Hoshin found me last summer, as my life seemed to be crumbling. I'd just quit graduate school in Virginia, and was in denial about what that meant. I had all sorts of big ideas about how to put myself "back on track" to mundane success.
Joel Shihan was leading a weekly class on Tuesday nights in Charlottesville. After coming to two of them, I made an excuse to disappear. I'd seen my demons emerge in ways that I couldn't control. I didn't feel ready to face them, so I turned away. A few months passed. Things only got worse, and I was tired of running. Eventually, I asked to come back to Joel's class.
I worked towards white belt by training nearly exclusively under two of Joel Shihan's green belt students. Our meetings were more spread out than I would have expected. Sometimes twice a month, often only once. I struggled with basic stuff - my taijutsu, inhibited; my energy, blocked; my breath, held. My own beasts of judgment were always ready to attack. I resented my teachers for not making Hoshin easy. I shopped around for other martial/growth systems that I judged to be more accommodating. Fear of failure was ever-present. I comported myself accordingly.
One afternoon, as I was meditating, trying to focus on my dan tien, I saw the shape of my latest "master plan" for success in my mind's eye. Mental constructs often take symbolic forms; this one resembled the Sierpinski gasket, a figure from fractal geometry that is basically a triangle with the center removed. This figure had occupied my mind for some time: an occult enigma, impenetrable as I sought to decode it. Looking back, the message was clear: I was trying to build my life around a missing piece.
The simplicity of this hit me. For the first time, I was more curious about that missing piece than I cared about the stuff around it. Something inside of me flipped. This wasn't a mystical experience - no ecstatic visions or body phenomena. Instead, I senses something infinitesimal - a mote of dust or a grain of sand - newly present in my lower abdomen. Immediately, I knew that this speck, this littlest nothing, had something to do with me. Slowly, I realized that it wasme. Beyond the dominion of my identifications, I'd found my missing center, my innate self...
White belt is earned in Hoshin. I spent close to a year working towards mine. Now, looking back, I can see that all of it - running away and returning, time spent on the mat and time off of it - helped guide me to return to myself. I am only beginning in this journey. I hope it goes on for a long time.
Joel Shihan has described Hoshin to us students of his as a "living art." What that means to me is that we can go to our teachers for instruction, and receive the unique teachings that they have learned. Ultimately, though, we are the ones responsible for understanding what our teachers offer us, and the ground of that understanding is the mystery of our own being. Hoshin is a way for us to approach that mystery: to explore it, to embody it, and to become it.
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