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“Nothing Special”

Snow on Mountain

“I have been there and come back.

It was nothing special:

The river at high tide,

The mountain veiled by misty rain”

                                                                        Zen Buddhist saying

Beauty returns most fully when I stop looking for something higher. When the remaining grey snow piles blink at me as if to say “what are we still doing here on March 28?,” I hesitate in my gnarling about their ugliness and see they are as at sea as I. And the two cranes that flew over my car as I tried to hustle home on the always-too-crowded and frighteningly fast highway reminded me to breathe, reminded me that their path might be straighter and less crowded but their return home no less important.

In the study of Qi Gong and the Tao, I have never felt even close to knowledgeable, so I deftly if dumbly escaped thinking of myself as a “Great Expert,” as Ken Cohen refers to the first stage of learning–that in which you know a little so, therefore, you feel you know it all. I skipped straight to “Banana Head,” that phase where you realize that, as he says, “knowledge is limitless and human life is limited.” I know I don’t know.

What I have started to feel are moments within my ignorance, that I begin to catch sight out of the corner of an eye, tiny glinting sparks of the final stage of learning, the stage where all nature is once again part of you and you, part of nature, so that all entwines and all becomes so special that it is “nothing special.”

May I never reach that stage fully for I know I would then be a “Great Expert” and I might not see the inch long tree frogs under the birdbath who are so special that they are “nothing special.”

The Hubris of The Lone Wolf

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“Chutzpah. Nothing but ego-driven chutzpah”

That has been my brain for the last few days as I try to keep going with setting up The Qi Gong Center. Not that my brain has been alone in this derision. I’ve also been asked why I don’t just go join the local Tai Chi center. “But Tai Chi is a martial art. It’s gorgeous; I love it but it’s rigorous and exacting. Qi Gong is its ‘gentle mother’ and so much more accessible to more people.” Yeah, but what’s your ‘elevator speech?’ “my what? It’s bad enough that I talk to myself in all sorts of places, elevators included; I need to give speeches now?” And who are you partnered with, who else is in on this with you? “Well, no one exactly. I have people who love the idea and are very psychologically supportive, will maybe even help with web design but basically…well, more than basically…it’s me. Just me. I just want to do it.”

But now I’m wondering why.  I’m an introvert; I don’t network; I can’t schmooze worth a damn. I’ve never played well with others which is why I usually find a way to work for myself. Even when I taught University, the system left me to do what I pleased and I quit teaching when I got a department chair who wanted me to be a “team player.” So what am I doing trying to or thinking that there’s any way I can possibly become a “center” for anything?  Isn’t that making me assume an enormous ego when all of my Taoist teaching tells me I should let go of ego? Isn’t that making me the center of the universe?

There is no answer for me here, no easy phrase that will give me an out. But sometimes even a lone wolf needs to howl into the communal macrocosm and be heard.

And then continue to trudge on through the snowbanks. Alone.

Lets Get More Qi Flowing

The Qi Gong Center of South Central Wisconsin now has its own domain name and a web hosting site (WordPress, of course) although nothing is on the site yet. My Indiegogo campaign has raised about a third of what I need for this and has 25 days left to go. While the center may exist in Wisconsin, the site will be for all, so please help me support it by spreading the word. The campaign can be found at IndieGoGo

Thanks and best of Qi to all.

More Qi for the Cheese State!

I’m raising money through Indiegogo for the formation of The Qi Gong Center of South Central Wisconsin. It’s a very small campaign and donations of even $1.00 make me not only happy but positively delirious. I’d love to spread the health and meditative benefits of Qi Gong throughout the area (and beyond, if possible). You can find the campaign at http://igg.me/at/QiGongSCW/x/2582175 . So, spread the word if you could through your own blogs and facebook pages. Thank you, thank you. IMG_0086

My Breath; My Enemy

In. Out. Follow theGreen Wave breath. Abdomen rises, falls. Pause at the top; pause at the bottom. Like waves on a shore.

Yes, but…

During meditation, keeping the mind still and in the present is the greatest challenge for most and while that’s true for me as well, what really brings me up short is my breath. My short breath. I’ve always been a shallow breather, not that I’m proud of it. At the doctor’s office, I’d be told to “take a deep breath in” and without fail would next hear “no, a deep breath.” Sorry, doc, but that was my deep breath.

Over the years I’ve been doing meditation and Qi Gong, my breath has lengthened and moved downward from my lungs to my diaphragm. A little. But breathing–breathing deeply, fully, into the lower Dan Tian, the lower abdomen–is still not natural, not comfortable. My inhale gets stuck at the sternum or my throat tightens. Sometimes I feel that my abdomen is expanding just fine but that no air is actually being drawn in. Pantomime breath that looks good from the perspective of my teacher or my students but isn’t doing a damn thing for my lungs or moving oxygen in, carbon dioxide out.

Sometimes the frustration leads, as expected, to even shorter, shallower breaths and there I am right back at the beginning, apparently in perpetual fight-flight mode. Why does it matter? Because without breath, full breath, I’ve never been able to sing, blow out all the candles, inflate a balloon. And never feel fully engaged in the now, sinking into the present moment in calm, quiet ease. I’m the Don Quixote of breathing, fighting the imaginary enemy, never able to rest under the bodhi tree, connected to earth and universe.

I’ll continue to offer my hand in friendship to my breath. Perhaps one day my breath will answer in kind, letting me feel the cool swirling at the nostrils, the natural rise and fall, the pause at top and bottom. Like waves on a shore…

Watching Your P’s And Qi’s

“Full lotus, now, everyone.”

Meditation calms; qi gong relaxes; studying the Tao enlightens. So, why does this lead to such bad behavior from some practitioners?

Some brief etiquette reminders:

1. You are not the Dalai Lama (unless you are the Dalai Lama, in which case, OMG, the Dalai Lama’s reading my blog!!!). Spending an hour a day doing tai chi, yoga, or reading the Tao Te Ching may teach you a great deal. But it does not make you all-wise and all-knowing. Kenneth Cohen talks about how in studying Taoism, students often hit a point relatively early on where they suddenly “see” what the point is. Or what “a” point is, in reality, which they take to be the whole point. After this, a certain “Eat my karma, buddy” sets in. You can tell just by looking: the person walks around looking humble and superior at the same time–the “head bowed smirk.” Think of it this way: you wouldn’t learn to play chopsticks and then look down on someone who could only play “Doe A Deer.” You’ve learned something; but “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

2. Don’t push. Don’t push me into full lotus when my hips can only manage half. Don’t expect me to be able to lay my forehead on the floor in forward bend. Yes, it would be lovely to be as flexible as you. I’m not and many others are not, as well. The same can be true of more mind and spiritual practices. Maybe you really can visualize your body rising on wheels of fire out of your lower Dan Tien. But if someone else can’t, there’s no point in trying to nag them into it. When they get there, they’ll get there; and if they don’t but still feel great trying, well how cool is that.

3. Keep it real. If you want to live on a mountain top, alone and undistracted, that’s fine. If you don’t have kids, a partner, a job, a full life. But if you do have responsibilities, don’t use your mind/body studies to absolve you of them. I’ve seen people shut the world out when the baby needs changing, the dishes haven’t been done, the cat’s tail is on fire: “This is my meditation time.” OK.  But I suspect the great Tao masters put out the fire first.

4. Live your practice but realize its and your limitations.

5. And above all, be nice. It’s kind of what these practices are all about, right?