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Have you ever been around people whose energy, or ki`ai, just seems to create havoc wherever they go? A close friend was like that: On any given day, as he walked through the office, pencils would mysteriously roll off desks and the staff would drop papers onto the floor. Always laser-focused on something, he walked through life unaware of the havoc his whirlwind energy caused, especially if he was upset.

Consider this contrasting example. At the monastery where I was ordained, every day at 6:30 AM and PM, someone rang the ogane, or great bell. One morning, Zen Master Taiken Yokoyama took hold of the rope tied to the hanging wooden beam that served as the mallet. Without thought or deliberation, just in the calmness of his breath, he struck the ogane.

At the first ring, people on the temple grounds stopped what they were doing and just listened. Each ring brought us all into a deeper state of stillness. Finally, as the peal of the last hit faded into quiet, we turned to one another, saying: “Did you feel that?” “What just happened?” “That was . . .” – no words could describe it. The serenity of his ki`ai had reached into all of us.

In the 1995 BBC documentary “The Art of Conducting,” a Berlin Philharmonic musician talked about 20th-century German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. During a rehearsal as he was studying the score that rested on top of his tympani, he suddenly noticed that even though nobody was at the podium a “new and fascinating sound developing.” Furtwängler was just entering.

The musician said it was Furtwängler’s “personality alone, his presence” that created the beautiful sound he was now hearing. “A person who carries the sound so strongly within himself that he brings out the sound in others is the most beautiful thing an orchestra can experience. When you know this person is totally open and you are invited to join him, that’s when you make this kind of music.”

In the same documentary, English conductor John Eliot Gardiner observed that conductors should feel a “current passing from one sphere to another.” From conductor to musician – and back.

This interaction of energy is true for all people. Whatever energy we have in us – frenetic and chaotic or calm and centered – emanates outward and affects those around us. In Zen we train to become Empty so that the ki`ai of the Universe comes into, and through, us. Thus, it is not the energy of a mere human trying to be strong or clear. Instead, what manifests is the energy of Reality itself.

What kind of energy do you want to emanate?


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