On the eve of turning one year older…

I’ve not written a post for this blog in ever so long—not since almost a year ago.

This is partly because the wild enthusiasm which surrounded my first experiences of qi has ebbed, and qigong is less a focus of my time and my thoughts. I still practice taiji and qigong at home and at a school in Seattle, but my practice has become more of a staple in my life than a shooting star whose tail I hope to grab so as to become someone or something else.

However, I think my lack of posting is also because I am president of the board of the 165-person senior co-op where I live, and being president consumes much of my life. I spend hours writing emails, memos, policies and rules—and although those tasks are a bit different than creating a blog post, they probably fulfill my need to organize my thoughts by setting them down in words.

Being board president has been quite a ride—and I say “has been,” because my 1-year term ends in less than 3 months. I am well-suited to being board president in some ways, but in other ways, not so much. I agonize over things I do and say and experience waves of overwhelm as issues arise and multiply. During a period of considerable contention within the community, I felt I had more people angry with me and sniping at me behind my back than ever before in my life. (Fortunately, there were others who said thank you, and fellow board members I knew I could count on.)

My feelings about the co-op and about being its president change rapidly: Some days I’m ready to sell out and move to an apartment where I can live an anonymous, issue-free life; other days, I think this is the best possible place for me to be, with the best possible people, and I feel good about being president. It amazes me how variable my feelings are; I long to be steady and sure.

Overall, I believe I may have mellowed a bit in the past 9 months. However, I have given up trying to do seated mediation. I simply am not in that space and have no great interest in trying to get there. Taiji and qigong work for me because they relax me and generate internal sensations that feel good and hold my interest.

Being active in a community is particularly challenging because I’m an introvert who is more comfortable being alone than with people. It is a learning experience, both stressful and rewarding. It is also never, ever dull. Which certainly beats spending my old age watching television….

I do look forward to stepping down from the presidency, although I will continue to serve on the board. I hope that I will be able to let go of being “worrier in chief.” I feel there’s something waiting, out there in the trees, in the water and rocks, inside me. I no longer hope to somehow become a different person with a different life, but still, there are spaces/places I’d like to go, or maybe even just walk towards, when the time is right.

Meanwhile, I am growing old. I will turn 78 in three days. Yesterday I had a follow-up phone consultation with the orthopedic doc who treated my left knee when I tore the meniscus a month ago—or, rather, when my meniscus tore itself, because, damn it, I didn’t do anything to it. The knee is not back to normal, and I want it to be. As I lamented the condition of my knee and the collateral damage favoring it had inflicted on other body parts, the doc said, “Well, you do have significant arthritis in your left knee. Perhaps this is your new normal.”

My new normal….

I’ve complained to other doctors about other problems, and they’ve done all sorts of tests which have ruled out everything except the fact that I am getting older, and my body is doing what bodies do as they age: They keep descending to a new normal.

So there are lessons I am learning not only from living in a community and being president of its board but also from the unavoidable process of growing old.

This musing is beginning to drive itself in circles…. I have so much to learn on so many fronts…. But I do think the trees and the water and the rocks are beginning to beckon….

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My Psychic 3-D Tattoo

A month or so ago, in a dream, I looked down at the inner side of my right forearm, which was resting palm-up. Just below the elbow crease, I saw a hole, perhaps an inch across, surrounded by a curious encrustation.

The whole thing resembled a rotted-out tree stump, with the above-ground roots flaring out a short distance onto my inner forearm from the raised collar that surrounded the hole. It was built of gray, very slightly glistening beads, or cells, each about the size of a cooked grain of plump rice. Especially in the raised collar area, the beads were tidily arranged end-to-end in circles that abutted one another to surround the hole.

I don’t remember what preceded my having this image in my dream or what followed, although probably what followed was that I woke up. During the moment of the image, or as I was waking, I didn’t feel fear or revulsion; I recall just being puzzled that there could be a hole in my arm without there being any blood and without my seeing any muscle or bone. The hole was simply dark and empty.

In the days that followed, I pondered this striking image, trying to figure out what it meant. Perhaps it was a message from my body that I had some sort of cancer. I spent time on my cell phone looking for images that were like the collar or at least like the beads of the collar. I found a picture of a skin cancer made up of a lot of little lumps, but they were not arranged in an orderly manner. I was more drawn to a magnified photo of scale bugs, which were about the right shape and had a similar organic glistening quality, but scale bugs paste themselves on plants to feed, not on people.

Last Sunday I attended a day-long, Zen-style meditation retreat. Early on—I think during the silent, single-file walking that followed the first silent sitting session—I found myself obsessing over the collared hole in my right forearm. I decided that I was just going to accept that it was part of me and stop worrying about it. Which worked; I was able to let the image go. From time to time during the day, I would become aware of that area of my right forearm, and I would mentally pat it fondly. It was OK.

Yes, well, it made sense at the time.

Since then, I have thought of that area occasionally, still with the sense that whatever it is, it is part of me, but not a problem. At one point, it occurred to me that I might have visualized an acupuncture point. I checked out the forearm of my acupuncture doll: My image sits at about Lung 5. So I looked up Lung 5 online and in one of my books, but nothing that was said about it or why it might be needled particularly resonated with me.

Later this morning, I will have an acupuncture session and will ask my acupuncturist to assess my right arm, and then will tell her about the image from my dream. I will be interested to know what she thinks.

Meanwhile, I feel good about getting these words out of head and down on “paper,” as I had come to feel the need to do.

It seems I have a psychic, 3-D tattoo. Children sometimes have imaginary friends. I have an imaginary 3-D tattoo….

PS: My acupuncturist didn’t think there was anything energetically unusual about my right forearm. Damn.

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As 2018 nears its end…

As they say, shit happens, and a whole lot of shit happened in 2018. When I try to think 10,20,30 years into the future, I do not see the sort of world I would have wished for my grandchildren.

But this blog is about my life, particularly my inner, energetic life, so I will say that a little shit happened for me in 2018, but that all in all, I am reasonably content, happy with my family and friends and the circumstances of my life, and even a bit excited by the direction my taiji/qigong practice is taking me.

The “little shit” in my life was Bell’s Palsy, which I developed a bit more than three months ago. Bell’s Palsy is a more or less temporary paralysis of one side of the face. Its cause is not clear, but it’s likely the result of one of the herpes viruses (cold sores or shingles) resident in the body setting up shop in obne of the cranial nerves that serves the face. Most people mostly recover, and I may recover further, but my left eye still doesn’t fully close (mostly a problem because the cornea could dry out to the point of damage) and the left side of my mouth doesn’t work quite right (a problem for me because it won’t close properly on the mouthpiece of a Native American-style flute).

I now wear moisture-chamber silicone goggles to bed at night; they make me look rather like a fish from some woebegone watery world. If I had overcome my vanity, I would attach the selfie I took trying to smile when one side of my face was paralyzed and I was wearing the goggles.

Oh, well, enough of that….

I continue to do Yi Ren Qigong with friends, but I don’t think I will ever feel my organs or my meridians with any degree of precision, and I don’t believe my future lies with Yi Ren Qigong.
I have been going more and more often to the Taoist Studies Institute in Seattle, which teaches the Hunyuan system of taiji and qigong. Compared to the Yang-style taiji I have done for many years, Hunyuan Chen-style taiji seems very organic and more like it fits my body; and compared to Yi Ren Qigong, Hunyuan Qigong seems blissfully simple and natural.

This weekend, I learned some things about relaxing into and moving in circles from my hip joints which resulted in my feeling incredibly grounded and stable. I was thrilled—and also aware that most of the other human beings on this planet would find me ridiculous.
Where will this lead? I don’t know. Deeper inside…..

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day. I will wake, make and drink tea and meditate while still sitting on my sofa and holding a lovely orb of ruby fuchsite, and then I will go out on my balcony to do some taiji. It will be quiet, because even though it may already be 7 a.m., there will be no beeping from the construction site next door because of the holiday.

While on my balcony, I will try to figure out if I can reposition my new second hummingbird feeder so as to foil the bully bird who spends his time sitting on a railing and keeping other hummingbirds away from both feeders.

At noon, my daughter and her family will arrive, and she will drive us to Seattle so that my son-in-law, my grandsons and I can walk across Lake Washington to Bellevue on the 520 floating bridge sidewalk (I take delight in the notion of walking on water). The walk will take about an hour; if we are lucky, we still see Mount Rainier.

At 3 I am due at an open house with one set of wonderful friends, and at 5, I will be eating dinner with some other friends, including my son’s long-ago soccer coach (which I mention by way of saying we go way back).

I will come home, and it will be quiet in my apartment as I live alone and my cat has been gone for a year. I may try to practice the flute a bit, and I will read the paper, then go to bed. Before I brush my teeth and put on my silicone goggles, I will hang a white plastic card on my doorknob so that in the morning, if I don’t remember to take it back in, or if something bad has happened to me during the night, one of my neighbors in this over-55 co-op where I live will knock on my door to make sure I’m OK.

It is, really, quite a lovely life….

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A Thought in the Middle of the Night….

Last night, at some point during my time in bed, I had a thought unlike any I can remember having in the middle of the night. And I’m quite sure it was, indeed, a thought, that I was asleep before and after but awake during, and that it wasn’t part of a dream.

The thought was that I actually did have a way to relate to the “Golden Flower” energy training program I pursued several years ago at the Institute of Qigong and Integrative Medicine (IQIM).

At the time, I was skeptical of the exercises that comprised the program. I felt little when I did them and couldn’t see any lasting effect.

The exercises involved putting the hands and fingers together in various mudras and then moving them up and down in front of the body to specific locations, thereby moving energy amongst the body’s internal energy centers. This process was said to form lasting energetic connections between the centers. Each exercise was different—different mudras, different patterns of movement to different centers—but they were all followed by a period of meditation where you were to rest your mind at a particular center.

There were doubtless reasons for the mudras used and the pattern of connections made in any given exercise, but it was never spelled out in terms I was able to understand. Nor could I remember, by the time we got to the meditation, which centers we’d connected, and once my hands had stopped moving, I felt nothing.

I stopped taking the seminars a couple of years ago; they seemed to be working for students who were more diligent and/or energetically gifted, but they weren’t working for me.

However, of late I’ve being doing some of the exercises during qigong practices with two friends, and because my friends find value in the exercises, I’ve thought from time to time that perhaps I should knuckle down and give “Golden Flower” another try.

We’re now getting to my mid-night thought about how I might relate to this advanced energy practice. But first:

I know that through practicing taiji, I have developed and continue to develop  energetic connections among the muscles and connective tissues of my physical body. On the surface, this might seem like a “well, duh.” But it took me years of doing both taiji and a taiji-esque qigong form to make or at least to begin to experience those connections as energy-integrated movement.

The qigong form was Taiji Qigong, which comprises 18 Yang-style moves, each repeated several or more times, with minimal footwork. One of the moves, which I know as Dragon Emerging from the Sea, consists of first one fist and then the other pushing straight forward from the waist, turning from being palm up at the waist to being palm down when extended. Now you can do this using and feeling only the muscles of your shoulder and arm—which is how I did it for probably hundreds of practices and how I know many others have also done it.

But one evening I noticed that as my fist twisted and moved forward, muscles in my abdomen were participating in the twist. I found this amazing. Later, I found I could feel the muscles in my leg participating as well. The sensation was subtle and smooth—more like doing qigong than a push-up or a crunch. And yet when I put my free hand on my abdomen, I could feel that my muscles were indeed moving, i.e., it was not my imagination, not some mental energy construct.

A taiji teacher once told me that the goal of taiji is for all of the movement to be integrated, with the lower abdomen energy center known as the dantian as its center. I understood what he meant, but only because I had experienced integration, at least partially if not everywhere all the time; I would not have understood it from his words alone.

My thought during the night—a thought seemingly out of nowhere with no conscious thought before or after—was that connecting energy centers by doing Golden Flower exercises might somehow be like developing energetic connections among muscles and connective tissue by doing taiji. This seemed like a major insight at the time—and actually, though it may sound simple, to “get” something of this nature at any hour of the day or night is a big deal in my book.

Hmmm…. I just paused to think that actually, the muscles and connective tissue of the body must already be connected energetically to some extent or we wouldn’t be able to move. The same must also be true of the energy centers within the body. So doing taiji or qigong is not like introducing people who have never met before; it’s about getting people who already work together to move to a higher, more effective level of collaboration that eventually becomes conscious—well, at least I hope it does because otherwise you’re flying on imagination and faith, and I’m not good at either.

Hmmm again… And what might this higher level of energetic integration be effective for? In the case of a punch issuing from a smooth flow of energy starting at my foot, I guess if I were inclined to engage in street fighting, I would “pack a powerful punch.” However, the promise of the Golden Flower seminars was significantly more grand: enlightenment—or at least some form of greater knowing.

My grasp of what I’m writing about is shaky. But one thing does seem clear—and I think it seemed clear during the middle of the night. If the process of making internal energy center connections is at all akin to the process of making physical body energy connections, one time through an exercise ain’t gonna do it.

One of my friends says that once you have done an exercise and made a connection, your body remembers and continues to process it. But I don’t think so, at least not for me. I think I will probably have to choose one exercise and do that exercise over and over and over again to even hope of having an ah-hah moment like I did with my fist. Perhaps after that, other connections, and/or awareness thereof, would come on board faster, as did happen with physical movement.

For now, what I have is a concept I didn’t have before—and some wonderment that it came to me in the middle of the night….

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Sequels to ‘I Wish I Knew What I Did’

I don’t know what happened, and neither do Word Press’s ‘Happiness Engineers,’ but somehow these sequels to my 5/25/18 post did not get sent to email followers, or at least not to me and a few friends, although they were published on 5/28. So here they are–and if you somehow got them twice, I’m sorry. 

Sequel A: How to begin—except to say that people have been kind, and I am very grateful for kind people who understand and don’t chastise me for being fearful and doubting and ungrateful as I lurch along whatever path I am on.

I told one friend about my altered-state experiences doing taiji and my worries about them, and she reminded me how once, when she was in one of my qigong classes, she felt time stand still. She kept wanting it to happen again, but it never did. She said she’d be very happy to be having the experiences I was worrying about.

And then there’s my wonderful acupuncturist—about whom more later—who said that she would never presume to say that her experiences were like mine, but that she understood what it meant for suddenly everything to become quiet, just quiet.

And my dear friend Karl, who—well, he did chastise me a bit for thinking of my experiences as possible portents of doom instead of as blessings, but we go back far enough that I can accept a bit of chastisement from him because he is always so concerned and sincere.

Plus there were two people who responded through my blog, including Strongmoth (Bella), with whom I connected through my blog more than a year ago and with whom I now correspond off-blog—a correspondence I view as a major benefit of having begun Qi Frontier.

What Bella wrote about the elusive nature of altered states was so beautiful that I want to repeat it here:

“It seems impossible to recreate by will any higher or “magical” experience, and I think it is the intention combined with a desire for a certain fixed outcome that gets in the way.

“On three different occasions I’ve seen seemingly broken-down people walk in the street with such heavy energies around them I was filled with an incredible love, tenderness and empathy, a profound want to ease their suffering. I gathered all my love, my peace of mind, my empathy with a feeling of incredible abundance in my heart and “sent” it from my heart to theirs as I watched them from a distance.

“And on two occasions the people tripped over their own feet, threw their heads back and laughed at the sky! It was so instant and so unbelievable that tears started streaming down my face as I watched them walk off with a new bounce in their steps. On the third occasion the person did not trip, only a wide smile came upon his face and he walked off seemingly with a new calm.

“I have at other times tried to impact tired depressed people the same way by will—who doesn’t want to give weathered people a boost? But I found it impossible, as when it does not come from authentic love and tenderness in the moment and rather springs forth from my ambition and desire for a certain outcome, nothing will happen.”

I know that she is right—although it sure is hard not to desire desirable outcomes.

Above all, however, I am heartened to know that she and other people I trust don’t consider my experiences to be weird or dangerous but instead think it’s great that they are happening.

And I am reminded that I was originally drawn to qigong precisely because my usual ways of thinking about such matters as the difference between objective and subjective reality quickly hit dead ends and tied my “regular” state of consciousness in knots.

So why pull back now? Why, indeed….

And so what if, instead of helping me attain a new level of knowing, all my altered states ever do is make me feel good?

I don’t mind feeling good.

Sequel B: This was going to be Sequel A, but it was overtaken by what actually ended up being Sequel A.

Specifically, I think a shout-out is due to acupuncture, and to my acupuncturist in particular.

I had forgotten, when I wrote the post of a few days ago, that the first of my experiences of being in an altered state when doing taiji occurred the morning after an acupuncture session when my acupuncturist had worked on my back for the second time.

The first time we did an entire session with me face down, I remember getting up off the table, assessing verticality, and thinking, “Oh, wow, I have a back!” My back felt so fluid and alive, and I felt more grounded. The second session was more of the same—and, as I wrote in the previous post, grounding, connecting to earth, seems to be necessary for my mind to let go—or connect to heaven, if I want it to sound more cosmic.

So I am grateful for acupuncture, too, and recommend working with a good acupuncturist to anyone wanting to get in touch with their body – and their soul….

Postscript: And now I am done writing for a time. At this moment, anyway, I am sick of words and trying to analyze my thoughts….

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Sequels to ‘I Wish I Knew What I Did’

Sequel A: How to begin—except to say that people have been kind, and I am very grateful for kind people who understand and don’t chastise me for being fearful and doubting and ungrateful as I lurch along whatever path I am on.

I told one friend about my altered-state experiences doing taiji and my worries about them, and she reminded me how once, when she was in one of my qigong classes, she felt time stand still. She kept wanting it to happen again, but it never did. She said she’d be very happy to be having the experiences I was worrying about.

And then there’s my wonderful acupuncturist—about whom more later—who said that she would never presume to say that her experiences were like mine, but that she understood what it meant for suddenly everything to become quiet, just quiet.

And my dear friend Karl, who—well, he did chastise me a bit for thinking of my experiences as possible portents of doom instead of as blessings, but we go back far enough that I can accept a bit of chastisement from him because he is always so concerned and sincere.

Plus there were two people who responded through my blog, including Strongmoth (Bella), with whom I connected through my blog more than a year ago and with whom I now correspond off-blog—a correspondence I view as a major benefit of having begun Qi Frontier.

What Bella wrote about the elusive nature of altered states was so beautiful that I want to repeat it here:

“It seems impossible to recreate by will any higher or “magical” experience, and I think it is the intention combined with a desire for a certain fixed outcome that gets in the way.

“On three different occasions I’ve seen seemingly broken-down people walk in the street with such heavy energies around them I was filled with an incredible love, tenderness and empathy, a profound want to ease their suffering. I gathered all my love, my peace of mind, my empathy with a feeling of incredible abundance in my heart and “sent” it from my heart to theirs as I watched them from a distance.

“And on two occasions the people tripped over their own feet, threw their heads back and laughed at the sky! It was so instant and so unbelievable that tears started streaming down my face as I watched them walk off with a new bounce in their steps. On the third occasion the person did not trip, only a wide smile came upon his face and he walked off seemingly with a new calm.

“I have at other times tried to impact tired depressed people the same way by will—who doesn’t want to give weathered people a boost? But I found it impossible, as when it does not come from authentic love and tenderness in the moment and rather springs forth from my ambition and desire for a certain outcome, nothing will happen.”

I know that she is right—although it sure is hard not to desire desirable outcomes.

Above all, however, I am heartened to know that she and other people I trust don’t consider my experiences to be weird or dangerous but instead think it’s great that they are happening.

And I am reminded that I was originally drawn to qigong precisely because my usual ways of thinking about such matters as the difference between objective and subjective reality quickly hit dead ends and tied my “regular” state of consciousness in knots.

So why pull back now? Why, indeed….

And so what if, instead of helping me attain a new level of knowing, all my altered states ever do is make me feel good?

I don’t mind feeling good.

Sequel B: This was going to be Sequel A, but it was overtaken by what actually ended up being Sequel A.
Specifically, I think a shout-out is due to acupuncture, and to my acupuncturist in particular.
I had forgotten, when I wrote the post of a few days ago, that the first of my experiences of being in an altered state when doing taiji occurred the morning after an acupuncture session when my acupuncturist had worked on my back for the second time.
The first time we did an entire session with me face down, I remember getting up off the table, assessing verticality, and thinking, “Oh, wow, I have a back!” My back felt so fluid and alive, and I felt more grounded. The second session was more of the same—and, as I wrote in the previous post, grounding, connecting to earth, seems to be necessary for my mind to let go—or connect to heaven, if I want it to sound more cosmic.

So I am grateful for acupuncture, too, and recommend working with a good acupuncturist to anyone wanting to get in touch with their body – and their soul….

Postscript: And now I am done writing for a time. At this moment, anyway, I am sick of words and trying to analyze my thoughts….

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I Wish I Knew What I Did….

A thing happened today, while I was leading my taiji class through the form—one of those things I don’t understand but would oh, so, like to.

When we do the form (Yang-style long form) during the second half of class, I talk. I describe what I am doing, sometimes name the move or point out that we’re in a section of repetition, or make suggestions regarding weight distribution or body alignment. Nothing is scripted. It’s whatever comes into my mind as something that might be helpful to say, depending on who has come to class.

Today, about two-thirds of the way into the form, I felt something shift. I knew I had entered an altered state of consciousness. I relaxed into lightness of body and mind. I felt a quiet within me and around me. I was still talking, but I said less. I felt very good, very complete. After class, I went up to my apartment and did a bit more taiji and then sat on the sofa for a time with my eyes closed. Gradually the state dissolved, and within an hour, I was at my computer going through emails.

I wish I knew how I had reached that state so that I could return to it at will, but I don’t.

I do think one factor may have been that, as I spoke our way through the form, I was emphasizing sinking, sitting down into the hips, relaxing the shoulders, pausing for a moment to really settle into a posture. I was doing this partly for myself, although I had not planned to, and partly for one of the students who had said at our last class, when I talked about relaxing the shoulders, that a therapist once told her she carried all her emotional problems in her shoulders.

I suspect that sinking, relaxing, grounding may have been key to this morning’s experience in part because a couple of weeks ago, about two thirds of the way into doing the form with my long-time Saturday morning taiji partner, I similarly entered a similar state. That time, because nothing had seemed to be going well, I had decided that maybe I should just focus on my feet, and the shifting of weight from one to the other.

Of course, I tried the same approach the following Saturday to absolutely no avail. I guess connecting with earth may be key, but not a guarantee.

One more experience comes to mind, one that happened more than a month ago during a 3-hour meditation session at the convent where I go for Zen-style sitting.

About two-thirds (hmmm… there’s that fraction again)—anyway, about two-thirds of the way into the first half of the session, I entered into a delicious space—soft, quiet, relaxed, accepting. It had the same quality of being separate from my normal awareness as did the two taiji experiences. As I was in it, I knew that it was wonderful and also that it would not last, but that that was OK.

Though I am grateful for all three experiences, in a small way they trouble me because they are akin to some of the more extreme experiences I had two and a half years ago—experiences that a neurologist labeled “spells” when he told me he didn’t think I had epilepsy even though I had had two “unusual” EEGs.

So what is it, what is it, what is it that I am experiencing?

Brain deviance or spiritual growth?

It seems possible that the sole meaning of experiences like the one I had today is that the 3 pound mass of tissue inside my skull has gotten a bit wonky in some of its particulars as a result of my various practices. My brain gets wonky; my perception of reality shifts; I feel good; end of story.

Of course, it is also possible—and, I hope, true—that there is some greater, objective reality that I may somehow be able to access as a result of my various practices.

It would be nice if there was more than just me, my brain and I….

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