Posts tagged ‘cultivation’

A Cultivator’s Diary – Part 1- (My Journals 2007)

January 23 2007

Today I took this journal up to the yoga room, so that I could write when the inspiration strikes.

I was ‘standing’ (Chi Gong Standing Pole) in front of the window, trying to see if my arms were hanging down while at the same time my sternum was straight, my head upright and balanced on my neck, my lumbar spine curved and so on, when I had the feeling that I should give up.

This is an unconscious feeling which from time to time comes to me. You could say that it’s a defeatist, pessimistic feeling, and it would be easy just to ignore it, to say just carry on, what you are doing with your body/mind is good – continue with your practise. It’s the right thing to do, it will give you results.

The results I’m talking about are increased suppleness, flexibility and strength, as well as a proper functioning of the organs of the body, full and complete circulation of chi, blood and lymph etc. The aim is to age without pain and disease and to be able to let go of life in the easy manner of the old Zen monks: just to let life go, as you let everything else go. This is something important to strive for. But what that niggling voice is saying is that all your effort is wasted. You will die; you are a diminishing resource, no matter how much effort you put in your practice. Perhaps you’re trying too hard, are getting a bit obsessive about it, which is also not good. Do you feel like a deadline is approaching, time weighing heavy on you, putting pressure on you to release those hamstrings before it’s too late?

This is all bullshit. You have all the time you need. If you can loosen your hamstrings tomorrow or next month they will not tighten up on you again, even if your practice becomes more intermittent through work.

You are an arrow heading in one direction- towards health, suppleness etc, and you can not go in reverse or go back to unhealthy habits or ways of abusing your body.

Why? Because your mind won’t let you. In the end it is the mind that is changed first and this allows the body to change. People who know say get into the position you want and then imagine yourself into it better, without obstructions, tightness or difficulty and your mind will get your body to ease up and get you there.

Paul Brunton says that time is a mental construct, as is space. If you allow time to rule you, then you are letting your own sense of time have dominance over your thoughts and actions. Try to lose that sense of time and instead feel each instant as an eternal time, a now that extends through all of time. Stay in it but don’t be pushed or influenced by it.

How long will you live to? 85/90/100 ? You are 63 – that means you have at least 20 years and possibly 30 or 35 to live out your time. What can you accomplish, even in 20 years, if you want to do something in film or other work? In 30 years, you can be born, grow up, get educated, get married, start a career and a family- in other words you have vast amounts of time available to you. What you don’t have is youth, and energy, hunger and the enthusiasm born of youth. But you have experience and knowledge and it is the knowledge of the body and mind and how they work that you are using to make up for the missing youth factors. There is no doubt that you have more than enough time, and enough energy to do whatever you want to do. Admittedly what I want to do is very little –

This is the idea of Wu Wei – do nothing and everything gets done. Do less and less- do little. It’s so hard to follow the way of Wu Wei, but in fact you are doing it. You may have fallen into it, it wasn’t a deliberate policy or plan to work out how to live through Wu Wei, but in reality I think you are. So don’t feel guilty that you are doing nothing, don’t feel bad that you are becoming increasingly ‘idle’ – i.e. not hustling, not working hard to get movies made or finding new projects. You are doing all of this, but in a much more laidback way. Luckily your Holy Grail has given you the means to do this, and in this you are privileged. It’s an experiment with life, work and yourself, and you are trying to see if it can be self-sustaining. Live easily and openly just waiting to see what the outcome will be. Will Wu Wei succeed? Is it true? Watch this space.

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December 20, 2013 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

In Praise of Hardship

This weekend I attended an excellent and inspiring retreat organised by the British Taoist Association and led by Meng Zhiling, a Taoist Monk from Beijing. Among other things, Meng talked (via translators) about his time as a hermit in the mountains. As I understand it, he spent a total of 13 years there, the first five trying to locate a true practitioner of the Tao and the last eight living with the old Master that he found. His Master was the true practitioner that he was looking for.

Once he found his Master, and was accepted by him, Master Meng set about digging a cave for himself to live in. He dug it out, made furniture for himself, and started to raise vegetables to survive. The only things he bought were cooking oil and salt (his master did without either of those two items). Meng explained that in going to the mountains, he set himself hardships and difficulties. Living there was hard enough, especially in the winter, but Meng kept seeking harder and harder tasks to set himself. For example, as a monk he begged daily for food. But he limited himself to asking only 7 households for assistance. Whatever he got (if anything) from the 7 households was what he lived on for the day. If he got nothing then he went hungry. The area he lived in was remote and poor, so the people were not able to be generous in their help. His aim was to use these hardships as part of his self-cultivation – overcoming these hardships was his means of reclaiming his original nature. His aim was to follow the Tao, to achieve oneness with the Tao, and he used his hardships as a tool to accomplish this.

He was sometimes in situations where the remoteness of his travels, the harshness of the environment and the lack of food meant that he might have died, and no one would have known. Our saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” applies I think to what Meng was trying to achieve. Having overcome all the hardships he set himself, he knew that there were few situations that he would find himself in, in which he could not cope.

We all have hardships in our life. Most of us don’t choose these hardships as Meng did; we feel that hardships are imposed on us by life or karma. But Meng’s attitude of transforming the hardships into self-cultivation is open to anyone to accomplish. Instead of being defeated by hardships or suffering from them as an evil that cannot be avoided, we could change our attitude towards them, and use them (as he did) as tools to transform ourselves (in the Taoist sense of finding our original nature). To the Taoists the person who can transform harsh events like this is a cultivated person and one who is beaten down and defeated by hardships and is unable to overcome them is an ordinary person. Most of us are of course ordinary people, but it is still open to us to view hardships not as suffering imposed from outside (like fate) but as tools for transformation. I suppose Meng would agree with the saying that all experience is our teacher. Everything can be turned into a learning experience.

The problem is that hardships, suffering, financial problems are all stress inducing, and the effect of stress is to drain us of energy, weaken our immune system and make it harder to come back from defeats and disappointments. This is why practice is so important to Taoist cultivation. Practice means that we use other methods (also tools) to keep our body, mind and spirit in a state where we can withstand the damage of stress. Meditation, Tai Chi, Qi Kung, self-massage, acupuncture and all the other arts of self cultivation can help us keep bodily strength and energy that can fight off the depression and tiredness that afflicts the spirit.

It is not enough to have the right attitude to hardship. Attitude is philosophy or view, it is how our mind conceives of the hardships. This is important, is key, but it is not enough. We are also body, and if we do not train the body to fight off stressful damage, then our attitude can be overwhelmed by depression and illness. Taoism has tools for fighting off these difficulties on all fronts-where right attitude of mind and good energy of the body help to create a strong spirit. If all these are in place, the will is powerful, and all hardships can be overcome through transformation.

October 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm 1 comment


The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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