Thursday, June 01, 2017

Chi Kung: On Smiling and Doubting

In nearly all of the photographs of persons doing standing meditation their faces are impassive, close mouthed, neutral, glum, even mean looking.  Do you ever see any pictures of persons doing Zhan Zhuang with a nice smile on their face?  Don't the majority look rather stern, stiff, and aloof?  Is the coolness, toughness, frowning, and closed eyes of these faux standing posts a defiant reaction to the many other people who look at them and smile or laugh at them?  Is the gruff expression a bodily mudra to affirm the Buddhist claim about the inherent unhappiness and suffering of human existence?  Is the Yiquan toughness required to endure this demanding standing physical exercise the source of this hard, 'don't mess with me' facial expression?  C'mon Man!  Why all the serious, sad, and stern looks? 

Also, most persons doing hours and hours of seated zazen mostly look, to me, just tired, frustrated, aching, and pissed off about their inner insights. 

I don't resist smiling or having pleasant and easy going look on my face when I do seated or standing meditation.  I've read about smiling meditation, laughing yoga, smiling heart qigong, and Inner Smile Taoist Neidan.  Seek and embrace more options than glum, neutral, stern postures and attitudes.  More Yin, Less Yang!!

Hours and hours of these standing or seated "meditation" practices are often just boring, dull, uneventful, uninspiring, and non-productive for me.  Twenty minutes a couple of times a week are more than ample.  I lay odds that if you try to do standing meditation for an hour a day you will end up frowning, stiff, tired, grumpy, and ready to quit.  It would be far better to take a walk each day and enjoy yourself.

I enjoy doing Chi Kung (Qigong), Taijiquan and Yoga movements because they are fun and provide fitness exercise variety.  Their gentle stretching benefits have be objectively verified. Their benefits can also be explained scientifically.  

On the other hand, when the qigong or yoga teachers drone on about invisible organs and esoteric anatomy, contradict one another, discourage questioning, are vague and confusing, share only anecdotal reports of benefits, overuse flaccid metaphors, worship specific lineage traditions and bad mouth competing styles, don't explain much or seldom talk, or are too secretive ...  then I just loose my interest and move on.  I recommend learning early on about how to smell out that kind of bull crap qigong or bull crap yoga.  

I would question the claims that long sessions of standing post will make your legs stronger, build up your Qi, or give you super powers (siddhis) of some kind.  I would argue confidently for more benefits to your legs and overall fitness from walking, jogging, squats, weight lifting, stretching, form practice, sports, and other leg intensive exercises.  I often call Tai Chi "Thigh Chi."  

Since there is no known way of quantifying and measuring Qi, how do you know you have built up, increased, or amplified your Qi??  Increase in leg strength in squats is easy to quantify and measure, as are positive blood pressure and other physiological changes.  

And, as for those super powers (siddhis), they are the unreal stuff of our playful imaginations, fantasies, reading too many Wuxia novels and comic books, and watching amazing motion picture special effects. 

I don't deny that a few, rare, and unique persons have unusual and powerful inner martial arts skills.  Likewise, a few yogis are superior contortionists and gymnasts that can do extreme postures, or lower their heartbeat.  But, so what!   So you can defeat everyone you meet in push hands, so you can stand on one leg for two hours, so you can walk/run 70 miles in a day .... fine, and some of us will be amazed.  However, most reasonable people don't aspire to Olympic standards of performance, and don't need to endure the strict training regimes of the extremely rare Amazing Masters and Siddhi Adepts.  Further, I do not have much of a pressing need to fly up walls, defeat 40 swordsmen like the blind Zatoichi, repulse ten men with a single magical push, kill a man with the touch of a finger, disappear through walls (doors work quite well), read your mind (probably as hohum as mine), or live to 300 years of age and have to dutifully work at seven careers.  Since I am a poor swimmer, I might have an occasional need to walk on water, but I might die before completing the required discipline of forty days and nights in the desert alone fasting, doing yoga and chanting - so that particular unpleasant task and marginal benefit are now off of my bucket list. Playing drums, dancing, and chanting for three hours before walking on burning hot coals might appeal to some, but I will pass on that experience also.  

Some people claim profound inner experiences, mystical insights, revelations, epiphanies, ecstasy, personal gnosis, satori, kensho, illumination, or enlightenment as a result of enduring these strict bodily disciplines.  Even the Buddha tried these physical austerities for many years until he "realized" that enough is enough and that moderation is a better course.  I hear LSD takers and steady alcohol drinkers and marihuana pot heads claim the same "benefits" of consciousness expansion.  Personally, I'd rather water my garden each day, do some Taijiquan, take walks, play, and read good books; and not be a drug user or face a cave wall in stiff seated meditation for seven years like the Bodhidharma.  Some say they practiced for many years, even decades, to gain a "glimpse" of some degree of profound, unified, or universal consciousness.  Seems to me like a very big investment of time and effort for very little return.  Sharpening your critical thinking and reasoning skills, and obtaining more scientific knowledge, would reap more "insight" rewards and much faster.

Some people take up these hard physical practices because their guru, preacher, master, roshi, sifu, or other authority or leader tells them or orders them to do so.  Students are taught to trust, obey, submit, respect, and kow-tow to the guru.  I say, keep your independence!!  Sensibly respect and learn from worthy teachers, but don't be slavish.  Some degree of healthy skepticism is valuable.  Practice on your own rather than humble yourself before some faker, phony, braggart, secretive or expensive master.  Discover what works for you to earn better fitness and well being rather than dumbly following an unbending formulaic physical regimen lineage invented by some illiterate old man 400 years ago.  Not obeying a goofy or exploitative guru is quite sensible.  Some rich gurus, preachers and masters are often merely just trying to tap the soul of your wallet.  Beware of quacks, and keep thinking clearly.

Long periods of standing, fasting, sitting, and self-humiliation may be required as a kind of initiation or hazing ritual before the neophyte applicant is allowed into the practice group.  These disciplinary practices are to test the mettle, seriousness, intent and grit of the applicant.  Stories abound about monks being struck with a stick, insulted and rebuffed and made to wait standing outside in the cold for weeks until the "master" allowed them into the temple or training center.  College fraternities have bizarre hazing rituals, and occasionally young applicants have died in the process.  Criminal gangs may beat up new members or make that potential gang member beat up, rape, or kill some enemy or random person before they are admitted to the gang.  ISIS recruits probably have to blow up some antiquity or decapitate a retired museum director to get into the inner circle of that cabal of True Believers.  Military recruits must endure Boot Camp to prove they have guts, are obedient, and have a killer attitude.   Sports have their "hell week" of double practices to test the toughness of new players. Likewise, new Tai Chi players may be made to stand like a post for long periods of time, maybe for weeks, before the exalted Taiji Wizard will teach them anything.  You have to prove to the regular members of the group that you are trustworthy, obedient, loyal, submissive, and can endure discipline.  In some cases it makes sense and the initiation is worth the effort; but, in many cases the hazing and self-humiliation are unnecessary and just humbug. 

Yes, I do exaggerate here to try to make a few points.  I do greatly enjoy and benefit from TaijiquanYoga, and Qigong.  But, in addition, being a doubter and skeptic and smiler all do have their own benefits. 

I might not push hands with this guy.
He probably could have flung my disrespectful and sassy rear end ten feet away.
Maybe not!  I'm pretty tough, big, and strong myself - but with a smile.

Another sad looking group doing serious
standing meditation to find inner peace.

The 'enlightened' and sour puss Bodhidharma.
He might cut off your finger if you question him improperly.

An "unenlightened" and smiling old Taijiquan player.