Where Am I Anyway?

I’m still at it. Still dancing around qigong, still trying to figure out where I am and where I might be going.

Almost two months ago, I was asked by someone who responded to my post about depression  if I had lost faith in qigong. My answer is attached to that post, but I’m going to bring it forward here. I said that my faith in qigong was at very low ebb—and now I’ll pick up with the rest of what I wrote then:

I probably wanted far more than qigong could ever deliver—and wanting too much, I am told, and believe, pretty much assures that you will get very little.

“I had believed that qigong could resolve various of my health issues, but I no longer expect that to happen. In my qigong community, one woman has survived lung cancer that was predicted to kill her in something like six months, and she attributes her survival in large part to qigong. Another woman, an ardent practitioner and teacher, developed lung cancer and was dead within months. True, she was a smoker, where the other woman was not. But still, qigong didn’t protect her and qigong didn’t save her.

“My very darkest thought about qigong goes back to a margarine commercial from the 1970s with the line ‘It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.’ I consider that quite possibly when I am doing qigong, I am ‘fooling Mother Nature’ by manipulating my bioelectric field. Should I be doing this? I have no idea how the energetic effects of qigong compare to the energetic effects of using my cell phone or walking across a parking lot where people are using invisible energy waves to remotely lock or unlock their cars. I can’t feel the latter things, but I can feel something when I do qigong.

“I have thought that perhaps the effects of qigong are similar to the effects of other types of meditation. Meditation does change the brain and also how one feels and acts in the world, although I know enough meditators to know it’s slow going, and I’ve known of people who live in Zen monasteries and take anti-depressants.

“I do still hope for personal change from qigong. And, well, in truth, I still hope for a whole lot more. I still want to understand, to know, what existence is all about. Through qigong, I have had experiences I would not have believed possible—or, more precisely, that I had no concept of. What more will I learn? I don’t know. I am impatient. Will learning more make me happy, or satisfied, or whole? I don’t know.”

Since the beginning of March, when I wrote the above, I have been very busy in other sectors of my life and haven’t done much qigong. In truth, I haven’t made much effort to find the time to do qigong. I have a cell phone app that lets me check off when I have done something, and I used to try to check off more than half a dozen practices related to qigong and taiji every day. I don’t do that anymore.

In the last week, I’ve felt myself drawn to seated meditation again. I just sit and breathe and feel my breath filling my body, making it swell and tingle and come alive. Sometimes I’ll focus on particular energy centers or parts of my body and connecting them in various ways. When my mind wanders, as it regularly does, I do find it easier to say, “Oh, well….” and get back to my breath, which, wouldn’t you know, has continued of its own accord while part of me was away–and then I immediately fall back into total body energetic awareness.

I do an hour of Yi Ren Qigong with friends once a week, but other days, if I do qigong at all, I do either Damo Mitchell’s Wu Xing qigong exercises, which are so much simpler than the Yi Ren Qigong exercises, or the Shibashi Taiji Qigong I used to teach.

Also in early March, when I wrote the passage I quoted above, I quit the taiji school I had been going to for more than a year. I had tried to do taiji their way but concluded I couldn’t because of my balance issues—and also that I really didn’t want to. I will always do taiji, but I am trying to enjoy it again, to be aware of my alignments and how energy is moving in my body without worrying too much about whether I’m getting some of the details wrong. I don’t even push myself to do the whole form, which takes me a bit over half an hour. I quit when it starts feeling like I’m doing it for the sake of getting it done.

Today I went for a walk during a sun break between spring rains and paused in a small neighborhood park to do half of my taiji form and then, because the sun was out and the sky was so beautiful and the birds were singing and the grass was incredibly green, I did some Taiji Qigong.

It was just very nice, as had been my Seated Meditation with Cat earlier in the morning.

And perhaps that is enough. To have something you can do to take you to a space that is just very nice is really quite wonderful.

Even if nothing more ever happens, perhaps this morning was worth all the time and angst I have put into taiji and qigong.

2 Comments

Filed under Why?

2 responses to “Where Am I Anyway?

  1. Nick. Lape

    Barbara,
    A couple of years ago, I read your blog book, “A Doubter’s Journey” and I like it a lot. I liked it because I practice tai chi and liked the content and I liked how you described things. But, most of all, I liked that not everything was wonderful or rosy or straight or the final answer. You sometimes, stumbled, doubted, got lost, wanted to quit and got sad. And then, a surprise discovery would pop up, rekindle your spirit and curiosity just enough and you were back in the hunt. A zig-zaggy real-life path; The Hero’s Journey; a “good read;” My path too.
    Then, in your last couple of posts, it seemed like your constant cycle of “wonder-excitement, doubt, disorientation, reorientation-and-wonder again” got stuck in that disorientation part, deeper than you had reported in the past. It didn’t look like you were going to be able to find that re-orientation stage to complete the cycle–No Flow. Your health concerns and maybe some aging thoughts seemed to knock you off balance so much that you couldn’t rebalance. To right yourself, you double-down on your strongest tools of thinking, skepticism and writing while decreasing your use of “space without story” tools of wondering, qigong, meditation and “Oh, well. ” You seemed to have forgotten how these softer methods had delivered in the past and you increased your intensity, leaning heavily toward your left brain side which ultimately triggered your “Depression–“Too Much!” warning signal.
    Well, that’s my cockamamie version of what I was reading but not too unlike what you had written:

    “Sometimes I’ll hit a rough patch and my practices don’t go well. I doubt. I despair. I think about what I could or should be doing with my life instead. I forget all the times qigong has made me feel good. I forget the experiences that have filled me with amazement, experiences that my intellectual mind cannot deny. I forget that most of the time, I feel stronger and more whole than I did before I began to practice qigong, and that slowly but surely, my practice has grown deeper.
    Ironically, this is precisely what qigong may be helping me accomplish. It may be helping me move out of the confines of my logical, analytical intellectual mind into greater contact with the more relaxed “being” parts of my brain.”

    This month’s post was more positive and it seems you’ve regained your balance. Good!
    So, I’ve got no advice for you. I only know you from your blog and so can never truly understand what you are going through nor can I even catch a glimmer of what you should do. But, I’m a fellow doubter and qigong traveler and, since you’ve encouraged doubters to respond, here’s what you get——-
    My key thought is that it appears from your writing that you know yourself very well and that you have had your answers all along. So, in the future when stuck in the narrow place, you might want to repeat the AA chant, “It’s our best thinking that got us here” and pull out a copy of Barbara Brachtl’s 13 Keys for a Successful Doubter’s Journey that have been lying there in your posts in plain view:

    1) Find “spaces without story” in your daily life to balance the storytelling stuff..
    2) “With qigong, I keep getting little surprises that bring me back from doubt.”
    3) “Every so often I would feel something that would surprise me—a whoosh or a sense of a broader, indefinable something…. ”
    4) “I know that doubt is a function of my intellectual mind. And I knew even before I started studying qigong that my logical/analytical intellectual mind, while extremely useful, also had its limitations….”
    5) “…your body can give you more information more reliably than your brain….”
    6) “Qigong can help a person move out of the confines of their intellectual mind into a more relaxed knowing….”
    7) “Brendan would say that you shouldn’t let your intellectual mind get in your way, but mine had ruled the roost my entire life and wasn’t about to quiet down and go with the flow….”
    8) “But whenever I think about quitting, I go back to the first moment I felt energy between my hands and knew that qi was real. Somehow that memory grounds me, and I realize that I have no choice. No alternative makes any sense. I will continue on my journey into Qi….
    9) “When deeply depressed I am unable to do any qi gong, but I can still find mystery and a sense of connection through keeping on working with the building blocks of qi gong
    10) “Now, with hindsight, I think he was probably right in another way, too: I just needed to think less, do the exercises and wait to see what showed up. Because eventually, something does show up”
    11) “It may be time for me to relax and have some fun, time to let go of my obsessive pursuit of qi and just be with qi….”
    12) It is my guess—indeed, it is my hope—that qigong is rewiring my brain so that my intellectual “doing” mind lets my intuitive “being” mind get a word in edgewise more often. Feeling spacey is doubtless part of that process.
    13) “…Ironically, this is precisely what qigong may be helping me accomplish. It may be helping me move out of the confines of my logical, analytical intellectual mind into greater contact with the more relaxed “being” parts of my brain….”

    I would recommend that you ponder these Barbara-Truth-Statements periodically and also dig out your Will Johnson books, Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient and Breathing through the Whole Body that seemed to resonate with you. He’s the best thinker (and writer) on meditation and I find his stuff useful.

    That’s it. My helping hand.
    Please keep scouting the qigong frontier and reporting back to us. It’s wonderful stuff. And while you do it, do what the Sage says, “Do the exercises and wait to see what shows up”—“Relax and have some fun.” Or the other Sage’s advice: “Go, find balance…” (Mr. Miyagi:).

    Nick Lape

  2. pattyshells@comcast.net

    Barbara I always read and love your post. Thanks so much. They are always enlightening. Thanks patti

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