Years ago, I helped edit Sifu’s first book (on Iron Palm training). As I was passing along my comments to the team I said, “The description of the four strikes used in the exercise seems a bit thin to me. I think they could be explained more.”
Sifu replied, “Ok. Go ahead and write it.”
After mentally freaking out for a moment*, I agreed. I wrote the expanded section, it was reviewed by others in the editing team, and into the book it went. Boom, published, out into the world.
Fast forward a number of years.
We’re in class, having a conversation with Sifu, and the subject of Iron Palm and the training comes up. “The palm strike is the most internal of the strikes,” Sifu says. “Wait…” I interrupt, “isn’t the backhand the most internal?” “No, it’s the palm strike.”
Cue more mentally freaking out. This time because I was positive I had heard it was the backhand. My understanding was that it was the backhand. Which means… did I write it into the book wrong? Did I screw up horribly, confuse and mislead everyone who bought the book (and maybe cause injury!), and above all that, make Sifu look bad?
I raced home as soon as class was finished, dropping all my stuff unceremoniously at the door to rush and grab the book from the shelf. Flip, flip, flip, find the page and….
Sifu was, of course, right. The palm is the most internal strike. The backhand has more of an external component to it. That’s exactly what it says in the book… and thus exactly what I wrote.
I was relieved. And, at the same time, a whole mess of perplexed, angry, and weirded out. How did I get it so wrong?
But in the next moment, I realized what a great example it was of just how fallible, of how malleable, of how downright unreliable our memories are. I literally wrote (part of) the book on the darn thing! And yet, somehow, somewhere, I’d twisted it around in my mind until I was rotely spouting something incorrect. I let go the worry and laughed.
We like to think our memory operates just like a superdimensional audio/video recording system that perfectly and forever captures sights, sounds, our feelings, our views, and, if we really tell the truth to ourselves, we also think it captures other people’s moods, thoughts, and even intentions. All accurately and that can play it back anytime with perfect fidelity.
In that moment, book in hand, I got just how even something as straightforward as a simple piece of instruction or information could get miss-remembered so much that I’d built an entire body of understanding around it. This freakout-inducing potential-mistake opened a whole world of inquiry for me, because if I was capable of doing that with such a simple event, what did that mean for my other well-held beliefs based on much more complicated events in my past… ?**
The answers to this question have been most fruitful, almost always leading me to greater freedom and peace of mind.
And, as a bonus, I now have a much deeper understanding of Iron Palm.
* I freaked out because I was still young at the school and didn’t expect to be brought into this important a project even as an editor, let alone asked to write what amounts to generations of distilled knowledge (and this was all before I got my start down my path of mindfulness, transformation, and ontology, so I was waaayyyyy more prone to freaking out).
** This has been made even more profound as modern neuroscience research continues to show us just how hilariously not-fixed our memory is…