workshop
Last month, Peter Ralston and the Level III apprentices facilitated an Empowering Transformation Workshop. The workshop was powerful. The apprentices had the responsibility of being in front of the room and “running” the workshop, with the commitment that the participants get value. The participants made tremendous movement, and Peter got to watch someone else run “his” workshop. I would like to share this experience with you.

After years of apprenticeship, Peter led us through an intense 12 week training, so that any one of us could run an Empowering Transformation Workshop. This involved weekly meetings, studying the ETW Manual, asking questions, running mock workshops, but most of all, coming to grips with what the Empowering Transformation Workshop “is.” To be able to teach or communicate the work, I had to be able to come from the experience of what I was teaching. Not talk about it or read from a book, but communicate the experience for the purpose of everyone in the room “getting” the experience.

Ridiculous. Incredible resistance came up, I wanted to quit, run away, be sick, get thrown in jail and have motorcycle accidents, “anything” but be in the front of the room with the responsibility of communicating the workshop. I continued to study.

So, the weekend arrives. The workshop is underway, other apprentices have been facilitating, and then, after a break, my turn comes up. I find myself sitting in the captain’s chair, looking out at a sea of expectant faces. I’m scared shitless. I say, “Welcome back,” and start.

Now, my “purpose” for being there was for the participants to have an experience of what I’m talking about; to dialogue, to lecture, to draw, to do anything I need to do to get the experience across. The more committed to my purpose I am, the simpler and easier it gets. At first, it’s a struggle. I’m REALLY self-conscious, scared, and not with the group. I’m with me. Now what Peter pounded into us about what it is to be a facilitator began to emerge. As I was taught to do, I allowed my commitment to “take over,” and as this happened, I dropped being scared. That’s not what I’m here to do. Really. There’s no place for fear about me when I’m totally on purpose. My purpose is for “them” (the participants).

I find myself speaking clearly, eloquently, without effort or fear, and speaking from the experience of what I need to say. Instead of feeling constricted I feel fluid, like what I’m doing is water gushing out of a pipe – no effort, simply moving. Time doesn’t seem to exist, except that Peter writes me a note saying “move faster,” and I do that. Suddenly, three hours later, my turn is over. I thank the participants, and step down.

The experience of facilitating is exhilarating and powerful, terrifying and joyful, really joyful, more so than anything else I’ve done here at the school. I’d like to point out that I’m absolutely terrified of doing it again and that the experience was absolutely satisfying. A lot of what I do at Cheng Hsin is this way for me. I want to welcome all of you to step into the unknown of Cheng Hsin. The apprentice program, the workshops, courses and classes are all designed for you to grow.

Karl Zeise