Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Acceptable Ambiguity and Controlled Folly

At the core of existence is chaos. The things we see and know in our lives appear to be solid, they appear to be the way we perceive them to be. But a closer examination, at the quantum level, reveals what appears to be a chaotic situation. At the quantum level things are not at all as solid and as rational as we think they are. Even though we don't live at the quantum level, we can't deny what science has discovered. And we should assume there is even more yet to our world than we apparently know. A close examination of the writings of Eastern mystics and seers reveals an intrinsic understanding of many of these principles, and indeed some of what rational Western minds have written off in the past, are now understandable in light of quantum science. Ultimately we can surmise the world is not the way it appears. After spending a certain amount of time practicing mindfulness and considering existence from a different perspective, a certain amount of acceptable ambiguity sets in. Things just no longer make sense in the traditional way, via rational science or popular religion. We get to a point where things can't be rationalized and explicated verbally. The world doesn't totally make sense, and that is totally acceptable. At this point we see the interconnectedness and relative unimportance of everything. We also find that discussing it with those who don't understand is useless, and with those who do unnecessary. And we see the folly in the world around us.

In A Separate Reality, Don Juan tries to explain this to Carlos, who of course insists on understanding things verbally. When I first read this book over thirty years ago I was fascinated with almost everything about it, but could understand very little of it in concrete terms. I suspended understanding so I could move on. Of course I still have to do that with much of subject matter, because I am not a Yaqui Brujo. I have not experienced all of the things Don Juan is trying to teach Castaneda, so I can't really understand it all. However, I have grown in my own weird way over the last thirty years, so a lot of what is covered in Castaneda's writings is understandable to me. Perhaps not in the way Don Juan intended, but through my own universalist perspective it resonates. It most definitely means more to me now than it did thirty years ago. Through my practices I have come to understand consciousness, energy, the Universe, and the interconnectedness of everything in a much different way than I did before. Most of these understandings did not come through analytical thought, or rhetorical explication alone. Reason and rhetoric played a part, but the clincher, the real understanding part has come through doing--or not doing; through experience, whether that experience be sitting meditation or exchanging energy with a martial arts partner. I know I've had the experiences, I know they taught me, I know what they taught me, but I can never explain so that another gets it the same way I did. The only way to learn at that level is through experience.

Don Juan also introduces the concept of controlled folly in A Separate Reality. As this acceptable ambiguity sets in, we realize that things have changed for us. We can't go on living the way we have before. Our minds may struggle with the tension between the new understanding and the old comfort, but our bodies know. We can no longer be content pretending things matter that we know in our hearts do not. Chief among the things that don't matter is convincing others. We can reach a place of live and let live. But we still live in the world. We may act on unimportant things anyway. We may need to go through the motions of social life to move along and live our lives in a strategic manner. We do this through controlled folly. We know it's ultimately folly, but it serves our larger purpose. The thing that does matter is living an intentional life, in a purposeful and strategic manner.

I write. That is what I do. Granted, it may be controlled folly but it is ultimately a part of my strategic life because I learn through my writing just as I learn through my Taiji form. The more I learn the more I progress. Ultimately I am only progressing to my death, but the knowledge of my death, in a bow of respect to Don Juan, is what tempers my life. Knowing that death is just over my left shoulder stalking me always, is the impetus for impeccability, my reason for following the way of the warrior. And that is why it matters, even though it doesn't.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Exploring Qigong V: Walking Qigong

Walking Qigong is a very potent form for healing, and is one of the first Qigong methods I learned. Walking Qigong is fairly easy to do. It is good physical exercise, good moving meditation, and good inner alchemy induction. Like most things Qigong, there is no one way to do it. There are endless variations and approaches. But the reason this is a common situation in Qigong is that the combination of movement and mindful intention is the biggest part of the process. Granted there are specific forms and routines that excite and stimulate different meridians, and that address different physiological functions. But, in general, we are working with a peaceful present mind, a moving body, and a healing intention. So the best way to approach Walking Qigong is to do it. Of course one needs to attend to the Three Intentful Corrections, and practice slow and intentionally. But there is no need for arguing over minute details or the number of angels on the head of a pin.

The most famous method of Walking Qigong is Guo Lin Qigong, which was developed in the 1970's for healing cancer. This is a specific form and instruction is recommended for doing this form as intended. However, general Walking Qigong focuses on slow intentful walking. One should practice breathing in time with one's steps, so that one inhales on a right step (for example), and exhales on a left. At the same time the practitioner can move the arms in a rhythmic manner, keeping time with the steps and breathing. For example one can raise the left arm as the right foot steps, and make a big vertical circle as the step is completed. Then as the left foot begins to move forward, the right hand should be in motion to do the same thing on that side in time with the stepping and breathing. A possible variation would be to move both hands gently to the side on which the foot is stepping forward, as in the video above.

Walking Qigong, while a healing form, is a walking meditation. The practitioner should focus on the breath, relax, and perhaps incorporate a mantra or an affirmation. The result for the practitioner is a sense of peaceful wholeness. If one does the research, countless examples of healing and cancer recovery are linked to Qigong. It is possible that this one simple exercise contains the secret to health and longevity. I know I am a believer. It is and has been a part of my routine, and will continue to be.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Will the Real Taiji Players Please Stand?

How many Taiji Players does it take to screw in a light bulb? One hundred. One to screw in the bulb and ninety nine to say, "that's not how we do it."

Let me get to my thesis right off the bat, with due respect and regards to my friends, associates, teachers, and mentors: There is no objective, real, true Taiji, to the exclusion of others.

Through the miracle that is the internet, we all have the opportunity to learn, teach, debate, and share knowledge. And overall I think that is great. However, through forums, and Facebook groups, and blogs, etc... we have all engaged in the "that's not how we do it" verbal exercise. I am as guilty as anyone. And I think that's OK, to a degree. We each need our own objective definition for our own version of Taiji. But like most things in this world, Taiji is subjective. That's what makes it such an interesting and appealing art. However, I think that once we step off into this idea that 'what I'm doing is real, and what you're doing is crap' we ultimately limit ourselves and a do a great disservice to Taijiquan.

Taijiquan is a potent, deadly, devastating Martial Art. At the same time it is a great choreographed from of Qigong, with unbelievable healing powers. It is a mindfulness practice as potent as sitting meditation. It is good overall exercise. It is a beautiful aesthetic art. And there are numerous other definitions that I'm not bringing to mind right now. For some of us, it is all of these things. For some it is only a few, or only one. That's OK. That's great. But if it is only one or a couple of these things for one, that doesn't nullify the other categories for other players.

There are some martial Taiji players whose art is as deadly and effective as any martial art on the face of the planet. At the same time, there are senior citizens doing simple, slow forms in the public parks and nursing homes of world who are proactively addressing their health and adding precious years to their lives. There are competition players, yes even MMA competitors, who add to their art through the practice of Taiji. At the same time there are spiritual-minded people who count Taiji as another meditation practice, another vehicle to Nirvana, or whatever their spiritual goal. The list goes on. And they are all Taiji players, and any and all of their Taiji is as real as any of the others.

I do think that there really are some practices that may be called Taiji that really aren't. But this is because they do not follow established Taiji principles and practices that follow across all forms styles and applications. The Classics are fairly clear on what constitutes Taijiquan. I don't want to go down that path in this entry. Suffice it to say for this post, if we are following the teachings of the Classics and the major schools it is Taiji. Yang Yang, whose system is my primary, has developed an eight movement form for senior citizens and new students based on the Chen Hunyuan System. It is a very simplified form and is extremely different than the original Chen forms. However, it is based on the thirteen movements: the eight forces (peng/lu/ji/an/lie/zhou/kao), and the five directions (advance, retreat, left, right, and central equilibrium). It is probably fair to say that most who learn and practice this art will never get to the point of doing San Shou, Double Push Hands, or Fajin. They may never use their Taiji as self defense, or even think about self defense at all. But that doesn't mean they aren't doing Taiji. At the same time, there are young Chen players whose advanced Push Hands is as potent as any Jujitsu, and whose sparring skills as skillful as any Karateka. But that doesn't mean they aren't doing Taiji either. It's just not the same Taiji as the folks at the nursing home, or in the park, or wherever.

As I said, I am as guilty of categorization and apparent exclusion as anyone. And for that I apologize to any who got the impression that I am coming from this point of view. I am not. I am just as happy playing hard push hands/sticky hands, San Shou, or grappling as I am doing the Yang short form and Zhan Zhuang in the park. For me Taijiquan is a martial art, a healing art, a vehicle for mindfulness, a tool for learning about myself, complete exercise, practical Taoism, self defense, etc... There are folks who practice in ways that I don't and use Taiji for things that I don't and may never. But I don't think their Taiji is any more or less real than mine. It's all Taiji and its all good.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Interview on Meditation How

Benjamin Dean, who has one of the neatest blogs on Zen Poetry at short-zen-poems.com, also has a blog on Meditation instruction. He just interviewed me for a series he is doing on different meditators and meditation styles. While I enjoyed the interview and am glad to contribute, I have to admit the conversation ended up drifting into unexpected areas. Such is the power of communication and vocalized thought.

Here is a link to the interview. Enjoy.