Monday, October 19, 2009

Four Gardens of Taoist Cultivation

When discussing our abilities, we should not lose sight of the fact that we are a Unity that is beyond understanding. Any discussion is a fracturing of this whole. Our Qigong practice should be in the spirit of cultivation rather than an effort towards mastery. The educational model that most of us are ingrained with is a pattern of effort and accomplishment. Cultivation is a process that side steps the snare of culturally induced mental activities which use the ‘data processing’ aspects of the brain based on a linear pattern of interpreting experience through association with the past and future. Just as a gardener would ruin the crops by tugging at the sprouting seedlings to encourage them to hurry up and grow, we must find contentment and satisfaction in allowing nature to have her way. All things flower in their own time and season.

As qigong students we may not always feel our connection to the four areas discussed below. How does a bird learn to fly, or a fish learn to swim? We learn by doing, and by being reassured that we are fully capable; it is an inherent ability. Remember that the practice of qigong – the breathing, the movements and the stillness – contain within them a transmission of information. Regular practice can create a space where this information can build up to a level that becomes experiential or recognized. Every insight can lead to another experience. The dedicated practice of even one simple qigong exercise can provide a lifetime of new insights. By resting in the openness of the abiding natural way we allow our abilities and our unique purpose in Life to unfold, without any effort or coercion. As we cultivate our abilities, let’s look at four areas.

Creative – initiating within the laws of Creation. We all have creative energy which conforms to the natural laws. The gift of ‘free will’ allows us to explore infinite opportunities for creative expression. The most timeless, endearing and inspiring human accomplishments are creativity at its best. Unfortunately, there are many who teach ‘mind control’ as a way to create a more satisfying life – getting the best parking space, the dreamed of promotion, a loving spouse, conquering a disease, etc. As Buddhism teaches, all of life’s suffering is the result of desire, grasping and attachments. There will always be someone with a new and better way to fulfill all your desires; this creates a chain reaction generating more desires and more dissatisfactions as the objects of desire tarnish. Our creativity in Qigong practice is free of these desires and attachments. Creativity, in an open and spontaneous way, is a natural interaction with Life.

Seeing – visualizing. Human biological vision is amazing, providing rich colors, depth perception and discriminating focus. We also have a way of seeing without the use of our two eyes. Skill and confidence in this ‘inner’ vision can be cultivated. It is a basic ability, under-developed in most people, but not absent. The caution here is not to fantasize, but rather to see things as they really are. Use this phrase throughout the day –‘I see things as they really are’ – to remind yourself that what you ‘think’ you see may not be how it really is. Try to see without looking, without interpretation; embrace the wholeness, not just the discrete objects. Cultivate the experience of really seeing the subtle fields which may be more apparent to other sensory interpretations. We already can do it; it is just a case of turning on the recognition.

Sensing – kinesthetic awareness. This practice includes the rest of our sensory abilities: touching, tasting, smelling and hearing. Qigong cultivation in these areas is dominated by subtle feeling and touching, but all the senses come into play. Hands are quite remarkable; they can be the eyes for the blind and a voice for the mute. All our senses correspond with organs, glands and bones resonate to our environment, perhaps even to the pulse of distant galaxies, so kinesthetic sensitivity is a whole body process. Again, we just need to turn on the recognition of the information that our senses provide. In my experience, this information can be recognized instantly, compared with the slower processes of mental cognition based on comparative analysis. In fact, the information may be long gone before there is a mental interpretation. A common practice for developing kinesthetic awareness is to sit quietly and observe your breath, which leads into the next area.

Moving – rhythm / cadence. The axle or hub of a wheel remains still, even while the wheel turns around it as the cart is pulled along. The stillness of the axle is essential for the functionality of the wheels and cart. The profound Truth that all movement comes from stillness and that all movement returns to stillness is living information transmitted through our qigong practice. We can not discover movement without discovering stillness, and we can not discover stillness without discovering movement. It is said that seventy percent of all health problems are the consequence of stress. Stress is an expression of stuck or stagnant energy. We all recognize the unpleasant smell of stagnant water, or a stuffy room. Allowing water to flow and air to circulate creates a pleasant external environment. Where our intention leads, the qi follows. Qigong practice guides the circulation of qi throughout our bodies, resulting in a pleasant internal environment. Synchronizing qigong movement with the breath is a common practice, creating a powerful unification of energy. Slowing down any movement develops a much greater awareness of all the factors involved in movement. Like riding a bicycle, balance requires much more skill the slower you go. There is a story of a qigong practitioner who went to the park, faithfully, every day to practice the same set of qigong exercises. One day, another practitioner, who also was at the park each day, commented to the first one ‘Why do you practice the same qigong each day, all year long, in the heat of summer, in the rain, in the snow, in the wind? Why not practice rainy day qigong on a rainy day? Why not practice windy day qigong on a windy day?’ Explore the natural rhythms and cadence of your qigong practice, listen to, feel the rhythms around you and within you. Allow the stillness of the Tao to dance qigong through you, harmonizing with time and space.

As we practice qigong, allow the inner Wisdom to grow. Let go of the mental functions of effort and its fleeting sense of accomplishments. Allow the true Being to grow; we are not who we ‘think’ we are. We are the Tao, the Tao is us. The Tao does not strive to give birth to anything, yet all things are born from the Tao.

“All we are saying is give Tao a chance” - Johnny LaoTzu Lennon

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Qigong Foundations

The wonderful experience of teaching Qigong is to observe how this amazing science and art intersects with so many people. The practice of Qigong can, at times, seem very complex; as it is a somatic (whole person) practice. Qigong can address the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of being Human. When first starting to learn this, we want it all, can’t wait to get the whole thing. Depending on the skills of our teachers, we may get bogged down with technical details or feel frustrated by the absence of explanations. Both detailed technique and an open exploration of the direct and personal experience need to be balanced to facilitate the student’s confidence and progress. In the world of print (internet and books) there is a lot of talk about Qigong. Many interesting points of view are expressed, which in actual, direct practice may not be different at all.

Here is a point of view from the Art of Human Being! A trinitarian cosmological model.

That which exists, but is non-manifest. (infinite possibility) (heaven)

That which is between, or both, the manifest and non-manifest. (energy) (human)

That which is manifest. (matter) (earth)

In the language of qigong, the human contains all three aspects, referred to as: Heaven, Human and Earth. These are localized within our bodies at the forehead or third eye, the heart area and the lower abdomen.

These definitions are strictly for the convenience of ‘talking about’. They do not really exist or apply; they merely seem to exist while we hold these concepts and play with qigong. Reality always mirrors back the experiences we project onto it. So… the highest levels of qigong can not be talked about. No qi, no intent, no form. The oldest qigong practices have carried this ‘truth’, embedded within the movements, as a gift from the Ancients; a communication that has transcended times and cultures.

As with any journey, even one which goes nowhere, we begin where we are standing, right now. We are told that a ‘good’ qigong practice harmonizes breath, movement and intention.

The breath brings in the qi from the surrounding universe, the movement stirs the energy within our body and the intent provides the benefits that we expect.

The breath – we can believe that qi is a breathable substance. Breathing is a kinesthetic experience bringing the outside in and the inside out. The breath is also an accurate indicator of how relaxed and open we are. It is easy to tell, by noticing the breath when someone falls asleep, even my cat has a sleeping breath, subtly different from her cat nap breath. Our breath reflects our state of being. With practice we can direct the physical experience of the breath into various parts of the body, eventually with precision. Just practicing the art of breathing can be a fulfilling life long pleasure.

Movement in qigong is a special vocabulary. Like myths and fables the postures of qigong have conveyed an ancient message of openness, balance and harmony within and without. Sometimes the movement is yang, strong and outgoing; other times it is yin, gentle and receptive. When qigong is used to ‘fix’ a problem, the intent to fix it and the prescribed movements have a primary influence on the targeted ‘problem’. This has led to a set of prescriptive qigong practices to treat a wide variety of human ailments, acute and chronic. As children, I’m sure we all marveled at how a stone thrown onto the glassy surface of a pond created ripples which spread out in all directions, sometimes echoing back from the banks. An exercise that’s good for ….. is like the ripples on the pond; they start at one point and spread out over the whole pond. Of course, practicing qigong with an open and joyful appreciation of Life not only relieves symptoms but sustains a body that adapts to and thrives in all conditions. Just practicing the art of moving can be a fulfilling life long pleasure.

Intention in qigong is usually expressed with the saying, ‘Where the mind leads, qi follows’. This is a many millennia old saying which modern quantum physicists seem to have discovered for themselves. Human focus / intention changes the observed. Expectations are reflected back to the expectant observer. One of my teachers emphatically reminded me, “You can’t think and feel at the same time”. This has been a key to the meditation practices. Most, if not all, our problems are the direct result of our thinking; that is, our thoughts, beliefs, words, dreams, concepts etc. Intention can be a double edged sword. We don’t always know right from wrong. There are many wise stories about how something or someone that seems broken or of little value ‘saves the day’ and is the held in high esteem. Because our intention is so connected to the non-manifest, we can sometimes do more harm than good, by trying to do good deeds while thinking harmful thoughts, as in a ‘do gooder’ constantly bashing ‘those others’. This obviously results in a perpetual bond. For those who practice qigong for health, the intent should be for the best health possible under current conditions. Qigong for well-being / peace of mind, the intent should be for the most cheerful attitude possible under current conditions.

We can not use intention to free ourselves of intention, or use will power to will away self centeredness; just as we can not succeed by trying or wanting to become an immortal. Our greatest intention should be to surrender unconditionally to the Tao, the natural way; and put that into action through a life expressing loving kindness.

Qigong, like the greatest treasures, is pure and simple, a delight to those near and far. Even on a dark and stormy day, the sun shines brightly, calmly above the clouds. Let our breath, movement and intentions dissolve all that hides the brightness within us, giving full expression to joyful gratitude and heartfelt appreciation, knowing that “ALL THAT IS, PURELY IS”.

These words are inspired by and dedicated to the Tao within everyone.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dear Friends of the Way,
We are connected to this newsletter through our common interest in two primary areas: qigong: meditative movement for health and well-being and Meditation: mindfulness practices, experiential approaches to the world’s great Faiths. Our newsletter is just one of many intersections in our personal and collective Life, let’s put it to good use. Let’s observe and motivate each other.

Observation This plays an important role in our practices. We know that the notion of a purely objective observation does not exist. A component of intention is always transmitted by the observer.
Observer A and Subject B = AB, not A+B. A observes B, and B observes A. Perhaps a better formula would be AB = AB + BA. A teacher of ‘gifted’ students has gifted students with high scores, and a teacher of ‘challenged’ students has challenged students with low scores. Physicists change the behavior of sub atomic particles by defining the ‘test’ – particles become waves and waves become particles. Dr. Emoto’s wonderful work with water crystals shows water’s response to a variety of environments.
(If you are already familiar with photos of his work, you will really enjoy the youtube videos of crystals forming in response to a variety of National Anthems.) In our techno-culture every key stroke on a computer is observed, every phone call, business transaction, cell phone cameras, satellite surveillance etc.; we are constantly being observed, and we are watching back.

In our own practices, connecting with the Observer is a good starting point, it is relatively neutral, it does not judge. It merely provides a snapshot for later evaluation. The pure Observer does not respond or react; it directly experiences All That Is, Purely Is. However, by its own definition, Observer is in duality. It can only exist in relation to objects of observation. When (AB+BA) merges completely into 1, observation dissolves into a fluid, unified field. We all get this experience from time to time, the practice is to stay. Become a citizen, not a tourist.

Observation often plays a role in our motivation. Social behaviors are motivated by observing others, or observing the reactions of others to our behavior. Most motivation is directed to our social behavior, we want something back from it, the three basic instinctual drives for sex, security and social status. Where do we find the encouragement for solitary personal self discipline directed toward fulfilling our Destiny? There seems to be a motivational power which pushes us to satisfy our instinctual drives; and which pulls or attracts us to fulfilling our Destiny. Motivation generated by the small mind is fickle, sometime overwhelming, sometimes absent; very characteristic of the restless mind. A steady and sustained motivation can lead some individuals to exceptional accomplishments. How do they do it? Why is it rare?

There is usually someone there, in the role of Observer; our teacher, coach, mentor, parent, close friends; someone who can sustain an open unified space for us to grow into. It is a social context that supports and encourages even the most eccentric, free thinking visionary. There are days when I feel overwhelmed, barely able to keep my head above water as I sink into despair, when one of you will send me an email. Instantly a smile comes to my face, life is good, all storms pass, nothing is permanent. The phenomenal power of kindness, sharing and connecting can motivate us back onto our feet and put a smile back into our heart. I feel motivated, reconnected. I am touched by another.

Observation is the neutral, still and invisible. It remains internal and non-reactive. Motivation is active, outgoing and visible. Pure Observation can lead to Pure Motivation. Pure Stillness is Pure Movement. By the fusion, or dissolving of the duality of observation and motivation we can find the ‘doing without doing’. Through this fusion we can find the sustaining power which can keep us attuned to our Destiny, providing strength of Will to ‘carry on’ and be empowered by adversity, a motivational Power much more steady than the sporadic motivation of little mind. The Observer, quiet and calm can blend with the action of the Doer. Stillness within movement and movement within Stillness. This is the essence of our Qigong practice. We practice our external movements and internal movements while remaining in an open, powerful energy field of responsive Stillness.

How much time do we spend each day doing what makes us feel good, a genuine sense of well-being? If we spend more time every day feeling good, wouldn’t there be less time for not feeling good? And the more we practice what makes us happy, the less we practice what makes us not happy. Lists usually make it easier to go shopping or get the chores done. Why not make a list of what makes you feel really good and do that list every day. Being asked the right question can be very motivating, we want the answer to give us a sense of well-being, truthful. Feel free to write your own list, but here are a few suggestions, you can start with:
I will…
Smile at everyone I met, today.
Commit at least one random act of kindness.
Practice Qigong.
Enjoy a relaxed meal that I feel good about.
Get enough sleep.
Tell my family and friends how much I love them.
Here are six questions asked by Zoroaster, one of our great Avatars:
Did I do everything I should do, today?
Did I do something I should not have done, today?
Did I think pure thoughts, today?
Did I think thoughts that I should not have thought, today?
Did I say what I should say, today?
Did I say what I should not have said, today?

Pure Thoughts, Pure Words and Pure Acts.

This edition of Friends of the Way has been inspired by Qigong Tracker. I hope you will find inspiration and motivation to practice your well-being, and sign up on Qigong Tracker to be a part of this new community.

To each of you, my affection and gratitude for being a part of my Life.

Peace, Paul

P.S. Please forward to me, links of Jewish inspiration. The link I put on the blog is from a Maggid who told a Taoist story in this summer’s edition of Parabola.