Here’s a quick update from Lone Star state (Texas, USA) with an update on my time here on the Cheng Hsin Spring Retreat.
Below is a brief, sketch outline of what’s happening here, and for me. I intend on sharing more detail in future posts, after the retreat.
The most basic summary is that it has been great and well worth it!
I’m very lucky and grateful for the support of my family, friends, colleagues and employers over the years and now for this sort of exploration and learning. While this work comes across as ‘martial’ I’m really here for the principles, consciousness work and way of ‘being’ whether that be on a board, in a boardroom or in a brawl. Becoming more conscious, more embodied, more present, sensitive, grounded and open are foundational for how I ‘am’, how I relate and whether what I’m doing is an appropriate contribution in any moment, in any context.
So, we just finished the 3rd week of 4, contemplating and training inside a breezy dojo on a ‘ranch’ 50 miles from San Antonio. We train, cook and sleep inside an uninsulated 40*80ft wooden building, surrounded by birds singing in the low cypress forest on rocky alkaline soil, exposed to temperatures ranging from 0 to 35 degrees celsius. The nearest town is Bandera, the ‘Cowboy Capital of Texas’, and there have been a couple of excursions to do washing or have a beer on a Saturday night. Texas is just like you’d imagine, big cars, big hats, big boots, big freeways etc. The days here are long, but not extreme (8:30 to 8:30 with breaks) however there is a LOT of content to learn and I’m pretty sure everyone has been in well over their heads.
Each week focused on a different aspect of the Cheng Hsin work lead by Peter Ralston and his assistant Brendan. Participants like me can choose to do any combination of the weeks. This retreat had lower numbers than normal, starting with 8 for the first week and now only 3 of us for the final week, a guy from LA and another from Germany.
Peter himself is quite remarkable. A truly enlightened being, embodying everything he teaches. He’s incredibly energetic, engaging, direct as a guide through consciousness, and by all accounts (and from witnessing him still move incredibly fast, being unhittable and being able to effortlessly propel people across the room) one of the most incredible martial artists living. He’s a great storyteller and the stories about some pretty wild adventures of exploration and discovery. Almost by definition he’s obsessive, hermit-like and hilarious.
Week 1 was ‘Experiencing the Nature of Being, a process of dismantling our perceptions and assumptions about self and reality through a range of different meditations, contemplations, dialogues and discussions. While it was very challenging, I really committed to this work. More than any other retreat or experience, this week expanded my consciousness of self, patterns in awareness and behaviour and an appreciation for the possibilities that come from ‘not knowing’. I’m curious as to whether / how this will show up in my interactions with y’all (Texan phrase) in future.
Week 2 was about Zen Body Being and martial arts work. Through a combination of visualisations, games and basic techniques Peter and Brendan showed us how it’s possible to move faster, more effortlessly and with greater sensitivity. While this was mostly trained in a martial context, the applications to any movement activity e.g. surfing are there to be explored too. We learned more than twenty different martial techniques as well as rolling, falling, Tai Chi set and more.
Week 3 has been more about Effective Interaction, with the same combination of contemplations, games and techniques. As with the previous weeks, the work is really about experiencing the principles (relaxing, unification, etc.) than any particular form. It’s a remarkably intelligent approach to interacting with no assumption or idea left unchallenged. I am, at the end of three weeks, still terrible at al of it…but at least there’s a foundation there and I’m genuinely ‘doing it’.
Week 4 is going to be a mixed bag and I’m going to focus on training as hard as I can, while also documenting as much as I can about what I’ve learned, and getting prepared to be back in the ‘real world’.
Psychologically and mentally these weeks have been challenging, but all that is supported by it being a very simple, cloistered, uninterrupted existence. I’ve been grateful that I can sleep a bit more than usual (it’s easy to get 8 hours in here) so I can show up, trying not to be ‘myself’ (i.e. not clinging to old habits of mind and body) and keep up with what’s being taught. A couple of other people have left early for various reasons, and it has crossed my mind! I’ve also noticed in myself and others when we are or aren’t really listening, following and allowing ourselves to be transformed. At times this openness has lead to lots of laughing as fresh realisations explode my conceptions and assumptions.
So, I’m basically in a very happy place and space…and very grateful to be so.