Teaching and Enlightenment

There are three basic approaches to teaching that match the basic approaches to enlightenment.

I use the term enlightenment loosely, because I think people ought to lighten up about it.  (That is a joke, sort of.)

These approaches to enlightenment could also be understood as the orthodox daoist framing of religious expression.  This framing has a universal quality to it because it is easily re-discoverable, not because it is an absolute truth.  It is not religion specific but refers more generally to three views of what the human relationship to nature is.  None of these three views are exclusive either, in fact there is an experientially based/tested assumption that humans inherently have access to all three.  

They are:

1) Wuwei.  A non conceptual experience of being/emptiness.  Without preference, progress, hierarchy, equality, individuality or community.  It can not be framed or limited by words, images, names, or descriptions.  

2) Perfection.  Tantric enlightenment.  Becoming a god.  Perfect body mechanics.  Superior anything.  Sudden enlightenment.  Games.  Glowing health.  Accumulating qi.  Perfect circulation.  The achievement of effortless skill and technique.

3) Subordination.  Making alliances with any form or embodiment of power.  Shamanism.  Survival strategies.  Devotion.  Discipline.  The gradual approach.  Contracts.  


This formula is in many of the chapters of the Daodejing.  Laozi the author of the Daodejing, keeps coming back to the first one as a natural process of return, like water returning to the sea.  

I don't know anyone who has gotten good at martial arts without taking the third view.  But I also don't know anyone who has gotten good by exclusive fidelity to the third view.  In that sense, I understand practice as a conversation between these three views.  They have a way of refreshing each other.  

With regard to teaching children I start with the third view because it creates a container for experiencing the first view.  Children find it deeply relaxing and satisfying to be given tightly channelled directions, to be surrounded by percussive order and explosive command, to be welcomed into a safe guided challenging total environment.  That relaxation leads directly to self-respect and self-acceptance.  From that base, they then have the option of choosing the second view, self-directed, self-gratifying, self-disciplined self-improvement.

Adults present a different challenge.  My preference is to initiate adults into the first view via a year of standing still practice supplemented by hanging out time.  But everyone is different.  And more importantly everyone has a unique way of relating to me.   So it is my goal as a teacher to re-invent a kind of theatrical temple culture.  I want to offer an environment or milieu that students can enter where all three views are available.  An environment where dance, games, techniques, solo discipline, learning through doing, immediate feed back, edge experiences, identity challenges, deeply comforting personal retreat technologies, awareness expanding experiences, chaotic containers, and ordered experiments are all simultaneously available.  A space where failure is fun.  Where performance is a direct way to access the capaciousness of beauty.  A space emotionally big enough for both gentle healing and the serious experiential examination of human violence and aggression.

One of the problems I face is the culturally static model of a class and a teacher that we are all accustomed to.  For the theatrical temple model to work, individuals have to feel free to experiment and get support for changes in their entire lives.  

The hobbiest model is actually fine.  It is just that my challenge is to get students to understand that the subject we are working with is the alchemy of all their appetites: sleep, work, play, nutrition, intimacy, social life, risk taking, heroism, reclusiveness, etc. etc. etc....


Here is my attempt at one of the Daodejing Chapters that presents the three views, Chapter 23:

To seldom speak is to follow the Dao.

A gust of wind can not last all morning,

A downpour can not last all day.

What causes these?  Heaven and Earth.

If the actions of Heaven and Earth do not last long, how much less the actions of human beings.

One who cultivates Dao, will experience Dao.

One who cultivates perfection, will experience perfection.

One who cultivates need, will experience need.  

Dao, Perfection, and need all have their own fruition.  

Trust without a basis is simply faith.


How Cheap is Life?

Alexander Hamilton came from a place where life was cheap.  In the West Indies of his time the majority of people were enslaved, didn't wear clothes and had an average working life expectancy of four years.  He didn't know his father and his mother died when he was ten.  Death was all around him, yet somehow he learned accounting and how to read and write in English, French, and Hebrew.  At the age of 15 a devastating hurricane destroyed much of his surroundings and he wrote a vivid description of it which was published in newspapers all along the East Coast of the future US.  Someone in New York was so impressed by his writing that they took up a collection to send him to Princeton!  When he got there, talk of revolution was in the air and he convinced his dorm mates to practice marching drills with him from a book.  When war came he marched his friends down to the armory and because he had already taken command they made him an officer on the spot.  Shortly after the first battle he met George Washington who recognized his merits and made him Aide-de camp, responsible for all correspondence of the general.  

And the rest is history.  As far as supplying ideas and doing the intellectual leg work he is the single most important American founding Father.  When a person's life has been that cheap-- and he gets through it-- he must see challenges differently than the rest of us.  Not just challenges, but risks and ideas too.

Clarence Thomas has a lot of critics, enemies really.  He was born in a Gullah community.  The name Gullah is probably a distortion of Angola.  The Gullah were isolated to some degree in language and culture because they used African fighting traditions to free bonded people and make war.  After the American Civil War, a group of Gullah that were fighting on the Mexican Border were invited to join the US Calvary; later made famous by Bob Marley's song "The Buffalo Soldiers."

Clarence Thomas grew up in extreme poverty and hardship, abandoned by both parents he delivered coal as child, probably the dirtiest work there is.  Yet he managed to attend school, always graduating at the top of his class and receiving one scholarship after another.  To this day he is subjected to constant racist attacks that he is stupid and unworthy, that he only ever got anywhere in life because of other peoples pity, guilt and charity.  Yet he knows how cheap life can be.  His eloquent and unfettered opinion on the right to keep and bear arms is a necessary addition to our understanding of the history of the United States.  Like Hamilton, Thomas knows that the pen is mightier than the sword.  People who know how cheap life can be, fear the pen more than the sword, or in this case, the gun.

I've been watching a lot of Italian knife fighting lately.  Its spontaneity and musicality are informing my jian (double edged sword) work.  This art clearly comes from a place and time when life was cheap.

The Chinese arts I study are at least 500 years old, that's a lot of time to keep a tradition going.  That means the arts survived many eras when life was cheap as well as eras when life was not so cheap.  Classical artists try to consolidate and pass on as much of the essence of their art as they can.  Yet, we often fail to understand the lessons of the previous generations.   Without the actual experiences, accumulated knowledge is often just a shadow; shadows on top of shadows.  I'm very lucky to have studied so much with George Xu because he lived through a time when life was very cheap.  He has been able to bring many of those shadows to life!  Perhaps it has been harder to learn from him those parts of the arts that flurished when times were not so cheap, thank goodness for my other teachers, but the beauty of these arts is that these shadows on top shadows take tangible forms if you nurture them.  And George Xu certainly has taught me a kind of openness which can only come from choosing life!

There are several chapters of the Daodejing which are about living through times when life is cheap.  I leave you with this one: 

Exiting at birth, entering at death,

3 in 10 choose life,

3 in 10 choose death,

3 in 10, 'though they choose life, make decisions that bring about premature death.

Why? because they regard life as precious.

And then there are those who are good at nourishing life!

When entering a wilderness, they don't avoid tigers or rhinos,

When entering a battle, they don't put on armor or take up weapons.

The rhino finds no place to jab his horn,

The tiger finds no place to dig its claws,

The weapon finds nothing to catch its blade,

 Why? because there is no death point on them.

--Daodejing, Chapter 50


Taoism in the News

3117229Here is an article from the NYT about Daoist music at Carnege Hall.

Here is an article from Taiwan News titled Daoism in Taiwan Undergoes Transformation.   I personally found the article frustrating.  It starts off saying Daoism is the hot new thing, then tells us it was hot a long time ago, then it says it's always been kind'a hot under the radar, then is says it's gotten too hot is some ways.  All true I guess but each point is only interesting if investigated in depth.

This one is also from the Taiwan News about a Palanquin builder and carver who is competing with cheaper mass produced palanquins.  This Summer I really enjoyed walking around the neighborhood they describe in the article.  There were tons of people carving deities and the work was exquisite.  (I got some of it on video too.) These articles about how a traditional skill is being lost are not that convincing.  First of all, if it made it into the 21st Century, it's doing pretty good for itself.  Seems like there is still a market.  Second of all, if a mass produced one will do, then a mass produced one will do.  What's the big deal?  Take that incredible skill and carve something else that people want to buy and treasure.

It's funny too.  One of the key metaphors in the Daodejing is that of the Uncarved Block of Wood.  Hey, leave that block of wood in a potential state, at least until you need it.  It was recognized 2500 years ago that the process of carving wood expands the part of your mind dedicated to your arms, fingers and shoulders.  Carving causes stress.  It forces things into being.  What would happen if we just left the gods inside the blocks of wood?  Would we still be human?

Steamy Woman, Watery Woman, Icy Woman

The practice of Taijqiquan push-hands is a feminine art.  Even when practiced by men, it unleashes feminine qualities.  For the fun of it, we could compare it to ballet.  Even though most people are familiar with a few famous male ballet dancers like Nijinsky, Nureyev, and Baryshnikov, everyone thinks of ballet as a feminine art.

The first level of practice is called "Icy Woman."  At this level we develop a root so that when pushed the opponent's force is directed through our body down to the ground.  As the Icy Woman's structure improves she is able to keep this rooted quality continuously during dynamic movement.  If played as a game, both people will try to keep even pressure on their opponent's root.  The moment the pressure is broken either partner can move to sever their opponent's root. The game can also be won root-to-root.  In this case each person uses a blend of twisting, wrapping, expanding and condensing to improve the integration of their root.  Root against root, the better root will win.

There are two side tracks many teachers take with the Icy Woman.  The first side track is technique.  90% of the push-hands on youtube is a demonstration of this.  Techniques include tricks, grappling, striking, pushing, plucking martial applications and so on.  The other side track is trying to develop sensitivity.  This confusion arises when an Icy Woman has a broken or ineffective structure or an inferior root, and yet still wants desperately to win.  Sensitivity does not need to be developed.  Sensitivity is innate, we are born with it, no assembly required.  The only way to reduce sensitivity is with aggression.  The Daodejing makes this point on the first page, (the concept is called wuwei).
In innocence we can feel the subtle essences.

When possessed of desire we can feel only the yearned-for manifest.

The second level of practice is called "Watery Woman."  At this level it is necessary to become weak.  If played as a game, the goal is to try and find some ice in your opponent.  Ice is either structure or rootedness.  The Watery Woman does not attempt to compete structure-against-structure nor does she try to uproot her opponent.  She gives up rootedness and structure for fluid movement and weight.  The Watery Woman sloshes her weight in and around her opponent, she only wins when her opponent makes a mistake--the mistake of becoming icy.

The Watery Woman is not hard to achieve, because it is also an innate human quality.  Many people get stuck with the Watery Woman because they try to fall back on Icy Woman skills and techniques when they are losing.  A heavier Water Woman has a huge advantage over a waifish one.  A half-frozen Icy Woman can beat a half-dried Watery Woman.  Being an Watery Woman is not an advantage in and of itself.  One can get stuck at this level by developing very effective mixed ice and water techniques, including vibrating, bouncing, or shaking oneself.  If it only moves fast, it isn't water.

When the Watery Woman becomes comfortable, lively and uninhibited-- the pleasure of the experience  becomes steamy.

The third level of practice is called "Steamy Woman."  At this level her body becomes cloud-like.  Empty and full at the same time.  When the Steamy Woman meets ice or water in her opponents she simply floats them out of the way.  Her mind is not on her body at all, but all around it at play with the elements of volume, momentum, and density.  Inside a steam-like feeling moves around freely without regard to purpose or concept.  Like a cloud, it has no agenda.  Outside the game is played by the shifts and swirls of presence.

For those of you who have been following my discussions for sometime, you will probably see the three Daoist "views" permeating the practice of push-hands:  Wuwei (effortless, natural, return), Transcendence (perfection, enlightenment), and Shamanism (contracts with, or sacrifices to, powerful allies,--in this case female super hero allies.)  Push-hands is a method which can be practiced using any of these views, but each view will produce a unique type fruition.

No doubt, some of my readers are thinking, "Where did you get this Woman thing from."  Here, I must admit that the Chinese term I'm referring to is ren, or "human," and it has no gender.  However, when George Xu, for instance, explains these three types of people, he makes the opposite mistake and calls them Ice Men, Water Men, and Steam Men.  I chose to use the female pronoun because it's consistent with Daoist thinking and practice.  Another key idea of the Daodejing is the centrality of our feminine nature. (Chapter 6)
The Valley Spirit is Deathless it is called the Dark Feminine.

The door of the Dark Feminine, is called the root of Heaven and Earth.

Subtle, it seems only tenuously to exist, and yet drawn upon it is inexhaustible.

I have been told there is a Fourth level, the "Void-like Woman."  It is effortless, and innate, it happens automatically with a completely resolved death.  Perhaps it is possible to reach this level while one is still breathing?

OK a little off topic, but pretty Icy! OK a little off topic, but pretty Icy!

Avoid Fame, Practice Obscurity

I recently received an email from Paulie Zink's wife Maria asking me to please write a letter to the Los Angles Times complaining that a recent article on Yin Yoga made no mention of it's founder, Paulie Zink.  My sympathy goes out to everyone involved.

First of all to the LA Times.  The one thing newspapers like the LA Times used to have over TV news was something called investigative reporting.  It involved finding experts and insiders who had something to say about a particular topic.  The reporter would get in a rental car and go visit these insider/experts, see what they were up to, and put together a summary of their opinions and knowledge.  Now any expert with something to say or insider with experience to reveal has a blog.  The LA Times has lost it's reason d'etre.

The piece the LA Times published on Yin Yoga is just a puff piece for somebodies yoga teacher.  Free advertising for a friend loosely veiled in the mystique of "research."  Come on, the reporter googled Yin Yoga, talked to the first two people who picked up their cell phone.  It took all of twenty minutes to research.

My greater sympathy goes to Paulie Zink.  He is the holder of an extraordinary Daoist Lineage of Dao Yin.  Dao Yin, like all things Chinese, is very hard to put in a box.  It is first and foremost a hermit's expression of a life dedicated to the Teachings of Laozi.  The particular lineage he holds includes master level circus and martial arts training.  Did a Dao Yin hermit decide he'd had enough of the mountains and join a traveling performance troop, or did a master performer retire to the mountains?  Either way Dao Yin is way more than Yin Yoga.  I've never seen a yogi as good as Paulie Zink. Dao Yin technology is just higher.  Regular yoga is like a computer with excellent connectivity, interface, and compatibility, but not much memory.  Dao Yin is like a high speed super computer with 2000 years of memory, but little connectivity (it's best taught in a small group or one to one), an obscure interface (it requires an enormous time commitment to learn), and is useful for only two things--being in the circus or being a hermit.

Did the "founders" of Yin Yoga study with Paulie Zink?  Yes they did.  Was Zink the first person to use the term Yin Yoga?  Probably, it sounds like something he would say.  But the Yin Yoga people didn't study long enough to learn Dao Yin.  What they are teaching is just smart exercise for hip urban professionals.  It doesn't come close to the Dao Yin Paulie Zink practices. What they do works because it is simple and easy to learn.

Laozi's Teaching's, the Daodejing, has chapter after chapter describing the fruition of a Daoist life as "obscurity."  This is not some mysterious power that will allow you to win friends and influence people, it's real obscurity.  In fact, the fifth Xiang'er Precept is:  Avoid Fame, Practice Obscurity.  (See this article for more on Xiang'er and the Daodejing.)

A few years back, Zink moved from Hollywood to the hermit lands of Montana.  He seems to be hoping that he can travel around the country and teach workshops a few times a year and perhaps pick up a few high end private students (people like Madonna?).  The depth of Paulie Zink's knowledge would be appreciated in any circus town, like San Francisco or Montreal.  He could live in a sound proofed apartment with a nice private garden and teach at a circus school.  The one in San Francisco already has three contortion teachers, but Zink's knowledge and open hearted generosity would be a welcome addition.  I've seen him take the most twisted up funky stretchy poses and turn them into loco-motor movement.  Elbow stands become bunny hops with a fluffy tail.  Static warrior poses become dragons skittering across the water.  I'm not kidding.  This stuff is amazing.

By the way, the best scenario for the origins of Shaolin gongfu (Kung Fu) is that 1000 years ago (early Sung Dynasty) someone who had learned this half-hermit, half-circus storytelling art of Dao Yin, was living in the Song Mountains around Shaolin Temple and offered to help out by teaching the orphans some discipline.  Most large Temples were also orphanages.  Perhaps he had given up a child to a temple many years earlier and felt guilty about it.  Meir Shahar suggests in his ground braking book Shaolin Temple, that one of the roots of Shaolin is probably Dao Yin.  He also says that martial arts heroes were already in the written literature of the time, the literature itself having grown out of theater!

Chinese culture doesn't fit into boxes.   Most likely the development of Chinese movement culture happened in a topsy-turvy, a little bit here, a little bit there kind of way.  Give a sword to a Dao Yin master and he's gonna stretch it to the limit.  He's gonna do something wild and explosive, something soft and silky, something spontaneous and never seen before.  That's the fruition of Dao Yin.  That is the physical expression of the teachings of Laozi-- our limitless nature--Daode.  (Dao= limitless unnameable nature, De=a person's unique expression of Dao.)

Dao Yin is a treasure.  The version I learned doesn't have all the circus stuff or martial arts in it.  So in some senses it is a lot easier to learn than Paulie Zink's material.  But what I learned is still a hermit practice.  In order to practice I built a dedicated elivated room in my isolated apartment.  I called it the sky palace.  When I moved, I dropped that practice.  Modern Qigong is namby pamby soft and flowery compared to Dao Yin.  The Dao Yin I learned is a little like yoga but it's noisy and rambunctious, it gives you bruises,  and must be practiced everyday with for at least 3 hours with meditation.  Zink's Dao Yin probably requires closer to 8 hours of practice a day.  Dao Yin doesn't make you feel like putting on a suit and heading to the office, it makes you feel like spontaneously doing nothing.  Perhaps it would be unfair to call it the art of disciplined fooling around, but you get the idea.

When I met Paulie Zink in LA at a workshop he was teaching,  he was traveling with a disciple who lived with him in Montana and seemed to be learning everything.  I'm very happy about that.  His disciple spoke very little.  I asked him a few questions and I had to lean in close to hear soft spoken answers delivered directly from his heart.  A natural hermit.  Paulie Zink's oldest student also came into town for the workshop.  He was very generous to me, answered questions and gave me some tips; he lives in a high desert town I'd never heard of halfway between LA and Las Vegas.  He too is a Hermit.

Here is his youtube channel.

Death Points

During the Warring States Era all that ended. Something on the order of hundreds of thousands of troops were fielded in battle. These troops were untrained peasants and had a difficult time killing. Maimed and crippled survivors across the region became dependent on their families for basic care. In response to this problem easy to remember death points were invented and taught widely. As a way to make sure that the suffering on the battlefield stayed on the battlefield; soldiers were offered a quick compassionate death.
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