What Is a Sensible Girl Like Me Doing at an Event Like This?

NOTE: The following is the text of the speech I gave at the Institute of Qigong and Integrative Medicine’s 2013 Conference, held May 18 in Seattle.

What IS a sensible girl like me doing at an event like this?

I’m logical, analytical, skeptical, a believer in the principles of western science. If I had come to a conference like this even three years ago and heard the things I’m expecting to hear today, I would have thought, “Oh, my, these people certainly have active imaginations.”

Three years ago I did know what qi was, or what is was supposed to be. I’d studied taiji for eight years, and my teacher talked about qi as a given. But I’d never experienced anything so unique that I felt it warranted a special name, and nobody had managed to convince me, in my heart of hearts, that this thing that I had never felt, that couldn’t be seen or measured, was real.

When my taiji teacher led our bows at the beginning and end of class, he’d say, “Let your hands rise to the level of your heart and be drawn together as if by some force.” I’d think, “Whatever,” and I’d keep one eye open to make sure my hands didn’t miss and embarrass me.

But today, here I am, talking to you guys about qi and qigong. I practice qigong, I’m training to teach qigong, I blog about qigong.

Clearly, something changed. Actually, everything changed.

I was teaching a taiji class at my church and leading the opening bow the way my teacher had always led it, saying the words about hands being drawn together as if by some force because that’s what HE always said and because I thought maybe some of my students might get something out of it.

But that evening, when I had no more expectation than I ever had that I would feel anything, I felt my right hand being sucked to my left. It totally blew me away. This was qi! This was the thing I hadn’t believed in. Qi was real! It was a part of me that I’d never experienced before. I wanted to know more; I wanted to feel more.

My taiji teacher was in the process of moving to China, so I began looking for someone else who could teach me about qi. It took several months, but one Friday evening—actually, the Friday evening of the first IQ&IM conference a little more than two years ago­­­­—I found Brendan Thorson and Yi Ren Qigong while doing an online search. Through Brendan I met Dr. Sun and the rest of this quite wonderful community.

I’ve put a lot of time, money, effort and angst—especially angst—into studying Yi Ren Qigong. I’ve struggled with doubt. I’ve asked myself if this isn’t all a lot of silliness. I’ve wondered if I wouldn’t be better off learning to play the accordion or doing some sort of worthy volunteer work.

Why do qigong? Why do Yi Ren Qigong?

Yi Ren Qigong is supposed to promote health and well-being; it’s acupuncture without needles. But I have no way of knowing if my physical and emotional health would be any different if I weren’t doing qigong. I do think I’m more creative, more confident and less prone to getting stuck in depression—but those are things it’s tough to measure.

And besides, while health may be why others do Yi Ren Qigong, it’s not primarily my health that keeps me practicing day after day after day.

There are two other reasons I do Yi Ren Qigong.

For one, no matter how anxious or depressed I may feel when I begin a practice session, I almost always feel better when I’m done. And sometimes I will have experienced moments of joy, of gratitude, of such total okayness that I have tears in my eyes.

The other reason is that I sense that I am on a path to some sort of understanding. I have tried from the time I was a child to understand what life is, what it means, why things are the way they are—but at some point it became clear to me that thinking wouldn’t work, that words ultimately become empty.

I think, I hope that Yi Ren Qigong may be taking me somewhere, or helping me get somewhere, somewhere beyond words. Sometimes, particularly after doing qigong, I have moments of clarity, of a veil being lifted in my perception of the world, moments when everything seems just as it should be and there is no struggle.

Is this a spiritual path? Perhaps—although I have to tell you that using the word “spiritual” to describe myself or anything about my life still makes me a tad nervous, just as using the word “qi” once did.

However, I keep on keeping on. I keep on practicing Yi Ren Qigong, trying not to be impatient, trying not to expect the heavens to open or the earth to move—at least not immediately, trying not to compare myself with other people who seem to be so much more sensitive to energy than I am. When I doubt, I remember that first time I felt qi between my hands, and I think about all the other things I have experienced that I never used to believe in.

I keep on keeping on because I believe Yi Ren Qigong is my best shot at growing and understanding.

I don’t know if I’m on a spiritual path, but I do seem to be headed somewhere. And besides, there simply is no turning back.

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