A moving scene occurs in the Hollywood film Bridge of Spies when the spy Rudolph Abel tells his lawyer James Donovan about of a family friend:
Standing there like that you reminded me of the man that used to come to our house when I was young. My father used to say: “watch this man’. So I did. Every time he came. And never once did he do anything remarkable.
This one time, I was at the age of your son, our house was overrun by partisan border guards. Dozens of them. My father was beaten, my mother was beaten, and this man, my father’s friend, he was beaten. And I watched this man. Every time they hit him, he stood back up again. So they hit him harder. Still he got back to his feet. I think because of this they stopped the beating. They let him live. ‘Stoikiy muzhik’. I remember them saying. ”. Which sort of means like uh, ‘standing man’… standing man…
Why does he endure in fact, invite the beating? What is the Standing Man’s secret?
According to a Russian speaking colleague stoikly muzhik actually means strong man, or upright man and contains a familiar Latin root, “stoic” applicable to the family friend. A man of principle he is upright in being certain that what he stands for is correct, drawing strength from the earth within which his values are rooted.
As Rudolph Abel points out Standing Man is no superman. Apart from being upright he is entirely unremarkable. What makes him stand out is his fortitude. But is this character trait inborn? Was it learned? Are there means by which it can it be acquired?
Fortitude is attainable. But we can aim higher!
Chinese culture features an ancient practice with remarkable spiritual and medical benefits known as Qi Gong.
In addition a Qi Gong variant, the powerful martial art practice of Tai Qi enables not the withstanding of a beating but a means to effectively repel and turn an attacker’s own force back and upon himself. Foundational to both Qi Gong and Tai Qi is mastering standing quietly in an upright posture.
Standing Erect 101
Join me on a walk through the basics:
Stand with the feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent. Allow the tongue to touch the roof of the mouth. Imagine that energy is bubbling from deep in the earth directly up and into a point in the middle of each foot, one third of the way down from the toes to the heel. Imagine a point on the middle of the scalp at the crown of your head from which there is attached an invisible string pulling your body to upwards toward heaven. This is the acupuncture point GV20 also known as A Hundred Meetings. Take mental inventory of every part of your body (inside and out) with regard to its state of tension. Mentally release tension everywhere it is detected. Keep all the joints softly engaged, not locked.
Take mental inventory of every part of your body (inside and out) with regard to its state of tension. Mentally release tension everywhere it is detected. Keep all joints softly engaged, not locked.
Qi Gong gathering qi meditation
In a well-known Qi Gong version the idea is to open oneself to receiving qi from the universe. The arms are lifted in front of you with the palms facing up. With the eyes semi closed imagine that you are cradling in your arms an invisible ball of energy. Imagine you are on a high mountaintop able to see infinitely far in every direction, even from the back of the head. Concentrate on this limitless expanse, redirecting your mind to the view when ordinary thoughts or mental images distract. Keep your wrist and elbow joints rounded, neither sharply bent nor locked in extension. Tuck the chin slightly.
Maintain soft (no exertion) breathing. Allow the body to sway if it wants to. This means that the qi is beginning to flow. Attend to the fact that your mouth is beginning to fill with saliva. This is a special fluid also confirming that the qi is moving in your body. Qi gathers from the earth via from the Bubbling Spring acupuncture point on the bottom of the foot. Qi is also drawn from heaven into the top of your head. The universe’s Yin and Yang forces thus meet and blend within your own body, promoting a state of perfect mental, emotional and spiritual health.
An upright posture is our birthright. It facilitates Yin Yang harmonization, the integration of temporal, earthbound verities with the eternal verities of the higher, heavenly plane. Human beings in other words are priests of the planet, mandated to harmonize Yin and Yang . This holds true not just for ourselves but for all planetary life.
Standing meditation is prerequisite to an extensive range of body/mind/breath Qi Gong exercises. Apart from promoting fortitude, mastery of the stance initiates qi flow indispensible to spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health.
Tai Qi Opening Stance
Most Tai Qi forms begin with a quietly standing stance. This posture is identical to what is described above with the difference that instead of the arms being extended in front of oneself, they rest quietly by one’s side. The image of a tree is visualized and mentally emulated in its drawing of nutrients from the soil through unseen roots. Treelike firmness and flexibility are sought in the habit of transitioning through a sequence of postures. Regular Tai Qi practice deepens the practitioner’s root. But the rootedness is not a metaphor! As her strength resides not in musculature but in access to a gravitational pull coming from deep within the earth, in combat the Tai Qi master is virtually impossible to imbalance or dislodge.
The Standing Man within you
The ability to be upright and serve as a bridge between heaven and earth is both mandate and privilege. But as is true for bridges across our rivers and bays the integrity of our individual standing is no given. How best to maintain the infrastructure of our inner bridge? The answer is that Standing Man must be bathed in qi:
Access to qi from the atmosphere or from the earth is an honor. We should first respect the soil beneath our feet and the blessed surrounding air. If our works deem us worthy of the gift of qi let us practice Qi Gong or Tai Qi wholeheartedly. Thus may Yin and Yang be harmonized and the Standing Man nourished.