I’m writing this from a beach town in Costa Rica where I’m decompressing after a wonderful week at our retreat center in the mountains. All week, I’ve been teaching my heart out to the next generation of qigong instructors. It was an incredible week.
For those who are curious, I created this video redux, which gives you a glimpse of our week in the mountains. (Turn your sound on!)
Now I’m at the beach, and things are different. Here, I’m all alone. I don’t get to share delicious meals — lovingly prepared by the world’s happiest staff — with my students.
Nor do I get to practice in refreshing, 55-degree mountain air with a million-dollar view.
Here at the beach, it’s 80 degrees and humid at dawn. Okay, fine. I still have a million-dollar view. You caught me.
But many people would use the heat, or just traveling in general, as an excuse to not practice qigong.
Not me. I no longer struggle to practice, not even while traveling, not even in 80-degree heat.
I just practice.
If you think this is going to be a holier-than-thou post, read on. It’s definitely not.
I still struggle — just not with qigong.
The Struggle is Real
For example, I’m supposed to be working on my book this week. Technically, I’m on a writing retreat, not a vacation. I’m no good at taking vacations. I don’t think I’ve taken a full week off since I began teaching in 2005.
I’m not proud of this. I don’t think that my workaholism makes me a better person. But then, I love my work, so it always feels strange to stop completely.
And yet, even though I love my work, I still struggle, especially with writing.
If you’re a writer, then you know what I’m going through, just like I know what beginning qigong students are going through.
Writers are notorious for avoiding their work. Most of us never feel so good as while writing (except perhaps while qigonging), and yet we still struggle.
We resist the focus that is necessary to produce good, creative work.
I’m resisting writing my book right now by writing a blog post instead. It satisfies my inner critic because he counts this as “work”. And yet, it’s not the work that I should be doing right now.
I’m not focusing the way I should be focusing.
For those keeping score, I’ve been working on my book for nearly 2 years. I’ve faced some big life challenges during that time, but all writers face challenges. It’s no excuse.
In my defense, I have written 85,000 words, so progress is being made despite the snail’s pace. The first draft is almost finished, and then I’ll move on to the editing process. But first, I need to write about 8,000 more words.
I could do that this week — if I focused.
Focus, Focus, Focus
(Note: The links below are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that I receive a tiny commission if you use them, at no cost to you. I would highly recommend the book though, with or without the commission. You won’t be disappointed.)
In the book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport describes the ability to concentrate deeply on your work without distraction as a modern superpower. I like that description a lot.
Being able to focus, to go deeply into our creative work — this is a skill that requires superhuman inner strength.
For example, my teaching in the art of qigong emphasizes the importance of entering into a meditative state BEFORE doing any qigong exercises. We call this Entering Zen, and it requires focus.
Entering Zen is a form of focus, a form of deep work. It’s also a superpower.
This morning, as I felt myself resisting my work on my book, it occurred to me that the same thing happens with my qigong students. And although it has been years, it used to happen to me.
We resist the “work”, the focus, the Zen — even though we know that once we’re in it, we will feel wonderful.
Am I Worthy?
People are quick to blame smartphones and devices, and I think there’s some truth to that. But I also think there are some worthiness issues at work here.
Maybe we don’t feel worthy of being healthy and happy. Or maybe we don’t feel like we deserve to be pain-free.
I often feel that way about my writing. I don’t feel worthy of publishing a book. I’ve read so many great books over the years, and who the hell do I think I am to try to follow in those authors’ footsteps?
Same phenomenon, different art. I’m betting that literally thousands of you reading this can relate to this phenomenon.
You KNOW that qigong will make you feel better, that it is good and important work, and yet you resist.
I know this because I’ve seen you struggle, and also because I struggled myself.
4000 Days of Focus
If you know my story, then you know that I struggled not only with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) but also with my daily qigong practice. I struggled to focus, even for just 2 minutes a day.
So when I see my students struggling to make qigong a daily habit, I empathize. I’ve been there. I totally get it.
But I killed that dragon. My record is 4000 days of qigong practice in a row. And even after I broke my streak, I only missed a day or two.
I suspect that there are published writers reading this who empathize with my book struggle. I’m betting that they’ve mostly solved the resistance issue and found a way to write consistently, just like I’ve found a way to practice qigong consistently.
Many of you, despite your ability to do deep work in one area of your life, still struggle to focus when it comes to qigong.
And the reverse is true for me. I no longer struggle with my qigong practice, but I do with my writing practice.
Why We Resist
All of us — and I mean every single one of you reading this article, and also myself — struggle to do things that are good for us.
- We don’t eat the things we should;
- We keep eating crap that we shouldn’t;
- We don’t exercise enough;
- We don’t meditate enough;
- We don’t sleep enough;
- We spend too much time staring at screens;
- We don’t spend nearly enough time staring at the wonder of nature.
Publishing my first book will be good for me, and also for thousands of people. And yet I resist. I’m resisting right now!
This morning, as I practiced my qigong on the beach, I had an “aha” moment, a micro-awakening. And this petite awakening is what I really want to share with you today.
The “Spiritual” Dimension
Here’s what I realized:
An inability to focus is not just a mental issue, nor is it just a willpower issue; it’s also a spiritual issue.
Okay, maybe this is not earthshattering news, but awakenings rarely are. People who are Enlightened often end up saying, in so many words, that “it’s all love.” Nothing is more hackneyed than that phrase, and yet, it’s probably still true.
And anyway, mine was a micro-awakening, not Enlightenment with a capital E!
Stay with me here.
I don’t use the word “spiritual” very often because it’s tricky. It means different things to different people. To some, it is a beautiful and profound word. To others, it just means a bunch of woo woo nonsense.
I’ve built my teaching career mainly on Medical Qigong and Martial Qigong, not Spiritual Qigong. And that was entirely on purpose.
The world is full of people making premature claims to enlightenment, and I don’t want to be viewed as one of them.
You know, like this guy:
I am not that guy. I am not Enlightened. Of course, neither is he. The difference is that I’m not bullshitting you.
However, I see now that I need NOT be Enlightened in order to talk about spirituality.
In fact, I now believe that I MUST start talking about spirituality if I want to continue helping my students grow. And I definitely want to help my students to grow. That’s all I ever want.
The War of Art
For over a decade, I’ve tried to help my students build willpower and create healthy habits. I have a zillion blog posts on the subject and even an online course. And I’ve helped a lot of people with these efforts.
In The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield talks about the resistance that all artists face.
The book begins as a helpful and entertaining work for artists and entrepreneurs, but about halfway through, it takes a turn down a more metaphysical, dare I say “spiritual” path.
I’m also taking a turn down a more spiritual path.
Don’t worry. I promise not to get all woo woo on you. My approach to spirituality will be as no-nonsense as my approach to qigong.
But What is Spirituality?
It’s not religion. That’s something altogether different, and it’s none of my business.
But spirituality is my business, and it’s your business too, whether you’re religious or not.
There are many ways to define spirituality. Most definitions include a sense of being connected to something bigger than ourselves, and also being connected to each other.
To me, spirituality is simpler.
To be spiritual means to train your mind so that your consciousness can expand out of the mundane and begin to perceive the profound.
Artists tap into different states of consciousness and give us glimpses of true reality. In this sense, we could call art spiritual.
Mindfulness is a buzzword, and it’s definitely part of this. In my opinion, if you practice mindfulness deeply, then you will start to perceive more.
Slaying the Internal Dragon
For example, I need to train my mind in order to overcome my resistance to finishing my book. I need to escape the mundane and gain perspective so that I can glimpse the profound.
This is not just a mental process, but a spiritual one. It’s not just a matter of me using a mental trick or simply forcing myself to write.
To tackle this issue once and for all, I need to go within. I need to alter my perspective on writing, and on life. I need to master my fears and doubts, overcome my sense of unworthiness, and slay a huge, internal dragon.
And that’s EXACTLY what you need to do to overcome your resistance to practicing qigong.
Go within. Alter your perspective. Master your fears and your doubts. Overcome your sense of unworthiness. And slay that internal dragon.
This is spiritual. It is the path of the spiritual warrior. It is the hero’s journey, and it ain’t easy.
If you were hoping for a simple self-help trick to help you do this, I’m sorry. That’s not how the Cosmos works. If there were a simple trick, then billions of people wouldn’t be struggling to focus!
But here’s what I can offer you instead. I can offer to help you, with my teaching and my writing, along this path. Together, we can work on slaying our internal dragons.
Let me be clear that we travel this path together, not as Master and Disciple, but as a tribe of likeminded humans, hand in hand, helping each other as best as we can.
If you liked this post, the please scroll down and click the Facebook or Twitter buttons below my bio. And if you have a comment or question for me, I’d love to hear from you in the section below! From the heart, Sifu Anthony