Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Beginner's Mind: The Zen of Internal Martial Arts

Much has been written about the "Beginner's Mind" both in Zen (or in Chinese: 禅;chán) meditation practice and its interwoven history with the internal martial arts: Tai Chi, Ba-gua, and Xing-yi chuan. This article suggests one way to refresh the Beginner's Mind when it doesn't feel like a beginner anymore.

In Discover Your Power: Journal Notes #33, I mused over whether I would ever be able to develop the internal strength or effortless power that made famous Tai Chi, Ba-gua, and Xing-yi chuan. Shortly after posting that article, my elder school brother talked to me and I'd like to share our conversation.

Developing internal strength or effortless power should probably take about three years of diligent and correct practice to bring someone "through the door"; to change the mind-body sufficiently to elicit the kinesthetic experience upon which internal strength or effortless power may develop.

Yet, in my case, I've been chasing this butterfly for twenty-five years and practicing stance for over ten years and have been brought "through the door" on multiple occasions by a very dedicated teacher and friend, and yet I still cannot demonstrate the kinesthetic quality of internal strength or effortless power. Why not?

My pattern, as observed by my instructor was not apparent to me until he pointed it out to me; every time I get close, every time he takes me through the door, my response is to either literally run away (see my Three Years Away: Journal Notes #11) or to withdraw or shut down. There are a wide and probably endless variety of reasons or excuses. And even though I have noticed this pattern in others (it must be a typical pattern), I could not see it in myself. Interesting, eh?

Question: So how do I recognize what pulls me away before it pulls me away?
Answer: That is not the correct question. It is better to ask: How do I keep it going?

As I blog my Zhan Zhuang Training Journal, I notice that my notes, the data I've gathered are mostly class notes and not primarily a daily training diary or journal. Data is my strength but I'm not using my strength to my advantage in this project.

Here is a suggestion to begin a new way to practice. Write a real training journal. Begin each morning with an "Intention for the day" and how I intend to achieve it. Intention and action plan. Then practice. Immediately after practice then write down your experiences and any questions or observations that came up during practice.

Collect your own data. Analyze your own data. Reach conclusions about your own data. Pose questions to yourself based on your own data. Make training decisions based on your own data.

Set the intention. Make a choice. Act on it. See it through. Take a Project Management approach to developing internal strength.

What do you want? Internal strength. Effortless power.
How do you develop that? Practice stance; Wujifa zhan zhuang.

I'll bet that many people come to the door of internal strength/effortless power and then walk away and look for another door (Oh no! Any door but that!) or they quit altogether and in both cases, never learn the real reason why. I've done this repeatedly.

Paul Mitchell over at Lotus Neigong has an article titled: Keeping a Beginner's Mind (January 2011) in which he says:
The only true fight is internal, the war is against your ‘inner demons’ and lets be honest with ourselves, we all have some of those.
It's easy to have the Zen-like beginner's mind, the unbridled enthusiasm, passion and openness when you have not yet encountered that which must change in yourself to "get it". I have run into my "demons" and have run away from them. Sometimes it is not pleasant to have a beginner's mind.

So how will this story end? It seems there are a few options:

1. Quit. Walk away for good. Be done with it forever.
2. Continue the same old approach and never really "get it".
3. Begin again but this time, take a different approach.

Bottom line, keep practicing...

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