October 17, 2010

Don't Blink

Erwin jerked the steering wheel hard left, careening into the parking spot while narrowly missing the curb. Crap. I’m late. He’s going to make me stand. Clutch, first gear, keys, parking brake. Check. Erwin unbuckled the seat belt with one hand, unlatched the door with the other at the same time, elbow pushing open the door in the same motion without pausing to think. Right hand seized his pack. He was already scrambling out, backpack dragged out with his trailing hand, hips pushing the door closed as soon as everything cleared. Erwin made a run for class.

A few seconds shaved. It was all futile. Really.

Erwin could already see two figures standing in the basketball court at the neighborhood park. Sunlight filtered down through the old growth trees, casting light and shadows onto asphalt, rippling from weaving wind. Children’s laughter floated on the breeze. On the court, one as tall as a bear, was pushing around a stick of a figure, running through some basic drills. Erwin got to the bleachers, dropped his pack, and started pulling out everything from his pockets -- keys, cellphone, wallet, lint. Carefully turning around, he tried stepping away from the big man’s line of sight and snuck up to the center of the court.

“You’re late,” the big man said, without even breaking the current drill. It looked like some variant of Monkey. “Santi.” Without breaking the flow of the form, the big man pointed to a spot on the asphalt with a finger while sinking further into the armbar. The little guy did not look happy.

Erwin sighed. Well, at least he tried. He walked over to the spot his teacher had pointed to.

He aligned his nose and navel to the two struggling figures. Well, the shorter guy, a kid really, was struggling. Erwin planted his feet. Left leg leading, left arm leading, right arm covering, palms wide, spine lengthened. Sink. Santishi. Erwin started slowing down his breathing, trying to let his muscles hang down onto his frame and within moments, his legs started shaking. Yeah, Santi-shi hurts.

Erwin started up the first stage of the vision training. He tried focusing on his extreme left and extreme right at the same time, trying to see out of the corner of both his eyes. Since focusing left and right at the same time was impossible, it opens up the peripheral vision instead. Like a sudden spring shower, his vision expanded. The world was shaking badly as tension worked itself out while holding Santi-shi. Erwin breathed in the fresh morning air slowly, in and out, making sure the peripheral vision stabilized. Nightwalking Under the Stars.

Second stage. Now using his peripheral vision, he picked a spot in the far horizon. There. Some random red thing on the far side of the park, level with his head. This next part was tricky, trying to focus without focusing. Erwin had spent months trying to figure this out. Those months were terrifying. His teacher would ambush him with a spear with only a warning, “dodge this.” Ha. Every time he had tried looking at something, it’d break this all-expansive peripheral vision. It was even harder to maintain while staring at the spear point coming right for his head. He had finally figured out the trick. In the same way he used his focused vision to activate his peripheral vision, he now used the peripheral vision to focus on something without really focusing on anything.

Breath in. Breath out. Arjuna the Archer Takes His Aim.

Third stage. This was the hardest one. Erwin still didn’t get this one. Be mindful. Don’t blink, his teacher had instructed, then turn back the light. That is, instead of reaching out with his attention to look at something, he was supposed to “turn back the light” and receive it instead. What the hell does that mean?

It was easier not to blink. He can not blink. Erwin figured this was so he wouldn’t flinch if he ever have to use any of this. A blink is a very long time when movements are measured in microseconds. The first time Erwin had tried this, his eyes started tearing up. When Erwin had asked his teacher, he laughed and simply told him to “keep playing.” Very helpful. After several attempts, Erwin was finally able to stare long enough without his eyeballs burning. His teacher had mentioned something about the tears cleansing things out. Erwin didn’t really remember.

Erwin kept staring unfocused at the red thing, resisting the urge to blink. Tears started washing through. After a moment, he slipped into this calm, stillness. Though his body still occasionally shook from holding Santi-shi, there was still this curious stillness ...

The big man and the kid started to move through another set of drills. Erwin watched, taking in everything. He remembered the first time he met his teacher, Little John. Well, his real name is “Zhang” and he told Erwin to call him “John”. The “little” came later from the senior students. It was actually pretty funny, there was this one time --

John had suddenly disappeared and reappeared somewhere, as if Erwin had blinked and suddenly his teacher had moved elsewhere. The kid, thrashed about, surprised.

Don’t blink.

With an inward sigh, Erwin started again. Relax. Let go of the past. Open peripheral vision. Check. Unfocus on the red thing. Check. Watch and don’t blink. Check.

Hey. Wait a minute. I didn’t blink.

Erwin frowned. He thought furiously. He was sure he didn’t blink, so what happened? He tried recalling how he felt. He remember thinking about his first time meeting John, and that’s when he saw John disappearing. I wasn’t being mindful and got distracted . . .

Erwin suddenly realized his teacher and the other student had stopped moving. John was looking curiously at him, the beginning of a smirk teasing his lips. “You look like you found something, Erwin.”

Erwin wasn’t sure how to describe this. He stayed in Santi-shi, looking at his teacher. “I ... saw you disappear. You didn’t really disappear. It was like I blinked and but not blinked.”

John’s smile widened. Now he was blatently smirking. The kid was staring as if Erwin had just drank some babble juice and went crazy.

I didn’t blink. I got distracted. Was that what he meant by “don’t blink”?

But wait, to take advantage of my distraction, he would have had to been following my throughts ...

Suddenly, Erwin noticed his teacher was still looking at him. Now his eyebrows are raised, as if saying, Oh? So you noticed.

Oh shit, he really is following my thoughts. Wait, so he was ... what, stepping in between my mental “blinks”? Angling between the gaps? Following my thoughts? Sticking? Wait, what?--

John grinned and walked away, kid trailing like a puppy.

Erwin stood there, stunned and stupefied. There was something big here. All sorts of ideas were blossoming.

And wait, I still don’t know what “turning the light back” means!


  1. I'm glad Erwin found some measure of revelation and I hope he has more, otherwise you're going to need a glossary for the poetry.

  2. @oracle3827 Erwin may show up later again, maybe when I can describe how to "turn back the light". Or maybe he'll discover that line all over the place in "Secret of the Golden Flower". -HH