Today I did twenty-five push-ups, both qi gong forms, about three minutes each of two static stances to focus on breathing, and two tai chi forms. Forty-seven minutes. The second tai chi form was pretty fast, so the first one must have been pretty slow. That’s my sense of it, anyway: the work had a flow to it as a result of focusing on the breathwork for a period of time before beginning. I maintain that three breaths before each tai chi form is proving more and more critical to setting the right speed for the exercise. Ironically, I’ve known this for at least a year; it doesn’t make it any less hard to follow the advice, though.
Dr. Yang recommended the standing postures as a way of improving endurance, when I saw him last year on my vacation. He was pretty awesome, but I confess that I hadn’t really understood why the standing/static postures were so useful. I tried them a couple of days ago, and didn’t write about it, because I was still processing. I’m still not sure that I understand them.
But in the course of doing the wu chi standing posture, I found a part of my abdominal muscles that I’m not really used to using. I realize that sounds strange. We use all of our abdomen to breathe, and to hold in our internal organs. How can there be a part of that which we don’t use? Which I don’t use?
Nonetheless, there it was. It was a spot joined to the diaphragm, but wasn’t the diaphragm. I’m not explaining this well, at all. But it was there — a muscle, or a tendon, or a pull spot with a lot of power in it. And it was like discovering a new continent. How to use it, I don’t know yet.
A slight tangent with an update: Ian has a great piece titled “Experience-first Language”, which points out that there are parallels between mystical and musical experiences. I loved his discussion of the argument with the musicologists, that they said that sheet music is capable of giving a trained musician a sense of the experience of a given piece of music; while Ian counter-argues that there’s no symbolic system that can adequately explain experience. Yesterday, I ran into an acquaintance, A, who saw that I was carrying a copy of Dion Fortune’s The Training and Work of the Initiate. And he immediately wanted to talk about the Kybalion, but he started off by saying it was an ancient text; and he wanted to know if Fortune got into explaining or interpreting the Chakras in light of Egyptian magic… and I had to say, “no, it’s not that sort of book.” (In fact, it’s remarkably free of what Gordon might call useful nonsense). And then he had to go before we could get past the point of “the Kybalion is possibly nonsense, but it’s possibly useful nonsense; arguing about its age is less important that determining whether its principles, applied to practice, take one to useful places”. Ian’s other piece on reading the Amidah (part of the Jewish liturgy), and my encounter with A, have this in common — we’re talking about sheet music for mystical experiences, in a sense. A manual of tai chi practice, like my poem and diagrams (and I still have diagrams to finish, don’t I?), or a set of poems on a calendrical/mystical theme, or a manual of practice like the manual of my druidic order, are all intended to provide one with a specific set of experiences that may, or may not, trigger what Dion Fortune calls the internal initiatory experience. But the physical initiatory experience — of reading the poem, of practicing the practices, of doing the exercises or the tai chi, of performing the meditations — sometimes precedes the internal initiation, and sometimes follows it.
Put another way, sometimes you have the sense of the music you want to hear, first; and then you go and search it out, and find it in the world. And sometimes you hear the music several times before it really catches you in your soul.
And for some of us, the practice of that music, so we can perform it for ourselves or for others, is a way to return again and again to the music that captures our soul. First there is a mountain. Then there is no mountain. Then there is a mountain.