Monday, December 13, 2010

Mysticism part 3: Resonsibility in training.

It is so cool to see the discussion that has sprung up around the first two articles in this series: part one, and part two.

Basically, a lot of it has come down responsibility. Or, as we say in the School of Cultivation and Practice "Response-ability", the ability to respond or act in a situation. The question is "Where am I putting the responsibility?" The main worry that has be posed by many of my school brothers is that mysticism puts the responsibility "out there" and on "something bigger", instead of placing the focus on the individual.

I really learned some things in doing these posts. For one, words have baggage. A word is just a symbol representing a concept, and part of how we understand language is the assumptions we all make about those representation. If I want to use the words in a different way, there's gonna be a lot of work involved in bringing people along with me. For example, words like "religion" and "mysticism" might as well be the cargo hold of a 747 for all the baggage they have on them. I got seriously frustrated by what I saw as an essential misunderstanding of "my" use of these words as I was attempting to define them, but really, next time I will expect it.

This goes back to the idea of responsibility. My definition of religious mysticism, as a process, is the process of connecting with a direct experience and awareness of reality. This process, in my experience, is connected with a sense of wonder at the amazingness of everything, from every steel train bridge to the bum taking a dump in the street to the sun shining down through lake Michigan as a float in it. Inherent in this definition is one's personal responsibility. We have a saying in Wujifa "you are where you are, and that's where you start". We also value what is practical and direct, as well as concepts. In fact, without the practical and direct, concepts are just shadows, and they are separated from direct experience.

It's real, and it's direct, and it's practical. I could say I'm having a mystical experience of my laptop right now, as I am connecting with it through my fingertips and I am experiencing this connection. As I notice how beautiful and amazing it is to be able to communicate with friends who may be in different parts of the country in this way, I am filled with joy. As I allow myself to notice more about it, I am filled with a sense of wonder. It runs on electricity that comes through a little cord from a plug in my wall which comes through the power lines, originating in a power plant somewhere which runs on oil, most likely. This bad boy runs on dinosaurs. Tell me that's not cool.

Monks meditate, mother Teresa serves the poor, and the Dalai Lama works out international relations. Very practically, they actively apply their beliefs. It is these actions that bring their beliefs into the real world.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mysticism and Imagination (continued)

After discussing my last blog post with my school brothers, I realized how many ideas of mine (and others) were in there, and how little personal experience it contained. In order to supplement my last post, I will elaborate here on how I came to some of those ideas, and the experiences which have led me to an appreciation of what might be called "mystical" experience.

Much of my upbringing was Catholic. When I was young, I went to church every Sunday. Surely, some good advice was shared in the sermons, but I never really had an "experience" of something more than myself (other than the community, and even that felt disconnected). I fell out of this practice, and began searching for a personal connection with "something more".

Meditation was the next step for me. From where I started, this practice narrowed my focus and tended to remove me from context. As such, I ended up delving deeply into subjectivity, and lost track of how I fit in, but gained some interesting insights into my personal responsibility for my thoughts and feelings, meaning that I could have some choice in this area.

So right now, I'm experiencing more of the "re-connective mysticism" I talked about in the previous article. What happens is, when I do my practices in the woods or in nature (I'm sure these experiences aren't contingent upon the setting... that's just where it happens for me now) sometimes I have a wonderful feeling of belonging, and my thoughts focus on my relations to everything around me. There is also often an accompanying sense of beauty and wonder. For example, noticing myself standing in relation to a tree, or trees, or blades of grass, and feeling like I have a place along side of, and in connection with, those things as part of the grand scheme of life. It feels like a connection with truth in some way, and an appreciation of "things as they are". I got this feeling walking down the street one day, and I saw a street sign and thought about all that went into it... the miners who harvested the metal, the refiners, the people at the sign factory, the installers... and I appreciated how that sign was not just an object, but the result of work and humanity and cooperation. Occasionally, I've even thought the silliness of calling anything that exists "unnatural". Even a car came about by processes of nature. Nature created people, people created cars, ipso facto - nature made cars.

Anyway, there may be more thoughts and experiences on the way about this, as it really is such a rich and important topic to me.

I also am really curious about other peoples' experiences of "something more", and I would love if you would share yours in the comments. Thanks so much!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Imagination and Mystical Experience

Phylogeni of living organism.Image via WikipediaA great friend from the School of Cultivation and Practice just wrote an excellent article about Internal Gong Fu Paradigms. In it, he elucidated wonderfully (in my opinion) the different paradigms that underlie various internal gong fu practices, covering everything from Chi to Mechanism to Functional thinking.

In this article, two paradigms are discussed about which I have a certain fondness: these being the imagination paradigm (which he calls the fantasy paradigm) and the mystical paradigm.

Now, before going into what I believe to be the merits of these two kinds of experience, I will discuss what I believe to be the groundwork of a workable paradigm, which is an orientation to reality. In my practice of Wujifa, Functional thinking has been upheld as a philosophical cornerstone. In the Internal Gong Fu Paradigms blog, it is explained this way:

Functional paradigm: Looks to generalize principles
found in natural, scientific and various other processes.
Not based on rules or methods.

I will reiterate for emphasis: to generalize principles. In my view, this means to discover connections. Originally, the concept of functional thinking comes from the work of Wilhelm Reich, who used it as a way of understanding basic underlying patterns and principles of nature.
Reich broke down functional thinking into four main principles ( From Wilhelm Reich Selected Writings: An Introduction to Orgonomy p. 218)

1. Every living organism is a functional unit; it is not merely a mechanical sum total of organs. The basic biological function governs every individual organ as it governs the total organism.
2. Every living organism is part of surrounding nature and is functionally identical with it.
3. Every perception is based on the consonance of a function within the organism with a function in the outer world; that is, it is based on vegetative harmony.
4. Every form of self-perception is the immediate expression of objective processes in the organism (psychophysical identity).

The basic idea is that instead of pure subjectivity or objectivity, we acknowledge that these two things form a functional unity. Mechanism and Mysticism, under Reich's defintion, split this unity and give emphasis to either pure subjectivity (in mysticism) or pure objectivity (as in mechanism). However, since these two things are infact interrelated, any splitting of one from the other results in a deviation from realistic perception of things as they are.

Therefor, the principle of connection as discussed in Wujifa is at play here, in realizing that our experience comes from a functional unity of internal and external factors.

Now, back to imagination and what might be called "mystical" or "religious" experience. (as an interesting sidebar, the word "religion" comes from the prefix "re" and the root "legare" which means to connect, so religion means reconnection). Mysticism, as defined in Wikipedia"is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight"

Continuing on the discussion we began, I find great value in this kind of mysticism, which is to say, a mysticism which is based in direct experience. This kind of mysticism, to my reckoning, does not break the principle of functional thinking, since it is, at its core, a reconnection and not a disconnection from reality. (not to say that disconnection from certain things is not useful or functional, I can see how exploring disconnection would teach us some interesting things about our perception and experience as well.) However, in the reconnective form of mysticism I aim to discuss here, experience recognizes the unity of subject and object, and is therefor highly functional under Reich's definition.

So what do I mean by religious mysticism? As I said before, it is philosophy of mysticism that is based on experience of connection. Connection to what though? In Wujifa, we would say "yes"... connection to what. Beginning from "you are where you are and that's where you start" it's always looking for those connections. Maybe right now it's connection to your lower back, or connection to the environment around you. Maybe later on there are other cool connections that start to show up.

The tricky part is what the Internal Gong Fu Paradigms blog was talking about in terms of "often getting lost and failing to develop validate-able skills". What exactly does this mean specifically... well, I can imagine that roots are going out of my feet into the ground, but that doesn't necessarily mean I am developing internal strength or "rootedness" in terms of something that can actually effect my way of being in the world in any way.

In Wujifa we have a saying, "The method is not the truth, once you get the feeling, get rid of the method" (this is discussed a bit in the blog Wujifa: Mental and Physical Means for Discovery and Growth) What this means is that methods are not "bad" they are inherently useful as ways of discovering more of what we're looking for (Relax, Balance, Structure : Ease, Equilibrium, Connection : Power, Poise, Unity) [from Wujifa Triangles] as long as they lead us to greater feeling, understanding, and awareness of our principles.

So then, what is the difference between Imagination which is a useful method in Wujifa and that which is not? My hunch is that Imagination as a useful method leads to a physical/emotional shift. For example, maybe imagining roots coming down into the ground is a good way to "suggest" a certain kind of connection with ones feet and legs, or a sinking. At any rate, my guess would be that a useful imagination as a method would lead to a change in actual experience of oneself. To keep things functional, if one part (imagination) moves, all parts (physical, mental, emotional) should show a corresponding variation.

The problem, I believe, is the separation between head and body which Internal Gong Fu Paradigms discussed under the heading of Mechanistic thinking, and which was put in the category of Euro-American paradigms. It is, unfortunately, part of our culture that separates ideas from experience. Perhaps in a more connected place, ideas and experience would be more integrated, and imagination would be connected with a shift in experience as described above. Again: Connection, Connection, Connection. Always connection.

Please take all these ideas with a grain of salt. They are my experiences, and yours may be different. However, I am glad to share them, because I have found them very helpful and useful. Also, these ideas are in progress, which is to say they are in a process of development. As I keep exploring them, I will add more posts here to the blog.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Developing "Down" force - Wujifa Methods

Ho... I have been sitting on this post for a while. It's time to talk about some really cool exercises for developing down force (and internal strength in general) in a flexible way.

picture standing with arms relaxed on suspended bag

What you see in the first picture here is me with my hands on a punching bag which is hanging from a bungee cord. Notice that the posture is very similar to basic standing posture as we practice it in Wujifa. The difference here is that my arms are supported by the springiness of the setup we have going. What we were doing was keeping the arms relaxed in this position, and then "sitting down" more to accomplish a pulling down of the punching bag while maintaining this relaxation through the arms.

picture after "sitting down"

Notice that the bungee cord has become more stretched, which has been accomplished through a sinking of the body. Pay special attention to how the hip area moves here.

So in the video here, you see how my arms are staying relaxed, allowing the bag to bounce when pushed by my school brother as I sink my body, pulling the bag downward. Now, the upper part of my body is still fairly still here, optimally, the sinking movement would be evident everywhere. As we say in Wujifa, you are where you are and that's where you start, and methods are employed based on where the student is to serve as a bridge to "something more".

Continuing to look at this critically, you can also see how I'm using a lot of leaning with my body, and how at times it appears that if the ball were to disappear, I would fall over. You can also see where some good movement through my hips is showing up, and how at times the movement starts to look a little more connected throughout. A senior school brother also pointed out that I'm doing something weird with my lower back, but I'm not noticing that in the video... maybe a bit of a blind spot for me.

We always talk about how important the "feeling" is. For me, it was cool just realizing how relaxed my arms could be while still effecting a downward movement upon the bag. Cool stuff, and I can't wait to keep exploring how relax fits in to internal strength. Actually, a school brother of mine has been putting a lot of good posts on feeling and relax up on Internal Gong Fu, which are totally worth checking out if you haven't already.

I'll leave the post with this question from my practice:
Practicing Wujifa Dancing today - (Internal martial power probably generates a different kinesthetic feedback for a "strong" push... how can I find the new feedback for "strength" so that I can use it to guide my practice?)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sunday Class Report

This Sunday was a pretty cool day of class. We started off doing a bit of side to side. My question had to do with some new feelings I was getting in my inguinal creases where instead of feeling like I was pulling something apart, it was more of an opening feeling. One of the senior school brothers pointed out something about how I was using focus, how I was really focusing into one area. The movement looked pretty stiff to him, but when I slackened up on the specific focus to talk to another of my senior brothers, he noticed that things started to flow a little more.

Isn't that interesting. Distortion, Deletion and Generalization are the three things are brains are capable of, says NLP. Senior Brother #1 said that I was using Distortion in the way I was focusing so heavily on the inguinal crease. My focus had warped the experience of the exercise like a fun-house mirror warps a reflection, then I added, I was deleting out much of the rest of the sensory information coming in from my body to focus intently on the creases. What is the bigger question? He asked, and I replied that it was to find more connected full body movement.

I was losing the bigger question when I focused down so specifically, but by playing with the specific focus within the bigger intention, (always keeping the bigger intention in mind) I still got to explore the creases intensely, but also allowed myself to notice other connections throughout my body (how my chest was contributing to the inguinal crease) and looking more from a one-part-moves-all-parts-move perspective.

Allowing was something I asked a question about later in the class, and feeling like I was forcing things in my life and in my practice. After a bit of psychological stuff, I noticed that my conception of being an adult had a lot to do with being in control. Being an adult means being in control of everything all of the time. Really? Well, that's a thought that's in my head. We have a saying that is "you are where you are and that's where you start". There was also this word "begrudgingly" that came up in our discussion of allowing vs. control, and how I "begrudgingly" accept things, which is different from just accepting. Begrudging has more judgment to it.

On further exploration, begrudging is like the parent that looks at the angry or crying child from across the room with folded arms shaking her head, and accepting is like the parent that goes over to the child and is with them and hugs them because angry or sad or whatever, it's okay.

In stance today, I worked with that kind of a feeling, the "it's okay" of a mother holding a child. It was a very different feeling than trying to get everything in the right place. Maybe my stance didn't look as pretty, but the FEELING that was there during stance has lasted up until now, along with a feeling of more ease, and more equilibrium, more connection. The middle triangle really likes acceptance and it's okay, I notice.

Last part of class had to do with some dancing practice. We tied up some sticks to the ceiling of the back porch, rested our hands on them and did a little Wujifa dancing practice. Letting my arms rest into the sticks and letting the resting connect down to the rest of my body gave me a really cool hint into down force, and when I danced with that feeling without the sticks, my ESB (Elder School Brother) noticed that it was looking pretty good. Also working with some more twisting of the spine while dancing.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Emotional Biproducts

In my last post, "Wujifa Bi-products: Single Leg Squats and the Zero Inch Punch", I discussed the idea that the physical Bi-products which people are seeking from martial arts develop out of a diligent practice in the basics of a system. In the process of working on the fundamentals, we discover the "flashy skills" without looking for them specifically, and they show up when the time is right, and are nourished by our deepening understandings of the root of our practice.
So often, people are looking for happiness, but perhaps happiness, like internal strength, is a bi-product. Henry David Thoreau said, "Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder." But what are these other things we are to turn our attention to? What is the root of practice that leads to happiness showing up on its own? I'm beginning to think it has something to do with the practice of authenticity.

I've noticed that I can calibrate the degree of authenticity I am embodying by a certain feeling of rightness. Occasionally, this rightness feels like happiness - when conditions are right. Often the feeling of rightness will accompany fear, sadness, or anger as well, and gives it a certain joy all its own. There's a liveliness and Life that accompany this process. Here's another quote I read by Camus that really speaks to me on the subject of this kind of happiness. He asks, "But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?"

Friends, how much harmony is there between you and your lives? How much liveliness can you let yourself experience day to day? I believe the practice is in listening to your heart, and the guidance you receive is a feeling of rightness. Not rightness as in justification, not in an "I'm RIGHT and you're WRONG" kind of way, but in a way in which your whole being opens up and greets the day. The feeling of rightness happens when regardless of circumstances, you allow your actions to be in harmony with who you are. Not who you KNOW you are, but who you are discovering yourself to be in the moment.

Speaking of living your life, the beautiful photo is by my friend Carol Wingert of iPhotographGod. She and her husband 20/20 aka Mr. Nature are out there living every day. Thanks for the inspiration, guys!
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wujifa Bi-products: Single Leg Squats and the Zero Inch Punch

Last Sunday at class, we were having some fun with Wujifa, and exploring some of the biproducts of training. Now, in our school we really focus on the Roots of the system, and when the flowers and fruits show up we simply appreciate them and move on.

We have a little story in Wujifa called "Driving to Disneyland". Following any intention is like following the intention to drive down to Disneyland. What's important is staying on the road. Biproducts that come up are like the signs on the road. When you see the signs that say "658 miles to Disneyland" or "256 miles to Disneyland", you may get excited, but you don't stop and set up camp around the sign and have your vacation there. You keep on driving.

One of the biproducts which we notice is increased balance, structure, and physical strength. One place where this is evident is in one-legged squats.

Again, this is just kind of a fun way to see some of the balance and structure that can be developed by practicing Wujifa.

Another Fun thing we play around with is the "zero inch punch", which is simply what it sounds like. It's a way of using your body to generate power over very short distances. I am by no means a pro at this one. In fact, I got so nervous in front of a camera thinking people were going to see it that I got the shakes. After I calmed down a little bit, we made this video:

Some of the punches are pretty decent, but there's a lot of work for me left to do too. I'm really excited about continuing to train and developing some real skill, which I will accomplish by really developing the roots of my practice.

It's cool, I watched the movie "The Drunken Master" the other day, and "So Hi", Jacky Chan's master, had him really focus on doing the basic exercises of the style for a long time before he got to anything that looked like "kung fu". Then, when he finally had to fight, he was amazing! The lesson is that focus on the basics is very important, and builds the foundation for real skill. Truly one of our beliefs in Wujifa!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Caravaggio, Narcissus 1599Image via Wikipedia

We live in a country where the word "Master" has a lot of selling power. You have people calling themselves Reiki "Ma$ters", Qigong "Ma$ters", all kinds of martial arts "Ma$ters". What does this word really mean? Can anyone truly call his or herself a "master" and be truthful about it?

The Mistake of Mastery
I believe we Americans have a cultural obsession with being "good" at things. I know I have had this for a long time. In the past, I have gotten a lot of my feeling of self-worth from how "good" I was at one thing or another. This is something that starts early: "Oh, you're such a good pooper!" Is something that all children hear. We learn that we get love when other people see that we're accomplishing something to their standards. Later, we adopt these standards for our own, and feel good when we are living up to them.This is why Narcissism is so rampant in our society. Narcissus fell in love with his image, and that's what killed him. He stared into that pool for his whole life, and never was able to really move and be alive. Our culture is obsessed with images in much the same way. We have our models, ideal image of beauty, We have the image of what it means to be successful, all kinds of images that people strive for. Unfortunately, this tends to leak over into areas where it is not appropriate.

What happens when you, deep down, NEED to be good at something that, by definition, you can never be good at? We have a saying in Wujifa "There is no end to feeling, understanding, and being aware." The Buddhists talk about "Beginner's Mind." Both of these are warnings about putting stock in achievement. Both of these statements suggest that there is always more to learn, and that "mastery" is a concept that may not hold a lot of water.

We tend to hold up achievement as a guiding light. The formula goes like this: study, achievement, retirement. Once you say "I'm good at this" (achievement) there is a danger of ceasing to be curious about it, to explore it, and to realize that what one understands is merely only a certain level of awareness.

What it means to be a Master
When someone says "I'm a master at this or that" it is meaningless. Since there is no end to feeling, understanding, and being aware, there is no point at which it's beneficial to say "I've got this! I understand this!" because it's always just a point in development, never an ending.

For me, each person is a master. We are masters of our own destiny, and we can choose how we will live our lives. A master is not someone who has reached a certain level of skill, or of understanding. A master is not someone who takes a weekend class and pays $400. I believe a master is a person who has put time into something, who maintains their fascination with that thing, and who always sees how far they still have to go down the path. I don't believe this kind of person would ever say "I have mastered my skill!" But they may look at someone who is learning and say "I remember when I was there too, let me help you a little further down the road."
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


PounceImage by EricMagnuson via Flickr

Lately, I've been examining motivation, since I need a lot of it to get to the next level of my Wujifa practice. Motivation is like the gas that makes the car go, or the hunger that drives the cat (or fox) on to catch the mouse.

I used to think that the process itself was the motivation for me... for a while, this was working pretty well, but lately processes are not giving me the juice they once did. This left me in a very confused state for a while, wondering "why isn't this working anymore?". Well, now I've noticed that I'm changing and a new motivational strategy is emerging for me.

It's about results. It's not doing the laundry that motivates me, it's the clean socks. It's not the doing the stance that motivates me, it's the ease and power I am developing. It's not the process that holds the juice for me, it's the results. I am glad I went through a stage of really focusing on process because now I can appreciate whatever process I'm involved with WHILE I'm going for my goal or vision.

It's something we talk about in class a lot... "purpose" or "intention". At one point in my training I was pretty confused about what these two things meant... more specifically my ideas about these concepts were on a different "chunk size" as my capability for action. I was kind of a "head in the clouds" kind of guy. Now I'm beginning to connect concepts and action in a different way. Now, for me purpose is a more practical thing. For example, to have the money to do the psychology and martial arts training I want to do.

The really cool thing is - when I get the right sized purpose, I get this really cool feeling inside that just naturally drives me through the process. That, I believe, is motivation!

Special thanks to:
Wujifa - I don't have the words to say how important Wujifa has been in my life.

Mr. 20/20 - I really want to thank 20, because a lot of these ideas have come from him, and I'm just discovering how they work for myself now, some 2 or 3 years after I met him. 20, I miss you, man. When are you coming back up to Michigan? :)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Home is a feeling

When I think about home, I think about belonging. I think about a sense of stability, a groundedness. I think of that old phrase "Home is where the heart is". Home is a feeling.

PomerodeImage via Wikipedia

Many of us have felt lost in our lives. I know I have. I can't stress enough how painful it can be to feel completely lost - like there's nowhere you belong. If you've ever felt this way, you know. This is where I was when I got into studying Wujifa.

As a practiced the simple exercises like Zhan Zhuang (standing meditation) I began to feel my body more and more. I began to feel more and more at home in myself.

Everyone deserves to feel like they belong in their own skin, in their own body. It's a home that never leaves - it's always there for you if you choose to claim it.

So at class, we were talking about ways to feel even more at home, to be at home in push-hands. It was clear that the more I felt the principles of Wujifa (Relax, Balance, Structure, Connection, etc.) the more "at home" I was in the practice, and the more sturdy and grounded my home was. There was also the idea of the "mobile home" as a metaphor for the Wujifa practitioner's body. This means that you don't have to stay stuck in one place. Home is a feeling, and you can move and adjust to maintain that feeling. This can also mean sinking your home into the ground more so that it can maintain itself in response to external pressures.

Home is where the heart is, and my heart is in my body in a very literal sense. Thanks in an large part to Wujifa, now my heart is with my body in a much deeper way as well. It's there in the feeling of connection I have to my body as a living organism. It's there in the love that I feel for myself as a person. It's there in the grounded structure that keeps me in alignment even when other pressures start to come in. It's good to be home.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why it's better not to know.

What a great class this Sunday at The School of Cultivation and Practice! Such great sharing with some wonderful friends as we all found ourselves in the moment. I am so thankful for all of my brothers and the insights we were finding together.
Add Image
A while back we were working on the phrase "I... don't understand... yet... I'm open" Which is kind of a cool non-mantra mantra which can be interpreted and expressed many different ways.

This Sunday, as we were finding ourselves in the moment, the idea of "I know" came up with its buddy "I don't know" and this found it's way (as things often do at the School) into a push-hands demonstration. Now, at the school we talk about the difference between "brace" and "internal strength" a lot. Now, the brace idea is basically locking your body into the strongest possible linear structure in opposition to a force, whereas true internal strength has much more freedom and flexibility inherent in it. Brace is strong, but tends toward rigidity.

So we're pushing hands a bit, and my partner is showing what happens when "I know" starts to creep in. As soon as you commit rigidly to one way of doing something, as soon as you say "I know" and stop paying attention, you get stuck. This is when brace shows up. Saying "I know" locks you in. It's "dead post".

Now contrast this with the statement "I don't know" in the sense of "I don't understand yet I'm open" and you get more of a process going on that's connected to the moment. Relating in this way leads to a more internal push hands expression.

Wujifa is all about connection - how are you connecting? We play with refining our connections so that we will experience unity - both in our bodies and in our lives.