Category Archives: Progress

Was I Crazy? Am I Still?

I am feeling bummed out, for lack of any better words. Like, what happened? What was I doing? What was I thinking? What was I hoping for?

I just read through my notes from a series of four weekend seminars that I took in 2013 that were called “internal cultivation,” which is the same as “nei gong” or “internal alchemy.” The seminars were based on the Chinese classic “Complete Method of the Spiritual Jewels” by Zhongli Quan, which detailed how to cultivate Human, Earthly and Spiritual Immortality and thereby become one’s authentic self.

Damned if I know what that means—but it does sound like something that would be good to achieve.

Those seminars included a lot of theoretical talk plus practice of qigong meditations designed to take one through 10 stages of cultivation. I sat through them all and did not once run from the room, although I often looked at the clock and counted the minutes until it was time for lunch or afternoon break or going home. I did the exercises and sometimes had interesting experiences. And I took copious notes. I am very good at taking almost verbatim notes. I was, after all, a reporter who took notes for a living.

After the seminar, I would spend hours transcribing my notes. I would reread them before the next seminar. Sometimes I would also practice the exercises between seminars, although, in truth, not very often. It just seemed too hard to figure out what I was supposed to do—which, of course, is not a good excuse. I just didn’t do it like I should have.

After the “Jewels” series, in 2014, I took another internal cultivation series based on “The Secret of the Golden Flower,” which offered another route to self-realization (again, whatever that might be, but surely a good thing). During the fourth of the weekend seminars, it was announced that, good news! There would be two more seminars than originally planned, because one of the translations of the original material had additional chapters.

I did not think “Oh, joy!” I thought “Oh, shit!” And, feeling tricked (for no defensible reason), I did not take the additional seminars.

It was all just way over my head. I might as well have been taking graduate seminars in quantum physics for all I got out of these seminars. That’s not entirely true. Every so often I would experience something in one of the exercises that would make me think I might experience more—which is why, I guess, I kept taking the next seminar for so long.

Even now, when I have a lot more hours of qigong practice under my belt, the stuff in my notes is still over my head. They are in English, in whole sentences, and I can understand the logic of some of the concepts. But in the end, it feels like I am reading words that have nothing to do with anything real, that may start with something real but end up as a sort of house of cards. In fairness, I had the same problem with the talk-talk-talk of Buddhism. Indeed, as I think of it, that was why I abandoned Buddhist practice and embraced qigong following my first, accidental experience of qi. At last! Something real!

At any rate, here I am. I have a qigong practice and a taiji practice but no teacher for either. I feel that these practices are rewarding and that they and I may be growing in some glacial but also perhaps inexorable way. But, particularly with the qigong, I feel like there must be something more, only I don’t know what it is or how to get there.

I spent several hours today googling around the Internet, looking for local teachers but concluding that they would all just want to teach me another form of either qigong or taiji. I don’t want to learn any more forms. I know enough forms to doubt there is a better one out there—whatever “better” might mean.

So I guess I will continue as I am, doing taiji and qigong occasionally with friends but mostly on my own, although I’ve been finding some guidance in “Jade Woman Qigong” by Master Liu He and, of course, the books and online materials of Damo Mitchell.

When I started writing this, I was in a funk which now feels much less funkish. I did not know that the words “glacial” and “inexorable” would pop into my head and that I would apply them to the changes I see in my taiji and qigong practices—although when I first typed “glacial” it was really just a cutesy way of saying “slow.”
But the thing about a glacier is that it moves. However slowly this may happen, it moves, it changes, not conforming to anyone’s wishes or plans, but obeying the conditions of nature. It is indeed inexorable.

I do realize that glaciers both advance and retreat. I guess I was thinking of an advancing glacier as being analogous to my taiji and qigong practices, although perhaps I flatter myself. Or maybe retreat would only happen if I stopped practicing, instead of stopping trying harder. Or maybe not….
Damn! I’m getting crazy with this. I guess it’s time to go do the laundry and play my flute. My practices will be what they will be, with or without an apt analogy.

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The Devil Didn’t Make Me Do It… My Liver Did!

What energy lurks in yonder liver?

What energy lurks in yonder liver?

Some years ago the daughter of a friend of mine observed that the difference between her dad and me was that I thought before I spoke.

This struck me as odd, since I knew there was nothing rational going on in my head between something happening and my responding to it. It was true that I rarely let loose with a torrent of words, but I thought I was just slow.

Still, I doubt that my friend’s daughter would say the same thing today.

I find I have become more spontaneous, and quicker to say what I think. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps age is causing me to become Lucy Loose-Lips. But I suspect it is due in larger measure to my qigong practice.

I find I am more confident, more creative, and just generally a bit less constricted in many areas—all of which are things you’d expect from a practice that aims to help you relax the grip of your intellectual mind so that your body’s knowing can be expressed. Indeed, I have a qigong friend who has noticed similar things happening in herself.

Mostly I think being more spontaneous is good; certainly it’s more real. But sometimes I realize that there’s an edge to what has just popped out of my mouth, or that I’ve sounded harsher or more vehement than I thought I felt, or that I’ve said something I simply shouldn’t have said at all and have no idea why I said it. Several recent incidents have made me want to know where in my unconscious being my edge is coming from. Continue reading

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Guy-Wire Grounding for Snowman and Me

inflatablesnowman2Though you might not have guessed it from reading this blog of late, I’m still practicing qigong—pretty faithfully, actually. Most days I do an hour of Yi Ren Qigong, give or take, plus several days a week I do Taiji Qigong and another several, just plain taiji.

I have felt subtle change—a deepening of my energetic experience and perhaps greater emotional strength and stability—but there’s been nothing specific worth writing home about. Or blogging about.

Except now, maybe this:

Several days ago, I discovered that if I stand with my arms at my sides and point sword fingers to earth (the thumb holds ring and pinky fingers down as the index and middle fingers extend), I feel energy welling up through my legs into my body. It’s a bit like being one of those inflatable snowmen people put in their yards at Christmas; when the snowman fills with air it swells and stands tall, yet its guy-wires keep it tethered to the ground, just as the energy from my sword fingers keeps me connected to earth.

I don’t really know what this new experience is, but when it happens and I let myself sink into it, I feel very grounded and strong.

I think this is something that will come in handy.

Dr. Sun (Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun, my qigong teacher and the man who developed the Yi Ren Qigong system) talks about not letting other people’s energies lead your energy—certainly not when you’re teaching but as well in other situations where letting it happen would be to your detriment.

I must lead a pretty sheltered life, because the notion of other people’s energies leading mine hasn’t meant much to me. But a day or so after I began feeling my guy-wire grounding, I had an experience with two men, neither of whom I’d met before, who both threw me way off balance, albeit in opposite directions.

To be fair, I am in the process of selling my house and buying a condo, and my life and I are in such upheaval that it doesn’t take much to throw me off balance, but still it happened, and I did not like it.

I experienced the first man as something like a black hole—very intense and self-contained. I don’t know if he was striving to suck energy in, but he certainly wasn’t giving any out. My response was to try to fill the vacuum, which was hard work—as it always is.

As we were working together, the second man burst upon the scene with something he wanted to tell me about. I experienced him as extremely anxious, and as my own anxiety rose in tandem with his, all I could think was “please go now”—which thankfully he soon did, leaving me with the black hole.

I will work with both of these men again, but next time I will be prepared.

There are other ways to build groundedness and energetic self-protection, but I like the handiness of my guy-wire technique. I just point my index and middle fingers towards the ground and fold the other fingers together—and this can be very subtle—and I let it happen.

I’d say I can hardly wait to try my new technique with these men, but I wouldn’t want to appear childish….

I don’t wish either of them ill; nor do I wish to “mess” with them, for lack of a better term. But I don’t wish myself ill either. I just want energetic integrity and stability, and that is my responsibility, not theirs.

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Is It Mine, Or…???

When my Yi Ren Qigong teacher Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun read my post about realizing that one of my mental habits can perpetuate, even escalate, depression, he asked me this:

Was I aware of how much of my self-hatred, anguish and despair came from inside me, and how much came from others who were either depressed themselves or had negative feelings towards me?

Dr. Sun had asked me this before, and I’d always maintained that I’m way too good at depression to need outside help in getting there.

However, in his comments on my post he also said: “In general, no primary spirit has self-hatred conscious and intention.”

This somehow struck home.

I don’t have a very strong concept of primary spirit, of something that is the core of who I am, but it does seem that such a spirit would be about life, about light, not about self-hatred and despair.

And if this is so, then by definition self-hatred, anguish and despair come from outside this primary spirit, whether through one’s genes, family history, past experience or present life.

I don’t know whether it matters if I recognize which of these many factors is the cause.

What strikes me is that there is a subtle but powerful difference between identifying with my depression as a facet of who I am and between viewing it as separate from my inner being. It is easier to let go of something that isn’t part of you.

I received Dr. Sun’s comments on my post as I was leaving for a mini-retreat at Mount Rainier, so I printed them out and read them before dinner that evening at Paradise Inn.

That night I was awakened by a dream in which I was being attacked by something akin to one of the Dementors of Azkaban from the Harry Potter books. I was lying on my back—as indeed I was, in the hotel bed—struggling to pull up a very thick, very heavy blanket of qi to protect myself. Then I felt a sharp pain in my left index finger, on what would be the large intestine meridian. When I awoke, I wondered if I’d been bitten by a bedbug, but there were no bedbugs and no marks on my finger.

I’ll take the blanket-of-qi part of the dream to suggest that I do have defenses against outside attacks on my emotional well-being. However, I have no idea what the finger pain signified, except that the large intestine meridian lies on the index finger, and the large intestine is all about releasing things, physically and energetically, so maybe I was releasing something, wherever it may have originally come from.

I hoped there’d be a sequel to my dream when I got home, but there wasn’t, at least not that I remember. I did have a pain along the same meridian, only on the elbow side of my wrist, right before I went to bed several days later. It was gone when I woke up. I guess it’s a mystery, too.

For now, this is all I know. I like the notion that releasing negative energies like self-hatred, anguish and despair may be easier than I thought because they’re not fundamentally mine. But the journey continues….

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Waking from Evening Overeating…

sad stomachI eat too much too late at night. Sometimes it’s because my teaching schedule has thrown my meal schedule off, but more often it’s because I’m restless and tired and have a refrigerator in my kitchen.

I know I shouldn’t do this; it just makes me fat, and besides, my qigong teacher Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun says the stomach and other “bag” organs need periods of being empty. But I haven’t been able to stop.

However, perhaps there is hope for change, hope in the form of qigong.

In my last post, about an insight I had on the negative thinking that is part of depression, I cited the following passage from Dr. Sun’s manual for Level I Yi Ren Qigong:

“It’s easy for the mind to lie and have illusions, but when the body begins to be aware, it can actually correct the mind’s misconceptions. This is one of the key points of Yi Ren Qigong practice. When a person becomes more energized and as the awareness of the body increases, the body will start revealing that person’s mental habits.”

I think this passage also applies to an experience I had several days ago with a salad I should have forsaken. Continue reading

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Waking from a Depressing Habit

The lifting of clouds from Mount Rainier is like the lifting of the veil of depression.

The lifting of clouds from Mount Rainier is like the lifting of the veil of depression.

I was re-reading the manual for Level I Yi Ren Qigong the other day and found a passage about how practicing qigong can help us change harmful habits and negative patterns of thought:

“It’s easy for the mind to lie and have illusions, but when the body begins to be aware, it can actually correct the mind’s misconceptions. This is one of the key points of Yi Ren Qigong practice. When a person becomes more energized and as the awareness of the body increases, the body will start revealing that person’s mental habits.”

This wasn’t anything new. I’d heard Dr. Sun—Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun, the man who developed Yi Ren Qigong—say similar things at many a qigong seminar.

I’d think, “Sounds great—but I don’t see any of my negative patterns disappearing; I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Voila!

Voila!

Now, however, perhaps I do—or at least I may have an inkling as to how it might work.

I’ve danced with depression my entire adult life—probably my kid life, too, only I didn’t have that word back then. After I started practicing qigong, my periods of depression didn’t seem to last as long, but I still went there—and recently I definitely did.

Depression has always felt like something beyond my control. When I’m in it, I’m in it—although thankfully I never get so far “in it” that I can’t function; I just experience a lot of self-hatred, anguish and despair. When I come out of it, I realize that I have come out of an altered state, but I have no idea how I got into that altered state or why I now feel better.

However, about two weeks ago, during a period when I was in and out of despair, I was able to see how one patch of dark thinking had quite likely caused another—had, indeed, caused me to spiral further downward. I could also see how I might have made things different. Continue reading

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A ‘Why Bother’ Speech…

This picture has nothing to do with this post -- but it's spring!

This picture has nothing to do with this post — but it’s spring!

Last Friday evening, April 11, 2014, I spoke at one of the Institute of Qigong & Integrative Medicine’s community programs, which was held at a church in Woodinville, WA. I’m reprinting that speech here.

I am delighted to be here tonight giving this talk about my journey into qigong.

It is definitely an honor to be speaking on the same program as Dr. Sun.

But also it is very special to me that I am speaking with Dr. Sun here, in this particular place, because this is where my qigong journey began, not quite four years ago.

This is my church—and I should say here that this is not a church event; IQ&IM rented the sanctuary for the evening, just as it has rented other churches and others types of facilities—but still, it is my church, and it is where I first felt something I was willing to call “qi.”

I had been studying taiji for almost eight years and was teaching a taiji class here at church, with six wonderful students who were part of the church community.

My taiji teacher, Martin Mellish, didn’t talk about qi a lot, but when he did, he referred to it casually, as a given—but it wasn’t a given as far as I was concerned. I had never felt anything that seemed to require a special name, and I had never encountered an explanation of qi sufficient to give me a concept.

I’m pretty literal; I take words at face value and I like them to have clear meanings.

Martin always began and ended each of our taiji classes with a bow, and one of the things he would say was that your hands would float to the level of your heart and be drawn together as if by some force. I would generally have my eyes closed for most of the bow, but I would open one of them when he got to the part about “hands being drawn together as if by some force” because I didn’t want my hands to miss.

When I started teaching taiji here at the church, I included bows, and the words about hands being drawn together as if by some force, because, after all, that was what Martin did, and because I thought it might mean something to some of my students, and I wanted to offer them the possibility.

I think I’d been teaching for maybe a year, when one evening, when I absolutely was not expecting to feel anything because I never felt anything, I was leading a bow—standing just about there—and I felt my right hand being sucked towards my left.

I was blown away.

I had felt something that needed a name, and I was willing to call it qi. I was probably feeling my own electromagnetic field, which may be part of what qi is, or one type of qi, I don’t really know—but still…. how awesome that I could feel energy that I had never felt before, that I really didn’t think was feelable.

Martin was in the process of leaving the U.S. to live in China, so I was never able to really discuss my experience with him. But I knew I needed to study qigong.

I started out with Ken Cohen’s boxed set of CDs, DVDs and a manual and dutifully did his 100-day qigong training program for 100 days. I began feeling energy in new places, but by the end of 100 days, I had realized that a boxed set wasn’t going to cut it, that I needed a live teacher and also a community of fellow practitioners.

I found Brendan Thorson, who was teaching something called Yi Ren Qigong in the U district at a yoga studio that was across the street from an apartment house where I’d lived during the early ‘60s—which at the time seemed like a really cool coincidence. I took a string of classes from Brendan and learned about acupuncture meridians and deepened my awareness of energy.

Through Brendan I learned about Dr. Sun, and I began taking Dr. Sun’s advanced seminars.

They were way beyond my level of energy experience, way beyond anything I’d ever thought I’d even be considering believing. By noon of the first day of a weekend seminar I would be thinking, “What am I doing here? This is just too weird, and I’m not even good at this kind of weirdness.”

Dr. Sun would say things that I thought were way over the top, although nobody else seemed to think so.

There were people at those seminars who were, like, graduate students, where I was barely a freshman—but there were also other freshmen who seemed to be naturally sensitive to energy, unlike naturally insensitive me. We’d do meditations, and some people would see colors or get images of things like mountains and eagles; I would get maybe a nap.

There were people who could feel emotions in their organs, even the silent ones like the liver and the kidneys and the pancreas. I barely knew where some of those organs were, except in the very general sense of somewhere inside my torso between my heart and my guts. Once I asked my doctor to draw my kidneys on my back with a Sharpie permanent marker—and by the way, Sharpies are not at all permanent on flesh, so don’t ask to see my kidneys when this is over.

After these seminars, I would go home wondering why someone as logical, as analytical, as committed to reason and the principles of science as I am would be attending seminars that were way out in woo-woo land. And then the next seminar would be announced and I would sign up because I was afraid I might miss something.

I kept taking classes and practicing the Yi Ren exercises, and I began to be able to relate to more of what Dr. Sun said in the seminars.

Still, my periods of being deeply committed to qigong would be punctuated by doubts—like why was I was engaged in such self-indulgent nonsense, why wasn’t I putting my time, energy and money into something more worthy, or at least something that would be easier, something where I actually had some natural talent instead of a mountain of left-brainedness to overcome.

I still have moments of doubt, times when I wonder if this is all self-delusion. I think it is my nature to doubt.

So given all my doubts, why do I keep doing qigong?

Why bother?

And it is a bother. It’s one thing to think about doing qigong, and another to overcome my inertia and get off the sofa or off the computer and start practicing—and yet I do it pretty much every day.

The short-term answer to why I bother is that once I get myself going, I can continue effortlessly for an hour, sometimes less, sometimes more, and afterwards, I always feel better. Sometimes I feel almost euphoric and enormously grateful that I have this tool, this thing that I can do whenever and wherever I want that will relax my body and my mind and open my heart. Qigong doesn’t even make you fat!

Yi Ren Qigong is a health-oriented qigong. I know people who are very clear that it has vastly improved their health, perhaps even saved their life. I honestly can’t say whether it has improved my health and emotional well-being. I’m just not sure. There’s no control group for me. I don’t know what I’d be like if I weren’t doing qigong.

What really keeps me going is that every so often, I experience something amazing, something I wouldn’t have believed possible but now cannot deny, like the time I first felt qi between my hands—something that makes me think that even the weirdest things Dr. Sun says might possibly, at some level, be true.

The things that happen always take me by surprise; I cannot make them happen—and believe me, there have been plenty of times I’ve said to myself, “I could really use something amazing right now.” It doesn’t work.

Also, once these experiences happen, I can’t expect them to recur. In fact, even though I definitely feel energy between my hands these days, I no longer feel one hand being sucked to the other. It just doesn’t happen.

The things that happen, the little amazements, are always very clear, very precise, and although I wasn’t expecting them and hadn’t even conceived that they might happen, I recognize them. Once I felt my kidney energy whirling. Several times I’ve become aware of particular energy centers—like, thwack, it’s there, exactly there.

And because these experiences are always a surprise and so unlike anything in my previous experience, I know that I’m not making them up, I’m not imagining them. They are true and real. I don’t think you can imagine things if you’ve never experienced something similar.

Tonight I’d like to share an amazing thing that happened to me relatively recently—in fact, after Amy and I had agreed that I would speak at this meeting, and that it would be held here in my church.

I should tell you first that I have a lot of fears. For one, I’m afraid of earthquakes. My usual approach to dealing with my fears is to get more information—which is why I read the book “Full Rip 9.0,” which is about the Pacific Northwest’s history of megaquakes and the probability of additional megaquakes happening in the future—and let me tell you, “Full Rip 9.0” is not the book to read if you want to assuage your fear of earthquakes.

I had just finished reading “Full Rip 9.0” when I agreed to lead an evening practice session at IQ&IM’s headquarters in Bothell, which is located in the basement of a very old building on Main Street—beneath the antiques store, for those of you know Bothell. If there is a megaquake, I doubt the building will fare well. I always worry about this when I am there for a seminar, and I sit as close to the door as I can. Like I said, I have my issues.

On this particular night, it turned out that the other teacher who was supposed to be there couldn’t come, so it was just me, and it ended up also being just one student. It was a very dark, cold night. But I was fine as I got ready for the class and all through the class. When it was over, I walked the student up the stairs, locked the door and went back downstairs to begin the procedures for closing up the room.

I was alone with my thoughts on that dark, cold night in an underground tomb—and I was terrified. To make matters worse, I figured my fear was polluting the room, and that some very sensitive person, probably Dr. Sun, would come in the next day and feel my fear.

I desperately wanted to leave, but there was this checklist of things I was supposed to do. I opened the one little window and turned on some fans to air the room out, turned off the heat, unplugged the teapot and put away the folding chairs.

The next thing on the list was to do some qigong to clear any negative energy I might have picked up leading the class. Well, I didn’t think I had picked up any negative energy from the class; it was all mine and it was ENORMOUS. I didn’t really believe that doing the amount of qigong I was prepared to stay there long enough to do was going to help, but I did several exercises so I could at least say I tried.

And on the last one, as I was bending down to guide energy down the Yin Qiao and Yin Wei meridians, I felt something fall away from my body, from my lower legs, and onto the floor. I could almost see it, and it seemed almost to have substance, something somewhere between fluid and fluffy. It was absolutely real—and then it was gone. And afterwards I wasn’t nearly so afraid. I still wanted to go home, but I wasn’t desperate.

A few days later, I wrote a post about the experience for my blog—and then I didn’t think much more about it.

A couple of weeks passed. I went to another seminar with Dr. Sun based on the classic Daoist/Chinese-Buddhist guide to meditation, “Secret of the Golden Flower.”

This was another seminar that was beyond me, and worse yet, it involved words like “universal spirit” and “upper soul” and “lower soul,” words for which I had no concept—just as I once had no concept for the word “qi.”

Afterwards, I began working on a post about the seminar that started out with my complaining that I knew how to spell the word “soul,” and knew how to use it in a sentence, but that for me, it was an empty word devoid of experiential or intellectual content.

I was struggling with the post, rewriting it again and again. Then one morning as I was watering my houseplants and thinking about what I could do to make the post work, it occurred to me, hey, maybe I do know what soul is, what spirit is. Maybe I do have a soul concept, or could have a soul concept.

I have heard people speak of having been with a loved one at their time of death and knowing, almost seeing, that something left their body at the moment they died—something you’d probably call “spirit” or “soul.”

Which sounds rather like what I experienced when the energy of my fear left my body while doing qigong.

Something leaves, you can almost see it and you feel like you could touch it. Perhaps when I die the energy of my being alive, my qi, will leave my body in a similar manner.

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to have had this realization, even though I have no idea what to do with it or where it will take me.

Probably some of you are thinking that the experience I described was a hallucination, or perhaps you consider it a sacrilege to compare something that fell from my legs to the floor with the human soul. Or maybe you think my experience was real but just not a very big deal.

But I have always wanted to understand what life is, which is a really slippery quest. You can think and think and think and not know. At some point, words inevitably fail. I’m not opposed to thinking and words—I love thinking and words—but some things you have to know some other way. And qigong is the best pathway I’ve found to knowing beyond words.

Through qigong I have experienced so many things I would once have dismissed as figments of people’s imaginations, starting with feeling my right hand being sucked to my left hand, on through feeling fear drop from my body as something almost visible, almost palpable.

Who knows what I will experience next?

I can hardly wait to find out.

And if Yi Ren Qigong makes me healthier and happier to boot—well, so much the better. I can handle it. It’s all good.

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