Monday, November 2, 2015

"I Don't Have Time To Practice" and Other Nonsense

It is a simple reality of most spiritual practice that there are no serious short cuts.  Discipline is an essential virtue for growth.  Some sincere spiritual practices place very high demands on their practitioners, some place much lower demands, but all have in common that they require steady and regular practice (almost always daily practice, of at least a baseline of exercises) in order to be fruitful.

In the cases of Yi Fa Qi Gong, or of growth of understanding and development of skill with the I Ching, when students suggest to me that they are not making progress, the first thing I would ask of them is "are you practicing at least a little bit every day"?  There can be other reasons for failure in these practices, or it is also possible that a student may be in fact making progress but just doesn't feel as though they are, but the single most frequent cause of genuine lack of progress is a failure to practice with consistency and regularity.

And by far, the most common reason or excuse given for this failure is that the student "doesn't have enough time".  Some say it as though they truly wish they could have enough time, as though they would be dedicating hours of the day to practice, if only that were possible; but their schedules mean that they can't spare even enough of their time to do the most basic work.

But let's consider this for a moment:  in Yi Fa Qi Gong, the absolute most basic level of daily practice would involve the following:
-warm-up exercises
-Preliminary practices
-Level 1 "Earth" practice
-Qi Breathing

Of these, Qi Breathing does not need to be done at any set time.  Certainly, it is worthwhile to do a few minutes at least of standing meditation at the end of the Earth practice, or to do a few minutes of sitting practice. But if this was not possible (and even if it is possible and you do it) it is still very worthwhile to just do Qi Breathing throughout the day whenever you remember to. It doesn't have to be done apart from the rest of your activity. You can practice Qi Breathing all the time in just about any situation; while doing any number of other activities. All you have to do is breathe. If you didn't have time to even breathe, you would be dead.

As for the other three, it takes about 2-3 minutes total to do the suggested warm-ups. It takes about 4 minutes total to do the preliminaries, and it can take as little as 5 minutes to do the Earth practice. Certainly, it might be more preferable if you could spend 10 minutes or more doing the Earth practice, but it would be possible to do it in 5.

So the bare minimum daily practice of Yi Fa Qi Gong requires, in a conservative estimate, a total of 12 minutes of the day.  If you were to repeat the Earth exercise three more times in the day as is strongly recommended, this would still theoretically be possible to do in less than a half-hour total throughout the day.

Of course, different people have different kinds of commitment, some people have more time in their schedules than others. Sometimes schedules get disrupted, it isn't always possible to do all the practice one might wish to do in a day. Even a Qi Gong master could have days where, because of particularly busy activities, it might not be possible to do as much as one would feel is even a truly decent minimum of practice.  There may be a day here and there of absolute emergency where due to catastrophic circumstances one might not be able to practice at all. And fortunately, very occasionally missing an entire day of practice is not the end of the world.

But the idea that anyone couldn't do the minimum of practice for the most part, on a sufficiently regular basis to see the benefits and grow in the effects of daily practice, is essentially nonsense.

The situation is similar with the study of the I Ching.  The "bare minimum" of study would here be to select one hexagram, read the material of that hexagram (which in The Magician's I Ching rarely takes up more than one single page of text, and could likely be read in well under five minutes), and then try to make some effort to think about what you have read over the course of the day (which can be done at any number of moments you find convenient).

Once again, there is no possible way that the vast majority of practitioners could truly "not have enough time" to accomplish this, if the will to do it is there.

What is really happening when someone says "I don't have enough time to practice" is usually a different situation altogether: when a student says they don't have time to practice, what is really happening is that (whether they realize it or not) they are choosing not to make practice a sufficiently high priority in their life.

There are some spiritual practices which demand a very high prioritization.  Some schools require that a practitioner leave their entire life behind and live in a monastic environment, dedicating every hour of their life to the practice.  Others are less strenuous but still put huge demands and expect that the student will make their spiritual work the very first priority above every other thing in their life.

The work of the Yi Fa Society does not do this.  It comes from a tradition of the 'secret schools' which not only allowed but expected students to lead regular lives, and considered their experiences and activities in that regular life to be an important 'field' or environment in which to put into practice the teachings of the school.  Moreso even than most of these schools, the work of the Yi Fa Society has been crafted to be as easy as humanly possible to incorporate into one's life; that is, as easy as it was possible to make without rendering the practice ineffective.  For example, while many systems of Qi Gong require that a practitioner set aside a single long period in the day for practice purposes, Yi Fa Qi Gong is set up so that one can compartmentalize the practice to fit their own schedule. A student can do all the exercises listed above at once, or they can spread it out in little bits over the course of the day.

There is no practice that I could conceive of that could be easier to do regularly and still be capable of effectively allowing for a full flowering of awareness in the practitioner over time.

So in the context of the Yi Fa Society, what is a correct level of priority to put on daily practice?

Most people, in their lives, have a variety of commitments.  In some cases these commitments are in essence obligatory: things that must be done to maintain one's basic obligations in the world.  Others are in essence voluntary: things that one does as a routine that are not ultimately essential to life in the world.
Among the former are the things that, from the perspective of the Yi Fa Society, should be put in an order of priority above daily practice.  These include: whatever is necessary to keep up one's health, commitment to family (and wider commitments to community), and commitment to one's work and career (or studies).

The work of the Yi Fa Society is not merely a practice for health, or mental well-being, or a hobby. It is a spiritual practice for self-transformation, and in some sense this work, of progressing toward the manifestation of the Superior Individual and Enlightenment, is the most important thing any human being could engage in.  As explained above, this does not mean that one should abandon other essential commitments for the sake of the practice; if for no other reason than that how you fulfill these other commitments is also an essential part of applying the practice itself, vital for the development of Virtue and a genuine growth of Awareness.

But at the same time, the Yi Fa practice should not be treated frivolously.

One more thing: it has been recently reported that for the first time, the number of hours on average that people spend online has surpassed the amount of time people spend watching television.  The combined time on average of both of these activities is somewhere around six hours a day!

Now, there's nothing wrong with this, and no one is suggesting that a student should stop engaging in these or any other activities they find engaging, relaxing, or interesting. But if a student can take just a small percentage of the time they spend doing these things, or any number of other things they occupy their day with, and decide to make the practice a priority in that small amount of time, the rewards are enormous.

The practices of the Yi Fa Society should not be a burden. They are meant to enrich your life. In order to do this, they require that your become aware of the great value they offer, and give them just a small but appropriate level of priority in your life.   If on careful inspection, and understanding what this practice offers, you still did not feel that you could give that time, then recognize that a spiritual practice is not something you actually value (at least not now).

On the other hand, if you consider this and acknowledge the potential value of spiritual practice in your life, let that reflect in an appropriate level of dedication to the work.

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