Resilience and the Reflex Ball:

At Play in the Fields of the World

“But I was much older then, I’m younger than that now.” Bob Dylan, Back Pages.

I turned 75 in June and have arrived at a turning point on the road. I have found most magical things happen in life by chance. I was introduced to the Reflex Resilience Ball (RRB) one lovely May day when I saw my friend, Stefan, practicing in the gym in Santa Fe with a ball that seemed to float, untethered. Upon further inspection I saw in fact that it was attached to his head, and he was well grounded as his martial arts training enabled him to be. Fascinated, I resolved to see for myself. Thus, began my journey.

As the video suggests, the practice is simple, uncontrived, and almost childlike: we meet and engage (Stefan calls it “negotiating”) with the ball. We move, it bounces, we respond. That’s it: simple, playful, joyful (bouncing power), and fun. We are not trying to gain anything. Just playing in the Fields of the World.

After a few hours of practice, I began to discover, with Stefan’s help and guidance. The original meaning of discovery from the Latin (discoupire) is to “find” or “uncover”. The RRB decided to reveal itself.

    • The ball has a magical quality. It’s only a ball, of course, but then again…
    • The ball is a mirror. How can it not be? After all, it is attached to our heads, and as Stefan reminds me (!) our heads sit upon our necks. I have come to learn from a new friend (introduced later), this is a non-trivial (re) discovery!
    • The ball can teach us resilience at many levels (neurological, energetic, emotional, cognitive, psychological, even existential!) because it itself embodies resilience. In fact, the RRB is a master of resilience!
    • The RRB can also help us to build “integrity.” In the Chinese and Japanese languages integrity (Chinese “te”; Japanese “toku) is written by the “hand” of action in continuous and dynamic balance with the “eye” of discovery and the “heart” of compassion. (See: www.explorerswheel.com)
    • What does integrity have to do with the RRB and resilience? Well, everything. We are constantly being challenged in the practice to combine hand, eye, and heart. The greater the integrity, the greater the flow with the ball, the more resilience is enhanced.
    • But how is heart involved? Because the more humble and relaxed and loose we are, and the more we quiet the heart, the greater the play, the quicker our reflexes. When we love what we do– here simply to play for the pure joy and sake of it– we naturally return to harmony and balance.
    • RRB practice cultivates other virtues: patience, gravitas, connection to the earth, courage (when you strike the ball hard, it comes back at you very hard—isn’t this the definition of karma?—as you sow, so shall you reap?) when the ball comes at you sometimes very hard and fast, you must decide instantly, or you will get a wake-up call (very benign!) when it hits you. It reminds you, “Hello, I’m here!”
    • Soon the RRB begins to communicate with us and we with it. For me it is in a subtle, non-verbal language.  But wait! Of course it does, the RRB is you and I!
    • As we practice we become freer. One day I had a kinesthetic image of being young again, bold and brash possessed with lightning speed and strength. I have always had the romantic image of myself as a samurai. When I first arrived in Japan at the age of 14, I had this odd sensation on that sultry July evening as the bus was transporting us from the old Haneda airport into downtown Tokyo, and while I was observing out of the window the women coming back from the public baths in yukata and geta that I had been here before. I knew I had.  Years later, when I trained in the Kodokan judo institute and later at the main aikido dojo in Tokyo, I had the extraordinary feeling of the fierceness of a tiger, quite ridiculous and disproportionate to be sure, but I felt so alive then. It was these feelings and memories that flocked back to me suddenly when practicing with the RRB.
    • Angela says she enters a state of “agelessness” which I believe is accurate. Time seems to pause. You are simply in the flow; some people might describe it as “the Zone.” I am free, at last. Because there is no more “I”.
    • There is a close parallel with negotiation:  I move, the other responds: the player who re-reacts often has the advantage. But this is where the analogy stops. No one is seeking advantage here, because both have the advantage—the advantage of play, joy, discovery, and youthful exuberance.
    • We do gain some interesting insights into power: We actually do have some measure of “control” over the energy of the ball.  For example, we can decide to strike hard, and then the RRB comes back hard on us. We then have a choice. We can strike back hard, or respond softly (the Bible says, “A soft word turneth away wrath.”) It’s exactly the same with the RRB. Or we can simply yield. We move aside and let the ball go wherever it chooses; and when its energy flags, we re-engage. I call this process “yielding power.” It’s one of my favorite moves.
    • The RRB teaches acceptance. After all, it is attached to our head. We work with what we have, right in front of us, and the situation reveals itself.
    • When I first began to practice I asked myself whether it might be possible to play with the RRB blind, like the Japanese heroic swordsman, Zatto Ichi.  Immediately a voice intoned, “impossible!” But I have persevered. I can now with reasonable accuracy connect to the RRB about 40% of the time; and better if I will let go and relax even more—qigong Grand Master Li Junfeng calls this state “looseness” “no bones, like a snake!” I “listen” to the “field.” One develops an anticipatory sense of where the RRB is going to be.
    • I can go on reporting my discoveries. But I think I should pause to reflect a moment:

 

Some Reflections

    • If RRB practice teaches resilience and cultivates anticipatory power, how might this capacity translate into a broader ability to anticipate and to respond to dangers and risks in life?
    • What is happening neurologically to us when practicing with the RRB? Dr. Joseph Migliore, a pioneer of brainstem balancing, calls this process “cross-crawling,” for it mimics how babies naturally play and develop brain hemispheric integration. His work focuses on carefully and subtly aligning and balancing two essential bones, the Atlas (named after the Greek hero who held up the world) and the Axis. These two bones like Scylla and Charybdis guard the channel of the brainstem that has an all-important influence on the afferent and efferent communication of nerves running through and beside it that regulate the primary autonomic processes of the body.
    • What might be the influence of RRB on neuroplasticity? One interesting dimension of practicing with the RRB is the feedback is multisensory—sight, sound, touch, timing, emotions, etc. It hardly requires any effort at all to re-call this experience. It is living. In fact, I find I can practice in my mind alone, so powerful is the experience, without even holding the physical ball. When practicing in my mind I believe I am engaging both the brainstem and the cortex, which is interesting, because I am told the great ponderance of neuroplastic activity occurs in the cortex. They combine in my imagination. This brings me to the central dictum from Norman Doidge’s remarkable book, The Brain That Changes Itself (2007): nerve cells that fire together, wire together. Can we simply rewire as we practice with the RRB in our mind’s eye when we go to sleep?
    • Why does the RRB appear to act as a magnet and attract curious and interesting people when I practice in public? Is it possible that when we connect to the RRB with a sense of joy, play, and love, this “good energy” bounces outward into the world and connects itself to others who are predisposed to receive it?
    • What could be the deep offering from the RRB to an over-busy world reaching the heart of most of our present problems? Is it possible that by returning to a state of innocence, we can become a renunciate while also living in a world? Can this be a viable path for survival in this daily theatre of intolerance, violence, and upheaval?
    • I listen to the bard, Bob Dylan around the fire for he tells us, “But I was much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

 

And for me there is another familiar spirit on the journey, Pu’tai. He seems to have answer, pointing us to the moon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budai

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Japanese (1839-1892)

Moon of Enlightenment, A depiction of Hotei, the god of happiness and good fortune.

color woodcut, 1888. From the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon.

 

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