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WELCOME THE DRAGON OF FEAR

Fear is like a dragon, chasing us and trying to grab us.  It controls our behavior by making us run away from it.  Zookinesis and other Taoist training provides a way to turn fear into power and joy.  Fear is the closed door to the palace of beauty.  We do not run away from it but open it.

The next time you experience the sensation of fear (from whatever cause it may be), focus on that feeling.  Pay attention to how it feels in each part of the body.  Get to know the dragon of fear. 

Fear is just a sensation.  It may include tensing up muscles and a change in breathing, among other things.  When you are faced with a fearful situation, notice how each part of your body reacts and changes.  Don’t try to interfere with these changes; just notice them.  Be the scientist, studying your own feelings.

The result of this exercise is that each experience of fear will allow you to learn more about yourself.  Therefore, welcome these learning opportunities. 

I was taught that whenever I felt fear I should thank the fear for visiting me because it gave me an opportunity to learn. In this way you will become friends with the dragon because you are treating it in a respectful way.

The Gospel of Mary (one of the gospels not included in the Bible) describes this process very well.  In this gospel, Jesus’ disciples asked her what was the basic teaching that Jesus was trying to convey.  She answered that it is about recognizing your attention, your consciousness which she called the “soul”.  There are many distractions in everyday life such as sights, sounds, emotions and thoughts.  Each tries to capture your attention.  The distractions wear your attention like clothes so that you think that your attention is just part of the emotion or thought. 

In fact, in modern times when we talk about paying attention to something, we really mean thinking about it.  Mary said that once you can perceive the energy of attention itself and realize that it is part of you, the distractions can no longer capture your attention.  At that point you are free, in a spiritual sense. 

Fear can easily capture your attention.  So can great thoughts, bright lights or loud sounds.

Your attention is so valuable that advertisers pay millions of dollars for advertising time just to capture your attention.  Your attention is the commodity that television is selling to their customers, which are the advertisers. 

And so there are the “Three Statements” in Zookinesis training.  These statements encapsulate the training that allows you to be forever free of fear:

1. “Attention is not the same thing as what you are paying attention to.”  This means that attention is an energy that has qualities and dynamics.  Too often it is simply captured by every distraction so that we no longer are aware of attention itself.

2. “You are attention.”  At our most basic essence, we are attention itself.  In modern times, we feel that attention is a by-product of the chemical and electrical activity of nerves in the brain.  In this way we think of the physical world as creating consciousness. 

In the ancient world, consciousness and physical matter were equal.  One didn’t create the other.  You are attention as much as you are your body.  But attention was considered to be the most basic part of a human being because everything other than attention itself is what you are paying attention to.  It is as if attention were a person inside a house who was looking out of a window.  Everything that person sees is not him; it is what he is looking at. 

3. “When you know yourself, you know God.”  God is considered to be the creative force in the universe.  Creativity is considered to be the dynamics of attention.  It is what moves your attention from one thing to another. 

Your behavior can emanate from creativity or it can emanate from the distractions capturing your attention.  In the case of creativity affecting your behavior, your behavior is a positive force, expanding from within.    In the case of the distractions controlling your behavior, the control starts from outside of yourself and condenses your attention into the distraction. 

Living a spiritual life requires that your own creativity be at least as influential on your behavior as “outside” distractions (which can include frozen, locked thoughts and emotions.)  As your creativity gains power, your emotions and thinking mind will become more creative.  What you once experienced as the dragon of fear now becomes the dragon of your own creativity.  It is simply your own internal power.

And surprisingly, releasing the dragon of creativity is the greatest fear of all.  Once you gain control of your life you have no more excuses.  You can’t blame everyone else for your problems because you now are a powerful, creative person who can make changes in your life.  You can boldly go where fear did not allow you to go before. 

The main reason this is fearful is that the dragon of creativity is, well… creative!  You don’t know what it is going to do next.  Your life may change and you don’t even know how. 

But having your behavior controlled by fear and being captured by every distraction is not a human way to live.  It makes us victims.  It makes us robotic.  And it sucks out the joy from our lives.

The next time the dragon of fear grabs you, welcome it, thank it and examine your body to see how it feels.  And then laugh!

BATTLE OF THE TIGER AND DRAGON

The battle of the dragon and tiger is a common theme of Chinese art.  Hidden within these drawings is the secret of how to access power unknown in the modern world, especially the power to heal, to find great joy in every moment of life and to free yourself from control by other people. 

The tiger represents external (Yang) power such as physical tension and force over other people.  It is like the angry response to the actions of another person.  Unbalanced anger and tension can affect you by raising your blood pressure and freezing the movements of your body.  Yet a tiger in reality is very flexible and relaxed, even when fighting.  I can attest to the fluidity and relaxation of wild cats due to my many years of experience importing and working with wild animals. 

The tiger is not completely external in its power.  It blends the external, physical force with internal fluidity and relaxation, which is Yin power.  Yin or internal power is represented by the dragon.  Its very depiction in drawings is of a long, swirling, graceful body yet you can see that it has great power. 

The dragon is the power of internal awareness.  When your attention is completely connected to your body, when you are fully aware of the dynamics of your emotions and thinking mind and can keep them in balance, you possess a power that is unstoppable.  If you are acutely aware of what is going on inside of you, then it is easier to understand what is going on inside of other people.  You can see their internal dynamics clearly and thereby be able to avoid being controlled by them.

In martial arts, fluidity allows you to explode your force from your root in the ground (the weight of the body sinking through the legs), up through the hips and out your striking fist or foot.  Your force is explosive, penetrating the outer layer of the opponent (their skin, bones and external muscles) and explodes within their body cavity.

If you are a healer, you can extend your own attention and internal energy (“chi”) into the person receiving your massage, for example, and take control over their behavior of tensing up their muscles.  This allows you to be more aware of and have more of an effect on their bodies than the patient has of his own body.  You can then teach the patient how to become more aware of his body and gain control over his own healing.

Yet if you become too relaxed and your mind becomes too unfocused, you can become “wishy washy”.  You might become too easily controlled by others.  The tension of the patient might cause you yourself to tense up.  You might lose your drive in life.  So even the dragon needs some “tiger energy”. 

Think of the dragon hiding in his lair – a deep cave within a mountain.  It is a vast, empty cave yet you can smell and feel the presence of a dragon within it.  While the dragon is hidden in emptiness you dare not disturb it. 

The tiger’s home is the forest itself.  He wanders about and when tired, just lays down and sleeps right there.  The tiger’s power is “in your face” while the dragon’s power is hidden. 

Yet to be a whole, powerful person you need to blend the two kinds of power.  The teachings of Tai-chi and Zookinesis use movement to train you to blend external and internal power, not only physically, but in relationships, in business and in your approach to life. 

Using relationships as an example, the external power would be how you view the other person using your senses.  How do they look, how do they talk, how do they feel, etc.?  Yet we all know that there is an invisible connection between people which we call “chemistry” and it is not only sexual.  It is a connection among all people.  Much of how we react to someone is a result of the feeling we get through this connection. 

This would be the “internal” connection that is not obvious.  It is the job of proper training to make this connection as obvious and clear as the other senses.  You will then discover a whole new world of dynamic activity of “chi” which is the energy connecting all living things.  Once you understand this energy and how it relates to the “external senses” such as sight, life becomes a lot easier and more effective.

So the battle of the tiger and dragon is not really a battle but a constant dynamic blending of our external awareness of the world and the internal awareness that is missing in modern cultures. 

In the articles below you will find much information about how to develop this awareness but of course, a competent teacher is also necessary.

You may already realize that your personality is more Yin or more Yang.  You may pay more attention to what is going on inside of you or more attention to external activity.  You may be more passive or more aggressive. 

Your power as a human being is at its maximum when the internal and external power is most balanced.  A person who is mainly external wears himself out.  A person who is mostly internal has a hard time organizing himself to actually get anything done.

In the drawings, the tiger’s and dragon’s eyes are both wide open as they stare at each other and you can feel the energy flowing between them.  It is this magnified energy, flowing between Yin and Yang, that we can tap to become powerful. 

Rather than a battle, it is a dance – the dance of life itself – the dance that empowers life.  Ancient art encoded great principles of ancient teachings even before there was written language.  A teacher who is part of a direct lineage of training understands the principles behind the outer appearance of the training. 

Tai-chi forms, for example, are not just a question of memorizing a sequence of movements.  Each movement is a deep reserve of layer upon layer of meaning.  These exercises are the ancient libraries, but you have to know how to read them.

And so Tai-chi and Zookinesis exercises are like the dance of the tiger and dragon.  They are right there in the open but their true significance and power lay hidden.

END THE MIND’S SPINNING AND RACING

My van was filled with boxes of animals I had just picked up from the airport.  After bringing them into the facility I opened the largest and heaviest box first.  An eight foot long monitor (dragon) lizard emerged and began walking towards me.  I slowly backed up to a corner of the room and he followed, his eyes fixed on mine and his long tongue flicking out at me.  My heart pounded and I could feel my attention compress into a tight spring. 

The dragon slowly climbed up my legs and pushed his snout right into my face, continuing to stare.  My mind jumped around from one thought to another, one plan of escape to another but my body was frozen.  Suddenly the huge lizard lost interest in me and slowly investigated the facility.  I was still frozen and could only watch him to assess his mood.  He returned, his heavy, dry body brushing up against my legs and then he sat down on top of my feet. 

I laughed spontaneously and, surprising myself, sat down beside him.  The lizard adjusted his body and now lay across my lap.  The animal shipper later informed me that this had been someone’s pet but it had started to eat the family’s chickens, which they raised, as many people do in Southeast Asia.  So they gave him to the exporter.

I had completely misread the dragon’s intentions when he first came out of the box and remembered the intense reaction of my mind and body.  Over the next few days I realized that I related to the world around me the same way I related to the lizard.  I saw the world as a huge beast threatening me at every turn and my mind and body were always coiled up like a spring.  My attention froze, adhering to the imagined threat like a fly adhering to flypaper. 

The sudden release of my frozen attention in the case of the lizard helped me to realize that freezing the attention can be a damaging behavior pattern.  All of us learned to freeze our attention as children so that we can learn to think.  We think one thought at a time in a linear sequence adding up to sentences.  If our attention were allowed to stay in its natural, expansive, flowing state it would be hard to think in words.  We would fear the loss of focus.

Unfortunately the skill of thinking and talking has frozen the attention so that it is now difficult to allow our minds to relax.  Yet our spirits yearn for the natural state in which our attention fills the world around us and fills our bodies.  In such a state my mind could have made a connection to the dragon lizard and sensed its intentions.  I wouldn’t have thought of it as a dangerous beast but as an individual and immediately gotten to know him better.

While we yearn for the original free state of the mind we also fear letting it go.  The result is that the mind is jerked from one state to another, resulting in racing or spinning.

Zookinesis teaches that the mind’s usefulness is its adaptability and pliability.  In a harmonious state of mind, its quality is soft, like clay which can be molded, but not too watery in which case it could not retain its new shape. 

Fear tends to harden the attention like firing pottery in a kiln makes it hard and brittle.  When my fear of the dragon froze my body, my mind felt like a drop of oil. splattering and bouncing around on a hot frying pan. When I realized my foolishness, my attention relaxed, softened and connected to the lizard. 

I learned to soften my attention with the other animals and they became calmer and it seemed, happier.  When a difficult situation arose in daily life I used this same approach of relaxing my attention and letting my focus soften.  The situations seemed less threatening because they could no longer cause me to freeze.  I understood that my impression of the world around me is a reflection of my own internal state.  That internal state is controlled by the balance of a focused (condensed) mind (yin) and a relaxed, expansive mind (yang).  In that balanced state I can be creative and free of fear.

Fear of the power of the world around you deprives you of releasing the power of creativity inside of you.  I soon learned to play with the dragon lizard (a water monitor from Thailand).  His playfulness and mine blended and we were both enlivened.  If we can experience our lives as the playground of our creativity and trust in the power of our creativity, we will no longer be ruled by fear.  We will be able to soften our hardened focus of attention.  Our minds will no longer race and spin but will fill the world around and within us.  We will feel completely connected to the living world. 

I believe that the hardening and deadening of the mind has led to the deadening of the natural world.  It has allowed us not to feel how we are connected to life itself because we feel only connected to our rigid pattern of thoughts.  That allows us to destroy nature because we don’t feel the consequences.

The fluidity of the Tai-chi forms and Zookinesis exercises are like water added to dry clay, softening it.  They heal the body and mind.  Animals can sense the state of your attention.  My wife and I went to a cooking demonstration.  A cat saw us, ran past the four rows of people in chairs in front of us and jumped right into our laps. 

When I was doing research in Panama a troupe of woolly monkeys used to pass by the mess hall of the researchers every morning.  I would make sure go greet them and several would come down to the lower branches of the trees.  I held my arm out to them and we patted each other on our backs and they made little noises.   The other researchers would laugh when they saw this.

 A mind that is connected to the natural world around you and inside you doesn’t spin.  You can release your mind past your little bag of thoughts and you can allow the living energy of the world inside of you.

THE PASSIVE OBSERVER

This practice is essential for progress in Tai-chi and Zookinesis. Each of us feels “we” are located somewhere in space. This location may be the head, the entire body, just the thoughts within our head, just our emotions or some combination of these things.

I would say that most people feel they are in their heads. This makes the rest of the body feel somewhat foreign. As I have written before, if I ask someone to pay attention to their feet, their attention will go from their head to their feet.

The passive observer training is very difficult to understand, but I will try to describe it simply. In Zookinesis it is called “living in the dragon’s cave”. The dragon’s cave is empty space. Yet within that cave lies the dragon which represents inner power and creativity. The dragon’s cave (or the “center of the world” as it is known in other cultures) is not located in space. It is the world beyond ordinary human experience. Your feeling of where you are located must be in the dragon’s cave.

To explain this better, realize that when you see the whole space around you, you are actually “seeing” two spots of light, one on each retina of the eye. The area of visual acuity is 1/8 of an inch in diameter. From these two tiny spots of light, you envision an entire scene. You compare the tiny bit of light with your memory of walking through such a “space”, you compare the light on one retina with that of the other for stereoscopic vision and do other calculations to come up with the scene.

Much (if not most) of the scene is your way of creating something out of very little information. Yet out of this tiny amount of data we get the immense world before us. In Zookinesis we have access to other perceptions – the sense of internal energy and the sense of the dynamics of attention. We can use the same inner gymnastics to put together a “scene” using these senses. This scene can give access to what is going on within our bodies.

The passive observer does not get caught up in these inner gymnastics. It watches the gymnastics to understand how we are constantly building our worlds out of our senses, our memories and our imaginations. It observes the mechanics behind the world that most of us see. The passive observer is powerful in its non-involvement with the gymnastics. Since it does not get caught up in “the action”, it can appreciate “the action”.

You, as the student, can be aware of the perspective of the passive observer and of the poor little student caught up in all the emotions and mental activities and body awkwardness. (You are both of these.) You can observe the constituent parts of your awkwardness (mental, emotional even spiritual as well as the tensions and improper use of the body).

You do not feel bad about your awkwardness because feeling bad is simply one of the constituent parts. The passive observer does not feel bad. It just observes the dynamics of feeling bad without comment. Some people feel that this practice may turn you into a cold, unfeeling person. Rather, it frees you from the prison of patterns of emotions and thinking and allows the emotions and thinking to flow from your creativity.

When you live in the dragon’s cave, this frees the dragon to emerge from its cave and live in the world. (Remember that the dragon is creativity). The greatest power of the dragon is that it can smack with its tail. When you feel bad (let’s say about not doing the Tai-chi form well), the dragon just laughs at your emotional gymnastics because they are so silly. Laughter is the dragon’s tail smacking you to wake up!

There is an extensive mythology based on animal behavior in the Zookinesis training such as the dragon described above. To put it simply, you can laugh at yourself when you can see yourself from another perspective. Comedians do this all the time. They take a situation we take for granted and describe it from another point of view that reveals the absurdity of the situation. The passive observer is that other point of view where we don’t just take things for granted. Developing the passive observer is built into every aspect of Zookinesis training and proper Tai-chi training.