Thursday, November 20, 2014

Musings on the Moral Compass Impediment

When I embarked on this internal gong-fu journey, I never thought I would have my morals and beliefs challenged as being an impediment to making progress. In fact, this is exactly what I've encountered.

Truthfully, I encountered this years ago and at that time I considered the notion at least unreasonable and at most completely insane; in both cases, dismissible. Now, after many years of encountering this again and again, I am beginning to gain clarity in understanding the mechanism of how my rule-based behavior, a.k.a. my "moral code", is embedded in my physical structure. The degree to which I want to "hold onto" this behavior profoundly influences the degree to which I prevent myself from "letting go" and relaxing. In other words, what I am holding onto is preventing me from progressing further.

So in the conversation of breaking the rules, of playing at the boundaries of "moral behavior" I must be clear that I am not talking about breaking any laws of my domicile. What I am referring to is the degree to which I allow or "hold back" my Intention's natural, spontaneous, authentic expression. (As I mentioned in my previous post, "IMA is about clarifying and purifying the body's expression of intention.") The boundaries of the legal system of my domicile actually leave a lot of room for a wide variety of expression of human nature.

Shutting down or holding back any aspect of this expression and then attributing this to my morality as a choice has been an insight long in the making. I'm now thinking that it is not my morals dictating my behavior to me, rather, it is my decision to prevent "ch'i flowing" in, and feeling a deep connection through, a particular area of my body that is the root of particular "moral behavior". For some people this is their voice or their heart, and for others, like myself, this is the pelvic/dantian area.

A good internal gong-fu teacher must be both as compassionate as the Buddha and as impudent as the Devil.
In contemporary American slang, if your teacher isn't "yanking your chain" and "pushing your buttons", that is, if your teacher isn't aggravating you and goading you to look at areas that you would never in a million years dream of exploring from your own initiative, well, then you may never discover your deeper holding patterns.

I think that for many people, our moral compass runs pretty deep. We just know what is right and what is wrong. So obviously, having to face my feelings of doing something that completely goes against what I have always abided by is extremely difficult. It is one of the most challenging aspects of training I have ever faced.

From my own experience, I now see how behavioral patterns that may be considered moral or immoral are built into the body's structure; they are one and the same. Holding onto a moral, ethical, religious, or spiritual belief is *holding*. In a practice where relaxing and letting go are the methods to discovering the principle of connection, holding for whatever reason may be the factor inhibiting further progress.

Is the underlying premise based on holding or is it based on letting go and discovering connection?

What is "the line" that you would never cross? Maybe, that is where you are stuck.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Remember, The Moon Is Round: Journal Notes #127

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

* At the beginning of this month I had difficulty rolling out of bed and being appropriately attentive for  6:00 AM stance practice so I changed my schedule to stand 30-40 minutes as soon as I get home after work, then dinner, then walk, then more adjunct exercises, then reading. (The adjunct exercises are the laying down lower abdomen breathing with knee movement, mini squats, and weighted pivot on femur head.)

* Question: I've got pain in my shoulder when I let my arms hang at their side, for example, when doing the femur head pivot but they don't get sore when in stance when I have the forearms at a 90 degree angle. What's up with this?
Answer: Show me. When you do your stance, you are slightly tensing and raising the shoulder and when your arms hang, you're rolling the shoulder forward and slightly hunching.

(Me: At this point my instructor gave me structural adjustments: pinched the scapula together and told me to forcefully use my rhomboids to pull my shoulders down. He pushed down on my shoulders as a prompt.)

Notice how your hands rolled out. Keep your shoulders there and flatten your palms against your legs. Head back and up. Now, use proprioceptors to notice where your body parts are. What do you feel?

Me: I feel a stretch from the feet through the kua and a strong stretch up and down the front of my torso.

Instructor: Good. Now, roll your shoulders forward a little like you had them before. What do you notice?

Me: The feeling in the kua lessens. It's harder to feel.

Instructor: You won't get a good feeling in the kua if the structure of the shoulder is wrong.

* Many people say the internal martial arts are based on intention but they seem to not explore the depths of what this means functionally. IMA is about clarifying and purifying the body's expression of intention. IMA is about finding the true expression of who you are; the purest expression of your intention. If you lie and deceive others, e.g., you are shrewd, then you probably lie and deceive yourself. If you lie to yourself, your body gets confused about the expression of intention. You say that you want to calm the muddy water but your intention really is to continue stirring the muddy water.

* The Daoist Sage lived with integrity and connection. When you try to "game the system" or go against your natural character, then you build an armor over your natural character. Armor shows up in the body as tension. Tension is an armor against allowing free flowing natural expression. Tension protects you against experiencing "qi-flowing". Is that what you're afraid of?

* Don't judge others. It's OK to be hypocritical. Be honest with yourself. Believing you are upholding one standard and then doing something contradictory and then rationalizing that behavior is counterproductive to developing "song".

*  Hypothetically, it should take someone, with no previous experience at all, two to three years to get a feel of relaxed connection and maybe to fa-jing. The problem is that by the time people get to this level, they've got years or decades of experience that they want to make this fit into. It simply cannot be done! Therefore, most of the gong-fu  involves undoing bad habits and cutting through resistances to that which the person dedicated time and energy; the armor of pride.

* WUJIFA is not the finger pointing at the moon. The methods are the finger; the guide. Wujifa is the moon that the methods are guiding you toward. Remember, the moon is ROUND. And ROUND in Chinese is kind of a cultural code word for "connected"! Methods guide you to feeling connection! The full, round moon is a symbolic reminder of what you are striving towards; striving to develop the feeling of completeness, fullness, connection.

* When people do reverse breathing they tend to hold muscles already in chronic tension. Thus, people who think they are doing an advanced breathing technique are in fact fooling themselves. You cannot do reverse breathing correctly until you get complete freedom of movement through the abdomen and kua area.

* In Wuji, it's not about yin-yang. It's about what you feel! When you get in the mindset of open-closed, front channel-back channel, tight-loose, etc., then you'll never be able to develop the speed that comes with connection; when the whole body moves as one. When you get present and get connected, then you're on a different path than the yin-yang people. Wujifa is a system to get you unstuck and out of the yin-yang rut.

* Be attentive to feeling the juiciness, the sauciness, the sensuality of your body. Mmmmm.. on inhale and recall a favorite scent or smell that takes you back to a lovely, happy time. And Ahhhhhh on exhale with the relaxed exhilaration of that wonderful memory.

* Notice those situations and moments when you shut down your natural sensuality. For example, you smell your favorite cake and you feel an urge for cake but (due to dietary restrictions) you tell yourself, "I shouldn't have cake." or "Cake is bad for me." and you fight the feeling or depending on your "will power," you kill the feeling. Or you make others wrong for eating cake so you don't feel bad about wanting cake. There are many variations of stories we tell ourselves many of which result in shutting down the very connection to feeling we want to build up.

* Question: How did you develop the ability to see into the body to the depth you are able?
Answer: I worked five years at B.W. Clinic. When a patient came in, I'd look at his/her body. I'd then ask myself, "How does that feel in my body? I'd then try to replicate their structure in my body. Then I'd ask myself, "How can this be resolved to ease?" I then followed my intuition. This is in contrast to the clinical mechanical application of techniques that many massage therapists follow which will never lead to developing this ability.

* Do you remember the exercise I described in my September notes Journal Note #126 where I talked about placing my greater trochanter against an immovable object? Well, after proudly showing my instructor this wonderful weighted hip-swivel exercise and having him point out how my body was responding, the bottom line is that such an exercise is the wrong path and I would make better progress this way:
  • Go to a hardware store and purchase a small (3" or 4") lazy susan turntable bearing plate.
  • Get into standard Wujifa zhan zhuang stance position. Put the bearing under one heal.
  • Shift your weight to the side opposite the foot on the bearing.
  • Now, use the minimum amount of muscle needed to slowly turn the knee as far inward and as far outward as possible swiveling on the bearing. Do several reps.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Practice to develop less and less amount of muscle needed to get movement. Really feel into the hip socket! Try to keep the rest of the body as still as possible.
* Question: How should I practice this and how long each practice session?
Answer: Based on your hour a day practice (30 minutes of stance and 30 minutes of adjunct exercises) and your every-other week class attendance, work up to adding only five ounces of weight onto the swivel after two weeks.
Why? Why so little and why so slow?
Because your tendency still is to muscle the exercises and this sets up the wrong pattern in your body. You're still using tension to notice the feeling of connection (this is the faux connection) and you want to find the feeling of connection in relax.
* At one point in the above discussion, which lasted nearly an hour, my instructor unashamedly demonstrated (through acting out) how my musculature responds to adjustments to stand with a more relaxed structure. He acted out a guy with a fearful face, with gasping breathing, ducking and dodging imaginary threats and incoming attacks. It was quite a vivid display.

I was shocked! "You know, all this is under my radar! I don't notice this at all!"

He said, "I know. You cannot notice your own armors. You need someone to notice them for you."

Because I am that, I cannot notice that my body responds this way. And yet, he and my other school brothers have all commented that when they lay hands on me and feel my structure, this is indeed an accurate portrayal of how my responding musculature feels to them. Even though I believe and I feel I am relaxed, yet they notice something else entirely.

* Some so called "internal practices" are in fact a combination internal-external. This means their power is derived from bracing (external) and White Crane (done "internally", that is, driving from the chest). Contrast this with full internal where there is no bracing and there is whole body connection driven from the kua. The internal-external practices can develop power quickly and therefore are the most popular.

* I've been experiencing an extenuated noticing of feeling in my hip joints as I walk/move.

* When people with a normal/usual level of  body awareness get their first sense of body awareness, they will label their experience "Body Awareness" without any sense or feeling of the gradations or levels and assortment or variety of kinesthetic feelings awaiting them. For these folks, breaking the surface is so different from their normal everyday lives that this experience gets labeled as if body awareness were like an Off/On switch and they "got it".

* I now understand the meaning of "Breathing is a method" as meaning that the breath can be used to exercise intention by "directing" it within the body. It is also a method to help liberate stuck parts of the body, for example, "breath into the kua" directs my awareness to my kua and by involving my breath, further reinforces and deepens my "body awareness", that is, my internal proprioception skills in a manner that also helps to get these parts moving.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Exercise for Kua Freedom of Movement: Journal Notes #126
Next article in this series: Vertical Kua Exercises: Journal Notes #128