A side affect of the internal arts rarely discussed is the adjustment of what I call your ‘excitement threshold’. This is the degree to which you can be stimulated by external events before reacting by becoming excited. The more you train in the internal arts, the greater this threshold becomes and the higher the level of stimuli is required before you feel the pulse of energy, warmth and adrenal flow which previously came much more easily.
Yesterday I arrived in the town of Surat Thani on the Southern mainland of Thailand. I was stopping over for a night before heading into Malaysia where I am now sat in the airport. When we got to Surat Thani we caught a taxi which was basically a pick-up truck. Sat in the back, it was a nice trip through the busy streets in the open air on our way to our hotel on the other side of town. About twenty minutes into our trip we were forced to stop due to protestors filling the roads; I had thought that the current political protests were restricted to Bangkok but apparently not. A crowd of Thai protestors marched past waving flags and banners as we sat in the traffic. Then the mood changed completely as shots starting ringing out, somebody was shooting into the crowds and bullets were ringing off of the cars on the street our pick-up truck taxi was on.
The road cleared very quickly as pedestrians ran for cover and mopeds sped past with their riders ducked low behind the handlebars. Our taxi was not so quick to vacate the area due to it being a large vehicle but it too headed out of the street as quickly as was possible.
As I heard the shots I turned to my partner Roni and got her to duck down in the truck next to the bags and then I did the same. The one thing that struck me from all of this was that I did not feel any panic, stress or excitement whatsoever. The street had quickly erupted into chaos but it did not even register with me emotionally.
This experience parallels previous events that have taken place over the last few years. In the winter of 2012 I was repairing the roof of our shrine building in Sweden. I was up on the roof with my student Tom in the snow, which must surely be breaking several health and safety guidelines. I grabbed hold of the chimney to swing around to the other side of the roof from where I was working and the chimney came away in my hand. I fell with some bricks backwards onto the roof and landed with my head hanging over the edge of the building. In previous years this would have been one of those times when the heart ‘skips a beat’ and adrenalin would have kicked in. Instead I just picked myself up and carried on working, I was very calm and nonchalant about the whole thing.
I have had other close accidents like this as well as violent confrontations and life events which should be stressful but in each case there has been no emotional or stress response registering for me.
When I think back to studying the external arts, I would always finish a class feeling very excited. The nature of the training had fired me up and it would often be difficult to sleep directly afterwards if I was training at night. This is never the case for the internal arts, even if training Xingyiquan or Baguazhang and now when I train in the external arts I don’t get the same excitement as I see in those who do not train in internal styles.
I believe that what is happening is that when you move through sequences such as Taijiquan forms and engage in extensive training of Tui-Shou (something most Taijiquan practitioners do not do enough of) you are gradually releasing excitement hormones into the body at a very small level. Energetically you are causing excitement of the body’s Qi but again at a much smaller level than in the external arts. What happens as you do this is you give your body and mind time to ‘normalize’ this state. As it gets used to these small amounts of energetic and chemical releases it stops registering them. Over time, the increased pressure of pushing hands and further drills ‘ups’ this amount of excitement and again your body and mind get used to them meaning that it does not change your state of being. This process of increasing stimulation and then normalizing it carries on throughout your training until you are able to move very quickly and forcefully or even fight without registering any bodily changes inside. I believe (though it is only my own opinion from personal experience) that this is one aspect of ‘centering the mind’ in the internal arts which brings about large degrees of calmness even under pressure.
This of course transfers across into your everyday life creating the large ‘excitement threshold’ which I gave examples of above.
The positive side of this is that you are able to think and act clearly no matter what the circumstances. Even under great stress you are able to function from a centered point of stillness without your thought patterns being compromised by your own state of inner excitement. This helps with protecting the Kidneys essence, which is drained through stress, and so this in turn guards your physical and mental well-being. If adrenalin and excitement are not present in your body then you can maintain a steady control on your own internal energy. Once you have trained for a while it is easy to govern your internal energies using your intention but it is impossible to do this when excited. If the Yi is disturbed then it cannot guide the Qi and so your energy becomes scattered. An internal martial artist who becomes overly stimulated during combat is no longer an internal artist as they will have to rely on brute physical power; a calm and focused mind is needed for internal energy control.
The negative aspect of this is that many people are addicted to adrenalin and the feeling of excitement that stress can produce for them. Some people may seek out extreme sports and activities in order to experience this excitement and we call these people ‘adrenalin junkies’. Many people will gamble or take risks in their lives in order to generate the same ‘buzz’. The majority of people will subconsciously seek out this same excitement through creating and getting involved in personal dramas within their romantic and interpersonal relationships. If these people engage with the processes inherent within the internal arts they will have this source of stimulation taken away from them. This is much better for their health, as their source of stimulation is actually draining their Kidneys, but they have to find contentment within states of perpetual centeredness rather than extremes of excitement. These states are recommended by all ancient spiritual traditions but are not what many people are looking for in modern times.
For myself I can say that increasing my ‘excitement threshold’ has been a positive thing. Looking back at my younger years, it is clear for me to see that I, like many others, was addicted to the feelings of excitement that were produced in stressful situations. Like many others I created tensions and drams within my life in order to generate the adrenalin type experiences that I have now moved away from. In the beginning these dramas were created through relationships and then gradually through getting involved in confrontational and violent situations. As these states became more normal to me the buzz was gone and so drugs replaced them. As I moved further into my practice I changed the way in which my mind and body worked thus moving me away from the extreme states of excitement (and of course their opposite, the extreme lows which came with them) which caused me to operate on an emotionally driven level. As I moved more into the centered state which allowed outside stresses to wash over me I came to generate more peace within my life. Once stress and drama have no addictive affect upon the body then they are no longer desirable and so trivial dramas becomes somewhat irrelevant. It is simply not needed and so you do not create it.
As in the case of yesterday, there will always be random events within your life which are potentially risky. If you wish to experience life you have to accept that their will be dangers and sometimes situations will not always be pleasant; but how you handle these situations will ultimately dictate how they affect you.
So, off into Malaysia where hopefully nobody will be shooting at me! I actually have a secret passion not that many people know about. I really love visiting aquariums; I like the way that fish move and think it is amazing that such a different world exists on the bottom of our ocean. I visit aquariums in every country I go to and happen to remember that Kuala Lumpur has a particularly spectacular one….