* Question: So, I now understand that "the feeling" can change as my practice deepens, that it's not an "on" or "off" proposition. How about relax?
Answer: Relax is not "on/off". Your musculature, your armors simply cannot let go 100% in an instant to achieve "sung". It may feel like on/off, tense/relax, hold/let go to you but in reality, your relax might only yield 2% or 5% of true "sung" and that's fine. You are where you are and that's where you start.
So start with what you are capable of doing. Get comfortable and notice what you notice at that level of relax. Later, relax further. And so on. Relaxing a little more. Letting go a little more. Over time the little steps add up.
(You might also like to read my Tai Chi Principles: Muscular Quality of Sung.)
* Question: You also say, "Relax is not limp." and to have "peng" I must relax but "peng" is more than relax. So is the quality of the relax feeling somewhere between limp and peng?
Answer: No system can define itself. You must get out of the system you use to create your definitions. There is no "in-between" because "between" is in the yin-yang system and the feeling you're looking for is some of each and neither of both.
Me: OK. But what is it?
Answer: Yes. It is what.
Me: Come on. "It is what" doesn't help me. Can you say that another way?
Answer: You might think of it as a third feeling always on the edge of awareness and understanding. Third feeling. First sensation. Present moment. Once the feeling is understood in the analytical mind, then it is history. If you get stuck on reproducing past feelings, that is, on feelings you understand, then you have stopped growing.
Noticing is a method to get into this "third feeling". Noticing always occurs in the present.
(You might also like to read my article The Third Feeling where this answer continues in more detail.)
* Question: Lots of teachers tell their students to imagine different stuff. Can imagination help with discovering this "third feeling"?
Answer: Imagination can be used as a method to find "the third feeling" but if this becomes patterned and projected into the future, that is, something you always go back to, then you don't grow. You must always be present to discover a new feeling on the edge of awareness and understanding.
* Question: So if imagination can become a method, how about feeling? Can feeling become a method too?
Answer: Feelings can become methods when you focus on developing "a" particular feeling. For example, now you say you are feeling expanding-ness. In fact, this is just a sign-post. Do not stop at the sign-post and continue working on developing that one expanding feeling. If you do, then you get stuck at that level and never progress. Continue to relax and develop feeling of connection.
(A challenging aspect of this practice for me is to continue past the sign posts.
For example, when my definition of my kinesthetic experience matches my pre-conceived definition of "peng-jing" which is based on reading other people's descriptions of "peng-jing", then I think I've achieved something and then I would stop there.
If it were not for the continued guidance of excellent advice like, "This is just a sign-post", I would easily have gotten stuck at the first "I got it!" level a long time ago.)
*Question: Are there different types of connections, or different ways to connect?
Answer: Being present, connecting with the present with and through feeling is a form of internal connection. Connection is connection.
(This is such an excellent example of the mind getting ahead of the body. Or said another way, an example of thinking or theorizing a feeling. If I were to simply practice relaxing, feeling connecting, then over time, with practice, I would learn and understand the answer to this question from my own kinesthetic experience.
Often, questions like this come from thinking. While having data contributes to writing lots of blog posts, articles, and books, more functional questions like, "How can I get my shoulder to relax under load while maintaining proper structure?" are actually more valuable to helping me progress.)
* Question: So if imagination and feeling can become methods, then what about zhan zhuang?
Answer: Zhan zhuang stance is a simple, stripped down method that provides you a safe place to practice and play at being present and feeling. How we "show up" in stance is how we show up in life. If your stance practice is very rigid and mechanical, you are probably also rigid and mechanical in daily life and vice versa.
* Question: If zhan zhuang can be a method, then what about push-hands?
Answer: Your "limp noodle" method of push-hands only works in fixed-step push-hands exercise because of the rules of the game. In real life there are no rules. If I play "limp noodle" and my opponent is intent on demolishing me, then I will get annihilated or I will be forced into another game, to become present and in doing so, the limp noodle disappears.
(The "limp noodle" is one of my bad habits that I resort to when my connection is tested beyond what I'm able to ground. When I resort to push-hands tricks to avoid being pushed over, I am actually only tricking myself into thinking "I won." because I didn't get pushed over. In fact, I cheated myself from learning more about where I'm holding and resisting.)
* Feel. Don't analyze your feeling. Don't think it. Don't do anything. Relax. Drop. Feel.
* The pattern I tend to run is alternating between feeling and then theorizing about the feeling, then feeling, then theorizing. If I could only stick with the feeling, I'd make quicker progress. The feeling is not a theory.
(The feeling is not a theory. I now see that there is a difference between reflecting on a kinesthetic feeling experience versus trying to fit a kinesthetic feeling experience into a theoretical framework.
Sticking with the feeling does not mean to ignore using my intellectual faculties to help me develop further feeling relax and connection. However, intellectualizing too much, extracting feeling into intellectualizations distracts my focus from feeling. Finding Balance in this area is also part of the process.)
* There are no rules. Only presence.
* I've noticed that I feel the most enlivened when sparring but I am not the most present because my intention is on a future result - winning, expecting an outcome. To me, this kind of "presence" is qualitatively different from the presence I've felt in a good zhan zhuang session where I'm simply connecting deeply in the present moment with no other intention than to feel and connect.
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Toward a Feeling-Based Understanding: Journal Notes #77
Next article in this series: - Deeper Insights into Zhan Zhuang Foundations: Journal Notes #79
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