Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Notice Differently

In Wujifa class we talk about "noticing differently". This pair of words never made sense to me. How do I notice differently when I only know how to notice the way I notice? How do I notice? What does it mean to "notice differently"?

In the mid-1990s, I read the book "Way of the Peaceful Warrior" by Dan Millman. Recently I watched the vaguely related movie "Peaceful Warrior" which inspired me to go back and reread the book. As I read, I noticed passages I did not highlight in my first reading. My focus had changed. I was noticing differently.

I asked my school brother one day, "Yeah, it's great that my focus has shifted over the last 10 years but how do I speed up the process? How can I notice differently today, here, now?" He then played a little game with me:
D: Pretend you're wearing colored glasses. What color are you wearing?
Me: Blue.
D: So everything looks kind of blue-ish? And this is how you usually see things?
Me: Yeah.
D: OK. Now pretend there are a pair of glasses with yellow lenses on the table. Take off the blue pair and put on the yellow pair.
Me:(I went through the motions)
D: And?
Me: Everything... Wow! There's a different feeling, perception, feeling, something...
D: It's really that simple. Notice differently.
Here's what I noticed in "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior" this time:
"Then what do you mean when you say, 'My body is sore today'? Who is the 'I' who is separate from the body and speaks of it as a possession?" [pg 81]

"It only burns where you have knots. If you were free of obstructions - if your mind was clear, your heart open, and your body free of tension - you'd experience the energy as an indescribable pleasure..." [pg 103]

"... but your muscles hold too much tension. Tense muscles require more energy to move. So you have to learn how to release the stored tension." [pg 140]

"Oscar meowed loudly. I patted him. "Now squeeze his leg muscles, slowly, to the bone.
"I might hurt him."
I pressed deeper and deeper into the cat's muscle until I felt the bone. The cat watched me with curiosity and kept purring.
"Now squeeze my calf muscle," Soc said.
... I squeezed and was surprised to feel that his muscles felt just like the cat's, yielding like firm jelly.
"Your turn," he said, reaching down and squeezing my calf muscle.
"Ow!" I yelped. "I'd always thought hard muscles were normal," I said, rubbing my calves.
"They are normal, Dan, but you must go far beyond normal...
... I learned things about my muscles, ligaments, and tendons I'd never known before. ... It was amazing that I, an athlete, was so unfamiliar with the inside of my body. [pg 141]

... think less and feel more. [pg 161]
Noticing thinking...

Noticing absence of thinking...

Noticing beneath the skin...

Noticing feeling...

Noticing feeling of sinking, rising, expanding feeling together...

Noticing connecting...

Noticing differently...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Force, Balance, Limp

In my last Wujifa class I demonstrated how, using my intention, I was able to create a feeling of sinking and raising, a “stretch” from pelvis to head. My instructor pointed out that I was forcing creating the feeling. I thought I found the feeling through relax so I asked, “Is it possible to force ’Relax’?”

To get the kinesthetic I was feeling, he pointed out that I was tightening my lower abdomen, tightening my solar plexus and tightening my neck. Using force to "relax" does not result in relax.

We looked at the Primary Wujifa Triangle (Relax, Balance, Structure) and analyzed what I was actually doing in relation to this triangle.

When I started learning Tai-chi my instructors said to ‘relax’. Knowing only force, the only way I knew ‘relax’ was the opposite of force, namely, lack-of-force, or Limp. Sometimes I was too limp. Sometimes I was to force. So my Tai-chi sought and found a balance between Force and Limp. And I stayed stuck on this Force-Limp, Yang-Yin plane for many years. My former teachers either didn’t know the non-limp feeling of relax or they couldn’t explain or teach what they could feel, or I wasn’t ready or able to feel to that level.

When I started Wujifa, I heard, “Relax is not limp.” And working from my existing paradigm, I couldn’t conceptually understand what this meant and I certainly could not kinesthetically feel the difference.

The figure below (from my class notes) shows the Primary Wujifa Triangle in the center. The dashed triangles show the relation of Limp and Force to each other and to the elements of the Wujifa Triangle. Force is opposite relax. Limp is opposite structure. Force is opposite limp.
Back to the story, my instructor then asked me to once again demonstrate the sinking and raising, connected “stretch” feeling I was doing (with force). Then he told me to relax that forced feeling 75%. How does that feel? Next, he had me shake it out and then get into the Zhan Zhuang structure again, but this time take a deep breath and exhale with an audible “Aaaahhhhhh”. (The tone and pitch of the voice convey emotional meaning and getting the desired feeling requires a common and ordinary yet particular ‘ahh’ sound which I don’t know how to explain in words.) The resultant feeling was a sinking and raising, connected “stretch” feeling yet much more subtle than what I was forcing.

I noticed that both approaches yielded the same yet different feeling. Sourcing from force or from relax to feel that feeling each carry their own residual, body memory energy. (???) (Not to sound woo woo but I don’t know how else to explain it.) But this is what feels different about arriving at the "same" feeling through different approaches.

What I learned is that “Relax” has a certain aliveness to it (??? for lack of better words) which doesn't originate from force or limp and that “Limp” (what I used to call relax) does not have that feeling of aliveness. Truly, relax is not limp!

Through feeling and understanding how I was forcing a feeling, I learned more about what ‘relax’ means.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Noticing the Shoulders, Elbows, Arms, and Fingers

When I first tried Zhan Zhuang, I began by simply raising my arms to shoulder height in a manner that imitated holding a large ball or hugging a large tree. I didn’t notice all the tension and sticky points that caused my shoulders to raise with my arms, and my elbows to jut up and out, and fingers to spread apart stiffly. While this may have bore a vague, external resemblance to Zhan Zhuang, and despite my best efforts at imagining and visualizing chi flow, I wasn’t feeling anything internally, kinesthetically.

Later, when I started practicing Zhan Zhuang in earnest in the Wujifa system, I started with the version of Zhan Zhuang that placed my elbows at my sides and forearms parallel to the ground, palms facing each other. In this structure, I was not “tempted” to raise my shoulders. I also started practicing with relaxed wrists, hands hanging loosely, keeping the fingers relaxed.

After many months, I slowly moved into practicing extending the now relaxing fingers more with intention than with stiffening the fingers muscularly while keeping the wrists and hands relaxed.

In recent months I’ve been focusing on relaxing and widening the shoulders. (I’m carrying a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders so this is a real challenge.) I now can notice a stretchy feeling from my lower jawbone down my neck to collarbones and into my deltoid muscles. When I make tiny adjustments in my head position, I notice the lower sides of my face will tingle and a kind of subtle “pull” into the arms.

A little over a month ago I felt my elbows “drop”.

And most recently during stance, I noticed the fingers-extending feeling increasing when, or originating in, the shoulders relaxing and widening; a feeling, sort of what might be described as an almost continuous feeling of something from shoulders to fingertips. Feeling connection? Note: I noticed this feeling when playing with the "hold the ball" arm position.

So at the next Wujifa class I went to, I demonstrated my discovery and asked, “Am I on the right track?” Here are my class notes, loosely paraphrased through my own filters.

First, my "hold the ball" arm position was changed to elbows at sides, forearms parallel to ground and parallel to each other,wrists and hands relaxed and palms of hands facing each other. (See the article on Zhan Zhuan Alignment.) And then...
Extend using your intention the top (index) finger. What do you feel? I feel the tops of my forearms.
Extend using your intention the bottom (pinky) finger. What do you feel? I the feel the bottoms of my forearms.
Extend using intention the center finger. What do you feel? I feel kind of through the centers of my forearms. Not as obvious a feeling as the tops and bottoms.

Practice extending through the center finger.

If you hold the ball and practice expanding OUT as a method (as you were doing), then you must also learn how to ‘expand’ IN (squeeze) as a method. This is polarity. When you build the intention in the middle path and generalize out from the center in all directions, then you have top and bottom, and in and out, in a single unified feeling.

Remember that methods are "feeling-pointers". Feelings are not data! Don’t make the mistake of treating a feeling as data. Don’t practice “X” activity to yield “Y” feeling. Learning a collection of methods/feelings is not the same as learning the principle and the feeling of whole body connectedness.

Getting stuck on data-feelings results in missing the unifying feeling of connection.
So this is where I am now regarding noticing the shoulders, elbows, arms, and fingers; allowing my shoulders relaxingly widening, feeling expanding through my shoulders and arms and relaxingly with intention extending my center finger. (Described sequentially but in real-time, happening simultaneously upon letting go.)