Tag Archives: qigong

A Thought in the Middle of the Night….

Last night, at some point during my time in bed, I had a thought unlike any I can remember having in the middle of the night. And I’m quite sure it was, indeed, a thought, that I was asleep before and after but awake during, and that it wasn’t part of a dream.

The thought was that I actually did have a way to relate to the “Golden Flower” energy training program I pursued several years ago at the Institute of Qigong and Integrative Medicine (IQIM).

At the time, I was skeptical of the exercises that comprised the program. I felt little when I did them and couldn’t see any lasting effect.

The exercises involved putting the hands and fingers together in various mudras and then moving them up and down in front of the body to specific locations, thereby moving energy amongst the body’s internal energy centers. This process was said to form lasting energetic connections between the centers. Each exercise was different—different mudras, different patterns of movement to different centers—but they were all followed by a period of meditation where you were to rest your mind at a particular center.

There were doubtless reasons for the mudras used and the pattern of connections made in any given exercise, but it was never spelled out in terms I was able to understand. Nor could I remember, by the time we got to the meditation, which centers we’d connected, and once my hands had stopped moving, I felt nothing.

I stopped taking the seminars a couple of years ago; they seemed to be working for students who were more diligent and/or energetically gifted, but they weren’t working for me.

However, of late I’ve being doing some of the exercises during qigong practices with two friends, and because my friends find value in the exercises, I’ve thought from time to time that perhaps I should knuckle down and give “Golden Flower” another try.

We’re now getting to my mid-night thought about how I might relate to this advanced energy practice. But first:

I know that through practicing taiji, I have developed and continue to develop  energetic connections among the muscles and connective tissues of my physical body. On the surface, this might seem like a “well, duh.” But it took me years of doing both taiji and a taiji-esque qigong form to make or at least to begin to experience those connections as energy-integrated movement.

The qigong form was Taiji Qigong, which comprises 18 Yang-style moves, each repeated several or more times, with minimal footwork. One of the moves, which I know as Dragon Emerging from the Sea, consists of first one fist and then the other pushing straight forward from the waist, turning from being palm up at the waist to being palm down when extended. Now you can do this using and feeling only the muscles of your shoulder and arm—which is how I did it for probably hundreds of practices and how I know many others have also done it.

But one evening I noticed that as my fist twisted and moved forward, muscles in my abdomen were participating in the twist. I found this amazing. Later, I found I could feel the muscles in my leg participating as well. The sensation was subtle and smooth—more like doing qigong than a push-up or a crunch. And yet when I put my free hand on my abdomen, I could feel that my muscles were indeed moving, i.e., it was not my imagination, not some mental energy construct.

A taiji teacher once told me that the goal of taiji is for all of the movement to be integrated, with the lower abdomen energy center known as the dantian as its center. I understood what he meant, but only because I had experienced integration, at least partially if not everywhere all the time; I would not have understood it from his words alone.

My thought during the night—a thought seemingly out of nowhere with no conscious thought before or after—was that connecting energy centers by doing Golden Flower exercises might somehow be like developing energetic connections among muscles and connective tissue by doing taiji. This seemed like a major insight at the time—and actually, though it may sound simple, to “get” something of this nature at any hour of the day or night is a big deal in my book.

Hmmm…. I just paused to think that actually, the muscles and connective tissue of the body must already be connected energetically to some extent or we wouldn’t be able to move. The same must also be true of the energy centers within the body. So doing taiji or qigong is not like introducing people who have never met before; it’s about getting people who already work together to move to a higher, more effective level of collaboration that eventually becomes conscious—well, at least I hope it does because otherwise you’re flying on imagination and faith, and I’m not good at either.

Hmmm again… And what might this higher level of energetic integration be effective for? In the case of a punch issuing from a smooth flow of energy starting at my foot, I guess if I were inclined to engage in street fighting, I would “pack a powerful punch.” However, the promise of the Golden Flower seminars was significantly more grand: enlightenment—or at least some form of greater knowing.

My grasp of what I’m writing about is shaky. But one thing does seem clear—and I think it seemed clear during the middle of the night. If the process of making internal energy center connections is at all akin to the process of making physical body energy connections, one time through an exercise ain’t gonna do it.

One of my friends says that once you have done an exercise and made a connection, your body remembers and continues to process it. But I don’t think so, at least not for me. I think I will probably have to choose one exercise and do that exercise over and over and over again to even hope of having an ah-hah moment like I did with my fist. Perhaps after that, other connections, and/or awareness thereof, would come on board faster, as did happen with physical movement.

For now, what I have is a concept I didn’t have before—and some wonderment that it came to me in the middle of the night….

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Spring????

When last I posted, I felt so serene, so hopeful that perhaps I truly was on a spiritual path.

Now, I am anxious, distracted, and frequently in doubt.

Perhaps it is spring, which has sprung with a vengeance where I live, with record temperatures expected all week. Daoism and Traditional Chinese Medicine hold that changes of season can be challenging, and that spring is a time of rising energies, new growth and new endeavors. Perhaps somewhere in the reptilian core of my brain, a voice is saying, “It’s spring, it’s time to procreate!”—while the entire rest of my brain is screeching “You’re 76! No babies for you!” That would certainly throw a person off.

I am continuing all my practices, and sometimes they are wonderful. In particular, I have been learning a Chen-style form called 13 Energies, which was presented as a taiji form but to my mind is simply exquisite qigong. I start doing it and immediately feel the most marvelous flows of energy, particularly grounding energy, which was in such short supply in my taiji and qigong for so long.

But seated meditation…. My mind is busy, busy, busy, sometimes productively, more often obsessively, and a number of times lately I have stopped short of when I intended, thrown off my shawl and said to myself, “That’s it, I’m done.”

Qigong is still settling, but I find myself more often turning to the humble craft of knitting, which I have taken up again. I used to knit complicated patterns, but now I do simple stitches and scarfs. I just want to knit and purl and handle beautiful yarn.

And I have so many questions, so much despair for myself and the world.

There was a major schism in a taiji/qigong school I greatly admired. I don’t know what happened, but I find myself thinking, “If they couldn’t get along, given all the taiji and qigong and meditation they have done, what hope is there for the rest of us.” I know this is probably faulty thinking, and really I don’t feel driven to practice qigong and meditation solely because I want to become a kinder and happier person, but, well, I really would like to become a kinder and happier person.

I have even entertained thoughts that perhaps we mess with our bioenergetic fields at our own peril and delude ourselves as to the value of the results.

And are my fancy-schmancy energy practices any better than my father’s keeping of ledgers of his every financial transaction? My sister recently found and sent me some of those old ledgers. The oldest encompasses his college years. He wrote down every penny he spent, such as what he paid for malted milk or going to the movies on dates with various girls.

He continued to keep income/expense ledgers throughout his life. He had a leather-topped desk in the corner of the dining room in the house I remember best, and he would sit there, working on his ledgers and paying bills. At the time, I thought of it as “his thing,” as I believe my mother did, fuss-budgety but harmless.

Now I think that perhaps his desk was his shrine, and that for him, precise accounting of his financial situation didn’t just provide a feeling of being in control but also was calming and mind-focusing in the same way that doing crossword puzzles, playing computer solitaire, journaling, and knitting are for me—all of which things may lead in the same general direction as more overtly spiritual practices like meditation and qigong. Well, no, maybe I take that back. Qigong definitely does have a different effect on my state of being than balancing my checkbook, although the latter is quite satisfying when the bank and I agree.

Meanwhile, of course, all this personal angst gets ramped up whenever I read the paper. Stories about climate change, the relentless march of technology and the latest Tweets from the White House make me worry that the world is headed for some sort of apocalypse and that my grandchildren are doomed.

Ah, yes…. It’s spring. My mind is fertile, and it’s running amok.

At least tulips are beautiful, and I love the soft, sweet green of unfolding leaves….

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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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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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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

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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.

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New Year’s Day Spiritual Recognitions….

Like many of you, I generally use the turning of the year to take stock of my life and make resolutions to fix some of the ways in which I find it, and me, wanting.

On this New Year’s morning, I had repaired to my sofa with tea and cat, prepared to do what I’ve done before, when I found an email from my Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and his naturopath wife in my iPhone inbox.

They proposed doing a different sort of stock-taking: taking stock of what’s good and what’s working in our lives, instead of what’s wrong, and beginning the year with feelings of gratitude instead of focusing  on deficiency.

If we’re struggling in some areas, they suggested we bring kindly attention to those areas, without berating ourselves, and then realign, perhaps redefine, and shift from wanting to having.

Frankly, some years I would have found this message a bit pat, even cloying. This New Year’s Day I realized, slowly but surely, that it was just what I needed, and what I wanted to and could do.

There are many areas of my life where I realize on a regular basis that I am incredibly fortunate, where gratitude comes easily.

But my spiritual practices had become problematic. I worried that they were self-indulgent, perhaps even pointless, or worse. Taiji often felt like an exercise in failure, what with my balance/dizziness/internal swoopiness issues. And I didn’t know where to go with qigong, since maybe I’d been doing it wrong and/or amplifying flaws inherent to my aging brain, with the result being internal swoopiness instead of knowing and peace.

But as I pondered, I realized there were indeed positives in my spiritual practices, things I could be grateful for. Continue reading

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