Milking A Cow
For the first nine years of my life, I lived in a couple of really small towns. The first, amidst the cornfields of Nebraska, was literally a one-street hamlet: if you happened to blink as you drove through, you’d probably miss it altogether. The second, in northern Illinois, was quite a bit larger, yet still very small.
Each of these towns was the “urban” wing of a mostly rural community. As a result, I spent a fair amount of time hanging out on farmland – and so had the opportunity, on a number of occasions, to try my hand at milking a cow.
Learning Any New Skill: Practice Makes Perfect!
Now those of you who’ve done this already know: it’s harder than it looks! Quite a bit more complex than, say, turning on a faucet; or pouring milk from a carton into a glass. For one thing, a cow is a living being – so there’s a relationship that needs to be worked out, before anything else can happen. And then commences the process of becoming competent in the mechanics, or artistry, of actually drawing the milk out of the udder.
Like the learning of any new skill, it’s slow going at first. With time, ones skill level increases, it becomes easier and easier to find that groove – a kind of rhythm that feels natural and easy. And so it was with my learning to milk a cow: frustrating at first; then basically effective though still rather clumsy; and eventually something that I enjoyed quite a lot, and was good at. (I can remember squealing with delight at the sound of those very first squirts of milk, hitting the bottom of the tin pail …)
Protecting The Precious Fruits Of Our Labor
Whether one is a rank beginner or a bona fide master of cow-milking, the product of ones efforts (viz. the warm milk) is always considered to be a most precious substance. For this reason, great care is taken, once the pail if full, to stand up very slowly; and to carry the milk with utmost concentration, from the barn into the house. To rush at this point, to lose ones focus, is to risk losing the milk – either by spooking the cow, who then kicks over the pail; or by swinging the pail in a way which creates a tidal-wave sloshing-over-the sides effect -- so that by the time it has reached the kitchen, half of the milk has been spilled.
Martial Arts, Yoga & Meditation
And so it is with our qigong, martial arts, yoga or meditation practice. Like learning to milk a cow, we often feel rather clumsy at first. Little by little, as we assimilate the basic techniques, and then the innumerable subtleties of our chosen form, it becomes quite easy. Eventually, it feels totally natural – perhaps even becoming a source of great joy and pleasure, and a venue for creative expression and explorations of all sorts.
The fruits of our practice – the energy and insight cultivated – are, like the milk in the pail, something very precious, that we should value greatly, and do our best not to “spill.” If, at the conclusion of our practice session, we transition very abruptly – jump up and rush right back into the old habits of our daily life – this is akin to “spilling the milk” that we’ve just spent the last 30 minutes or an hour or longer gathering.
Continuity Between Practice & Non-Practice
Instead, it can be very useful and enjoyable to transition more gently, in order to create a sense of continuity between our “practice” and “non-practice” time – a conduit through which the energy of our practice might more easily contact, inform and benefit our day-to-day activities. How do we do this?
One way is simply to take note, at the conclusion of our practice, of how we feel -- noticing any new sensations in our body, or fresh insights/intuitions. In other words, we take a minute or two to consciously notice, acknowledge and appreciate the effects that our practice has had: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Setting An Intention For Our Daily Life
Then, we can form an intention to carry one or more of these effects forward into our daily lives. This might be something very specific, e.g. how a new clarity born of our practice might be applied to a challenging life-situation. Or it could be more general, e.g. dedicating the fruits of our practice to the health and happiness of all living beings.
To notice the effects of our practice, and then consciously form an intention which links them to a larger context, sets in motion waves of interdependence – which ripple out to benefit innumerable aspects of our lives. It keeps the milk – the nectar of our practice – in the pail, so that it will find its way into the kitchen of our daily lives. Once there, it can easily serve as nourishment for ourselves and others – just as it is, or perhaps as milk-pudding or yogurt or homemade ice cream, or some other delicious creation.