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Fearlessness: Eight Sides Open and the Lions' Roar

Living fearlessly

Everything is workable. This intones that every obstacle is an opportunity, every problem is a challenge and every challenge provides us with options.

If we regard any situation that we encounter throughout the course of our lives as unworkable -- whether that situation be social, psychosocial, psychological, metaphysical, philosophical or spiritual -- then we are living in fear, not fearlessness.

Indian Ashokan art depicts four lions looking in four directions. This symbolizes the idea of having no back --- every direction is a front, which symbolizes all pervading awareness. Similarly, traditional Buddhist iconography shows a Buddha with a thousand faces looking in all directions at once. Again, this represents panoramic awareness and, with this sense of complete awareness, there is nothing to defend. With nothing to defend, there is no fear.

How does that work? We've discussed in the past that being present or exercising mindful awareness means letting go of the past and not being concerned with the future. If we live in the past, we live in regret over what we have lost. If we live in the future, we live in fear of what we may lose or may not gain. Without the fear of loss, without clinging and desire, there is no fear. Panoramic awareness is a state of presence, and presence is, therefore, a state of fearlessness. No fear, nothing to defend. Pure presence allows fearlessness.

The martial arts have long been associated with spiritual traditions; specifically, the samurai tradition of Japan and the Shaolin tradition of China. Each is intimately tied with sects of Mahayana Buddhism and each is intimately tied to the other - Ch'an Buddhism originated at Shaolin with Bodhidharama (Ta-Mo), and, in its migration to Japan, was transformed into Zen Buddhism.

To our point, both traditions include in their martial techniques a practical application of this idea of panoramic awareness. In the Ichi Ryu (Two Skys or Two Heavens) school of Myamato Musashi -- purportedly the greatest samurai to have ever lived -- there is a technique called eight sides open. By the same token, in the Shaolin tradition there is a technique called the eight gates and the 12 mysteries.

The core of each of these techniques is driven by this metaphysical idea of panoramic awareness. In the samurai tradition, the practitioner stands in a natural, relaxed stance with arms open and both swords (hence, Two Heavens - fighting with two swords simultaneously is a style unique to Musashi) pointed to the ground. In the Shaolin tradition, the practitioner stands again in a natural and relaxed stance (here called wu chi) with arm's open, hands pointed toward the ground and palms open.

Because in both cases the practitioner has not committed himself to a course of action by striking a pose or taking a stance, every opportunity, every option is open to him. There are no obstacles, there is no fear; there is only awareness and calm.

This notion also evidences itself in the practice of Aikido, wherein, if an opponent grabs an Aikido practitioner, whom do you think is in control? Not the opponent; it is the Aikido-ka, because the Aikido-ka has not committed to a course of action, while the opponent has limited his options.  The Aikido-ka does not see herself bound by the limitations of the opponent's attack, but, rather sees all of the options open to her.

If we can take this sensibility into our daily lives and bind it with the notion of presence and panoramic awareness, we can begin to live in fearlessness, as opposed fear. In doing so, we have traversed the greatest distance in the world --- the distance from head to the heart.

We thus move from a state of knowing, to state of believing -- a state of living in certainty. We have moved from a state of knowledge, to one of wisdom. We are no longer in the thinking, we are in the doing.

Wisdom - true wisdom - is in the doing. And fearlessness is in seeing the options, rather than the obstacles.  Fearless wisdom is exercising the options and utilizing the opportunities.

© 2008 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved