The simplest practices are not necessarily the easiest, but they present themselves at the beginning of any path of conscious self-development or body-mind training.
In the Eastern tradition, we encounter meditation as a basic self-healng practice. Mindfulness can be practiced anytime, but life is so laden with sensory impressions, emotions, thoughts, imperatives, actions and reactions, up to the point of confiction and exhaustion, that at first it is helpful set aside a period of time with a minimum of unnecessary distractions so that we can practice awareness of things as they are and begin, as it were, to sift and clean the system. The body is included, obviously, so we sit down to take account of how we live with ourselves.
Sitting “just to sit”, as Zen would have it , we are already in at the deep end. Our posture becomes important, as physical tensions reveal themselves; our breath becomes important, evidence that we are alive and exchanging energies with the environment, something constant at least, to return to as our tensions and discomforts, our restless and eternally recycling thoughts and fantasies begin to make themselves evident. And it turns out that our thoughts are a transitory phenomenon, and mostly less important than we had supposed. We have a chance to (quietly ?) review things.
It’s true, however, just sitting with oneself is not particularly easy.
(Akinobu Kishi used to say, that “difficult” and “easy” are, in reality, not different; by which I imagine he meant that if we always try to take the easy option, things will sooner or later get difficult, whereas if we practice what seems difficult, things will perhaps get easier. But maybe he just meant to be careful about qualifying everything, just do what needs to be done and be simple).
In the practice of Qigong, all the physical exercises we learn, with their many different forms, have to begin and end in some suitably coherent manner. Thus we do not go far with our practice without reference to the basic standing positions. There are several versions of the basic stance, and rather a lot more interpretations as to correct emphasis in postural alignment, but there is general agreement about the main principles. (Let’s say that standing with our weight slightly forward on the feet, with knees and hips slightly bent, the waist relaxed, the shoulders and chest soft, the spine errect with the head gently lifted and the gaze directed toward the horizon will do for a start). We could then go on with our other exercises, but there is already another prospect on offer, which is to stay with the basic stance a little longer, making this part of our conscious practice from the beginning.
Standing meditation, or “standing, just to stand”, offers us opportunities and benefits very similar to those arising from sitting practice. Getting to know our embodied self, supported by the breath, we can examine our habitual tensions, our established patterns of thinking and doing, our relationship with the earth and sky, through the slightly more demanding process of standing on our own two feet.
In this and in any other postures or movement forms that we choose to add, we are fundamentally learning the mysterious art of relaxation. In Daoyin Qigong, the subtle “doing” of a simple stance or movement becomes the occasion for letting go of excess effort and unnecessary tension. We gradually learn to avoid inner confict and act with more ease, spontaneity and grace. This we hope will influence our relationship with others, so bringing a little more harmony to our troubled world.
The “ambience of holiday” that I mentioned in my previous post can be genuinely evoked only through the wisdom and compassion that comes from undertaking the simple disciplines of a path of practice, on which we set out afresh every day. PL.