Monday, August 10, 2020

Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Body Structure-Character

The title of this series is: Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are you Ready? When I was asked this question twenty years ago, I responded with an emphatic “Yes!” As the years went by and I discovered the amount of work involved in mastering this art, I slowly came to realize that, no, I was not ready. Sure, I was willing to give it a try but I was not appropriately prepared to acquire new skills.

This realization then shined a light on the question asked by many internal gongfu practitioners, “Why does it take so long to get it?” To this, the typical response is, “If getting it were that easy, then everyone would be a master.” Well, we need a better answer than that! This series of posts is an attempt to provide a more thoughtful response to this question.

In the previous article in this series, I explored a mental process known as Cognitive Bias and how this can be a detriment to learning internal gongfu even though it can be a benefit in everyday life. In this post, I explore how my body structure-character influences my training.

my practice puzzle body structure character

Body-Mind or Structure-Character?
When I started this journey in the mid-1980s the term “body-mind” was still a relatively new concept but one that was already associated with some martial arts. Thirty years later, there are now many articles and books as well as certificate and degree programs pertaining to somatic-psychology and associated therapies.

My understanding these days is that everyone has a naturally occurring body-mind connection and this connection is expressed as a unique structure-character. The following five illustrations exemplify the variability of body structure-character.

(Special thanks to Dr. Anodea Judith for her permission to use these images which appear in her book, Eastern Body, Western Mind 1996, 2010.)

In terms of an internal gongfu practice, I use my invisible body-mind pathway to intentionally make changes to my visible structure-character. Let's look at this in a little more detail.

Application to Internal Gongfu Training
Due to this variation in practitioners’ structure-character, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to teaching and training. For example, instructing each of the above five practitioners to “relax” or “open” or "belly breathe", will result in five different interpretations and five different expressions based on the pattern of the body structure-character.

In my case, even though I understood the instruction (from my frame of reference; cognitive bias), my body responded according to the parameters of its structure-character; not able to exactly reproduce the instruction my teacher was demonstrating. It was as if my body structure-character was misinterpreting and erroneously expressing the instruction.

I've also noticed that it is difficult for me to feel into areas that are tense and/or limp. I experience these tense/limp areas as being numb; I can feel around a particular area but not into that area. Practicing various exercises or qigongs has helped me develop feeling into these numb areas. I've noticed that as I develop more feeling into my body, this has resulted in unexpected character changes.

Curiously, this is not a one-way street. I have also experienced how changes in character can improve the ability to feel into previously numb areas which also changes physical structure. To the extent that each can contribute to changing the other, each can also contribute to blocking a change in the other.

For example, I used to think that progress meant only changing my structure and that my character had nothing to do with it. (I had even compartmentalized my own body!) The net result of my “change this compartment but don’t change that compartment” was an internal tug-of-war; a lot of effort and very little progress.

Later, when I allowed for even the remotest possibility that maybe little changes to my character might help my training, this shift in attitude allowed me to begin playing with aspects of my character. Slowly I began to notice how my structure responded.

Looking at the above illustrations, you might be able to see how each has different work to do to develop a more balanced, centered, relaxed, open, and connected structure-character. The challenges that each of us face in practice will be as unique as the body structure-character that we bring to our practice.

In Closing
I don’t know if there is an adult body structure-character that is predisposed to “getting it” or not, but from my observations each of the practitioners (illustrations) represented above, through developing a sensitivity to kinesthetic feeling, can transform into yet another body structure-character representing those who “got it”; a more balanced, centered, relaxed, open, and connected structure-character.

When I had compartmentalized my body and denied the existence of a connection between structure and character, this hindered my practice. As I began to discover and develop the connection between structure and character, this supported my practice.

Developing the ability to notice the subtlety of the connection between structure and character was very difficult for me. But as I later discovered, having a sensitivity to this level of connection is not only helpful for making progress in this art, it is also a kind of signpost of making progress in this art.

This series will continue with each article filling in one of the puzzle pieces until the entire puzzle is complete. We’ll wrap up by considering how this puzzle can be interpreted in an Internal Gongfu Progress Matrix and finally we’ll look at the role of the Source and Level of Instruction.

Previous post in this series: Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Cognitive Bias

Next post in this series: Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Ability to Change

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