Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Zen of Right Effort

This afternoon I went to my 3 1/2 hour Qi gong class.  A big part of this practice is a meditation where you find your chi (as if you might have misplaced it somewhere. Excuse me sir, that's my chi you're sitting on.)  

The first place in the body where you are directed to focus  is at the middle dan tien, 2 finger widths below the breast bone.  After a few days if you are diligent and fortunate you may have a sense that the chi has made the short trip to the lower dan tien (or hara) just below the navel.  Then the chi's itinerary is to move down and around the back, unblocking the channels, and finally going up to the top of the head, and purchasing a round trip ticket back to the middle dan tien (never once complaining about missing a seat sale).  When this happens you have cleared the 3 major blockages in the body (lower back, mid back and back of the neck) and the chi  stops for a little celebration party in your head and then flows freely through all the channels.  This takes varying amounts of time for people depending on their level of health and commitment to the practice. 

Our trusty master always goes around the circle of students checking how our chi is and where our chi is (fine thanks for asking).  We have some advanced students in the class who have unblocked all their channels and apparently chi dances freely in their heads.  The rest of us are quite curious about this.  Our instructor encourages us to sit longer saying" it's like a putting a pot of water on to boil, if you keep taking it off the heat it will never boil."  It is a good analogy, all of us little luke warm pots, never quite turning the heat of effort and commitment up high enough.   Even though our master is a Taoist he is expressing one of the aspects of the Buddhist eightfold path, right effort.

As he makes his way around the circle a lot of people find they are too busy to do their meditation every day and he looks at them with clear eyes and tells them the times is there, that he used to work 10 hours a day at two jobs and still found time for meditation.  Rumour has it that this graceful, dignified little man used to work as a janitor at the University. 

As suggested I do my meditation diligently, twice a day, 30 minutes each time but I know those sittings are not quite enough.  I feel enthused when I hear him talk of the benefits of practice but I need to do more than feel excited about the idea once a week.   What am I doing, what are my classmates doing that prevent us from finding enough time for this valuable practice?  

I can only answer for me, but it seems that time somehow slips through my fingers.  I feel like there are not enough waking hours but in truth if I look, I squander my time as if I were going to live forever.  I have heard it said that the problem is we don't fully understand "impermanence".  If each day I reminded myself that my time here is finite and it's length unknown I might regard each moment as more precious. I might squander less. It's like water, pouring freely from the tap, we watch it wash down the drain without thought.  We need to live in the arid flats of time, our minds fully attentive to how we measure out the drops of our lives.

As it is I waste my valuable life energy zinging around on the internet, sitting in front of the television, doing goodness knows what.  It's not that I'm bad or stupid.  I'm just a little unconscious.  I need to wake up from my groggy half life. It's not a matter of becoming my own personal arm banded time police but just being more mindful, making more conscious choices.  I'm not talking about sucking the pleasure out of my day but just being aware of my intentions and priorities and making my choices from that place, choosing not to squander.  Maybe  it's about getting up an hour earlier.  Maybe it's about getting down to work when it's time, instead of doing this and that.

I have heard this topic on the lips of others this week. " I need more exercise.  I need more fresh air.  I don't want to sit so long at the computer."  (Me to myself: I need to paint more.) It seems a common problem, getting to those things we say we want to do, changing our behaviour to more wholesome states but with a little awareness, conscious intention and the grasping of our will, anything is possible.  I will end with a quote by PT Sudo, "Do not feel overwhelmed by the length of this journey.  All you ever need do is focus on one thing, what you are doing.  Stay on the path and put one foot in front of the other---- that is all.  There is joy in the struggle."

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