Anma as Meditation: Part 1 – Chuang Tzu Messes with the Student

“Look at the fan,” Shogo Mochizuki Sensei would say as he came behind me and slapped me on the shoulders a couple times. The idea was to get my mind off of what my hands were doing. Approaching Anma as meditation.

I recall being a student in the summer of 1995, Scottdale, AZ. It must have been 115 degrees out and inside the A/C was blowing hard and the ceiling fans were on high. I was just learning the art of Anma, ancient Japanese massage. If you are not familiar with it yet, it takes something to gain any sort of competence in, much less mastery around. Or should I say, it takes Nothing?

buddha meditationMu shin – roughly translated as no heart or no mind, is to say something like, “having no desire” or “doing without intention”. To be mushin, one has no desire for, nor attachment to, a particular outcome. It is the practice of the art itself which is the aim. And that isn’t even accurate.

It’s sometimes difficult talking about concepts in Japanese and Chinese cultures, due to the depth of the languages. “Aim” and “goal” are too strong of words for what I’m attempting to convey. An Anma practitioner or Taoist monk might say something like, “I practice because I practice.” There is no other reason or intention other than to practice.

To quote Alan Watts, “Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.” It is doing without bringing anything else into the doing of that thing that you’re doing. Try saying that five times fast!

When I was a young student, I was full of zeal and pride. I wanted to learn this ancient art that no one else in the United States was practicing. I wanted to say, “Hey, look what I can do and how great it feels.” Over the last 20 years, what I’m discovering is when I want to “fix” someone; take that frozen shoulder and make it unfrozen, loosen up that back and correct someone’s posture, I find some other area becomes exacerbated and I end up doing some harm. Or at the very least, do not achieve my desired intention for “fixing”.

Mochizuki Sensei’s technique of slapping us on the back and telling us to look at the ceiling fan was his way of getting students out of their mind, out of their ego. To get to mushin if you will. Even though there is no “getting to” to get to.

The point being, in the practice of Anma, as well as the practice of Life, be of no heart, no mind. The point of practicing Anma is not simply to bring health and vitality to others. It is also a time honored practice of developing one’s own centeredness and awareness of self. The rest is just icing on the cake.

I’ll leave you with a story by Taoist master Chuang Tzu.

Chuang Tzu12A student climbs to the top of a mountain and finds two old enlightened masters sitting there. One of them is Chaung Tsu, and they invite him to sit. “I have come to learn from your wisdom, great master” says the student.

Chaung Tsu begins: “Now I am going to tell you something. I don’t know what heading it comes under, and whether or not it is relevent here, but it must be relevent at some point. It is not anything new, but I would like to say it.”

The student sits forward and gives Chaung Tsu his full attention. Unseen by the student, the other master catches the twinkle in Chaung Tsu’s eyes and knowingly shakes his head.

“There is a beginning”, continues Chaung Tsu. “There is no beginning of that beginning. There is no beginning of that no beginning of beginning. There is something. There is nothing. There is something before the beginning of something and nothing, and something before that. Suddenly there is something and nothing! (But between something and nothing, I still don’t really know which is something and which is nothing.) Now, I’ve just said something, but I don’t really know whether I’ve said anything or not.”

The would-be student stares slack-jawed at Chaung Tsu. He makes as if to speak a question, and then snaps his mouth shut. After some time, he slowly gets to his feet, stammerrs “thank you”, and then slowly departs down the mountain from whence he came.

When he has gone, the other enlightened master turns to Chaung Tsu and scolds “why do you do that? He only wanted to learn.”

“He came expecting some deep truth with which to adorn his mind”, replies Chaung Tsu, “and yet what he came seeking is already within him. The clutter in his mind only prevents him from seeing it. As long as he believes his mind is the tool which will lead him to enlightenment, he will never achieve it. He will now go and turn my words over and over in his head until his rational mind is so weary it cries itself to sleep like a baby. Then with it out of the way, perhaps he will catch a glimpse of the truth which he seeks.”

“Besides”, continues Chaung Tsu with a wink, “I just like messing with people.”