Reflection on Chikung Practice, Kungfu Practice and Huangshan
Every so often Chung老師asks students to write about their impressions of practicing chikung and kungfu. So, this is my reflection of how chikung and kungfu work together in my life and how visiting Huangshan enhances their work.
Many people say that ‘our’ chikung practice is very simple and easy, but I don’t know about that. My “physical intelligence” isn’t very high, so parts of our chikung practice seem mysterious and beyond my reach. It takes me years or perhaps a decade or more to decode the physical instructions we are given. I do know that through practicing chikung under the guidance of Chung老師, parts of my body are more fully linked and connected, so I can use energy more effectively in our practice. And by studying with Chung老師the classic works of Chinese philosophers like Confucius, Laotse, Chuangtse and Mencius, I can see more clearly how chi and other forces work around us in nature and in our daily life. However, even with such an exceptional environment, it seems the more I practice, the more I get “locked up” by paying attention to whether I am doing the practice ‘correctly’ or not. My conscious mind thinks it sees and understands what my practice should look like. When I pay attention to doing it “correctly”, my conscious mind works too much, limiting the effects of my practice. The harder I try, the tighter the Gordian knot gets tied.
Our kungfu practice is the manifestation of our chikung practice. I’m still not entirely certain where the core of kungfu practice is. Since I am not an athlete, my mind doesn’t have as much control over my kungfu practice. At first, I didn’t want to hit anyone as it seemed like an unnatural thing to do. Then, once I started to concentrate, in my kungfu practice, I paid attention only to whether I scored a goal by hitting someone (or more likely, was hit by someone else). Later, I could coordinate things like speed and moves from intermediate chikung practice or taichi practice to ‘score’ more reliably (unless someone with a new strategy comes to practice!) However, ‘winning’ more than ‘losing’ isn’t a very worthy goal and doesn’t produce many good results. I am just relying on my strong suit to get by and not incorporating the holistic virtues of etiquette, righteousness, benevolence and love which the ancestors stress. Chung 老師’s patient discussions at the end of kungfu practice stress the need to be holistic and face each moment as it comes, but it’s difficult to remember and practice this when one is able to ‘go for the kill’ and directly hit an opponent by just moving quickly! In other words, it’s not easy to give up a strong and direct way of operating so I can learn other ways, especially softer ways. Enlightenment seems to involve many things, including managing hard and soft ways of doing things. But to my amazement and surprise, I’ve found in the last few months that my ways of dealing with my colleagues at work and their inherent limitations have changed to unexpected results.
The trips to mainland China, and especially to places with special chi, provide a different environment in which I can integrate the three parts of our practice (chikung, kungfu and philosophy). The new scenery and different forces temporarily unlock some of the Gordian knot, so I can absorb the good chi there. This allows me to observe and realize the dimensions surrounding me, especially the harmony and beauty present all the time. In my normal life, my conscious mind focuses on controlling what happens to me, so I can’t observe and internalize what is really going on around me. In a place like Huangshan, I can more easily use the virtues mentioned in the philosophy class (li etiquette, yi righteousness, ren benevolence and 愛love). In other words, I can be more optimistic! The chi there serves as a mirror so I can realize my limitations in how I interact with others and how I view my life. That is, in Huangshan, my conscious mind doesn’t distort what’s really going on. In Taipei, with my conscious mind controlling everything I see and think, my cultural conditioning and family upbringing limit what I see, so I am much more pessimistic.
Since the chi in Taipei is less concentrated, I can only see a shadow of a hint of a suggestion that my pessimism is caused by the frustrations which I bring upon myself by insisting on living according to my cultural conditioning and family upbringing. In Taipei, my expectations of myself and others seem very reasonable and very logical.
In Taipei, I can’t escape my frustrations at not being able to ‘advance’ in my chikung practice (or kung fu practice),or at being surrounded by “impolite” or “uncaring” people. But in a place with rich chi like Huangshan, because of my chikung and kungfu practice, guidance from Chinese philosophers and the chi of my companions, I can find space and time to see more clearly what’s going on. In Taipei, time and space are compacted so it’s much harder to be objective and optimistic because my mind only focuses on what my mind thinks is important, so I can’t sense or understand the ‘whole picture’.
In the I Ching one of the hexagram talks about needing to leave emptiness at the top of the hexagram in order to further on. This is an important lesson for me because the longer I practice, I naturally assume that my practice must be almost perfect. When I’m filled with such assumptions, I am filled up and not empty. In such a case, there’s no room within me to allow furthering on. After a certain amount of practice in kung fu, most people find a combination of punches or some special trick which allows them to defeat their opponent. Maybe they are really fast in punching or can easily dodge their opponent’s attack. This performance or accomplishment fills up their emptiness with a sense of success. It feels pretty good! But, with their emptiness completely filled up, how can they further on? They have no space and no way to overcome themselves. What’s needed is to throw away those tricks and privileges which allow us to be successful, so we can start again to overcome ourselves. （March 24, 2013）