It is clear from our previous discussion that the natural state is both an internal and external one, as well as being fluid and individual. Part of this idea of fluidity entails spontaneous action – that which requires no conscious thought and is not based on any mental or preconceived notion. Once again, in terms of application of natural strength this means our ability to instantly utilize any or all of the techniques and methods that have been experientially embedded into our subconscious mind through diligent and repeated training, in other words connatural action.
When experiential and repeated actions become connatural it can also be said that they have become instinctive. This idea of instinct bears further scrutiny. Animals act purely on their instincts. For instance, when you play with a dog and suddenly lunge at them, they instinctively dodge. Dogs ‘dodge.’ This behavior is inbred. Other animals have different instinctive behaviors. These reactions to threat or danger are basic and primitive responses. Humans also, have some of these responses, witness when a child gets too close to a hot stove.
With no previous experience the child may not recognize the danger and try to touch the hot element. If they do, they get a nasty lesson that penetrates directly into their subconscious so that the next time they find themselves in a similar situation, they automatically withdraw their hand when it gets to close to the heat – a perfect example of a connatural or learned action quickly becoming instinct. Some small children however, when confronted with the same experience, instinctively withdraw their hand when it gets to close to the flame. So the question becomes why do some children automatically react correctly while others require practical experience.
Here we get into a rather shadowy or gray area. How is it that one child can play the piano like a baby Mozart while others can’t sing a lick or carry a tune? So far, western science has no adequate explanation other than to say that certain advanced pathways in the brain are already open and connected.
Whereas western understanding has no real answers in this regard, if we follow the eastern mode of thought a possible solution reveals itself. It is the idea of ‘past experience’ that we would say, predates one’s experience in this life. While some will understand this and others will think it’s bunk, regardless, the fact remains. Some people ‘naturally’ and easily excel in a given area, whereas many others, no matter how hard they try, simply cannot achieve the same level of proficiency.
So, whether one’s ability stems from certain shadowy experiences in a past time or learned behaviors in this life, in terms of Zhan Zhuang, there eventually appears to be a sort of ‘overlap.’ This means that with enough conscientious practice we achieve varying degrees of whole-body unity, integration of the body’s ‘springs,’ balancing and blending of the internal organ energies, metamorphosis of the nervous system, neutralizing and ‘pooling’ of the emotions, and transformation from the various mental states into one that is motivated, guided and controlled by Shen. (Spirit)
This is where Wang Xiangzhai’s earlier quote comes into play: “That is what the natural instinctive strength is like. It is like seeking all kinds of real things from the unreal…”
In Zhan Zhuang this plays out on multiple levels. But there is one common denominator in this true ‘naturalness,’ and that is the guidance and control of our Shen or Spirit. Here’s one example to illustrate the point, and I can verify this from personal experience. There are occasions during practice when we may feel a certain movement of energy or technique – that previously had been foreign to us – express itself spontaneously within our body such that we know and now understand its meaning and how to generate and use it. This happens through having temporarily actually become it – beingness. We feel the internal movement momentarily ‘take over our body’ and we experience the energy flow of the technique first hand through direct perception. This often includes the feeling of actual muscle movement (within the Zhan Zhuang posture) as the energy propels the nerves to trigger the sinews in the perfect timing and patterns. This feeling is so smooth and effortless, it feels like how we might imagine a grandmaster would do it. Though these type of experiences generally happen when we’re training alone and least expect it, some exceptional teachers can consciously generate a similar sort of experience in their students to help them reach a higher level.
But since the essence of these sort of experiences normally happen when we’re alone, it becomes paramount to check their reality for ourselves in the real world to make sure we’re not just delusional. The old expression is, “Trust but verify…” In my case I was able to test things out immediately with my students and found that when I suddenly recreated one of these energy-flows and the concomitant micro-muscle movements, the opponent’s body reacted just as would be expected, turning and twisting from spiral energy, being uprooted and ejected upward, backward, sideways or downward as the case may be. So, are these energy flows during our standing meditation practices real? Well, if you can see it, feel it and be it and then manifest it in the real world, well that’s just about as real as it gets, yes?
So, if we can now see that such a transformation is indeed possible and verifiable, the question becomes, where do these energy flows come from. From where do they arise? The answer is at least two-fold. First, if you believe in the eastern mode of thought then we could say that perhaps these revelatory energy-flows come from some experience prior to this life. Second, following the western mode of thought we might say that these flows come from the ‘Collective Unconscious,’ and that through our meditative practice or training we have tapped into it. It is said that every human experience available is housed in the Collective Unconscious. So, either way we can now understand Master Wang’s phrase in a new light. “That is what the natural instinctive strength is like. It is like seeking all kinds of real things from the unreal.”
There is for the free thinker, perhaps a third option… And that is that these experiences may also be triggered directly from or by Shen or Spirit – that part of us which is said to be beyond the mind. This leads us to the other co-joined element of ‘naturalness’ – Shen. This is the aspect of wholeness or unification; integration of spirit directing the mind and emotions which motivate and move the body. In a certain sense you could think of this as a ‘singularity.’ This ‘singularity’ – the point at which a function takes on an infinite value – is by its Yang nature in some ways directly opposite its Yin twin; the fluid, individualized, constantly changing state, in that the Shen element of wholeness and unity has a certain constancy or sameness, which generates a feeling of ‘stillness,’ something like the comfortable feeling of always being at home. Some of the Taiji sayings and the way Taijiquan is sometimes described, hint at this. “…one part moves, all parts move..” ‘like a big round ball or single-celled animal moving.’ Stillness within movement’ – Taiji. ‘Movement within stillness’ – Zhan Zhuang.
So we have determined that besides the natural state being very fluid and individualized in consciousness, one that may change and transform in each instant, there is also at the same time the co-joined aspect of Shen – wholeness, unity, integration and stillness. This applies whether we use our natural strength to issue powerful Fa Jin, or for radiant health and vitality and simply getting through our everyday lives.
And finally how do these two Yang and Yin opposites coexist, separate, combine and function to create what we know as the natural state or being natural? If we have reached the point of having ‘gained Shen,’ then we could say that from the infinite potential of singularity and stillness there spontaneously/connaturally arises infinite possibilities of action.
The idea in Taijiquan of maintaining a focus of stillness in our centerpoint or low Dan Tien whilst continuously moving, illustrates part of this. By holding our feeling-awareness one-pointedly we eventually raise our Shen, thereby constantly gaining and maintaining access to the infinite potential embedded in our stillness or singularity. This expresses itself as more and more of our Qi or vital energy filling out our postures, from beyond the skin all the way into the bone marrow and brain and everywhere in between. The benefits of this for health alone cannot be overestimated.
With Zhan Zhuang, by applying stillness while in a static posture we essentially reverse the parameters. Through dwelling in this ‘double-stillness’ we find that it eventually generates (internal) movement. These internal movements are essentially what create the tremendous health benefits of the various standing meditation postures.
In the above discussion we can see that the common denominator for Zhan Zhuang and Taijiquan is that Shen or Yang is the (first) cause which gives birth to an infinity of action. Or to put it another way, from Wuji – wholeness or singularity – begets Yin/Yang (Taiji) From Taiji the five elements manifest, and from the five elements issue forth the 10,000 things…