Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 263
I often get questions or comments about various sensations happening during practice. “What do they mean? What should I do about them?” They often have a super-natural quality about them. My answer is always the same. Don’t get stuck making the past reappear in the present, no matter how pleasant. If you do, you will be less likely to grow and change.
There are, of course, physical sensations that the body sends to warn of a problem, especially in the beginning. Most people’s knees give signals that are usually interpreted as pain as they start their practice, or if they don’t pay close enough attention to the correct alignment, between foot, knee, and hip.
Master Subramuniya, my early 70’s meditation guru, was often asked the same type of question. Following a meditation period (four times a day for an hour) students were encouraged to ask questions. Most people’s questions centered around sensations that had occurred. He would discourage us from getting too attached negatively or positively to these.
All thoughts or awareness of sensation are of the past. The space between the awareness and the reaction might be almost instantaneous, yet it is in the past. If you are aware of a sensation, your mind is attached to the past, which will most probably result in the mind trying to decide which reactions are appropriate. When doing sitting or standing mediation, or Qigong or Tai Chi, the thoughts that appear can cause a avalanche of efforts to stop them. And these efforts, lead to more efforts, on and on.
One of the first meditation methods I practiced was counting my breaths up to 10. I would say to myself as I took breaths, “In one, out one. In two, out two”, etc, until arriving at ten and then starting over. I don’t remember many instances of arriving at 10 without thoughts appearing. The object is to keep honing the mind ever sharper, till all that is left, is the here and now. Give it a try now, even if you have practiced this in the past.
Sit or stand comfortably. Take a few moments to breath naturally. If sitting, close your eyes and, inside, glance towards the tip of your nose. If standing, it is better for balance and relaxation to keep the eyes at half mast – eye lids relaxed about half way down. Once you feel comfortable, then you can start counting.
Think to yourself “ In one” as you breath in, then think to yourself “Out one” as you exhale. Then think “In two” as you inhale, and “Out two” as you exhale. Up to ten. Now here is the catch. If a thought comes into your mind at any time, you start over at one again. Most of us are goal oriented, so we tend to over look a thought so we can get to ten. Stay present. Any thought takes you back. The object is to recognize when the mind wanders and loses focus on what it is supposed to be doing. This is not an exercise to arrive at ten. It is an exercise to increase awareness of the here and now.
Master Choy used to call Tai Chi “Meditation in Motion”. Good description. Instead of counting breaths when doing the form, I choose a focus, like The Stool, or The Gas Pedal, Gather and Release of the Hips, or Inside/outside of the Foot, etc.
Probably the most common form of Tai Chi Form meditation is to focus on the lower dantien. Sometimes I use the image of a cup of soup placed in the lower belly. It is full with a crouton floating on the surface. The idea is to go through the form and not tipping the cup at all. The object is to maintain focus of one idea or place in or on the body, and pay attention to just that during the form. If you notice the mind wandering, rather than starting over, just gently lead the mind back to what the focus is.
So the bottom line is what do you want your practice to accomplish: get exercise; become more flexible; learn a martial art; study Chinese philosophy in motion; increase awareness; calm the body/mind; train the mind to follow directions; enjoy the company of like minded people; and have fun. You can decide what to do, and do it, or you can just play the form and see what happens. Life is a journey of exploration.