12 November 2007

A shout-out to the dogs I've known

What a lovely experience!

I'm still feeling all warm and glowy from seeing this heartfelt film about a game called chinlone, Mystic Ball. The filmmaker brought his discovery of this cooperative and peaceful thing: a game with a team of six and no opponents. The fundamental play of the game is keeping a 7-inch hollow sphere made of soaked and wound rattan cane in the air, a basic foot-and-knee form of juggling that requires total concentration to master or even do a teensy bit well, it turns out.

The game of chinlone is revealed a form of meditation, an entertainment, and ultimately, as filmmaker Greg Hamilton says, "a form of loving." I thoroughly enjoyed the film and was reveling in the piece of news about human potential the filmmaker had shared with us. My friend and I hung around and bought one of his chinlone balls, and chatted after the film with "Mr. Greg" as he is affectionately called by his friends in Myanmar. We even stayed to check out a couple of chinlone tips; Greg changed and stretched for a good long time, no doubt trying to shed some of the anxiety associated with another screening of his film and the bombardment of chat after. As he readied for play, clearly he was not just going to share a couple of moves after all but was in for a long practice session after the rest of us drifted off to pick up kids or see other film-fest fare.

As we walked over to a playing field for the instruction, I asked Greg directly the question my friend had asked aloud as we walked out of the theater: Have you become a Buddhist as a result of these experiences? He said no, but chinlone and his friendship with the Myanmar people has given him a new spiritual dimension in his life, something he addresses in Mystic Ball that had been missing after a violent childhood and a dedication to music and the martial arts. "And," Greg said, "I've learned a lot from dogs." This made me so happy -- I thought of all the dogs I've been learning from lately and it's so true (hi Kimi, you sweet spirit).

The collaborative game is kind of like a more selfless combination of hacky sack and soccer, with your knee and all the surfaces of your foot legal for touching the ball and keeping it in motion and everyone's goal to support the kicker's best possible form at all times.

Writing this I find myself musing, what is like this here in our culture? And the answer comes immediately: rock bands! Not the kind lampooned in Almost Famous (as much as I love that movie, Stillwater is a caricature) but groups like the Grateful Dead and Gomez who get a bunch of people together to agree to go down that path and see if we can all get somewhere interesting. That live music is played to accompany and inspire the circle of ball players and an announcer engages in tricky wordplay to accent the tricky footwork of the participants only reinforces the likenesses in this comparison. (And maybe I'm more likely to form a rock band in pursuit of this experience than I am to master chinlone!)

I liked seeing a different way of doing things in Greg Hamilton's lovely film. Now it's time to do my own practice of keeping my own literary ball in the air.


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