Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Resisting the Simple: Journal Notes #122

Notes from my May 2014 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa.

First, let me begin by saying that I continue in my lackluster "practice" habit which began in April 2012. So I've been stuck in this place for just over two years now.

For this month of May I practiced zhan zhuang two to three times a week for 20-30 minutes per session. In the past, I enjoyed practicing zhan zhuang early in the morning before work. However, now I've been waking up so fatigued that when I am able to drag myself out of bed, then my zhan zhuang practice is more like a zombie, semi-comatose stance. I'm not happy practicing like this.

At work, sitting behind a computer monitor all day leaves me mentally fatigued. In the evenings I stretch and practice the moving exercises but even these I do more mechanically than with a mindset of attentive exploration. It's like I just don't have the energy I need to practice at the level where I should be practicing.

(Note: A progress-oriented practice includes at least an hour a day of zhan zhuang and at least an hour a day of other Wujifa movement exercises. So you see how far I am from a progress-oriented practice!)

I've been struggling with the question: "Should I continue going to class or not?" I have chosen to continue going. I always learn something. I see how my school brothers are progressing (even if I'm not). And I'm afraid that if I stop going, then this entire venture will slowly fade away. And I don't want that to happen. It's hard to stay motivated for so long when A) results come so slowly for me and B) I unconsciously sabotage my own progress.

For example, every time I have a breakthrough and get excited about the possibilities, I invariably encounter a resistance to further exploration. When I hit this, then it's like something else in me takes over and I either shut down or pull back. This is my pattern. What am I resisting? Why don't I "push through" the resistance? There's value in recognizing this pattern.

So that's a little bit about where I am with my practice. Now, here are my May notes...

* Many "internal" martial arts teachers and practitioners don't figure out and focus on the simple, elemental, functional methods that can lead to developing internal strength. Instead they value complexity and diversity and hence engage a wide variety of sometimes very complex practices which ultimately do not lead to internal strength.

* Various qigong and martial art systems (with an internal component) come with various flavors of complexity in their philosophy, story, and practices. For example:
  • Taijiquan
  • Baguazhang
  • Xingyiquan - Five Elements
  • Six Harmonies
  • LiuHeBaFa 
  • Baijiquan
  • Eight Pieces of Brocade
  • Twelve Daoyin Qigong

I think the Wujifa system arguably has the most simple, elegant and straightforward practice with its four points of alignment and four points of structure.

* Keep in mind, that the more complicated or layered the story, the more resistance or armoring is in place. Cut through the rationale to what is simple. Summarize long-winded explanations to a single sentence. Reduce the complex sentence to a simple "subject + verb" sentence. Clarity is revealed in simplicity. Feel connection! Focus on the simple. Jettison the complex.

* For some people (like me) it is difficult to let go of old stories. People who come to practice Wujifa have a tendency to interpret their current experience through previously learned stories. Unfortunately, what was learned previously may have been misinterpreted or misunderstood. Do you really want to interpret your current experience through the filter of a misunderstanding? Through the filter of a misinterpretation? It sounds really dumb but this is what people do. In fact, the people who make the most progress are those that simply throw themselves into the practice, stay present with the simple exercises and don't try to interpret present-day experiences through either their own (or another teacher's) earlier misinterpretation or misunderstanding.

* If I could let go of old stories and complex theories, if I could see the exercises in relation to the whole, then my questions would change. My questions are still based on compartmentalized thinking. (Darn! After all these years!) I still tie current experiences back to old stories and theories that didn't help me make any progress developing connection. Sounds really dumb but this is what I do.

* I was doing the 'weight on the chest' exercise because I thought I needed to engage my chest in breathing so it would not be so "dead" while focusing on abdominal breathing. So I had questions about the relation between abdominal and chest breathing. I was reminded that the purpose of this exercise is to loosen the rib heads because I'm not getting the "drop the chest" as much as I should.

* The purpose of mini- breathing squats is to discover how the abdomen moves in relation to hip movement. Feel the connection between abdominal breathing and the horizontal kua movement. I had quite unconsciously forgotten the purpose of this exercise and had developed a more complex mental construct and altered the simplicity of the exercise. Sounds really dumb but this is what I do.

* Sadly I've also developed an elaborate micro-movement strategy to avoid retaining adjustments (from class) that open the blockages in my structure. I unconsciously dissect, split, and redistribute the blockage throughout my body. (Yes, this was shown and explained to me.)

Because I still have difficulty feeling the level at which the blockage exists and how this blockage affects the whole, I easily fool myself. By this I mean that when I look at my structure in the mirror, I only see the area of my body I am working on. When I see the desired goal in this area then I believe I've made progress. In fact, I am unable to see how I've subtly distorted other aspects of my posture that contributed to the "correct" appearance in this one area.

What does "subtle" mean here? We're talking about a difference between a few millemeters of external movement or no external movement but noticing a muscle or muscle group tensing under the skin.

* There are two ways to open the joints: from resistance (bad), and from relaxing (good). I made a comment that I've never liked hearing or feeling my joints "pop". My attitude is contradictory to the classics which talk about opening the joints. Ah, another insight into my underlying resistance?

* That kind of massage can be therapeutic. Simple human contact, touch, communicates, awakens...

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: The Door Into Wujifa: Journal Notes #121
Next article in this series: The Self Delusion of Beginner's Mind: Journal Notes #123

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