On "off"

fishes in pond forming a yin-yang symbol

Thanks to a few systems I've got in place right now, the ongoing Google Wave with Dave project and Hiro's class in keeping your sorry ass from getting sucked into the internet, I've been paying a lot more attention to where I place my attention.

This gets painful in spots, mainly because of my inability to stop just short of judging. On the other hand, it's helped me to notice that noticing alone is useful, whereas judging is not, so there you go: 49 years in and one very long trek around the barn, Colleen finally arrives at the usefulness of meditation she's heard tell of.

For those of us who have difficulty with modulation, "off" is both a tantalizing and terrifying setting. "Off" is restful in that deep, dark way, conking out cold after a long day/week/month of whatever. It is also the antithesis of getting stuff done: the only thing you get done on "off" is nothing.

Only...that's not quite true. Take sleep, for instance. (You might as well; I certainly don't.) In addition to all of the battery-recharging and physiological fortifying that happens while we're sleeping, there are crazy brain things happening, too, quite a lot of them. There is a whole lot of something going on during that nothingness, just of a much quieter, less obvious nature. Because, well, you're asleep.

In the same way, I've started to notice amazing changes both to my body and my outlook since I began practicing Nei Kung just five or so months ago. On the physical side, my posture has improved, my quads are turning into bands of steel and baby most definitely has back she hasn't had since her 20s. I am in better shape than I've been since I was hitting the gym five days a week and paying a trainer to do it with me for three of them, yet all I do now is basically stand in my apartment holding various poses for a half-hour daily.1

The mental shifts are happening just as slowly, or maybe quickly, although they are even more subtle. That I'm even willing to contemplate mere contemplation, much less do it, is extraordinary. Things still bother me, sure, but neither as much, nor for as long. I am hardly what I'd call a non-selfish bundle of compassionate energy, but I move much more quickly from "me" thinking (taking offense, being hurt, etc) to "other" thinking (giving the benefit of the doubt, or just noticing the "me" that is always in the way). I feel the beginnings of what I can only guess is something like grounding. I've even slowed down to the point where I can handle a short, Chinese-style meditation that my teacher shared with me. And, surprise, surprise, that shit works. So well, I may even try it more often.2

"Off" is not really "off," I'm discovering, but the flip side of "on." There is never nothing; like the white tadpole in the yin-yang taijitu I keep on on my wall, it is an opposing force, quiet and yielding, but no less a force than the other. Not only is "on" not "better" (caution: Western patriarchial cultural bias at work!), in one way, it's just there to make "off" be off. "On" does not exist without "off," and vice versa.

These are all pretty obvious "discoveries." (And I've already used far, far too many quotation marks to cordon things off in one essay.) But this is what is demanded of me if I will make the next discoveries to move myself to the next place, wherever the hell that may be. Because for those of you keeping score, yes, I'm finishing up Month #5 of Self-Imposed Hiatus on top of Year #2 (or #3, depending on how you count it) of figuring out what I want to do with my life. You think you're frustrated? HA.

This year, I am learning about "off." This past weekend, I took two full days of "off." I haven't done that since April of 2009, if you count a cross-country road trip while you're nursing an incipient Crohn's flare "off" (which I did, because I am batshit-crazy), and who-knows-how-long before then. But this weekend, at around 7pm, I just switched my setting to "off": drove up to Ojai, hung out with my friend, Jodi, and her dog, and all of their friends, and did exactly nothing.3

Like all things, this takes practice. One can make it a practice, which I intend to: one day per week, in the "off" position. Will I succeed every week? Doubtful. Possible. Who knows?

But "off," I am on...


Image by snflwrgddss23 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

1I even get to watch streaming Netflix while I do it. People are blown away when I tell them this, as most Westerners' chief exposure to the non-fighting martial arts is via the moronic b.s. montage ads for prescription medications featuring groups of people in floaty clothes doing graceful tai chi moves as a unit. Which is fine, if that floats yer boat, but entirely unnecessary. Nei Kung is the original "and you can do it all in just 30 minutes a day, while watching television!" exercise. The Chinese are an eminently practical people.

2Lest I inaccurately paint the picture of myself as an even somewhat enlightened being, know that there was a ridiculously obsessive and angry-making episode involving a kitchen faucet last week. That lasted two days. And is still not resolved.

3Of course, I was doing something all the time. Just a different something, and not particularly startling or noble: we ate quite a bit, and drank, caffeine and alcohol, and even nerded out with buddy computer tutorials. But I read almost a whole book, which I can't wait to tell you about, and dawdled and talked and generally had a grand old time.