In a series of blog posts I am going to share my experiences and learning traveling to Thailand with Ajahn Suchart. From our conversations about life to his bareknuckle fight, what I learned from him altered and improved my life and continues to shape my thoughts on the world and the people in it. I choose to share this story as a way to add to his work of building traditional Muay Thai around the world.
Part 1 – “I see your feet” Cleaning the Slate and Learning to Understand the World
Leadership. Guidance. Assurance.
No matter how much we desire to be our own boss, make decisions on our own and be the instrument of our own fate, we all need some sort of a “reality check” to ensure that we are on the right path. Sometimes this comes from those that have walked the path before us and other times it is from those that we trust to give us the courage to plow forward through the unknown. In 2012 I found myself heading to Thailand with Ajahn Suchart for a training trip, a vacation, and what I would consider a life altering experience.
Let me put things into perspective. I am a pathological planner. A – surgical action causes a particular result – kind of person where my actions are driven by the analysis of all possible conclusions to give me no other choice but to make a particular decision. The last thing that I do before going to sleep is to plan my next day. That includes meals, travel time even planning how long I sit on the couch doing nothing but watching TV. It is all measured. A statement of, “Oh, I forgot” is generally accepted by the public as “oh, I forgot” but what I really mean is that what you are requesting is not as important as the other items that I planned for that day.
Sifting through the noise on my smart-phone at Pearson Airport, the realization started to tug on my logic matrix that I was getting on a plane to travel almost 19 hours with…dare I say it…a stranger. A person that I knew only from doing pushups at his instant command and a guiding figure for building my Muay Thai gym was about to become my travel companion. I knew little of his life, his family, his history and really who he was. A feeling of discomfort swept over me as I sat in the airport seat shifting my weight like a distracted little child. Ajahn’s raspy and authoritative voice broke my thoughts as he greeted me snapping my attention to his presence. Ajahn nonchalantly dropped his bags at my feet, punched me in the arm and informed me that he was going to the duty free shop. I distinctly remember thinking that it was my first time seeing him in jeans. I hardly recognized him as I was accustomed to seeing him barefoot, topless only in his Thai shorts or the “Muay Thai Tuxedo” – a track suit, but the sure footed strut was familiar…almost comforting.
Upon his return from the duty free shop I fumbled awkwardly through conversation realizing that this was probably the first time that we had a conversation unrelated to Muay Thai or business. In true pathological planning form, my mind was trying to run ahead of the conversation, as usual, daring to see his angle and intent and kept ending up in what I call a “mental field” (that feeling when you try to see where the conversation is going to end only to find that it took a turn and you ran ahead and got lost. Admit it…you’ve done it as well). I hung my head as we were boarding the plane and asked him to repeat himself in shame. He grinned, realized my nervousness and started again as we shuffled down the narrow aisle of the plane.
Taking our seats he circled back to the beginning and lobbed out some easy topics for us: business and Muay Thai. I perked up as we started talking of my success, my challenges and my concerns. I spoke for what seemed like a long time. He listened carefully, cleared his throat and patted the armrest rhythmically. The smile on my face faded and I felt like that child in the living room sitting next to his Father and was about to hear that I was disappointing him.
Ajahn turned to me and said nothing at first, in fact his hand kept drumming on the armrest. The white noise of the airplane cabin went quiet, the rattling of cargo beneath us as the pilots prepared for departure seemed to disappear, and I could see that Ajahn was carefully crafting his response.
“Kru Yai. There is an old saying that may make you feel better. ‘I see your feet’”.
He buckled his seatbelt seeing the flight attendant headed in his direction. “I see your feet”… what? The look of confusion on my face was obvious as the flight attendant checked my seatbelt in passing. “Sir, are you OK”? she chirped with her pasted on smile. I nodded, returned my pasted on smile and turned my gaze back to Ajahn. His drumming stopped and he completely turned to me in his seat. He explained that people would spend a lot of time in life analyzing the polished surface that people present or rushing to react to what amounts to their insecure brandishing of teeth. Then he explained the following:
“I understand what you are saying. I understand you. Save your energy and let the inner truth of things and people reveal themselves. Act when you can see the truth and not to what seems obvious. A snake used to have legs on this planet and when you can see the legs of a snake you can not only see the threat today, but what it is truly capable of based on its past. This makes you better equipped to protect yourself in the future. Look for the legs of your snakes and you will see the truth and the right path. The flight attendant does not care about your seatbelt, she wants to have an easy flight with little to argue about. Give her what she wants and you both win. (Ajahn proceeded to unbuckle his seatbelt and slumped down into his seat). If you comply she will be more receptive when we ask her for things later”. He paused, grunted at the person in the seat to his right trying to claim the armrest between them and promptly lowered his hat to snooze. We were ascending through the clouds and with his hat pulled over his eyes, Ajahn reclined his seat before the seatbelt sign was turned off. Summarizing my first lesson, he mumbled while dozing off. “Kru-Yai. You cannot change things or the nature of people. They will do what they are meant to do. Take the evil and understand what is truly in front of you and the new opportunity that it presents. Muay Thai IS the same. Don’t look at what your opponent is doing, instead seek to understand what they are planning to do next by the small actions and habits that they cannot hide because it is inside of them. You sleep now or you will be tired in Thailand”.
Ajahn promptly fell asleep, digging his elbow into the arm of the person next to him to protect his armrest.
Being a Star Wars fan I remembered the first time that Luke Skywalker met Yoda. (Including how Yoda would fall asleep on Luke after saying a few words powerful enough to rip Luke’s world apart). Yoda dropped a nugget of science big enough to scare Luke, but small enough for him to digest the lesson…
This was invaluable training from a Muay Thai Master and I had to ensure that the subtleties of it were ready to be absorbed. I took a deep breath and vowed that I would try something new. I was going to listen with all of my senses. Look at things and actually see them with understanding. Hear what was going on around me and actually listen to them. Feel what someone was saying instead of analyzing the outcome of the conversation and already crafting my response to sound as intelligent as possible. I did not sleep at all…for someone so calculated…my previous calculations were based on the wrong things. I erased the years of carefully crafted formulae to predict outcomes that I had covering my mental blackboard and waited for Ajahn to awake. I needed reprogramming and fought the urge to shake him awake to get it. I still had 18.5 hours on the plane and 2 weeks in Thailand to receive it…
This conversation was so profound for me that it is tattooed on my left arm. I encourage you to clean your mental blackboard and see the world, the experiences that you have and the people in it with fresh eyes, ears and most importantly an open heart.