These notes aren’t so much the crabby natterings of Unka Grumpy, as a dialog with myself and those six readers who bother with them. As I write on this or that I find what I think about the topic. This may sound strange, after all, how can you not know how you think? Trust me, if you accept the first reaction to a question you are, by definition, not thinking, you’re “going on instinct” which means you are using prejudice and dogma. Granted, it’s easier to simply “stick to your principles” and repeat the beliefs by rote, but any opinion that can’t be examined and defended, modified and amended is just that, a belief system. The world is not flat and DNA exists, I know that because I’ve seen the world from high up and I’ve made new things from DNA for a living.
You have to examining your “beliefs” as rigorously as you practice your martial arts. Your thoughts must be organized like you organize your kata or you will ever be a beginner, an uneducated child in the universe of knowledge. The first step is to accept that what you know may not be what is true. When you practice the sword, your first step to improving, to living through the next battle (let’s assume you fall through the Alternate Universe Interface and need to fight the zombies) is to hand yourself to a teacher. What this means is that you simply listen with an open mind so that when your teacher says “your tip is low” you do not accept your first body impression and deny it, but you question your propioreception and accept the possibility that you may be mistaken about where you figure the tip is. Raise the tip and look at the mirror (not the other way around), or raise the tip until teacher says OK, then tell yourself the tip way up high like that isn’t really way up high. Eventually, if you’re a good student willing to question your own body sense, you will come to believe that feeling is the correct position. You will come, through questioning and an open mind, to a true feeling for the tip of the sword.
Who is the teacher in your mental journey to truth? Well it isn’t a book, it isn’t a teacher who makes you memorize the times tables or repeat historical dates. It isn’t dogma we’re looking for, it’s truth, and while dogma may sometimes be true, it can’t by definition (dogma doesn’t change), become true. Facts and figures are not truth, the search is truth, the question is truth the start and finish is theory. This is “science”. The scientific method starts with an idea, just like religion, but science means you try to disprove that idea. You question, you experiment, you measure and you stress test. When your discussions and investigations show cracks in your idea, you change the idea and start the process once more. This continues for your whole life, the process being the important part, just like swinging the sword is the important part, not getting the grade or having the fancy title. You can self-award a rank and you can come up with amazing ideas but both are delusion. Even coming up with a “true” idea is delusion until you test it, accidental truth isn’t any more useful to your growth than thinking up fairies to explain mood swings. Being open to changing your mind, or changing your propioreception is not “betraying your principles”, it’s having a student’s mind (shoshin). Without shoshin learning is impossible.
Without putting your beliefs and opinions out there so that someone can get in your face and call bullshit, you have no shoshin. It’s a bit distressing that in the “age of the internet” where we can reach people all over the world, we seem not to be seeking conflict, but rather we create bubbles of confirmation. We split up into groups and subgroups who agree with us and stick to them. It’s rather like when the library got rid of the card catalogue and went digital, suddenly I wasn’t seeing all these delightful titles that were close in spelling to what I wanted, but far away in topic. Computers meant a restriction of experience, a loss of the wild idea coming in from left field.
Next time you do something that nags at you, do a little brutal self analysis and figure out what belief system you’re using to determine your actions. Keep questioning, keep growing.
Let yourself be taught and you may survive the next zombie invasion.