Into Quiet….

In the past few months, something has shifted. I’m not sure what, and not sure why. Nor do I know if I appear changed to other people, but I feel more quiet inside.

I find I often can and want to be still, to sit without moving or wanting to move. I had pretty much abandoned my morning meditation practice, but now I am doing it again and finding it easier to let go of obsessive thinking and return to breathing in and out, observing as my body fills with breath, expanding and then relaxing, expanding, letting go.

I have been drinking Pu-Erh tea first thing every morning for almost three years, but only now am I noticing, as I sit very still, how the caffeine sets my entire body to tingling.

I pause at various times during the day to observe my hands as they cut an apple or to contemplate the flower stalk of my amaryllis bulb as it races upwards to bloom. These are the sorts of moments of mindfulness that I’ve tried to remember to cultivate in the past, but now they just seem to unfold.

Being pulled towards stillness seems natural enough—but it has worried me. I will be 76 in a few weeks. What if my body and mind are becoming quiet because some part of my brain is beginning to malfunction or shut down? Do I feel empty because my brain is, in fact, empty, a shrinking walnut knocking around inside my cranium?

Oh, my, I hope not.

However, as I meditated yesterday morning I realized something that made me feel a whole lot better about my turn towards stillness—that made me, actually, almost giddy.

It occurred to me that the place, or the mental/physical state, to which I feel drawn is akin to something I have experienced for a while now when doing taiji.

When I do the form slowly, with relaxation and focus, my movements become very steady, very smooth—indeed, very still. I feel as if I’m engaged in some kind of flow, riding or possibly creating an almost palpable stream that may curve or change direction but that continues without interruption until I stop moving—or lose focus. It is lovely—and I am certain it is not dementia.

Perhaps I am becoming able to be in that same space, or substance, when I’m not doing taiji. Perhaps I have entered another stage of whatever journey I am on.

Meanwhile, as I’ve been floundering, wondering what is happening to me and where I’m going, I’ve been wanting to find a spiritual home or teacher or companions in meditation, and through a series of coincidences, on New Year’s Eve, I did.

I am now meditating with a group of lay people at a convent in my city. It is an extremely odd place for me to be feeling at home. I am a lifelong agnostic with deep prejudice against the Catholic Church taught to me by my mother, and to her by her parents, who had been disgusted with the hypocrisy they witnessed in the church in Europe.

But so it has happened. The sessions I attend are referred to as contemplative prayer, although the format is pretty much the same as at a Zen Buddhist monastery in Oregon where I once did a number of retreats. Indeed, the nun who leads the group is also a Zen master (and I am not naming her because, by the self-imposed rules of my blog, I would need to ask her to read this before doing so, and I have come to feel that asking people to read what I’ve written for any reason is pretentious).

During our meditation sessions, which are two 20-minute sessions with a period of silent, meditative walking in between, we can ask to have a consultation with the leader in a separate room, as was done in Oregon. Last week, she said to me, as she had said before to the group, that one might choose to use the word God, or life force, or some other term, but that it is all the same, it is all the spark of life that flows through us—but somehow, as she said it to me as we sat face to face, my tears welled up.

“You’ve felt it,” she said. “Yes,” I said, “perhaps I have.”

Felt what? Now I’m not sure. I think my tears may have come because, as she spoke of that something flowing through us, her hands depicted that flow by moving outwards from her body—and because I was sitting across from her, they moved towards me. It wasn’t that I felt that she, personally, was giving me something, but that I felt that I have been given something the various times I’ve had ah-hah moments in qigong.

When those moments have happened, I have always felt awed—and grateful. Perhaps that is what worship is about. There’s a book about Chinese medicine titled “The Web That Has No Weaver.” Perhaps, at least for me, this flow of life is the gift that has no giver.

I don’t have any idea how this pull to quiet is going to turn out, but I feel an unaccustomed acceptance of not knowing. For now, I’m just going to sit and breathe….


Filed under Spirituality

Caught Between a Rock and a Flute

Well, I’ve got the headline. It’s catchy enough, at least if people get the reference to “rock and a hard place,” and it does say something reasonably accurate about my life.

So I guess I’ve got to write the post.

First, the part about the rock. The rock is actually a hand-polished slab of dark green jade which I bought as a 50th birthday present for a good friend with whom I practice qigong.

When I bought it, I held it and thought I could feel its energy, and my friend and the third member of our practice trio thought they could, too, so my friend has been bringing it to our practice sessions in my apartment.

She lays it on the floor in the center of our triangle, and at some point during our session, my cat will get up from her heated cat bed and come over to nuzzle the rock. She’ll stretch herself out and rub her head against it. Once she sat on it as if she hoped it might hatch.

Because she will not do this with any of the other rocks I have offered her, I have concluded that the rock does have some special energetic quality. In other words, qi is! Even in rocks!

Meanwhile, though I continue to practice taiji and qigong, my fervor has abated. This may be a good thing, at least for the sake of qigong, where wanting too much and trying too hard tend to bring a person very little. (Sigh. This is sadly true in many aspects of life, including interpersonal relationships. The needier you are, the less you get.)

But I digress.

The thing that has been intruding on my fervor and my “discretionary time” is learning to play the Native American-style flute. A man who makes these flutes, plays them and teaches others to play moved into the community where I live, and about a year ago I bought one from him and committed to learning to play it.

I wanted a musical voice, and since I can no longer sing—I can’t hold pitch, and singing hurts my throat—I liked the idea of being able to sing through an instrument. Native American flutes can produce achingly exquisite sound, and they are easier to make sound good than, say, a cello, which I would also love to be able to play. (This isn’t to say that it’s easy to play a Native American flute really well or that, after a year, I believe I play really well—but I’m about to the point that I really enjoy playing and like what I hear when I do.)

Nowadays, most Native American flutes have six holes and are tuned to a pentatonic minor key. You can play in other keys on, say, a G minor flute, but most likely you’ll want to get a number of flutes in different keys. A bass E flute is a very different instrument from, say, a high C flute, just as a tuba is different from a piccolo. The pitches are different, but so is the quality of the sound.

Which brings us to my newest flute, a D# minor contrabass. It is a very large flute—43 inches with a 1 and ¾-inch bore—and it has a very deep voice. It is also difficult to play, despite having the mouthpiece on the side instead of the end so that you can reach the sound holes, because the sound holes are large and far apart. I am only able to span and cover the holes, and that just barely, because it turns out that I have a peasant hand. My fingers aren’t particularly long, but they are sturdy, and, perhaps more important, my palms are broad.

I cannot play this D# minor flute lyrically, because it requires too much breath to connect very many notes, but it has great rhythmic and percussive potential. However, the best part is the strong, deep vibrations which I feel throughout my body as I hold the flute across my chest and play it. I have started creating pieces of songs that are based on playing the lowest, most rumbly note like a heartbeat, lub-dub, lub-dub, then leaving that note for a pattern of other notes but returning again, and again, lub-dub, lub-dub.

I may now just have two hobbies, qigong and flute, but I am liking to think, particularly as I explore this new flute, that in the end the energy of the sounds I produce and feel through playing flute will connect with the energy that I experience as qi when I do qigong.

…and with the energy my cat feels from the piece of jade.


Filed under Uncategorized

Could Energy from My Hands Heal My Depressed Brain?

Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up in the morning happy and eager to begin the day? I rarely do. I know that others also do not, and maybe it’s out of reach, but wouldn’t it be nice? If I could start the day without a vague sense of doom, perhaps I’d be more likely to “keep on the sunny side” throughout the day. (And folks, it must be told that when those words popped onto my mind screen, they came with a tune….)

I’m actually doing pretty well right now, but I stopped taking my antidepressant out of concern for its long-term side effects and am borderline terrified that depression will seep its way back into my mind.

When I am afraid of something, I typically seek more information. So I began googling terms like “nighttime depression”—and I found some great stuff.

I have lost the citation for the article about research confirming that people who wake up happy are indeed happier all the time. (Perhaps I figured “big whoop” and didn’t bother to do a save.)

But I did print out an article from Psychology Today titled “Sleep and depression: Cure depression by combatting REM,” by Patrick McNamara, PhD.

McNamara says that in Major Depressive Disorder, there is abnormally high activitiy in paralimbic structures and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and abnormally low activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—the same pattern which occurs during REM sleep. McNamara also says that REM is also associated with “production of negative affect and selective consolidation of negative emotional memories.” Sigh. C’est moi.

He notes that while some antidepressants do suppress REM sleep, it’s probably not something one should strive for since there must be a reason REM exists as part of normal sleep, and we don’t know what it is. He concludes with “more research is needed” and laments the fact that instead, funding for sleep research is being cut.

What most interested me was the notion—maybe new only to me—that the balance between two specific parts of the brain may determine whether you are a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” person. (I have often been told that I am a “glass half empty” person, but while a part of me wants to shriek, “GUYS, DO YOU NOT GET THAT HALF FULL AND HALF EMPTY ARE THE SAME THING???,” I take the point.)

However, it was the very next article I found that sent me over the top. This one was written by Dan Gray and published on July 25, 2017, on the website Healthline. It was titled “Treatment That ‘Rewires’ the Brain Could be Used for Depression.”

That treatment, approved by the Food and Drug Administration for depression in 2009, is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), where magnetic energy is sent to specific parts of the brain by  a device outside the head.

The article went on to talk about how many clinics are now doing TMS and how much it costs (a lot, if you don’t have insurance).

But I was particularly struck by the notion of using magnetic stimulation to change the brain and end depression because I do believe that energy healing and also qigong involve manipulation of electromagnetic fields within the body.

Is a transcranial magnetic stimulator akin to the hands of a healer applied to a head—or even to my own hands when I pulse them outside my head and feel a changing density inside? If so, could I learn to use my hands in a more precise manner to combat depression? Could my hands ever be powerful enough, or precise enough?

According to another article, TMS targets the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the region that has abnormally low activity in depression, per the Psychology Today article. I don’t know where that is, but could I learn? Learn in the sense of being able to focus my awareness on that part of my brain?

In some of my advanced qigong classes, we were asked to focus our awareness on the region of the third ventricle, in the center of the brain. I don’t know if I or any of the other students ever actually achieved this, but it was considered that we could.

If I had TMS, I might have a better sense of where the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is than I ever had of where the third ventricle is. Might I be able to “qigong” my way out of depression using a very specific, very direct technique? Traditional Chinese medicine approaches to dealing with depression involve organs in the torso and meridians throughout the body. Would it work to go straight to the brain?

I have asked my health plan to refer me to a contracted TMS provider. If that fails, I may go on my own nickel. I want to know more….




Leave a comment

Filed under 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.


Filed under Progress, Uncategorized

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.


Filed under Why?

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


Filed under Uncategorized