Monday, February 14, 2011

Mechanistic or Organic: Journal Notes #26

Notes from my April 2005 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang. My notes skip from February to April; no notes from March 2005. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

* The purpose of stance is to change the body. Three years for the legs and six months for the arms.
(And I will add, ...of diligent, correct practice under the guidance of someone who actually has third-party verified, demonstrable skill and is able to teach someone who is able and prepared to learn. So, yes, there are a lot of variables... I think you'd be fooling yourself thinking you could start from "scratch" and develop internal strength within three years practicing an hour a day learning from a self-proclaimed "master".)

* Armoring. If you respond to an assault and then release the response after the assault has passed, this is healthy. If the assault happens frequently (or is perceived to) and you decide to make the response permanent, then this becomes armor and is not healthy. Armor is not instilled by others but by me. It's my response to others.

* In "The Mass Psychology of Fascism", Reich talks about life in the most straight forward, layman accessible language: mechanistic and authoritarian life has created a rigid body that is out of touch with and not feeling its own bio-organic core. So I ask...

* Question: What's the difference between mechanistic and organic? (The set-up for the explanation and answer is a chair and a few feet away is a table with a glass of water on it.)

Example A: Sit in that chair. Get the glass of water. (OK, task done.)

Example B: Sit in that chair. Now, before getting up out of the chair, think about getting up with the intention of going to get a glass of water. Think about what how it feels, how the body responds. Now, only stand up but with the intention of going to get a glass of water. Check-in with your body. How are you feeling? Now reach for the glass. Don't touch it yet. How does this feel? Now, pick up the glass. Check-in. Feel the glass in your hand. (A completely different experience!)

* Answer: Example "A" was done mechanistically, automatically, like you've done hundreds of times before. No thinking. No feeling. No presence. Example "B" was done organically with mindfulness, purposely, noticing and feeling at each "step".

* Do everything organically starting with stance. Don't just mechanistically start stance thinking about all the parts lining up, dropping, etc... First, while sitting, check-in with yourself, feel, say, "I'm going to do stance now." Before getting up, feel yourself doing stance. Check-in often. Move purposely to your location. Then begin practicing stance.

(Despite all the feeling work I've done, I would say that I'm still largely in the mechanistic camp though the organic camp has developed enough to create some tension between the two. I'm still not willing to let go of old, mechanistic habits. For example, I approach stance mechanistically and while in stance, practice feeling; nibbling on the crust of the "organic" pie. )
* Formulating questions for class forces us to examine our practice and to be curious and to look for experiences we don't understand and try to answer for ourselves.
(I've heard this so many times over the years and I still resist or neglect taking full responsibility for my own development. Sure, I mechanistically and dutifully bring questions to class, conforming to the Wujifa school "rules" and yes, doing so has shifted or nudged me slightly in the direction of being responsible, but yet, my "transitional approach" is just another kind of "spoon feeding". That said, the deeper I get into this practice, the better I understand that the only way to "get it" is to really apply myself to figuring this out for myself.)

* Must stand everyday even if tired. If tired, then just stand tired and don't do anything. Just stand. Missing one day of stance puts you back three days.

* Watch the movie, "The Matrix".

* Question: Am I rotating the hips correctly in this exercise? Is the feeling I feel of open and close on the right track?
Answer: You're still too wobbly, noodley on top. You need to work out the wobble.

(The above note is referring a Wujifa exercise to help develop a feel for the fascial stretch from head to foot. In my case, the bad habit I was working on (and is still in me though now to a lesser degree) is from the noodle-man style of Tai chi push hands I embodied in my earlier training.)

* Question: At the last class, you noticed I was still holding too much in the chest/upper back and only dropping from the waist down. I've worked on dropping the upper body. How does this look?
Answer: Still not getting into the legs. (Then I received adjustments.) Same feeling as previous sessions. Legs give out. Muscle not strong enough. You need to practice sitting on a stool and lifting off, dropping, sitting, lifting. Do this a hundred times a day.

* The patella (knee cap) is not attached to the femur so the direction the knee cap points is not necessarily an indication of the turning of the femur.

* If you feel a problem in the knee, then the problem could be in the hip. Correct the hip and see if the knee problem goes away.

* Question: Why do I feel pain in my knees when I do stance?
Answer: Because you're only dropping from the waist down and you're holding on top. You need to drop everything. It's a whole-body movement.

* The purpose of training methods is to elicit a particular feeling, to give you a "feel" for something.

* Question: Is "bowing" a correction of leaning back?
Answer: Yes. Sometimes though it is incorrect. It is a method to get the feeling of the inguinal crease.

* The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: More Pelvic Work: Journal Notes #25
Next article in this series: Still Confused About Feeling: Journal Notes #27


  1. Hmm... This post has got my thinking. Controlling posture or breath or mind seems like it is overly rigid, but a lot of the old QiGong stuff talks about "regulating" those things. I wonder what this regulation is that allows everything to be harmonious without causing more tension and rigidity?

    I've had some feelings before of "doing" things without force. For example, reaching over and grabbing a glass of water when I'm thirsty doesn't feel like I'm "forcing" myself.

    But it seems in stance sometimes, when I go to "do" the more dropped, aligned posture, I hit sticky spots. When you hit sticky spots, how do you keep "doing" stance without forcing?

    When I try to force myself past these sticky spots, and use it as a medicine, it seems to create a lot of friction. I know in Wujifa we talk about using force as a medicine sometimes, but it seems like there might be another way, more in line with the old Tai Chi adage not to use force against force. Any thoughts?

  2. Exploring like one who explores... Through the thick jungle or when climbing through a tight spot in a cave... It can really be a lot of work. Hard work may be lots if fun then again it may nit be so fun although very insightful... Insights when exploring can create key opportunities for development.

    The idea of force as a medicine is more about noticing. Some people have patterns so ingrained the they may be using an external or projection or advoidance believing they don't use force. In many internal martial arts the talk about eating bitter. Eating bitter can be helpful. Now this could be a reframe fir force... Don't force it learn to eat bitter... Learn to hang in there even if it is uncomfortable and it tastes bad to you as it is medicine. Some might think of this as force...

    I never liked "Star Wars" talking about the force as force seemed like the dark side... We can feel the flow and sometimes this well be pressure... Which is like force...

    Noticing, exploring, I believe even with the method of the medicine of force maybe useful... When it helps you notice more... Many people avoid bitter flavor and only eat sweet... This can be bad for one's health. So I believe noticing is the key to the oppertunity within the Wujifa medicine of sometimes using force to notice something about yourself. If one does not like the Idea of ever using force and I understand this the I would suggest eating bitter as being the better oppertunity for discovery.

  3. Ruike and Dan both make some great points!

    I would just like to add that using force against force would be like forcing yourself not to use force. So in Wujifa they say you can sometimes use force as a method to notice something, an opportunity if you will. Saying you "MUST NOT" use force is digging the rabbit hole of force deeper. So let's explore the opportunity and see if a medicine can help reveal something that we could learn from and then move past the medicine and frames if force to a more useful opportunity. The method if force is a very strong medicine or addictive method and is by no means a way of life. Forcing oneself to not use force is like a double bind... Learning from, like the taste of bitter medicine can share great insights.

    Thank you Mike, Dan, and RuiKe for this insightful exchange. I always enjoy my School Brothers insights.

  4. Sometimes a method will feel like a force to you because it is engaging your forceful resistance to the method that is pointing out to you your resistance to relaxing and feeling.

    If you simply let go where you are holding and forcing against relaxing, there would be no "sticky points". Right?

    But alas, you are where you are.

    How deeply can you simply stand and relax?

    You can't force the feeling of relax.

    It's a very personal journey. Only you can make the changes.