For quite some time, I have used more or less an unchanging image in trying to apply “seeking for stillness in movement” from a practical viewpoint. Basically, I want my form to look as if it is always clear where I am going, but also as if I never need to get anywhere. The moment it looks as if I must move, I feel I have violated the principle.
The idea of never having to move has worked well, not only in the form, but also in push hands. In push hands, I also add ideas of always feeling as if I have occupied the perfect place, such that my opponent must move around me or at least travel a further distance to make any headway.
The idea behind my post was to seek the thoughts of others, find out if there was something in the literature that I had missed, and to try to take what I do to another level. With most of the other Ten Essentials, my ideas and understanding have continued to evolve, but the idea of “seeking stillness in movement” did not seem to evolve at the same pace.
In reading the posts in answer to my question, I had two reactions. One was to confirm that for me “stillness in movement” and “movement in stillness” were different problems. I have lots of precedents for the latter in my daily life and in my understanding of modern physics, but few precedents for the former. My other reaction was to wonder whether I had missed something in considering the muscular exertion necessary to maintain skeletal alignment.
I decided to do the form while shifting my attention away from the movement and towards whatever joints or muscular groups felt “still.” As I felt my neck and back vertebrae, my ribcage, my non-stepping leg and hip, etc., I was quite surprised by fluctuations in the level of activity that I had not been fully aware of. There was quite a bit that I realized had not been fully under control. I also felt more deeply that the limb movement required many adjustments to maintain the “same” stillness.
Another interesting feeling that emerged was that I became more aware of the difference between “absolute” and “relative” motion. In other words, motion relative to your body is not the same as motion relative to the floor. Sometimes one is more “relevant” than the other. Either seemed to qualify as “still,” depending upon the situation and the intent. Let me give a more concrete example.
In Deflect Downward Parry and Punch, before the final weight shift, the left arm has stretched so that the palm is over the left foot. I used to think that I then brought the arm back in toward my body. I now realize that I only bend it in to the right as my body catches up to it. Most of the movement is actually in my torso rather than in my palm. What is still then and what is in motion?
A last discovery I had was that I had not been fully aware of the alternation between stillness and movement. It is easy to become of aware of something entering into motion, but not so easy to become aware of it entering into stillness. Take as an example the supporting leg during steps. There are two modes: contracting/expanding and being still. I am not sure that I was fully aware of what it takes to keep the supporting knee and hip joint “still.”
To sum up, let me try to describe some feelings I played with in the beginning of the form. First, there is much activity in “activating” the Ten Essentials, going “Song,” and becoming aware of the various muscular equilibriums. Here there is no physical motion. Perhaps there is motion in the stillness, but I still cannot find stillness in the lack of motion, beside what is obvious.
As you raise the arms, this can set off a cascade of change in the back muscles, the vertebrae, the ribs, etc., as the body is forced to modify the equilibrium. Even the gaze enters into a new change as there is now something to look at, or perhaps not to look at. There is now a choice that for me, sharpens my gaze in order to prevent it becoming dull.
As you lower your arms, the changes reverse, but only partially. The arms are in a new shape, which requires different maintenance in the shoulder and back muscles. As you pivot on the right heel and shift weight, everything is in absolute motion, except the sole of the left foot. Even though the left foot is still, the muscles in the sole must change to accommodate the change in energy. I try to keep my spine still, but in fact it must stretch and tilt slightly to the right to support the weight shift.
As I then bend my right knee and change my gaze to the front, I find that the gaze is no longer as still as before. My body must shift more to the right and my spine must readjust to vertical, which changes the angle of the “unmoving” gaze. The changes in the spine and ribs are also clear. Now the right foot is still and the ankle, knee, and hip joints must finish their contractions and catch up to the stillness of the foot. While my left foot reaches out and my arms circle, my right foot, ankle, knee, hip, pelvis, lumbar spine, mid spine, neck, and gaze form a unit of stillness for a few moments.
Or do they? I want my waist to lead my right arm out, but also be in position later to lead my left arm into the ward off. For me, this requires at least two waist rotations and some movement during the “stillness.” That little movement affects everything else in absolute terms, although maybe not so much in relative terms. But then again, the gaze changes in relative terms, but not in absolute terms.
All in all, I found that you can benefit from looking for the still parts within the moving parts and seeing how one affects (or perhaps even effects) the other. Perhaps one of the reasons for creating this principle was simply to address the fact that we are hard-wired to pay attention to motion and so do not pay enough attention to stillness and its requirements.