Monday, November 21, 2011

Connecting Intention and Body: Journal Notes #66

Notes from my April 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.)

* Question: How can you know where my mind is just by looking at me?
Answer: When you see anybody/any body, you know where their mind is. For example, show me your stance. (I get up and casually demonstrate my stance.) Look at your feet. (My feet aren't really parallel according to Wujifa zhan zhuang structure.) Your mind is only paying attention to the level of detail you naturally demonstrate.

(Developing internal strength is also an exercise in focusing the mind, in developing the intention to pay attention to increasingly finer levels of detail. As a byproduct, as I refine my structure, that is, as I pay attention to finer and finer details, I then begin to see where others are but only to the level of where I am. I cannot see in others what I have not yet developed or let go of in myself.

From a teacher-student perspective, the level of detail of the adjustments your instructor makes to advanced students may be a indication of the level to which your instructor has developed him/herself and is willing to share. For example, in Wujifa zhan zhuang class, my instructor can give me adjustments that are not visibly perceptible to me; there is no "external" movement. These adjustments feel like a change of a millimeter or two - an adjustment that results in a muscle relaxing a bit more which results in more sinking and connection. At other times, the adjustment feels more like an adjustment of intention - "Extend through this finger" - which results in a feeling of improved connection. Very subtle stuff!

For a teacher to be able to help or guide a student develop this level of connection requires not only the teacher to have developed to that level but to also be able to connect with the student to guide the student to that level.

How rare it is to find a treasure such as this!)

* Question: How do I find, see, and exploit opportunity in stance? It seems like problems and opportunities are two sides of the same coin. You see the same thing but differently, right?
Answer: What do you feel? Don't go through the brain looking for some words. There are no words. The nerves are firing. You're getting unpatterned neural input. What is the sensory input you're feeling?

When you focus on a problem, you miss the opportunity of feeling something else elsewhere. For example, focusing on the problem of tight shoulders, you miss the opportunity to notice that your lower back is also tight and not relaxed.

* Question: Why don't you like using breathing imagery, for example, inhaling and feeling the body filling like a balloon?
Answer: It depends on the person. The feeling you describe can be achieved with tension. So this is not a good method for the tense person. However after you relax, then this could be an OK method. This method elicits only one kind of feeling.

* Question: A lot of times, stance practice is between difficult and just plain sucks. What's a good way to end these kinds of practice sessions?
Answer: If you end stance practice with "this sucks" then the next time you'll have less motivation because all you remember from the last time was "this sucks". So at the end of each stance session, finish with, "I really enjoyed today. I look forward to next time." The "I look forward to" creates a bridge.

* Question: When we do the closing circles after stance, is this dan-tian rotation?
Answer: Dan-tian rotation is an advanced practice. You do not get dan-tian rotation by thinking, imaging, forcing or in any way trying to rotate your dan-tian. The dan-tian rotates as a byproduct of doing dan-tian rotation exercises. You first must achieve a deep level of relaxation. Do the exercise and notice what you feel.

(I think of the analogy of a nut and bolt rusted together. If I try to force the nut to turn, it won't. If I focus on soaking it with oil, applying some heat, tapping here and there, then slowly, over time, the rust that binds these together loosens which will allow the nut to turn.

I remember when I first heard of rotating the dan-tian and I imitated the external mechanics I was seeing. My chronic muscular tension - the rust - prohibited any dan-tian movement whatsoever. And yet, I still thought I was rotating my dan-tian.

Beginning or amateur level practitioners who say they are rotating their dan-tians are probably fooling themselves. Believing you are doing a high-level practice when you haven't first "worked out the rust" is an example of not knowing where you are in your practice.

You are where you are and that's where you start.)

* Question: What's the whole "eating bitter" thing all about?
Answer: The whole point of "eating bitter" is that you come to enjoy and appreciate what the bitter experience will result in. The point is NOT to be proud of being able to "eat bitter" for the sake of it, nor to look for something bitter to eat.

(Some people who are proud of their ability to "eat bitter" may get stuck in dysfunctional practices, situations or relations because they've flipped "eating bitter" on its head and mislabeled it as a virtue: dedication, loyalty, or faithfulness.

It can take quite a bit of work to examine and figure out your own what's-really-going-on stuff. And then, to be able to accept that what you've been holding on to as a virtue may have been an illusion of sorts.

GongFu is hard work on many different levels but they're all connected!)

* Question: What's the relation between the kua and "tucking under"?
Answer: Tucking under results in the kua popping out (forward). It's all about the kua. Keep the kua closed in stance. In and down. Relax the lower back.

* Question: Where should I look while standing?
Answer: Some say to look into the distance and focus on something far away. But this may keep you focused out of your body and not feeling.

Some say to close your eyes. But this may result in daydreaming and getting lost in thought. Again, focused out of your body and not feeling.

Some say to look outward while looking inward. But relying on this paradox without providing a more substantial, functional instruction may also result in your focusing where ever your mind habitually wanders.

In Wujifa, where to look depends on the individual's patterns and habits.

(Sometimes, one of the above is the functional "medicine" for a student and sometimes not.

In public seminars or classes, even if the teacher has the ability to suggest a different "where to look" for each attendee, to do so may not be practical in this setting.

However, I would think that in ongoing classes with long-term, advanced students, if the teacher defaults to one of the above for everyone then this might suggest that the teacher cannot see or connect with individual student's patterns at deeper levels to recommend something specific to that person at that time.)

* Question: Many martial arts emphasize gazing at the hand. Why?
Answer: To develop the habit of connecting the intention going where the hand goes. Then after much practice, the hand goes where the intention goes.

(Remember, the method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, then you no longer need to adhere to the method that elicited that feeling - go straight to the feeling! Connect intention and body through feeling.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Keep the Plates Spinning: Journal Notes #65
Next article in this series: Feeling and Data: Journal Notes #67

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