Hold Your Head High

Brooks damatte keiko

It is human to have a long and vertical spine.  It is human to walk on two feet, with your head high, your breath free to move and your gaze flexible and alive.

This is not the posture of mind or body we assume at a computer or a desk, in a car or on a couch. Do we feel, under those circumstances, less than human?

We may not be able to escape these settings completely. But we can recover our humanity sometimes, and we can remember who we are. As we do that, the memory will become more familiar to us, we can have our dignity and nobility back, and we can build a life as free people, not slaves to tools, desire and time.

Go to the street. To your back yard. Go to the roof top of your building. Go to a place in the park where you will not attract attention. Go to a churchyard, a museum, a basketball court, a cemetery, a mall, a quiet road, a tiny room, the hallway in the back of your office, even in the space between the couch and the TV in a tiny hotel room in the middle of the night on the other side of the world.

Go there and quietly, without anyone noticing, place your palms together and tip your eyes down.  Bring your life back to where you are. Wherever you are, leave the thoughts of what you did and what you need to do behind. Wherever you are, depart from all the things that you regret and want. Put your hands together and make your spine tall. Breathe easily under your belt and cast your gaze softly down. No one needs to know what you are doing. Take one step.

You can move forward each time you take a breath. Let your mind settle down and be undisturbed by daydreams, distractions or desires. Not like a robot that is insensitive to the world. But as a human being who does not need to be caught by every impulse, sight or sound, or yearning. This is how we can progress as human beings.

Make your spine tall. Hold your head high on your neck. Breathe way down under your belt. Take another step. Rolling your body weight from the ball of the rear foot to the heel of the front, there is a feeling of gliding forward, without sudden shifts of balance. You can do it at a slow pace. In an hour you might go once around the room.

You can go faster, at a normal walk, or you can go faster than that. But as you go, your head stays high, your breath stays free, your mind unburdened by concern and unoccupied by objects. Stay alert in prayer.  If you become distracted, return your attention to your spine and mind, tall and noble and human, and continue.

Do this for one hour each day. Or half an hour. Or for ten minutes. If you are too busy to do this, then consider making a change in your life. We all need a way in this age, to recover the humanity that is being leached away from us, as we encounter temptations and distractions, as we are encouraged to ditch our humanity for fun or revenge.

Do this for an hour a day at the same time each day. This is a practice. And it is a holy one. It is a practice because in order to fulfill the requirement of the form— the physical, mental and schedule demands it makes on us — we change our body, our mind, and the structure of our life. Because the result is good — that is, by conforming to the demands of this practice our minds settle down, insights arise, we are encouraged to recover our humanity and to recognize the humanity in others — it is a holy practice.

Just doing something a lot is not a “practice.” Doing something which requires us to give up our bad habits, create good ones, increase our health, decrease our disturbance, and recover the dignity, decency, and nobility which are really ours, really us, is a practice. A holy and wonderful one. One worth doing. Starting now.


Post by J. Michael Brooks

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