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IMMORTALITY

Your body does not need to degenerate as you get older.  In fact, it can continue to get stronger, more flexible and more agile throughout life. The exercise systems of Tai-chi and Zookinesis explain how to keep the body young and avoid aging altogether.

According to Chinese medicine, all the cells and organs of the body communicate with each other through a system of biological energy called, “chi”.  They know how to regulate their activities according to the activities of the other cells and organs.  This system of chi is not isolated within the body alone, but is connected to this same energy that serves as the basis of life throughout the earth.  In this way each cell and organ is aware of the environmental conditions in the area and can adjust its activities according to changes in weather and time of year.  In this way the body can stay in the optimum internal condition for health. 

The loss of flexibility is another factor associated with aging.  Connective tissue (fascia) surrounds each organ, bone, muscle and the body cavities.  It provides an interconnected, flexible web that allows the body to act in a rubbery manner.  Its looseness, for example, allows the rib cage to expand when you breathe in.  If the connective tissue were to lose its elasticity your breathing would become shallow.  This would result in a poorer exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen and the cells would be oxygen deprived.

Tighter connective tissue interferes with joint mobility so that your movements become stiff.  The proper flow of blood and lymph requires movement of the body.  When the body can’t move properly, the blood and lymph cannot do as good a job at getting rid of body wastes such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide.  The body remains constantly filled with waste.

Aging is also the gradual dissociation of the mind and body.  As children we relish in movement and using energy.  As we get older we move less and think more.  Our thinking is not connected with movement (as described in previous articles) and so becomes a world within itself.  Gradually we “live” more and more in our thinking and not in our bodies. 

The thinking mind becomes the center of the flow of energy and the body is deprived of energy, creating an unbalanced situation.  According to Chinese medicine, both an excess and a depletion of energy is harmful.  Too much chi burns the mind out.  Too little chi allows the body to deteriorate. 

Yet if we live in our minds we have no sense of perspective about the balance of energy.  Most people cannot even feel chi let alone know how to balance this energy.  This is why Zookinesis explains that consciousness itself is another type of energy, which also has dynamics and qualities and which needs to be balanced as well.  Only by becoming aware of the dynamics of consciousness (or what I call the “dynamics of attention”) can we ever hope to affect the balance of chi.

Consciousness (attention) is what makes us aware.  The unique perspective of Zookinesis is that consciousness is not isolated within the body.  It is a universal energy, much like gravity that pervades all things.  As it flows through each of us, this energy takes on its unique flavor.  The physical stiffness of the body tends to distort the flow of attention and created the imbalance of attention.  The exercises reveal this relationship between the tightness of the body and the imbalance of attention so that it becomes obvious. 

We can then notice how, with each relaxation of the body, the attention becomes more balanced and more connected to the body.

The result is a complete integration, not only of your attention with your body, but of your attention with the greater flow of consciousness of the world around you.  You feel less isolated.  You also feel less vulnerable because you now can see this interconnection and can understand how to strengthen yourself and prevent the deterioration of your mind and body.

You can also understand how these factors of deterioration affect other people and cause their behavior patterns.  This allows you to be more empathetic to them.  A student recently asked me how I can stand to live in this world when I see the destructive behaviors of other people.  When you see things from a healer’s perspective, all the anomalies you see are an education.  They are not aggravating but are just interesting and educational. Yet, I do feel sad, knowing that healing is so easily available yet so many people will live their lives in misery.

In both Tai-chi and Zookinesis, it is essential to understand and to feel how the connection of your consciousness to the general flow of consciousness around you is essential to prevent aging.  It is so easy to see the bad things of the world and to withdraw, not wanting to be connected to this world.  You then feel as if it’s you against the world.

The clear flow of consciousness and chi through your body is essential to prevent aging and to keep healthy.  The exercise of Push Hands allows you to practice extending your energies into another person and to allow theirs in.  It is set up as a battle, each trying to push the other over, so that it duplicates what you perceive as your life situation.  You are battling against the world.  Yet you learn in Push Hands, to connect the flow of force of the opponent (or partner) into the flow of forces within you so as to end the feeling of battle.  If you stiffen up against him, he will easily push you over.  If you absorb his force, combine it with your own and flow back towards him, you become more effective.

You learn that by ending the feeling of battle you become effective.  Your strength lies in allowing yourself to connect with the rest of the world.  You can then enjoy life.

The world will still be the same crazy place it was but you can see the mechanisms behind the behavior of people and cultures and not get trapped in them.  Instead of identifying with a particular world culture you identify with the long line of people throughout history who were aware of these mechanisms.  They were able to free themselves from the destructive habit patterns of the people around them. 

Imagine yourself in a smelly, mucky swamp.  You curse having to walk through this mess and concentrate on the smell and the muck.  Soon you discover beautiful birds and insects.  You feel the warm breeze and smell some flowers.  Your attention is gradually drawn to the beauty of the swamp until even the smell and the muck seem an integral part of that beauty.  You then enjoy being part of this scene.

In the same way, the world we live in is, to a large extent, the result of what we pay attention to.  The news on television calls your attention mostly to the negative and horrifying part of our society.  Yet the Public Broadcasting programs call your attention to the beauty.  How do you feel after watching the news?  How do you feel after watching  nature programs?  What factors in our society direct your attention to its horror? 

The question of aging really is about your power to remain young and healthy.  Having control over what you pay attention to is vital to prevent aging.  This does not mean that you become oblivious to the problems of our world but that those problems don’t destroy you.  You must regain control over the dynamics of your attention and the balance of energy.  This is where you start in Tai-chi and Zookinesis.

I know that in modern times Tai-chi has become just memorizing a series of movements and Push Hands has just become a shoving contest.  This is true even in China itself.  But the movements and the pushing are just the surface level of a very deep and beautiful teaching.  The teaching of “immortality”, as it used to be called, is about how to stay young and healthy and thereby actually extend your lifespan. It teaches you how to become connected to the world around you so that your consciousness may remain connected to the world even after your body dies.

Don’t give in to the images of aging.  Don’t let those images implant themselves within you and direct your consciousness.  Instead look to the agility, strength and beauty of wild animals and of athletes and allow those images to direct your consciousness. 

I teach seated Zookinesis exercises to a local senior community.  When I began six years ago, they could barely move.  Now we are beginning to do seated acrobatic movements.  Each time I show them what exercise we are working towards, they laugh, feeling they could never do that.  Yet a month or two later, they easily do the exercise.  Most of them are over 90 years old.  I think Zookinesis has given them a new perspective of what they are capable of.  They are now headed in a positive direction – stronger, more flexible, more relaxed and more connected to their bodies.  When you live your life in this positive direction, you are already immortal.

HOW TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE

Most of our lives are dedicated to just getting through the day.  Many ancient teachings point to a technique which can be used in daily life, to completely change the results of your efforts.  Zookinesis explains that the nature of your identity, your impression you have of who you are, not only determines the results of your efforts but also subconsciously is transmitted to others.  The people around you pick up the impression you have of yourself and react to you accordingly.

This means that if your impression of yourself should change, it will change not only in your own mind, but in the mind of those around you. 

If your identity is tied to your past experiences you can never change.  Your past experiences are the result of your past identity.  Your identity determines how you interact with others and with situations.  Those situations result from a pattern of your own behavior which is based on your identity.  You see how you can be trapped in behavior patterns which then trap you in repeated situations.

The key to this problem, in many ancient teaching systems, is NOT to find out who you are, but to CREATE who you are.  Determine who you would like to be.  Create a character, as if in a play, and little by little surround yourself with the scenery to enact that play.  The scenery may be the décor in your house or it may be a behavior, such as singing during the day as you are working.  You might take a few minutes out each day to go outside and just enjoy being alive.  It doesn’t take much.

Gradually experiment with what scenery (internal or external) makes you feel good or bad.  Realize that you can become whoever you want to be.  In fact, one of the goals of life is to play.  We often forget about play as we grow older.  Play is not only for children practicing to be adults.  It is the joy of life.  And by “play” I don’t mean competitive sports.  I’m talking about playing with what your life is all about. 

It’s easy to feel that because the bills keep coming in it’s important to be serious all the time.  We have arranged our culture to “feed the economic machine” rather than to maximize the enjoyment of life. 

Do you really need all the new gadgets?  Or would your money best be spent living simply but not having to worry about the bills?  What is it that leads to a more joyful life and what is it that takes joy away?

These are questions you ask if you want to be creative with your identity.  Create a beautiful myth about who you are and what you are doing with your life.  Gradually move in that direction, while of course, taking care of practical matters.  Don’t let a day go by without spending at least a few minutes remembering your myth and asking yourself, “How could I have become that myth a little bit more today?” 

When our identity is the result of our creativity rather than our past patterns of behavior, we then gain power in our lives.  We have to be willing to let go of elements of our old identity to gain new, brighter elements.  We have to be willing to release our rear foot from the ground in order to take a step forward.

There is a story I always tell of an old ship which sank in the Hudson River in New York. and was buried under mud.  Ships with cranes were hired to lift it but none succeeded.  Finally someone suggested that an empty barge be positioned above the boat at low tide.  Chains were connected from the buried ship to the barge.  When high tide came in the buoyancy of the barge lifted the buried ship.

Your myth is similar to the barge.  While your life may seem to be buried under bills and problems, the myth can just sit there.  As the tide of time washes in, that myth can lift you up into a new life.

You are not being “false” by living a myth.  A myth does not mean that your new identity is not true.  It means that your identity is now part of your creative nature.  It is alive and adds to your vitality.

When your identity is alive and vital you feel energized and ready for life.  Who would you really like to be?

THE ELEMENTS

“The Elements” are the basic philosophical tool of Taoism. It is the language by which the philosophy is described. This week, I will discuss the element of metal. It is the element of will and spirit. I can describe metal with a discussion I had with a student this week dealing with his overweight condition. He explained that many people suggest diets to him but he already knows what he should be eating. The problem is that the food (or substitute whatever addiction you may have such as excess worry and thinking, smoking etc.) has control over him.
I explained that the idea behind the element of metal is that pure metal has to be smelted from rough ore. There may only be a small amount of the desired metal in the ore and the rock ore must be burned at very high temperatures to extract the metal. Once extracted, it is shaped, sharpened and polished into a sword with a very fine edge.
The element of metal represents will. You know what you must do, yet there is a multitude of feelings inside you pulling you in many directions. It feels like walking through fire. There are behavioral habits and fears. To deal with each of these feelings would be like unravelling the Gordian’s knot. Gordian was an ancient king of Phrygia. The knot created under his reign was to be undone only by the person who would rule all of Asia. Alexander the Great “undid” the knot by slashing it in half with his sword.
Within our bodies, there is a Gordian’s knot of emotions and mental patterns. To spend our lives unravelling this knot might not be the best use of our time here on earth. We can smelt the ore of will and then shape, sharpen and polish it so that it can cut through all the inner nonsense.
This type of will is not forceful, nor is it stubborn. It is a quiet, relaxed will, like a mountain that stands for hundreds of thousands of years yet there is a vitality of life within the forest covering that mountain. It is difficult to know what will is. We look for force and aggressiveness but that is not it. We look for anger and stubbornness but that is just anger and stubbornness.
The will of metal is gentle yet powerful and that is the quality we need to look for within ourselves. Tai-chi has often been described as metal wrapped in cotton, soft and yielding on the outside yet resolute on the inside.
Can we remain on the path of eating healthy food, for example, without beating ourselves up? I find that if we are part of a training system that we understand, it is easier to exert this gentle will. Zookinesis is a very effective tool for weight control. Its simple exercises bring the attention down to each muscle and joint so that your attention is evenly distributed throughout your body. Your attention becomes joined to the feeling of health within your body more so than to those emotional and mental patterns which are based on fear.
The will you develop is the yearning for each cell in the body for health. It feels as if each cell has a sword and all the cells together constitute an army ready to fight for your health. When you practice Tai-chi sword fighting, the sword is gentle – that is, it is thin and agile. You don’t hit your sword against the opponent’s sword or your sword will break. You flow along the opponent’s sword and slice through the openings.
The will of metal relects this light, agile inner state. The heaviness of your inner fears has no effect on it. Zookinesis exercises develop this light agility which penetrates not only to your physical movements but to your inner feelings as well. This allows your “inner sword” to repeatedly be immersed in the smelting fire and come out even stronger each time.
The Push Hands exercise sharpens your will by testing against another person. If you use too much aggression, you will tense up and be ineffective. If you are too soft, you get pushed over easily. You develop an edge between these two qualities.
Practicing the animal forms is the polishing. These forms express the qualities of the various animals and gives your spirit a sheen. Before you are about to eat, remember the quality of your spirit. Smelt your sword, refining the feeling of your will out of the general chaos reigning within you. “Bring” your sword to the table. (You may even carry a little replica of a sword with you at all times to remind you of your teachings).
Then when you eat, remember that each little cell of your body, each with its own little sword, is eating with you. We all know that we should be eating good quality food but we need to create our sword of will. The elements are a way of teaching us about the many types of inner power we have and how our training develops this power. Our addiction will have less and less hold of us as our power develops. I think this is much better than switching from one food fad to another.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM WILD ANIMALS

Traditionally,Zookinesis training required spending part of each year living in the wild, learning directly from animals. I had the opportunity for many years to do this and much of my teachings are an attempt to convey that training.
The first thing you realize when working with wild animals is that their attention connects to you from their whole bodies. Our attention moves out from us mainly from our eyes. You can feel the force of an animal’s attention moving out from its whole body like a huge, slow and unstoppable tidal wave. Every part of its body is connected to every part of your body, so that it can sense what you are about to do before you actually do it.
The next thing you notice is that every part of its body is ready to act at any time. There is no deadness in a wild animal, until it actually dies. When it does act, it does so with ease and with no excess movement. Its whole attention is in what it is doing. There is no hesitation. It knows its power and allows its power to jump out fully in each act.
The power of an animal is that it knows its body and its energy, and these are always accessible. It lives and functions in the environment that gave rise to that animal and so the animal and its environment form one completely connected whole. It does not have something better to do. Each moment is the culmination of its life. Each moment is the fulfillment of its life because it is the expression of its power. This creates a state of relaxation at most times. If it has to move quickly to attack prey or to escape from a predator, it can go from relaxation to full activity instantly.
Can we adapt some of these qualities to our lives? We do not live in a natural environment in most cases but certainly we don’t like to witness the rapid degeneration of our bodies and our natural spirits. There is a natural spirit inside you waiting patiently for you to act to restore its place in your life.
You can act through your daily practice, whatever it may be. Even if you put aside 5 minutes a day to practice you have made a commitment to restore your natural spirit. Modern life is very hurried and there is a tendency to put off taking care of yourself to get some “work” done. There will always be work to do until you die. But when will you live?
If each of us restores a little of our natural spirit and makes a little time each day to remember the living biological creature that we are, that itself can affect the culture. Imagine if it was expected that everyone do a few minutes of Tai-chi, Yoga, Pilates or some other such practice every day. Imagine if it were odd if someone did not do that.
Maintaining your health would become an expected part of life. The idea of always being hurried would start to be questioned. Then maybe we, as a nation, can return to a more reasonable way of life. We can leave a legacy to our children of a more enjoyable way of life by beginning to live more naturally today.

CRITICAL MOMENTUM

There is a point in every practice where the benefit you receive exceeds the effort you put in. At the beginning there is a lot of effort as you learn the principles and condition the mind and body. But then the creative energy of the mind and body begins to take off on its own and lead you. At that point you need to yield to your own creativity.
You can feel this principle with the compression and expansion of the body. As you breathe out in your exercises, your body sinks and compresses into the legs and into the ground (the root). As you breathe in, the body expands and the energy is propelled into the environment. There is an in-between point where this expansive energy (Yang) surges and begins to “leap” out of you. At that point you allow each muscle and joint of the body, as well as the connective tissue, to be pulled by that expansion and stretch. Just when the Yang energy is released out of the body, you begin to breathe out and the muscles, joints and connective tissue begin to relax. This cycle brings flexibility to the body and serves as an “energy pump”.
Our everyday lives can wear us out and the last thing we feel we need is another activity that requires effort. But Zookinesis and Tai-chi can serve as energy pumps. At the beginning you certainly gain flexibility, relaxation, emotional calm and other aspects of physical and mental health. Yet you have to put a lot of practice into it. But soon the benefits you gain each week far outweigh the effort.
An important key principle of the energy pump is that the critical momentum, the point at which you yield to the expanding energy, takes place constantly in your life. It does not just happen at one moment in your life. There is positive energy all around you that can pull you out of lethargy. Some of that energy is natural and some is the creativity, the art of we humans.
If you can be on the lookout for that expanding Yang energy, you will find it everywhere. You will know how to yield to it because you have practiced this kind of yielding in your exercises. You will also recognize what is positive and what is negative energy because of how it feels when you yield to it. Does it lead to more relaxation, health and creativity or less? Does it make you more energized or just more crazy and frantic? You will gain skill at what to yield to and what to walk away from.
One of the great benefits of a practice such as Zookinesis and Tai-chi is that you can take an incident in life and analyze it in your practice. If your interaction with another person went bad, you have the sensitivity to know the dynamics of how it made you feel. You can then practice those dynamics in your exercises to develop greater skills and greater understanding of yourself. You have a framework that can be used to understand your life. You will understand how the positive, creative energy you developed through your practice, can be connected to similar energy in your environment.
This will pull your life in a positive direction, calling on the positive qualities within you. It will allow you to be more “open” because you are clear about when to be open and with whom. When the energy or the people around you are not good for you, you don’t need to close up and tense up. You are so familiar with the principles of connecting that you can avoid connecting with bad influences without completely closing up.
This brings more lightness to your life without making you vulnerable. You will learn that other people can “pull” on that energy and that is not a good thing. If they pull your Yang energy out of you, it depletes you. If your Yang energy emerges out of you of its own volition, that energizes you. Your practice teaches you to discern the difference between the two and to protect yourself from being depleted.
So a simple practice like compressing the body on the outbreath and expanding on the inbreath, can permeate your life, giving you new insights about how to live more powerfully.
My books, Movements of Magic and Movements of Power are mostly about how to take your practices and use them in your daily life. Tai-chi is not just about memorizing a series of movements; it is about creating a critical momentum of positive energy that can transform your life.

THE ADVENTUROUS SPIRIT

 We quickly get caught up in the everyday “struggle” of life and try to organize our lives into routines. These routines allow us to function automatically to get our daily tasks done efficiently. Yet the routines also make our lives robotic and drain us of the adventurous spirit that we may have had at a younger age. That spirit gave us energy and vitality.
How can we re-capture that spirit while our lives are filled with many routines? Learning a practice like Tai-chi, Zookinesis or any other subject can provide us with a life-time of discovery. My mother went back to college when she was 65 years old. Many people asked her why she needed to go to college at that age. She explained that she needed her mind to be challenged in order to feel alive. My father used to say that when you stop learning, you die.
Do you feel that you have learned as much as you need to, in order to live the rest of your life repeating cycles of routines? For many people life is a dulling process. Your spirit becomes duller each year until you die. Yet you can add an adventurous practice to your life at any time. Even if you spend just a few minutes a few times a week at your study or physical practice, it will add the spirit of adventure to your life. You don’t even have to excel at your practice. Simply being involved in it can change the “flavor” of your life.
At many points in our lives, we often say, “I should have” learned this or that. Remember that today is a point in your life. Imagine what you would like to do. Think of what skills and other tools (such as knowledge) you would need to accomplish your goal. Then patiently acquire those skills and tools. Your life will begin to organize itself around your dreams instead of around your routines. This is the key to maintaining your vitality.
Most of my students come to the school to learn a Tai-chi form or to reduce stress. They have a limited goal in mind. As they set about to accomplish this goal they discover the great depth of these training systems. They find that these studies are a path to self-discovery and a way to revitalize their bodies and minds. As their skills deepen, their goals deepen. The surprising thing to many students is how much self-discovery there is in every class. Breakthroughs in skills and understanding become so regular that they feel they are on a speeding train of self-discovery. And this is true no matter how many years they have been coming to class.
There is simply a great distance for all of us to go to really develop our potential. It is the thrill of wondering what discovery awaits around the next corner that keeps them coming to class. Life becomes thrilling even in the midst of your everyday routines, which of course, you still have to do.
One of the most important roles of culture in tribal societies was to unite the “sacred and profane worlds”. This means that in the midst of the everyday chores of life (the profane), our connection to nature (the sacred) had to still be the focus of our attention. Many ceremonies were carried out at regular times throughout the year to commemorate our connection to nature. These ceremonies were “routines” but ones that changed peoples’ focus from everyday problems to thankfulness to nature. We were reminded that the miracle of being alive overpowers any aggravations and sadness we may have.
The dullness that has overtaken many of us is so profound that we are not aware of how much feeling we have lost. After I give a Tai-chi massage, the person usually says, “I feel like I’m really alive!” If I had asked them before if they felt alive they would have surely said yes. But after the massage they realize how much feeling they gained. Every little part of the body wakes up and is eager to participate in life. It is the difference between not wanting to get up in the morning and wanting to jump out of bed to start the day.
The Zookinesis exercises are specifically designed to develop feeling and skill in each joint and muscle of the body. They are imitations of animal movements. Connecting your mind to your body is another way of making your life “sacred”. Many peoples’ minds spin all day. This uses up a lot of energy and doesn’t accomplish anything. Connecting mind to body ends this useless spinning, which is just mental routines that have gotten stuck.
When the mind functions in endless, repeating routines, our lives duplicate the patterns of the mind. By connecting mind to body, we become more creative and our lives more exciting. Many people feel that their lives are exciting because their routines exhaust them. They feel that if they are tired at the end of each day, that’s all the excitement they can take. Yes, routines can be exhausting but they are depleting to the spirit as well.
Somehow the excitement of learning new things doesn’t deplete you. You may be so worn out after Tai-chi sparring practice, for example, that you fall down to catch your breath, but within a minute you are ready to get up for more sparring. I often used to be tired when I began to teach sparring but after two hours of sparring, I was invigorated. It is an illusion that you are too tired for your practice.
Practicing Tai-chi, Zookinesis, Pilates or any other such activity refreshes you. Whatever time and energy you put into it is more than re-paid by the energy you get out of it. I have often thought that living a life of routines is like spiraling down a funnel into death. Life can be a spiral upward towards more vitality, skills and knowledge. It doesn’t even take much time each day. Starting a practice or study can change the entire nature of your life.

THE ROOT OF ISOLATION

There are chasms within us that are created by the poor condition of the body. It is hard to understand the great break between mind and body or between the emotions and the body until you begin a practice to heal those breaks. The condition of the body can affect our entire perspective of life and feeling of well-being.
When I correct a posture in Tai-chi, I look for how one part of the body is disconnected from the rest of the body. The upper body may move, for example yet the hips are held rigid, not allowing that movement to be counter-balanced by the activity of the legs. The back is usually rigid, throwing the entire body out of alignment.
This pattern of rigidity and isolation forms the basis of our identity. We see the world through that pattern. When the rigidity and isolation end we see the world more clearly. The beginning level of Tai-chi and Zookinesis training is to end the rigidity and isolation so that we can at least start with a functional body. People who are trapped within a body that doesn’t work feel imprisoned and retreat into their thinking minds. The bulk of their attention moves into the thinking process and moves away from the body.
The energy of attention is as vital to the health of the body as is food and oxygen. By depriving the body of attention, this person’s health deteriorates further. The body becomes a foreign land and then a hostile land. The chasm between mind and body widens. The hostility between mind and body then flavors that person’s whole outlook on life. The inner battle continually weakens the body, leading to what we call “aging”.
Most of the attention now retreats behind the battle lines into the thinking mind. Solutions are sought in ideologies rather than in healing oneself. Now the inner battle is externalized as one ideology fights against another, one religion against another. Tai-chi and Zookinesis training reverses this problem. Attention is brought into the body to increase mobility, relaxation and function. The student is made aware of how each part of the body works with the other parts. Balance and coordination become the central principles as the student attempts to heal the chasms and become whole.
Attention itself is redistributed evenly throughout the body which helps internal energy (chi) to seep into every cell and heal. The student’s life is no longer a battleground. Healing replaces conflict as the central focus of his life. This attitude is externalized so that he looks for opportunities to heal in everyday life such as in relationships between people. When I look around me at people in public places, I assess them as if they were my students. Their posture, the look in their eyes, what they pay attention to, how they walk and move, how they react to distractions and many other factors are all obvious indicators of their inner condition.
What I see frightens me. It is hard to understand how people can be so deteriorated. I can easily believe that the stress of modern life, combined with poor eating habits must be so severe that we have become crippled as a people. When people talk to me in confidence I realize that this crippling effect extends not only to the physical body, but to the emotions and spirit as well.
Yet these same people spend an inordinate amount of energy disguising these inner handicaps through their involvement in religions or politics or other mentally oriented activities. They put on a good face rather than facing up to the root of the problem. They tell me they would like to start on some healing activity but just don’t have the energy or the time. I am supposed to provide them with mental stimulation to get them started. This means that they want me to say some magic words to encourage them to start practicing. The best magic words I know are “Just do it”. Waiting for magic words just means that you want to remain within your mental world. You may just need someone to kick you in the pants rather than hearing words of wisdom.
There is an industry based on saying wise things. It is called, “motivational speaking”. You sit in a chair and watch someone walk back and forth on stage saying wise things. Then you think you are healed. If I were a motivational speaker, I would line up the audience in a row and then, without uttering a word, use the pants kicking technique. I believe that the most effective way to strengthen this country is to strengthen the people within this country. We live at a time when our leaders try to divide us. This leads to an attitude of division which then resonates inside of us causing our chasms to widen. If we work from the inside out, healing these chasms, and then extend this healing attitude externally, we can counterbalance the harmful, divisive effects of our leaders. It would be nice to have leaders who are also healers, but there is always the next election…

THE ANCIENT ONE

A student of any “internal” system of exercise begins his or her practice in a “catch 22” situation. He learns a series of techniques that should lead him to develop a connection of his mind and body. This connection allows him to become aware that there is an internal system of intelligence that can then take over his instruction. In other words, at some point, the awareness of his own body should itself, instruct him as to how to move and exercise. The catch 22 is that the more he focuses on the techniques he is being taught, the less he trusts his own body and the more he depends on those techniques.
The techniques, in Tai-chi and Zookinesis are considered as the “Zen raft”, that is, a raft that brings you from one side of a river to the other. Once you get to the other side, you abandon the raft and begin your journey on the other side of the river. The techniques of body awareness lead you to a living internal blueprint of the dynamics of the mind and body, of the emotions, will, memories, senses and all the other aspects of being human. You become aware of that internal intelligence and how it lies behind all aspects of your life. The techniques of Tai-chi and Zookinesis are still practiced and perfected but you become aware of how they are leading you to a greater awareness of how flesh and consciousness interact.
In our culture, we believe that everything starts with the physical world and that all other phenomena are a by-product of the interaction of atoms and subatomic particles. In most ancient cultures, the physical world was considered equal to all other human experiences. Each was considered to be an “element” of being human, so that the mind, emotions and consciousness itself were on an equal level with the physical world. The “balancing of the elements”, the main purpose of internal training, was to develop a balanced person who doesn’t obsess with any one element.
As an example, in Zookinesis, the sense of sight is considered to be one half of a paired sense. Sight gives us information about the exterior of objects – their color, shape, size, texture etc. It shows us how each thing is separate from each other thing. The sense of “chi” (internal energy) gives us information about the interior of things and about how everything is connected to everything else with energy. In our culture, the sense of chi is not recognized, so that we don’t feel it. Yet as we learn any internal system of exercise, we need to regain this sense so that we can become more balanced.
Practitioners of the internal martial arts are well versed with chi and use it to strengthen their health, to increase the power of their strikes in sparring and to be able to withstand strikes from an opponent. A student of mine once asked me if I could stop using chi to protect myself from strikes. I explained that I am so used to protecting myself with chi that it was hard for me to stop doing it. But I figured out a way to “turn off” the chi. He then punched me and it really hurt! I told him I would never do that again. He reminded me that since he had not yet developed this protective ability, I should take it easy on him. He made his point.
Often as people practice “Push Hands” (a two person exercise in which each tries to throw the other off balance), or sparring, they will come up with a very creative technique they had never learned before. This will surprise them because it is as if another person inside of them made them do this new technique. As they get used to these new techniques arising spontaneously out of them, they realize that they arise out of their own creativity. Then they come to “know” their creativity as a living energy within them. It is this body intelligence I mentioned above. This awareness will make them feel uncomfortable at first because they realize they are more than they thought they were. There is a power inside of them which seems stronger or perhaps just “smarter” than the students themselves. How can their “weak” little personalities stand up to this powerful ancient intelligence?
An artificial competition begins to try to keep the “genie in the bottle”. It takes time for the student to develop a harmonious relationship with his own inner intelligence. Push Hands is great training for this because it deals with the relationship between two people on a physical level. You can’t use force and tension in Push Hands or you yourself will get pushed over. You really have to merge with the Push Hands partner, uniting your energies until you find a weak point in his alignment or attention and then you can push.
In the case of the internal intelligence you learn to blend and connect your personality with that ancient body intelligence to form a greater self. In those old cultures there was a name for people who successfully accomplished that merging. It was called being “an elder”. We don’t have many elders in our culture and that concept isn’t admired as it used to be. We now feel that each generation knows more than the previous one. We feel that the ancient cultures were ignorant just as we feel that our parents are dumb compared to ourselves. Yet it is not the accumulation of material knowledge that developed an elder, but the type of knowledge that is always at our fingertips.  I find that my best students begin their practice just to improve their health, or to get better muscle definition or to learn self-defense. Yet as they learn there is much more depth to this training, they become even more interested. They realize there is a whole other world out there – the world of internal awareness.
The student is led to this awareness by continuing to practice the techniques until he realizes that simply doing the techniques faster or stronger is not getting him anywhere. He comes to a plateau in his training. It is only when he lets that internal intelligence (the “Body-Mind”) take over that he can continue to progress. At that point, he feels that the person he thought he was, can just sit back and let this new being take over. His exercise becomes effortless and much more rewarding. The old cultures called Body-Mind “the ancient one”. They might ask the confused student, “Let me see the ancient one”, meaning that they wanted to see the student let the internal intelligence take over his exercises. So the point of this week’s lesson is not to let the techniques become the whole of what you learn. Realize that they are leading you to an internal awareness and continue to watch out for hints of the ancient one. When he (or she) comes you will be rewarded.