I was looking for an image that shows something sinking through water, when I googled sinking and looked through the images the vast majority of them were of ships or people sinking into water. I settled with the image above of stones sinking through water which is neither a bad or a good thing, just a rather beautiful image. The practice of sinking I am writing about here is a good thing and is a very important quality required for learning Tai Chi, Qigong, Mediation and Martial Arts.
If we consider that we are made up of around 60% water and that water will always find the lowest point, it is not a huge step to then consider this within your practise and how this effects the way we feel on so many levels. Learning to sink through your body whilst standing, moving or even resting will help you let go of tension, release stress, reduce anxiety and create a much better internal environment for mind/body balance. For a Martial Artist the skill of sinking helps with grounding and establishing a strong root from which power can be sourced.
Emotions such as fear and anger can rise quickly and cause us many problems and having the skill to internally sink can help balance this upward flow.
One of the greatest gifts you receive when you learn to sink your mind through your body is the quietening of the internal dialogue that goes on in our mind. We can have anywhere between 50,000 and 80,000 thoughts a day, so it's easy to see how the constant chatter can easily clutter our minds and contribute to mental health issues, lack of focus and stress.
There will be 4 parts to this blog
Part 1: Close eyes and meditate grasshopper
I give some background on my experiences learning meditation techniques from a young age.
Part 2: Getting out of our heads
This will focus on awareness of posture and gradually not forcibly letting go from the crown of your head down.
Part 3: Opening up
As you release what is bound you can open up the body to allow sinking to occur.
Part 4: Be like water my friend
Water, gravity plus the water element within traditional Chinese Medicine and its relationship with our kidneys
Close eyes and meditate young grasshopper
As an 8 year old boy I was first exposed to meditative practises in Kempo Karate classes. At the beginning and end of each class we would sit in a kneeling position known as 'Seiza' on a hard wooden floor. Once in position we were told abruptly to 'close eyes and meditate!'. I found this process difficult as the hard wooden floors and posture was uncomfortable for me at first. As a young boy I didn't even know what mediation was, it wasn't really part of my culture or talked about in my family. So I asked a senior grade, 'what is meditation?'. He replied 'It's about clearing your mind'. To me at that age, the very notion of closing eyes and clearing your mind was pretty out there.
The instructions were 'Mokuso' ('close eyes - meditate') and 'Akete' ('open eyes') and that was it! However after a while I began to understand a little bit more about what these instructions meant and what happened in between them. The first challenge was learning to deal with the uncomfortable feeling within my body and the awkward silence that occurred during the practise. Learning to align my posture better made the process easier to maintain - if I felt more comfortable I could then begin to focus on my mind.
I learned that there was an energetic centre within us all and if we focused on it we could become more powerful, attain clarity and be able to achieve great things. As a young boy impressed with the displays of power within the martial arts, this was appealing - so I set out to understand this practise and apply it to my own Martial Arts training - who dosen't want to feel more powerful? Bits of the jigsaw began to become a little clearer as I learnt various breathing techniques that encouraged me to focus on the belly and how it moved in and out with each light or heavy breath. Learning these breathing techniques helped me sustain the intense physical workouts and hard discipline that came with the classes in my early days. When you're told to face the wall for half and hour because you are not allowed to view the more advanced techniques on the floor, you have to turn your attentions inward or go a little crazy.
My first significant breakthrough came when we took our training outside. Beach training was something I looked forward as it made me feel free from the four walls of the Dojo. I remember being told we would do an extended period of mediation for 30 minutes at a beach training at Cornwallis on the edge of the Manukau Harbour. I had never done half an hour in the kneeling position, the longest was maybe 10-15 minutes at that stage in my training. I remember the sound of the water and birds helped put my mind at ease, the soft sand made kneeling easier and the fresh clean air made a welcome change to the dusty old halls we would train in. For the first time in my life I felt comfortable in the kneeling position and I remember being disappointed when we were told to open eyes and stand up. I wanted to stay there, something shifted in me that I couldn't explain but that memory and experience was profound and would provide a foundation for everything that follows.
As time went on I attended my first live-in seminar at Lake Taupo. I was 12 and preparing for my Black Belt grading. This would be the first time I would endure the extreme cold of a Taupo winter in June. It was certainly not going to be quite the same as training at West Coast and harbour beaches in sub-tropical Auckland - I had heard stories of people training in the lake and getting hypothermia! Wearing only our cotton Gi (uniform) we were told to adopt the seiza position and meditate on the lake front. Children under 12 were not allowed to participate but strangely part of me was glad I was 12 as I headed to the lake front with the adults. We settled on the lake front in long lines.
My bare feet registered the cold yet surprisingly, the tiny pebbles, stones and pumice invigorated them. Even so, that first shock of cold made me fear I would end up in the local hospital! The real cold hadn't set in yet however, as my emotions and fears amplified the physical sensation. This anxiety caused my energy to rise filling my head with chatter and a screaming desire to stand up and walk away - but giving up and stopping was not an option. The conflict between those external and my internal conditions was a gateway through which I had to pass. Memories of being back home at Cornwallis became increasingly distant. I had to capture that rising fear energy and bring it back down into my core where I could dissolve it. At that young age, I didn't think of it like that but through the process of overcoming my fear and discomfort, this is what I did.
It felt like an eternity but after only 10 minutes or so I reached a point where the extreme cold began to pass and I felt warmer and I realised I wouldn't end up with hypothermia. I had processed the physical hardship of the temperature, sunk into myself and I found I could turn on the internal fire necessary to deal with it. Turning this corner made we understand for the first time what it meant to experience 'mind over matter'. Just as I had managed the extreme cold on a physical level, emotionally it left me feeling stronger and more capable of conquering my challenges. The two processes were synonymous. I wore this like a badge of honour - like getting your first black eye or adding to your scar collection. We didn't have badges for acquiring skills like the scouts but I knew that I had climbed a little mountain. At 12 years of age many of my friends and peers hadn't experienced this so it wasn't something I talked about or shared for a few years. The feeling of warmth and inner peace I felt on that lake front gave me a glimpse of what I could learn and achieve through the process of sinking and entering into a more relaxed mediative state.
A few years later Lake Taupo would again be the place for discovery and advancement of my learning. This time it was Qigong and Tai Chi that would challenge me to go beyond what I had already learnt as a young boy. Grandmaster Robert Gemmell introduced me to the internal Arts which would eventually provide a bridge to deeper forms of meditation, awareness and inner growth. This time we were instructed to stand and close our eyes. I had got to the point where I felt comfortable in the kneeling posture - and now the standing position felt difficult! The seiza kneeling position was close to the earth and once you got comfortable it was quite easy to move towards a relaxed state. To me, the standing natural stance meant ready for action. We were told the standing practises were part of the preparation for learning Tai Chi and that first we must align our posture, get in touch with our breathing and quieten our minds. Sounds easy enough - but it wasn't! I was young and still very impressed with the physical power of my training. Standing still and learning to 'soften' didn't make much sense. It took some time before I valued the standing practises and began to experience some of the periods of stillness, grounding and clarity that I felt earlier in my training. The soft and circular motions of Tai Chi allowed me to gain an understanding of the relationship between movement and stillness. Learning to have a mind that was still and calm whilst engaging in difficult and challenging movements was a skill I would later appreciate in adult life.
Once again practising outside provided the environment for me to go beyond the early stages and challenges of learning to relax and let go. The theory became a real, felt experience - like water trickling down my back - and I had that sense of sinking through my body. The sensation was relaxing and I was in touch with my breath. There it was, energy flowing and pulsing through my body. At this point I could identify how tense or bound my body and mind can become and I was - and still am - reminded to seek to restore that natural feeling of relaxation, grounding and stillness.
I started out a young boy struggling to kneel on a hard wooden floor and close my eyes. I could only register the physical difficulty and mental suffering of my task. Over a period of a few years I could now stand on the edge of lake Taupo and transcend the physical environment, tame my mental state. For though my eyes were outwardly shut, behind them I was now wide open to my consciousness and the place within where those distractions cannot reach. These skills and practises have helped me deal with the pressure and stress of living and what we feel during our time on earth. Beyond these skills and practises lies something deeper and more profound as we connect with our spiritual self and the universe.
In part 2 I will provide some guidance about creating a better environment for your mind to let go and how posture alignment is an important part of supporting you to learn to sink through your body.