Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Exploring our Mental Contructs

Having just come in from throwing snow, what better time to kick back with a nice hot cup of tea and read a guest post by Rick Taracks, who teaches Wujifaliangong at The School of Cultivation and Practice in Plymouth, Michigan. I've known Rick for many years, and he's an excellent teacher. Please pay a visit to his blog. Rick has made a special study of standing practice, or Zhan Zhuang.

Noticing Conflicts and Wujifa

It seems to be human nature to cling to certain beliefs, concepts, methods or rules. Let's refer to these simply as “mental structures” or "mental constructs". These structures can very often feel familiar and comfortable to us almost like "home" or at times they can feel strange or even like mental trappings and feel some what or even very uncomfortable. In either case, mental structures can either be very limiting or very useful depending on how they are approached.

It seems like common sense to say, "To be functional, we need to adjust, update or discard beliefs and concepts that have become obsolete." that is, until your mental construct comes face to face with a very different situational reality. At that point, many people would rather distort their reality than take a closer look at what the changes, either around them or within them, may be suggesting. The simple act of looking at these obsolete beliefs, concepts or mental structures, will open a road to discovery and greater understanding.

First, we must acknowledge that there is both an experience in “real-time” and then there are the previously established ideas, beliefs, methods, or rules which can limit the real-time experience. Rather than saying the real-time experience is good and the limiting experience is bad, we can explore the framework of these mental structures and in so doing, find them useful. And to be useful, since we are exploring unfamiliar territory, it’s best to keep the "chunk size" of our exploration to that which is easily “digestible”. As long as we remain flexible and open to the possibility that the chunk size at which we are working is not the whole picture, and so is most likely flawed, we will leave the door open just enough to allow new insights.

A brief recap, the mental constructs we create can serve a functional purpose in that they can be explored as methods; they are not the truth. Therefore, by exploring and understanding our mental constructs, we can open ourselves to learning much more about ourselves as the inconsistencies of our beliefs, concepts and rules are examined and exposed.

Often one can find that different internal belief systems and even seemingly functional concepts can conflict with one another in an “either-or” manner. A typical response is to say that one is wrong or one is right without looking deeper. This is a perfectly fine place to start. However, if one stops there and doesn’t allow space for something else to be noticed, then the person may get "locked-in". Ultimately, there is often an un-noticed, more functional, underlying principle and herein lies the opportunity for growth.

Like the finger pointing to the moon, we notice the conflicts (the finger) but often overlook noticing the deeper and more generalized concept or concepts that such conflicts can be pointing toward. The alternative to this "either-or" conflict can be just the thing for an "a-ha" moment if we take the time to explore there.

Consider the following example. Think of the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang. This concept of polarity can point the way back to a place where the differences were once connected in a different form of harmony, a more true type of connectedness or oneness. But we must both learn how to and be open to formulating questions, sometimes questioning our own inner authority. In this example, we may ask: What is the concept that gave rise to this polarity or Yin and Yang? What was there before polarity arose at all?

This is but one example of how to trace an either-or, right-wrong, polarity type of issue back to its source. Again, noticing the method is like noticing the finger and questioning the method is like noticing the direction being pointed to and together, both can lead to an "a-ha" moment; a deeper understanding.

But having one “a-ha” moment is not the end of the show. Over time, "a-ha" moments tend to crystallize into concepts and as time passes, these may be revealed as being a method in polarity or a belief in conflict with another method or belief respectively. Upon making this discovery, some people may get dejected, however, this is a wonderful growth opportunity because the fallacy of this polarity (when thoroughly questioned and examined) can point to the next lesson and the next step in your development.

In the word "Wujifa", the "Fa" means principle. In Wujifa, “principle” serves as a method to reveal greater understanding so we can notice the direction the so called "finger" is pointing to. The practice of Wujifa is more than practicing methods, though this is where many people start. Wujifa practice becomes a series of “a-ha” moments and over time, each moment reveals a deeper more unifying principle.

In the end it comes down to movement; change and development. Mental constructs, whether they are called, beliefs, concepts, methods, or rules, and the crystallization of concepts as being right or wrong, can lock you into a limiting system which may, over time, bear no relation to your current, present, real-time experience. Tracing the mental construct back to its source, to its underlying principle, is in itself a method that is used to expose the constructs for what they are and in so doing, can keep us moving toward a deeper understanding, one which can functionally transform us by giving us a more fluid understanding of the direction we are headed and ultimately further ground or “root” us in our present, real-time experience. This simply concept can help in many different practices and is also one of the foundational tools we use in our Wujifa practices and skill-sets.


Mike at said...

Nice post. Let me see if I got the gist of it... Notice conflicts or inconsistencies in my thinking or between my thinking and "what is" and then ask a few simple questions to unveil a deeper principle that is common to both? Seems too easy. What's the catch? Or am I missing something?

Rick Matz said...

I'm thinking that this is the sort of thing that is easy to theorize about, but tough to actually do.

Rick said...

Some of the seemingly simple tricks can be just that AKA tricky. The cool thing is the process. In Wujifa we say "you are where you are and that's where you start." Simple tricks, or let's say processes like noticing conflicts and asking so simple question can really help with insights This simple process is overlooked way to often and can cause real problems when 10 years later people finally stop and ask why.

I know I can get a little wordy at times. I hope that anyone who practices these simple tricks will see the value in them. They also become easier to do with time. If you want to find place to get some good question just do a little research on quality improvement, bench marks, or Mr Demming who brought quality processes to light here in the United States a number of years ago.