With our thoughts, we make the world
Imagine being in a class where first time Baguazhang students are able to perform perfectly elegant and powerful form movements with little experience. Impossible, you say. Well, you’re only half-right because, these students are practicing form in their minds eye with Shifu Painter’s Dragon Meditation visualization techniques.
It has been said by one famous Chinese internal arts master that, “imagination creates reality”, and in this reality, every move looks and feels beautiful, powerful and quite real to those who understand this technique. Each student using these ideas is able to transform his or her practice and skills in Baguazhang training. And, they are beginning to strengthen their most valuable asset: their mind through the power of imagination!
You already possess this master key to internal higher level martial arts skills. Imagination! Your ability to create vivid mental scenes while you practice and/or play at forms, principles, or quality training, is what will make your art a truly internal one. Rather than just miming forms from teachers or books, internal arts players should practice and learn proper bio-mechanics and principles, while using their imagination (a guided conscious visualization) to create their interpretation of form and movement. It’s your world, and you are free to make of it what you wish.
When training some years ago with Dr. John Painter he introduced us to the concept of a method his Shifu, Li, Long-dao called Dragon Meditations (Long-ningsi). It begins with learning Quiet Sitting (Jingzuo) in which the students sit quietly and begin to notice their surroundings first outside then inside. As the mind is recognized and distracting thoughts stilled we learned to move our attention to any part of the body, exploring the internal world beneath our skin.
Each step is designed to lead one to higher levels awareness and sensitivity. At the next phase we were taught to begin using imagery, feeling the body expand or contract as if it were a balloon for example. Focusing on creating illusory sensations with our minds within and then outside the body. The goal is to be able to create something akin to a holographic projection of oneself and direct it to move freely and without restriction as our mind wills it to walk the circle or engage in combat scenarios. This is not a substitute for physical training in any way, it is a way of enhancing confidence and mental acuity resulting in greater ability during physical training.
As long as correct principles are intact, an internal arts student should be taught how to use their minds in conjunction with their bodies. Shifu Painter says that if you’re not training your mind and spirit along with your body, and you’re not practicing this in some way currently, then in his view you’re not doing internal arts.
Research in many fields is beginning to show that health, sports acumen, strength, speed and power both internal and external will come more quickly and powerfully if you apply a focused imagination to the discipline or choice. The Chinese internal art masters have used this concept for hundreds of years called focused intention (Yi). The Li family applied this to their Baguazhang, Taijiquan and Xingyiquan to greatly improve every level of training and so can you.
If you want to learn how to apply the age-old axiom, “The mind commands, the body responds and the Qi goes along (Tounao mingling shenti gensui binguie qi bansui)”, then one would be better off to do Quiet Sitting before ever attempting mediation to get in a lot of mental control and practice. I know it seems weird. And, yes it’s hard to sit and create mental sensations, feelings and pictures but it takes patience and willingness to be inventive and creative. For those who will take the time and have the patience this method is worth its weight in internal power gold.
In Jiulong Baguazhang, the core training principle throughout focuses using mental imagery to create power in the physical reality. We are taught from day one to use our imaginations and think for ourselves. Our Shifu, Dr. John Painter, focuses specifically on utilizing the creative force of imagination in detailed ways so that powerful engrams for each physical movement are installed.
This happens by infusing a total creative scene of what is happening (or going to happen) before the physical body has moved an inch. Hence, we learn to build relationships with each palm that are, in a sense, as real as any human relations. This is one of our versions of “internal” training. Baguazhang learned from the inside out.
An example of how I do this is, when teaching Heaven Palm; I invite students to begin their internal training immediately by creating a detailed image of their concept of Heaven energy. They include things like, using the emotional qualities of heaven (from the Yi-Jing) along with a detailed picture of themselves as they embody these qualities. Then, they create a complete Heaven Scene in their minds eye, one they will infuse into each movement practiced during physical training.
In Jiulong Bagua, we study each palm along with the Yijing Gua associated with it as its one art separately for a year or longer, while practicing both physical movements and mental images associated with each palm. In doing this we are creating powerful physiological and psychological gestures in practice, and are not merely learning form. Building these mental internal engrams gives our movements’ real emotional, energetic, and spiritual identity and power.
My hope is that the following training suggestions help clarify how you can effectively begin employing imagination and mental focus immediately into your practice. We have seen that those who consistently practice these methods make tremendous progress in a relatively short period of time. Practicing this way is a joyous and fascinating experience that allows you to see yourself in new and empowering ways.
Mind Games of Dragon Meditation A Beginning Exercise
Find a quiet place and sit in a comfortable position. Breathe deeply, relax completely and close your eyes. Tell your mind that it’s now times to play a fun game called, “My ideal form”! Now, pretend the black space you see in front of you is a movie screen, and tell your mind that you are going to watch a movie called “My beautifully powerful form” or any title like this that appeals to you.
Now you are ready to begin the movie of your form. Begin to fill the movie screen in your minds eye with a beautifully detailed view of your preferred playing space. Outdoor scenes with pleasing natural landscapes are usually best. Create your scene in great detail, including elements relating to sky, ground, colors, sounds, smells and sensations.
Take about two minutes or more to create your ideal scene. See yourself in your scene as being incredibly beautiful, radiant, confident, harmonious and powerful. Create an ideal version of yourself so your mind has a goal to pursue. Now begin to move around in your scene, perhaps do some warm-up exercises. Let yourself feel amazingly relaxed, flexible, powerful, and radiant.
Now connect more with your environment by feeling the sunlight on your body, or hearing the sound of a running stream, or birds singing. Make it as real as you can. The more complete a reality you create the better opportunity your brain has to give to your body all the internal benefits.
Studies have shown that the unconscious mind and the cells of your body don’t know the difference between this envisioned reality and everyday life. Various revitalizing chemicals, hormones and blood cells get released into your system every moment of practicing this. The more powerfully you imbue yourself with positive qualities, the more neural pathways your mind creates to realize these self requested qualities. Now, begin to practice your chosen form or set of moves. See yourself doing your forms with more grace, power and energy than humanly possible. Imagine yourself being or morphing into a mythical, dragon. Coiling, spinning and turning as if you were not limited by human bone structure. You can mount to the sky, float in the air, move mountains, change the course of mighty rivers etc. Whatever images of supreme universal power that appeal to you and feel are right are great.
Whenever I do these exercises, I make myself out to be as strong as Superman, more graceful than Fred Astaire, and smarter than Einstein. In other words, just pretend that the sky’s the limit. Have a lot of fun; be creative and confident no one can stop you from succeeding at this. It’s your movie. Impose no limitations on yourself.
Go all the way through your chosen moves or a form in this manner. See and feel every glorious move in vivid detail. Move in perfect harmony with your surroundings. Be an integral part of it, so that you and your scene exchange gestures and/or moments of appreciation for each other. Make your closing moves so sublime that they cause ripples of joy throughout your environment. Notice the appreciation from the elements, animal’s, plants or trees. Exchange mutual gratitude. Thank and be thanked. Tell the environment that you will return and look forward to further play. Take a few deep breaths and slowly begin to open your eyes. Adjust back into normal waking reality slowly and with care. Take your time; ease yourself back into things so you can maximize your acquired relaxation and vitality. At first it may be quite difficult to maintain your images, but with consistent practice it will get easier and easier and the effects on your physical training in time will become quite pronounced.
It’s the Thought that counts
The basic concept for all internally motivated people seems to be “Thoughts are things”! In order for you to have success in developing strong internal arts connections (Beng, Lu, An, Fa, etc.), you should believe this catch phrase with all your heart and mind. It is a universal human truth. From Buddha to Einstein, most successful people in various walks of life advocate and live by this philosophy.
Furthermore, let us remember the simple truth that creative imagination and vision are the seeds of every great human achievement. In order to develop your mental focus and control, you should give your Imagination Muscles a daily workout. It’s just like lifting weights, doing push ups or any form of strength and conditioning. If you don’t feel comfortable doing these exercises at first don’t worry, it gets easier, and it takes time. Just as building muscle or aerobic conditioning takes time. As you progress, they become delightful and highly educational in a variety of ways. The more we focus our minds, the better we get. To quote Shakespeare “We know what we are, not what we may become.” So become more with Dragon Meditation. Enjoy!