Category Archives: Uncategorized

Filling a Hole in the Family Tree in My Heart….

The following post has virtually nothing to do with qigong. Oh, well…. I needed to write it, and it helps me to have a target as I write….

My father was about the farthest you could get from being a gossip. He did not talk about other people or their relationships, and he most certainly did not “dish the dirt.”
So it fell to my mother to fill my sister and me in on the details of his earlier life, both juicy and regular, since we really did not know his mother, who lived more than 800 miles away and died when I was 10, or his only sibling, a considerably older half-sister who lived on the other side of the continent.
My mother was good with family details, both juicy and regular, but she was not exactly an unbiased reporter when it came to my father’s family. His father was 53 when he was born, and his mother, 42, so his father was dead and his mother elderly by the time my parents married. And though she knew my grandmother reasonably well, my mother was a big city girl who had married a small town boy, thereby putting the final nail in the coffin of whatever hopes his widowed mother may have had of her only child ever coming home to live. Though I believe they both tried, there was no way they could have become buddies, for that and any number of other reasons.
In any event, the story my mother pieced together from things told her by her mother-in-law and members of my father’s extended family cast my father’s parents in a less than favorable light.
I, being a literal-minded child, assumed that everything she said about my father’s family was the absolute, literal, gospel truth. I did not understand then, and only now am being to fully understand, that my poor mother was driven more by emotion than by logic and viewed everything through the veil of her emotions. (I say “my poor mother,” because she had to contend with two people who just didn’t “get” things she felt should be obvious to a person with any feelings, namely my father and me.)
The result, for me, was the belief that my father’s parents were peculiar, less than worthy people who were certainly not up to the standards of my mother’s parents.

That belief began to change last summer, when I went through papers and photos from my father’s family now in my son’s custody.
Though she didn’t marry and lived at home until she was 41, my father’s mother had been a lively young woman, who sewed and painted (quite well) and visited with friends and family. She went to college and she taught school, and she was active in the town’s Congregational Church even after my father was born. She named my father for her older brother, who had died of typhoid five years before my father was born. She was the sort of mom who clipped every little mention of her son from the town’s weekly paper.
My father’s father died of pernicious anemia when my father was in college and must have been a sick man for quite a few years, but he had been extremely active in town affairs and appears to have been a caring father. He had been a widower for eight years when he married my grandmother; his son had died of typhoid two years previous, but he had two daughters, the youngest of whom was 13 when her father married my grandmother. She subsequently contracted TB and left a teaching job in her home town in the mid-West to go to a sanatorium in California to recover her health. I know from postcards my grandfather sent home that he traveled across the country to visit her not long before she died. My mother used to say that my grandmother said that when he died, she discovered that he had lost her inheritance and left her near penniless. Well, sheesh, the man died, quite ill, in 1937, which both my mother and grandmother certainly knew was during the Great Depression. He wasn’t the only man who lost money.

Last week I went back to my father’s hometown for the first time since my grandmother died 65 years ago, and my view of his family became even warmer, thanks to some amazing members of the town’s historical society who have spent more hours than I can conceive preserving and indexing old documents—preserving the stories of people’s lives, including members of my family.
They welcomed us—“us” being also my son and his two children—and pulled documents for us, including a profile of my grandfather that I found nothing short of thrilling.
It was written by a woman whose father had been a colleague of my grandfather when both were active in the life of the village (which later became a town). I read it and thought: “I would have liked this man!”
In one of the anecdotes the author relates, he was president of the village when a group of 70 residents petitioned the village to pay for mowing the grass around an abandoned building that had been owned by a private college. “It would be illegal,” he is reported to have said, “to use public money to maintain private property.” He then offered to head a subscription drive to raise money for mowing the grass, but none of the petitioners was willing to contribute, and the former campus remained a forest of grass and weeds. “Wow,” I thought. “This guy understood legal principles! And he offered an alternative solution to the problem.”

A second anecdote casts him in a more problematic light.
My grandfather, it seems, was a staunch Democrat. In 1888, the town’s Republicans were planning to fire the town cannon during a torch-light procession to celebrate the election of President Harrison. Town Democrats got together at a local saloon, and my grandfather and another man were elected to keep this from happening by “kidnapping” the cannon from the town jail, where it was kept. However, they were both too big to climb in through the back window of the jail, so they enlisted the help of a third, smaller man with only one arm. They unscrewed the window frame, the one-armed man climbed in, took the cannon apart, and passed the parts out, and they reassembled it, wheeled it down the street, and pushed it into a swamp. There it remained for eight years, until the swamp was filled in and it was unearthed during construction of a house.
Some of the people to whom I’ve told this story are dismayed that I would choose to repeat it. Your grandfather was stealing public property, they say. The town cannon. Probably a relic from the Civil War (although, I must note, only 23 years after the end of the war, it would have seemed less a relic than it does now).
But the fact that he was one of the men who helped “kidnap” the cannon is known only because he told the story not long before he died, admitting that he was not always the model of upright behavior he was generally held to be and, I believe, generally was. I can imagine him, an old man, telling this story on himself with some chagrin—indeed, I can hear him doing so—because he was my father’s father and, like my father, doubtless honest to the core.
Indeed, among the family papers I read last summer were a couple of letters my father wrote home from college. In one of them, he relates how many of his fellow students were cheating on exams, and it’s clear he believes that his parents will be as amazed and aghast as he is.

Last summer, not long after I finished going through my father’s family papers, I went with my daughter, sister, brother-in-law and seven other family members to Estes Park, Colorado. My sister had custody of our parents’ ashes, plus the ashes of two aunts, an uncle and a cousin on my mother’s side with whom my family had been very close. We had all agreed that Estes Park was the right place to scatter all these ashes, because all six people had vacationed there, often together, and they had all loved it. Indeed, a huge landscape painting by an Estes Park artist hung in my aunt and uncle’s living room for years.
The night we arrived in Estes Park, several of us met in my sister’s hotel room and divided each set of ashes into 11 portions, one for each family member who had come. The next morning, we scattered the ashes on a hillside in the national park outside Estes Park, during a ceremony created by my sister that allowed each of us to speak our memories of each person before we scattered that person’s ashes.
I was at the time very full of my feelings for my father, having just spent so much time with him through his family’s papers and pictures, and on a whim I held back perhaps a tablespoon of his ashes and stuffed the baggie containing them in my pocket.
I had no thought as to what I would do with them. Later that afternoon, while others were napping, I purchased a small stoneware jar in a souvenir shop, put the ashes in it, and when I brought it home, set it on a table beside my bed, next to a picture of my parents taken shortly before my father died.
It wasn’t until quite a while after we made plans to go to Fox Lake that it occurred to me that I wanted to sprinkle the ashes over his parents’ graves. There is absolutely no rational reason I can give for wanting to do this, but somehow it just seemed right to take at least a small part of him home to his parents.
Which I did. I made no particular ceremony of it, but I did it and somehow find it strangely satisfying. I have very vivid pictures in my mind of the tombstones, and the grass, and my hands with the packet of ashes, sprinkling them over the grass, smoothing them in.

I have never really understood why some people who were adopted at birth were so driven to find their birth parents, probably because, although I fantasized as a child that I was actually a princess who’d been given to the wrong parents, I always knew I was not adopted.
But now I think I understand at a more visceral level the need to know one’s roots. In an odd way, discovering a fuller and emotionally more satisfying truth about my father’s parents has filled a hole. I now have paternal grandparents I feel comfortable with. I am happy for me and happy for my father. And when I came home, I noted an odd sense of being at peace. I cannot explain this, but it is real.
I have other ancestors buried in the small town where my father grew up. There’s his mother’s father, a Civil War veteran, and his father’s father, who had three wives and an awful lot of children. These folks, and particularly the Civil War veteran, have also been well documented by the town’s historical society. However, for now I am content to know my grandparents. My mind can only expand so far….

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Progress, Uncategorized

Colorizing the Story of Me…

I have been corresponding with a woman in Norway who responded to my post on depression in the face of qigong, or qigong in the face of depression. Hers was a supportive voice and also a kindred voice, and I am deeply grateful that she has been willing to communicate, since she is both a good writer and a person with things to say that have been helpful to me to hear.

We got into an exchange about the possibility of letting go of our stories, the things we tell ourselves about who we are.

A few days after one exchange, there arrived in my inbox, originally from a site called Quartz but now part of an Apple News compilation, an article with the following headline:

“By the Time You’re 77, You’ll Be a Different Person: A new personality study reveals that between 14 and 77, we don’t just age, our entire personality changes.”

The article was based on a study published in “Psychology and Aging” that began with data from a 1950 survey of 1,208 14-year-olds in Scotland.

Teachers had been asked to rate the kids on six personality traits: self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to learn.

More than 60 years later, researchers tracked down 635 of the now 77-year-old participants, and 174 of them agreed to repeat testing. They rated themselves on the six personality traits and also chose a friend or relative to do the same.

To the researchers’ surprise, they found little correlation between ratings then and now. Studies where the interval was shorter had found correlation, but apparently with enough time, our personalities are transformed.

I shared this report with my friend—but, as I told her, I’m not sure I agree that, at 75, I’m an almost completely different person from myself at 14.

It’s true that change over more than 60 years might be so gradual that even I, sitting front row center, wouldn’t notice.

However, although I have accumulated a lot of memories in 60-plus years, some of them are more than memories “about” someone or something. In these special memories I am inside myself as I was inside myself then, experiencing whatever I was seeing or feeling or thinking. (Hmmm…. I don’t hear things in my memories….)

All of these memories seem to have the same “me” inside them. Perhaps I’ve just linked them and thereby formed the story of who is me—but there is some quality to them that seems akin to a space I sometimes briefly reach in meditation, a space that also feels like me, a space without words or specific content—one might say, a space without story. Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Qigong in a Darker Shade of Blue

NOTE: I banged this out on Sunday evening. Writing it felt therapeutic. Monday, the day of the Big(ish) Snow, I decided I wouldn’t post it. Qigong is arguably an interesting subject, at least to a minuscule segment of the population. Depression is just depressing.

Today I decided that I should post it, on grounds that I had promised myself when I began writing this blog that I would try to be honest. I don’t promote the blog anymore, and I don’t follow the statistics as to how many people read it. I do know that hardly any of my friends and none of my family do. But a principle is a principle, so I am going to go through this and add a few things, and then I will post it before I can change my mind.

 

A week and a half ago I decided that the elephant in the room of my life was depression, and that it had no intention of leaving. I had failed at managing my life. I needed help.

I asked my doctor for a mental health referral and was given an appointment with a psychiatrist for Valentine’s Day, almost three weeks out. I did some online research and decided to take 5-htp to try to boost my serotonin levels while I waited to see someone who might have a better idea.

I explored resigning from the board of my residential co-op, because I felt I had become negative and lacking in generosity and was suffering altogether too much anguish over being embroiled in public controversy for being on the board to be good for me. I didn’t care if the whole community thought I was an emotional cripple.

Perhaps not surprisingly, since taking action almost always helps, I am already feeling better.

Yesterday, the day of this winter’s Big(ish) Snow, everything on my schedule was cancelled except for a physical therapy appointment. I decided to take the bus, although once I got down to the street I realized I could easily have driven and it would have taken an hour, instead of four. But no matter. I had a lovely time. I smiled at people and struck up a couple of conversations. I realized that my gaze had turned outward.

However, darkness hovers at the edges of my awareness, and I fear the hopelessness and anguish I felt. Especially I fear the moments when I thought I might be losing my mind into a very dark and terrible place.

A few days ago I read back through the journal I mostly write in the morning, while I drink my first cup of tea. I can see now that around about Thanksgiving, it was as if a switch had been flipped. I was no longer in a good space.

I kept doing all my usual things, and nobody seemed to notice any difference. Indeed, periodically I felt pretty good. But the backdrop of depression was there to emerge when I was alone or tired. Sometimes I’d feel like crying, for no reason whatsoever. Other times I experienced deep self-loathing. I hated myself for being who I was instead of a kinder, more generous, happier person who would give to the world instead of spreading negativity. On New Year’s Day, I wrote a positive post. It was genuine. I felt good that day and resolved to improve my attitude—but the “good” didn’t last.

Doubtless SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder—was at play. Historically, the winter months have been when I was most likely to be depressed.

Except that I thought my qigong practice had made depression a thing of the past. Anyway, it was supposed to. The idea was that I might still get to feeling low, but I would be able to recognize what was happening and not go as deep and pull out faster. Indeed, this was pretty much true for several years.

I know don’t whether to call this winter’s depression long or short, but I don’t recall ever before feeling that I might be losing my mind, that it might even be disintegrating.

If I look for reasons why this winter I fell so hard, one possibility is that this year, for the first time in perhaps 30 years, I didn’t go to California for seven to 10 days at Christmas. My body didn’t get its accustomed solar reset.

But also qigong, which has been a cornerstone of my life for more than six years, now feels more like a question mark.

Last summer it seemed some interesting things were happening. Then I was told that perhaps those phenomena, and also the “spells” I had had the fall and winter before, were aberrations, either the unveiling of some underlying condition or the result of my trying too hard in my practice, forcing instead of allowing, getting too stressed, and harming my body. I was told—and, indeed, believe it to be true—that I needed to step back, to listen, to let go. I wasn’t told, but nonetheless felt, that wherever it was I had thought qigong might take me, I might simply be too old and physically and temperamentally unsuited to go.

As well, the balance problem that manifests when I am doing taiji has persisted, despite everything I’ve done to deal with it, and I have less and less hope of ever resolving it and being able to do the form the way I would like.

Before and during the time I was depressed, I was seeing a new Chinese medical doctor, getting acupuncture and taking herbs. I really liked him, and hoped that he might become my qigong teacher as well, but then we had a falling out over the herbs he prescribed. I’m not sure if he fired me as a patient because of the way I was asking him questions about the herbs or whether I fired him because of the way he stopped answering.

I stopped taking the last batch of herbs he prescribed because I didn’t see how they could possibly be doing me any good when I had fallen into such despair.

I don’t know whether I will pursue acupuncture or herbs again. It is an expensive pursuit. And now that I have finished reading “The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine,” I doubt I will do herbs again, because I’m not willing to fly on faith and trust in art rather than science. I may go to another acupuncturist. I told a friend that I always felt better after acupuncture but wasn’t sure it produced the lasting change that would justify spending the money. She asked why simply enjoying it wasn’t justification enough. Hmmmm….. Why not, indeed?

So there it is. When I started writing this blog four years ago, I was wildly enthusiastic about qigong and where it might lead me. Now I just don’t know. I continue to practice. I still feel good when I do, and I still have some hope that it will help me understand whatever existence is and live a more satisfying life. But more days go by without my getting to any of my qigong practices, and I intend to keep the appointment with the shrink. If she recommends an anti-depressant, I will probably take it, perhaps forever.

I have found that qigong doesn’t make a person bullet-proof.

Damn.

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

I Liked His Energy….

The board of the senior co-op where I live recently interviewed a candidate for the position of on-site property manager.

As we talked following the interview, my fellow board members were making thoughtful comments about his resume and what he had said.

What I wanted to say was: “I like his energy. He’ll be perfect for us.”

Now what kind of thing is that to say at a board meeting? “I like his energy….” That is not something I would have said five years ago, before I was sucked into the vortex of qigong. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t get a chance to say it.

But there it was. He was quiet, steady, seemingly centered in some sort of integrity. Yes, he had good energy, the right kind of energy for my community—and that is what mattered more to me than his words or his credentials, which, I will add, were excellent.

So am I just using a new expression, or do I have a new way of perceiving things?

I’m not sure….

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

What Is That Sucking Feeling?

I continue to practice taiji and qigong, and every morning I do seated meditation on my sofa with my cat in my lap—but the practice that’s really got me wondering what’s gonna happen next is my standing meditation practice.

Dr. Sun—Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun, my Yi Ren Qigong teacher—said that doing standing practice would be good, and so did the authors of quite a few of my qigong books, including Damo Mitchell and Roni Edlund, whose “Daoist Nei Gong for Women” was published earlier this year.

Indeed, I have followed Damo and Roni’s directions for the starting Wuji posture and am beginning to explore the more advanced, heart-centered Hundun posture they say is particularly beneficial for women.

I’m not sure I’m doing it right, but it is most interesting.

I start, eyes closed, in basic Wuji stance, with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and tailbone sunk so as to lower my center of gravity to my lower abdomen. Then I breathe, deeply and slowly, with particular awareness of my lower abdomen, wherein lies my Lower Dantian, a key energy center. I try really hard not to try really hard, not to expect anything and not to try to make anything happen, although me being me, I can’t say I always succeed with the not trying.

Actually, sometimes not much does happen. But other times I become aware of a building up of energy, of a density, a growing pressure, in the area of my pelvic floor where a number of acupuncture meridians converge. (Once, very briefly, it seemed there was a fluffy, white cloud of energy between my upper thighs at the base of my pelvic floor—which was, I think, the third time in my entire qigong practice that I’ve had a sufficiently visual experience of energy to call it “white.”) Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Is My Qi Running Amok?

It appears that qi is running loose in my body, doing what it will without regard for my conscious mind’s wishes, timetable or understanding—indeed, it seems to be running amok.

This would explain the events that I’ve written about in recent months, events that have been officially characterized as “spells.” It would also explain some more recent phenomena which I’m not calling spells and haven’t reported to my neurologist because they seem so clearly to be energy events and because they have not been accompanied by cognitive shifts.

Among the non-spell phenomena are what I refer to as “balance issues” when speaking with outsiders and as “internal energy swoopiness” when talking with friends who practice qigong. Also included are the periodic uprisings of sexual energy about which I speak only with qigong friends.

Yesterday, both of these phenomena occurred.

First came the balance/swoopiness-related event.

I was in my kitchen, doing kitchen things, when I paused and felt a wave of softness descend downward from my lower back. It was lovely, and I was thrilled. The same thing had happened a few days previous, and I was thrilled then, too. My qi was sinking instead of swooping!

In recent months, internal swoopiness has become the bane of my taiji practice. Balance was never my strong suit, largely because of creeping scoliosis and poor alignment of body parts. But even as my alignment has been improving, thanks to a lot of hard work, my ability to do the kicks required in the form has been declining.

This internal swoopiness is a bit like the way you feel when you’re back on land after having been on a boat, where things are going up and down inside but not outside; sometimes, especially when I’m tired or a taiji class is stressful, I’m feeling so much internal roiling that I’m amazed I don’t simply fall over.

Taiji people all say I need to relax and sink my qi, although it is hard to relax given how hard I am working to maintain proper alignment.

My own view has been that my difficulty grounding might have to do with the lack of energetic sensations in my legs and feet—I used to refer to them as my dead zone—and I’ve been addressing this on many fronts for quite a while. Success has begun to come, albeit in small increments. I can now feel energy moving up and down my legs as I inhale up from my feet and exhale down through my sacrum to the earth. But I still can’t stick a kick. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized