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letting go of ‘technique’

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I sat with a friend the other day, offering to help him sort a personal problem. At one point he threw up his hands and said  “you sound like a therapist.” A little later he commented again, this time on the substance of his exploration and no longer on anything I’d done or not done. Looking back, I must have let go of technique — however skilled or well-intended — and instead immersed myself in listening with as much moment-by-moment presence as I could muster. I’d let go of expecting a possible outcome of the conversation or even of comprehending the full extend of my friend’s situation. All I had done, as best as I now recall, was to attend with all my being.

An old Zen story illustrates this point very nicely: I see my action (and non-action) reflected in those of both swordsmen and master.

Zen master Shoju Rojin was once confronted by samurai disciples who asserted that his realization might be superior to theirs in the abstract but theirs was superior to his in concrete application. The Zen master responded by challenging them to a duel, facing their swords with only an iron-clad fan, parrying every blow. Stymied, the humbled samurai asked about his technique. The Zen master replied that he had no technique but clarity of the enlightened eye.

source: Cleary, T. (2005). Soul of the samurai. Rutland, VT: Tuttle, p. 106.


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