Monthly Archives: January 2014

Into Silence…. Or Not….

silence-2It was 1966 and I was 24 years old when the small daily newspaper I was working for sent me to cover the “second coming” of the Beatles to the Seattle Center Coliseum.

I have a vague memory of the press conference that preceded the concert and an even vaguer memory of the concert itself—but I remember very distinctly, with my entire body, the moment after I had walked away from the Coliseum and realized that it was now quiet—and that I was absolutely exhausted.

I have been anti-loud-noise ever since.

I have read that listening to rock music helps teenage boys focus on their homework, but I think most science aligns with my experience: The numbers all show that loud noise of any sort, whether organized as music or not, causes not only hearing loss but also stress and, over time, the physiological damage that other forms of stress produce.

I have been thinking about noise because lately I have found myself increasingly drawn to its opposite, quiet, probably because of my qigong practice.

I know that external absence of noise is not necessary to attain inner absence of noise, or inner stillness. I have heard western Buddhist teachers talk about going off to Asia to train in monasteries there and being dismayed to find that the monasteries were not the serene enclaves they’d envisioned but noisy, bustling, mini-cities, and that they had to learn to shut all that noise out.

Some were probably better at this than others—and if the others couldn’t do it, it probably wasn’t because they didn’t try hard enough. Continue reading

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Happy Anniversary, Dear Blog…

Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary!

Tomorrow, January 25, is the one-year anniversary of my first post on this blog. I’ve posted every Friday and, 52 posts down the road, still seem to be finding things I want to write about.

It goes by fits and starts.

I’ll think on a Monday that, oh, no, I have absolutely nothing to write about—and then somehow in a day or three, I’m at least mentally working on several different new posts.

I barely recall what I expected when I began this blog.

I started it because I needed a place to publish the 20,000-word “book” I’d written when my Yi Ren Qigong teacher, Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun, asked me and my fellow Yi Ren teacher trainees to write about our experiences practicing qigong—and not just write, but also publish.

That “book,” “A Doubter’s Journey,” is still up on “Qi Frontier,” along with an account of my trip to China titled “China Pilgrimage,” but my long string of posts probably out-words them both.

I committed to posting weekly when I began, and I’ve kept posting weekly even more faithfully than I’ve brushed and flossed.

I’m not entirely sure why, and I don’t know how long I will continue.

Some of the time I feel like I’m writing to communicate with others on this path, although I don’t pay much attention to website traffic statistics and don’t really know how many people read what I write. Every so often, someone I know or have just met will say they have read something I wrote and will thank me for writing it. Wow! There’s a high! And I’ve corresponded a few times with a wonderful reader in Hawaii who turned me on to Damo Mitchell’s books, for which I am enormously grateful.

But there are also times when I should probably start my post with “Dear Diary” because mostly I’m figuring out what I think and telling it to myself. Continue reading


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Little Faith and a Long Scar

The Scar after 5 weeks

The Scar after 5 weeks

In October I realized that the red spot on my forehead was “a sore that won’t heal.”

It turned out to be a basal cell carcinoma, which the dermatologist said was the best kind of skin cancer to get because it wouldn’t metastasize; it would just grow.

But the little booklet he gave me said that basal cell carcinomas can send their roots into surrounding tissues—and the surrounding tissue that came immediately to mind was MY BRAIN!

So I was more than happy to have him cut it out.

I was also just a bit embarrassed, as in “oh, me of little faith.”

What kind of qigong practitioner was I if I didn’t first try doing a bazillion reps of appropriate qigong exercises to see if my body could clear this small, relatively tame cancer? Continue reading

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A Word on Permanence

Source points in ink

Source points in ink

This isn’t exactly breaking news, but I can now confidently report that while Sharpie Permanent Markers may be permanent on fabric and many other surfaces, they are not permanent on human flesh, or at least not on my human flesh.

Actually, I had really hoped to report that they are no more permanent on human flesh than kids’ “washable” markers. At Christmas, my grandsons used washable markers to draw mustaches on their faces, and it took several washings for them to come off. Could permanent markers have been any worse?

To find out, I drew the three dots on my inner wrist that you see in the accompanying photograph. The outer two were made with permanent marker; the center one, with washable marker. All three dots mark source points of acupuncture meridians, which, as you may recall from previous posts, I am trying to get to know.

When I took a soapy washcloth to my wrist, all three were gone before I could stop myself to take an “after” photo – but I think the middle, “washable” one was gone first.

I conclude two things: Continue reading


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Improbable Post

The story I’m about to tell has little to do with qigong, but somehow I’m in a mood to tell it anyway—and I’ll probably get a bit blubbery as I type because telling it always chokes me up.

A storied quilt

A storied quilt

My great-grandfather, Samuel C. McDowell, fought in the Civil War as an officer in the 8th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, a regiment which participated in numerous battles, losing almost a fourth of its members to battle wounds or disease, according to Wikipedia.

He was honorably discharged in January of 1865, and as he made his way home, he came upon a family so destitute that it didn’t even have blankets to guard against the winter cold. He was so moved by the family’s plight that he gave them the warm woolen blankets he carried with him.

They insisted upon giving him something in return—a bundle of cotton pieces cut in better times to form the pattern on a fancy quilt. He took the bundle home, and his wife, Margaret, stitched the quilt you see here.

My father, his grandmother (the quilter) and his mother

My father, his grandmother (the quilter) and his mother

I love the quilt, and I love the story, although of course I don’t know if it’s entirely true. Family stories tend to change with time, and this one was never written down because my great-grandfather was a farmer, not a writer. Mostly he left artifacts—an inkwell and a leather powder flask that he carried during the war and two Currier and Ives prints of the Siege of Vicksburg, which he apparently tore from a large-format magazine. The pictures are full of flames and death, and in the margins of both he wrote where in the action he was.The quilt was on my parents’ bed for many years. My sister has it now, tucked away in a dresser drawer because she doesn’t know what to do with something so old that embodies family history. Recently she took it to an expert in antique quilts who told her that the lime green, bright pink and orange which had always seemed to us unlikely colors for a Civil War quilt were indeed used back then.

The quilt and its story are on my mind because my sister and I talked about them when I was with her in California over Christmas. I don’t know why the story touches me so, but there’s something about an act of kindness in a sea of suffering that always gets to me.

The quilt and its story remind me of how fortunate I am, how easy my life has been and is. I never lacked blankets to keep my children warm on a cold night, like the woman who’d owned the quilt-top pieces before a war tore her life apart. I never witnessed the death and destruction wrought by battle, like my great-grandfather did. My Yi Ren Qigong teacher Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun has many times pointed out how fortunate we students are to have the resources and leisure to pursue the cultivation of our qi, and indeed that is so.

But there’s something else, too, that’s a little harder to pin down.

While I was in California, I was reading Thomas Cleary’s translation of “The Secret of the Golden Flower: The Classic Chinese Book of Life.” I read all the words, and I underlined copiously—but I’m afraid the secret is still pretty much safe from me. Reading the book was just hard, hard, hard and somehow a bit lonely and grim.

According to Cleary, “the golden flower symbolizes the quintessence of the paths of Buddhism and Taoism. Gold stands for light, the light of the mind itself; the flower represents the blossoming, or opening up, of the light of the mind.”

When you awaken the golden flower, you are no longer jerked around by your emotional reactions to the vicissitudes of life and you become aware of a greater reality—or something like that. Stories about old wars and old quilts might no longer make you cry.

But am I willing to give up my tears in favor of greater equanimity?

Tears and emotions, even negative ones, do make you feel alive and human and part of the fabric of life.

I suspect this is a question that others have asked.

It is probably also a question that will answer itself in time….

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