Learning Limits, Choosing Limits and Creating Them

Limits are a way of defining both what we can do and what we can’t do. The better we are at sensing the limits we have to move within the more freedom we have to move within those limits.
The beauty of learning to move within one set of limits is that we can apply what we’ve learned to moving within another set of limits.
We can then begin choosing the limits we move within.
We can call the space within the limits of what we are trying to do an “idea,”

the idea of what we are trying to learn or do.

Choosing different ideas to do, we can select different limits to move within. Ideas then become a means of choosing the limits we move within.

Learning an idea we learn the limits that define it. If we learn an idea well enough-so that it becomes a part of ourselves-we learn not only to move within the limits but also without them.

The limits of an idea aren’t so much a prison as they are guidelines for moving within.

Circles and Change

On my last post I talked about getting back into a tai ji routing again. It continues.
On the first day I was at the park with my friends I watched a person doing an intricate dance. I realized that it wasn’t tai ji and that it may have actually been Bagua, confirmed by my friends student. I thought I should talk to this guy doing Bagua but left before I had the chance to.
I bumped into him the next day while I was at hospital getting my dressings changed. He was there visiting his father.
I saw him at the park again the next day and then we did talk. While I’ve met a few people who do Bagua and even know of some teachers where I live, I never had the urge to really try despite the fact that I wanted to learn. Watching this guy practice I realize that I was perhaps waiting for the right teacher, the right person and even the right style to learn and learn from. I seemed to have found it.
Interesting enough my new found friend is interested in yoga, or at least in getting more flexible, and so we talked, me about yoga for a while and then he about Bagua and we both learned in the process. We had a true exchange of information.
And all of this happened seemingly without effort on my part. Well I did have to drag myself out of bed but the thing was it was easy because I had something to pull me out of bed, the idea of doing tai ji and perhaps now even the idea of doing (well first learning) Bagua Zhang.

And it all started with me on my ass doing sweat nothing while wondering what I was doing with myself. That wasn’t time wasted, it was time for me to get back into the swing of things here in Hong Kong, perhaps even time for me to sync in with life here. Next time I come perhaps I’ll be a bit more ready.

Doing Nothing to Think of Something

I’d been in Hong Kong for a week and done nothing. Well I did teach a couple of yoga classes but apart from that I haven’t seen much of the city. Oh yes, I ride the Ferry nearly every day but I still haven’t done that much.
On my one day off I took an extra long ferry ride to Lantau Island, in the process bumping into a fellow traveller for the day which was very nice, but apart from that I’ve done nothing.
What a downer. A week left to go and all I can think of is getting back to my baby. (She’s 8 months old).
Thinks got worse when I discovered I had bursitis of the elbow. Don’t know how though I have some suspicions. Anyway, my arm started to swell so the doctor cut a hole it it so all the juice could bleed out. Hole is still there.
A fellow teacher told me to come with him to a Tai Ji class next day. Wasn’t too sure about that but decided to join anyway. I’d have to get up at 630.
That’s a thing too. All these days I’ve been sleeping in till 8. No reason to get up early.
I had to drag myself out but I did, even did a meditation practice and a Conscious Movement practice. Wow I was starting to feel better.
Had breakfast which is sad because the only reason I eat breakfast at the hotel is because it is free. How lame and very sad. Still I had my two pieces of toast (there is more to be had but to be honest I can’t stomach it, so much of the same) then walked to the park.
I’d forgotten the bustle of early morning city life. Kids of to school. One school is run by a convent. Girls line up neatly and politely to be let in. Climbing a foot bridge I look into the schoolyard and kids are standing around or sitting at tables talking. I don’t get the idea that school is like that in Taiwan. Maybe they work them hard here in asia but it looks like they get to enjoy socializing which I think is great.
A few minutes more and I am at the park. I arrive early and my friends arrive late. It is to my advantage. I get to watch various groups practice Tai Ji or dance or exercise of one form or the other. I find my self a spot and stretch.
The joy of stretching outdoors surrounded by other people doing the same.
My friend shows up and takes me to his teacher. He lets me join in with a comment of not bad. Then he asks if I can do any sword routines. I can but alas I have no sword and so he lends me mine. I’m rusty (the sword isn’t) but it still feels good to be doing tai ji again even with a forearm twice its normal size, skin hanging down like a bag of water.
Afterwards I sit with my friend and his teacher who is visiting from india. He feeds me raw legumes, tells me to chew well to generate saliva.
I think of bringing raw food into my diet.
I was reminded of my first time in Taiwan, practicing every morning in Eighteen Peek Mountain park and even though I had no close friends, I had people to practice with and be with. I belonged. And the rest of my day felt better because of it.
And so now even without being with my baby, I feel my life returning again because I have something simple to live for. Practice in the park.


Practicing the Dance of Shiva we learn to know both where we are and where we want to go. We do this by knowing what position our arms are in and also knowing what position we are moving them to. We also know the movement we are going to use to get there. By knowing where we are and where we are going to we can practice being present.
Knowing where we are heading in the next moment in time we can go there.
Riding a motorcycle I learned how to be present by “Looking to the Horizon”. The horizon isn’t so much the horizon of the earth but the horizon of the “Now”.
On a bike, especially when I am going fast, the horizon is the furthest point of the road ahead that I can see.
As more of the road ahead becomes apparent, my Horizon changes, sometimes a little closer, sometimes further away, but always ahead of me, leading me on.
Riding I find that there is a point just above that part of the road that seems to work well as my horizon. And I don’t just look to the horizon, I sense all of the road between myself and it. This is my now.
For the longest time I used to be scared when riding a bike fast, especially while going around corners. I then found that if I positioned myself so that I cold see around the corner as far as possible and look at that point just above the surface of the road, as far ahead as I can see, then I feel comfortable going faster. I position myself for the best view of the way ahead. I give myself the biggest now possible. I can go smoothly from one corner to the next.
If I am riding in traffic, I can look for the gaps to flow through and I can give “unconscious drivers” the space they need so that I can keep myself and them safe from harm.
And rather than letting myself get tangled up in thoughts of who is a good driver or more particularly who is less than good, I can focus on the path that I am trying to follow.
A similiar thing happens when I practice asian calligraphy. When I’ve learned the brush strokes of the character I am painting, I can flow from one to the next meanwhile staying aware of both what I have painted and the room I have left to paint within so that the piece I am painting as a whole has a beautiful flow.
The better I know a whole series of characters that I am painting the easier it is to flow from one to the next. And when i get really good I’ll be able to simply compose on the fly, deciding what characters to paint as I paint them, their meaning guiding me from one brush stroke to the next from one character to the next.
Alas, to get to that point I have to practice. I have to learn the brush strokes.
But if apply the same mindset to learning brush strokes as I do to painting characters I can learn to flow while learning and the feeling can be just as pleasant, just as present as while actually composing on the fly.
The key is to focus on learning small bits at a time, focusing on “sensible ideas,” smaller units that have meaning in and off themselves. Learning characters, those sensible units can be brush strokes or they can be smaller component characters that together in combination make up the bigger characters.
Riding a bike on a set course it might be practicing one corner over and over again. Doing yoga it can be doing the same pose over and over again.
Learning or practicing a small idea, a sensible idea, if we do our practice with rhythm, doing and then resting and then doing again the rhythm of doing and resting, of simple repetition can be soothing, and although it is the same idea we are doing over and over again, if we practice sensing that idea, looking ahead towards it, we can learn to flow that much faster. Then when we add that small idea to the other small ideas we’ve learned we can learn to flow from one to the other with much greater ease. Doing becomes like learning and learning like doing. In both cases we flow.
How does this apply to the dance of shiva, (or anything else for that matter when we are doing a preset sequence of moves?) By learning the moves so that they are a part of ourselves we don’t have to think about what comes next, instead we just know. As a result instead of thinking about the movement we are doing now we can let ourselves do it (because we know it) meanwhile we can “think” ahead to the move that is coming up next. It’s as if the horizon that we are looking towards is within ourselves.

ideas-units of understanding, meaning and change

Zero Parallax is about being conscious. Part of being conscious is being able to sense relationships and understand the changes that happens within those relationships. The basic element of a relationship is an idea. In this context an idea is a unit of meaning and a unit of change. If an idea isn’t in a relationship then it is simply the potential for change.
Ideas can be the things that we think about. They can also be the things that are around us, the real, or ideas made real. Looking around us we can see what is around us in terms of ideas. We can ask the question of anything that we see: “what is the change that this idea creates?” We can think of the things that we do as expressing an idea or making an idea real. We can then ask “what is the change that I am trying to create”.

Leading with a Clear Idea of what we are trying to Do

In an interview with Leo Babatua, the author of Zen Habits, Tim Ferris quotes Herb Keleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines as one of his inspirations. According to Tim Herb says that anyone could be the CEO of Southwest by asking this simple question-will this help us to be the lowest cost airline? This statement is so simple that it stunned me. It was a simple way of saying what I am trying to do with my book and this website. Help my readers become CEO’s of their lives, but not just their lives, every thing in it. (Note, I’m not sure if Herb said this or not but check out this website and see what you think.)

What does a CEO do? He leads the company with a clear idea of where they are trying to go or what they are trying to do. He gives the company and everyone in it direction. And so that he or she can do that they look at the options and choose from among them. And if there are no options, if there is only a single way to get ahead, then they sense that way and lead their followers along that path. It may be the path of least resistance, or the path of maximum benefits for everyone involved. In either case or any case, they provide the glue that keeps all of the parts of the company together. They give each part direction and purpose so that as a whole the company works well. Each part is useful and is used.
Now if everyone in Southwest Airlines shared this simple idea, they would for the most part be able to lead themselves. They would still be a part of Southwest, they would still be helping to make it the lowest cost airline but instead of having to ask Herb they could ask themselves and so lead themselves.
And if the idea changes, if instead of wanting to be the cheapest, they wanted to be the sexiest or the fastest, then so long as this simple change is transmitted clearly to every part of the organization, then the organization can continue to function effectively only this time as a whole it is working towards being the fastest or the sexiest.

So before we go any further, lets talk a little about idea. In the terms of this book and this website an idea is anything that can create a change when it connects to another idea. What do I mean by that? As an example, riding my motorcycle this morning I realized that the motorcycle is an idea. Why? Because when I connected to it, when I got on it to ride it, the motorcycle changed me. Instead of a pedestrian I became a rider, someone able to get to places fast. Getting off the bike I changed again, I became a person again. The macbook pro that I am using to type with is an idea. In this instance it changes me from a person to a writer. And guess what. I change it. Instead of just being a computer, now it is being used. It’s potential is being realized. Likewise, the bike changed when I got on it to ride. It was able to go places because I was operating it. We can thus think of ourselves as ideas too. We don’t have to though. If you don’t like thinking of yourself as an idea then don’t. I like to think of myself as an idea because at any moment in time I can ask myself the question, what is the idea of what I am trying to be at this moment in time. It’s not that I am any one single idea, or maybe I am. but perhaps I am the big idea of Neil Keleher that is made up of the smaller, but not insignificant, ideas of bike rider, writer, father, husband, yoga teacher etc…

So now lets talk about ideas other than ourselves. lets talk about ideas that we can use to lead with. Riding a bike I lead with the idea of getting from A to B or perhaps I am trying to get around a track as fast as possible. Writing this book, or in this case, this article, I am trying to introduce you to notions that will help make your life easier. Basic Principles that can be used in any aspect of life so that you can get on with doing what you are trying to do. You could be leading a company or you could be part of a company trying to do the best job you can. You could be a writer, a martial artist, part of a family or part of a rock band. You could be leading your body with the idea of a yoga pose or a Tai Ji movement. By knowing the idea of what you are trying to do you can get on with doing it and whether you are leading yourself, someone else, a team, a company, an inanimate object, knowing the idea of what you are trying to do you can get on and do it in the best way possible. You don’t even have to ask if what you are doing is efficient or not, if it is helping you do the idea of what you are trying to do, then what you are doing is useful and thus not a waste. Even if you are learning and making mistakes in the process, if you learn from those mistakes, if you experience them then that experience can help you with the idea of what you are trying to do.

Now if this seems too simple or perhaps not detailed enough I believe you are right. Just having an idea isn’t enough. If I want to ride a bike I have to learn how. If I want to lead a company, or create one, I need to put all the parts together and I need to know what each part does.
A motorcycle is a big idea made up of all sorts of small ideas that work together so that bike as a whole functions well. The same (ideally) with a company, and the same with our body. Each part is an idea in and of itself. Each part of a company, of our body, of a bike, each part has a specific function. That function is what defines the idea. That function is what enable the small idea to function as part of the big idea. It is all the small ideas together that make a big idea work.
When the small ideas in a motorbike are connected they create a change, together they create the big idea of a bike and when someone gets on a bike and turns the ignitiion on, more change is created.
Likewise with a company, when all the parts of a company connect, and when someone comes along with an idea of someplace to go, then that company can go places.

Here’s another look at ideas. As you hopefully have seen, ideas can be broken down into smaller ideas. This doesn’t just apply to the idea of companies or motorbikes or the idea of our bodies, this also applies to the ideas of things that we have to do. As an example, again from the Leo Babauta/Tim Ferris interview, Tim says that he does three workouts a day. What a workout, a way of improving or maintaining the fitness of the body. We can go to the gym once a day and have a one, two or even a three hour workout, or we can break our workout down into the smaller parts that make it up. We might do this anyway. Going to the gym we might spend 20 minutes doing cardio and then 20 minutes of weights and then 20 minutes of stretching and cooling down. Now if instead of doing cardio as a warm up and stretching as a cool down, if instead we view these as exercises in their own right, we could go to the gym three times in one day and on each visit work on any one of these ideas. Or we could break the weight workout into different ideas. Perhaps one part of our workout is upper body and the other part lower body. We could then go to the gym and do upper body weights followed by stretching and then when we go back, do cardio followed by lower body weights and stretching.
Notice how each of these “small ideas” has a purpose. Wether an idea is a big idea (leading a company) or a small idea, the thing that makes an idea useful is understanding what it does. In the case of working out the lower body we are making the legs, knees and hips all stronger or more mobile or a little bit of both.
Going back to Leo’s blog, when he got that started in the process of creating it everything he did was led by a clear idea of what Zen Habits is. Peaceful and Simple. In one of his blogs he writes about how he responds to people who make him angry. He asks himself if he is in line with what his blog is about. It’s not to say that he doesn’t get angry. I’m sure he does, but he doesn’t let that anger affect his writing or his blog. He is leading himself with a clear idea of what he is trying to do. As a result all of his readers can see this and choose to follow him. Why? Because the idea of what he is trying to do is very clear and visible for all to see.

Imagine leading anything that we do with a clear idea of what we are trying to do.

Now, if we aren’t doing what are we “doing” instead? Well, then we could simply be watching the doing of everyone and everything around us. Or we could be resting from doing and enjoying the fact that we have done something. Or we could be thinking about what we would like to do.

The Coffee Grinder

On one occasion I was at a coffee shop sitting at the counter while one of the staff was in the process of calibrating the stores two grinding machines. There are various degrees of grind ranging between fine and course for various types of coffee machines.
The guy was making sure that when each machine was set to “fine” the grind it actually put out was “fine” as opposed to extra fine, or what was more likely the case, ” really coarse.” Over time and use machines like grinders tend to go slightly out of wack so they need checking are recalibrating regularly.
I watched as he put beans in both machines with both machines set to the same setting. He was talking as he did this, explaining what he was doing to anyone who was listening.
He then poured some of the ground coffee from each machine onto a paper towel, side by side. Even “eye balling the grind” from a distance it was obvious that the grinds from each machine were considerably different.
He proceeded to dismantle one machine and then the other so that he adjust them. In the process, he forgot which pile of coffee corresponded to which machine.
I had left before I had a chance to see what he ended up doing.
Part of my thought thinking back to this instance is that when we are trying to create change it can be a good idea to only change one thing at a time. We know what we are trying to change and it is easy to see when we get the change that we desire. By only changing one thing at a time the things that we don’t change provide a reference for us to measure the change we have created. It is then easy to see if the change we are making is in the right direction or the wrong direction. Back to the coffee machine example, we could then see if the adjustment we made was actually making the coffee even coarser than we wanted or if it was making it finer as we desire.
Another point is that when we are creating change, the more present we are the more engaged in what we are doing the easier and quicker we can create the change that we want. In the above example, if he had been focusing on what he was doing instead of talking to the customers, the mistake probably wouldn’t have happened. Even better, if he had worked on one machine at a time this mix up would not have happened. He could have fine tuned one machine, got it working well so that it put out the correct grind and then he could have worked on the second machine. In each case he could have had a “reference grind” some ground coffee in a bag that he knew to be the correct size for a “fine grind” and one at a time he could have adjusted each machine so that they put out the same size grind as this reference grind.
That being said, I still go back to the same place whenever I get the chance.

Dealing with Life’s Hassles

A baby isn’t necessarily a hassle but it can be a challenge when you are trying to get things done or do some of the things that we enjoy. Leo Babauta wrote an entry about dealing with disruption here.
My own feelings are that if time is limited because of disruptions then we may have to choose one thing that we really want to get done.
As an example, for a while I was learning Chinese, doing calligraphy, writing a book and teaching yoga all while having a house, partner and child to pay for.
Plus I wanted to continue to do Tai Ji and also learn Jiu Jitsu and maybe occasionally hang out with friends while also looking after the baby on occasion so that my partner can do the same.
(We haven’t quite got to the stage where we can afford day care but we’re working towards it.)
For myself I decided to temporarily drop the Chinese and focus on writing my book. Actually, I finished one book and am now working on two others that complement each other. Both are on subjects that I know alot about and in one case the book is already written I’ve just got to revise it and add photos.
You may not be writing a book. Maybe one of the activities you choose to focus on is getting ready for the marathon, or going to the gym, or working on the business. So that you can get things done the easiest thing possible is to break the big things you have to get done into smaller meaningful tasks. Writing a book I focus on chapters or pages or sections on a time. Sections that overall have some purpose. Then it is easy for me to recognize when I am done. And those times when I don’t get done, when I have to stop because of a disruption or because of limited time finished, because I am aware of what I am trying to do it is easy to pick up where I left off and continue with what I am doing.
It may be harder to train for a marathon this way. You simply need those long runs. So what do you do. Use the opportunity of not running to take a rest. Or you can use it to visualize yourself running. Feel your body as you run and imagine the feeling you would like to have. Feel the weight of your bones as you carry them forwards a step at a time. Feel the way your ribcage and belly move as you breathe. Notice where your eyes are looking as you run. Make the experience as real as possible even if only for a few minutes at a time.
What if you are working on losing weight. Then divide your workout into smaller units. Work out for fifteen minutes at a time. Find 5 yoga poses or tai ji postures you can do in fifteen minutes or less. Then find another group of postures. Ideally these postures complement each other so that you finish them feeling balanced and better than before you started. Breaking big tasks into smaller ones it is easy to get things done.
Also another practice is un-tightening your mind. Instead of resenting every moment lost, accept it and do what you are doing. It may actually be only in our minds that we haven’t got time. If we focus on doing what we are doing, changing diapers, feeding the baby, discussing things with our partner, then if we focus on that act then we are using time to the best of our ability and then when it comes time to do what we want to do we are already in the right headspace for doing it.