What’s a Good Starter Sword?

In the traditions that I teach, coach, and practice, one’s initial (so-called) ‘sword’ is not one to put in the hand, it is that which assists one in meditatively clearing one’s mind of internal dialogue/thought – cutting it away, so-to-speak. Hence, guided imagery meditation of various types can be forms of the sword, being a precursor or strategic step toward actually learning to ’empty’ one’s mind of thought. That said, meditative guided imagery is also a practice in and of itself, whether using it as a step to emptying the mind or not: If one becomes skilled in these practices/arts, it doesn’t in any fashion mean that one shouldn’t continue to utilize guided imagery/visualization in their meditative practice.

It is also important in this tradition to realize and respect the well-meaning healthful philosophy/notion that, no matter how skilled one becomes, there is nothing perfect on this earth – there’s always room for improvement, no matter the skill level. Additionally, these skills, even with regular effort, can take years or decades to reach a significant level of mastery. Not to overstate it, though again in this tradition, the concept of True Mastery embraces the notion that there is always room for improvement, greater mastery/skill…this is considered to be among life’s greatest blessings, especially as we benevolently make the effort to feel gratitude as such, to truly appreciate it. It is in the spirit of doing the right thing for the right selfless sake.

Many people find it fairly improbable or even preposterous to truly empty their minds of thought at the outset, hence necessitating learning to utilize the ‘sword’ which makes it simpler to slow down, slower, slower…the ‘monkey mind’. Hence, eventually learning or coming close to, not thinking/emptying one’s mind, e.g., in Mandarin, traditionally known in these arts as the h’ou t’ou. There are many versions of the h’ou t’ou. As aforementioned, from the traditional perspective herein, most forms of guided imagery/visualization are forms of the sword or h’uo t’uo. In the traditions that I teach, we have over a dozen types of guided imagery that are handed-down, albeit the foundation of all of them is focusing on one’s breath: In said arts, the goal of any guided imagery practice is to be focused solely, ideally on the guided imagery/visualization, in the context of ‘nothing more, nothing less,’ in, of, and unto itself. Thus, that is what makes it like a sword. Having said that, a complementary practice for focusing on one’s breathing, is to simply think the word “innnnnnn” as one breathes in, and think the word “ouuuuuut” as one breathes out – being physiologically and psychologically conjunctive or in congruence. For some this may seem to make success simpler, for others, it may make it more difficult – as is common, one size doesn’t fit all.

Another way by which to describe it, is that it is meant to keep one’s mind from thinking about anything, curtailing the cyclical thoughts which most people have difficulty abbreviating. This cyclical thinking is also coined as the “monkey mind” – so it is of significant importance to learn to “repulse the monkey.” (The name being also utilized, in the same context, to describe a particular technique in tai chi chuan.) Once one has nurtured this tool, it can be utilized in stressful situations to promote calm and clear headedness. We also often coin this concept/practice as “witnessing,” or “playing the part of a less and less blemished witness.” Ideally, it is without expectations or preset patterns by which to view the world…objective insight, no opinion, just witnessing. Once again, it’ll never be succinctly perfect – but it is of great importance to try: As is set forth philosophically herein, “One will never fail unless one strops trying. Trying is achieving.”

Below is a broader associated synopsis set forth in this tradition:

This is a form of mindfulness meditation guided imagery/visualization chi kung.

Herein, this guided imagery will be set forth for a standing position, but it can also be done in a sitting position – sitting on a chair/stool, or in a lotus sitting posture.

This exercise is titled in the form of a question – How Much Gratitude Does One Need to be Healthy?

Stand with one’s feet almost together (called a ‘humble stance’), and bend one’s knees comfortably. Put one’s tongue against the roof of one’s mouth (connecting the Governing and Central Vessels – congruent with acupuncture theory – accordingly, this promotes homeostasis, e.g., a healthful balance in the central nervous system). Relax one’s face, shoulders, hands, and feet – it’s said, “if they’re relaxed, you’re relaxed.”

Realize that relaxation is a true skill – there is always room for improvement. Realize, we ALWAYS have some stress, no matter how relaxed we are: try to shake it off – be so relaxed that one is barely standing – in what we coin as a Swaying Willow demeanor. Gently roll the spine above the waist, forward and backward. This demeanor is much like a willow tree swaying in a gentle wind. Breathe in, all the way forward and back, and breathe out in between.

Constantly adjust one’s vision so that one is looking just slightly above straight ahead, without focusing or staring: herein, one is endeavoring to play the part of a less and less blemished witness to one’s external environment – ideally without expectations…as if all is new to you, you know nothing (it isn’t genuinely possible to do this, but it is important to try). After a bit of time (as one chooses – but try not to hurry), continue with one’s eyes closed. Keep one’s eyes in their sockets as if one’s eyes are open and looking just slightly above straight ahead (don’t let one’s eyes droop or drop): herein, one is endeavoring to play the part of a less and less blemished witness to one’s internal environment, without fear or discomfort.

Get the ‘engine’ of the (advance versus reverse) diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing going: Breathe in, push one’s abdomen out, breathe out, pull one’s abdomen in. Pretend that one’s lungs are in one’s abdomen. One of the greatest gifts one can allow oneself, is all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing – there is nothing more healthful. In practicing this breathing for five minutes twice daily, within 30 to 60 days most people will realize all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing. It greatly enhances circulation, and promotes the secretion of relaxing, pain killing hormones (empirically substantiated).

Be in a spirit of gratitude and true appreciation, not thinking about it, just ‘being it’ – be all in the moment – a true appreciation of the miracle of the moment.

Try not to think, just witness one’s breathing, relaxation, and subtle movement. Again, endeavor to play the part of a less and less blemished witness. If a thought comes to one’s mind, embrace it, see it for what it is, try not to hang on to it, just let it go – put all of one’s attention in just what one is doing.

Mindfulness meditation is putting ALL of one’s attention into just one, two, or three aspects of what one is doing at any given time. It is next to impossible to be upset, anxious, worried, depressed, sad, or frustrated, if one is not thinking such thoughts. This is a primary purpose of mindfulness meditation – it is the sword that cuts out internal dialogue and/or cyclical thinking – ideally all thought…BEING ‘light’. Thoughts/internal dialogue are often ‘heavy’. – Instructor Glen Hepker

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