Thursday, April 25, 2019
This is a favorite instruction from one of my martial arts teachers. As we move through different postures and exercises, he often reminds us, “Where is your vertical line?” or “Find your vertical line.”
This vertical line runs from the crown of our head straight through our body to the perineum, right between our legs. It goes by several names – central channel, central axis, central equilibrium, or in Chinese zhong ding. The Chinese characters for zhong ding are 中 meaning center or middle, and 定 meaning to settle. The bottom part of the second character means upright or correct. So zhong ding means to settle or align in the central upright position. If you are a Star Trek fan, imagine the warp core, the energy source of the space ship, usually pictured as a vertical cylinder pulsing with light (as in the photo above).
When our zhong ding is properly aligned and cleared of any blockages, a channel is open between heaven and earth, pulsing light and energy. We are in balance, grounded, moving freely and effortlessly.
As with many aspects of martial arts, this concept works just as well in daily life as it does in the dojo. Going through some unsettling shifts in recent months, I have felt confused, off balance, and out of sync. Anxiety takes our energy upwards into our heads, and we lose our connection to our body and our emotional ground or center. We sometimes try to avoid sadness, escape discomfort, or control things outside ourselves. In our struggle, we increase the suffering of suffering.
This is where we practice, isn’t it? On the razor’s edge. Not where we are all comfortable and kumbaya. No, we practice for these times when we are caught off guard, knocked off balance, at the edge of our comfort zone, in pain, afraid. In other words, we practice in life, in real life, as it is.
So I hear my teacher’s words. Where is my vertical line? Find my vertical line.
I find it first in my body. When I sense my zhong ding aligned and open, then my body leads my emotions and my mind into balance. Energy pulses through the open channel. Yes, sadness is still there, but in equilibrium with all other emotions. Fear is soothed with stillness. Everything moves freely and in harmony.
Until it doesn’t.
And then I hear another teacher’s favorite instruction.
Friday, April 19, 2019
Saturday, April 13, 2019
This chapter highlights the folly of thinking that we know what’s good or bad, or that we can control things outside ourselves. It begins with an observation about government.
When government is unobtrusive
People are wholesome and pure
When government is oppressive
People are restless and contentious
The Tao Te Ching’s passages on government are consistent with the view that the “government is best that governs least,” or with the concept of a “servant leader.” This is challenging to apply to today’s world when the more traditional social structures of villages and small communities are missing in much of the developed world. So I prefer to consider these “government” passages in relation to our own individual self-government. Then the message of the text is easier to discern and apply.
When I am overly harsh with self-criticism, or overly strict with rigid rules, I lose my connection with the divine energy that moves all around me and through me. If instead, I remain fluid and in alignment with this energy, then, to borrow from Buddhist terminology, “right action” naturally and effortlessly occurs.
Our loss of alignment often results from judgment, and attachment or aversion. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Good fortune arises from the ashes of misfortune
Misery is held in the folds of joy’s robes
The characters for good fortune/joy 福 and misfortune/misery 祸 have the same radical, or root, meaning to reveal, as in a sacred revelation. This suggests that good fortune and misery are both rooted in holy origin, both part of the divine dance of life.
The chapter goes on to explain that when we impose our rigid standards of judgment (like an oppressive government) on our experience, we become confused and misguided. However, when we drop our judgments of good and bad, our attachment to pleasure and our aversion to pain, we can see everything as it is. We take our place in the divine dance.
Everything shares the same breath. But the movement of the breath comes and goes. It ends only to begin again. ~Wang P’ang