There has been much discussion on the subject of being ‘Natural’ during Zhan Zhuang Standing Meditation as well as developing and using ‘Natural Strength’ in application. What exactly does it mean to ‘be natural?’ In one sense this implies instinctive behavior. And what is instinct? On one level it is a subconscious, unconscious or automatic reaction. And where do our instincts come from? Though some are innate, built-in or inborn, others have been programmed experientially over time through repetitive and habitual conscious actions until they feel ‘natural,’ instinctive, hereditary or perhaps a more insightful word might be ‘connatural.’
This idea of connatural action comes into play in both our standing meditation practice and then again in martial or Fa Jing application. During our Zhan Zhuang sessions we are repeatedly cultivating relaxation with an eye to resolving blockages and achieving whole-body-linkage. This includes everything from the basic alignment of the bones through the stretching, wrapping/unwrapping of the tissues, all the way to working with the bone marrow and brain at the deeper levels.
So, with enough proper Zhan Zhuang training, we eventually find the body transposes the sense of Zhong Ding (Central Equilibrium) we have achieved in our standing practice and applies it subconsciously in our everyday lives. Many people have told me that while waiting in line at the supermarket, Starbucks or the bank, they find themselves adopting a relaxed subtle variation of a Zhan Zhuang stance without any conscious effort on their part. This is relying on the body’s innate wisdom and desire to heal itself.
One confirmatory sign of correct practice in this regard is the fact that after some months’ training we find that in relationship to relaxation for example, what used to take us a whole session to achieve, now occurs within the first 5 or 10 minutes and for the remainder of the session we find ourselves delving deeper into more and more subtle states of relaxation.
So… we have various instincts that we are born with and others which are acquired experientially, in other words – connatural. But what is instinctive for one might be completely antithetical to another. Witness the ‘fight or flight reaction to the sudden increase of adrenalin. The point of this is to realize that the definition of ‘being natural’ in a very real sense is unique to each individual. And this definition can be further refined to include our interpretation of ‘natural’ varying during each session, and indeed really from one moment to the next.
And it is this ability to be flexible and change from moment to moment while ‘remaining natural,’ that is exactly what is meant by the expression (for fighting) “…let go and use your natural strength.”
And just what is ‘natural strength’ anyway. One aspect is the ability to use the whole body linkage we have attained through Zhan Zhuang in a viable way while moving and issuing power. It is this subconsciously fused unity that allows us to manifest strength from any part of the body at will, instantly. But natural force or strength can only come into play after we have mastered our ‘fight or flight’ reaction triggered by the adrenals during either vividly simulated or real-life ‘threatening’ situations. The idea with this is, the more intense, wild and angry the attack is, the more we become centered, calm, charged, and focused as our Qi automatically sinks in preparation for instantaneous action. It is from this and similar states of consciousness that our ‘natural strength’ can spontaneously emerge of itself.
Here’s one example. A friend of mine was standing in an airport lounge waiting for his flight to board. Suddenly out of nowhere a huge person appeared, moving fast, heading right for my friend whose back was turned. Just as the oblivious behemoth was about to unknowingly make contact, my friend sensed something and pivoted slightly at the moment of impact. What happened next is most interesting. With no time to consciously react, my friend’s Zhong Ding and ‘natural strength’ took over and in an instant the 250-300lb individual was bounced off. Standing 6 or 7ft away the burly passenger had a glazed look in his eye, obviously wondering what the heck had just happened. My friend too, when he described the incident also had no recollection of doing anything. Such is the nature of ‘natural force or strength.’
Another important aspect of ‘natural’ in the context being discussed, is the idea of being uninhibited, that is, not restricted by any mental concepts or emotions. Grandmaster Lee called this optimal state – “Mind of No Mind,” in other words – Wu Wei. This state can be reached in terms of the connatural aspect after all martial techniques necessary have been mastered and then interred deep in the subconscious so they are ‘as natural as breathing,” and things seem to happen ‘automatically’ or without conscious thought.
From the examples iterated above we can see that the natural state so often talked about is actually a fluid one, rather than static or fixed. And so it is also for the manifestation of natural force or strength.
As Wang Xiang Zhai once said, “… After a long time of training, the instincts unveil and the rays of the spirit will shine, one will have gained the basis of combat even without having thought of them…”
Wang has also said, “If one does not have the basic mechanical ability, (experiential-connatural) then no matter what the movement is like, it is all wrong.”
“The movements of an ordinary person cannot have strength without constant unilateral tension… Every kind of strength based on constant unilateral tension is stiff and inharmonious, and besides that, harmful to health. Having strength without constant unilateral tension is namely having strength without using strength… (Wu Wei) That is what the natural instinctive strength is like. It is like seeking all kinds of real things from the unreal, which is hardly possible to express in words.”