Monday, August 22, 2011

Contradictions: Journal Notes #53

Notes from my March 2008 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: Why teach by contradictions?
Answer: Because what we want to describe cannot be described. If we said "x", then the mind would gravitate to it's definition or concept of "x" which would be wrong. So it is more correct to say it is not this nor that like the Buddhist teaching of No. No. No. No. No. Eventually the mind exhausts its logical conceptual efforts and the answer/feeling becomes clear and then you understand that the feeling cannot be described and you wonder why you didn't "get it" sooner. This is the process of your natural unwinding.

(And if you're really wedded to your logical thought processes like me, it could take a long time to unwind. This is where dogged perseverance will help you to eventually get it.)

* Question: In the last class, you explained the differences between mystical, functional and mechanical. Where can I get more information and examples of functional thinking?
Answer: Functional thinking is a term coined by the late psychologist Wilhelm Reich. A good definition of functionalism might be: Look for differences and among those differences find similarities.

* Question: I've been experiencing "sleepy eyes" recently. Like I just don't want to open my eyes. It's easier to keep them closed. Any ideas? Have you ever experienced this yourself?
Answer: It may be due to season changes from winter/kidney to spring/liver. It may be due to energetically switching from being data-ish to being more functional. Wanting to keep the eyes closed could represent wanting to avoid what you are opening to seeing.

* Notes on teaching:
  • The teacher must calibrate to each student and not simply make the same gross muscular adjustment to each student so the students all look the same. Each student is different, has a different structuring, responds to kinesthetic suggestions differently.
  • One method will not work with everyone. Also, methods can change and do change to adjust to you as you change and mature in the practice. A method is really just a way to get you to the next step and is largely dependent on what your body is/is not doing.
  • With each adjustment, ask, "How does that feel?" Get feedback. Also, prompting for feedback anchors the feeling for the student.
  • Audio (speaking/listening) and kinesthetic (touching) works great in making stance adjustments.
(Adjustments to zhan zhuang posture may start out at the gross muscular level in the beginner like keeping the heels and toes on parallel lines, but at advanced levels, adjustments get into the milli-micro-meter range where from one perspective it doesn't even feel like there was an adjustment but at another level, that little adjustment, which can feel more like an adjustment in the application of intention, results in a huge shift in the level of connectedness.)

* Question: What's wrong with wanting to label a feeling, even conceptually as "this" or "that" feeling? This is what I do so I can recreate "that" feeling at home when I practice.
Answer: Stop labeling. The moment you name or label, then you lose presence, feeling, and connection. For example when you believe you know what a tree is, because you have a concept of a tree, then you dismiss the experience and reality of that unique tree. No two trees are exactly the same. The feeling is never exactly the same.

If you try to compare a new feeling/experience to a previous experience, if you try to categorize the new based on the previous, if you try to define or name the new using established concepts, you will get confused. What you are aiming for is completely different from what you think you are aiming for. Get the feeling of what you experience now and invent a new language.

* Question: I learn here, I make progress here as do my classmates. Where can I verify where I am in my progress outside of class?
Answer: It's best to enter competitions to seek validation. If you go to others' workshops or seminars, the danger is that each teacher has his own system and whatever you do will not be correct in that system.

For example, the terms grounding, centering, rooting, etc... each martial art or qi-gong school can use the same words but could have different meanings that are true in their system. Comparing and trying to synthesize terms from different disciplines can confuse rather than contribute to your practice.

* Question: My shin bone muscle hurts. What's going on?
Answer: I stood and Dan and Rick worked on adjusting my posture which helped bring more of my awareness to more details of how and where I was dropping my weight on the inside vs outside of my heel. They also noticed a counter-twist across my calf and thigh the torque of which I was noticing across my shin bone.

(This is one of many examples of what happens in the body in the process of letting go. As one area relaxes or lets go, if a corresponding area is still tense or tight, then "problems" arise. It's then that you begin to notice other areas that need to relax as well.

I've discovered that this process of incrementally letting go has reached into the core of my personality - how locked in I am vs. how willing I am to really let go. Looking back, it was easy to
mimic the gross motor mechanics of learning forms and techniques. As it turns out, that was the low level stuff. Now, getting into the finer and more subtle levels where intention intersects micro-kinesthetic response and behavior, well, this can bring up some interesting insights.)

* Question: In the Tai-chi classics, it says to round the back. Does that refer to not having the scapulas wing out?
Answer: The scapula is not important to focus on. The focus point is on relaxing and dropping the chest. The shoulder adjustment (rolling the shoulder back) is to help open the chest. The other half of that classic says sink the chest. When people do this, they roll the shoulders forward and hunch which is wrong.

(For me, my particular problem was that I hunched. My scapulas did not wing out. There were other students in class that did have their scapulas wing out. For them, the scapula was important to focus on.)

* Question: Does the burning sensation in the legs ever go away?
Answer: It can and you can bring it back at anytime.

* Question: Will the feeling of weight in the legs continue to grow as I continue to relax the upper more at more finer layers or not?
Answer: Feeling the weight in the legs is a method. It is one of the basic "sub-feelings". You can leave it and come back to it any time.

(The main feeling we are looking for is the feeling of connectedness.)

* Question: If I tilt my pelvis back slightly, I feel the entire back "activated". If I tilt my pelvis forward slightly, I feel the entire front "activated". Should I practice and develop this now that I've notice it, now that I've become aware of this feeling?
Answer: What you're noticing in the front and back are external feelings. Go deeper internally. Just relax. Stop using so much force. Stop trying to "muscle it". Drop through the center. Relax is primary. What is important is when and how these show up in training. Using these feelings will become important later in combat stance.

* Question: You always ask about purpose, "What's your purpose?" Why is this so important?
Answer: The more clearly you understand your purpose, then the more clearly you will understand how to use the methods and which methods you can use to get you there.

* Question: The first Wujifa triangle has: Structure, Relax, Balance. What if I only focused on one? What's the result?
  • Structure alone leads to brace.
  • Balance alone leads to teetering.
  • Relax alone leads to the limp noodle.

* Question: How do I get stronger legs doing high stances like we do? Shouldn't we also do lower stances?
Answer: People don't use their hip as a hip joint. The purpose of lower stance is to open the hip but people think that lower stance is itself the purpose or they think the purpose is to develop strong legs. You will develop strong legs in high stance when you open the hips and unlock the held tension in the upper body. To help open the hips you can do stretches like downward dog and the cat stretch.

* Question: Yi Quan is a newer art. Why are there different "schools" already?
Answer: When a person discovers what worked for him/her based on his/her character structure and particular muscular patterns, and then teaches that, you see how many schools arise. Schools form around methods. The method is not the truth.

* Question: Regarding making adjustments to Dan's combat stance... You always say to start adjustments with the feet. Why are you starting with the arms?
Answer: In combat stance, if you set up the legs first, they may burn out before you get the arms set up. So set up the arms first, get that feeling and practice then drop into the legs.

* Question: Shouldn't the head be like hanging from a string like this (demonstrating)? How's this look?
Answer: In raising the head, do not push up from the neck. Keep the neck relaxed. Push up from the feet. Use the whole body to raise the head.

(Again, because I tended to hunch, the method of pushing up from the feet helped to straighten out my hunching without focusing on "Don't hunch!" With other classmates who did not hunch, it was raise the head by "pushing up" from the neck. The method depends on the structure being addressed.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Follow the Feeling: Journal Notes #52
Next article in this series: Don't Do Stance, Just Stand: Journal Notes #54

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