It’s a noisy world, and getting noisier. The gal next to you in the restaurant is almost yelling into her mobile phone, making you wonder why the phone is even necessary. People start loud conversations only after they have crossed the street, half a block away from each other. The workmen move into place and start their banging two seconds after you thought you had found your shady spot.
And if the garden is noisy, closer to home is a war zone. What about all that noise going on inside your head? Our personal space is a folded origami of perceptions so close we can barely detect its meaning and shape. We worry about our sister’s baby, we feel the stiffness of that new collar which triggers a memory of being an altar boy, bringing back a recalled fragrance that blends with the smell of the cheeseburger. A mishmash of perceptions.
We can hardly guess what internal silence would be like but sometimes we’d love to have some kind of polarized glass that would at least reduce the chatter inside the box. We cannot deny that some of this shutting out could only soothe and relax us. At the same time we might be able to see inward as though our binoculars suddenly focused, or the mist cleared momentarily to reveal the gardens’ colors.
And that is exactly the problem. We have become a culture obsessed with itself. And we are continually listening to those who need us to be listening to them when they tell us that we should be listening. The culture works on assumptions that are self-validating. Everyone needs to participate. This is the best of all times. The party is here, the fun is here. Everyone is important, even if we can’t hear every one.
There are those who, like Julian Jaynes, believe that group consciousness preceded individual consciousness. And what may be happening now is a reversal of that trend, a tribal reconversion. Standing alone and returning to your self is, I sometimes think, a radical activity in itself. It is, as a Christian might say, an abstention. It is not, mind you, a form of denial because denial says “No” to something while abstention says, “I’d rather not.” The implication is that there’s no need to make a decision, the issue isn’t important enough. Instead I’m going to go over here and just stand by myself for a while.
There are far more people seeking a little simple quiet than we might imagine. And the assumption is that they can just walk away, hide in their bedrooms or stake out a cave and go and be alone. Other people see no reason to surrender the field. They feel that the world, rather than they, should make the concession and quiet down a bit. And they are right. The fact that there are thousands of people talking loudly and thoughtlessly doesn’t make it the rule of law.
Qigong practitioners need to know that the reason standing is so difficult is that social messages are telling the opposite story, a story of noise, shock and endless conversations at high volume. When you stand you aren’t just trying to shut out the noise but to direct your attention to the direction of the inner music. You want to hear each and every instrument’s contribution.
As martial artists we at least owe it to ourselves and our art to become acquainted with this inner world. Sometimes it is elusive. Sometimes, I believe, it is even scary. You stand for ten minutes absolutely still and you find, to your secret horror, that no one really needed you for that time— maybe you aren’t indispensable!
But you are, and you become more indispensable with every minute you stare into your own true face. Thoreau said that people love travel stories and that anyone who had traveled within himself had much to bring back and tell.