12.0 Applying Soft Eyes/Metsuke
The Aikido Encyclopedia defines Metsuke as " Eye-to-eye contact without focusing on a single point which permits awareness of the total field of vision". I like to think of it as soft eyes or soft gaze.
In fact metsuke is one of the three fundamental aspects to train in aikido ("1. Metsuke/soft gaze, 2. Mai-ai/fitting distance, 3. Musubi/connection"). All three have to happen for connective flow and blending to occur in the movement. With soft eyes, we are focused as much internally as we are externally and we approach the connective movement in such a way that internal and external are one and the same space, Uke, Tori, and all those around us, are one and the same body. In that state, the room that we are situated in seems not to have walls and our perceptions become expansive and without borders. Try it next time you do Aikido. Make a soft gaze when you practice and notice new levels of awareness.
Funny enough, Metsuke is also the name given to the official band of anti-corruption investigators during Tokugawa times of Japan, that checked nobody was melding with the system.
--Lawrence Warry & Ze'ev Erlich, Our Aikido World
Finally I have decided to change my clunky term "FocusFade" to the Japanese term "Metsuke" which already has two usages. For the first usage, see Wikipedia. For the second, this is it. In the practice of the non-violent martial arts form Aikido, metsuke or "soft eyes" is exactly the same thing we've been talking about all along; Castaneda's "gazing" or as I like to describe it, "balancing focus and detachment." Not only is Metsuke one of the main fundamentals in developing an Aikido or "art of peace" mindset, it is in my opinion one of the most important skills an unworlder can have, entirely essential. I am pleased to learn that there is already a word for it, as used by Aikido teachers. And I couldn't be happier that I found this term within the art form of Aikido, since my memories of practicing Aikido are right up there among the fondest memories I have.
CASTANEDA ON METSUKE
The following section was inspired by lucidity teach Scott Rondeau at his Nature of Dream Control Facebook group. Searching through the books of Carlos Castaneda for the word "foliage" I found it was a key to one of his favorite topics, which I call Metsuke, the art of balancing focus and detachment when learning how to see images with the mind instead of the eyes. I have also been able to use Metsuke to hear words aurages with the mind or just rhythms or patterns thinkages as well as sensations of real-but-not-imagined motion or feelages. Here are some extended passages from Castaneda's books; he calls this gazing and isn't that a better term than "FocusFade"? Unfortunately the word, like his "seeing," is too generic and we can't rely on italicization; we need a dedicated term for balancing focus and detachment.
Here are the quotes from Castaneda:
I was shocked and began to protest but he put his hand over my mouth. He pointed to a large bush and told me to fix my attention not on the leaves but on the shadows of the leaves. He said that running in the darkness did not have to be spurred by fear but could be a very natural reaction of a jubilant body that knew how "to not do". He repeated over and over in a whisper in my right ear that "to not do what I knew how to do' was the key to power. In the case of looking at a tree, what I knew how to do was to focus immediately on the foliage. The shadows of the leaves or the spaces in between the leaves were never my concern. His last admonitions were to start focusing on the shadows of the leaves on one single branch and then eventually work my way to the whole tree, and not to let my eyes go back to the leaves, because the first deliberate step to storing personal power was to allow the body to not-do.
Perhaps it was because of my fatigue or my nervous excitation, but I became so immersed in the shadows of the leaves that by the time don Juan stood up I could almost group the dark masses of shadows as effectively as I normally grouped the foliage. The total effect was startling.
--Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan
"The sorcerers' explanation of how to select a topic for dreaming" he said, "is that a warrior chooses the topic by deliberately holding an image in his mind while he shuts off his internal dialogue. In other words, if he is capable of not talking to himself for a moment and then holds the image or the thought of what he wants in dreaming, even if only for an instant, then the desired topic will come to him. I'm sure you've done that, although you were not aware of it."
There was a long pause and then don Juan began to sniff the air. It was as if he were cleaning his nose; he exhaled three or four times through his nostrils with great force. The muscles of his abdomen contracted in spasms, which he controlled by taking in short gasps of air.
"We won't talk about dreaming any more," he said. "You might become obsessed. If one is to succeed in anything, the success must come gently, with a great deal of effort but with no stress or obsession."
He stood up and walked to the edge of the bushes. He leaned forward and peered into the foliage. He seemed to be examining something in the leaves, without getting too close to them.
"What are you doing?" I asked, unable to contain my curiosity.
He turned to me, smiled and raised his brow.
"The bushes are filled with strange things," he said as he sat down again.
His tone was so casual that it scared me more than if he had let out a sudden yell. My notebook and pencil fell from my hands. He laughed and mimicked me and said that my exaggerated reactions were one of the loose ends that still existed in my life.
I wanted to raise a point but he would not let me talk.
"There's only a bit of daylight left," he said. "There are other things we ought to touch upon before the twilight sets in."
He then added that judging by my production in dreaming I must have learned how to stop my internal dialogue at will. I told him that I had.
At the beginning of our association don Juan had delineated another procedure: walking for long stretches without focusing the eyes on anything. His recommendation had been to not look at anything directly but, by slightly crossing the eyes, to keep a peripheral view of everything that presented itself to the eyes. He had insisted, although I had not understood at the time, that if one kept one's unfocused eyes at a point just above the horizon, it was possible to notice, at once, everything in almost the total 180-degree range in front of one's eyes. He had assured me that that exercise was the only way of shutting off the internal dialogue. He used to ask me for reports on my progress, and then he stopped inquiring about it.
I told don Juan that I had practiced the technique for years without noticing any change, but I had expected none anyway. One day, however, I had the shocking realization that I had just walked for about ten minutes without having said a single word to myself.
I mentioned to don Juan that on that occasion I also became cognizant that stopping the internal dialogue involved more than merely curtailing the words I said to myself. My entire thought processes had stopped and I had felt I was practically suspended, floating. A sensation of panic had ensued from that awareness and I had to resume my internal dialogue as an antidote.
"I've told you that the internal dialogue is what grounds us," don Juan said. "The world is such and such or so and so, only because we talk to ourselves about its being such and such or so and so."
Don Juan explained that the passageway into the world of sorcerers opens up after the warrior has learned to shut off the internal dialogue.
"To change our idea of the world is the crux of sorcery," he said. "And stopping the internal dialogue is the only way to accomplish it. The rest is just padding. Now you're in the position to know that nothing of what you've seen or done, with the exception of stopping the internal dialogue, could by itself have changed anything in you, or in your idea of the world. The provision is, of course, that that change should not be deranged. Now you can understand why a teacher doesn't clamp down on his apprentice. That would only breed obsession and morbidity."
--Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power
"To fixate the assemblage point on any new spot means to acquire cohesion," he said. "You have been doing just that in your dreaming practices."
"I thought I was perfecting my energy body," I said, somehow surprised at his statement.
"You are doing that and much more, you are learning to have cohesion. Dreaming does it by forcing dreamers to fixate the assemblage point. The dreaming attention, the energy body, the second attention, the relationship with inorganic beings, the dreaming emissary are but by-products of acquiring cohesion; in other words, they are all by-products of fixating the assemblage point on a number of dreaming positions."
"What is a dreaming position, don Juan?"
"Any new position to which the assemblage point has been displaced during sleep."
"How do we fixate the assemblage point on a dreaming position?"
"By sustaining the view of any item in your dreams, or by changing dreams at will. Through your dreaming practices, you are really exercising your capacity to be cohesive; that is to say, you are exercising your capacity to maintain a new energy shape by holding the assemblage point fixed on the position of any particular dream you are having."
"Do I really maintain a new energy shape?"
"Not exactly, and not because you can't but only because you are shifting the assemblage point instead of moving it. Shifts of the assemblage point give rise to minute changes, which are practically unnoticeable. The challenge of shifts is that they are so small and so numerous that to maintain cohesiveness in all of them is a triumph."
"How do we know we are maintaining cohesion?"
"We know it by the clarity of our perception. The clearer the view of our dreams, the greater our cohesion."
He said then that it was time for me to have a practical application of what I had learned in dreaming. Without giving me a chance to ask anything, he urged me to focus my attention, as if I were in a dream, on the foliage of a desert tree growing nearby: a mesquite tree.
"Do you want me to just gaze at it?" I asked.
"I don't want you to just gaze at it; I want you to do something very special with that foliage," he said. "Remember that, in your dreams, once you are able to hold the view of any item, you are really holding the dreaming position of your assemblage point. Now, gaze at those leaves as if you were in a dream, but with a slight yet most meaningful variation: you are going to hold your
dreaming attention on the leaves of the mesquite tree in the awareness of our daily world."
My nervousness made it impossible for me to follow his line of thought. He patiently explained that by staring at the foliage, I would accomplish a minute displacement of my assemblage point. Then, by summoning my dreaming attention through staring at individual leaves, I would actually fixate that minute displacement, and my cohesion would make me perceive in terms of the second attention. He added, with a chuckle, that the process was so simple it was ridiculous.
Don Juan was right. All I needed was to focus my sight on the leaves, maintain it, and in one instant I was drawn into a vortex-like sensation, extremely like the vortexes in my dreams. The foliage of the mesquite tree became a universe of sensory data. It was as if the foliage had swallowed me, but it was not only my sight that was engaged; if I touched the leaves, I actually felt them. I could also smell them. My dreaming attention was multisensorial instead of solely visual, as in my regular dreaming.
What had begun as gazing at the foliage of the mesquite tree had turned into a dream. I believed I was in a dreamt tree, as I had been in trees of countless dreams. And, naturally, I behaved in this dreamt tree as I had learned to behave in my dreams; I moved from item to item, pulled by the force of a vortex that took shape on whatever part of the tree I focused my multisensorial dreaming attention. Vortexes were formed not only on gazing but also on touching anything with any part of my body.
In the midst of this vision or dream, I had an attack of rational doubts. I began to wonder if I had really climbed the tree in a daze and was actually hugging the leaves, lost in the foliage, without knowing what I was doing. Or perhaps I had fallen asleep, possibly mesmerized by the fluttering of leaves in the wind, and was having a dream. But just like in dreaming, I didn't have enough energy to ponder for too long. My thoughts were fleeting. They lasted an instant; then the force of direct experience blanketed them out completely. A sudden motion around me shook everything and virtually made me emerge from a clump of leaves, as if I had broken away from the tree's magnetic pull. I was facing then, from an elevation, an immense horizon. Dark mountains and green vegetation surrounded me. Another jolt of energy made me shake from my bones out; then I was somewhere else. Enormous trees loomed everywhere. They were bigger than the Douglas firs of Oregon and Washington State. Never had I seen a forest like that. The scenery was such a contrast to the aridness of the Sonoran desert that it left me with no doubt that I was having a dream.
I held on to that extraordinary view, afraid to let go, knowing that it was indeed a dream and would disappear once I had run out of dreaming attention. But the images lasted, even when I thought I should have run out of dreaming attention. A horrifying thought crossed my mind then: what if this was neither a dream nor the daily world?
Frightened, as an animal must experience fright, I recoiled into the clump of leaves I had emerged from. The momentum of my backward motion kept me going through the tree foliage and around the hard branches. It pulled me away from the tree, and in one split second I was standing next to don Juan, at the door of his house, in the desert in Sonora.
I instantly realized I had entered again into a state in which I could think coherently, but I could not talk. Don Juan told me not to worry. He said that our speech faculty is extremely flimsy and attacks of muteness are common among sorcerers who venture beyond the limits of normal perception.
My gut feeling was that don Juan had taken pity on me and had decided to give me a pep talk.
But the voice of the dreaming emissary, which I clearly heard at that instant, said that in a few hours and after some rest I was going to be perfectly well.
--Carlos Castaneda, The Art of Dreaming
Final note: according to Google translate (for what that is worth), a literal translation of Metsuke or in the original alphabet 目付 would be "basis weight".