Long ago, I was a semi-student of martial arts. I say "semi", because I never developed an entirely consistent or devoted practice. However, I was exposed often to the philosophy, ideas and culture of self-defense and its ultimate goal, which really has nothing to do with fighting.
There were at least two teachers who talked about mushin, or the art of "no-mind". This translates in combat to an effortless, flowing state in which a person does not consciously think about or plan a move, is not affected by restrictive emotion, and is so open that an almost supernatural response is possible. A lack of ego allows a heightened awareness of the opponent's intent, and the ability to block, deflect or strike very accurately.
Most athletes are familiar with the idea and sensation of being so practiced in a particular motion or activity that it has become instinctive; hours and hours of repetition and training have everything to do with physical skill and "muscle memory". But there is a deeper level in martial arts training in which one feels an opponent and the environment very intensely, without thinking. Remaining open, "soft", and aware seems almost counterintuitive when facing something or someone intent upon injury.
Letting go of fear requires letting go of any ideas one may have about oneself...I understood the concept, except when under perceived attack! An emotional, fearful body simply took over, or so it appeared to me. I was always grappling with my own lack of skill, my embarassment, my short stature, my anger.
One day, in the middle of a pretty intense sparring session, I got an unexpected taste of "no-mind". Somehow, I forgot all about my limitations and became very, very involved in what my body was doing, what my opponent's body was doing. My senses were heightened, but not in the usual adrenalized way--everything was simply very sharp, clear and timeless. I was in a perfect dance, both leading and following. All motion was absolutely unforced. There was a gigantic opening through which the heel of my hand struck (gently) my partner's chin--for a good point, a compliment on the "nice shot", and my utter astonishment at what had just happened.
Of course, I could not "reconstruct" the state in which this effortlessness occured, although I attempted to! When I gave up trying, it happened again, a few times. It was frustrating that I could not control it...and when I approached a sparring session while intending to relinquish myself to that elusive feeling-state, the intent itself became one more form of self-consciousness, one more obstacle.
It took a while for me to understand that an intent to "gain" forms a mind-self--a fascinating bundle of reflex and emotion with all kinds of causes and effects. There's nothing wrong with this selfing, but it can be distracting if one puts too much faith in it! It has less substance than a cloud, and a much shorter life span; it is the effort to maintain it that exhausts most people. Like anything else, a self can exude energy or absorb it. It is the Self innocent of too much thought and certainty that spontaneously inhabits the conditions of its present moment in an appropriate, effective and natural way.
I've discovered that there is an art to intention, planning, and choosing that involves acknowledging both the fact that the mind/body is educated, conditioned and "grooved" by spacetime experience, and the equally relevant fact that it is not. Being is never closed, no matter how we imagine it, what rules we dream up to play by, or how many times we believe we've failed. Our complex consensus story demands a complex individual character--a very densely-packed brain, complete with an equally dense schedule and sense of "responsibility" (which, alas, usually has nothing to do with the ability to truly respond). It is a game most of us play in a kind of desperation, lugging around the dead weight of a self created by a craving for more security, more sensation, more power--a craving that exists, actually, in a fictional self that will never understand any of these things--because to understand means its own dissolution.
In the midst of my mock-battle, I realized that I did not choose the action of mind and body; that I am less than a passing thought, and so much more; that when I separate myself from the leaping tiger (or human, illness or bank account), I construct an epic fight on the spot that is nothing but an extension of the game, the story of having not enough. It is a sort of virtual reality that is about as nourishing as any other addiction.
Do we really need to keep playing this way?
The idea that we choose our battles, or that we are chosen by them, is necessary only as long as a person believes that security, peace and power exist as "things" to be attained.
The idea of choice lives for the same length of time as the idea of self. If one "abandons" the idea of self, does one still choose? No, and of course! I am perfectly able and willing to select an option out of a batch of them, pick the ripest tomato or the best available light in which to paint. But my sense of security has revealed itself to be the fact that I (formed and unformed) am here, now, so fear no longer rules my choices, whether or not I'll choose, or even who is choosing. This awareness is spontaneously determined. Should I attach myself to an outcome, a larger context is both aware of this "attachment" and the fact that it exists in complete openness, as well. There is nothing, really, to gain or lose.
I find that many previously precious goals have naturally dissolved or sloughed off like too much skin. The intentions and plans that remain are things that consistently "choose me", rather than the other way around. They simply feel "right"--not necessarily convenient to my schedule, comfortably routine or even completely safe. But there is a sense of wholeness, of both leading and following, and a joy that has nothing to do with what I can get...more a sense of what is given, what I'm breathing, what I am sweetly drowning in as it becomes my inspiration, my eternal flowing.
We are so vulnerable, so incredibly powerful in the fact that we simply are all of this...