Getting the job done

While trying to establish a regular practice alone at home, please keep in mind: in case of Qi Gong a practice ‘routine’ might not be the best approach.

You shouldn’t do everything every day in the same way, just for the sake of doing it and having it done. It would be different though if you did it every time as if it was the first time. This is a really good attitude: the Beginner’s Mind. 

Try to have a good look: how to approach today? How to start, how to end? What is in between? 

The aim lies in getting things done - not in doing exercises. There is a big difference.

The importance of quality in Practice

Practicing on your own is quite an achievement for most people, and we would be congratulating ourselves saying: ‘I have done exercises today, that is good, I should do this more often’. Still, it is also a little sad because you don’t really need to exercise. It is on your schedule but you shouldn’t just exercise, you should actually get something done. It is like with children: you tell them to vacuum and they vacuum but the room is still dirty afterwards. I would think they didn’t vacuum, but they say: ‘I did, I did!!’ The point is not that you vacuum, but that it’s clean. 

The point is not in doing the exercise, it is about getting a certain job done. Having the results. Now, if you can have the results without exercising- good for you. But if you exercise and you still don’t have the job done - you still need to do the job. If you have vacuumed and it is still dirty, you still need to clean up. The vacuum cleaner should help you to clean the floor and the exercise should help you to do the job. When you practice at home, please consider: ‘am I just exercising or am I fulfilling a task? Is there an aim? And afterwards, is the job done? At least for today?’ Or does it come down to: ‘I did the exercise and that is good.’ This maybe makes you feel better, but you still need to do the job!

Patterns and Forms that help

What comes to my mind as a good example is the process of sinking the Qi in the standing practice. We start at the top, go down through the head and then further through the neck, the thoracic inlet, then through the chest, all the way down. You sink the Qi from the top of the head to the lower Dan Tien, that is the basic job - that is the general direction. Most often, if you do the sinking through the whole length of the body, standing, you just go: ok, the head, the neck - you don’t go into details, probably not as a beginner. But if you have difficulties to get the job done or if you want to assure your success, then you take a closer look as you go through the sections: you name the structures of the body, you go one by one, very carefully, you add on everything that you have done on one level and you take it further down to the next one.

It is a process that reminds me of a certain practice from a Zen monastery, where I used to stay. You always have to do a fair share of physical work there, which perhaps has replaced Qi Gong practice that they had in earlier days. There were different jobs and one of them was that you had to broom dust in the meditation hall. It was a really big hall and, as it goes in Zen tradition, it was a ritual, so you had to do it in a certain way. Not just brooming a little bit here and there - that would be too easy. You had to broom starting from one corner, along the wall in parallel sections leading to the center of the hall, creating a small aisle in the middle, then from the opposite wall in the corresponding sections and then collect it all from the middle and sweep out of the room.

The procedure is the same in sinking the Qi. You have all the sections, you gather whatever is there and it all goes down. This way you don’t miss anything, and you don’t say: ‘..but I broomed! It is all dirty but, hey, I broomed!’ The instruction, the pattern, helps you to be aware- as it is an awareness practice in the end. You cannot just say: ‘ok, I did it 20 times, I’m very tired’- you can be very tired and still you didn’t clean anything. Just because you are tired it doesn't mean anything. You can swing the broom all day, you can be very tired and you haven’t done a thing. In the stillness practice, the beginning and end of it all, what it lives and dies by, is awareness.

Continuity of Focus

Keeping up awareness for a prolonged time is not easy for modern people because our mind is so distracted. It is the most typical situation: you know you should broom this room, but are not present. So you start to broom and then space out. You come back and continue to broom. Then you are off. Then you catch yourself again and you continue to broom- so there are some clean spots- but then you lose it again. You are actively doing something, which should connect you and keep you in the moment, but the mind is so distracted that even with the broom in your hand, sweeping the floor, you still manage to space out. You can just be happy if you don’t poke it in your eye- and that can occasionally happen. 

Now: when you do inner work, where you are just sitting, you are working on the more subtle levels of existence. It is not cleaning the Zendo or cleaning your house - it is cleaning your “inside home”, meaning very subtle work. Therefore it needs quite some practice to stay focused, to be on, and not to get distracted all the time. 

Constant Change and continuous Growth

Some of the most important in our practice are the principles of constant change and how the outcome of the work keeps adding up. This is what is constant in the changing environment.  

In our Retreats some of the people in the group have been practicing for many years. We can feel that in the quality of their practice. As we meet for many years regularly there has been another time, another season, another year, there has been change. Still, there seems to be a constant- because we just pick up the work and continue. This is very nice to see. It is actually a living example of constant change. And it has to be worked for to achieve it, which is not easy. Can you go home, spend a year, come back and continue the job? This is very important as to get the job done it takes a very long time. The continuity and perseverance are crucial to get it is ever to be done.

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Ron Timm Qi Gong Tai Chi Still Power