Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lifting in the 5th Dimension, Part Three - Thomas Foote





The Magic Compass


Believing himself to be unobserved, Path Finder did something very strange. With his back to his resting companion, he began to move his hands in the air, describing a curious pattern. Repeating the design ever more quickly, his hands began to blur and the air to glow. Suddenly his hands were still, but no longer empty. Path Finder now held a strange looking device at which he peered, as if to consult it in some manner.

"What have you got there?" The Kid demanded. Like a splash of cold water, his words seemed to catch Path Finder off guard. "You're hiding something from me, old man. Let me see it!"

Sheepishly Path Finder turned around. "I'm not sure you're ready for this," he warned. In his hands he held an instrument not unlike a compass. Yet neither was it like any compass The Kid had ever seen. And were had it come from? There was something strange here and The Kid was becoming uncomfortable. Then, as he watched unblinkingly, Path Finder's hands were empty. The compass had vanished.

"Damnation!" muttered Path Finder, 'You've broken my concentration. Well, no matter. I have our new bearing but I'll have to draw you a picture."

Mouth agape, knees suddenly weak, The Kid sank to the ground. Squatting next to him, Path Finder began to trace a picture in the sand with his finger. "You're not going to faint, are you?" Path Finder asked. His finger had drawn two intersecting lines, like axes on a graph. Interrupting, The Kid blurted, "What was that thing I saw you conjure out of the air?"

"I was trying to explain," the exasperated guide sighed. "It was a compass. Did you think we were wandering aimlessly about this land?" With a slice of his finger Path Finder drew an arrow across the grid. Now stabbing the sand he continued, "This point at the extreme ends of the active-inclusive poles is our direction. With that compass I can keep our course set on Shambala. Now get on your feet. We have lots of country to cover."

"What's a shambala?" asked The Kid, no less puzzled than before.

"It's not a what," said the guide. "It's a where."

The Kid just stared back blankly.

"Now you've got me sounding confused!" growled Path Finder. "Shambala is a place. That's what I mean!"

The Kid's face relaxed a little.

"People like you got to have a goal, don't they?" the old man continued. The growing look of recognition on The Kid's face encouraged him further. "You wouldn't take these risks just for the fun of it, would you? Heck no," he answered himself. "That's why we're going to Shambala. It's an ancient place, mostly forgotten these days, where you find everything you ever dreamed has come true."

"Why didn't you tell me this earlier?" protested The Kid as he rose to his feet. Path Finder was already striding away, now confident of the direction. Kicking the sand, The Kid answered himself, "Because you're obviously crazy and I'd have stayed safely at home."

After the first chapter it should be pretty clear that the 5th Dimension isn't the old neighborhood. There are a lot of unfamiliar things in the landscape and darn few old landmarks to go by. For this reason we're going to pull back and scope out the big picture a little before getting on to specifics. I hope this will make for a more comfortable journey.


My Shadow

While exploring the 5th Dimension I became acutely aware of "something" -- my experience. I find it strangely embarrassing to discuss this. It's kind of like I just discovered my shadow and am going around showing it to everybody.

"Hey, look at THIS!" I say, tugging at a stranger's sleeve. Simultaneously I am wildly gesticulating at the sidewalk, where nothing out of the ordinary asserts itself.

"If you're trying to sell something," the stranger warns, "I don't want any. Now let go of my arm!"

"I'm not selling anything. I just want to show you my shadow," I explain.

The stranger starts to back away cautiously, but I continue undaunted.

"Isn't it great?" I exclaim. "I just discovered it when I got up this morning and it's been following me everywhere!"

Now the stranger has slips completely away, but I continue addressing the shadow itself.

'Yessirree!" You almost gave me the slip once," I tell the bare sidewalk. "That time you didn't follow me into the house. But I'm wise to your tricks now."


Meditation

Many other people have stumbled over their experience (shadows) like I did. Instead of running around jabbering about how special their shadows were, they sat down and began to study them. They meditated. They became shadow experts. With time they discovered much about the relationship between light and dark. Some of them became very advanced and discovered the equivalence of electromagnetic propagation, etc . . . and stuff I can't relate to my "shadow" any longer.

So what is meditation, anyhow? Among other things, it is a quest for raw, 200 proof experience. Meditative techniques developed to distill what was happening to us all, on a gross level, down to its essence. Like everything else people do, this study of purified experiential-stuff resulted in a grand diversity. There were any number of ways to study experience -- weight lifting, as it turns out, is an excellent method.


The Compass

This is where Path Finder's magic compass comes into play. The compass face has two axes between which all forms of meditation may be found. While the 5th Dimension stretches out to the four points of the compass, we are interested in a particular heading. So let's take a closer look at this strange instrument, that we may more thoroughly understand where we are going.

The compass face is composed from two continua:

(1) active-passive and
(2) inclusive-exclusive.

These two lines crisscross to divide the compass face into four pie-shaped quadrants:

(1) active/inclusive,
(2) passive/inclusive,
(3) active/exclusive, and
(4) passive/exclusive.

In order to find weight lifting you need look no further than pie slice number (1). You are going to learn how to approach iron work as a form of active/inclusive meditation. This might be easier done than said (no, I didn't say it backwards). We'll start by examining the compass more closely.


Physical Involvement

The active/passive continuum is like a scale you can use to measure the physical side of meditation. At one end of the scale you have a very busy approach to the job, while at the opposite end the approach is more laid back. You might also label it the "hard school" (active) and the "soft school" (passive).

The soft school is the one I think most people think of when they hear the word meditation. I'm sure you can visualize a yogi seated in some preposterous position doing nothing very obvious (there's all kinds of jokes about spending years studying your navel). This kind of meditation looks pretty silly, though what the yogi is doing may be serious.


Form and Function

Let's remember that there is a difference between the form of an activity and the function of an activity. When we just look at some quietly sitting, we are only seeing the form, which can be mighty misleading. I've always felt that the form of weight lifting, when considered without its function, was a bit odd. Imagine a Martian tourist, just turning off at Earth for a rest stop, and the first local he encounters is a weight lifter. This first impression might be less than encouraging. The poor Martian would have to make sense out of some little two-legged creature who sweated and grunted just to pick these big black objects up and return them again to their original position. It probably looks real tidy, but not very efficient. He might suspect that we were slaves performing a service for our disc-shaped iron masters. Well, you and I know the purpose and function of weight lifting, so the strange looking activity makes sense to us.


Noise

So why is the yogi just sitting around? Well, he might be studying his navel, but it's more likely that hs is studying his experience. He's one of those "shadow" experts. By sitting very still you might say his body is going to produce less "noise" which might interfere with his work. It's a little like being interested in rivers, but all you ever notice is the stuff floating by instead of water. If you could sweep the water clean, you could appreciate the river itself. So the yogi is sitting still to study his experience wiped clean of "doing things".

Now let's look at the hard school. Active meditation is a less familiar form to most Westerners. However, a lot of athletes have recently realized that sports can be very similar to meditation. During some forms of rythmic activity or at periods of peak performance, people have begun to recognize unusual changes in their consciousness, such as "runner's high".

Long before jogging caught on, several thousands of years ago, "shadow" experts discovered that the noise from the body could be put to use in their study of experience. These guys developed forms of meditation that involved walking, dancing, and everyday activities like housekeeping and farming (e.g., Karma Yoga).


Mental Involvement

If the active/passive continuum is a scale for describing the role of the body in meditation, then the inclusive/exclusive continuum may be a scale on which to measure the involvement of the mind. In the same way that the body can create noise, the mind can also require muffling in order to study pure experience.


Experiment

So let's say you want to quiet your mind. To get an idea of what I'm talking about I want you to try an experiment. If you are sitting down, just lay this book down for a moment and relax. Take a couple of slow, deep breaths and close your eyes (not yet). Try not to think about anything. No cheating! If there is a little voice chattering away between your ears tell it to shut up. Now go ahead and do it . . .

How was it? Did you hear your most hated advertising jingle? Did you see pictures of familiar faces? Or did you actually experience a resounding silence? Relax if your head was filled with uninvited sights and sounds. That is the way it usually works. An untrained mind normally makes all kinds of noise. The ancient Hindus used to compare an untrained mind to a tree full of drunk monkeys. I can relate to that description.

So how do you get the monkeys sobered up and out of the tree? The inclusive way is to just accept them. Let them hang out there as long as they want and watch their crazy antics. They will eventually get bored and leave. The exclusive way is to focus your attention on something like the tree's leaves and ignore the damn monkeys. When they no longer can get a reaction from you they'll go bug someone else.


Four Types of Meditaion

Let's put these two scales, one physical, the other mental, together and see what happens. I've already indicated that you will get four categories of meditation(remember that pie?), one of which may contain weight lifting if you know how to look for it. We'll start with Type 4, passive/exclusive, and work forward. A student of Type 4 would sit quietly under the tree full of drunken monkeys and concentrate on the patter in the tree's bark, while he tried to ignore the fact that they were throwing fruit and worse at him.

The active/exclusive, Type 3 approach might look even more weird. This guy would begin to dance around the tree in a circle, while chanting his own name backwards. As he circled the tree he would dance faster and faster, his chantin gvoice drowning out the hoots and shrieks of the amused drunken monkeys. This sounds like it might work.

Now Type 2, the passive/inclusive fellow. This guy really worries about the monkeys. He sits completely still and stares at them. That's all! Day in an day out he just sits there and passively observes them. Always alert to their foolish, drunken behavior but never ruffled by it. This is very difficult, but it drives the monkeys crazy and they split.

Finally, we reach the Type 1 meditation, or the active/inclusive approach. I've been saving this guy for last for a good reason. it's the craziest method of all. This guy climbs up in the tree and joins the monkeys. He's a weight lifter!

Why did the weight lifter climb up into the tree? The answer is very straight forward. He got involved! That is what meditation means when it is active/inclusive. Just look at those two words again. You can't lift weights passively and you can't ignore them. Frankly, the reason weight lifting is such an excellent vehicle for meditation is that it demands involvement. Secretly, I think weight lifters have been meditating for years only no one told them.

So I'm saying that weight lifting fits into the physically active or hard school of meditation. That's pretty obvious. This means you are going to sutdy experience by participating in life. Not only are you going to take an active part in life, but you are going to embrace it. This is the inclusive part. Weight lifting becomes Type 1 meditation when you become fully involved, both mentally and physically, in every last detail of the whole brutal activity.


Dissociation: What Type 1 Isn't

Total involvement is accomplished through a process known as "association". To get a good idea of what this is let's look at the opposite. Dissociation is easy to illustrate. You want strength and bigger muscles. Because you are goal directed you hate weight lifting itself. The workout is just something to get through, a way to bring you closer to the strength and bigger muscles you want. So, you bring music into the weight room and turn the volume up to the pain threshold. Also, you can't seem to lift consistently when alone. Misery loves company. It's not a real training partner you seek; rather, you need company as a diversion. The workout becomes a social event. Between the music and macho talk you hope to forget the discomfort of working out. At last, when the whole horrible ordeal is finally over, there is the welcome shower. There you will hear others mutter in sympathy, "God, I'm glad THAT is over for one more day." What's odd is that it's actually a greater chore to distract yourself from what is at hand, because you have to do something in addition to just "being there" and doing what you set out to do in the first place.

Dissociation requires that you fall into the trap of just going through the motions. This attitude amounts to killing time, which Thoreau warned could not be done without injuring eternity. Or injuring yourself, I might add. The serious and accomplished lifters I know take every rep seriously, not because they have to but because they want to. It is an unavoidable function of the interest they invest in their workouts.


What It Is

It's pretty clear what association isn't. It is also easy to say that it is nothing more than paying attention to what you are doing. That, however, would be a little deceptive of me. Learning to associate with what you are doing is a skill and like other skills, it takes time and practice to master. Also, like other skills, there are levels of competence. Paying attention to what you are doing can be like peeling layers off an onion: you can keep going deeper and deeper toward the center. Let's take a look at some example.

Just as "you can never step into the same river twice", no two reps are the same. There is always something to learn. One day I was squatting -- with a subtle difference in my balance, which I could best detect through the pressure differential on the soles of my feet. Descending, my weight was more over the heels. Then, as I pressed up to the standing position the pressure was more evenly distributed over the entire sole. As a result, I didn't totter forward or backward, but remained sure of my footing. I was learning to become attuned to the surface where my body interfaced with the Earth -- the soles of my feet. It was a valuable lesson.

Another time I recognized a difference in the downward pressure of a standing press. My body seemed to accept the bar onto my shoulders (very inclusive). Instead of just dropping the bar across my shoulders, my arms seemed to draw the bar to my shoulders with a sort of expectation of comfort. This lack of resisting seemed to contain a sense of certainty that I could again press the bar off my shoulders. I was learning to appreciate new factors in the negative rep aspect of the movement.

In his novel "Island", Aldous Huxley populated the trees of his paradise with jungle birds trained to screech: "Attention, boys. Attention!" Of all the possible words Huxley might have placed in their beaks, why these? The answer is probably simple. He thought they were important. He knew that the simple admonition to pay attention contained limitless possibilities. Paying attention to life is the key to self-knowledge. Paying attention is the key to the 5th Dimension. The essence of the 5th Dimension is to be present in the present. Don't run away from the stress of weight lifting; instead, experience the pleasing agony of muscles working hard. Let go of the hassles of life prior to this workout. Don't worry where you will be five minutes from now. Let the evening await until it arrives. There should be nothing occupying your awareness other than the bar and your muscles. You need all the balance, control and willpower you can muster. At the extreme of association the distinction between subject and object disappears. You become weight lifting. "Lifting" is happening, as opposed to "I am lifting weights." You can become at one with the weights. THE LIFTING IS.

Imagine a close-grip bench press. You grasp the bar. You grab your resolve. Lift off! Balance it for a moment/eternity. Now it descends. You guide the bar to your sternum and feel the Big Demand approach (the Moment of Power). Loading the chest, shoulders, upper back and triceps, you blast off. The bar surges upward. The triceps are tight . . . they're going to burst . . . now the next rep! And so it goes . . .

There is no conclusion to defining "association". It is a process and it is the subject of the rest of this book. As you read on, you will continue to peel off layers of the onion. You will also continue to be surprised at what you uncover about weight lifting.

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