Saturday, October 31, 2015

Underlying Attitude: Journal Notes #137

Notes from my September 2015 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa.

Note: In September, I went to a foot specialist for my Achilles tendonopathy who referred me to more physical therapy. I'm continuing to do the physical therapy as well as a lot of self-massage on my calves and Achilles tendons in the evenings. Between my self-massage and making a conscious effort to be less sedentary at my desk job, I am making small gains in mobility and flexibility.

Let me lead this month's entry by noting a couple comments made about my apparent loss of desire to "get it". My instructor commented that he thought I would quit but notices that I am now more at ease and that my practice has improved since I stopped "wanting it". My wife made a comment that I never stopped wanting it. What I let go of was the anxiety about not getting it. Both of these insights about my underlying attitude and how it changed were revelations to me.

* The difference between saying, "I can't feel" vs "That feeling is so subtle" vs "How can I amplify this feeling I experienced?" is that each presumes a particular starting point as well as a particular path. Each leads to its obvious end. Saying, "I can't feel" results in more not feeling. Saying, "That feeling is so subtle" results in maintaining the different-ness of new feeling. Saying, "How can I amplify this feeling I experienced?" results in connecting to new feeling and exploring and growing the feeling I experienced.

* Question: I felt a sliding feeling under my skin one night while practicing but I couldn't re-find it.
Answer: Don't worry. It's a road sign. Keep practicing the basics.

* Question: I've been practicing getting more movement in the hip sockets while standing in a bow stance; moving the pelvis on a lateral plain, rotating at the hip sockets. How does this look to you?
Answer: You're focusing on the knees, hips, and torso moving. You are not noticing a lack of movement in the kua. Try this. Freeze the torso. Freeze the knees. Now how much hip movement do you have?

Me: Not much. Only a little.

Instructor: Now, relax this muscle. Now how much movement do you have?

Me: Maybe a centimeter but it feels like a mile!

Instructor: Practice this way but only three to five minutes at a time. Do a little but do it right! Build in the correct pattern.

* When I practice opening and closing the kua in a typical bow stance by maintaining a stable femural position in space and then rotating my pelvis laterally on the greater trochanters, the sensation of movement that I feel around the two hip capsules on either side of the lower belly highlights a lack of movement occurring in and through the lower belly. (Some call this lower belly area the dan-tian.) Which begs the question, if I only just now noticed how immobile the lower belly is after I developed some coordinated movement in the hip capsule, then how could I have ever presumed that I was "moving from the dan-tian" when I first began practicing Tai-chi Chuan? Feeling replaces the false belief of what I think I'm doing.

* I was coached through the following exercise. This can be called the "Lazy Susan" practice. First, get into zhan zhuang stance. Then place a small, three inch Lazy Susan bearing (a typical hardware store item) under the right heel. Keeping your body weight on the left foot, and without moving the right knee, then turn the right foot in and out a few times moving from the ankle. Really focus on the right foot moving below the ankle. Next, focus on the right foot and right knee as you turn the right knee in and out a few times. Notice how the intention to turn the right knee results in the hip turning and helps the hip move in a soft and relaxed manner. Allow the hip to turn but do not turn from the hip. Having the intention to turn from the hip engages the muscles differently. Then, discover how the hip complex (remaining soft and relaxed) allows a stretch through the torso as far as the torso is relaxed. Turning the knee in results in a stretch across the back. Turning the knee out results in a stretch across the front. To feel more fascial stretch, relax and let go more. As I did this, my school brothers noticed a stretch crisscrossing my torso; right hip to left shoulder although I could only faintly feel this.

* Note regarding the above Lazy Susan exercise, the fascial stretch begins showing up on its own only after a particular level of relaxation and letting go has been achieved. Attempting to force feeling a stretch results in what we in Wujifa call a faux stretch. Creating a faux stretch, from my experience, is due to an underlying attitude of wanting to get it, of thinking you understand what 'stretch' means and thinking that you can make it show up in your body without having done the years of targeted preparatory work to allow it to show up when conditions are right. Intention is applied to tending and weeding the garden and not in forcing an artificial seedling to breakthrough.
(Follow-up thought: You should begin to see progress in 30-90 days. However, this presupposes many factors some of which include: completely submitting, accepting that you are a beginner, and embracing and diligently practicing the most mundane, simple method. Most people can't do this. They've learned some other art before. They have a frame they want to fit new information in to. They have well-formed opinions, perspectives, resistances, and psychosomatic armors of various sorts. And so for most people it does take a long time, primarily to work through these various impediments to simply reach the state where learning can begin.)

* We talked about my underlying psychosomatic pattern. When I open to deeper levels of feeling, I initially revel in the new experience. However, as I encounter everyday life with that newfound openness, I react to and judge the feeling responses as inappropriate. I then get afraid of what might happen living with that level of feeling openness and then I shut down to that level of feeling which coincidentally is exactly the level of feeling I need in order to develop whole body connected movement. For me, it's been a very either/or, on/off paradigm. The suggestion was raised that instead of an on/off switch approach to feeling, I could try a potentiometer or slide switch approach where I could choose to feel anywhere between what I consider a safe level of feeling (0) and what I consider a dangerous level of feeling (10) in any given situation. Think sliders. It's not about boxes anymore.
(Follow-up thought: Both the on/off and potentiometer model of feeling presuppose controlling feeling in one manner or another. In Wujifa, the goal is to live fully feeling, fully connected internally and fully connected to others. Through connected feeling, the proper course of action reveals itself. For someone like me who is on/off, the potentiometer model could be a temporary method to help overcome the on/off and move into always on.)

* We talked about the possibility of using an anti-anxiety prescription drug like Xanax along with counseling therapy as a means to hit the body-mind "reset button". This could be useful for those of us (like me) who are chronically anxious about daily life stuff. It seems like it wouldn't be enough to simply use a drug like that (without therapy). The drug regimen would simply mask the anxiety-inducing problems and at the end of the prescription, the original character pattern could re-emerge. The goal would be for the drug-induced calmer, more focused person to remain a calmer, more focused person after the drug is removed.

* In the traditional Chinese method, the fundamental exercises are the warm-ups. They are designed to pattern the body so that after years of practicing "warm-ups", the body is conditioned and ready for advanced skill training. However, the underlying attitude that Americans tend to have is that "warm-ups" are some kind of limbering, or 'get the blood moving' exercise that is otherwise useless or irrelevant to developing advanced skills. And so when an expert like Chen Xiaowang demonstrates "warm-ups" but no one ever asks about these exercises, then the secret to developing high-level skill remains hidden in plain sight.

* You can't learn about enlightenment from reading others' poems about the experience. But if you've had the experience, then you can recognize how others are trying to describe the experience/feeling. The same applies to the 'internal' aspects of the martial arts. Once you've had the experience of whole-body connected movement, then it gets easier to identify those who are trying to explain that experience in their own words vs. those who haven't had that experience and are parroting the words of other practitioners.

* Instead of focusing on trying to fix a problem like holding in the pelvis for example, be comfortable with and accept your present condition as a puzzle, "I wonder how I can reduce my 'holding back' a little more?" And then experiment and notice the results. And then approach those results as a puzzle, etc... The point is that there is a huge difference in the underlying attitude of fixing a problem vs exploring and experimenting.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: There is Nothing to Understand: Journal Notes #136