By Jeff Eisenberg
I was first exposed to meditation as part of my martial arts training.
I started martial arts as a child, and my beginning experience with meditation was simply as a means used by the instructor to teach us to develop the ability of self restraint through the mandate of forcing us to simply sit still. Which, for a bunch of hyper kids, this idea transferred to our understanding the practice as one of forcing ourselves to not move. Since we were not given any further instructions on how not to move, I accomplished this miraculous feat by either getting swept away in thought so that I was not present at all, or by thinking so hard about not moving, that all it did was make me move more.
Slowly I somehow learned that sitting still and not moving meant me clenching tight, tight fists, grinding my teeth, and tensing my muscles in physical restraint fueled by sheer willpower. Instead, it came from my relinquishing my will to move, though this came much more from the surrender to the physical and mental fatigue of resistance, than it did from any wisdom or insight.
What I realize now in hindsight is that much like the Buddha, I became skilled in concentration. For me, an important component of meditative skill was a dead end on its own, as whatever experience derived from it ended when one’s concentration ended. (It also didn’t help that aside from sitting still and not moving, the only other things that we were directed to apply our concentration to were breaking boards and bricks or slamming our opponent to the mat!)
The silver lining in all this was that my obsession with martial arts, and all things eastern, led me to Buddhism.
Like most practitioners, I was drawn to a pursuit of Buddhism and Buddhist meditation in response to being overwhelmed by life’s difficulties and my inability to effectively deal with them. So my initial pursuit of practice was motivated by my desire to learn how to cope with the pain and suffering that resulted from crisis, and secondly, as a way to reconcile my confusion over the cause of crisis.
I felt that life was a perplexing opponent, an insidious adversary, and if I only had the right “answer,” or the right “game plan,” I could beat it once and for all and never be challenged again. What I naively didn’t realize, was that while Buddhism and meditation would ultimately answer my questions so that I could reconcile my confusion, answering those questions and reconciling my confusion would not rid my life of the causes of crisis or the difficulties that came from them, but merely change how I responded to them.
Which meant rather than my having found a blissful escape from my conditioning and its habitual reactivity, I actually had to fucking engage it and do a hell of a lot of difficult work! Which entailed not only what happened on the cushion, but what happened off of it.
So after 30 years of this practice of sitting and getting up, sitting and getting up, and sitting and getting up, what has happened is that when I sit and get up, and sit and get up, I actually know that I sit and get up, and that is the most important point of sitting and getting up, and more than I ever imagined that I could know.
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Jeff Eisenberg is a Grand Master level martial arts and meditation teacher with over 40 years of training and 25 years of teaching experience. Trained in a variety of disciplines, he has run his own Dojo for nearly 15 years and has trained thousands of children and adults in martial arts and meditation. He is the author of Fighting Buddha: Martial Arts, Buddhism Kicking Ass and Saving It and Buddha’s Bodyguard: How to protect Your Inner VIP. Check out his website here.