Zhan Zhuang

The following is an excerpt of one of my logs mentioning Zhan Zhuang and Brahmacharya, written in 2021. There has been recent interest in Zhan Zhuang practice in the groups I am a part of.

My teacher is all about the Zhan Zhuang and even though it was of my own accord that I started Brahmacharya and ZZ, when we talk he seems to see sitting practice as just an extension of ZZ and highly encourages objectless/effortless being. He doesn’t give much specific instruction, we just mostly have conversations about life and dharma. I have been searching for this type of relationship with a teacher and I’m beginning to see that he teaches by interaction rather than instruction. He has a keen way of making me see the crude aspects of my perception for myself without having to do much, and I am so grateful to have this kind of deep relationship with a genuine, authentic, non-commercial teacher (nothing against commercial teachers, but I tend to trust more obscure teachers because it seems much easier to have a real relationship with them).  

I am seeing a more and more complete, ongoing perception of the reality/mind paradox. In daily life I notice I can flip between different lenses of perception and seemingly contruct my own version of reality and “inhabit” one view completely, then effortlessly switch to another lens. I don’t prefer to intentionally switch lenses, but I notice I can, and the lens switching seems to happen without a conscious “agent” doing the switching.  Some of these lenses I’m beginning to see as persistent, habitual, factory default lenses, and it’s becoming very clear that the lens that I’m currently wearing, so to speak, determines my lived experience. Even a miserable pessimistic lens doesn’t seem to cause any real embedded suffering and there always seems to be a dispassionate flavor of all perception that “knows” external reality is the same/inseparable from the reality “in here”, and knows that I can easily switch reality, and has the tools to do so (jhanas, cessations, using the thinking mind skillfully, Brahmacharya, etc).  This way of being has stood the test of (so far), of a layoff, divorce, thrilling new relationship, the end to that relationship, multiple cross country moves, starting a new job, feeling a sense of imposter syndrom at that job, being validated and experiencing success at that job, isolation in a new city, coming into my own in solitude, and all kinds of pleasures and pains throughout that whole ongoing process. I am coming to see that no matter what happens, the reality I experience is all mind. I have had lots of life experiences for my age, and I don’t think I would have been able to test this theory of mind otherwise.

Facts – we can consciously choose to breathe a certain way, encourage the mind the mind toward peaceful, blissful states, which affects our physiology, and that physiology is intimately connected to our state of mind. We can also consciously choose to think a certain narrative way, which affects our physiology and biological processes. That state of mind and physiology affects our actions in the world and by extension the actual events that occur in the world.

I want to give an example from work that describes what I’m experiencing:

Say I take the view that another company has better technology than what I’m trying to develop (based on a new press release) I don’t have nearly the funds behind it that they do (supposedly, objectively true), and therefore I’m likely to get laid off and discarded, and inhabit that view (no solid sense of self allowed), then that is simply my reality, I quickly become at peace with that, and calmly look into other jobs and continue to do experiments with a poker face, and the CEO will be ducking me, I will get subtle cues that I have been a topic of discussion for the management, and I can fully inhabit that version of reality for some time until I start to get tired of that lens, how it affects my physiology and narrative thinking process, see it as a lens, and decide to switch lenses.   

Then say I take a view that says “My job is safe, I am awesome at what I do, everyone loves me, and they will keep me and put me on another project”.  If I can detach enough from the contents of my narrative mind and the attachment to an ongoing solidified sense of self, then I can take that view as an operating assumption, inhabit it, and soon enough I will have people chatting me up cheerfullly at work and have my friend from the Covid testing lab joyfully helping me find my misplaced industrial balance, technicians running me down while I’m taking a quick stroll around the building soaking in the fresh air to grab me for a simple question from another scientist, me signing off for a couple grand of company money, and the wonderful ladies from customer service giving me cards and high fives for simply doing my job. I will be writing glowing letters of reccomendation for technicians, have every single person wave cheerfully on their way out passing my office, and the CEO giving me nods, and the previous reality of “poor scientist soon to be laid off” is simply not reality anymore.  

My point I’m trying to get across in these stories is that my lens seems so complete and powerful as to actually fully create mini-realities, and I am able to consciously choose that lens, and actual events and sense perceptions follow that are consistent with that lens. I understand that each lens is a fabrication, a view, a story, and I have no way of knowing what’s true or even if there is such a thing. This is clear. But my view, when inhabited and taken as an operating assumption seems so powerful that it literally creates my reality. REALITY. IS. MIND. 

I am increasingly confused by the notion that there is such a thing as “external reality” that can be vipassanized and known via sensations as if there’s some “correct” version of reality “out there” that just has to be perceived clearly. It seems as if all vipassana practice is going on the assumption that there exists such a thing as “external reality” that can be correctly and precisely known. The assumption that “I have a body with sense doors that can perceive things called sensations” is another one of those assumptions. I think it’s a decent enough assumption and operating principle, but I suspect that this thing called a body is also malleable and non-solid. I can break up my hand into buzzing vibrations if I want to such that it no longer resembles a hand. Supposedly there are rulesets to the body that suggest eating well, getting enough sleep, practicing proper hygiene, avoiding junky food, and getting excercise, and when I take that view my body does seem to consist of more pleasant sensations and the connected mind does seem to function better as a result and give more pleasing experiences, so those rulesets seem like good things to follow. 

When it really comes down to it, it seems like the body is the only real parameter that justifies strict care to rule sets and an unwavering adherence to a particular view. If I protect my body and go on the operating assumption that taking care of the body is a must-do, non-negotiable, with the acceptance that it will eventually give out and die no matter how well I treat it, as long as I treat my physical body and by extension my mind with the utmost care, then the rest of reality is free game. Since this excercise called jhanas, meditation, and other spiritual practices gave me this wonderful freedom that I described at length above, probably continuing to do that is also a good operating assumption. 

I think this shift in thinking is why I’m so interested in practices that are based on things I do with my body and things that enter the sense doors. It seems like taking care of the input allows me to choose my version of reality most efficiently and effortlessly. So I will continue intermittent fasting, Brahmacharya, Zhan Zhuang, and all the other things involved with taking good care of the body/what I can control. I am starting to see now why I’m so over technical insight meditation phenomenology and “tagging paths” and fabrications like “attainments” and “insight practice”

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