Even now, ten-ish months into this year-long experiment, I occasionally stumble into something. Today’s rendition of Eight Pieces of Silk was one such. I had done about three repetitions of Press Hands to Heaven, which is the first movement, when a bunch of muscles engaged in the stretch that I can’t recall ever feeling involved before. It’s not to say that these muscles weren’t engaged at other times (although I think they must have been, upon reflection), but that the ego was aware of them. the muscles in question: trapezoids, deltoids, pectorals, shoulders, biceps, triceps — this whole collection of musculature which, you know, move the arms. Which is what happens in Press Hands to Heaven.
It was rather like my whole upper body said, “wait, you’re doing this old thing again? Pansy ass. Let’s show you how it’s really done.” And instead of flimsy, weak-body me down on the bench, playing at bench-pressing the sky, it’s Mars throwing up sixteen reps of heaven, and he’s not even breathing hard at the end of it.
The rest of the workout was not like that. Having demonstrated what was coming if I kept at it, that being of power slipped off the bench and basically said, “ok, get back to work, we’ve got a long way to go.”
In less flowery language, basically, I discovered the “right way” to do this exercise, as my whole body and effort engaged in these sixteen reps of an absurdly simple move. I’d rather written off the qi gong exercises as preliminaries, and this morning I discovered that there’s power in those movements that really shouldn’t be ignored, nor treated as practice for the main event. Put in yet another way, the Three Kings don’t show up as a preliminary to Jesus’s ministry: they’re part and parcel of the transmission of the lineage which is fully human and fully divine. I should do the qi gong not because it’s a good warmup, but because it’s part and parcel of the lineage. It’s how transformation is done, man.
So don’t neglect the “side arts.” I read a book over Christmas break called Butter, Blood, Bone, I think, and at one point the author’s sister, who works for a serious food magazine, is put in the awkward position of cooking for the head of the French culinary academy. The Guy. And she says to her sister, the chef and restaurant owner, “it’s too intimidating to cook for this man… I think I’m just going to make a lunch of omelets and a salad.” Her sister is appalled. “You can’t do that,” she gasps. “This man ruins people’s lives over whether they make omelets correctly. It’s the miso soup of the French culinary tradition!” They eventually settle on a strategy of asking the great man to make one of the omelets, and the sister to make the other — the master and the temporary student, passing on the tradition together.
Today, I feel like I had The Guy in my house, for about two minutes, showing me how to Press Hands to Heaven. I’ll forget to do it his way in a week or so. We always do. But eventually I’ll remember, and do it this way again.