I was studying Yi Ren Qigong with Brendan, but Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun, the man who had developed this system of medical qigong, was never far away—literally as well as figuratively.
Brendan often mentioned Dr. Sun in class, and Brendan’s e-mail newsletters always included a link to what he termed “Dr. Sun’s Amazing Seminars,” which were taught in the Seattle area.
When I first started studying with Brendan, Dr. Sun was working at both the University of Washington and Bastyr University, a natural medicine school near Seattle, and he was involved with two Yi Ren Qigong organizations. This settled down to his teaching qigong and doing research at Bastyr and being executive director of the free-floating Institute for Qigong and Integrative Medicine (IQ&IM). He also began offering frequent weekend seminars, some related to specific health conditions and open to the general public but most for students of Yi Ren Qigong.
How could I not check him out?
Dr. Sun’s seminars were quite different from Brendan’s classes. Brendan focused on teaching the exercises and meditations Dr. Sun had created; Dr. Sun taught the exercises and meditations but he also talked theory and technique, at length and in detail. His seminars were, indeed, amazing.
The goal of qigong practice, Dr. Sun would tell us, is to wake up the organs and get them to communicate, via qi, with the mind. Once you’re running on all cylinders, your organs will be giving you information about the world that your mind can’t perceive. You will be able to remove negative memories from your body and keep new negative energies from settling in.
And then—and in my mind I can hear Dr. Sun saying this because he said it so many times—no one will be able to lie to you, including you yourself. You will know who you are, know yourself for the divine being that you are, and you won’t ever let anyone take that away from you. You will, in short, be free. Happy, healthy and free. It sounded pie-in-the-sky, but it also made sense.
Dr. Sun could stand in front of a group expounding on Yi Ren Qigong and fielding student comments and questions hour after hour, always cheerful, always positive, always composed, with impeccable posture. (I so admire his posture!) What he had to say was always interesting, sometimes fascinating—and sometimes, or so it seemed to literal, logical qigong newbie me, absolutely over-the-top. A year earlier I would simply have dismissed some of the things he said as so much woo-woo craziness—but now I couldn’t. That experience of my right hand being sucked to my left hand by something I didn’t believe in—qi—put everything else I didn’t believe in back on the table of possibility.
Dr. Sun once said that taking the path of qigong involves making a paradigm shift, a shift in basic assumptions, in the way you perceive things. I guess paradigm shifts aren’t easy; your old way of thinking doesn’t go down without a fight.
The first Dr. Sun seminar I attended was “Emotional Well-Being of the Lungs.” Oh, my. The good thing was, I knew where my lungs were. But I had no idea what they felt or did, beyond the biggie of breathing.
However, the lungs, according to Dr. Sun, are the Supreme Court of the body. They are about righteousness, conscience, compassion, justice.
“Before you do anything,” he said, “ask your lungs what is the right thing, what is the wrong thing.”
We did a meditation on the lungs so that we could get in touch with negative memories lodged there and let them go.
Brain-bound as I am, instead of getting into the meditative state where images appear, I was struck by a lung-related thought: It occurred to me that when I’d fallen and broken several ribs less than a year earlier, I’d been totally focused on my ribs and how much they hurt, and I’d given no consideration to my poor lungs, which must have taken quite a jolt. Then I realized that while I was well over the pain of the physical injury, I still felt pain over how one person had reacted.
The experiences some of my fellow students related were much grander and more symbolic than this, and I was sure my little mind trip wasn’t the sort of thing Dr. Sun had had in mind. But it was useful to me: I realized I could let go of my hurt feelings without seeking some sort of emotional redress.
The second seminar I attended was Yi Ren Qigong for Chronic Fatigue, one of Dr. Sun’s medical seminars for the general public.
Dr. Sun said chronic fatigue can result from giving away too much energy for too many years in the name of compassion or love. You let other people take your energy or you let them use you as a dumping ground for their negative energies. You think you are helping them when perhaps your sacrifice only means that they feel better, at least temporarily, and therefore they aren’t motivated to solve their own problems.
During the seminar, Dr. Sun demonstrated a variety of qigong exercises for recharging the body’s depleted energies, some of which I’d already encountered in Brendan’s classes.
At one point he noted that with traditional techniques for teaching taiji and qigong, it can take eight to 10 years to feel your qi and many more to learn to manage it—“and we want you to get this down in two days.”
So he did understand that what he was asking us to do was difficult. And indeed, at the end of the two days, I was exhausted—and I don’t have chronic fatigue. I had no idea how those who did have it managed to hold up.
However, the thing that most discomfited me during the chronic fatigue seminar was Dr. Sun’s saying that he’d once burned holes in the bottoms of his socks discharging qi, I think while he was doing a healing.
“Oh, man,” I thought, “why does he say things like that? That can’t be true.”
The funny thing is that now, a year later, I’m quite certain that Dr. Sun did actually burn holes in the bottoms of his socks. Although I’m equally certain that my own socks are safe….
Over the course of a year, I attended more than a dozen seminars with Dr. Sun. There was a series of seminars devoted to the emotional well-being of key organs and another series on developing internal strength. Attending the seminars became easier as I understood more and was able to feel more, but most of the time I felt I was in over my head.
In each seminar there would be thrilling moments and stretches of time when I would feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to be part of Dr. Sun’s qigong community—and then there’d be long patches when all I could think was: “When is lunch?” “How soon is break?” “When can I go home?”
(I told this to my veterinarian friend Janice, and she said, “Oh, that sounds like vet school.”)
After each seminar I would go home, do some more qigong, recoup – and then it would be time to sign up for the next seminar, and I would think, “Of course I have to go. I might miss something.”
And now, as I have been rereading the notes I took at the various seminars and finding that much of what’s in them actually makes sense, I think, “I’m so glad I was there.”
I’ve also realized that part of my problem with Dr. Sun’s seminars has been that he came too highly recommended, at least for someone like me. Too many people had told me that his energy was phenomenal and that his seminars were amazing before I actually attended one.
I’m not sure what I expected. Probably that I’d walk into the classroom and find myself somehow transfigured simply from being in his presence. Indeed, I think this does happen for some people. Brendan, for example, immediately felt Dr. Sun’s energy and knew he wanted Dr. Sun to be his teacher. Another student once told me that he drafts on Dr. Sun’s energy during seminars and afterwards uses it to fortify his home practice until the next seminar.
I was not that energy-sensitive when I started attending Dr. Sun’s seminars, and I still am not. Since I’m not consciously aware of his energy, I can’t tell whether I’m drafting on it or not. I like and admire Dr. Sun, and I am grateful to him for his kindness and generosity, but he still seems mortal to me—and I may never get or agree with everything he says.