Thursday, March 15, 2012

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

The Gateless Barrier
by Thomas Foote (1985)

The way to Shambala, as The Kid was coming to realize, was not without obstacles. First he was expected to leap fallen bridges, then his guide materialized objects out of nowhere. Thus lost in thought, The Kid failed to notice that he'd been trudging into a deepening gloom -- at midday! Suddenly a great wall, whose shadow captured light like a huge net, rose awesomely before them.

"What is this?" whispered The Kid.

"The Gateless Barrier," answered Path Finder. Seemingly unconcerned, he sat down in a comfortable cross-legged posture.

In the false night of the great barrier, The Kid advanced to the wall and ran his hands over the rough, unyielding boulders.

"We'll never get through this," he whined. "We'll never see Shambala!"

Patiently Path Finder addressed him. "Don't you recall I said to have faith in yourself? Now just sit down and do as I say." Reluctantly, The Kid sank down in a squatting position beside the old guide.

"If we are going to cross this barrier," Path Finder explained, "we must observe our breathing."

"Come again," replied the uncomprehending Kid. "I need to scale a wall and you want to sit and watch your belly rise and fall."

"Listen!" hissed Path Finder with sudden urgency, "or be lost. This is the 5th Dimension, not the Outer-Lands with which you are familiar."

Grudgingly, The Kid admitted to himself that the old man had a point.

"Okay," he conceded "show me your stuff."

"Just sit here calmly," instructed Path Finder. "Now as you breathe, observe the breath as it rushes past your nostrils. Try to inhale deeply, feeling the pull from the Hara . . ."

"The What-a?" interrupted The Kid.

"Later," continued Path Finder with ill-concealed exasperation.

"Don't get tense," replied The Kid. "If you'll just say what you mean and forget the fancy words, I'm sure I'll get the hang of it."

Rolling his eyes, Path Finder took several deep, slow breaths before continuing.

"Now, let's see . . ." the guide said, "where are we? Oh, yes, observe your breath as you inhale. Then watch the tide reverse as your lungs empty. Try to breathe naturally. When voices chatter in your head -- don't try to stop them. Just let them in one door and out another. Don't hold on or follow them out the door. Just return to the rhythm of your breathing."

"Sounds easy," concluded The Kid. "Now was that anything to get upset about?"

"Of course you're right," murmured Path Finder. "There's one more thing. Pay particular attention to the moment when the tide of your breathing changes from in-rush to out-wash. This is a very special moment . . ."

"Got it!" replied The Kid. "Now let's get with it and stop all this chatter."

"Gratefully," grunted Path Finder, becoming as still as a stone. Together the two wanderers sank into a deep silence. Only the slow, deep breathing of the two men disturbed the darkness below the great wall.

Suddenly, The Kid was roused from his quiet contemplation by a stabbing light.

"Hey, Path Finder!" he shouted. "Look at the wall. There's a big HOLE in it. Is this more of your conjuring, like that screwy compass?"

"Not at all," the old man observed. "This time it was your own magic."


What's the stuff about a Gateless Barrier? Ask yourself, "What do barriers do?" They divide things. This particular barrier is very tricky. It divides your own experience of simply being into two parts -- the experience of Mind and the experience of Body. This divided state is what we call "normal". The bad news is that to accept being divided is like living with a chronic disease. Everyone you know has the same disfiguring sickness and as far as you know, that's the way it should be. The good news is that the Gateless Barrier is also a solution to the problem.

It's a wonder to me how smoothly this image of a barrier can serve a dual purpose. It is basically a riddle and when you find the solution you can pass to the other side. In order to reach the 5th Dimension in your lifting, it is necessary to get past this particular barrier.

At the beginning of this chapter, The Kid was faced with a seemingly impenetrable wall which lacked a gate. That's the way it is for someone who has never been whole, but rather, has only known themselves as a separate mind and body which mysteriously manages to occupy the same space and time. The Kid was lucky -- he had a guide. Path Finder showed him how to find the Moment of Power, when space/time is frozen and you can pass through the barrier into the 5th Dimension.

The trick is to enter the right state of consciousness, something that can be done through meditation. The weird thing is, once this is done, the barrier is never really breached, instead it redefines itself. Now you see it as it really is -- GATELESS! The way through is wide open, in fact it always was. There never was a gate. The separation between mind and body was an illusion.

The reason for getting beyond the Gateless Barrier is simple. Weight lifting in the 5th Dimension is different. In the normal world, where the mind and body are experienced as separate, you can't bring your total power to bear. You are divided. At the best of times, the wall dissolves and the two halves communicate. Your lifting improves. This can happen under stress, like when you are going for a new maximum in a lift. The experience you have is of being very psyched. Your mind is focused on just one thing -- the lift. Nothing distracts you and when the time comes you ram it home, and it was easier than you expected. Such moments are great, but can you count on them? That's why you need to get beyond the wall.

Once you reach the other side, the journey isn't over. There's a lot to learn in the 5th Dimension as you'll see in later chapters. For now we need to take one step at a time and begin by learning to cross the barrier. It is done during the Moment of Power, which I stumbled on by accident.


There I was doing dips. Slowly, I lowered my body between the parallel bars. Reaching the bottom, the stretch in my shoulders could definitely be felt. Then came the decision point, when I had to press myself back to the starting point. I could feel the pecs taking the load, then the deltoids took hold and finally the triceps fired and I was up.

On that particular morning another guy was waiting his turn at the dipping bars. While I worked, I could hear him grumbling about the work to come. We were close acquaintances in the strange way of people who have the same workout schedule get to be. That is, I didn't know his name, but I knew enough about him to was philosophically about exercise.

"Try focusing your attention," I suggested, "on the moment when you decide to press up."

He looked interested in anything that might reduce the pain.

"It's kind of like meditation," I continued. "Instead of paying attention to the work you're doing, going up and down, watch for that moment where you make the transition between the two phases. The turnaround."

I don't know if my acquaintance ever made much of my advice. He went on to run marathons and gave up weights. I had surprised myself, however, by voicing the connection between Dips and Pranayama. I had, indeed, been meditating on the Moment of Power for some time, without consciously seeing the connection.

Breath of Life

'Prana-what?" you might ask. "Sounds like a new flavor of yogurt."

Wrong. It's a form of meditation that was devised in ancient India. In Sanskrit "prana" means something like "breath" -- and more. It refers to some kind of life energy that can be derived through breathing. The whole thing, "pranayama," refers to a "science of breathing and represents a whole school of yogic meditation.

It seems the ancient Indian scholars made the spectacular discovery. If they suffocated someone the victim died. AH-HA! They realized breath was necessary for life. Thus, they reasoned, when one breathes, one inhales the vital energy which sustains life. They went on to discover ways of "breathing" oneself into immortality, but it was so long ago that everyone forgot how (perhaps due to hyperventilation). However, we are left with some neat breathing exercises, one of which has special significance for weight lifting because it will lead us to the Moment of Power.

Let's examine a specific form of Pranayama. We'll call it simply "following the breath," which is a good operational definition. All one needs to do is follow these simple instructions:

1) Sit down comfortably
2) Breathe naturally
3) Observe the process

An alarm should have gone off in your head at the mention of "simple instructions." Haven't you encountered those reassuring words in the directions for assembling Christmas presents and then spent frustrating hours getting it wrong?

This form of meditation would fit into either Type 2 - passive/inclusive, or Type 4 - passive/exclusive, depending upon whether or not you do it with your eyes open. Either way it's an exercise in "peeling the onion," that is, association.

You will notice that "meditation" really just amounts to paying special attention to what you are doing. You associate with the task at hand rather than dissociate from it. Breathing is one of the simplest and purest activities through which to study raw experience. Associating very closely with it is often described as "observing" it. What it means is that you pay very close attention to all the sensations of breathing as they occur. That is, you "feel" the air rush past the nostrils, and you "feel" the diaphragm drop while the abdomen expands. You may visualize the prana/energy rushing into your abdomen as you inhale. Before the process reverses, you will notice a transition.

As Path Finder pointed out, between the phases of breathing there is a very special moment. Ancient yogis learned to watch for this moment because they believed it had special properties. In the 5th Dimension it is called the Moment-of-Power.

The Crossing

Recognizing the Moment of Power requires great subtlety. To notice it means you're refining your technique and improving your powers of association. This moment has "special properties." At this moment the dualism of mind and body is least apparent. It is at this moment that mind and body are "yoked" and a special wholeness is experienced. The Gateless Barrier is suddenly "gateless" and you may freely enter the 5th Dimension.


We've been talking about "following the breath" in order to become tuned into the Moment of Power. In one sense, you are using your ability to direct your attention and pointing it at a special event -- space between breaths. This is a basic exercise in association.

The next step to lifting in the 5th Dimension is a simple extension of the first step. Your faculty of "attention" must be focused in a special way on each repetition as you exercise.

Each repetition consists of two phases, one aggressive and one submissive. Between the two there is a singular instant where transition from downward energy to upward energy transpires. One simply focuses the attention on the transitional point, without interfering with the flow of energy. This is not as easy as it sounds. There is a natural tendency to interfere with the flow. During Pranayama it takes the form of slowing the breath and self-consciously prolonging the pause between inhaling and exhaling. It takes practice to let the breath come and go naturally, while remaining intent on observing the Moment of Power. In like manner, I'm not suggesting that sagging there at the bottom position of a Dip is a special event. Don't just hang there, waiting for enlightenment to arrive like a bolt of lightning. You have to keep the momentum and timing natural. There is a sense of rhythm to any set of good reps and you don't want to lose it. But this doesn't preclude watching for the instant. It takes practice, just like Pranayama, but once you "feel" it you'll recognize it. The pull of wholeness is very strong.

Altered States

Now we've progressed from focusing on breathing to focusing on doing reps, where I've said that you'll discover something. Just what does "it" feel like? That's a real tricky issue, but a very important one. First off, realize we're talking about something you will feel, rather than hear. Words are a little inadequate at such times. Imagine trying to tell someone who has never eaten a banana exactly what to expect. Remember, you are expected to communicate the experience of eating a banana so well that this person will recognize one by taste alone. The Moment of Power isn't a banana but it is an experience. When your attention is calmly, yet sharply tracking your every move during a rep, there is a change in your consciousness. By degrees, depending upon your skill, your mind and body become less separate. As the barrier between mind and body dissolves, the experience becomes more intense. You become the activity. If you are bench pressing, then BENCHING is all that is happening. There is no longer any "you" doing the benching and thinking about how to bench properly. There is no subject/object split. You become the benching!

This sounds a little odd, right? It should. The 5th Dimension is an altered state of consciousness. We are talking non-ordinary reality. It should also sound effective. In 5th Dimension you are not distracted. You are not doing two or three things at once, like benching while listening to your partner discuss last night's activities at the tavern, or listening to the music cranking out of the gym speakers, or thinking about how you should use your lats when benching. Instead, you have willed yourself into a natural high. You are truly psyched and your lifting will show it.

Entering the 5th Dimension - Step #1

Phase I - Observing the Breath
(1) Sit comfortably
(2) Breathe naturally
(3) Focus attention on "space" between breaths

Phase II - The Moment of Power
(1) Observe breath between sets. This is the induction into the altered state of consciousness.
(2) While lifting, focus attention on "space" between reps.

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