George S. Ledyard wrote:
I have been experimenting with observing my students at the dojo and my practice partners when I travel, attempting to discern where they are placing their attention when they stand across from me. Most folk's attention stops at their own physical extension. You tell them to extend and their attention goes out to their hands or the tip of their own sword.
Funny how sometimes a few words can be just the nudge in the right direction that you need...I read that yesterday and started playing around with it in my living room where I was sitting, trying to feel if my attention was actually reaching out anywhere beyond the sphere of my own physical reach, and then trying to place it over there at that chair or lamp or whatever. It was kinda scary at first actually, because in a way it meant that myself became less concrete to me in my awareness and so it felt somewhat like a loss of self to some extent.
Having done this little mental exercise I then went to give a couple flute lessons, and attend an aikido session. There were a few times during the flute lessons where I was accompanying a student and felt like what I was playing just fell into place just so and it all fit perfectly. This was exiting because I tend to be a player that is always a bit behind, late, dragging, and I've never found a way to change that very effectively until now.
Our dojo is on summer break but some of the more fanatic members had rented the gym where we train for the night yesterday. I had a go at a drill that I first learned from David Valadez where your partner is randomly attacking and you are only allowed to step away, hands behind back, in the first level of the drill. (you can find it on aikiweb by searching for a discussion called "David's drills")
The nice thing here was that how well I managed to maintain my attention on my partner showed up instantly in my ability to keep free of her. In the best moments I stepped just right - without planning to!- to have her almost loose her balance completely just by her own attack. In the moments that I lost it and retreated into my own sphere, I'd walk into a fist or a knee, and get stuck.
In the past when I tried to go on to the next level of the drill, where you're allowed to use your arms to deflect the atttacks, I'd invariably get stuck. This time it wasn't a problem at all, I think because my attention didn't get stuck at my own arms but was beyond them where my partner was. It felt like my arms were just floating freely in the space between us, and free to go to any spot that was open between us.
Once I had gotten the difference between having my attention inside my own sphere, and outside of it wherever I want it to be, the practice now would seem to be being able to maintain it under different conditions. Heck, being able to maintain it under the most favorable conditions would be a nice start...