Monday, October 31, 2011

Goals and Questions: Journal Notes #63

Notes from my January 2009 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.)

* In the first Wujifa class of the new year, we did a goal achieving exercise. In this class we focused on noticing various feelings and feeling states. This was different from other "goal exercises" I remember doing in college and at work where the focus was on data: what's your goal and what are the steps you have to take to get there.

The method used in Wujifa class was to draw a picture of my goal on a piece of paper, then tape the picture to the wall, step several paces away from it, then turn and face my goal. How do you feel seeing your goal so far away? Now take a step closer. How do you feel now? Repeat these steps getting closer... closer... closer... then when within reach, grab it! Now how do you feel having reached your goal?

Then I did a variation of this exercise. I taped the picture to the wall and then stepped several paces away from it, then turned and faced my goal. This time however, classmates imposed obstacles on my "journey" to my goal. Notice your feeling when an obstacle comes between you and goal. Play with various methods to remove or overcome your obstacle, for example, ask for assistance (How do you feel when asking for help?), or use other methods available to you (How do you feel using new methods you may have never used before?).

What I learned from this exercise is that I habitually approach goals with the same feeling or from the same feeling state. When I watched my school brothers do this, I experienced and learned that others approach goal achieving and obstacle-overcoming with different feeling and from different feeling states which gave me some insights, for example, how locked-in I am to one way of doing things and how little I'm aware of or able to express my feeling. Also, when I encounter an obstacle, if the first couple attempts to surmount it don't work, I then quit my attempt to achieve it using a rationalization: "It doesn't matter.", "Who cares.", or "I guess I'm not meant to get it after all."
(Now, almost three years later, I had completely forgotten this exercise and what I wrote about that class. But have those lessons stuck with me? Sorry to say, but I don't think so. I'm running into a long-standing obstacle again, however, this time, my approach is different. I'm taking more "ownership" of the obstacle-overcoming method I'm working with this time which in itself is also difficult for me because the underlying feeling has become more tangible: fear! And I'm noticing how the tension between the wanting the goal and the fear shows up in my body as... Guess what? Muscular holding and tension: armoring!

The goal of letting go can involve so much more than simply noticing a tense muscle and relaxing it. Sometimes, letting go involves not holding back on saying or doing certain things. Initially, I didn't even know why I was holding but the more I work there, the more I learn how deeply ingrained family, society, cultural lessons created boundaries or patterns. What I discover when playing on the edge of those boundaries is a less obvious and more subtle form of fear.

What I'm noticing is that holding back to satisfy some idea, to not go through a fear is fueled by an underlying intention to control and hold. So I'm thinking now that real SUNG is fueled by a deeper underlying intention of letting go and not an underlying intention of control and holding. "Relax" is more a global state of "mind" than a localized, compartmentalized experience.

If I am like many people, then I think many people may relax to a certain level that is within their "comfort zone". They never realize why they are only relaxing to a certain level; relaxing within the boundaries of their established patterns. They'll relax to the point they encounter the fear and then stop relaxing. To get to the deeper levels of SUNG I think requires more work than many people are willing to get into.

In the Wujifa class above, my "rationalization" was a way for me to avoid addressing and working through a fear that I couldn't even identify as a fear at that time. Of course, this is not a global attitude but rather an attitude isolated to specific areas of living.

Goals. Fears. Control. Holding. Letting go. Relaxing. Opening. Goals.)

* In another class, we explored the source feeling state of questions. (Wujifa classes are based on students' questions.)

Questions may be asked from a conceptual and mechanistic point of view which is largely devoid of the genuine feeling of curiosity. In this case, the question usually arises from a problem viewed as mechanistic in nature, for example when I ask, "I've been playing with getting the combined feelings of dropping, sliding knees forward, and bowing as one movement. How does this look? How can I get more weight in the legs?"

I frame the problem mechanically and even though the "feeling" word is involved, the question is based on and rooted in mechanics and concepts and is asked in a way that is devoid of feeling.

Instructor: Try this. Enter the state of genuine feeling of curiosity, the beginner's mind. Play with being a child encountering the world for the first time: What's that? Why? How come?

Me: OK. I'm curious... What do you mean by feeling more weight in the legs? What's that mean? How do I do that? How do I feel more weight in my legs?

Instructor: Can you feel the difference when you ask the question with a more genuine feeling of curiosity?

Me: Yes, I feel an internal shift between these two states, the latter feeling more alive and present than the former.

(I'm noticing now that I'm alternating between being holding/controlling and being more open/authentic. So maybe this is a phase for me. I notice that when I pull back into my controlling/holding patterns, that I'm comparatively dull and mechanical and I can't notice these subtleties in others. However, when I'm in my more open/authentic un-pattern, then it's much easier for me to notice these subtleties in others.

As I've said in other posts, I can only notice in others to the level at which I've developed in myself, which for me means, letting go even more...)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Mind-full-ness and Zoning Out: Journal Notes #62
Next article in this series: Zhan Zhuang Medicine: Journal Notes #64

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mind-full-ness and Zoning Out: Journal Notes #62

Notes from my December 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.)

* When I am injured either physically (sprained ankle) or emotionally (some life event), my body responds similarly to both types of events. In the first case, "scar tissue" develops. In the second case, "armoring" develops. However, I notice that I respond differently to each. In the first case, I become more mindful of my body. I notice a function and an impaired function. In the second case, I'm completely unaware of the changes in functionality especially if the "injury" occurs slowly over time. Yet both "scar tissue" and "armoring" alter the original, free-flowing (qi) feeling and over time these injuries become me and are completely hidden from my attention. I think these blocked areas become part of the "me" that is paying attention to "me".
(Part of the more subtle and refined work in stance is to discover and feel these areas that are "hidden" and not readily and easily able to be dis-covered and felt. When I encounter scar tissue, I go to my Rolfer and he massages out the fascial adhesions which helps restore functionality. Encountering armor is a whole different story. It's more difficult for me to work through the armors and I can get stuck on one area for a long time; first denying there is an armor, second, accepting what's there, third deciding what to do, and fourth, acting.

Standing is easy. Real training is hard. Mastery is, well, stay tuned...)

* I'm learning how my unconscious life strategy is to compartmentalize life. For example, in case "A", I will strictly follow the rules. In case "B", I will playfully bend the rules. In case "C", another. This approach lacks wholeness. If I feel crappy in one compartment, then I'll move to another compartment to feel better. I'm not noticing a unifying, underlying principle.

* When I get adjustments in class, the person adjusting me requests feedback by asking, "How does that feel?" I'm still at a loss to describe what I'm feeling. It's like I don't have words for a feeling I never felt before and my brain simply freezes, or shuts down in the attempt to describe it.

* Notice the feeling behind the words. The words are the data. The real stuff is in the feeling.

(When making adjustments, "what" the practitioner says is less important than "how" s/he says it. The data is largely immaterial. What is more important is to listen for the emotional feeling charging the words. The feeling expressed is a good indicator of whether you are getting into touching an armor or not and the nature of the armor. Remember, scar tissue and armor are two sides of the same coin. Both are holding patterns that are not relaxed and need to be let go.

I think this is why real zhan zhuang is so tough and so few people take it to this level. It's like I heard long ago... Many people come to the table, a few will nibble around the edges, sample this, sample that, and fewer still actually partake of the entire meal. I didn't understand this when I heard it. I understand this completely differently now.)

* Question: My response to honest authentic feeling during stance is to zone out - to essentially disembody myself, to psychically disconnect. I know this doesn't serve me when I'm suppose to be focused on developing my feeling-ability. So why do I do this? Why do I "zone out"?
Answer: Zoning out in stance is a form of psychic armor to not feel too much too soon. Zoning out cuts off consciousness from feeling. Zoning out is akin to dead post stance. When you zone out, then you don't have to own the feeling. (See also the Wujifa blog article: Is your stance practice like a dead post?)

* Question: I'm playing with the feeling of what I see in the stance picture; the feeling of sinking down and back and "launching" up and forward. But I freak out after a couple minutes and the monkey mind says, "That's enough." and I quit feeling. What's going on?
Answer: Sounds like you're about to make a breakthrough. Push through it.

(My pattern is I tend to hold back and need to be pushed. Others push ahead and need to be restrained. Different patterns. )

* One kind of "peripheral vision" is to focus on the feeling of generalizing your attention. See the periphery and notice the associated feeling. Then stay with the feeling and focus the eyes.

* I'm noticing that when I massage/relax the tension in my neck, that my lower back relaxes a little more.

* How does this contribute to you? How does any of this serve you? Can you find how something here applies and anchor it back into you and your practice?

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Beyond the Monkey Mind: Journal Notes #61
Next article in this series: Goals and Questions: Journal Notes #63

Monday, October 17, 2011

Beyond the Monkey Mind: Journal Notes #61

Notes from my November 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: I think I'm finding layers of monkey mind. Beneath the voice-in-the-head, I'm noticing a constant churning of feeling/emotion. Have you noticed this in yourself?
Answer: Finding layers is the monkey mind at work. Remember the story of the Taoist monk who goes into the jungle to meditate... While sitting in meditation, a monkey begins throwing sticks, then fruit, then turds at the monk. The monk gets frustrated and wants to kill the monkey but isn't able to catch it. Then he decides to ignore the monkey and as a result, he becomes robotic in his practice, shutting himself off from his surrounding environment.

The monkey mind can be a distraction AND it can be a teacher and provide insights. There are no layers. The monkey mind is the small intention. Emotions, the "feel like having or doing", are the large intention. Harmonize and align the small intention and the large intention.

When the monkey mind feels threatened it will "armor" the body, meaning, the muscles will tense which inhibits the free flow of feeling and qi.

* Question: I can't find that open feeling in stance when I practice at home. But I get it when you adjust my posture here in class. What's the main point that would help me find it?
Answer: This is the paradox: You have to let go of your armoring that you can't notice. People can't notice their own armors. Letting go is also difficult because of the way you armor. As soon as you build a charge in one area, then you shift an armor to not feel that charge. In your case, and this is common, your shoulders are soft on the surface but you hide your tension below the surface in the deeper layers of muscle which even you can feel with your fingers are hard as steel.

* Mike, notice how you use your language. Your words reveal your underlying attitude. The tone of voice reveals the underlying emotion. In your case, it sounds like you are coming from lack: "I can't feel..." and "How can I get...?". What happens if you change your language? Remember how you played at the 20/20 seminar a few years ago...

* Ambiguity and generality allow deeper insights to show up. Let it be OK for something to show up. This creates space. Judgment cuts off space.

* Question: We've talked about how thankfulness, appreciation, and gratitude all contribute to creating an opening feeling. But I equate being thankful with getting something I wanted. How can I be thankful for getting something I didn't ask for like noticing something in stance?
Answer: There is external and internal thankfulness. External is for things and situations. Internal is for noticing and feeling. How can I be thankful....

* Question: I still don't understand what the "open" feeling has to do with internal strength. What's the relation between the open-present feeling and internal strength?
Answer: A baby is open and in growing up, slowly shuts down/armors. Stance and bio-work aim to dissolve and release the armoring to reclaim that original open feeling. Once you are open, then you harness intention to practice extending and expanding. Internal strength is in the extending and not in contracting which is armor. It's difficult to extend when the body is locked in contraction. Open allows the Qi to flow, allows "Peng" in all directions.

* Question: In push-hands, how can I connect with another person without losing my grounding?
Answer: Be aware of your internal. Notice their external. Do this until "we" show up. Move back and forth between the two.

* Over the past two weeks of practice I noticed a few different feeling "states":
  1. Present: Here, now, connected.
  2. Here but cutoff, not connected.
  3. Spaced out, not connected, trance-like.
Question: I still spend a lot of stance practice time kind of "out there". How can I resolve this?
Answer: You see how stance is the same way you experience your body on a daily basis. To avoid stance trance, look down at your heart. Keep the head up but roll the eyes down. When your eyes wander up, you're spacing out and losing presence. When the eyes roll up and the gaze seems distant, this can indicate the mind is making pictures, imagining something, and is generally cut off from the body. When the eyes stare straight forward, without that spark or twinkle of life, this is trance. Consciously placing the focus of the eyes at a point on the body helps maintain and build connection to the body.

(I've learned different practices over the years regarding where to focus with the eyes. What I've learned is that the above was a medicine for me at that time. I've heard my Wujifa teacher tell different students specific things to do with their eyes. There are many places the eyes can be focused. It depends who you are and what you're working with at the time.)

* Question: I notice that I tend to space out when confronted with a feeling kind of question where I don't have an established academic answer. What's up with this?
Answer: Your ability to answer initially from feeling is armored. Your pattern is to go to data. You're becoming aware of where you are armored.

* Question: Is there a way to use breathing to calm down and relax in stance?
Answer: Breathe slowly and naturally without forcing slow and natural. Breath in five counts and out five counts. Slow deep breathing induces alpha brain-waves which help relax the body, and in turn, your breathing naturally slows and relaxes as your body relaxes.

* I notice when I feel my elbows relax, then my torso relaxes. That's interesting.

* Feeling is a fruit of practice. Don't strive to achieve yesterday's fruit. Always look for the newer, fresher, riper fruit.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Internal vs External Martial Arts: Journal Notes #60
Next article in this series: Mind-full-ness and Zoning Out: Journal Notes #62

Monday, October 10, 2011

Internal vs External Martial Arts: Journal Notes #60

Notes from my October 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: I've heard you mention that a lot of Tai-chi is done externally. But Tai-chi is an internal martial art. So what do you mean by internal and external?
Answer: Practices such as Tai-chi, Bagua and Xing-yi are known as internal martial arts but in fact, these are most often learned and practiced the same as all other external martial arts.
Comparison of Internal (Wujifa) and External Practices
You form your own moldYou force yourself into someone else's mold
Change yourself from the insideChange yourself from the outside
Practice cannot be isolated to the level of physical activityPractice is isolated to the level of physical activity
Practice involves changing unexpected and unforeseen personality traitsPractice may develop expected personality traits like calm, confidence, assertiveness
Principle orientedTechnique oriented
Grounds and relaxes you over timeBurns you out over time
Techniques are demonstrated to point out possibilities of applying principlesTechniques are taught as an end in itself
Techniques are diffused by changing intention/positionTechnique "B" is used to counter technique "A"
Fascial and tendon strength orientedMuscular strength oriented
Speed and strength developed from being loose and pliable (relaxed) yet connectedSpeed and strength developed from muscular reflexes
You make your own discoveries. You own the discovery.You wear others' discoveries.
You own the periodic table. You learn to combine elements.You develop the results of others' combinations of the periodic table.
Instructors point out what you are not yet able to notice . You learn from yourself.Instructors teach you what they know. You learn from the teacher.

(I've learned that it's not the name that makes a practice "internal" or external" but rather HOW any practice is taught and developed.

I've also come to realize that a practice is only "Internal" when it can be identified with ALL items in the "Internal" column. If some items from both the "Internal" and "External" columns are identified, then the practice is in fact "External".

As I look at this now, this could be a topic to further expand and clarify.)

* Question: You have mentioned sitting zhan zhuang and lying zhan zhuang. How do I do these?
Answer: Follow the same principles as standing zhan zhuang
Lying and Sitting Zhan Zhuang

* Question: What does relaxing have to do with the feeling of lengthening?
Answer The typical body is held in contraction. Relaxing creates lengthening. However, forcing a feeling of elongation without relaxing is illusory and temporary. Relax!

(Three years later, although I've changed a lot, I notice at deeper levels that I still have the tendency to want to muscularly force the elongation feeling instead of simply relaxing, letting go and noticing the elongation feeling.)

* Question: When I do any of the squatting moves like "Snake Creeps Down" or "Golden Chicken", I notice that my torso doesn't stay so vertical like I see others. I bend over a lot to keep my balance. If I didn't do that, then I'd fall backwards on my butt. Can you see what's going on in my body?
Answer: To get low, to correctly perform "snake creeps down", you need flexibility in ankles and hips. You need to release holding patterns in hips, knees, and ankles. You may also be holding in front or back of shin/calf.

One practice is to sit against a wall with the balls of your feet on a thick phone book or block of wood and then drop and roll out your butt. Cross your arms over your knees.

Don't focus on going physically lower because you will cheat to satisfy your ego. The priority is on noticing holding patterns and letting go which, when done correctly, will initially feel like going lower internally even if there is no visible external movement. Look for small, incremental changes over time.

(And I should add to this note, begin by aligning yourself using the 1,2,3,4 - 1,2,3,4 points of Wujifa Zhan Zhuang alignment and only squat as far as you can while maintaining that structure. When you notice yourself starting to break structure, then that's where you need to work on letting go and relaxing. How do you figure out what and where you need to relax and let go? That's your internal gongfu.)

* Question: What's the relation between fascial stretch and Qi flow?
Answer A: Dixie cup and string. When there's no stretch, then there's no Qi flow. Need just the right amount of stretch.

(This analogy is referencing the elementary school science lesson where two paper cups are attached by a string and when the two cups are pulled to stretch the string just the right amount, then a person can speak into one cup and the other person can hear the voice in the other cup.)

Answer B: A little hose with lots of pressure can only spray so far. Getting more relax has the effect of creating a bigger hose. Initially, the energy doesn't fill the newly expanded hose but eventually it does. You won't notice energy flow soon after relaxing to a new level but as the energy increases to accommodate the larger hose size, then you notice energy flowing again. And repeat... Remember, noticing energy flow is a byproduct of practice. Focus on relaxing and enlarging the hose.
(One of my earlier stumbling blocks was in wanting to "feel the magic" and getting stuck on that. I had the idea that feeling energy flow was a one time "Off-On" proposition and that "cultivating Qi" was a way to turn "on" the feeling.

Now I think the whole cultivating Qi thing is not so much about turning on a feeling or responding to a lack, but rather, and more functionally, it's more about relaxing the antagonistic and chronic muscular tensions that block or restrict the free flow of energy that already exists as well as honing the intention.

Following the hose analogy, if my focus is to feel energy flow, then I'll be stuck at that small hose level when the point is to continuously relax to develop a bigger hose.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Feels Like Nothing: Journal Notes #59
Next article in this series: Beyond the Monkey Mind: Journal Notes #61

Monday, October 3, 2011

Feels Like Nothing: Journal Notes #59

Notes from my September 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: What does open feel like?
Answer: Open feels open. Open is its own feeling. It's similar to happy or joy but without a reason to be happy or joyful.

* Question: Whenever I get adjusted to just that right spot, like where I can ground a push without effort, it feels like I'm not using any muscular strength at all. Is that right to think that internal strength/connectedness feels like nothing?
Answer: We tend to match to stress and muscular tension and when we don't feel stress or tension, then we think we're not feeling anything. We never really re-learned how relaxed and open feels. We knew this feeling before we shut down to it. We subsequently learned to think of relax as being an activity and not as a combined emotional-kinesthetic quality. In those instances where you feel "nothing", try labeling that feeling as "relaxed and open".

* I had another amazing stance experience in class. I had an overwhelming feeling of being, present, connected and the struggle was to maintain this feeling, like, how much presence or openness can I tolerate? Very different feeling from the worried, "How long can my legs hold up?"

* Question: How am I ever going to remember all the detailed adjustments I need to get to that place where I feel open and present?
Answer: Instead of self-correcting with rules, trust and play.
(Three years later, I am still admonished to have a more playful attitude during practice; to "play" more. Be more open to being playful and not so serious.

This is another example of how one's everyday personality influences one's stance practice. Some people need to work more and others need to be more playful and others need... )

* Be open to being confused because in confusion you will learn something.
(This has been a difficult one for me because I don't like being confused. I like definite questions and definite answers. Ambiguity drives me crazy... though I am slowly coming to tolerate it... and understand the "why" of it.)

* Internal martial arts are about connections and developing, building connections, connectedness. Connect on different levels:
  1. Feeling of connectedness within body - developing a functional structure.
  2. Connecting with others through feeling.
  3. Connecting to Be, Here, Now. Checked-in and not checked-out.

* I did a little more Bio work where I'm stretched backward over a specially padded stool. I could relax some, but my body would not fully go with the stretching and opening. As I stretched, I'd hit a spot where I resisted and tightened, then relaxed some more then resisted and tightened and repeated this cycle. Open and pull-back.

(I've noticed that this cycle of open and pull back plays out not only in a specific isolated exercise but also in my practice overall over time.)

* If you get it once, then you got it. It's in there. So even if you lose it, you know it will come back.

(Finding an instructor who can work with you to guide you to that experience is priceless! You may need to go through several instructors to get to the real deal. Ultimately, the work such as it was which led me to this "open and relaxed" feeling is only just beginning. Making real everyday life changes to integrate this particular stance experience into everyday life is apparently the key to really "getting it". It's taking me a while to understand and work through this stuff.)

* Three powerful words: "Noticing changes everything."

* Take the judgment out of noticing. Simply notice. Have the attitude of, "What a cool thing to notice!" and leave it at that.

* That which is noticing is not the same as the anger, frustration, and tension being noticed. The more time you spend noticing, the more "that" grows and reveals itself.

* Regarding the first Wujifa triangle, whichever two you are working on at whatever percent will reveal the third to that same percent.

* When teaching, pace yourself to the other's reality. Establish a kinesthetic repoire and then lead where you want them to go.

* Part of "calm down" is to breathe, ah... yes.... jiggle, shake it off.

* We were introduced to an exercise called the non-meditation. Simply sit and repeat this slowly as if sitting and talking with or enjoying time with a friend, "I ... don't ... understand ... yet ... I'm ... open." This is how meditation is supposed to be done. There is no goal. The mistake most meditators make is they think that they are working toward a goal. They frame their practice as "meditation" and fall into the trap of "These are the methods I should follow. This is how meditation is suppose to feel. These are the results I should get." etc...
(I ... don't ... understand ... yet ... I'm ... open... )

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Opening to Learn More: Journal Notes #58