Those of us who live a Daoist Longevity Practice do so to cultivate stillness. ?The daily discipline of qigong, taiji and meditation is certainly rewarding for the benefit of good body health . . . evening meditation to accumulate qi; morning qigong to circulate that qi; and daily taiji, the moving meditation, to manage and direct it.
It is the stillness, though, that these skills help us find, and the reward of settling ourselves in the moment, to be present and fully engaged in our daily lives. ?We aren?t interested in religious rationalizations, or elaborate intellectual explanations. We simply want clarity.
In the stillness we seek each day with our skills practice, we raise the most basic of existential questions: ?who we are, what we are, where we came from, why we?re here, where we will go, and so on. We turn inward to find these answers, while most others turn outward seeking answers from others. Life is to be lived from the inside out. We already have those answers inside of us if only we could, if only we would, listen.
In Chapter 15 of the Dao de Ching, Laotzu wrote:
Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
Imagine a glass of water into which you drop a couple tablespoons of dirt, and give a good stir. You have muddy water. But if it is allowed to sit long enough, the mud will settle, and the water above will become clear.
Have patience. ?Breathe.
However, do not confuse stillness and clarity with everlasting happiness. ?There will still be sadness in life, but those who have found some level of the clarity that results from cultivating stillness will understand the moment of sadness, fully experience it, and then look beyond it. ?If one is to be fully engaged in life, it is necessary to be present in each moment of it. Attaching to, and getting stuck in, sadness, prevents you from that, from being present. Moments are precious, and those passed are forever lost. ?They are not to be wasted.
Keep in mind, too, the same applies to happiness. ?Fully experience it, but then look beyond because the next moment is coming. ?Things change, the never-ending pendulum, the yin-yang of things, the dynamic tension between which animates all things.
This is why we see happiness and sadness as being the same, each to be experienced fully in their moment, but then let go of as merely a temporal emotionalism, readying ourselves to face the next moment as it presents. ?How often, though, do we get lost in them, and lose what is right in front of us?
One of the exercises I teach my students is what I call ?Slow by Slow.? ?It?s very simple, although not necessarily easy.
Pick a day this week to be your ?slow by slow? day. ?Make a conscious effort moment to moment throughout the day to slow down: ?walk slower, speak slower, eat slower. Think slow . . . not robot slow, or movie slow motion, just slower than usual for you.
Become aware of your speed, watch yourself as you walk just a bit slower than usual; listen to yourself as you speak just a bit slower than usual; eat a bit more slowly than you usually do. ?When you find yourself speeding along at your normal pace, recognize it, take a long, slow and deep breath, and return to your ?slow by slow? day.
If you can maintain both the slowing down of your daily activity, and a contemporaneous awareness of having done so, you will likely sense an inward stillness. ?Build on it by repeating your ?slow by slow? day next week, and so on. No special skill is necessary for this exercise . . . only a serious commitment, and the discipline to fulfill it.
Our qigong and Shui Taiji form are played slowly, movements matched to the pace of our breathing. ?They are not slow motion, but they are slow. We focus on the ?slow by slow? of them, intent on managing and moving our qi throughout the body. ?We turn inward in these daily disciplines, finding the stillness within, finding clarity in the moment.
We let that stillness and the resultant clarity inform our day, facing whatever each moment presents, able to respond appropriately to it by having the patience to let our mud settle.