excerpt from Blossoms in the Spring
So you’re going along just fine, delighting in your daily Qigong practice. But the question inevitably comes up, how do you know if you’re improving? There’s no belt system here, no tests to pass. Nothing really to achieve. Without the affirmation of acknowledged progress, why keep at it?
Often, when we take up a new physical discipline we have a particular goal in mind. Perhaps we want to lose weight, get fit, build muscle, or improve tone. Sometimes we take up the more esoteric physical practices, like Tai Chi, yoga, or Qigong, to reduce stress and create peace of mind. Either way, most of the time we have a way to gage our progress. There’s that depressing and relentless scale to measure weight, calipers to measure body fat, the mirror to reflect our shape and tone. Even to measure stress we’re usually able to find some criteria of progress like lower blood pressure readings or sounder sleep.
We live in a world that keeps us firmly focused on an external locus of evaluation. Most business and personal coaches teach us to clearly define our goals in terms of measurable objectives. If you can’t measure your progress, or so the thinking goes, how will you know if you’re succeeding? This of course is a necessary and fruitful approach to much of what we have to do in life. Unless you’re a monk (and even monks have kitchen duty), work and accomplishment are important aspects of life. Who among us hasn’t felt the inspiration and flush of joy that accompany a goal successfully achieved? It doesn’t seem to matter whether the thing is a marathon, a university degree, or a simple house chore checked off the list. We humans are hardwired to derive satisfaction from achievement.
But in modern society, we seem to be stuck in a desperate cycle of forward progress, at the expense of quietude, rest, and ultimately our health. As others have pointed out, we have become human doings instead of human beings.
Blossoms in the Spring invites us to be human beings again. No goal, other than to rediscover and experience yourself. Qigong in general, and Blossoms in particular, is not goal oriented, but feeling oriented. If you insist on some external way to measure your progress, you’re bound to get frustrated. Qigong is not a technique to get us somewhere. It’s not a tool in the service of some outward goal.
I’m reminded of the Taoist tale about the gnarled and twisted tree. Because of its irregular shape its wood was useless to the carpenter. So the tree was left alone to be itself, useless but perfect, peacefully fulfilling its destiny. Blossoms in the Spring is like this tree. It may not improve you or help you achieve more in your life. But its mere presence and beauty will transform you if you let it. If you practice genuinely, with curiosity and attention, you may just meet yourself and discover, with childlike wonder, what’s been there all along—your own perfection.