Category Archives: Why?

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.

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Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones…

Dem bones...

Dem bones…

Perhaps 12 years ago, which was a couple of years after I began studying taiji, I had one of those experiences that remains with you forever, an experience that may last only a few seconds but that somehow gets copied into memory in such exquisite detail that recalling it feels like reliving it.

I was walking across the campus of the school where I worked when it occurred to me that perhaps I could relax my lower back as I walked the same way I was learning to do in taiji. Actually, it wasn’t something I could “do,” but more something I could choose to let happen. So I let it happen. And it kept happening and happening, and suddenly I felt stricken about doing what I was doing in a public place.

I remember thinking that my butt must have dropped at least three inches—and I wondered if anyone had seen it and thought I was doing something really strange.

I am thinking about this experience now because I may have had another one like it yesterday. The day before, I’d seen a physical therapist for advice on dealing with my scoliosis, which has been getting worse with age. (I am spiraling down, instead of pancaking, which is what most people do as they lose height.)

I thought he might recommend orthotics to keep my right foot from toeing out and my right knee and hip from collapsing in.

Instead, he directed my attention to my rib cage. 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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Because It’s There…

In 1923, a New York Times reporter asked British mountaineer George Mallory why he wanted to climb Mount Everest.

Mallory replied:

“Because it’s there.”

What a reply!

The first time I heard it—probably during my junior high years—I dismissed it as totally lame. But somehow the words stuck with me, and I’ve pondered them many times since.

I should admit up front that I am afraid of heights—and also many other things associated with climbing mountains of Everest’s ilk, such as avalanches, frostbite and death. This has doubtless colored my ponderings of Mallory’s remark. Continue reading

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What Is a Sensible Girl Like Me Doing at an Event Like This?

NOTE: The following is the text of the speech I gave at the Institute of Qigong and Integrative Medicine’s 2013 Conference, held May 18 in Seattle.

What IS a sensible girl like me doing at an event like this?

I’m logical, analytical, skeptical, a believer in the principles of western science. If I had come to a conference like this even three years ago and heard the things I’m expecting to hear today, I would have thought, “Oh, my, these people certainly have active imaginations.”

Three years ago I did know what qi was, or what is was supposed to be. I’d studied taiji for eight years, and my teacher talked about qi as a given. But I’d never experienced anything so unique that I felt it warranted a special name, and nobody had managed to convince me, in my heart of hearts, that this thing that I had never felt, that couldn’t be seen or measured, was real.

When my taiji teacher led our bows at the beginning and end of class, he’d say, “Let your hands rise to the level of your heart and be drawn together as if by some force.” I’d think, “Whatever,” and I’d keep one eye open to make sure my hands didn’t miss and embarrass me.

But today, here I am, talking to you guys about qi and qigong. I practice qigong, I’m training to teach qigong, I blog about qigong.

Clearly, something changed. Actually, everything changed. Continue reading

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