Beginner's Mind!

New Year's Misogi is intended to set the tone for the year to come. We take the opportunity to consciously forge the template of our attitudes and actions for the coming days, weeks, and moths.

Rising early, I take the time to offer whispers of gratitude into the night air for all that has been, all that is now, and all that is yet to come. The morning's meditation revolves around being open to learn, accepting wisdom where I find it, doing whatever is appropriate at any given time, and accepting whatever results ensue (without debilitating expectations and/or disappointment). I vow to be a diligent student of universal harmony, constantly searching to understand how every person, thing, and situation is my sensei if I but have a beginner's mind and appropriate humility.

Arriving at the dojo, I silently offer thanks for being able to spend a special morning with friends who are so supportive of practicing and improving our understanding of the best and most basic fundamentals of living well and living fully.

Jones-sensei speaks to us, concentrating our thoughts on the purpose of what we are here to do this morning. He then leads us in breathing exercises.

Forming a single line and carrying iron jos, we jog in the morning darkness up a hill to a ridge overlooking San Francisco Bay. Lying before us, laid out at our feet, is our current earthly domain -- the twinkling lights of Fremont, Newark, and Hayward. Beyond is the glistening waters of our bay, the lights of a bridge connecting our domain to what is beyond -- the hills of distant lands and the skies of infinities.

Forming a line and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends, we set our feet firmly on the earth and mud in which we find ourselves in this particular moment. We begin an active meditation. We cut the air with our iron jos. Again, and again, and again endlessly we cleave the air -- striving to cut straight to truth and understanding, humbly surrendering to the action of harmonizing body and mind with the energies of the universe.

The moon guides my cuts and offers its own unique illumination to what I do. Clouds drift by, obscuring what had previously seemed clear. The lights of the bridge come into my consciousness to offer their guidance in place of the moon. I smile and continue cutting to the truth. Again and again I cut, until the thousands of individual lights of the night fade away into the strengthening light of the new day.

Still I cut -- seeking to cut straight and true to the heart of what I am to know and understand. As the lights of the bridge fade and seem to offer less and less guidance for the form and structure of my cuts, trees take over as my guides. At the foot of the hill is an array of tall, stately, elegant evergreens that offer to show me the way. Again I smile and continue cutting.

I cut until it is finished. Whatever was meant to be, now is.

It is not always my privilege to comprehend. It is my privilege to do what is approprate and accept whatever may result from my actions and the actions of all others. I have taken one more small step toward harmony. I am grateful.
-Cliff Dean

Bring dogi, hakama (if applicable), running shoes, and, to quote Sensei, "anything else you consider essential (My sempai Ken usually suggests intraveneous Advil)"

Happy New Year! Wow another year has come and gone. Where did all the time go. Anyway, today it was time for our annual event to bring in the new year - Misogi.

At around 0200 AM, (after some guest left my home), I started checking my dogi bag to make sure I had everything.

Dogi - Check
Hakama - Check
Weapons Bag - Check
Towel - Check
Swim Trunks - Check
Extra Clothes - Check
Running Shoes - Check

Looks like everything is there, so off to bed I go, for three hours until the alarm goes off and I am in the shower, putting on my clothes and down to the car. With all my planning I somehow managed to leave my towel in the house. So back inside to grab one and hit the road.

This new years misogi was a little different. We had no idea as to which type of misogi we would be doing this morning (especially since we were told to bring some shoes). I did not know what to expect, so therefore I could not prepare myself for the task at hand.

When I arrived at the dojo, I see Sensei and everyone else dressed in dogi and/or hakama. This is interesting. As I pass by everyone to get to the changing room, I notice that there are not any bells in their usual place. Interesting. When we all lined up the room was quiet. I guess everyone was wondering what we would be doing today. (Or maybe that was just me) Sensei began talking to us about today's misogi and how we will be focusing on Earth and Air. But that we would also need Fire and Water as well.

So it began, breathing and then Sensei mentions for us to grab an iron jo and then to put on some shoes because we are going outside. Once outside we Tohei jogged down the hill from the private dojo, turned left for a block, turned left to go up another slight hill until we hit a patch of green that was facing the San Francisco bay.

We would be doing cuts this morning with the iron jo. We did not face Sensei as we have done in the past, we faced our community. And then Hajime...

I am remember one of the first times that I did iron-jo misogi. This was at a time when there were not enough iron jo for everyone participating. So it was split between doing 500 cuts with a wooden jo and then 500 cuts with the iron jo. Unfortunately for me I got the wooden jo first for the first half of the misogi. All I remember is that once I got my hands on that iron jo, I tried to muscle the rest of the way through the misogi and how uncomfortable I felt at the time. I was able to finish thanks to others in the class, but I paid for it later that day and days later.

So here we are again doing cuts. This time I try to utilize the air element. I have heard Sensei mention air as 'not being there.' Doing cuts with the iron jo, I can either try muscling the cuts or not to let my body get in the way of the motion of the cuts. I tried focusing on not letting my body get in the way of the cuts (air) at the same time having correct posture and performing the cuts as best as possible (earth).

I lost count on the number of cuts that I performed. For one, I had to correct my thinking a couple of times. I found my selfing holding my face tight for no reason. Whenever I caught myself doing this, I would smile and look out towards the bay and the clouds overhead. Other times I visualized each cut of the jo slicing a cloud in half.

After the cuts, we performed jo kata 1 (ryu-sei jo kata) a couple of times, and then one final cut with a kiai. The kiai from our group sounded like it could be heard across the entire bay. Amazing.

So we headed back to the dojo, Tohei jogging back to the street, down a hill, making a right turn, and then up the hill to the private dojo, where we ended the misogi with the reading of motto.

I am mind itself.

The first part of motto is very powerful. Looking back at the misogi, it was my attitude that decided whether the misogi was going to be a great experience or a miserable one. I chose for it to be enjoyable. For me smiling during something like misogi always helps me out. No it did not make the jo lighter or the time go by faster. But it does make me feel better so that I can find joy in the exercise.

So this was another great start to the new year.

Thank you Sensei.

BTW you should hear what Morris says about you guys in Colorado.......

-Mike Hawthorne

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