Friday, April 15, 2022

Breathe In, Breathe Out

In the 1984 film, The Karate Kid, a teen-aged boy who came to his teacher's home to learn karate was at first given only menial tasks:

Wax these cars—wax on with right hand, off with left hand, breathe in, breathe out. Sand this deck—right hand in circle, left hand in circle, breathe in, breathe out. Paint fence—wrist up, wrist down, right hand, left hand. Paint house—side to side, right hand, left hand.

Finally, the boy exploded: "You're supposed to be teaching me, but for four days I've been busting my ass and I haven't learned a goddam thing!"       

"You learn plenty," said the teacher, and as the boy started to storm off, commanded him to return. "Look into my eyes. Show me 'sand floor,' he commanded, and as the boy reluctantly made the circles with his right and then left hand, the teacher threw punches that were blocked by the boy's sweeping hands.   

"Show me 'wax on, wax off,' show me 'paint the fence,' show me 'paint the house.'" As the boy made these deeply practiced and now spontaneous movements, the teacher demonstrated how each had its place in karate. When the lesson was completed, without a word of explanation, the teacher bowed.

Like the Karate Kid, I didn't "get" it during the first few days of an Enneagram workshop with Claudio Naranjo thirty years ago. I’d come with the expectation that I’d be taught the steps to transformation, have my questions answered, and overcome the faults of my personality style. 

Why is he spending so much time on these meditation and relationship exercises, these visualizations, I ranted to myself. These have nothing to do with the Enneagram! When is he going to start teaching?

"Close your eyes," said Naranjo, "breathe in, breathe out. Imagine a holy light shining down through the top of your head and filling your whole body with love. Now, open your eyes and look at your partner. Do not speak. Breathe in, breathe out, and let this light shine through you to your partner. Do not respond when it is your partner's turn to speak, do not judge, simply be present with this person and with the light."

And thus, the workshop continued. These simple exercises deepened our understanding of how our habitual responses become engaged, the nature of our unconscious pay-offs for maintaining the status quo, how we stop ourselves from disclosing private thoughts because we have an image to maintain or because we fear the discomfort such disclosure might bring, how we project our shortcomings onto others (especially in close relationships). 

In those days, it was so easy for me to criticize events structured by others and so difficult for me to find myself. I saw how I’d been captive to several key patterns--difficulty knowing what I wanted, looking for others to provide a structure and through that structure discovering what I didn't want. I expected to be told how to remember myself. I didn't yet know I was remembering myself, that these experiences would reflect my self to me.