Appetite and Discipline

One of the biggest challenges of being a teacher is that students are always trying to get me to equivocate. For instance, I say, "Practice standing completely still for one hour early in the morning, everyday, before you eat breakfast."

Some student will always want to know what will happen if they don't? I usually answer, "Sifu will kill you!" But they always laugh, and then ask what if they only stand for 20 minutes? or do it in the evening? or every other day?

The truth is, I don't know. I've always practiced the whole thing, without equivocation. I can guess or I can ask other teachers. But honestly, what I really know is what I've practiced. The reason I don't stop practicing is because I have a real appetite to practice as much as I do. I stand in the morning for the same reason I eat in the morning.

There is another way, and I've used it on solo retreats. It is called the Wandering of the Mare. I have several artist friends who live this way all the time. They eat when they are hungry, they sleep when they are sleepy, they paint, or read, or call up a friend totally spontaneously whenever they feel like it. I'm never surprised to hear that they have been up all night painting.

On a solo retreat, I'm the same way, I sleep until there is absolutely no more feeling to sleep, and then I close my eyes one more time to make sure. I sit still, or stand still, or walk the Baguazhang circle, until I'm done. No schedule, no limits.

But most of us work for a living. We have people to coordinate with.  We have to at least try to stay awake during meetings. Five days a week we have to get the kids off to school with a good breakfast and matching socks.

Hermits and anyone on a long, private retreat, can freely follow their appetites. Many of the most potent and profound Chinese disciplines were created by hermits. What to a hermit is natural discipline, may seem to us, living as we do in the world with other peoples needs and expectations, like "militaristic discipline." To spontaneously follow one's personal appetite(s) is to be in an on-again, off-again, conflict with the social world.

We might do better to think of Taijiquan, Baguazhang etc... as the "ritual resetting" of our appetites.  By "winding" us back to zero once a day, they allow us to follow our appetites spontaneously--within the social world.