Monday, August 17, 2020

Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Ability to Change

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 few key concepts of Body Structure-Character that are pertinent to an internal gongfu practice. In this post, I explore how my ability (or lack of ability) to change helps or hinders my training.

my practice puzzle ability to change

Ability to change. The apparent obviousness of its meaning hides textures of nuance. And it was in this nuanced meaning of “change” that I confused my everyday experience of change with the kind of change required for internal gongfu. This component is an attempt to clarify this issue.

In the Introduction to this series I talked about readiness as being a function of preparedness or conditioning; I am not ready unless I am prepared. Similarly, ability, which is the competence, skill, proficiency or power to do something, can range from being a function of natural talent to being a function of an acquired skill. I either have an ability to do something or I do not. And if I am not able to do something (and I want to be able to do it) then I must seek out training where I can develop that ability.

Change or Adapt?
Sometimes I make a decision to intentionally change some aspect of my life for example, get married, start a new job, move to a new location, etc. Other times, life thrusts change upon me, for example, the death of a loved one, an unexpected diagnosis, a fortuitous chance encounter, etc. In both cases, I adapt to conditions after the event.

However, the process of adapting to life changing events is something quite different from the process of internal gongfu where I intentionally direct change within my own body. Another way to think about it is that changes that lead to adapting occur at the macro level whereas the changes required for internal gongfu occur at the micro level.

Ability to Change
In the context of internal gongfu, ability to change means a competence, skill, proficiency or power to change myself; to change my structure-character, to change my cognitive bias, to change my activity patterns. It also means that I am the one initiating or creating change - usually inside my own body.

Before I began Wujifa zhan zhuang practice, my only experience with “change” was the macro-level kinds of adapting mentioned above. My experience with this kind of change formed my perception about my ability to change. I harbored a self-confidence that my previous experiences would serve me equally well in this new and unique endeavor. I did not foresee that my ability to adapt was not the ability-to-change skill that I needed for internal gongfu.

Therefore, I did not begin Wujifa practice prepared with the conceptual understanding and kinesthetic sensory skills needed to make the micro-level changes needed. In a word, I lacked ability. Thus, the first several years of my practice was an orientation to the kind of training that I would need to do to develop the ability to change! I needed to first develop a recognition of or a feel for the parameters of that which I needed to change. I had to develop the skills to do the job before I could begin doing the job.

Change vs Stability
Complicating the development of my ability to change was my compartmentalized view of my life and my body as previously discussed in the Introduction to this series. To review, in my internal gongfu compartment I was willing to learn (that is, change in accordance with my previous experience) but I wanted stability in the other compartments of my life. Furthermore, as I got deeper into practice, I was willing to change my structure but wanted my character to remain stable. I wanted change and I wanted stability at the same time. The net result was that I was stuck and seemingly not able to change.

Application to Internal Gongfu
Let me relay a phenomenon that I experienced in my early zhan zhuang training and that I observed in fellow practitioners. When my structure was adjusted to get more weight in my legs, my structure-character was unable to instantly adapt to this change. This inability was due to the lack of leg strength and/or the emotional resistance to letting go as the torso was rebalanced. As a result, my structure automatically and quite without my conscious intent, readjusted its pattern to keep my weight out of my legs. My conscious attitude was, “Yes, I want to change.” but my body said, “No, no, no! Not so fast there, buddy!”

This is but one of many possible examples. I chose this example because it seems to be a common experience among beginners and it illustrates the actual readiness to change. The natural or learned ability to change is not the sole determiner of change. The body’s own conditioning or preparedness is also a determining factor.

In Closing
The ability to change is dependent upon a complex entwining of mind and body, structure and character, intent and sensory perception.

When I started Wujifa zhan zhuang training I really didn’t understand how this training was any different than anything else I’d done up to that point. In hindsight I now understand that the internal gongfu change process is focused on changing my body at a depth of sensory perception that I had never before experienced and the skill to do this was totally unrelated to my ability to adapt. I simply did not begin this endeavor with the requisite skills needed to make progress.

Because I lacked the ability-to-change skill, and because I wanted change and stability at the same time, and because my body was not ready to change, this hindered my practice. As I slowly developed my ability to change and slowly worked through these issues, this supported my practice.

Ultimately, the entirety of my internal gongfu practice comes down to this central question; To what degree is it possible for me to change anything and possibly everything about my entire life at both the micro and macro level for the sake 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? Body Structure-Character

Next post in this series: Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Talent

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