No Practice

Sometimes my morning qigong practice consists entirely of sitting and gazing out the window.  I used to feel guilty about this, as if I were dodging my commitment, succumbing to laziness, just plain goofing off.  But my dog, a Chinese Pug whose ancestors lived in Tibetan monasteries and who knows a thing or two about these matters, is teaching me the value of simplicity. She is a master of the Taoist meditation practice called “sitting and forgetting.”

With the quietude of an old monk, she spends some portion of each day sitting by the window watching life unfold in the yard outside. One morning I took my tea and joined her instead of immediately starting my daily qigong exercise. We sat on the landing halfway up the stairs (her favorite spot,) where there’s a view of the garden from two corner windows. Squirrels dashed about; the neighbor’s black tabby cat sat quietly watching the fish pond; woodpeckers dived at the feeders; a few falling leaves, harbingers of autumn, traced a lazy path through the air. We just sat and watched. I sipped my tea. I thought maybe I should get on with my morning practice instead of wasting time staring out the window. But then I poured another cup of tea, my gesture as simple and natural as the drifting autumn leaves.

Sometimes our practices become self-improvement projects. It’s not easy to notice when this happens.  At what point does commitment become drudgery, discipline a lifeless and repetitive routine? How do we stay true to the living moment, the ever fresh and spontaneous movement of the qi?  Surely daily practice is important, you argue. We couldn’t just go along doing whatever we want like children at play. After all, we have to show up for work every day. How will we make progress, stay healthy, achieve our goals, if we don’t practice every day?  Well, yes. I know these arguments well, and I agree. My daily practice creates a sturdy vessel for me. Anchored by the consistency of that container, I’m better able to handle life’s unexpected and unpredictable events with some measure of grace.

On the other hand, perhaps the ultimate mastery is the practice of “no-practice,” just doing each thing as it comes up. Yes, like a child. Right now, I’m gazing out the window.  My dog leans peacefully against me. I reach for another cup of tea.

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