ENLIGHTEN YOUR DAYS

a daily diary of notes on Daoist Internal Arts practices

If you are a cultivator whose one burning desire is attaining the highest goal humanly possible – Enlightenment – then I hope my daily thoughts on my Daoism-based internal arts practices may be of some help. As a cultivator, myself, I try to use the Internal Arts of Daoism – taijiquan, nei gong, and baguazhang – to condition my body and mind through readings, teachings, internal exercises and meditation with an internal environment that allows me to follow the Path of the Dao.

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THE DAOIST DAILY DIARY

06/21/2021

“If virtue is preeminent, the body will be forgotten. But when men do not forget what can be forgotten, but forget what cannot be forgotten – that may be called true forgetting.” – Zhuangzi, Ch. 5, THE SIGN OF VIRTUE COMPLETE

I’m always forgetting things. A sign of Alzheimer’s? Maybe. At least, that’s what doctors and Big Pharma would like us to believe. But it may not be a disease at all. It could just be that I simply forget what can be forgotten. You know, all the mundane things that we think about all day or give a few moments attention to before we move on to thinking about some other mundane thing. For me, it’s usually about food. What should I make for lunch? What about dinner? What do I need to get from the markets? Should I go to Trader Joe’s or Ralph’s? What about Sprouts or Bristol Farms? But maybe instead of the Food of Man, I should be thinking about the Food of Heaven. Then perhaps I won’t forget.

Zhuangzi tells us that the Sage instead sets his spirit free. “For him, knowledge is an offshoot, promises are glue, favors are a patching up, and skill is a peddler. The sage hatches no schemes, so what use has he for knowledge? He does no carving, so what use has he for glue? He suffers no loss, so what use has he for favors? He hawks no goods, so what use has he for peddling? These four are called Heavenly Gruel. Heavenly Gruel is the food of Heaven, and if he’s already gotten food from Heaven, what use does he have for men? He has the form of a man but not the feelings of a man. Since he has the form of a man, he bands together with other men. Since he doesn’t have the feelings of a man, right and wrong cannot get at him. Puny and small, he sticks with the rest of men. Massive and great, he perfects his Heaven alone.”

Zhuangzi is reminding us that, because the Sage doesn’t have human passions, the feelings of man – the questions of right and wrong – do not touch him. Small and puny, in other words infinitesimal are the things that men think about and attach themselves to. On the other hand, infinitely great is that of Heaven.

So, we have a choice. Stick with man, simply because one has a human body, or join with Heaven and the Way of the Tao.

 

06/20/2021 (FATHER’S DAY)

“Thanks to my parents, I can come to this world, to know myself in this body. My parents went through all the hardships in bringing me up, but they never complained. Now I start to grow old, start to convert back to “nothingness”. I am grateful for this body, this life.” – Grandmaster Wang Liping, 18th Lineage holder, Longmen Pai branch of Quanzhen Northern Daoism

Yes, that’s right, another Longmen Pai (Dragon Gate) lineage holder. No doubt there are more Dragon Gate branches of Quanzhen Daoism than there are official Yi Jin Jing exercise sets. In any case, I thought Grandmaster Wang’s quote would be appropriate on this Father’s Day. It comes from his introduction to a Taoist exercise called “Listen and Memorize Parents.”

Grandmaster Wang continues in his introduction: “When I practice the Taoist exercise ‘Listen and Memorize Parents’, I discovered their miseries and suffering, and also realized just how deep their love is.”

Wang wishes he had supernatural power so he could become a child and live with his parents once more. Then he says, “If I have magical power, I would turn back to pre-birth, and go to my parents’ wedding as wind. How wonderful it would be to see my parents joining hands to start a happy family, and pass life down generation by generation. All I want to say to them is “Thank you, and I love you.”

According to Wang, here is how the “Listen and Memorize Parents” exercise is performed:

“Everyone should use one day a month to do this exercise. Also in the three days before Chinese new year, pick one day to do this exercise. This is the best way to truly benefit our parents. Even if our parents already passed away, this exercise can still benefit them.

“During sitting exercise, when your celestial eyes opened, think about your parents’ images with your eyes closed(Only do one at a time, pick father or mother). Think carefully and in as much detail as possible. Then slowly merge the space where your parents are with the space where you are. Pull this image into your body with the celestial eye, and slowly pass it down to your lower Dantian. Then breath slowly using lower Dantian, and your energy in the lower Dantian will nurture your parents. When you do this right, your parents’ images will become bright and clear in front of you, and you will also truly able to feel how they feel.”

And to all you fathers out there, Have a Happy Father’s Day and keep practicing.

 

06/19/2021

“Through hardness and selfishness the heart grows rigid, and this rigidity leads to separation from all others. Egotism and cupidity isolate men. Therefore the hearts of men must be seized by a devout emotion. They must be shaken by a religious awe in the face of eternity” – Commentary by Richard Wilhelm on Hexagram 59, Huan, Dispersion/Dissolution

We looked at attachment yesterday. Attachment is the early stage. In the later stages attachment leads to alienation and isolation. Though we may go freely from place to place, internally we cannot get away from ourselves. In this case as Wilhelm points out, it is the result of egotism and cupidity, which is the excessive desire for wealth or power, that deep pocket of greed and avarice that alienates us from others. So, I wholeheartedly agree with the first part of Wilhelm’s statement but not the second. The hearts of men must be seized not by a devout emotion, but by a fervent devotion, and not one shaken by a religious awe in the face of eternity. That trapped individual who cannot let go of his/her greed and avarice is already filled with a sense of religious awe for whatever it is that they crave so deeply.

Letting go of that religious awe for power or wealth will be impossible. If they let go of one form of power, another one will pop up in its place and take hold of their ego. They need instead to turn that religious awe on its head with nothing short of a devotion to and for a cause, one that will benefit humanity in general. They must turn away from always honoring their selfish cravings to generating a deep concern for a selfless cause. The greater their concern for that cause the more their alienation and isolation weakens and eventually falls away. As always, until next time, good luck with your practice.

06/18/2021

“Therefore the Sage:
Manages affairs without action;
Preaches the doctrine without words;
All things take their rise, but he does not turn away from them;
He gives them life, but does not take possession of them;
He acts, but does not appropriate;
Accomplishes, but claims no credit.
It is because he lays claim to no credit
That the credit cannot be taken away from him.” – Laozi, Ch. 2

What Laozi is teaching Chapter 2 is the Daoist concept of Non-Attachment. The Sage gives life to all in the form of his/her teachings or examples, just as Laozi has given us the spirit to live a righteous and purposeful life in accordance with the doctrine of the Tao. Yet he did not take possession of that doctrine or claim it as his own. He simply said, here it is and road off on his ox into the West never to be heard from again. Nevertheless because he did not lay claim to the Tao Te Ching, credit cannot be taken away from him although many scholars have tried. So, it’s not just what they preach, but it is what Sages like Laozi and Zhuangzi do and how they have lived their lives that puts makes their “doctrine without words” come alive for us.

Then in Chapter 9 Laozi looks at this concept from the other side, namely Attachment:
“When gold and jade fill your hall,
You will not be able to keep them safe.
To be proud with wealth and honor
Is to sow seeds of one’s own downfall.
Retire when your work is done,
Such is Heaven’s way.”

Here a person is so attached to gold and jade that they must live nearly every waking hour worrying over how to protect it from would-be thieves. Another person takes so much pride in their wealth and honor that their attachment will lead to their downfall. Others are so attached to their work in a prideful way that they spend every moment they can putting up photos of their latest achievement on Instagram and Facebook.

We, too, in our internal arts training get so attached to our successes that we want everyone to know about it. That motivation becomes a goal in itself, and we lose sight of the simple act of dispassionate, quiet progress, a progress stripped of all the bells ‘n whistles. On the other hand, sometimes we get completely attached to our failures or seeming inability (one of the serious problems that I had) that we come to believe it is permanent and impossible to overcome.

So, what’s the antidote. Simply letting go. Let go of your attachments to the positives as well as the negatives.

06/17/2021

“If there is not inner repose, then the mind will be galloping about though you are sitting still. Let your ears and eyes communicate within but shut out all knowledge from the mind. Then the spirits will come to dwell therein, not to mention man. This is the method for the transformation (influencing) of all Creation.” – Zhuangzi, Ch. 4, This Human World

Another quote from the Zhuangzi, Ch. 4, This Human World, this one is very similar to the quote used yesterday from Laozi, Chapter 52, “Block the passages, shut the doors…” Both of these much respected and often quoted ancient masters are giving us the same advice. Calm yourself and sit quietly in repose. It’s okay to have thoughts in your mind as long as they are focused on what is going on inside, not outside in this present moment, not in the future or the past. And there should be a lot going on within in this present moment.

We should bring our mind to the lower abdomen and focus on our dispersed dantian, trying to consolidate the yin qi of which it was comprised. Once the mind is positioned in the field of the dantian, next we must focus on guiding the breath to where our mind is. Once mind and breath are in position, then the work of consolidating the yin qi can begin. There’s no place for external thoughts or interruptions or worldly interjections in this kind of work. It’s purely internal. So, get to work and Good luck with it.

 

06/16/2021

“Concentrate your will! Hear not with your ears, but with your mind, not with your mind, but with your spirit. Let your listening stop with the ears, and let your mind stop with its images. Let your spirit, however, be empty- passively responsive to externals. In such open receptivity only can Tao abide. And that open receptivity – that emptiness – is the fasting of the heart.” – The Fasting of the Heart, from Zhuangzi, Ch. 4, This Human World

When you were a child every experience was new. This newness made Life so full, so vibrant and zestful. New pleasures, new food, new tastes, new toys, new games, new places to go and things to do. But as you grew into adulthood and experienced more and more, Life began to lose some of its luster. By the time you are forty, new experiences and pleasures are few and far in between. Our heart-mind – the emotional mind – has learned that pleasure isn’t so easy to come by anymore. It really has to work at it and becomes more willing to make an effort to obtain it. Thus, one becomes addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex or greed. When you finally open up to the fact that your addiction is the only thing that can stimulate your senses, and even that is starting to decline.

Life at this point has not only become dull but quite problematic. Your brain is overwhelmed from all the judging, analyzing, criticizing and fantasizing that it has been forced to do, trying desperately to find new experiences so one can enjoy Life once again. When the body has become overwhelmed from eating too many high-caloric, super-rich foods, there’s only one thing to do. Detox! Detoxifying the body usually entails some form of fasting to bring the body back to ground zero, where it can once again find pleasure in normal everyday foods.

It is no different for the heart-mind. It needs to come back to ground zero as well, which means it needs to reset. And it can only do that by detoxifying. This is where “Fasting of the Heart” comes in. As Laozi advises in Chapter 52 of the Tao Te Ching:
“Block the passages, shut the doors,
And till the end your strength shall not fail.
Open up the passages, increase your doings,
And till your last day no help shall come to you.”

This does not have to be a long-term commitment. Abstaining for even a short period can weaken the grip our addictions have on our emotions, which are the motivations that drive us. Detoxing our mind from these external influences and the whirlwind of pressures we put on ourselves trying to revitalize our lives with TV, movies, video games, sweets, sodas, binge eating, alcohol, drugs, etc., can be mind expanding as well as restorative. Just like our bodies, it is vital to let our minds rest. As Laozi points out, silencing our senses and mental faculties for a period will not only replenishes our energy, but brings us closer to being aligned with the Tao.

 

06/15/2021

“The Sun rises over the Earth:
The image of PROGRESS.
Thus the superior man himself
Brightens his bright future.”
– I Ching, Image of Hexagram 35, Chin/Progress

Here’s an exercise for cultivators and non-cultivators alike to help you make progress in your mental training and brighten your future as Hexagram 35 suggests. I like the fact that this exercise develops several much-needed mental qualities. First, it develops discernment and clarity. Secondly, it also develops and strengthens your awareness. Thirdly, it helps you make adjustments and add variety to your lifestyle. And finally, it just may strengthen your mind against Alzheimer’s as you age.

This is what you do. Simply recall any 15-minute segment of your day. You can start out with this morning and recall the things you did once you got out of bed. Maybe you stretched a little or a lot. Maybe you went to the bathroom and brushed your teeth and took a shower. Or maybe you skipped the shower and combed your hair or shaved. You may instead want to recall what you made for breakfast over a 15-minute time span. Or maybe you delayed breakfast and exercised instead. Whatever it was, just sit comfortably and recall as much as possible.

That’s it. Easy, no? No! Here’s the catch. You do not simply recall what you did but recollect it in real time along with all the “physical” sensations – temperature, smells, tastes, tightness or openness in the joints or muscles. You are recalling in realtime a somatic experience linked to the physical “body” mind. You are not recalling an intellectual or emotional experience linked to our everyday heart/mind which has the emotional subconscious mind attached. So, you don’t think about or attach emotional feelings – likes and dislikes, satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

So, you do this every day for a week. Pick the same segment every day. You will notice by the end of the week how much more aware you are during that segment because your body knows it will need to recall the total somatic experience. You will not do everything the same exact way each day. Fine, that’s to be expected. Now the following week go back to the previous week and pick out the next to last day. So, let’s say today is Monday. So, the last day of the previous week was yesterday, Sunday. Then Saturday was the next to last day. You are now recalling the segment of a day that was two days ago. Keep doing this, picking the day before yesterday, and try to recall everything in that 15-minute segment. Do this for about a week. Then go out a week. What did you do that first morning a week ago? Recall as much as you can in real time.

Do you see how this challenges your physical awareness as well as your memory and how much better your memory functions with those interfering emotions stripped away. This is a major step in developing the discernment and clarity of an ordered mind. Also, seeing how your body automatically adjustments to what it does on each successive day will help you break routines and maybe even some old habits that you can do without. More about this in another lesson. So, give it a try, but don’t beat yourself up over it. Remember, have fun!

06/14/2021

“Deal with the difficult while yet it is easy;
Deal with the big while yet it is small.” Laozi, Ch. 63

Again I am using a Laozi quote from the Tao Te Ching to conclude my thoughts on stress. Always try to deal with stressful problems before they become stressful. This means you must add discernment and clarity to your awareness so you can recognize that a situation is about to become problematic. Usually, you can tell when someone is about to dump a load on you by the way they carry themselves as they approach you. This is the time to excuse yourself, “I’m sorry, Bob or Susan, but I can’t talk right now. Got to run. I need to…(Fill in the blank). In the case of a spouse, you can usually discern a problem by the look in their eyes as he/she approaches with a… “Honey, I can use your help for a second.”

If you analyze that request, what he/she is really saying is: “Honey, I would like you to deal with this problem I have, so I can relax for a while and then do something easier.” But it’s not only the problems that others put on you; it’s the problems you put on yourself. The solution, however, is the same. Use your discernment and clarity to see that you are about to make a problem for yourself or find an easy solution before this minor problem grows into something larger.

Tomorrow, I will take a look at a method for developing your discernment  and clarity.

06/13/2021

“Life arises from Death and vice versa,
Possibility arises from Impossibility and vice versa.”
– Zhuangzi, Ch. 2, Leveling All Things

Receiving force as we do in the tui shou (push hands) aspect of tai chi has been misinterpreted over the years by both teachers and students alike. In some forms of tai chi, it has been taught that the “receiving” of force is sent down through the body to the feet. Then the pressure on the feet releases and the force that was received now moves upward through the connective tissue and issues back through the contact points into your partner. While this is true for practicing with willing partners or actually pushing with inexperienced beginners and unskillful partners.

But when pushing with an advanced practitioner, “receiving” becomes “spreading.” We need to spread that incoming force in two directions. First, we spread it throughout our body not just down to the feet. Secondly, we spread it through the contact point and into our opponent’s body, locking it in the opponent’s lower abdomen (dan tian area) and into the hips, locking the opponent, who will be unable to move away. As always, keep practicing and above all have fun, enjoy!

06/12/2921

“Stretch a bow to its fullest,
and you will wish you had stopped in time.
Temper a sword to its very sharpest,
and the edge will not last long.”
– Laozi, Ch. 9

One of the worse things we as internal arts practitioners can do is to take on too much stress. Avoiding stress altogether is impossible. There’s plenty of it all around, much more than enough for every man, woman and child. There’s stress from our environment: tornadoes, hurricanes, wild fires, earthquakes, floods and the like. There’s stress from mechanical breakdowns: vehicles, washers and dryers, air conditioners, and a host more. Then there’s stress from the people around us: significant others, bosses, fellow employees, neighbors, relatives, even friends. Like any good tui shou (push hands) proponent knows, these are the ones you need too neutralize. You need to limit how much and how deeply you let them get into you. This is where setting limits comes in, which leads to the most important stressor of all.

That stressor is exactly what Laozi’s quote is referring to. This is the stress we put on ourselves by not setting limits on the people around us, especially the ones we interact with the most, and allowing them to stretch our bow to its fullest. Don’t wait until it reaches that point. Actually, you are not neutralizing them but instead you are neutralizing the pressure or stress they are putting on you. So realize “it’s no big deal.” That’s true, it isn’t. Most people are usually in the fight or flight mode and tend to blow situations up way out of proportions. So, they take the stress they have put on themselves and are trying to force it on you. Don’t fall for it. Use the discernment and clarity that you have gained from mindful awareness and meditation and kindly show them how illogical their reasoning is. But always be cordial and non-combative as you decline to take on their stress. If they are still being unreasonable, then have an escape route planned and use a viable escape line to make your exit.

Most importantly, you can use the above methods on the greatest stressor of them all – yourself – your egoic mind whenever you find it trapped in that same flight or fight mode, demand that you keep going. Take a few deep breaths and relax into the parasympathetic nervous system. Then see the illogic in your need to keep going trying to do too much. Remember, “there’s always tomorrow”…unless you kill yourself today with the stressful demands you are putting on your body. Enjoy life and have fun. What the world most definitely doesn’t need is one more workaholic.

06/11/2021

“Attain the utmost in Passivity,
Hold firm to the basis of Quietude.” – Laozi, Ch. 16

It is extremely hard to attain passivity or hold firm to quietude when workmen are banging away right above your head. But that’s what I was faced with this week, and today I am grateful. I guess you could call me a jumpy person. I am usually startled by loud sounds. All week workman have been putting in a new roof on our building, and my condo unit is on the third floor, the top one, with the roof just overhead. So, all week I have been dealing with this extremely loud and abrupt banging, grinding, chiseling. The suddenness of the noise had me flinching and jumping as I tried to work on Daoist mental training and meditation. Needless to say, I was extremely agitated and angered by the constant disturbances.

However, by today, I was getting used to the noisy interruptions, and at one point my angered subsided and I gave thanks for those interruptions. Without them, I would not have learned to control my nerves and realize the deep meaning of Laozi’s words: “Hold firm to the basis of Quietude.”

Here’s hoping that all of you can go through life holding firm to the basis of Quietude. Have a great weekend, and keep up your practice.

06/10/2021

“Conduct free from the ambition of being distinguished above others is what is called being Generous” – Zhungzi, Chapter 12

Here Zhuangzi is pointing out that the superior person remains free of arrogance and self-pride, no matter how great his/her accomplishments. Instead, the superior person is quite generous in praising others for their roles and support in those accomplishments. Of course, I’m sure many of us know practitioners and even so-called masters steeped in the pride and glory of accumulating honors and trophies, that project just the opposite. But instead of being truly distinguished they have fallen away from the Tao and by doing so have actually dishonored themselves.

So, as we continue our practice in the internal arts, let us recall Zhuangzi’s words and not assume a false sense of pride in our accomplishments or criticize others for theirs.  Remember, there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance.

06/09/2021

“Mountains standing close together,
The Image of Keeping Still.
Thus the superior man (the Sage/Master)
Does not permit his thoughts
To go beyond his situation.”
– I Ching, Hexagram 52, Ken, Mountain, Keeping Still

Yesterday, we looked at the first part of the quote from the Image of Hexagram 52, Mountains standing close together, the Image of Keeping Still, which is also the Image of Wuji, standing still like a mountain. I mentioned how important standing in Wuji is for internal arts practitioners. Wuji conditions the body via the Huang or connective tissues. Thus the body becomes dynamic, elongated and uses qi rather than muscle force, so that the qi moves through the stretched connective tissue as jin.

Today, I want to mention the second part of the above quote: “Thus the superior man (the Sage/Master)does not permit his thoughts to go beyond his situation.” The keyword here is ‘situation.’ Richard Wilhelm in his commentary states: “The heart thinks constantly. This cannot be changed, but the movements of the heart-that is, a man’s thoughts-should restrict themselves to the immediate situation. All thinking that goes beyond this only makes the heart sore.”

Wilhelm is referring to the Daoist practice of Mental Training. It is not meditation where a practitioner will try to slow the mind and even eliminate thoughts, but it could lead to deeper meditation and certainly keener awareness. Here’s how it works. Sit straight up on the floor or in a chair but do not use the back rest. Instead, move to the front of the chair and straighten. Close your eyes and listen internally to your body and externally to the world outside for anything that is “immediate.” Now, unlike meditation, you are going to think rather than trying to stop thinking. So, you hear a car passing and think “What direction is it going, to my right or to my left?” “Does it sound large, like a van or SUV?” Then, “I’d like to get a newer car. Mine’s getting old…STOP! Not immediate! Discard and go back to listening. You feel a twitch in your spine and think “My body’s making an adjustment. I need to sit up straighter. There’s a twitch in my shoulder near the collarbone. Relax, let go.” Then another car passes and you think “Car passing…to the left…sounds like it’s moving pretty fast.” Then your stomach gurgles. “Ah, there goes my stomach. I’m getting hungry. Wonder what I should make for lunch. Or maybe I should go out for lunch…STOP! Not Immediate! Discard and go back to listening. “I hear a bird chirping. Do I know what kind of bird makes that sound? It’s not raspy like a crow. Maybe it’s a robin or blue jay. I used to date a girl named Robin, she was…STOP! Not Immediate! Discard and go back to listening.

That’s it, the Daoist Mental Training method to build awareness. It doesn’t have to be very long, ten or fifteen minutes. You can even do it while driving or standing in a checkout line. So, add it to your practice and see if it improves your overall awareness.

06/08/2021

“Mountains standing close together,
The Image of Keeping Still.
Thus the superior man (the Sage/Master)
Does not permit his thoughts
To go beyond his situation.”
– I Ching, Hexagram 52, Ken, Mountain, Keeping Still

Today, I want to touch on the first part of the I Ching quotation – standing and keeping still – as it relates to the Daoist internal arts. We can take a look at that second part which focuses on the superior man and his thoughts tomorrow.

Most tai chi, baguazhang and qigong practitioners have heard of “Zhan Zhuang,” standing like a tree. It’s a form of qigong where one encircles the arms outward as though hugging a tree and remains standing as still as possible. But the practice I want to look at is standing in Wuji, the primal posture. In my particular Nei Gong and internal arts practice, we don’t stand in Zhan Zhuang but rather in Wuji. Why?

Both postures require stillness over a certain period of time, and both condition the body if practiced diligently. However, Zhan Zhuang conditions the body via the muscles. But Wuji conditions the body via the Huang or connective tissues.
So, in turn, we get two different shaped bodies. The Zhan Zhuang body is muscular and able to generate power by contracting the muscles. The Wuji body is dynamic, elongated and uses qi rather than muscle force, so that the qi moves through the stretched connective tissue as jin, is issued outward through various parts of the body.

Standing in Wuji, a practitioner’s body is only still externally. Internally, there is a lot of very subtle movement occurring as the body makes its own internal adjustments to eventually condition itself into the most efficient shape for conducting qi. The practitioner actually releases or separates the large action muscle groups from the bones. We call this “hanging the muscles from the bones.” We do this to get the muscles out of the way. When contracted, as in Zhan Zhuang, the muscles actually compress the Huang, preventing it from opening up and stretching. Ideally, with the large action muscles out of the way, the body’s mass will drop through the connective tissues, stretching and opening them as it descends to the feet. Then a very unique thing happens in the feet.

When the body’s mass drops into the forward section of the feet, the metatarsal bones around the Yong Quan (the Kidney 1 point in acupuncture) spread out from the pressure, opening the whole area around the Yong Quan. This allows the Yin Qi from the Earth’s Qi Field to enter the feet and move up through the Huang in the legs and into the lower Dan Tian area where it joins with the dispersed Yin Qi from childhood and adolescence to rebuild the Dan Tian. Once this happens, a practitioner is in position to begin filling the Dan Tian with Yang Qi, the first step in becoming proficient in Daoist internal arts.

Hopefully, you can now see why it is so important to stand in Wuji often in your weekly practice sessions.  Good luck with your training.

06/07/2021

“Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.” – Zhuangzi

Yesterday I met my partner at a park where our former group & master meets. One of the groups most accomplished tai chi exponents came back. Now an out-of-towner, he hadn’t come for over a year due to the pandemic. With no tai chi people around, he spent over a year at his park working with external martial artists (systema, jiujitsu, etc) and got trounced at first. Once he got hit so hard that his childhood and early life flashed before him. Not about to back down, he kept going to the park and continued sparring. Determined to make his tai chi work against his opponents, he contemplated it a lot in his spare time and was finally able to hold his own against these external martial artists.

As we worked together yesterday, he kept “swallowing” me like the last gulp of Key lime pie. During the past year, he realized the problem most tai chi masters have sparring with external fighters is that they are double-weighted and don’t know it. They don’t move their center, their zhong ding. It gets caught, and they get “swallowed.” They’re too used to moving slowly. But the external exponents move quickly, and we need to move our center as quickly as they move or our tai chi skills are useless. And, above all, you can’t tense up or you will be double-weighted. In other words, we must get into the same flow as our opponent, keeping the Zhong Ding flowing with each move he makes. But as he pointed out, before you can flow, you must “Fang Song.” The same with throwing a punch. Your fist can’t be tightly closed or your muscles will tense. Basically, he used the laogong to stretch his palm but left his fingers lose enough to wiggle so he could close his hand into a relaxed fist.

Before leaving, he said the same exact thing that my teacher said in one of his instructional videos. You can’t have any anger or maliciousness toward your opponent even when you are losing. He did have anger, but it was toward himself because he couldn’t figure out how to solve the problem. But when he eventually did, he became calm and “Song,” no matter how intense the sparring, whether he was winning or losing.

Hope this helps with your training and advancement. Good luck with your practice.

 

06/06/2021

We have fears because we have a self (body and mind).
When we do not regard that self as self, what have we to fear?” – Laozi, Chapter 13

Continuing our thoughts from yesterday, we go deeper into finding those fears and insecurities that have driven us to take up martial arts in the first place, whether internal or external. So, ask yourself: Is your training tackling those fears and insecurities. If the answer is no, then your training is not working. First, you must identify those insecurities. What are they? Like Laozi suggests, the fears center around your body. Feeling that is your real self, you are fearful of injury, pain or even death. Are there insecurities surrounding your abilities to protect your body, to avoid pain or any kind of suffering? Can you find them? No? Then look deeper because everyone has them. There are no exceptions, not for kings, presidents, movie and recording stars, sports heroes, multi-billionaires. They are the root for what you do and especially for those things you have done that make you feel ashamed or guilty.

If your training is improving your confidence at facing these insecurities, then it’s working. If you see these fears disappearing, then it’s working. If, when you face a confrontational or stressful situation, no matter what it is – a lost job, an unfaithful lover or spouse, a failing business, or a heated argument, can you remain calm and settled? Then your training is working. If those kinds of situations are becoming less and less stressful and you feel more and more confident with them, then your training is working.

Do you manage to remain true to yourself when faced with temptation or difficulty? No? Then your training isn’t working and neither is your introspection. You must go deeper in both. Go deeper into your xin (the heart/mind) into your emotions and find what is not letting you remain true to yourself when faced with difficulty. And go deeper into your practice to become as efficient as you possibly can. Then you must realize that all techniques will lose their efficiency when fueled by anger or other emotions. Can you spar with someone and have no maliciousness, spite or anger aimed at that person, especially if your are losing? Then both your training and personal cultivation are going very well. And I wish you continued success

 

 

06/05/2021

“What does this mean: What we value and what we fear are within our Self?”
We have fears because we have a self (body and mind).
When we do not regard that self as self, what have we to fear?” – Laozi, Chapter 13

What are you afraid of? You know the answer. It is right there, lurking under layers of suppression. But no matter how hard you have tried, it is still there. It won’t go away – not if you keep letting it dictate your life. In all of your big decisions and even many small ones, it is there. You might not recognize it, but your mind can sense it.

The reason I ask is the fact that many of us, no actually, most of us who have become involved in some form of martial arts have done so out of this fear that is driving us. In my case, I’m an abject coward and came to martial arts hoping to change that. I wasn’t always a coward. When I was young, I got into a few fights basically to prove to myself that I wasn’t a coward and could handle myself. But after a few major defeats and getting hit hard, it was time to own up to the fact that I just couldn’t handle myself or just about anyone else my size or larger. And so I entered into martial arts, thinking I could make myself into something I really wasn’t – a fighter.

So, that’s my greatest fear, and I will ask again: What’s yours? And can martial arts, and especially the internal arts help in any way, shape or form? I will have more on this tomorrow when we will go deeper.

06/04/2021

“If there is still something where one has to go,
Hastening brings good fortune.” from Hexagram 40, I Ching, Hsieh/Deliverance

This quote from the I Ching is about something that we all need to do – tie up the loose ends. When we make a decision to take action, and it turns out to be in harmony with our fate, we should not press on any further. According to Hexagram 40, returning to but our “regular order of life as soon as the task is achieved bring good fortune. However Deliverance also points out that, if there are any residual matter that ought to be attended to, it should be done as quickly as possible. In that way a clean sweep is made and no relapses occur.

So, if there are no loose end, then there is no need to press on. Simply return to your normal order of life, which should be as Daoist sages would recommend, peaceful introspection. But if there are some loose ends, don’t let them dangle; they will only grow larger and more difficult to handle. Take care of them as quickly as possible, so they cannot come back to hurt you. Then return to your “regular order of life.” Good advice from the I Ching.

06/03/2021

“To stop leaving tracks is easy. Not to walk upon the ground is hard.” – Zhuangzi

When I contracted prostate cancer some 26 years ago, I shed about 25 pounds with various diets. Ten years later when I had recovered from the cancer, I was well into my tai chi practice. But I found it was impossible for me to put on the lost weight. Refusing to do anything drastic, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be forever thin and frail. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided it might be best to return to resistance training to build up my strength, which I would definitely need should I become infected with the virus. With my gym closed due to the pandemic, I did the best I could at home with some dumbbells, hand weights, a weight vest, and one-gallon water bottles. While I didn’t put on any weight, I did feel stronger and perhaps a bit more muscular.

Then I decide to return to internal arts training, joining an online academy with an absolutely incredible teacher. Needless to say, I gave up the weight training to focus on tai chi, nei gong, baguazhang and meditation six days a week anywhere from 2 to 4 hours daily. It’s usually not a good idea when you are first building your dantian and working with your qi. My teacher advised against it until the jin was more available and the connective tissues were mostly open. However, a few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with osteoporosis (severe bone loss). My doctor and many experts recommended resistance training to build the bones. So, now I was faced with a decision: qi or bones. But I decided I would do qi and bones.

Here’s what I did. Our teacher is a proponent of classic tai chi and nei gong where one hangs the muscles from the bones and drops the flesh while holding the bones up. If one follows the “bones up and flesh down” method, sinking the weight mass through the connective tissue and down to the floor, it is very much like resistance training. So, I do this with slow moving Ba Men exercises and in the form, pausing at key postures to really sink the flesh, and the resistance becomes intensive.

As for actual resistance training, I keep that separate from my internal arts practice. I takes breaks during the day where I put on my 20-pound weight vest, a pair of hand weights and some fast shuffle music to combine aerobics with resistance. I will do this while cooking in the kitchen or cleaning up, and especially when jumping and shuffling on my mini trampoline.
Either before or after my internal arts practice, I work with dumbbells, hand weights, water bottles and resistance bands keeping tai chi and the yi jing jin principles in mind. How?

First I stand in Wuji opening my kua and my joints, aware of hanging my muscles from the bones like well-cooked meat hanging on a spit and sinking my flesh through the connective tissue. Next I listen to my limbs making sure there is no weight in the joints. I lift my head as though held by a meat hook and alternate raising the head and dragging the kua and pelvis; then lowering the pelvis and dragging the head and shoulder. After a few of these, and my weight mass has sunk through my connective tissue and landed on my feet, I let my mind soak through my body like a sponge. Then I feel the resistance of the weight before slowly lifting or pulling as you move from the kua, keeping my shoulders in line and head straight. Making sure my mind and body are completely connected, I slowly initiate the movement.

06/02/2021

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be” – Laozi

In the above quote, Laozi is talking about “release.” Release or letting go is such an important concept in everyday life as well as our internal arts practice. In taiji, for example, when you work on the form, you send your body mass downward through all the connective tissue stretching them as your mass drops. Then when your mass presses into your foot, you simply release the pressure in the foot and then send the energy of the weight mass upward through the stretched tissue. When working with a partner, you do the same thing. The only difference here is that instead of releasing the weight of your body mass, you are sending your partner’s force downward through the connective tissue, then releasing that force by relaxing your foot, thus effectively sending that force upward, returning it into your partner.

In life, it is much the same. When you feel that pressure, which we often call stress, you need to release it. You don’t need it, and you certainly don’t need to keep it. So, release it. Let it go. Simply tell your Mind that you want to breathe it away. Then relax, take a couple of deep breaths and then sit comfortably, let your breathing return to normal and just observe the breath for a short while. It’s not magic; it’s just body-mind conditioning or what I like to call re-positioning.

Today, I was doing tui shou (push hands) with my training partner and noticed that I could not release his pressure if it was into my heel. So, what did I do? The next time he position, I re-positioned myself to make sure his pressure would fall on either the center or the forward part of my foot, where I could easily manage to release it. This was not only a good lesson for tai chi; it was a great lesson for everyday life.

Remember yesterday, I wrote about limitation. Not only are there the limits that life in general poses for us, but there are limits we unconsciously place on ourselves. Now, just as I would not have noticed the pressure on my heel and being unable to release it in the push hands drill unless I was observant of my whole body and not just the spot where my partner was pushing. So too, with limitations in life. You first need to be observant, aware. Don’t be so anxious to break through those limits or find a way around them. It’s more important to calmly look at what they are and where they come from. The ‘How?’ will arise on its own accord from what you have discovered. Then re-position and make your adjustment.

Here’s wishing you a stress-free, pressure-free day.

06/01/2021

“Limitation. Success.
Galling limitation must not be persevered in” – I Ching #60, Chieh, Limitation

Do you know your limits? Why do the I Ching and Daoist sages and masters consider limitation indispensable? Why does the I Ching seem to imply that it will lead to success. Basically, limits are necessary. I won’t say that they are a necessary evil. Instead, perhaps, I can say they are a necessary benefit. They tell us so much about ourselves and our world. They let us know how much we can spend and help us to live frugally within our budget as most Daoist sages will attest to They let us know when we have gone too far physically through exhaustion or physical pain like that of an overworked muscle. They let us know when we have eaten too much or, for that matter, drank too much. They let us know when we need more sleep. They even help us to learn what we much avoid. Knowing your limits is possibly the first step on the path to success. It is certainly the first step on the Path of the Dao. After all limitation is basically a synonym for the reciprocal action of Yin and Yang, which, when followed, tells us when conditions are about to change, whether in our personal life or in the physical world around us. So, be thankful that you have limitations and accept them rather than trying to avoid or defeat them. Work with them rather than against them. By persevering, the conditions that set those limitations will eventually change. So be patient and let wisdom be your guide.

05/31/2021

“He who knows does not speak,
He who speaks does not know.” Laozi

Have you spoken to your mind recently? All day long our minds chatter away, speaking to us whether we care to listen or not. The fact that we are usually listening is the problem Rather than trying to quiet the mind or worse yet, trying to silence it completely, why not butt in and tell your mind what you want it to do. No, I don’t mean telling it to shut up or be quiet. Look, various parts of the mind via the nervous system control 99 percent of the body if not more. The mind controls our breathing, our blood flow, our hormones, digestion, elimination, lymph fluids and much more. The mind regulates all of these. It even tells the limbs how much strength and pressure to use when walking or jogging and lifting or pulling objects. Why not talk to your mind and tell it what you would like it to do with regard to whatever physical needs you might have? Have trouble falling asleep? Talk to your mind about it. What about that high blood pressure? Talk to your mind about improving blood circulation. Every morning when you first wake up, you need to talk to your mind and tell it what physical adjustments need to be made. At night before going to be, go over the things your mind did that were conducive and those that were not.

But here is the most important aspect of talking to your mind and working with it – your personality and overall mental wellbeing. It is the heart mind (in Chinese, the Xin) and its subconscious nature that rules over the mental state of your being. When you pop off in anger at someone or at something unexpected that happened, when you criticize or try to control a situation, ask yourself if you really wanted to do that. When you use abusive language, ask yourself why? Are you trying to hurt someone? If so, why? Because they hurt you or were mean to you? So? Is it really necessary to pay them back that way? You need to have a long talk with your mind about correcting your speech. Thoughts are words. Change your words, the way you speak about yourself and others, and you will change your thoughts, and thoughts will change your mind and your whole personality. Talk to your mind about choosing a kinder, more intelligent vocabulary. Before you pop off the next time, instruct your mind to step in, hit the pause button, and ask you if this is beneficial to the other person. Will my popping off really change things? Will it make a difference? What satisfaction will I get from being abrupt and abusive?

Change your language and the way you speak, and you will change your entire personality as well as your outlook on life, itself.

05/30/2021

“Human life is limited, but knowledge is limitless. To drive the limited in pursuit of the limitless is fatal; and to presume that one really knows is fatal indeed!” Zhuangzi

Today I worked with my training partner and again came to realize the importance of having not an opponent but a cooperative partner to develop tui shou (push hands). It is vital to work with someone with whom you can share feedback. Without that, your efforts may indeed lead you away from tai chi principles and into an external style of martial arts. I have seen it many times. In fact, I recently left a group of tai chi friends that I have known for several years. But they were working with a teacher who is very technique oriented. As a result, his students are always working on techniques, one right after the other. The same with forms. As soon as they learn one form, they try to perfect it externally but not internally. And once they have the externals, they are onto the next form. It doesn’t seem like they are interested at all in tai chi principles. I guess they enjoy their practice the way it is. But if you are going to become an external martial artist, why bother with tai chi at all? The external arts have far better techniques for fighting and self-defense than tai chi will ever have. But what tai chi does have is the sheer internal power of jin and the ability to develop the internal protection of peng. But this can only happen if you adhere to the tai chi principles and work closely with partners who understand those principles and can exchange vital feedback.

Here’s a look at tai chi principles at work in both the form and push hands.

05/29/2021

“The superior man pardons mistakes and forgives misdeeds.” I Ching, #50, Deliverance

One of the things I have come to realize now that I’m getting up there in years is something the Buddha realized millennia ago and Laozi as well. One does not need to go into a monastery or visit temples to gain enlightenment. The ancient mystics came to discover that the body is our temple. It is a self-contained vehicle that can take us to our ultimate goal. It is the very path that it walks.

But before we can get very far along that journey – the path to clearing and stilling the mind – we must first do the body work that enables us to sit up straight and still and gives us the strength to hold that posture possibly for hours. That is why all the Eastern traditions have physical systems like yoga, qigong and tai chi to stretch and strengthen our connective tissues so the body can maintain the correct posture.

In qigong and tai chi, we must set up the path that the Qi must follow in order to strengthen the connective tissues as we relax the muscles. The importance, therefore, of our center of gravity must not be ignored or taken for granite. Before the dantian can be consolidated and shaped, before we can sink the mind or the breath or most importantly the Qi, we must be certain that we can properly position the center of gravity in the lower abdomen to coincide with the area where we will build the dantian or the Yin Qi will never consolidate and the Yang Qi will remain scattered. It requires keeping our attention on the center and allowing it to adjust and move down into the correct area as we release it usually from a spot above the diaphragm. This may take a little time, but it is a necessary first step.

05/28/2021

“Who is firmly established is not easily shaken.
Who has a firm grasp does not easily let go.” Laozi, Ch. 54

Today, I worked on Dao Yin stretches that emphasized the stretching of the connective tissue rather than the muscles as I had learned yesterday. Why is it so important to stretch the connective tissue and not the muscles? It’s very simple. Qi is an extension of our consciousness, our Mind. Qi is a bridge between the Mind and the body. However, Qi cannot be conducted through muscles. It can only be conducted through the connective tissue. While we can easily feel our muscles, it is way more difficult to feel our connective tissue – the sinews and fascia – because muscle contraction keeps the tissues compacted and tight and also holds up our mass, preventing it from sinking to the floor That’s the reason we are told to “hang the muscles from the bones.” Thus, by hanging the muscles, we release that contraction and our mass is able to sink to the floor, stretching the tissues. Once the tissues are stretched, they are able to conduct the Qi to all parts of the body, thus nourishing our organs. Stretching the tissues, when combined with stressing them as in Dao Yin exercises, the tissues actually strengthen and over time we will have very little need of muscles as the tissues become the main source of strength for the body.

Here’s an example of Dao Yin stretches, a brief series of four stretches for the spine.

05/27/2021

“Content with the coming of things in their time and living in accord with Tao, joy and sorrow touch me not. This is, according to the ancients, to be freed from bondage.” Zhuangzi

It has been a couple months now that I have been wondering what to do with this website as the Daoist Daily Notes no longer seemed appealing. At the same time my Internal Arts teacher in one of his online videos suggested keeping a daily journal of our practices. So, I took out my journal and saw that it had been over a year since my last entry. Suddenly, the light bulb flashed, and the Daoist Daily Diary was born: a journal of my thoughts as I negotiate the readings, teachings, practices, and general thoughts on Daoism as well as everyday life. And, so, here is my first entry.

The fact that I’m writing anything at all makes this a most beneficial day. In addition, my internal arts practices – Taijiquan, Nei Gong and Bauguazhang – have been engaging. Mistakes and inconsistencies not withstanding, I am able to keep my mind engaged in all of our standing exercises, but not so much with the seated ones. The Mind either jumps around or dozes off. However, in the past two days, I have been able to recover and get back into focus for a bit and finish strong.

Speaking of strong, today I realized that, like many of us, I overuse power or strength in my daily life: mixing a salad, pouring a cup of coffee or hot water for tea, opening a can of beans. I need to learn to “hang my muscles from my bones,” a phrase often used in tai chi, to get the contracted muscles out of the way, so my mass can separate from the bones and actively sink to the floor, stretching my connective tissues as it passes, so the tissues can conduct the Qi into the various channels.

Here are the videos of the two seated exercises where I found myself dozing. You can skip the opening interview if you like and click on the 22-minute mark where the actual exercise begins.

This second one is a Qigong to Nourish the Kidneys while it also builds and strengthens the dantian.