Step-By-Step & All At Once
Hello friends! Following the teaching sequence, you've spent a few weeks trying out the form. You've practiced the specifics of each movement, learned important qigong concepts, and have been developing a daily practice. You have done very well! By building a solid base for your training, you're far more likely to succeed.
You've also heard me talk about the importance of following the teaching series in order. In this lesson, I will explain why. And I'll also describe why it's wrong.
Within any art, "the basics" are the footing upon which all future growth rests. If I build a house without first establishing a firm foundation, the lovingly made shelter turns into a death trap. If I use a chisel that has never been sharpened, both the wood and the tool will be ruined. First, I must take the time to prepare the tools, and it's essential to organize your practice similarly. Take the first steps first. Sharpen your basic skills. Skipping ahead is at best fruitless and at worst dangerous. This confusion is why I number and alphabetize my lessons to make them easier to navigate.
Imagine that I place a roof on top of a building with very crooked and weakened posts. Soon the whole structure will simply fall down. Because this structure is significant to me, I attach ropes to the walls to hold them in place and surround the walls with cement to make them strong enough to bear the weight of the roof. It sounds silly, but this is essentially what most people do with their bodies. Because we have poor posture, we must hold our bodies at strange angles to remain upright and then layer tension around the weak points to keep them from falling down. You may notice your body-mind complaining about it from time to time.
Unfortunately, we aren't able to move into a different home. We're lucky to have this one, and it's the only one we get. Knowing that it's time to make some changes to the structure, we are wise enough to call a carpenter. They explain that you cannot merely push the posts into a vertical position. There are too many ropes and piles of cement in the way. Besides, we need to lift the roof slightly to make room for the changes. Again, this is similar to our physical situation. Using force to try and move the body into a seemingly correct alignment merely convinces it to become more tense. Only learning to soften the tension removes the cement around our joints. First, we remove obstructions, strengthen the material, and lessen the weight at the top. Only then can we rearrange our tilted structure without causing a bigger mess.
Are you beginning to see the importance of exploring qigong systematically? Within Snake & Turtle, our emphasis is on healing the back. The key is to release the spine and allow it to lengthen. As we soften the neck and liberate the head's weight upward, the lower back can relax, and the tailbone releases down. This movement unlocks the spine and allows a new level of healing. However, if the head and neck aren't set free correctly, you won't be able to release the lower back. They are linked together, like the weight of the roof dragging down the crooked building. So you will first learn to allow the head to float before relaxing your back.
Many other aspects of health only become available as we transform our bodies and minds. A peaceful heart is vital for health but can only develop after cultivating internal stillness, which only arrives after learning to let go of the mind. Building strength in our musculature can be great for health, but only after learning to exercise properly and only after taking the time to become rested and well-nourished. Trying to do any of those in the wrong order only leads to exhaustion and injury!
Hopefully, you're convinced of the importance of a safe and strategic approach to practice. It's convenient for me to have students that learn terminology and allow me to guide them at an appropriate pace from novice to advanced beginner and then from competence to proficiency. However, it's also true that humans don't learn and grow linearly. We must be honest with our process and learn to embrace the paradox of organized chaos. I'll explore a few other styles of growth that we must embrace.
For several years I apprenticed with a Master of traditional Japanese carpentry. Dale Sensei is a superb example of profound skill and clarity of purpose (JapaneseCarpentry.com). A lesson he imparted was the importance of allowing wood's innate nature and hidden qualities to guide its use. For instance, using the natural strengths of a tree as we repair the post. By placing the timber in the orientation that it grew, the inherent stability and resiliency of the tree will make for a much more durable structure. This characteristic is the same within our body-mind. Our intrinsic qualities and capacities revive when we engage appropriately with the world. In this case, these aren't built step by step but rather are innate qualities unveiled further with each training session.
Sometimes healing requires restoring a natural cycle that has been interrupted or become stuck. As a beginner, I occasionally hit my finger with the hammer. Imagine that I clenched my hand to brace against the discomfort, and when my finger stopped hurting, I forgot to let go of that tension. Over time, layer by layer, every injury would add a new kind of clenching. Perhaps even emotional trauma would build-up, and I'd develop a phobia about using my hammer. These are kinds of qi movements that become stuck. I could undo those knots of tension by learning to listen and let go with daily practice. …and hopefully get better at using my hammer.
Another improvement that must grow organically is the shaping of the inside of the body. We use the external form to generate changes internally. Still, no matter how much we try, we cannot transform safely if we use force. As with everything in this form of qigong, the correct relationships only develop when we make space for them to occur. We get out of our own way. The most substantial healing will occur through the vital skills of stillness and non-doing!
Additionally, avoiding chasing after or longing for a specific outcome in your training is essential. This mental tension becomes a terrible blockage to your progress. Again, employ the skills of non-doing that I will cover in great detail. Simply remain effortless during your daily practice, and follow the steps I provide. And try to have a little fun!
We mistakenly think of learning as progress along a straight line. Yet, it often includes lateral leaps & flashes of intuition that cannot be anticipated or forced. Think back to the last time you abruptly understood a tricky concept? What happened the moment just before? You must have let go of an old idea, and suddenly there was enough space for a new understanding to arise. One clear method that supports this letting go is meditative stillness.
Another valuable way to learn is to step outside how we think we should act. My favorite method is by imitating animals or water: the Snake & the Turtle. The human environment usually isn't helpful. We live in a world that forces us to move inorganically in straight lines and right angles. Playfully pretending to be different may allow new insights and healing to emerge.
Similarly, sudden growth may occur when studying with a master in a form known as transmission. By carefully following & imitating their technique, aspects of their skill will occasionally arise within you. Zhicheng Shifu says these abilities are not so much "taught" as "caught."
As you can see, even the learning and healing that occurs spontaneously requires regular and specific practice. However, in reality, every part of a house is needed to make a home. A hammer is not useful when it is missing a section or a hand to wield it. Which part of a hose can you plug and still spray water? Sometimes you need to work on the entire process at once to make progress. The goal is to heal & enhance all of your body-mind. Your whole system must participate in the process no matter what distinct element you cultivate. I can only teach you a small lesson about hammering in each video, but you must always remember to keep your eye on the nail.
Finally, I saved my favorite method of learning for the end. Sometimes the only sensible step is waiting and deepening. In chapter 53 of the wisdom book "YiJing" (易經), there is a beautiful metaphor for this phase. Imagine a tree growing upon the peak of a craggy mountain. The wind howls through its branches, barely growing as time passes. The hidden truth is that the growth is happening quietly underground. It sinks deep roots and patiently perseveres. While the wind blows, the tree remains tranquil and still. The wisdom of nature allows its growth to take the proper course without haste or hesitation. Over time, the tree grows tall, changing the entire landscape. Sometimes you merely need to wait patiently for the internal development to extend deep roots before it transforms your life.
The Next Step:
Currently, I am enjoying a long training retreat with master ZhiCheng (TaoistStudiesInstitute.org), emphasizing a beneficial intermediate skill called dantian rotation. I am amazed and inspired by his capacity to teach. He is guiding the technique in the moment, but also has been setting signposts and removing obstacles since the beginning. He has shown me the importance of doing better than simply teaching one skill after another. Instead, Shifu teaches everything as though guiding you far past each particular step. I recognize corrections he offered me years ago to prepare me for this and other steps in the future. As with form movements, the energy does not travel to the specific points but instead goes through them without inhibition. I hope to become that skilled and will try my best to include such forethought into this teaching sequence.
In the following lessons, I will explore what it means to quiet the mind. This practice will be the most important and life-changing for many of you. Be patient and train with care!
In the previous lesson, you took the time to uncover some of your deeper values and meaningful goals for this practice. What will that will look and feel like in your life? For instance, if relieving your back pain is your goal, how will you know when you have achieved that objective? Like my friend in the clinic, do you want to become more mobile to enjoy time with your family? How will that look? How will it feel? Where in your body will you feel it? Be specific! How will you know when you have achieved that particular goal? What markers can you set for yourself to know you are making progress? When you can walk for five minutes comfortably? 10 minutes? An hour? What does this look like for you? How will you reward your progress along the way?
Base your answers on the specific goals and values you worked out last time. If you need help, please write down your questions and ideas in the comment section. Let the community collaborate to sort out your plans and markers for success.
Social support is another way that we grow and learn. Happy training!
Remember that this is only a tiny part of a more extensive system and sequence of teaching videos. Subscribe to my channel to learn more!
Make sure that you begin your practice at the beginning of the sequence
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