Sunday I did get to see another senior student of the Taoist master who brought all this to the West. He was very forthcoming about general topics and specific questions. For example, I told him that when I started doing a new movement, and the next day I was depressed, he diagnosed this, according to the Taoist scheme of things, as kidney problems. As I mentioned the Taoists make much of kidneys and their responsibilities, and I know I have kidney problems anyway with gout.
But the high point of the session was his talk about “pulsing” joints. The books talk about this all the time but without saying what it really is or what is going on. But it is critical to movement of the Chi to open the joints to the flow and to tighten them if they are too loose (as, for example, in the case of athletes or dancers whose joints may wobble).
I asked him what they were talking about and he held up his right arm at my eye level, and without touching it moved his hand at least a half-inch away from the rest of his arm, then back. It was VERY strange. He immediately said, “I know it looks weird. But there is nothing strange about it, really. Everybody can learn to do this. It’s just that here in the West the knowledge has been lost or we never had it in the first place, so we’re not used to seeing it. But this is what the internal training really leads to; the forms (postures) are just ways to focus your intent on specific areas.”
So naturally I asked him how you learn to do this, and he gave me a general kind of answer, about putting your consciousness into specific joints over and over again until you begin to feel movement, and then latching onto the feedback to slowly improve the motion.
I don’t think he was concealing any magic tricks. The same principle applies to just about everything involved with Taoist body work (and probably the spiritual and medical as well): first you have to realize that it is possible, then localize your intent and consciousness into a specific thing, then practice the motion.
The fact that I can feel a physical change after doing a new exercise just once gives me hope that my french-fried nerves are actually good for learning all this.
I am going to work on another process that is a mainstay of Taoism, “dissolving” stress and discomfort. I asked him about this and how to get feedback that I was doing it correctly, and he told me to make a fist and clench my hand tight. I did so.
“That’s like frozen stress, like ice,” he said. “Now, without opening your hand, relax the tension so your hand is still in a fist, but not tightened up.”
I did that. “That’s like water, now. If you continue to relax your fingers and let them straighten, that’s like dissolving the water into gas. The energy is freed internally and in time you can even learn to feel it moving away and out of your body. Later, you learn how to retain it and transmute it into Chi. But for now, as you stand, scan your body for any pain or discomfort or tightness and work on dissolving it, Grasshopper.”
No, he didn’t say that, but I couldn’t resist. I have run into the truth behind the legends. Of course, I’d like to think that it was looking for me too.