Archive

Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

EMPTINESS IN THE MARTIAL ARTS

Internal of “soft” styles of martial arts require a radically different use of the attention than do external or “hard” styles.   In hard styles (e.g. Karate, TaeKwonDo and many Shaolin styles) your attention is drawn to the power of the opponent. You meet their incoming force with the force of your block.  Whoever is more powerful, wins.

In internal styles (Tai-chi-Chuan, Pakua (Bagua) and Hsing-I), your attention is drawn to the empty spaces where the opponent is not concentrating his force.  You (very quickly) melt away from their force and move towards an empty space next to him to deliver your own force.

In order to train to not have your attention captured by an opponent’s force, you must first learn not to have your attention captured by your own habits.  These habits were programmed into you or were just repetitive behaviors that you fell into.  They are the opponent of your creativity.

The slow forms teach you how to make your attention more liquid so that it cannot easily be grabbed.  You learn to connect your attention to the ground by starting each movement from your “root” so that your attention is not easily pulled out and controlled.

Push Hands teaches you to be creative with your attention and use it in a dynamic way in relation to another person. You learn that force is not “his” or “yours” but lies in the relationship between you.  If his fist is moving towards your head and you move your head slightly away, then there is no force, at least none of consequence to you.

Once you are empty of your own habits, including the habit of letting your attention be grabbed by other people, then you are free to be creative in your fighting and in your life.  You pay more attention to the empty space in which you can move.  You pay more attention to the moving a relationship in positive ways, rather than butting heads.

Emptiness becomes the central focus of your “internal” martial arts training.  The tighter you are and the angrier you are, the less “space” there is.  Without this kind of space, you are forced to fight in a robotic way, becoming tighter and angrier.  If you can give up your inefficient habits, let go of anger and spar in a relaxed way, then the martial arts can be very enjoyable and you will be very effective.

While you are “empty” of habits, you are full of life and vitality

SECRET MESSAGES IN THE TAI-CHI FORM

The movements of Tai-chi encode lessons of how to bring power back into the body.  Each principle of movement is like the chapter of a book, explaining how to keep the body young and the mind creative.  A teacher must explain how to read this movement book so the student can discover its secrets.  The most striking feature of Tai-chi forms is the smoothness of movement – an unbroken, even current, ebbing and flowing. 

In order to achieve this movement, the mind must also flow smoothly, rather than jump from one point to another.  In this way mind, rather than being at one point at one time, must expand, filling up the whole space within and surrounding the body. 

As you breathe out, you sink into the ground, and as you breathe in you rise up.  Each joint relaxes as you sink.  Each joint expands as you rise in a sequence.  There is a corresponding effect on the mind (attention).  Your attention flows downward as you breathe out, following the momentum as it sinks into the earth.  Your attention expands upwards as you breathe in, following the momentum as it flows upward and outward. 

Let’s just take these dynamics of movement and attention and understand what information is being conveyed that may help us to improve our lives.  Too often our attention gets caught up in the specifics of what we are doing and we forget our overall goals in life.  Our attention becomes like a pinpoint – one dimensional.  We need to be aware of the totality of our lives – what we have been trying to achieve, what skills we have gained, lessons learned and how we can continue to be creative with our lives.  Otherwise our minds will be in a bus someone else is driving. 

If our bodies are smoothly flowing and cannot be jerked about by our own patterns of thoughts and tension, then surely our attention cannot be jerked around by the forces around us.  When the news tells us that what is going on is that one group is fighting another, the news is creating an agenda in our lives.  It tells us what we should be paying attention to.  The news is driving our bus. 

The Tai-chi student learns that the conflicts we see or read about in the world around us, superimpose themselves inside of us, so that our minds are filled with conflict.  The mind and body seem to be in conflict as the mind tries to make the body do what it wants (and usually fails).  Our relationships and everyday lives seem to consist of one conflict after another. 

At a certain point in our training it becomes obvious that we have adopted the mode of conflict we see around us into the very essence of who we are.  But what would it be like if conflict was not the basis of every level of our lives?  It would be like the Tai-chi form.  This form is a movement code for a harmonious mind and body, a harmonious human being living a natural way of life.  Indeed if the form were done with conflict, with tension, with jerkiness, it would not really be Tai-chi. 

So the smoothness of the form tells us to look at nature for flowing harmony and let  nature control your bus.  Just as our attention flows into the earth and sky with our breath, you can also control whether your attention moves to conflict or to harmony.  In this way you learn to drive your own bus.  You learn to become the harmony that others can learn from.

By expanding your attention so that it fills your whole body and surroundings, you learn that your surroundings are really part of you.  Your sense of identity moves from a set of opinions and a pattern of emotions to a whole living body and vibrant, creative awareness.  From there, it expands to your natural environment, your community and to all life.  At that point, conflict is hardly possible. 

You had to be convinced that you are completely separate from nature and from other people in order to be trained into a life of conflict.  When you cast that illusion aside your life regains its natural power.  Even your past and present seem to unite as you remember how the dreams and hopes of childhood gave you enthusiasm for life.  That enthusiasm still lives inside and can return home.  When you forget your dreams, you lose your power.  They tug at you when you sleep, fighting their way up through the layers of conflict that have pressed them down.

When conflict no longer tears you apart, when your dreams of power become part of your life, then you physically experience your connection to the biological aliveness and consciousness of the world you live in.  The shell that seemed to contain you dissolves and permeates into the world around you.  You have come home to that world, you are well known in that world, and you are loved by that world.

THE POWER TO CONTROL YOUR LIFE

It may seem that we have lost the power to improve our lives in these tough economic times.  Many people have heard that Tai-chi and Zookinesis help you develop more power in your life.  This training was developed at a time when everyday life was hard, without the benefit of modern conveniences.  It developed the strength and power within an individual so he could be more powerful in his everyday life. 

Yet the teachings seem mysterious to us in modern times because we have a different understanding of what power means.  We think of power as just earning more money, controlling the behavior of others or developing larger muscles.  When a potential student hears that Tai-chi teaches you to develop internal energy (“chi”), he immediately thinks of science fiction stories of shooting rays of energy to conquer enemies.  We take very sophisticated ancient training and make them seem silly. 

The term “internal energy” refers to the way that what is going on inside of you influences what happens in your life.  It means that your state of health and emotional balance is the most important influence on your power to improve your life.  I show below a way of explaining this that I use in my classes.  It hopefully retains the flavor of the ancient way of writing while making the principles described above, understandable to our modern minds.

Some students want to learn to concentrate and direct their energy.  I teach them to release their energy and let it go where it wants.  The students wants to gain power.  I teach them to stop interfering with their natural power.  Some want to win the heart of a lover.  I teach them to release their heart and let it go where it wants.  Some want to live in a beautiful house.  I teach them to become alive in their bodies. 

When you are alive and vibrant, your consciousness seeks to expand and to connect with the world around you, and so you live in the world, and are alive in the world.  It is your living energy, merged with the world around you that makes that world beautiful.  When you withdraw your feelings from the world around you, the world itself feels dead.  When you withdraw your feelings from your body, your body feels dead. 

Your life then becomes divided, one part withdrawing, and the other part wanting to be released so it can join the world.  You then seek to acquire things of the world.  In this way you can remain separated from it, yet claim ownership over part of it. Owning something takes the place of really being part of it.  

Your relationships with people are no longer based on releasing yourself to the other, and receiving them, but rather on agreements and arrangements.  You originally withdrew to protect yourself from the unpredictable behaviors and intentions of others, yet wound up damaging yourself by being disconnected from the vibrancy of life.  Tai-chi and Zookinesis teach us that the state of withdrawal is so prevalent in our society (and in many others past and present), that we have forgotten how it feels to be connected.  Some of us have even forgotten how to let another person completely into our souls.  We have “hesitant” relationships. 

Tai-chi and Zookinesis teach the art of “letting go” (releasing).  At a certain point you feel the flow of energy within the body.  You realize that you are “holding” that energy, or we say, “locking it up”.  Even our attention (consciousness) seems to be locked into patterns of thinking.  At another point in the training, that energy suddenly “jumps the fence” and seeks to merge with your surroundings.  It is a startling moment because you realize how much “locking up” the energy has hurt you previously. 

Your consciousness now joins the “consciousness of nature” just as the water of a stream joins the water of a river and then the water of the ocean.  You feel a member of life.  Your thinking and behaviors are no longer so patterned, but are more creative.  Once your consciousness fills your body and the world around you, your life is felt more intensely.  Every cell of your body is like the string of a stringed instrument, which is played by the beauty of the world around you.  Your attention is attracted to beautiful things and thoughts rather than to worries and anger, and so your life goes in a new direction. 

This is all accomplished by learning how to release your energy (“chi”) and consciousness and let it go where it wants.  You will feel like you were a caged animal that has now been let loose into its natural habitat.  The cage of fear is no longer your home.  I have a rabbit who lives in a cage in the house during the winter.  When I let it loose from time to time, it seeks the “shelter” of a stool I use to hold a plant.  The rabbit stays within the four feet of the stool.  It has been let loose yet seeks the security of something that looks like his cage.

When the student’s energies have finally been released, there is a tendency to seek a new “cage”.  He seeks philosophies and “truths”.  Tai-chi is not really a system of truths.  It is a way to become re-connected to nature and to other people.  It is a simple, practical teaching that does not get involved in abstract philosophy. 

The goal is to understand yourself – to see yourself.  There is a saying, “See yourself, be yourself, appreciate yourself.”  See all your patterns and see your creativity.  Don’t try to twist yourself into someone who is “approved of” and turn into a fake version of yourself. 

And then appreciate all the efforts you have made in your life to survive in this world, to understand the world and to be creative in the world.  Appreciate your biological aliveness and how you are connected to nature.  Appreciate the creative efforts of others and be sympathetic to their lack of perfection (as well as to your own). 

Understand that other philosophies are also a way of understanding yourself and releasing you from self-imposed prisons.  Don’t seek them as the security of yet another cage.  Seek nature in your surroundings and in people.  Step out of your own way so that the now invisible world of creative energy can be perceived.  Let that be your new home. 

Remember that nature is creative.  Nature is vibrant.  Tai-chi also teaches that nature is conscious. The qualities that you seek for yourself are already in you because you arose from nature.  When you release your energy, your attention, to nature, you enter the flow of creativity, vibrancy and consciousness.  As much as you release, that much and more flows back.  So the teaching of “letting go” is the path to power.

NATURAL MIND AND THE MACHINE

My days as a zoologist, canoeing through the jungles of Central America, gave me a unique perspective of how living in a wild area affects the perspectives and perceptions of people. Living in my canoe or in a small tent set up by the edge of a river made me feel like just another animal among many. The villages I visited were just a few huts clustered together every few miles at the river’s edge. The human presence was small compared to the overwhelming intensity of the jungle – its colors and shapes, its humidity, smells and rhythms of life.
As soon as I arrived in the jungle, it “grabbed” me. There was an instant transformation in the way my mind perceived and understood my relationship to the surroundings. By travelling back and forth from New York to Central America, I could feel the effect of each environment on me. I could also see and understand how the people in each area were very different because of their respective environments.
This experience, plus my life-time of training in several types of traditional healing, has led me to several conclusions. The first is that the natural tendency of our minds, (our consciousness – or what I call “attention”) is to expand into the environment and connect with it. This means more than looking at something. It means that each of our minds, in order to operate properly, cannot be locked up inside of us. The mind is not just a by-product of brain activity. It is the biological glue that connects us to the environment.
One of the effects of modern life is to “lock up” our minds into our thinking process. In this way, mind is no longer connected to the body. The body seems to be “down there”. The mind is no longer biologically connected to the environment, except in the sense that we think about our environment.
I have found a fundamental difference in human nature in those societies in which the mind is “locked up” as compared to those in which the mind is not locked up. Stress levels, for example, are higher when the mind is locked up, as if it were soda in a bottle that was shaken. Warmth and humidity have the effect of making the mind more fluid so that it is like watercolor ink dropped onto the wet rice paper.
Notice how you feel inside your home in the winter as compared to lying in an open area on a warm summer day. We have designed our environment to be disconnected. Our shoes and our floors disconnect us from the ground. Our cell phones and computers disconnect us from other people, even as we try to communicate with them. Our packaged, prepared foods disconnect us from picking food from trees and plants.
Our single celled ancestors gathered together in colonies and eventually formed multi-cellular animals that are now considered to be a single animal. Each cell became more and more disconnected from the “natural” environment. In the same way, we are now creating super-organisms, disconnected from the natural environment.
But there are many people who don’t feel comfortable giving up their individual, biological identity, in a sense handing over their very minds to the “hive”. These people require a direct connection to nature, balancing their membership in society with their membership in the living earth.
One of the things I have noticed is that the more removed you are from nature, the more you are addicted to the “drama of life”. The people living at the edge of the jungle certainly had their interpersonal dramas, but their joy of life came mostly from simpler things. On my first trip to Panama, my hosts sat at the edge of the river every evening, staring at the river. They weren’t looking at anything in particular; they were just participating in the world around them. Even when I was young, people would sit in chairs in front of their houses in Brooklyn, “participating” in life.
Things have changed drastically since then. Now we have our televisions and computers to look at. Our activities are less communal. While our society is becoming more isolated from nature, we are becoming more isolated from each other, even as our society as a whole is becoming more condensed and interdependent.
When single celled animals formed into multi-cellular animals, each cell lost much of its function and became specialized (muscle cell, gland cell, etc.). They were no longer whole organisms within themselves. I am reminded of our educational system, no longer emphasizing a “classical education”, but just teaching students to pass tests.
It certainly seems like we are witnessing the birth of a new type of organism which requires a new type of “mind”. This new mind is not whole and balanced. It is not aware of the whole history of humankind, to serve as the backdrop to understand what is going on now. It is designed to be only a piece of a person that is useful for one particular function of the society.
The goal of many philosophies and religions is to acquire a natural type of mind. When Buddhists speak of Buddha, they aren’t only referring to the person, but to the state of mind that he attained and that we can also attain: The same for Christians who use the term “Christ”, really meaning the Christ type of mind. When Taoists speak of “no-mind”, they mean a mind not filled with excess of any kind.
I consider each to be a rebellion against re-shaping the natural human mind for use in the new societal “machine” of each time period. With the natural mind, each person is a whole human, directly connected to the living earth. Relationships are between two whole people rather than between two parts of a machine. Each person is allowed to grow and develop into a mature, full person, rather than be molded into just a piece of a person.
If we believe in developing whole people, connected to nature, then I believe that a well-rounded education is the place to start, an education that emphasizes creative thinking rather than memorizing answers to tests. Growing your own food is another place to start so that your food is healthy and nutritious and so that you have a feeling for where your food came from.
I cut and split wood for my wood heating stove. If I figured out the amount of labor involved in getting wood and taking care of the heating stove, I’m sure it would be a lot cheaper just to use the furnace. But heating the house by my own efforts keeps me connected to nature, especially in winter. On the one hand, I could just consider how to be the most efficient to amass wealth. On the other hand, I could consider how to be the most efficient to maintain the natural mind. I try to balance the two, willing to sacrifice wealth in order to hold onto the wholeness of my life.
What is the balance of these two factors in your life? It is especially hard to maintain this balance in tough economic times. Putting food on the table – any food – is pretty important. But let’s remember that if we put off the health of our bodies and minds, we are more prone to disease and we feel miserable. If you can find one thing to do that re-connects you to nature, such as cooking your own food, or growing it, that will go a long way to keeping you healthy and happy. Meet someone face to face, rather than texting. Sit in the back yard, or at a sunny window, and watch the sun set. Doing one natural thing each day can help us to maintain our humanity in the face of a more and more machine-like world.

QUESTIONS ABOUT MEDITATION

I’ve received a lot of questions about how to do meditation.  The other day a student brought up such a question and I realized why people have so much trouble with meditation.  They miss or misunderstand the basic principle.  It is the same problem students have with some types of chi-gung practice. 

My student’s question was, “Should I pay attention to breathing or not pay attention to breathing”?  The basic purpose of the meditation aspects of Tai-chi is to strengthen the consciousness (the attention) of the body.  We have all invested so much consciousness in the thinking mind, that the energy of consciousness has been drained from the body and we are only dimly aware of it.  This is a very unbalanced and unhealthy way to be. 

So I explained to my student that he has come to believe in a story that was told to him.  It is the story itself that is the problem.  The story is that there is this character called, “I” that either does things or doesn’t do things.  We think that this is the central character in our lives and that his doings or not-doings are what will help us progress in our meditation and Tai-chi practice. 

I explained that our practice is not about the doings or not-doings of “I”.  It is about re-building the strength of the consciousness of the body.  The Tai-chi forms, Zookinesis exercises, Push Hands and other such practices (as well as such practices as Yoga and Pilates) help to bring back the feeling-awareness of the body.  Our practice is also about allowing that consciousness to regain its connection to the consciousness of the rest of nature so that we no longer feel isolated. 

Those students who practice such chi-gung exercises as moving energy around the body in particular ways, generally wind up moving even more attention to their thinking minds.  This is because they have the attitude that this character, “I”, is pushing and shoving around energy in “correct” paths.  This approach is still a way of “I” ordering the body around. 

My teachers taught a gentle approach.  Strengthen what is weak and calm what is too intense – the basis of Oriental medicine.  In this approach you balance internal energy (“chi”) and consciousness so that it evenly fills the whole body and your surroundings. 

But, you may ask, “If there is no real ‘I’, then who is doing the balancing”?  As you do your practice, you will find that the body’s consciousness strengthens just as plants grow in the spring.  There is no one who goes around ordering the seeds to sprout.  There is an internal sense of balance which allows all your parts to work together efficiently. 

This natural sense is called, “The Elixir of Immortality”.  It is the elixir which cures the deadness of the body and even allows the thinking mind to become more connected to reality.  When you feel your body and are intimately aware of the world around you, your thoughts are more grounded.  You feel more comfortable in your body and therefore more sensuous.  

“Mixing” the elixir really means doing your practice.  Each time you do your exercise, the elixir (sense of energy balance) strengthens each muscle, nerve, bone, etc.  Gradually the awareness of the interconnectedness of all your parts and your connection to nature and to other people becomes the central character in your life, rather than “I” being the central character.   It is a more relaxed and vibrant way of life and certainly more fulfilling. 

While the student can legitimately ask about the techniques of his practice, it is important to point out that techniques should not be used to prop up the “I” feeling and order the body around.  Wisdom comes from Body-Mind (the consciousness of the body) and its connection to nature.  Allow that wisdom to bubble up to the thinking mind so that it can be expressed in words, but don’t forget the source of the wisdom. 

The thinking mind can toss ideas around like juggling balls, but only the Body-Mind, connected to the rest of nature, is creative.  Body-Mind is like the inventor who comes up with a new idea and the thinking mind is like the technician who designs the product.  Both are intelligent in a sense, but it is the inventor who creates the new idea. If you try to invent from the thinking mind, your source of inspiration will soon dry up.  Rather – live and experience to churn up the Body-Mind.  So either pay attention to your breath or don’t pay attention to your breath, but in any case – feel!

HOW MEMORY WORKS

If we could only understand how our memory works, we could access deep memories, even those before birth.  The study of Zookinesis and Tai-chi explains the mechanics of memory and teaches us how to access these deep memories.  Natural memory, or what is called, “sacred memory” is the biological way memories are stored.  It is the memory of feeling states, which includes how your body feels, skills you have acquired, and how your interaction with the world around you, changes your internal state. 

This type of memory is not related to time but to maintaining an optimal internal state of health, and an optimal connection to your natural environment.  You do not lay down memories in a time-line.  Rather, this type of memory is cyclic, sometimes moving away from optimal condition and sometimes returning to it. 

At a certain point in life, you learn about time and your life begins to revolve around time.  You are taught to lay down memories using time as a reference.  Time, rather than health, is the reference point of a memory.  You dissociate yourself from inner feeling and the feeling of health so that you can become part of the “time culture” we have invented.  Your behavior no longer binds you to health but to time. 

Furthermore the type of time we use as the basis of our culture is separated from the vagaries of nature.  Rather than judging time by the flowering of a certain type of plant or the appearance of a certain insect, we use clock time to eliminate any variations.  This allows the world around us to appear mechanistic and our lives to become mechanistic. 

Taoist teaching teaches us to experience every moment of our lives with our whole selves.  Even when a thought comes to us, we not only experience that thought as words, but as internal feelings.  Thoughts become complexes of feelings and associations with a short label of words.  The words are not the thoughts.  The feelings and experiences are the thoughts. 

In this way every aspect of life stirs the body, stirs the emotions, and stirs our connection to nature.  Life is more vivid, intense and beautiful.  It is much easier to access the earliest memories because those complexes of feelings are still present.

When we learn a Tai-chi form, for example, we are concentrating on the feeling of our body’s alignment at each moment.  The teacher adjusts our body so that we can feel proper alignment in that pose and feel how energy flows so much more freely when we are aligned. 

We concentrate on how each muscle must become alive and have an eagerness to move.  At first, the eagerness of the muscle is to remain tight.  We learn how to convince the muscle to relax.  When the muscle feels the joy of relaxation and its increased competence, it becomes eager to relax and move.  We remember the process of developing eagerness in that muscle and apply the same process to other muscles.  In this way, memory can be transferred from one muscle to the other. 

Each muscle “remembers” how it can interact with other muscles to create the proper flow of movement for the Tai-chi form or Zookinesis exercise.  The memories of each muscle interact with the memories of the others, as if they were people sitting around talking about “the old times”. 

Those memories of interaction then interact with your creativity so that the muscles can play with their relationships with each other.  Using the memory of how they learned to cooperate with each other as a basis, the muscles are also affected by your memory of an eagle flying, or perhaps, a tiger pouncing.  The muscles blend their memories of cooperation with the other muscles with the memory of the eagle flying and create a composite.  This is how animal forms are developed.  Each is based on proper body mechanics for a human yet influenced by the movements of an animal.

This is an example of how we re-ignite the internal dynamics of memory that were the norm before we learned about clock time.  We learn to operate with both modes of memory and not sacrifice “sacred memory” for “clock memory”.  Sacred memory allows you to live in eternity within each second of clock time.  You have access to the memory of your whole body and spirit, and their connection to all of nature.  Yet you can still show up to an appointment “on time”.

MELTING THE FROZEN MIND AND BODY

The nature of the mind and body is to be fluid.  Yet I see people becoming more and more rigid with each passing year as stress takes its toll.  When the mind and body are frozen, they begin to die quickly.  You lose the feeling in your body and even in your emotions and life become less fulfilling.  I have to find metaphors to teach people how to “melt” their minds and bodies to return them to their natural state.  The metaphors below come from the martial arts and, surprisingly, from a comic book.

As a student transitions from an “external” (tension-oriented) martial art to an “internal” martial art, the most difficult habit to break is freezing the body and mind.  Most martial arts students are used to tightening the body and mind at the end of a strike.  This is supposed to give you added power. 

In the internal martial arts you remain fluid, mentally and physically, at all times.  At the end of a strike, it immediately bounces back, and the bounce-back becomes the beginning of the next movement. All strikes emanate from the center of your body (the “tan-tien”) and the bounce-back returns to the center.  Your body rotates around the center so that turning to a new direction is very quick and easy. 

Freezing at the end of a strike makes it awkward to turn to a new direction.  It also prevents your full energy from leaving your body and moving into the opponent.  A lot of your energy is used in freezing rather than in striking.  At the moment you freeze, your attention is caught up in freezing rather than in what is going on around you.  This gives your opponent a chance to come in. 

The more you freeze, the less you perceive.  The more you freeze, the more time you spend away from being centered.  The more you freeze, the more you cut off the flow of energy through your body, which connects you to your surroundings.

It’s difficult enough to teach a martial arts student to stop freezing.  At least he feels the effects of his freezing when he gets hit by a student of an internal martial art, such as Tai-chi-Chuan.  The effect of freezing on the average person depletes your power just as much, but it is much harder to understand this in everyday life.   

I have taught Tai-chi and Zookinesis to thousands of people, and each discipline requires fluidity in mind and body.  I am constantly amazed at how frozen people are, and how little they realize they are frozen.  Compare the state you are in when you are surfing the web to when you are watching a sunset. 

In both cases your attention moves out.  It moves out to the computer screen or to the sunset.  But in the latter case the movement comes about because of relaxation.  In the former case it moves out because of the tightening of your attention, and usually, the tightening of the body.  The computer surfing type of attention is called, “Yang attention”.  The sunset type of attention is called, “Yin attention”. 

Our society is becoming more Yang, more tight, more wound up.  I think no one would disagree with that!  I describe this as becoming “more frozen”.  In this state, the mind separates from the body and you live more and more in your mind.  It is even hard to imagine your attention living equally in the body as in the mind. 

As described in the previous blog post, we tend to associate consciousness itself with thinking.  It is my job as a teacher of Tai-chi and Zookinesis to allow students to experience a different state of consciousness, in which your attention is evenly distributed throughout your body and not just in your head.  In this state you realize that consciousness is an inherent force in all things and not just the end result of your brain nerves at work. 

I remember a story from childhood which explains all of this very well.  It was in a “Weird Tales” comic book and struck me, even then, as a very clear and spiritual story.  It goes something like this:

A man heard that a guru in the Himalayan mountains was the wisest man in the world and lived to eight hundred years old.  The man sold all his possessions and spent weeks travelling to Tibet to visit the guru.  When he finally reached the town where the old man lived, the people were impressed that he had given up everything to meet the guru and they brought him to the cave where he lived. 

The guru, sitting on a large stone in the cave, was equally impressed and agreed to give the visitor his secrets.  Standing up, he bade the visitor to sit down on the stone.  He explained that he had been sitting on that stone for eight hundred years and that, as long as he didn’t get up, he would live forever.  But if he were to get up off that stone, he would instantly die, unless he could find someone to take his place. 

Now the man who had travelled up to this high mountain to seek wisdom had saved the guru from an eternity of misery.  The guru laughed and left.  The visitor was left to contemplate his fate.  Would he really die if he left the stone?  Had he given up everything to be trapped in this cave forever?  And that’s how the story ends. 

I would ask you, which part of the body does the stone represent?  Do you think you will die if your consciousness leaves it and rejoins the rest of the world?  What have you given up to spend the rest of your life in that cave? 

The man in the story is frozen by his fear of death.   And all he wanted was just to find out the meaning of the universe from someone who he thought had all the answers.

I hope that in this story, you will discover how you are frozen and what you need to do to melt the mind and body, so they can regain their natural fluidity.  In the fluid state your consciousness is connected to your body and to all of nature.  You feel the vibrancy of nature as her energies flow through you. 

While you may not live to be eight hundred years old, your life is fulfilling at every moment, even at times of stress.  You feel that you are part of the natural world and supported by it.  You feel nature’s consciousness and realize that your sense of that consciousness dies as long as you are trapped in that cave. 

You have truly given up everything because you have given up the connection of your consciousness to nature and your body has become just a machine.  That sense allows you to see your own spirit, the spirit of others and how we are all connected.  When you are frozen, it feels as though we are all disconnected.  It is the job of a teacher of Tai-chi and Zookinesis to return that sense to you so you can feel the world and your life passionately.

THE DYNAMICS OF CONSCIOUSNESS AND HEALING

The dynamics of how the mind can heal the body is a vital part of all ancient healing systems.  But just what are those dynamics?  I have spent most of my life studying this subject, apprenticing with traditional healers of several cultures and reading ancient manuscripts of others.  As a writer, my job is to distill that information and to express it in a way that is appropriate and understandable to modern readers. 

Firstly, I need to explain the concept of “attention”.  It is important to understand that attention does not mean thinking.  Pure attention (called, “True Yin” in Taoist Alchemy) is the state of awareness when thinking stops.  You are perfectly capable of functioning, but your intentions come from a deeper part of you than thoughts. 

The best way of explaining this very important principle, comes from Christian history.  During the first three hundred years after Jesus’ death, there was a split in Christianity.  This was at a time when Emperor Constantine chose Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire.  In both versions of Christianity, the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) was used to express the basic principles of the religion.  In each version, the Father represented consciousness, the Son reason or thinking, and the Holy Ghost represented creativity (a piece of God within you). 

The “Gnostic” Christians believed that thinking was a process used by consciousness to communicate and to plan your activities, etc.  It must always be balanced with creativity so that the thinking process does not become rigid. 

This was expressed as “The Bridal Chamber”, in which the bride (creativity) and groom (thinking) were united and balanced within the larger space of the room (pure consciousness).  And so they explained that the Father “begets” the “Son” and is not the same as the “Son”. 

The “Apostolic” Christians believed that thinking is the same as consciousness – that there is no other state of consciousness than thinking.  Creativity is also thinking.  Everything is thinking.  They expressed this as the Son IS the Father or “Jesus is God”. 

Emperor Constantine called for a conference in the city of Nicaea in 323 AD to settle these differences.  The emperor set himself up as the moderator.  Now, using our thinking minds to good advantage, which version would an empire, needing to keep control over vast numbers of people of many different cultures, choose as the “correct” version of Christianity?  If thinking was the only version of consciousness considered legitimate, and the Roman Empire and the Apostolics provided a list of approved thoughts, then that inconvenient factor of creativity could be eliminated.

It is easier to control people whose minds all conform. To this day it is hard to convince people that there is another state of consciousness other than thinking.  The state of consciousness which is controlled by the thinking process is one dimensional.  Each thought follows the other, one by one. 

And yet, even while thinking, you must also at the same time, use the state of pure consciousness, even though you might not recognize it.  It is this larger state that keeps track of where the thoughts are going to wind up somewhere useful.  It is like the map that gives you the overall picture, while the thinking process is like the little dot on the map that shows you where you are at the moment.  If the “map” part of the mind weakens and you are left only with the dot (thinking), then you are lost.  And that is the state of many people today. 

And now the real secret of healing.  In modern times, we “think” of consciousness as the by-product of nerve activity in the brain.  When you get involved in any traditional healing system, you soon realize that every part of the body is conscious. 

In Tai-chi we say that the feet are the “gateway to consciousness”.  This means that how your feet are placed on the ground with each step, determines how the rest of your body has to adjust itself to the irregularities of the terrain.  Those irregularities are part of the geology and biology of that area.  In this way, each part of you becomes part of the geological and biological history of that area. 

Of course, in modern times, we pave over those nasty irregularities so that our feet don’t need to be conscious.  In many ways we create a culture which allows the consciousness of the body to die so that all of our energy can be focused on the thinking process.  And so the body is deprived of conscious energy and begins to decay and age. 

Many types of massage such as “Tai-chi Massage” are specifically used to “wake up” the consciousness of the body.  The Tai-chi “Forms”, “Chi-gung” and “Push Hands” are used for the same purpose.  When each part of the body is conscious, the body “knows” how to heal itself.  It knows without thinking. 

And so one important principle of Tai-chi (as well as other healing systems) is that “attention” should be evenly distributed throughout the body, so that you feel you are as much your feet as you are your head.  Many people feel they are just a big head, and the body’s function is just to carry the head around.  Small children in our society usually draw people as big heads with tiny arms and legs sticking out of the heads.  I wonder if they are just seeing the distribution of attention in a person, and drawing their pictures accurately from that perspective. 

In “internal” martial arts training, your attention needs to fill up the entire area around you so that you can feel your sparring partner with your attention.  The action is going by too fast to see everything.  One of the great benefits of martial arts training is that you learn to connect your attention to your surroundings, including to your sparring partner.  Gradually your attention can connect to all of your natural surroundings in a very spiritual way. 

And that “way” is as follows:  Consciousness is experienced as a natural force, permeating all things in nature.  The consciousness of each living thing is connected to all others.  In this way, the earth is a conscious being and the state of health of one part of it is vital to the state of health of all other parts.  An attack on one part of the earth is an attack on the whole.  The natural flow of consciousness through all living things is vital for the health of any one of them. 

We now live in a culture which fosters blocking ourselves off from that flow of consciousness and so, it fosters the deadening of the body.  We watch football rather than play football.  We text our friends rather than talk to our friends.  If anyone is interested in making a lot of money, I have a great idea.  Imagine a cell phone that you can talk into and it creates text, so that you don’t have to press on the letter keys.  That would be convenient, wouldn’t it?  Now imagine a cell phone that receives that text and translates it into voice, so you don’t have to look down at the phone (for example, when you’re driving).  That would be convenient, wouldn’t it?  But I think that technology may have already been invented.  It is called, “Calling someone on the phone”. 

Why do people prefer texting?  I think it is because they don’t have to actually talk to anyone.  Texting provides a separation between people, just as an addiction to thinking provides a separation from your own body. 

But thinking that emanates from the combined consciousness of the whole body and its connection to the entire world of life, is truly creative.  It is the balance of thinking and creativity that allows the body to constantly heal itself.  To heal is to be creative and to experience the creativity of others.  Art, in whatever form, is healing.  Comedy is healing.  Allow your attention to expand, relax and play, and you will stay younger and more vibrant.  Spend more time in nature and feel how you are connected to it.  This will help you to become more connected to yourself. 

Play ball and talk to people face to face, like in “the old days”.  Feel how watching the rising or setting sun can heal the body.  As the Tai-chi saying goes, “Relax (to allow attention to expand), smile (be playful) and breathe (feel your connection to nature)”.

BECOMING ALIVE AND CONSCIOUS

One of the greatest benefits of practicing Tai-chi and Zookinesis is that you experience life more intensely.  Your body seems much more alive.  Your senses and your mind are sharper.  You can feel the living energy of your surroundings.  Students often say, “I never realized I had hips before,” or they can finally feel their backs and how flexible they can be.  They feel part of the world of life around them because they are more aware of the life inside of them.

There is a Zen expression, “The inside and outside are made of the same flesh.”   When you change inside, the world around you seems to change as well.  And so I am going to suggest an internal change of perspective that may help to change the way you look at the world around you.

Within the body are trillions of minute processes within each organ, cell and even within the parts of the cells.  Most of them take place at speeds and with precision unimaginable to us. It all takes place without our great intelligence or leadership.  Yet we don’t usually think of the body itself as conscious. 

With all this intricate precision the body is capable of, when I ask a student to just move an arm or the hips in a simple movement, the student feels very awkward.  It may take months until he can move that part of his body with even basic competence.  And yet he feels more intelligent than his heart or liver, or than a single cell. 

We are amazed by the complex interactions of many species and habitats.  If we look out at the cosmos we see great precision and complexity in the interaction of planets, stars and galaxies. And yet, as individuals, struggling to get through life, understand its complexities and even move with a minimum of grace, we feel as though we are the only intelligent globs of matter in the universe.

Many ancient cultures, though, believed that consciousness was a natural force, part of every animal, plant, rock and habitat.  We now call them “animists”.  They felt that the force of intelligence was the unseen mover in all the activity of the universe.  It was not a “God” based perspective but simply included the force of consciousness along with what we now would call the four forces of the universe (gravity, electro-magnetic and strong and weak nuclear forces). 

They searched for the forces of intelligence and creativity in their surroundings and so felt a bond with every animal, plant and rock.  They searched for the forces of creativity and intelligence within their bodies to keep these forces strong so they would remain healthy.  To them, consciousness was as much part of their world as was matter.  Matter did not create consciousness. 

Now, what does this have to do with health – the main subject of this blog?  If the inside and the outside are made of the same “flesh” (as in the Zen saying) and you look at the world outside of you as if it was dead, then you tend to become dead inside as well.  When the science of physics looks at the world as dead objects moving about, then the science of medicine looks at the body as unconscious organs and cells, functioning automatically.  By removing the possibility of consciousness from everything in the world but our brains, the world and our bodies become dead to us. 

This is not a religious perspective.  What would be the point of praying to something?  You are conscious and everything else is conscious.  What is praying to what?  It is simply a way of bringing life back to our world, including to ourselves. 

As we now move into the Spring season, try to feel the energy of life intensifying.  Feel not only the warmth of the sun, the sound of the birds and the smell of the flowers, but the “feeling of the intelligence of the world.”  Let the warm intelligence of Spring penetrate your body, your feelings and your mind.  Realize that you are not separate from the rest of life, either as a glob of matter, or as a center of consciousness

GREAT WEALTH AND POWER

The many ancient cultures I have studied all seem to agree on the secret to obtaining great wealth and power.  They also agree as to how we have been robbed of our power as individuals.  Even nature, herself blatantly reveals this power to us.

When I used to travel through the jungles of Central America to study animals, my favorite animal was the red-eyed tree frog.  This crazy frog is about three inches long, bright green with white spots.  Its sides are banded yellow and blue.  The inside of its legs and arms are bright orange.  Its eyes are bright red with a bright gold lace pattern.  Normally it stays curled up on a branch, showing only the green and white, which is a camouflage. 

If an animal tries to grab it, the frog jumps, opens its arms and legs fully and leaps onto a nearby branch.  The predator, faced with a moving flash of color, throws its attention to where he expects the frog to land, several feet away.  Red-eye’s trick is that it sends the predator’s attention far away while it actually curls up on a close-by branch.  In this way it control’s the predator’s attention.

The secret to great wealth and power is the ability to control peoples’ attention.  The secret to your own happiness is to understand that process and not to be controlled.

We all know that packaging sells a product.  Many companies have spent most of their initial start up money on developing packaging.  Celestial Seasonings tea is an example. The manufacturers fight each other to have the stores place their product at eye level which makes it easier for you to grab the product and plop it right into your shopping cart. 

We are trained to pay attention to the packing. It is much easier to make pretty packaging than it is to make a good product.

The key to great power and wealth, though, is not in manipulating people to buy your product.  It is really in being able to discern the packaging from the product when it comes to who you are as a person. 

In any ancient system of training such as Tai-chi and Zookinesis, you find that you have many behavioral habits, in movement, posture, thinking and emotional patterns.  These patterns have been picked up throughout your life until you think of them as being part of yourself.  Eventually the patterns become your very identity.

We learn in the Push Hands exercise, for example, that the body is so finely designed that it takes very little effort and movement to toss your partner several feet into the air.  It is only the extraneous movements, such as tensing up your shoulders as you are about to push, that subvert your own efforts.  In an attempt to feel powerful (by tensing up), you are actually robbing yourself of power.

In the thinking process, we are used to thinking in words.  We may have an initial “jolt of thought” but can only understand the inspiration if they are translated into words.  A Zookinesis student would practice paying attention to the initial jolt of thought and refrain from translating it into thoughts. 

He does this because the words are only a label of the real thought, which is much more complex and complete.  By being aware of the actual experience of inspirational thinking and not merely the labels (packaging), he has access to the full power of the inspiration.

We learn in Tai-chi that the body is a conduit for the energy of nature.  A student will soon feel tremendous energy flowing through him which enlivens every cell of the body and heals the body.  He soon learns that we, as a society, have been taught to become disconnected from that energy and even to deaden ourselves so that we don’t experience it.  Once filled with energy, we no longer regard the body as just packaging for the mind, as a vehicle to carry the head around.  The vibrancy of the body, the balanced joy of the emotions and the inspirational thinking process all work together in a more powerful way.

Then you will be more effective in everything you do.  You will understand that wherever your attention goes, your life follows.  If it goes to its energetic connection to the vibrant energies of nature, to the experience of sharing your life with the human community, your life will be different than if your attention goes to the bright, flashy representations of value.

Yet, being in a more powerful, aware, integrated state, impervious to manipulation, you will be more successful in the material sense as well. 

The development of your attention has been recognized as the key to success throughout the ages.  My novel, The Doubting Snake, is an attempt to express this in an entertaining way.  The specific training of the attention is hidden in the story line.  Many ancient texts can be better understood as attempts to express this same idea.  As the hero of The Doubting Snake asks:

“And if both the sorcerers and the people who run our modern societies have such power to affect peoples’ minds then what hope does the ordinary citizen have?”