Stop Gripping You Mind
To begin exploring methods that engage the mind, we first need to learn about how to help it relax. Mental tension always turns into physical tension, and so many qigong practices begin by softening the mind.
As a teenager, I learned the basics of meditation. My teacher promised I would become free of my crippling anxiety attacks. He taught, “Grip your mind like the reigns of a wild horse. Don't let it roam. Concentrate. Gather your will and use it to control your attention. Brush away your thoughts and feelings like horseflies."
Even though cowboy analogies weren't helpful for a city kid, I took his advice seriously. I became good at developing a white knuckle grip on my mind. The side effects were increased frustration and bouts of anger, a racing mind fueled by a desire for control, terrible insomnia, migraines, exhaustion, emotional dissociation, and a deep sense of defeat. And, of course, my anxiety only became worse and worse.
For decades, I would rise at 3 am to train this way, and continued learning techniques to control my thoughts and feelings.
Are you scared about life challenges? Simply move qi around to produce euphoria and forget the bad feelings.
Having negative thoughts? Use constant affirmations to change them.
Are you tired from a lack of sleep? No problem, just energize your system so you can’t feel your need to rest.
Feeling pain from joint damage? Use concentration methods to ignore your body's cry for help.
Anyone can learn these tricks, though I don’t recommend it. Dig around online and you’ll uncover subcultures feeding on these manipulations. Avoid it as you seek healing.
Pursuing this path of self-control, I began reading a book daily. Countless self-help authors repeat the same poor advice. Meditation teachers tell you to focus. Qigong teachers encourage you to push qi. Life coaches want you to try harder. Posture coaches force you to stand rigidly straight. Diet enthusiasts demand that you fight your cravings. Romance experts tell you not to take no for an answer. Money gurus want you to become obsessed with ambition. Spiritual leaders admonish you to suffocate your senses. Fitness models shout that pain equals gain. Travel bloggers recommend you be anywhere other than where you are. And lifestyle magazines persuade you to be anyone other than who you are.
This entire approach to life: one of domination, disconnection, and discontent, is inherently problematic and only ties us into larger knots.
There is a better way. Wei Wu Wei.
What does this mean? To oversimplify a vital Daoist philosophy, it's doing non-doing. An ability to make changes by letting go and creating space, allowing natural transformations to guide your practice. Rather than approaching challenges as opponents to be overcome, it's possible to befriend life. To nourish rather than use up. Heal rather than repress. Harmonize rather than compel.
This is a wonderfully colossal subject, and you'll find it impacting every aspect of your life. I will start small and expand the discussion as our lessons progress. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this topic. Please make it a cornerstone of your training.
The most common causes of damage from incorrect qigong & meditation practice are poor postural relationships, forceful breath methods, and the gripping of the mind. These reinforce tension, the false sense of self, and generate harmful states. To heal and progress, we must learn to let go of holding in all forms, and qigong is a perfect way to develop this skill of naturalness and ease.
My first qigong instructor misunderstood the nature of relaxation. She thought it was like a substance added to your structure. It was from her that I first heard the paradoxical statement, "Soften Harder." These days I use the phrase as a joke because relaxation isn't something you add to your muscles. It's the normal state of your body when you stop adding tension. It's not something new that you learn. It's a return to your most natural state of being.
My first meditation instructor misunderstood the nature of the mind. He assumed it needed to be held tightly and forced to settle. But the truth is that a relaxed mind becomes deeply still and centered on its own. Gripping it and trying to “concentrate" only unsettles you more. Again, it's not controlling the mind that brings clarity, but releasing the need to manage experience.
Most of the influences in my life promised that happiness results from the right job, a sexy partner, a big house, lots of money, and so on. Just take the time to learn about some of those "successful" people, and you'll know exactly how happy such a life makes you. No. That's not the source of contentment. It's not about having more. It's about wanting less. A peaceful heart results from learning to let go of discontentment.
Consider these three attainments: a relaxed body, a clear mind, and a peaceful heart. These alone are enough to transform your life and are available exclusively through letting go. Doing less and uncovering your natural state of well-being. Practicing force and tension in any form only moves you farther away from this state of ease. And this is why you must understand this principle of non-doing.
Try this experiment. Hold out both of your hands at arm's length. Glance at your left hand. Now, look at your right hand. Drop your arms. How much deep mental focus did that take? Lots of concentration? You were very precise with your body and mind, yet you didn't need to squeeze your mind or try hard. Keep a memory of that feeling of effortlessness. That sense of "no big deal." We want to cultivate it during all of our training. Master Zhicheng always advises, “Pay attention, but as though you're not paying attention.” Take his advice to remain comfortable and effortless at all times. (And remember to check out his classes online!)
The Next Step:
Before taking on qigong or meditation methods that involve structured use of intention, you must develop a basic ability to quiet and gentle the heart-mind. To remain relatively present during training and always emphasize the "non-doing" aspect of practice. Otherwise, you’ll only clench your mind and become more uptight during practice.
Take more time with the “Quiet Sitting” method we explored earlier. As you rest, notice when your mind relaxes a bit. Developing a clear sense of when it is tightly grabbing onto ideas or holding onto a sensation, and when it settles for a moment, becoming relaxed and clear. Then you’ll have a place to begin a deeper meditation practice.
Meditation was one way that I became free of anxiety attacks. In fact, a recent study found that basic meditation methods work as well as Lexapro, the leading anxiety medication. Give it a chance to help you find relief. And always seek out professional help if you think your emotions might be more severe than you are able to cope with. Let doctors and your community give you support when you need it!
“Turtle Standing in the Rain" is excellent for exploring effortless intent and visualization. I'll provide a more involved and intricate version of the practice in the following lesson. Use this as a method to continue softening your mind and body.
The most foundational aspect of mind-intent training is stillness, and soon we'll explore this in greater detail. From true stillness, a new kind of movement arises. And at that moment, your whole world will change.
Begin exploring your ability to soften your mind and relax your body throughout the day. For instance, from time to time, change your mind about things. When you've decided to eat one thing for lunch, change your mind and eat something else. When you've decided to wear one thing, change your mind and wear something else. With training, it will help your thoughts and opinions feel less important.
Find other ways to practice calming the tone of your actions and feelings during the day. Having a conversation? Try taking yourself a little less seriously. Stuck in traffic? Slow yourself down too.
Learn to feel the muscle in your mind that grips ideas and tries to control focus. Only move on to the following lessons once you have an idea of what it feels like to soften your mind after it becomes tense.
I know that you will notice a tremendous boost to your well-being!
Enjoy your practice!
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
Ready to train? Follow along with traditional practice sessions
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