Saturday, May 14, 2011

Technomysticism - Chapter 5 - Technological Kung-Fu

This is the fifth chapter from my book "Technomysticism", published in Hebrew in 2009. You can find the previous chapters here: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 3-part2. Chapter4.

How do you do that? How do you retain mindfulness while communicating in all channels, to an endless number of places, in a world which keeps accelerating itself? How does one learn to cope with an increasing number of challenges and still continue breathing deep and fully.

The answer is kung-fu. The term kung-fu is usually linked with martial arts movies in which the heroes fly from one side of the screen to the other side, while bashing their opponents in stupefying speed. However, kung-fu is much more than just a fancy way to beat someone. The term kung-fu can be defined in a variety of ways including: “an ability”, “a talent for learning”, “good effort”, “good habit” or “expertise”. Generally, the term kung-fu relates to the art of learning and evolving while conserving harmony with the world. Martial arts are only one type of kung-fu among many and kung-fu is basically the development of abilities of any sort. If you say, for example, that somebody has a cooking kung-fu or a floristry kung-fu, you mean that he has special skills in that field. (In fact, certain kung-fu films such as God of Cookery [1996] are dedicated to the art of cooking, and feature flying chefs who create almost supernatural stews.)

Each of us has a field in which he excels, and thus each of us is a kung-fu artist of some kind: there is a kung-fu for conversation and a writing kung-fu, a kung-fu for driving, and sexual kung-fu, there is kung-fu of thinking, and kung-fu in deciphering complex social situations, there is a kung-fu for memory and a kung-fu in dancing. Each of us is proficient in one way or another. Our unawareness of our kung-fu skills often obstructs us from getting even better.

Kung-Fu is a classic technomystical attitude in the sense that it is a system which aims to retain unity and yet develops the skill of coping with the many. In its classic forms, the way it is taught in the Shaolin monastery, (where the most famous kung-fu style has developed) the studies of kung-fu are combined with the study of Zen Buddhism. This interesting combination began when Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism arrived from India to China in the 5th century. Bodhidharma, who saw the monks napping during meditation asserted that the monk’s flaccid body is a sign of spiritual flaccidity and composed a series of physical exercises for them.

The practice of zazen, Zen meditation, helps a person conserve qi, that universal unified life force, which gives life to everything in the universe, according to Chinese philosophy. The exercise of martial arts is the art of the proper way to release qi. This is why the art of qi and martial arts are considered to be complementary to each other. While the first one helps establish a link to unity and conserve energy, the second one teaches the channeling of that energy into the many in the world. Eventually these two arts become inseparable. The kung-fu artist is in constant relation to qi and unity, and also in contact with the world. He performs each action through meditation and devotion in action. Kung-fu is thus a way to cope with technology by turning it into part of a comprehensive view balancing and integrating the one and the many.

Being in a state of kung-fu means being in a state of exercise, development and refinement. It means a state of mindfulness – being aware of one’s surroundings, focused, and experiencing reality in a whole and enhanced way. If technology is the strategy used by the one to deal with it’s becoming many, kung-fu is multiplicity’s strategy in order to reestablish its connection with the one.

The kung-fu artist is able to learn from every detail in his surroundings and use any situation or object to its advantage, an aptitude which is well depicted in some kung-fu films. The wackiest scenes in kung-fu films usually happen when the heroes of the movie are thrown into combat in an unexpected place or situation such as a restaurant or a crowded street. It is then, when man is forced to cope with the new and the unusual, that the true kung-fu artist is distinguished as the one who can use all things, and cope with all situations to defend himself and hurt his opponent. Some of the most famous skirmishes of kung-fu films star Jackie Chan are ones in which he fights using improvised tools such as a bicycle or a bench, and Jet Li will always be remembered for the virtuoso battles which he performs on wood ladders in the movie “Once upon a time in china” and the closing battle of “Iron Monkey” where he fights midair while jumping from one burning pole to another.

Kung-fu means attention and a willingness to learn from everything. The kung-fu artist sees every obstacle as a step to climb upon and every incident as a lesson. The perception of reality as a kung-fu practice is enough in itself to transform life into a process of learning and development.

The basic meaning of kung-fu relates not to a specific technique but to a state of mind. In Tao of Jeet Kune Do, a Bruce Lee’s masterwork, dedicated to explaining his philosophy of kung-fu philosophy, Lee says: “Please do not be concerned with soft versus firm, kicking versus striking, grappling versus hitting and kicking, long-range fighting versus in-fighting. There is no such thing as “this” is better than “that.” Should there be one thing we must guard against, let it be partially that robs us of our pristine wholeness and makes us lose unity in the midst of duality.” (Lee Bruce. Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Valencia, California: Ohara Publications. 1975. Page 23.)

These words by Lee, are true in regard to every possible situation. Whether you fight or struggle as a lawyer, and artist, a programmer or a housewife – the important thing is the level of consciousness one is able to retain while doing what he does, and the ability to break the bonds and limits and turn reality into a kung-fu practice.

There are many opportunities in life to develop kung-fu skills, because life are full of a wide variety of incidents to be related to unity. Whether it relating to physical pain, sleep and nutrition, challenges with the family, at work, or in a relationship – we keep having to deal with disturbances and finding solutions. When we do this while being joyful and retaining harmony: this is kung-fu.

Each of us is his own kung-fu trainer in the never ending battle of becoming a whole human being. Kung-fu is the essence of human experience, the struggle for constant development of consciousness and to refining the right state of consciousness. The principles of kung-fu remain the same, whether we deal with physical battle or with any other kind of struggle in life.

Kung-fu teaches us the importance of on-guard position. Stance should be both comfortable and relaxed as well as keeping the warrior in a state of readiness to quickly go on to perform any number of possible techniques. This principle is true to our emotional and spiritual stance in life which should be both relaxed and ready to face changes (meaning, a stance which is both in unity as well as in multiplicity). Bruce Lee writes that a fighting posture is basically “a ‘proper spiritual attitude’ stance” (ibid, 31) and a “simple but effective organization of oneself mentally and physically.” (ibid, 34) The right stance enables the warrior to kick any kick as if it was the last kick of his life, and yet to be able to kick that way till the end of time.

Kung-fu teaches us coordination, which Bruce Lee defines as “the quality which enables the individual to integrate all the powers and capacities of his whole organism into an effective doing of an act.” (ibid, 43) This sort of coordination is a basic principle in life. Each complex doing requires us to know how to assemble our various abilities and coordinate them for the purpose of real development.

Kung-fu teaches us awareness to sight. The spreading of awareness on a wide area enables a person to see things happening from a distance, and react to them quickly.

Kung-fu is the art of change: it teaches us to cope with new situations quickly and to deal with them in the best and most positive way, while retaining true awareness. “To change with change is the changeless state” said Lee.(ibid, 203)

In an era of ever accelerating change, kung-fu is a necessary practical and spiritual art. The technological era demands a new sort of kung-fu, one which will be synchronized with the digital world. The extensive use of technology demands a “good habit”, to enable us to connect to the many and yet be always related to the one. As technology becomes part of our body, we need to learn to control our new organs, as if we were technological kung-fu masters.

The digital kung-fu master integrates the different technologies which are at his disposal: the browser, the mobile phone, the PDA, the blog, social networks, virtual worlds, etc. he uses them efficiently and religiously, with a sense of joy and devotion, always keeping the feeling of true doing.

However, this kung-fu relates not only to technological gadgets: it is true also to the way one consumes that which the media communicates to us, for example commercials and reality shows. It has to do with the drugs and foods one consumes or from which one refrains, with the way one reacts during a sickness, with how one plans his travels or the physical posture one is using one uses while writing an email.

Smart Reality Consumers

In From Chocolate To Morphine American physician Andrew Weil proposes a different and refreshing angle on drugs. According to Weil there are no bad drugs or good drugs. Every drug can become a positive influence under certain circumstances, or a negative influence in under conditions. The key question which Weil gives regarding the use of drugs is: What is the relationship between man and the drug. Is it a healthy relationship or ones of misusing the drug. One could have a positive or negative relationship with any drug, claims Weil, and so the principle factor is not the specific drug being consumed but the way that is done. Weil’s attitude towards drugs can also be relevant to technology and media. No medium is inherently good or bad. Each medium can be used intelligently or unintelligently.

The next part of the book deals with the intelligent use of technology. Through the examination of different testcases, it aims at raising the awareness to the technomystical situation and to the way in which the media which we consume influences consciousness. This insight is the first step in a journey towards a massive change in the media which we absorb and towards becoming smart reality consumers.

I will point to various exercises and paths which might enable us to deal with certain situation but there will be no absolute or permanent solutions. The technomystical questions are too complex to be dealt with simplistically, seeking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as answers. Technomystical kung-fu must be a flowing style, outside of any dogma or rigid ritual. The relationship which each of us has with the technologies surrounding us are totally individualistic and any attempt to offer an absolute solution would be hopeless.

Bruce Lee talked about a “style without style”. In the introduction to Tao of Jeet Kune Do his widow, Linda, recommends throwing it away when one is through reading it. The recommendation to break any idol is a basic Jewish recommendation which brings us back to the days when Hezekiah broke the Nechushtan, the brass serpent made by Moses, after the Hebrew people began idolizing it and honoring it with incense. Any image which becomes petrified starts obstructing the real thing, which is why we refer to Bruce Lee’s recommendation to anyone who wants to learn kung-fu from a teacher or a system: “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useful, and add what is essentially your own.”

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