Monday, June 13, 2011

Circle of Influence: Journal Notes #43

Notes from my January 2007 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

* Question: What's the best way to use curiosity? Is it OK to follow curiosity wherever it may lead me or is it better to stick with a disciplined plan?
Answer: In your case, Mike, where your approach has been, "I've got a problem to fix. Where's the problem?" then yes, following curiosity is a step to the playfulness that leads to progress.
(This theme of "playfulness" in practice will be revisited in upcoming entries. What I've learned is that I tend to approach zhan zhuang practice too seriously, with too much focus on identifying a problem and fixing it (relaxing the tension). My approach was: "Tell me the steps to develop internal strength. I'll practice those steps. I'll develop internal strength." Well, I discovered that it doesn't exactly work that way. This attitude in and of itself has a kind of rigidity and tension to it. So I've struggled with how much focus, curiosity, playfulness is enough and in what measure and balance.

As we were discussing at a recent Wujifa class, it's the difference between a technician, a craftsman and an artist. I'm at the craftsman level - with my Wujifa Zhan Zhuang practice - but to really "get" internal strength, I need to jump to the artist level.)

* Question: I've noticed up and down and have been playing with that. Any suggestions on what to do with this, on how to develop this?
Answer: What you're calling "down" is sinking or dropping the Qi. So that's a big step. One problem with your "down" is that your "up" looks dead. You need to keep the top alive. Don't hold down. Don't push down. If down then allow up. When down, then push up with the feet and legs. Play with down/sunk lowering legs then raising up. As you've discovered, the up comes after the down.

* Question: I've been relaxing my lower back which feels like a pushing out as opposed to the usual tightness and this has created pain. but not bad pain. I've been able to extend this feeling up my back as well. Am I hurting myself or is this part of the process?
Answer: You're using strength (force) as a "medicine" to feel the fascial connections. This is OK in the short term to get the feeling of fascial connection but don't get stuck on or addicted to the method of using strength. Remember, the method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method.
(This is such a good point! Using force/strength/muscular tension to get an isolated feeling of connectedness is like the finger pointing at the moon because using strength violates the principle of relax. If you can feel connectedness with force, look for a "similar" feeling when relaxed. And remember, relax is not limp. The relaxed connected feeling will be different from the forced connected feeling. Different elements are at play with each method.)

* Question: What can I do to help loosen the ocular block?
Answer: Play with moving the forehead: raise and lower the eyebrows, smile and frown with the forehead. Practice expressing emotions with your face.
(An "ocular block" is a physical manifestation of chronic muscular tension or flaccidity around the eyes. An ocular block functions much like horse blinders by limiting one's field of vision. It is commonly noticed by no or limited movement in facial expressions around the eyes as opposed to every spoken word being accompanied by an emotional facial expression. (Some arts don't care about ocular blocks, in fact, some arts strive to block facial emotional expression and not notice. Think of the "poker face" as an example.) In Wujifa, simply noticing muscular tensions and developing fascial connections will lead to noticing subtleties such as noting muscular tensions around the eyes, jaw, etc...)

* I've come to understand that the various Qigong exercises are designed to work on specific problem areas, to open chronic tightness in specific areas. To the extent that each person has their own unique pattern of chronic tightness, a teacher must understand the purpose of a Qigong exercise and "prescribe" that exercise to that individual. It is not the best practice to "carte blanche" have an entire class or group all do the same Qigong exercises, unless of course, the individuals in the class all have some degree of the same problem.
(My understanding then wasn't quite complete or accurate. There are general Qigongs, for example, Eight Pieces of Brocade, Five Rites, etc., which benefit almost everyone and then there are specific Qigongs designed to be applied as "medicines".

In Wujifa, practitioners are given specific exercises to overcome certain problems, for example, a person who has a problem with the chest collapsing or hunching will do the "Atlas Holds Up the World" posture which rolls the shoulders back and opens the chest.)

* Question: Why don't we practice "Holding the Ball" like I see most other zhan zhuang styles?
Answer: Regarding the various zhan zhuang styles where the arms are held up at shoulder level, most of these positions are for advanced practitioners. If the beginner tries these, he'll focus too much on and develop too much tension in the shoulders when the primary focus should be on relaxing and sinking the weight.

Beginners should practice zhan zhuang with the arms hanging down at the side (elbows near the floating rib) with only forearms held up, parallel to the floor with wrists and hands relaxed. This takes the focus off the shoulders to allow the mind to focus on relaxing and dropping the weight into the legs.
(I, Mike's ego, struggled with this 'form' of zhan zhuang for a long time. If I'm "Holding The Ball", then I can brag about doing something special, "I'm practicing Holding the Ball Qigong". The problem is that the focus is misplaced on doing something special instead of on relaxing. This particular stance felt really dumb and mundane to my ego that wanted "special". I had to learn this lesson.)

* Question: What is the relation between the persuasion or hypnotism arts like NLP and the martial arts?
Answer: Remember the original Star Wars movie from 1977? See the YouTube clip: "These are not the droids you are looking for. ... The Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded."
(I completely did not understand this Star Wars scene and asked about this old journal entry at a recent Wujifa class. I think I have a clearer understanding now. Look for a separate, upcoming post about this particular scene.)

* My questions have tended to be outside the range of where I'm currently capable of practicing. And so I was introduced to a concept from Steven Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, namely, The Circle of Influence and the Circle of Concern. I've been putting my attention on concerns that I cannot currently influence. It would be better for me to put my attention on what I can influence and grow my "Circle of Influence" until it reaches my "Circle of Concern".
(If you haven't seen the book, here's a adaptation which illustrates this concept. Yeah, it can be tough to admit to yourself, "You are where you are and that's where you start." My thinker thought I was at a high level but my body was actually at a beginner level. I think I didn't start making any real progress until I got in sync with where my body was; recognizing my circle of influence.)

* The first 1,2,3,4 - the poles - is a method for the beginner to help begin to feel and to pay attention to structure. (See the Wujifa Zhan Zhuang Alignment article.) The feeling of the poles is a feeling of alignment. If you told the beginner to feel and connect, this truth would get diluted because it's too much to feel. So you use a visual image as a reference point to set up a feeling, a structure that develops without the student being aware of it at a deeper feeling level.

* Question: I noticed that I can feel my lower back and my neck but not so much inbetween. What's up with that? Is this normal?
Answer: Yes. The stages of developing feeling in the back go like this (see drawing):

* Some say a Wujifa teacher gives each student a piece of the puzzle so the students must work together to understand or see the whole. Rather, a good Wujifa teacher will give each student what that student needs for his/her purpose. So of course, each student will have a different understanding which may help the other student at some point.

* Saying, "The method is not the truth, once you get the feeling, get rid of the method." implies that the method is a lie. So, teach lies that point to the truth. The finger is not the moon.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Changing My Diet: Journal Notes #42
Next article in this series: Match and Mismatch: Journal Notes #44

Make sure to visit and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.

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