On the last night of the qigong retreat, (see previous post for more on this) there was a small ceremony honoring the students who had just completed their sixth year of study, including thousands of teaching and practice hours.  Master Liu He presented each student with a scroll, and said that on each one was a secret Taoist word that the student could use to make him/herself into a powerful qigong master.  The first student opened his scroll, but had trouble locating the word.  He turned it upside down, and then turned it over looking for the secret word. Then he smiled, realizing that there was nothing written on the paper.  Master Liu’s point was simple: there is nothing anyone can tell you that will make you a master.  There are no secret teachings which will transform you into a realized person, or whatever you aspire to be.  There is only the dedicated practice of cultivation.

In Chinese Medicine, this internal battle between the thinking mind, the yi, which is associated with the Spleen, and the zhi, the force of will, which is the soul of the Kidney.  I meditate and practice qigong daily, but despite these practices, I have a very active yi: I often believe my mind telling me that it has all the answers. And I don’t always have 50 other people around who are practicing to keep me motivated.  The thing about qigong  or meditation or probably any spiritual practice, is that as you do it, you give it the power to change you. By simply committing yourself to practicing, you put the force of your will into it.  And it’s that “will power” that makes it easier to continue practicing.  You just have to do it.

So if practice begets practice by strengthening the will, how do you get this virtuous circle going?  Some things that I have found support me in continuing to practice are:

  • Community.  Having people around to practice with definitely makes it easier.  It also adds an element of accountability.
  • Routine. If you have a time every day to practice, it makes the mind’s argument that there isn’t time, or that there are more important thigns to do, less compelling. And when something becomes routine, it’s just part of life. Most of us probably don’t have internal dialogues about whether or not we have time to take a shower — we just do it.
  • Flexibility.  Even if I don’t have 30+ minutes to practice, I do something. Maybe five minutes is not ideal, but it’s certainly better than zero.  It still serves to cultivate the will and reinforces the routine.

What helps you stay on track with your practice? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I spent five days last week on a qi gong retreat with Masters Liu Dong and Liu He.  As preparation for learning a new form, we practiced a walking meditation and a standing posture in an attempt to get grounded. The walk was very simple, but stylized walk, where every step is put down carefully, deliberately, and yet with a solid connection to the earth.  As I attempted the walking meditation, I could feel my mind wandering. Actually, “wandering” is putting it mildly.  The first day, my mind was racing, top-speed, considering the loose ends of my impending move and potential week or two of homelessness. “Just walk!” I told myself, in an attempt to call my mind back.  I heard my mind’s insistence that this transitional time means that I’m fully entitled to worry, to spend this time going through the motions of walking, instead of feeling my feet connecting with the earth.

“Feel your feet connect with the earth”  another inner voice encouraged. I tried again.   And again.  It’s astounding how many thoughts can arise in the time it takes to pick one foot off the ground, touch it to the standing leg, and connect it to the ground again. “Walk on the Earth.  Just walk – -nothing else.”  It took two days of practicing qi gong upwards of six hours a day, but finally, I felt the thoughts downshift from fifth gear to maybe second.  That’s the magic of qigong: moving the body with breath and intention changes the mind.  I could actually pay attention to walking, and moving the qi, more than anything else.  I got out of my head and into my body, out of the thousand possible futures and into the present.  (At least for a little while!)