Monday, July 27, 2015

Training notes to students

The following is one of my training notes to students.

"Practice focus for the month:

1. Try to incorporate your practice into your daily life, like doing Zhang Zhuang while watching (boring) TV, or focus on your stretched hands and wrists while traveling on, say, subway.

2. Our practice is about healing and fitness. Try to identify healing areas (physical only for the time being) you want to tackle. Having identified such areas, focus on those exercises that you find more relevant.

3. Focus on building stronger chi (or chi sensation) through focusing either more on meditative mind or more on joint opening. Both focuses are needed, but at your stage of development, you will progress faster this way."

Paul's comment: practice of the internal art is a self-discovery and development process, at different stages, a student shall focus on different things. My advice to students: always focus on your own internal sensation. Follow your teacher's advice to the extent that such advice fits into your own development at a particular point of your progress. This is especially important nowadays because, for variously reasons, financial included, most students learn in a group setting. Needless to say, the sensitivity of a teacher to the progress of EACH individual student is also very important.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Story of no signifiance - Pan-fried buns

My wife and I were at a river side eatery that served tea and pan-fried buns. The eatery was a wooden structure like those in traditional WuLin (武林) kung-fu movies where meals served for locals and WuLin people from different lineages, like ShaoLin, WuDang, and always some bad guys. The guys would meet, negotiate and fight, usually armed. Make interesting movies!

We love the city of Hangzhou where the famous West Lake resides. Unlike metropolitan Shanghai (some 30 minutes ride by high-speed train), the city is a leisurely town for tourists and locals. Indeed department stores there, like one opposite to our hotel (a refurbished old hotel called New YanAn, where YanAn was the breeding ground for Mao's Communist Party, and you know it is still government run) YinTai WuLin Department Store, do not have the latest fashion as those stores in Shanghai.  Whereas WuLin district is a central commercial and shopping district, its opposite, the area where our hotel is, the old Hangzhou still hangs on, though precariously. Next to our hotel, stands a street called Discipline Alter Temple Avenue 戒壇寺巷, as the name said, it once housed the old Alter Temple, its old site now stands a residential complex only with a rebuilt front façade with some Buddhist painting cursory drawn. Down the street is an old eatery famous for its pan-fried buns. A pan can fry some 80 buns together. In the morning, there stands a queue lining up for the buns, mostly take away. We love the buns, we love the ambience of the district conducive to easy musing of the poetic past, as in "the past is always poetic"...

When I looked down from the eatery, I realized that instead of a river that I expected to see, it turned out to be a narrow winding strip of deserted grassland. In it an old rusty track was laid. The autumn breeze was refreshing, and a boy was playing around the winding track. And we enjoy our tea and pan-fried buns. I saw nobody else, on the eatery and on the grassland below.

Our leisurely mood was however disturbed by a slow moving train running towards the area below us. It was slowly approaching the boy. I tried to alert him. "Watch out! A train is coming", I cried out. "How careless he is!" I thought. I was getting nervous because the slowly moving train was going to run over the boy. He was in imminent danger. But just before the train hit the boy, he casually stepped off the track. A close shot...."He was damned lucky!"

....I was playing alone in a grass field, catching grasshoppers or simply wandering aimlessly. Summer in Hong Kong is very humid, Autumn is the best season of the year. You can stroll around without really sweating. I came to a tunnel. Explored it and walked through with much delight. The tunnel was getting wider and the top part of the tunnel disappeared and I saw sunlight. "I don't like darkness!" The wall though remained there but the path was getting wider. Which was nice. And getting more winding, which created surprises because you never knew exactly what lied beyond a turn. And old rusty railway track appeared in a junction and I followed the track. I was delighted. Just when I turned a corner, I suddenly realized that a train was rushing towards me, at high speed. By instinct I stepped aside, the train nearly hit me, I sweated, in Autumn....

Me and my wife were in the eatery enjoying our tea and buns, I suddenly realized that I just had just seen myself.

Pan-fried buns

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The secret alchemical practice of Jungian psychologists

Carl Jungian was a famed psychologist. Not only because he was the prodigy of Sigmund Freud who, according to Jung's biography, criticized him (and parted with him professionally) for straying away from the scientific path. Not only because he created the concepts of introvert and extrovert...and not only of his other contributions in analytic psychology. He was, according to some of his prodigies, an alchemist. Not too surprisingly if one came to know that the great Isaac Newton was foremost an alchemist and doing physics as his "leisure pursue".

According to "Jung and the Alchemical Imagination" written by Jeffery Raff who studied under Marie-Louise von Franz in Zurich (Marie was Carl Jung's prodigy on the alchemical side), meditation was being practised by the psychologists studying in the Institute, as part of the curriculum. No details of meditation techniques were discussed in the book which focused on explaining psychological side of the Jungian individuation process (they used meditation and alchemical imagination as the route of progress). The fact is an outsider, be it a teacher or an uninformed observer, cannot witness the transformation process inside a person's body and mind.  We have to depend on proxy to gauge the process. And the proxy those Jungian psychologists used was alchemical imagination.

The stages of transformation as depicted in Raff's book, for exposition purpose, were taken from alchemical texts in the West. What surprised me is that the three stages of transformation look very much the same (or at least alike) as those depicted in a Taoist Neidan classic, none other than the famous Taoist Yoga translated into English by Charles Luk (at the encouragement of Carl Jung).

I suspect most readers of Western alchemical texts (or as introduced by Jungians) and Taoist Neidan (deep mediation) do not cross path. Taoist texts focused more on techniques while alchemical texts focused on empirical internal images. I have seen practitioners in the West eagerly search for and read loads and loads of arcane books trying to find the best route to salvation (yet still puzzled after years of pursue) and practitioners in the East spending years to learn to control their breath and seeking for lights as internal sensation for guidance without understanding what their practice can do to their personality (or self).

Perhaps it has come to the day when East shall truly meet West. And Taoist Neidan texts shall be studied and be practised side by side with Jungian alchemical texts and experience, for the benefit for any practitioner.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Another story of no significance

Our group was welcomed by a group of monkeys....

like those in a monkey mount in Hong Kong that I visited some months ago.... In Hong Kong's monkey park, monkeys large and small roam around a mount area in the vicinity of a reservoir used to store drinking water for the population. Monkeys there understand the behavior of families and groups passing by (taking the time on holidays to stretch their muscles and enjoy fresher air away from the busy city centre) more than the other way round. The animals are smart. The naughty, or braver, ones will sometimes try to snatch supermarket shopping bags from people, in particular kids. Scaring people and intimidating them by numbers before mugging them. Last time I was there with a couple of old friends, an adult monkey showed his teeth when we crossed a bridge. And he challenged us by urinating in front of us while teething at us...

The monkeys I saw were however friendly and welcoming. We were led up a grass slope, not steep, a relaxing stroll. Leading us to somewhere on the top of a low mount. Nice scenery, open air, and it was most refreshing. Our group consisted of young and old. The young kids in front played with the younger monkeys who were jumping up and down while leading the way. The kids had so much fun with them (unlike the almost antagonistic attitude of those monkeys by the reservoir). "Young people always have lots of energy, no matter they are humans or monkeys", I thought. The monkeys by their nature (i.e. as evidenced in my previous monkey encounter) were afraid of humans. When the kids walked closer to the young monkeys, they would jump away, they did not allow the kids to touch them, though they maintained their welcoming smile all the time.  The scene was one of young monkeys jumping up and down leading the way while the kids cheerfully walking up, and with some kids trying, in vain, to touch a monkey. Elder folks like me and my wife were falling behind, though by not much.

An adult monkey approached us. He had a very large face, in proportion to his small body, which came to the size of his head! His face was white with features of eyes, nose and mouth marked out sharply and colorfully, like one of the faces of Peking Opera, but with more white. He was smiling. This elderly monkey led us the way. Like all monkeys he seemed to be afraid of human, when we came closer to him, he would jump away.

"He is an old guy like us, so better not scare him into jumping," I told my wife. When he saw us walking towards him to the direction of the top of the low mount, which area he was leading us, he wanted to jump.  Me and my wife stopped immediately. Instead of jumping, he just did a turn and face us again. We were pleased. We kept walking without inciting him to jump. He got a friendly face.

These monkeys were indeed very friendly. I came to the insight that we were going to see more monkeys at the top of the low mount, or perhaps on the opposite side of the mount (clearly we could not see any monkey on top from our vantage point). "Will those monkeys on top be less friendly, I mean will it be that these friendly monkeys are only here to persuade us to walk up?" and with this thought on, I realized that some kids had gone inside a passenger car. I suddenly realized that I had left something in the car and I got inside it too. While I was searching for my thing at the back seat, the car started its engine and it turned and moved downhill. I cried out to tell the driver (was there any driver? I did not know) that I did not want to go down. No response. The car kept moving downhill. I was very tired, resting on the back seat and could not get up. The car was on its way down and I asked the driver (there had to be one!) to drop me off anywhere and I would walk up. No response. After going quite a bit downhill, the car, presumably having dropped off the kids, it began to climb up the hill again. I was relieved.

The next thing I knew was the sound of my wife waking me up. Our coach had arrived our destination. It was only a dream.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Internal arts - allowing a pattern to evolve

What is the difference between internal martial art and external martial art? One obvious difference is that the former trains students from inside out while the latter trains students from outside in. I have previously written posts from this perspective. From another perspective, perhaps more interesting, internal martial arts training aims at allowing a natural pattern to evolve. I shall explain below.

I have often been amazed by the elegance and power of a professional baseball player swinging his bat, or an Olympic swimmer swiftly and elegantly move through water. Such elegance can also be found in a tai chi master when he does a tai chi form. What is the difference? Both are doing elegant patterns.

To become a professional baseball player or an Olympic swimmer, you need certain talent. And your talent will be discovered because it will shine at an early age. So much so, trainers roam among kids in schools seeking out those with high potential and enroll them to touch training, though not all of these talented kids can become pro one day. How about tai chi? In the old days, kids weak in physique were sent by their parents to study under tai chi masters or Taoist masters. Prominent tai chi master Wu TuNan was an example. He studied under Wu JianQuan (not related) because he was a sickly child. And he became a great master decades later.

In tai chi and other internal arts a student needs not be talented, as a child or as an adult. Why? It is because through a meditative state of mind, a student's innate pattern (which incidentally comes with every one of us) will be allowed to evolve and to "take over".  Such evolvement and "taking over" will achieve the training objectives that we set, irrespective of a student's initial conditions. It is only a matter of time, and the length of time depends more on his ability to "waken up" his innate source of power more than his initial conditions (of course it will be better to have both, plus longer hours of training).

In tai chi and other internal martial arts the most important source of power is the innate pattern of muscles-as-one (or full body synchronization) as when one is still born (and a few years after birth with natural growth setting in to gradually breaking this pattern). In deep mediation, it is human archetypes, as explained in Jungian psychology (the details I shall not dealt into here). 

The superiority of internal martial arts is this evolvement of our innate pattern, through training techniques which will be different for different lineages or masters. But to get the best results, a meditative mode of mind is essential. Those who have experience in zhan zhuang can appreciate this. And this is also the reason why some students never get into the heart of the internal arts (and many quitted because of this) - caused by the dominance of their rational mind that does not allow their meditative mind (or "their suspension of disbelief") to play its vital role.

Corollary, it is not too meaningful to compare internal martial art and external martial art by "which has more students winning ring fights". Those kids who love to fight or are talented fighters will probably not join a tai chi academy when they were young, not to mention that many tai chi masters (like famous Wu tuNan) have little or do not have enough ring experience in the first place.

Wu TuNan's tai chi nei-gong

Monday, July 13, 2015

New age spirituality and morality

Carl Jung, an expert in Eastern spiritual and meditative practice, had warned against Westerners (which for practical reasons encompass almost every modern man by now) mimicking Eastern spiritual practice. Why? Without a tradition of religious morality behind such practices, a student of Eastern practices may end up with ego inflation at best, psychotic at worst. Why? Bits of unconscious when allowed to surface will become autonomous. When such bits come from the darker side of our unconscious, a person can result in an inflated ego, or even an evil ego. And when such bits are pathological, which can be more prone to be for certain people, an unsuspected novice can become psychotic.

Unfortunately in our contemporary secular culture, meditative practices tend to become amoral - in order to attract a larger audience. Happiness becomes an ultimate objective. To relax our mind and body so that we can be refreshed to earn more money (and power!) also becomes an ultimate objective. "Why enroll if your meditation (spiritual) course cannot deliver some tangible benefits for me?" And our customer has the right to ask and to demand, afterall it is a free and consumerist society.

Traditional Eastern practices have always put morality as a prerequisite to any meditative practice seeking for enlightenment and spirituality. For example, according to the Dalai Lama, the first meditative focus shall be compassion or similar moral concepts. In Sufi, a student has to follow 100% the demands of his teacher, who presumably will instill moral behavior, and concepts, to the receptive mind of his student before any spiritual enlightenment approach begins. Buddhist monks under Zen masters shall follow moral rules and disciplines.

In Jungian approach to spirituality as per Marie-Louise von Franz and C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, such dangers have been raised. Unfortunately in the West, direct spiritual experience has not been part of main stream religious tradition. And when coupled with our contemporary secular thinking, new age spirituality pursues can easily become "doing good things for others, ultimately for the benefits of one's selfish self" even when "morality" and "good deeds" are put onto the agenda, with possible negative effects as explained above.

Carl Jung's warning is still sound, perhaps even sounder now, as almost all of us belong to the West nowadays.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Learning meditation from a fish

In my previous post Huge fish Opah as chi kung master!, I talked about the amazing fish Opah that is able to maintain endodermic in deep water. It works like a chi kung student who can send chi to warm up specific parts of his body. Tibetan monks practising Tummo Yoga can dry up a piece of wet cloth wrapped around his meditating body in outdoor snow mountain. An average chi kung student can take cold shows. What can a chi kung or meditation student learn from a fish? Presumably the limited cognitive skills of Opah makes it unable to learn from humans!

A fish swims gracefully in water. When one part of a fish's body move, the other parts of its body move in turn, like a piece of rubber or a single piece of muscle. Inside the bag of tricks of a chi kung students is a trick or technique called visualization. One common visualization is to visualize oneself swim in water while doing movements. Simply put: visualization himself as a fish!

So, is it simply through imagination that we can do singular muscular movement like that of a fish? The answer is a definite no. The way to do it is to move our body in air as if we are moving our body surrounded by water - do without the annoying fact that we cannot breathe under water, since it is as if. The fish has a definite advantage here, it does not need to breathe, it gills can catch the oxygen, so to speak. It swims as a fish, not as if!

And is it simply switching our mind-body into a mode of "as if" and then all is there? If it is so simple, everybody can a chi kung master on day one. No, he needs to learn something more.

Being anatomically not built from a single piece of muscle, special training is needed for human. Firstly he needs to open blockages to facilitate connectedness, which blockages primarily centre around his major joints (hip and shoulder joints). Secondly, he needs some mechanism to connect the now more-ready-to-get connected muscles. The mechanism to enable connectedness is our breathing muscles, primarily our diaphragm. And in order to make use of our diaphragm and other breathing muscles for this purpose, we need to cultivate a meditative mind.

You can now appreciate why meditation (seated or standing) is so important for the learning of chi kung, tai chi and other internal arts.

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