Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The primacy of finding resistance

If you ask me what is the most important training concept conducive to good progress in the internal arts, I will say it is the finding of internal resistance (in both the stationery form and the movement form). It is more obvious in the movement forms and less obvious in the stationery forms.

In the "external" arts, which include lifting weights in a gym and moving our body forward as in jogging. External resistance has to overcome in order that exercise effects can be felt and workout benefits can be obtained. In the internal arts, it is all about finding internal resistance to deliver the exercise effects. In the external form, an appropriate resistance has to be used (from light to heavy in lifting weights in a gym and from variation of speed and duration for jogging, still taking these two as examples). On major difference between external and internal: the amount of external resistance can be seen (or externally determined) while the amount of internal resistance requires a student to "experience internally" (made easier with the assistance of good teacher, but not essential for some students).

Hence, when you do your tai chi form (or tai chi chi-kung/nei-gong), if your internal sensation (and your overall workout effects) tells you that "it is so easy to do the movement", most likely you have not been able to find the appropriate amount of internal resistance. In the movement forms, internal resistance should primarily be found in the movement of your major joints (shoulder and hip/pelvic). When you cannot find it, your teacher will tell you to "relax and open" (Song 鬆). And he is right. If he is a good teacher, he will also warn you against, the other-side-of-the-coin, collapse (relax without open, 塌). And he is right again!

In stationery form (more so in seated than in standing) the issue of finding resistance is more difficult to teach and for the student to "feel" or "learn". The criteria of success though is easy to define. For example, if you do your microcosmic circulation (小周天), if you cannot feel a strong resistance in or around your spinal cord when you move your chi up, most likely you have not reached the state. Don't worry, practise more (preferably under the guidance of a good teacher). Likewise, when you are doing chakra opening of, say, opening your heart chakra, you cannot feel that there is a resistance working against such "trial opening", you still have a (long) way to go. Again, no worry, the process of "trial opening" is internal workout per se, provided that you are focused and alerted to finding just a tiny bit more of resistance, and trying to work against it, during each session of your practice.

How about the scenario that you completely fail to understand what I am talking about? Probably you have not passed the preliminary stage and you should spend more time in doing zhan zhuang and a few simple movement forms. Zhan zhaung is far better than seated meditation for beginners - needless to say, my personal opinion only.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Who are the readers of Taoist Meditation?

Have you been wondering who are the readers of Paul's Taoist meditation blog? The following is today's statistics provided by blogger.com, for the top ten:

United States
57%
United Kingdom 
11%
Ukraine
7%
Russia
7%
France
5%
Canada
4%
Germany
3%
Australia
2%
India
2%
Singapore
2%
100%

Obviously most readers came from English speaking countries. Notable exceptions are Ukraine(I didn't expect that!) Russia, France and Germany.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Zhan zhuang as diagnostic tool

Zhan zhuang can be used as an excellent diagnostic tool for one's structural form (or posture) for an experienced practitioner or new practitioner, provided that he can relax and can focus on balancing his internal chi. A teacher (sifu) will be beneficial to see it happening. Once a person's structural form can be visualized, its perfection, or in most cases, its imperfections can be seen and areas of focus in training can therefore be identified.

The process is simple. With the guidance of an experienced teacher (personal guidance is sufficient for experienced practitioners), a student is to move into the zone between asleep and waking up, with his eyes closed, always tending towards the sleeping side, while maintaining the ability to stand up in a zhan zhuang form. Points (fingers and hands) stretched while body relaxed should be observed. After being in the zone, a student will initially experience an imbalance of chi (if he can actively relax his muscles into deep-dead feel while keeping his stretched parts as slightly stretched as possible to maintain a chi-gradient). A teacher's chi managing help will be beneficial (but not essential) for most students. Such help essentially means managing a student's chi-flow through elbow chi-touch by his teacher.

After ten to fifteen minutes, a student is asked to calmly open his eyes, keep his body form, and keep his chi balance. He will be surprised to find out that his natural chi-balanced posture is far from perfect. Bravo, he starts to "know himself" (a tai chi lingo), and has a visual road-map for training.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Immortality

A couple of days ago a friend of mine told me that her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Life immediately became highly focused for her, important decisions have to be made, such as choosing the best treatment options, moments becoming more precious, like taking the dreamed trip, time, or living, got a new meaning.

A stream of thought surfaced in my mind: about Si Kit, an old friend of mine who was diagnosed with lung cancer a few years ago, shortly after his retirement from the math department of the University of Hong Kong, after teaching the stuff in various educational institutes for the better part of his life. For some reasons unknown to me, his siblings had lost touch with him for decades. In his funeral ceremony at the funeral parlor, his younger sister, a Christian, told us that she stumbled into his second elder brother shortly before his cancer diagnosis. She took care of him during the last phase of his life...'I came to understand my brother much more during this short period, God brought him back to me.'

I had not heard from Si Kit for many years. The reason I came into the picture was because I gawve him a few instructions on chi kung after he was diagnosed with cancer. I was therefore included into his list of buddies, to whom he sometimes opened his inner self, which was very infrequent, if not non existent, in his younger age. I was so inspired by one that I included the gist of which into a blog post (In memory of my friend Si Kit)

What is the meaning of life? Traditional Chinese culture put a high value on longevity. Taoist sages wrote about the mythical practice of Immortality, in the classic Neidan texts. Perhaps what the sages really meant was not seeking a repetition of boring and meaningless patterns indefinitely. Rather they might mean seeking the true value of meaning in every moment in life. Immortality at every point of singularity.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why do you need a teacher in the internal arts

Why do you need a teacher in the internal arts? To phrase it differently, we can say: What a good teacher can contribute to a student's practice? Nowadays we have books, videos, seminars by famous masters (free or paid), do we really need a personal coach to teach us the internal art?

Like every physical (or mind-body) discipline, for the internal arts, a good teacher can lead us faster on our path of learning. A tennis coach once told me that it is very difficult for him to correct the incorrect movements of a player whose muscles have ingrained with inappropriate conditioning, more so for tai chi, chi kung and other internal arts. More so because the internal arts are difficult to teach; another side of the coin is: there are not many good teachers who know how to teach effectively!

A feature of the internal arts like tai chi is, the movements are simple. A student doesn't know whether he is doing it right or not by just comparing externally his teacher's and his own movements (unlike tennis, players can see results and any hindrance to his own progress). As a result, a tai chi student may have been practising his art for a number of years but still not able to do tai chi in the correct way and therefore cannot reap its full benefit (if reaping any significant benefit at all).

What is the most important training tool of a good tai chi (or chi kung) teacher? It is the method of creating the correct chi-movement inside a student's body through hand/arm touching. It is no easy skill. Firstly it presupposes that the teacher can "experience and manage his own internal chi movement"  (well, for simple movements like tai chi [or meditation!] a student really can't tell whether his teacher knows his stuff!). Secondly the teacher has to know the art of "listening to the internal chi movements of others" through hand/arm touching. Thirdly the teacher must have the experience to help "create chi movements inside his student's body" through hand/arm touching.

Needless to say in addition to this major training tool, a good teacher must also have other tools (which I shall discuss in future posts).  My opinion is that this major tool is THE qualifying tool for a good teacher of the internal arts.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Developing one's personal myth

Carl Jung began his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections by writing, "Thus it is that I have now undertaken, in my eighty-third year, to tell my personal myth". Personal myths are our strong internal guiding principles. Some people have strong personal myths, while others weak, and some none, those who live by day in day out seeking  pleasure (or enduring pain, as the case might be). Personal myths are very often unspeakable, like Jung who spoke about his own personal myth at a later stage of his life. The reason is that they are built on highly personal experience, biased by one's own culture, personality and upbringing. Oftentimes, dreams form part of its building blocks. Yet, for spiritually minded people, personal myth are considered very important.

Personal myth has become more important in our contemporary era in which myths created by our organized religions have become faded. Now organized religions ars more about doing tangible social goods, like operating hospitals, schools and at their very best, taking on issues with a more liberal outlook (hopefully). On the personal level, organized religions are now about psychological health, and sometimes physical health too.  "Personal myth" coaching however is difficult if not impossible. The main reason is that personal myth has become more and more "personal" because the diversity of our contemporary cultures. There are all kinds of interest groups, including support groups for all kinds of human misfortunes, thanks to the connecting power of internet social media. Yet, personal myth in most cases fails to carry a common denominator, and oftentimes even laughable (if not despicable or pitiable) from the eyes of an innocent onlooker.

I have shared some elements of my own personal myth in my posts loosely under the title of "stories of no significance". They are not meant to be stories or advice to be taken at face value. My readers be warned.

Follow my dream - another story of no significance

Dreams speak. Either the divine or the folly. I had been occupied with work the last couple of days. Finally I was able to put things down yesterday and last night I had a deep sleep. I dreamed of vivid events, mundane in nature, I found the details of no significance and didn't bother to think about them. The last part though came alive vividly even after I have waken up for some time. In the dream I was telling one of my students to read book of "Just and Pound" for their practice benefits. Puzzled, I Googled the web. No return for "Just" and good returns for Pound. And Pound's Cantos were featured significantly. I clicked in and read Canto 1, absorbed by the beginning part, impressive poem. I found out the the Canto 1 was a poetic translation of Ulysses, specifically part of the journey of Odysseus sailing back to his home town Ithaca. I searched the web further, and discovered this little poem by Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy. It shed light on this particular juncture of my life. The poem Ithaca I quote in its entirety below:

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,                                                                         pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:n
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.
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