Finding Ekstasis: Xeper in the Art of Fighting

Last spring, I began studying Baguazhang. I had spent the year before acclimating to a new job that required me to be in an office forty hours a week. About eight months into my tenure as an office dwelling pencil pusher I started feeling sick. My body ached. My stomach was constantly in shambles. I started shaking all the time. This wasn’t surprising considering the lack of physical activity I was getting between my day job and producing music at home. Both of these things required me to be sedentary for upwards of eighteen hours a day. I would go to bed and repeat the cycle the next day, which, in retrospect is a horrifying experience to re-live in my mind. The process of breaking out of this self-destructive cycle began with my investigation into traditional Japanese fan dancing, Wing Chun, and Tai Chi. Unfortunately, I couldn’t participate in the fan dancing classes because they happened while I had work. The local Wing Chun school was quite promising, but it was about forty minutes away from where I lived. I did actually start doing Tai Chi for about two months with a rather nice group of people at the local Chinese Cultural center in Tucson, but I quickly bailed on them after realizing that it was a glorified swingers club for people above the age of 55.

I began searching for solutions closer to my apartment and discovered a school that taught internal Chinese martial arts literally a mile down the road. I wrote their association and was informed about their meeting times and attended my first class. The school was hidden in plain sight. The only indicator that the school was different than the houses around it were the two ivory “foo dogs” that stood watch at the entrance. When I entered, I was greeted by paintings and photos of smiling Bagua and Xingyiquan practitioners Dong Hai Chuan, Liang Zhenpu, Gao Yisheng, Zhang Junfeng, Li Guichang and a group of five people slapping the shit out of their bodies. At first I wanted to laugh, but I was quickly beckoned into the circle to join in on the “light” body slapping.

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I later discovered that light body slapping is done at the start of every class to essentially wake the body up by getting the blood flowing. In the context of my initiation this fit in well as a way to physically explore what it meant to literally go from white to red and back again. With every slap, my circulation improved, my blood rose to the surface of my skin, and for a few hours several times a week I began to realize the importance of using exercise as a way to quiet the brain.

Notice, I did not say my practice of Baguazhang shuts down the brain. Baguazhang is an internal martial art. It works by activating different structures in the brain that I don’t normally use while simultaneously quieting the prefrontal cortex. This allows me to stimulate a state of Flow by being able to focus wholly on what I’m doing without being interrupted by my self-consciousness. Bruce Lee referred to this as the “emptying of the cup.”

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Bagua has given me an outlet to stimulate my ability to achieve a state of Flow with greater frequency and ease. My initial experience with using martial arts in this way didn’t come until I was able to have a grasp the basics of my chosen fighting art. Which is why I’ve only really begun to write about it now–this is a new, unexpected development in my personal quest to constantly improve.

Flow requires us to bring several automatized skills together in order to kick up our focus to a level that allows us to experience it. It takes awhile when we begin to learn a new skill or artform before we can actually experience a brain quieting flow-state. Steven Kotler, author of “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance” would describe this experience as “Transient Hypofrontality:”

“In flow, parts of the brain aren’t becoming more hyperactive, they’re actually slowing down, shutting down. The technical term for this is transient, meaning temporary, hypo frontality. Hypo[…]the opposite of hyper means to slow down, to shut down, to deactivate. And frontality is the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that houses your higher cognitive functions, your sense of morality, your sense of will, your sense of self.”

I get a sense of deep embodiment when I practice Baguazhang. There’s nothing quite like being locked eye to eye with another person while focusing on multiple outlets of your own physicality. The ancient Greeks called this deep embodiment, ἔκστασις (Ekstasis). Ekstasis can be best described as an altered state beyond the normal “sense of self.” Ekstasis is NOT Flow, but it is a byproduct of being able to achieve Flow on a regular basis. In a Setian context, being able to experience Ekstasis means tapping into my “divine pattern.”

Now just imagine how amazing I feel by being able to achieve Ekstasis a several times a week! Baguazhang has all but become not only a powerful tool, but a conduit in which I can interface with my higher self so long as I continue to practice it or something like it.

Tapping into Flow takes practice. When it comes to my practice of Bagua I fail at tapping into it several times a session. This is usually caused by me trying to mentally dissect forms or movements. In terms of my physicality this “over-thinking” comes from making use of my prefrontal cortex.

I’ve experienced wonderful success imprinting myself with the overload of information I get from my practice the less “think” about it. And the less I think about it, the more I experience Ekstasis by having meaningful personal breakthroughs on a regular basis.

For instance, I was able to fully retain the positions of the nine palaces and the thirteen elbow form last month after working with them each for half an hour. Everything prior to that took several months for me learn. Part of my ability to retain this information comes from the challenge of seeing if I could actually do it, which I could surprisingly, but part of it also comes from a grasp of the basic movements I’ve spent perfecting since last spring.

Bagua has taught me how to get in touch with my immediate physicality–a.k.a. those things that I can see in the mirror. It has also taught me that I am fully capable of interfacing with of my physicality that I previously regarded as impossible to connect with like blood flow, internal energy, successful breathing, and various parts of my brain.

While it could be argued that certain notions of “emptying” the cup could be misconstrued as more of a right hand path philosophy I would argue that the “loss of self” that is experienced by learning to stimulate Flow through shutting down the prefrontal cortex requires the same control it takes to move our sovereign consciousnesses through the objective universe. “Emptying the cup” is something I do voluntarily for the purpose of stimulating Flow in an effort to connect with my divine pattern through Ekstasis.

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding Ekstasis: Xeper in the Art of Fighting

Safety, the Illusion — Change in Five Steps for the Self-Styled Doer

Here I detail five steps in working towards change. Looking to shake things up? Looking to get motivated? Then maybe you should try some of these strategies. I had a lot of fun writing this one.

1. Awareness

In the case of bad habits the first and most vital step is becoming aware of the things in our lives that we want to change. Most people are fully aware of their bad habits. Choosing to actually do something about the things we want to change, however, separates movers and shakers from the undeniably lazy. It’s easy to be aware of a problem you have. Even a lazy person knows what aspects of themselves they want to change. The difference is choice. The lazy individual chooses apathy when it comes to confronting change. It is required that a person plays an active part in confronting the problem they’ve become aware. Without this awareness it is impossible to begin the act of changing it.

Personal growth and previous triumph in solving life’s problems gives the effective individual the necessary tools to become efficient in dealing with this phase of solving a bad habit or a problem. Many, but not all individuals, cease to grow with respect to this awareness phase at an adolescent level of maturity. That is, Mom asks Johnny “what is wrong?” to which Johnny replies, “Nothing.” Johnny knows what’s wrong deep down. He either chooses not to confront his problem due to fear of being judged, fear of ineptitude, fear of the future…etc., etc. or deals with it by evaluating what is wrong and making an active choice to confront his anxieties and the dark unknown.

Don’t be Johnny. Grow up.

tumblr_n3n4myo0to1tt3ubdo1_5002. Evaluation & Honesty

The idea of having a confrontation with a bad habit suggests that overcoming fear of change plays a big part in the awareness process, but moreso in the evaluation of a problem. A person who has a disposition to create and cultivate change within themselves is able to confront fear directly because they are able to evaluate exactly how their bad habits are triggered. Why do we do the things we do? The first step in the evaluation process is finding the strength to be honest with yourself. As Søren Kierkegaard once wrote, “there are two ways to be fooled…one is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” It is easy to convince ourselves that our bad habits can be positive. If left unchecked and ignored, we take a back seat to our id monsters and choose to be less conscious to the negative aspects our problems may bring us. We must be honest with ourselves. We must have the personal fortitude to step outside of ourselves to question everything that surrounds our bad habits or problems. Without honesty, defeating the things within ourselves we want to change becomes an impossibility. Procrastination, self-inflicted sabotage, frustration, anger, and extreme depression are all results of personal dishonesty.

3. Dealing with Setbacks – Cultivating Motivation

The pre-programmed American was born for quitting. Quite often the biggest obstacle in overcoming a problem or bad habit is lack of positive foresight. People are predisposed for disappointment because we are programmed to expect immediate results for everything. The fork will indicate that a process of defeating a problem is undercooked, and yet many people will choose to remove our processes from the proverbial oven before they’ve been fully developed.

It is absolutely okay to want something now. The way you use that desire will determine how to deal with setbacks. We can choose to get frustrated when the things we want are far outside of our reach, or we can opt to use our desires as fuel for motivation. While powering through a process may be the inherent knee jerk reaction to getting a process to work, the best method to working on something is in short focused bursts. The best work occurs when we can aim our undivided attention in the direction of the things we need to make happen.

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Please look forward to it.

In addition to positive foresight we also must learn acceptance when dealing with setbacks. We must first grow to accept that some processes take large amounts of time to generate any progress. This is part of the process of change that we cannot control in an objective sense. Dealing with the passage of time is all perspective, especially when that time is, at face value–devoid of pleasure. Slowing down, taking in the details, and developing an autotelic sense of self-discovery within the subjective universe of yourself is a good first start in dealing with the prospect of acceptance of time. Without time, there is no personal growth. Without personal growth there is nothing positive to cultivate in the process of overcoming our problems.

There will be times when we have to do and redo the same process over hundreds of times without apparent progress. Accepting the possibility of this need allows us to to achieve greater understanding of ourselves and to the things that cause our setbacks. Eventually, learning to not make the same mistake twice in a row results in progression.

In order to deal with setbacks, we must recharge our motivations to act in order to positively move towards our goals. At times, we must accept that we will be incapable of overcoming distraction. We also must accept our limitations—we need to rest. Without rest it is easy to become burnt out which is toxic to maintaining our motivations.

We must be vigilant. What is our intent in cultivating change? Is that intent directly connected with the outcome of our eventual endgame?

4. Creating Change—Safety, the Illusion

Nothing ever worthwhile is ever easy. Sure, playing it safe gives us a certain level of comfort. But safety can result in stasis and stagnation. Being comfortable results in no progression. When it comes to change safety is a negative. Safety is easy, therefore it isn’t worthwhile.

I’m not saying that we must plunge headfirst without abandon into the all-encompassing darkness of the future in order to create change. Learning to anticipate our next step is a vital part of the process in creating change. Granted, we won’t always be able to anticipate our next steps, but we must temper ourselves in order to deal with the unexpected bumps in the road. We must be aware of our shortcomings. We must be able to evaluate ourselves with unfiltered honesty.

Everything we want lies on the other side of fear. Creating change is an active process that requires us to challenge ourselves to face the unknown aspects of our potential and tap into them. By thinking about changing something about ourselves, that begins the process to actualize it. Choosing whether or not to act on actualizing change is directly related in overcoming our anxieties and fears.

How do we know the change we are about to attempt will work or not? The worst that can occur is failure, in which we owe to ourselves to learn from our experiences and pick ourselves back up again to fight another day.

tumblr_ngarjtnDz31stu0tlo1_500There will always be quitters. There will always be people too lazy to change themselves. There will always be people who fail and choose to die in bleak deserts of their own self-doubt. Those people do not exist in our world. As self-styled doers we must not give into our inherent animal tendencies to wither away and die. We must active be aware that it is our responsibility to ourselves to move forward.

Change requires planning. It requires persistence to continue amidst opposition. It also requires the ability to set aside idiosyncratic cannibal propensities and obsessive counter intuitive behaviors. We do this in order to direct ourselves in a positive direction towards the change we wish to cultivate within our subjective universe. Change means pursuing moderation over excess. Finesse over brute force. Patience over frustration. Change involves the will and the ability to do. To bring our subjective desires into the continuity of the objective house which exists in the world outside of ourselves.

5. Understanding Change

When the resolution of our problems results in the development of new problems, we know that we have changed something in our world. When problems are solved, new ones will always arise. Without this, we would fall back into stagnation. A life without problems is no life at all. A stagnant, comfortable life is just that—one devoid of self-reflection. It is illusory, and non-existent. Without the prospect of personal growth, there is no prospect of a meaningful life.

Understand that when it comes to enacting positive change in your life safety is illusory. Safety is limitation. It will work against you every time. Don’t be fooled by your id monster into stasis and comfort. Work against your natural inclinations. Produce new self-created standards in which to live by. Force yourself to feel excellent–because when you consciously make a decision to confront your fears and enact change you will embody excellence.

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Safety, the Illusion — Change in Five Steps for the Self-Styled Doer

Charlotte Lips and the Smell of Mutation

Life is best when it’s ever-changing. Mutation smells wonderful. It makes me misty all over with the eyes of transformation. Charlotte lips. Bring out the self I never knew. She, the living energy that gives me a sense of “selfness” lies slightly below the heart. A cloud of darkness–she dictates my everything.

He is Leviathan. He is Set. She is Lilith. Babalon.

tumblr_njgjhxM9gA1unsh07o1_r3_540This week had regularity. It had the irregularity of chartreuse. Smiles. Emotions. Admiration and courage.

I can never bear children. Nor would I want to. I value my free time far too much. The last three weeks have awakened feelings inside of me I have never knew. It’s hard to resist smiling when a little one regards you with absolute joy. I’m learning to remember what it was like to see the appeal in otherworldly beauty. Am I exotic? Your children follow me with their eyes so you don’t have to.

Before, I was angry, and the questions never ceased. Did I ever belong? Darkness. Without abandon I ran into it. Cover every mirror. A thirty year nightmare. Awaken. Dirt drowns, lost within itself to funeral libations.

I remember when I was little. Beauty, so easily defined.

Reds–the framework. Black–the heart. Charlotte–the lips. Mutation–the self.

Charlotte Lips and the Smell of Mutation

Eating, Breathing, Living Your Art — TED talk with Dianna David

So what do you really want to do with your life? Write erotic Lovecraftian fan fiction? Paint cats in astronaut suits playing poker? Dance like a maniac? Play Satanic heavy metal?

The first question you need to ask yourself is: How do you pursue happiness? It’s simple really. Do the things you love. By doing so you’ll inspire others to do the same.

The Rules to Happiness!

1. Have Fun. Do things because you intrinsically want to do them. What would your five year old self think about what you’re doing now?

2. Have discipline and patience. The old platitude goes: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Manifesting your dreams requires time and positive energy. It requires you to stay motivated.

3. Perform. Share yourself to the world. Network. Get to know people on every level of your craft. Their experience can add to your own success. Listen to others who know more than you. Teach those who know less than you. Collaborate. Rid yourself of resentment for people living what you perceive to be your dream and live your dream.

4. Persevere. Never give up. Stay on target. When you fall, get back up. Failures are learning experiences. Rid yourself of fear.

Below is an amazing TED talk by Dianna David. It’s definitely worth your time.

Eating, Breathing, Living Your Art — TED talk with Dianna David

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Happiness

“What I ‘discovered’ was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of a good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.”

–Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi from “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Happiness