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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.

LEARNING FROM ANIMALS

The animal importing company was like my second home.  After school and on weekends I took care of monkeys, parrots, anteaters, hedgehogs, pythons, dragon lizards, tarantulas and dozens of other species.  The animals were my family.  Many had been there for so long that they were now fully grown.

These animals were imported from areas that were being destroyed.  They were sold to people or organizations that were studying how to breed them in captivity. 

At the same time, I went to New York City as often as possible to study a form of chi-gung based on animal behavior – a system I now call “Zookinesis”.  The reason I was chosen to receive this teaching is that my mind and spirit had already been formed to a large extent by the animals I worked with.  I spent more time with them than with people.

In this chi-gung system you learn to copy the patterns and qualities of internal energy (chi) of various animals.  By experiencing the large variety of patterns of chi you learn to appreciate the dynamics of chi.  You can then use these dynamics in healing. 

I soon began my own animal importing company and decided to live in the animal compound.  There were always problems and you had to be right there if an animal got loose or was sick.  I soon saw fewer and fewer people and more and more animals.

When I began learning Tai-chi I could relate the movements and qualities to many of the animals I worked with.  When I learned Push Hands and the self defense sparring of Tai-chi I practiced what I had learned in class with the animals.  They enjoyed it and I learned a lot from their response. 

It was important for me to learn Tai-chi sparring.  When I would unpack a shipment of new animals I never knew what to expect. The shippers often included unexpected animals or ones that were larger than what I ordered.  Opening the orders meant getting attacked by many animals that were in a bad mood.  I had to get them into their cages, protect myself and make sure not to hurt them.  I often got the worst of it. 

But as I learned the behavior patterns of each species I could use Tai-chi and Zookinesis principles to control them and calm them down. 

At a certain point I realized that I lived in a different kind of world than most people.  The very make-up of my mind and spirit was the sum of all the animals I worked with as well as the effects of my training.  This made me feel isolated.  So I searched for traditional teachers of other cultures that understood this relationship between the human spirit and the spirit of animals, cultures such as Native American, Celtic and others. 

Through readings I found that the idea of learning from the spirit of animals was widespread in the ancient world.  Ancient people felt they were an intricate part of nature.

Yet I found that in modern forms of chi-gung and Tai-chi, the practice of learning from animals is missing.  The only remnants are in the animal forms or such chi-gung practices as “The Animal Frolics” which are stylized imitations of animal movements.  But this is no substitute for working directly with animals.

There were five other large animal importers at that time in the New York City area.  Most Saturdays I visited one or two of them to see what new species they brought in.  The owners of these animal compounds would discuss their new animals with me.  If I found the animal especially interesting I would get a few in to work with them.  I spent three summers in Central America, canoeing through the rivers to see animals in the wild and visit the remote people who lived deep in the jungle. 

At the end of each trip I felt that I wanted to stay there permanently but my teachers were up in New York and I still had a lot to learn.

After graduating from college I worked as a travelling teacher of ecology around New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, bringing some of my collection of animals to each school and discussing the importance of protecting the environment.  I saw how excited the students were, how their eyes lit up at each new animal and how much they wanted to touch and hold them.  There was an innate need to be connected to nature and I provided that to the students of each school at least for one day.  After 20 years, I had presented the programs, called “The Animal Man” to over one and a half million students and teachers.

The yearning of children to connect with animals is the same yearning for each of us to be connected to our own bodies.  We have become strangers to our own bodies.  The body seems to us like some big, awkward thing down there that carries our head around.  With Tai-chi and Zookinesis we learn to feel each part of our bodies and to understand how to use the body properly.  Through these exercises each part of the body feels alive and awake.  You can feel healing taking place as the body becomes more conscious. 

In the sense of the consciousness of the body, we are not as smart as other animals.  It is only our thinking ability that is superior.  But we have sacrificed the consciousness of the body for the thinking process.

Zookinesis teaches you how to balance both forms of consciousness so that they work together.  The “Body-Mind” and the thinking mind are no longer at war. 

My Zookinesis teachers emphasized that, just as there are many forms of consciousness among different kinds of animals, there are many different perspectives in the cultures and thoughts of people.  We need to respect the different ideas and attitudes among people just as we need to respect the consciousness and the very right to live of animals.  If we have the attitude that only our own thoughts are correct then we may become disrespectful and even violent towards other people.  If we feel that we are superior to animals then we may feel justified in destroying their habitats and even entire species.

They emphasized that one reason it is important to spend time with animals is to appreciate that each species is a perfect part of the web of life of nature, that violence to bodies or to consciousness destroys all of nature. 

If we can repair the damage to our own bodies and to our own consciousness, we are actually helping to repair all of nature. 

I knew that it would be impossible to teach Zookinesis if I required my students to spend long months in the wild with animals which is how it was originally taught.  And so I combined Zookinesis training with Tai-chi to create a training system that incorporated all of my experiences into a simple, cohesive training system. 

The way my students most commonly describe their experience of this process is that they realize they have hips or they have a back or some other part of their bodies.  What they mean is that they now actually feel the aliveness of those parts of the body.  They are connected to their own bodies.  Their minds and bodies blend together so that both work at maximum efficiency.  Their behavior is no longer controlled by awkward behavior patterns, by fears, by excess movements or by the racing of the mind.  They are no longer blind to what is going on inside of them. 

When they catch themselves at ridiculous behaviors, they laugh at themselves.  We call that “The Dragon Whips its Tail”.  There is an animal mythology that goes along with Zookinesis that makes it easier to understand.  In this case the laughter helps you to whip away the ridiculous behavior as if you were flicking away a fly.  You realize that you are filled with self destructive behaviors and the laughter keeps you from getting angry or depressed about it.

For example, when we get stressed, we often tense up our shoulders.  Of course this behavior doesn’t help you deal with the stressful behavior.  It only makes you feel worse.  Through Zookinesis, Tai-chi and Tai-chi massage, all these harmful behaviors are exposed and we can more easily let them go. 

Finally our bodies and minds feel free and clear, like a natural animal.  We no longer feel caged by our own tensions and fears.  The vibrancy of nature is felt in every cell of our bodies and we feel how we are connected to the rest of life.

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.

THE PUSH HANDS PARTY

During our “Push Hands” party this Saturday, many issues came up.  A new student wondered about the “magic” of the use of chi (internal energy).  Several asked why we breathe in when we strike in the martial aspect of Tai-chi while other martial arts styles breathe out when they strike.  This brought to mind what my chi-gung teachers taught me when I mentioned that some chi-gung teachers teach you to move the chi in the “microcosmic” and “macrocosmic” orbit in the body. 

They asked me if I thought I was God.  They explained that the body itself knows how to channel the chi properly and the only thing I could do was mess up that flow.  They said that what they were teaching me was to stop messing up the flow of chi and then the chi would flow just fine.  They explained their view that in the West we love to push and shove things around to fix them.  This was true of even Chinese teachers in modern times. 

But what good does it do to shove your chi in what you are told is the “correct” movement when you are still filled with habits of pushing chi around in improper ways.  You would just be creating a conflict between your different habits of shoving, some supposedly good and some bad.  Just stop shoving the chi around, they suggested.

The student who wondered about the “magic” of chi wanted to be able to knock someone down at a distance by holding up his hand.  There are several ways to approach this issue.  The main point is, why do you want to be able to knock someone down?  What are the inadequacies in yourself that cause you to want to be able to knock other people down? 

The second point is that these teachings require very detailed, long term study.  The mechanics of chi are very exacting and specific.  The relationship between chi and the physical body takes years of study and practice to understand, feel and master. 

When the term “magic” is used, it generally means, “How can I do this without any effort on my part?”  It is a sign of laziness.  You just want to be able to use a magic word, for example, and not put in the years of study. So a real student would need to examine his tendency toward laziness.  Magic is only magic when you don’t understand the mechanisms behind the result.

I met a couple of teachers who claimed that they could knock someone over at a distance.  They even demonstrated it on their own students.  But onlookers insisted that he do the same with them.  The teachers did not want to demonstrate their skills on anyone but their own students.  After much insistence these teachers did try to demonstrate this “chi at a distance” on others but failed. 

The point is that this chi at a distance is a training exercise.  The student must be very sensitive to the teacher’s chi.  When the student feels this chi, he allows his body to move according to the characteristics of the chi he feels.  The chi doesn’t knock him over but the student cooperates via his reaction to the chi.

There is great magic in chi training.  It is NOT the magic of seeing great things and not knowing how they happened.  It is the magic of being able to see simple things and KNOW how they happened. 

When an experienced teacher practices his form the onlooker will see the slightest movements with barely any effort.  A beginner at learning a tai-chi form will use exaggerated movements and seem to use a lot of effort and tension.  Most onlookers will think the beginner’s tai-chi is spectacular because it is big and “loud”.  The experienced teacher barely looks as though he is doing anything and is not very exciting. 

Magic in this case would consist of being able to see the incredible control of internal movement (within the body) resulting in such slight external movement (movement of the body in space) of the experienced teacher.  Magic is the ability to see the great in the insignificant.  It is the ability to let go of all the habits of tension, mental patterns and chi blockage to arrive at the simple, natural state of being. Magic, in the real sense, should not be a compensation for feelings of inadequacy that appeal to your laziness. 

Another discussion later in the day centered around this question:  Should you lead the student on by promising great magic (in the sense that the student understands it) in the hope that he will eventually get and appreciate the real training?  There was a story told by the Buddha.  A man came home to find his house burning with his three little girls inside.  He called out to them, “Come here at once.  I have wonderful presents for you.”  When they came out they were upset that there were no presents.  But the father just wanted to save his children.

For my part, I cannot play games like that.  I have to tell the students the bare truth.  My feeling is, “What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”  The result is that I have few students but they are wonderful students.  It may take them a long time to “get” things but they understand that I am not playing games with them.  I don’t give them any room to hide in fantasies.  There is nothing wrong with fantasies but I prefer to leave that to Hollywood. 

Another point that was brought up dealt with acupuncture points.  I was taught that every point on and within the body is an acupuncture point.  Every cell and even every part of every cell is a center for the transformation of energy.  The acupuncture points that you see on the charts are just useful points for healing purposes.  If you work a specific point it will have a specific result.  But this doesn’t mean that only those spots marked on the charts are acupuncture points. 

I believe that in any good Oriental healing school this point is brought out.  But the students often fail to appreciate or even to hear it.  Many such students think that chi only runs through the meridians and not everywhere throughout the whole body.  My teachers emphasized that chi must flow through every organ and cell of the body. 

I showed a chart I had made to bring out what I felt was an essential point to understand the principles of tai-chi and of chi-gung.  If you truly understand the chart, a lot of the tai-chi principles will make more sense.

The chart basically explained that there are two substances in the world and two forces (according to these principles).  The two substances are matter and consciousness.  These substances are part of everything in the universe.  This means that consciousness flows through all matter and is not just a by-product of chemical reactions of the human brain.

Consciousness expresses itself differently depending on what it is flowing through.  Yet the consciousness within a plant is the same “stuff” as our own.

The two forces in the universe are the yin force, pulling towards the center (gravity) and the yang force, flowing outward from the center.   Both forces work on both substances.  When we speak of the yang force in terms of matter, we use the term, “chi”.  When we speak of the yang force in terms of consciousness, we use the term, “creativity”. 

In its most fundamental state, matter and consciousness are one and the same.  But the two forces “play” at creating an apparent separation between the two (the yang force separates matter and consciousness).  The variation of influence of the yin and yang forces on the two substances at any particular moment is one meaning of the yin/yang symbol.

This is the same as an artist who steps away from his canvas to get a better overall view of his painting.  When matter and consciousness appear to be separate, we have a stronger feeling of self or individuality.  When they merge, when the force of gravity takes over, the two blend together.  Your consciousness (which I call attention) and the world around you merge and you loose track of time and even of yourself. 

When you relax, the force of gravity allows your body to sink to its center (the tan-tien).  Since the earth is so large and exerts such a large gravitational force, our center then sinks to the center of the earth.  This is called, “sung”.  It is translated as “sinking” but more specifically it is the sinking of every point in the body into its center (tan-tien) and also the sinking of the center of the body to the center of the earth.   It is yielding to the gravity of both the body itself and of the earth. 

In this way when you yield to gravity you seem to merge, not only with the earth but with your body and with all the natural surroundings.  I learned these principles while learning Zookinesis and that made learning tai-chi much easier to understand.

So now let’s get to the issue of breathing in and out.  When you breathe in, this corresponds to drawing energy upward from the earth and expanding.  Breathing in is yang and expansive.  Breathing out corresponds to yielding to gravity and sinking into the earth.  When you expand, energy flows outward which results in the punch or kick or push.  When you sink you absorb the opponent’s force and ground it or circle it around back to him. 

At the moment of impact your fist “feels” the alignment of the opponent’s body.  This creates a trained effect in your body to line up all your joints in such a way that the upward, expansive force is directly aimed at the opponent and the opponent’s resistance is absorbed by your body.  This re-alignment of the joints takes just a fraction of a second and takes a lot of training to accomplish.  But it allows us to use the ground as our “floor”, to expand upward from the ground. 

In hard style martial arts, their own body tension is used as the ground from which the punch issues.  So their body tension fights against the strike and only a fraction of their potential force is released.  The only tension used in tai-chi fighting is in our movements and just enough so that the arm (or leg or elbow etc.) doesn’t collapse when we strike.  We want an exponential explosion of force shooting into the opponent.  This can only be done when the body is as relaxed as possible.  Hard styles breathe out and then hold their breath when they strike to achieve the maximum tension of the body.  That’s why they’re called “hard styles”.

These are the types of issues we go over at the push hands parties at the Long Island School of Tai-chi-Chuan.  We show how Taoist principles apply to our Tai-chi practice.

WAKING UP THE BODY

More about my trips to Central America… 

We had to go into the town of Chepo because someone had brought me a dead margay.  The margay is a small wild cat and the fellow had heard I was interested in animals.  He thought I wanted them for the skin.  I explained that I was looking for live animals but he got very angry and insisted that I buy the cat.  Carlos had heard about this and came to town.  He started arguing with the guy but in the end suggested that I buy it as long as the man understood that I didn’t want any more dead animals.

Carlos then brought me to Chepo in the canoe taxi because he knew someone who would buy the dead margay from me.  We landed at Capitano where we took the little bus (pick up truck with side rails) to Chepo.  The bus left us off at the center of town where the main road from the capital ended.  While Carlos went off to sell the cat I wandered around that area. 

I had been used to the slow pace and quiet of our little jungle town and had forgotten how busy and noisy the city was.  I was overwhelmed.  Yet this was nothing like New York.  Compared to my original home Chepo was a little hick town.  I noticed that the personalities of the people were very strong and they spoke loudly.  Everyone wanted to voice their opinion about everything.

I wandered by the auction house where cattle was displayed and auctioned off.  I liked the smell of cattle and horses.  Every few minutes a car would speed by raising a huge cloud of dust.  None of the roads were paved and it was still the dry season.  I couldn’t understand why they drove so fast when they could drive through the whole “city” in a few minutes.

Carlos found me and after buying some supplies, we had some fried chicken at a roadside eating place.  Carlos commented on how busy the city was.  He made a motion with his hands like the wind of a tornado and then opened and closed his fingers to imitate people talking so much.  I told him that all this commotion was making me feel bad and I felt bad already because of the margay incident.

We went back to Capitano but the tide wasn’t in enough for the taxi to leave the dock.  Carlos argued with the boatman for a while and then paid him some money to bring us back anyway.  Within a few minutes of the trip we had to disembark and pull the canoe over the rocky small river leading to Rio Chepo.  The water was too shallow. The stones on the river floor were killing my feet.  We had to pull the canoe about a half mile and had to hold on tightly because the small rapids were trying to pull the canoe away from us.   

By that time the tide had come in enough so we could get back in the boat and we returned home.  Carlos had me follow him back to his hut up in the hills and I must have complained a lot about my feet.  That just made him laugh.  When we got to the hut he made a small fire and we both stood by the fire, warming our feet.

Suddenly he said, “That was some workout for our feet!” and he slapped me hard on the back.  I felt as if I were passing out but had the unusual sensation that I was in my feet and ankles.  I was in the parts of me that were in pain and were being warmed up by the fire.  The rest of me seemed “up there”.  I thought of “getting back up” as that seemed were I should be but I had no means to do so.  There was no one left up in the mother ship to beam me up.  Yet I was able to stand upright and not fall. 

After a while Carlos helped me to sit down and gradually I came back into my head.  Carlos then slapped my feet as if to wake them up and my attention jumped back down.  He turned to look at me and my attention went back up into my eyes. 

Carlos asked me, “Where is your home?” and I automatically said, “Long Island”.  He laughed.  “Where are you now?” he asked and I replied, “Panama”.  He laughed again as if I were an entertainer keeping him amused. 

Carlos asked, “Are you in your head or in your feet right now?”  I understood what he meant and told him I was all right.  “I didn’t ask you if you were all right, I asked you where you were.”  I felt myself about to sink back down into my feet again but fought to stay “up”.  Half of me fell down and half of me stayed up.  I was in my feet and ankles and in my head at the same time.  This confused me so much that I just didn’t know what to do. 

Carlos looked at me up and down.  A small dog came over and also looked at me up and down.  Carlos looked at the dog and the dog barked in such a way that he seemed to shrug his shoulders.  He sniffed me, looked at me in the eyes, walked away and I would swear that he shook his head in confusion and grumbled.

Then Carlos started rubbing my belly which I thought was an inappropriate thing to do, but only half of me thought that.  The half that was in my feet started moving up to where I was being rubbed and when “it” got there, Carlos slapped my belly once. 

At that point I recalled the hustle and bustle of Chepo.  That scene superimposed itself on my whole body.  I understood that there was a lot of hustle and bustle within my body and mind and immediately felt uncomfortable, like I wanted all that busyness to stop immediately.  

Carlos laid me down near the fire and my body warmed up.  I could feel the air on the other side of the fire starting to cool down for the evening.  At this point the part of “me” that was in my feet and ankles and that had spread to my belly, also filled my torso and joined the head part of my attention.  My awareness was now in the whole of my body, and my body quieted down.  It felt like the busyness had been absorbed by the earth.

The smell of dinner soon absorbed all of my attention and I very slowly got up.  I felt as if I were breathing into every cell of my body, that the air and the earth merged and created me at every moment.  I breathed in very deeply as the smells were wonderful.

Tree frogs began singing all around us and I could feel their songs inside of me, as when you feel the vibrations of music when you sit in front of a large speaker.  The frog songs were very delicate and yet I could feel them as if each part of my body were like a tuning fork being vibrated by them. 

When I finally sat down to eat, the smells and taste of the food were overwhelmingly satisfying. Yet it seemed to be the same beans & rice, chicken and chopped vegetables that were the usual fare here. 

I thought that it would be hard to go home to Long Island, to face the busyness and have my body vibrate to the hustle and bustle.  I understood how the environment outside duplicates itself inside of our bodies and hearts. And I began to understand how the forces of nature merge to create you. 

We suddenly heard the howler monkeys begin to howl.  The people at this hut and in several others along the trails shouted in unison.  Then we went back to eating.

THE RELATIONSHIP OF ATTENTION, CREATIVITY AND THE PHYSICAL BODY

We understand that play is a natural behavior of many animals.  Puppies and kittens understand that they aren’t really trying to kill each other.  They understand make-believe.  They also understand reality as when a large animal runs after them, growling loudly.  Play is not to be taken literally but is good practice for reality.

Play teaches you to perceive clearly and for your body to react quickly.  It develops a lively connection of attention to the body.

Our civilization uses this understanding to trick us.  It uses play, not to develop a connection of attention to the actions of the body, but to words.  As we become more and more lethargic, ideas replace the body as the arena of action.  We live in the world of ideas.  This changes the role of the body, and by extension, the whole physical world in our creative process.  Lately the new close relationship between our play, or creativity, and words, our thinking process, has changed.  The role of the body and then words is being replaced by machinery.  When you watch children play video games, to what is their attention connected?  It is hardly connected to the body or even to ideas.  It is connected to computer screen images.

This slow progression heads in one direction – to disconnect attention from the body and the physical world and to connect it to factors than can be manipulated by other people. It is hard to manipulate someone’s body.  It is easier to manipulate their ideas.  But if their attention is connected to machinery, you can control the programming even more easily.

The advertiser’s job is to move people’s attention in the direction of more manipulation.  The teacher’s job is to move the attention back to ideas and to the physical world. 

When you manipulate symbols – a national flag for example – you are trying to control peoples’ behavior.  In most cases this manipulation is not for the benefit of that person.  It is for the benefit of the manipulator. 

There are many human histories.  There is the history of wars and politics.  There is the history of the condition of the average person.  There are labor and social movements.  Histories of religion, philosophy, arts and science fill university curriculums.  But really, they are all the history of the attempted manipulation of attention to control behavior. 

It is the history of storytelling – the story of who we are, where we came from and why we are here.  If we feel we belong to one group that is opposed to another group, we have conflict. People can be made to fight other people because of the story of who they are and where they came from. 

Zookinesis teaches us how our attention becomes controlled by the stories we are told.  It teaches us to understand the dynamics of attention itself so that we can notice when and how it is being controlled and regain that control.

In order to do this it is important to understand what attention is and its relationship to the body and the physical world in general.

Zookinesis considers that what makes each person an individual is the way our creativity “plays” with the energy of attention.  It is similar to the way we “play” with the energy of gravity in the way we move.  Attention is the consciousness behind the eyes and ears.  It is that which is aware of thoughts and emotions. 

There are two forces controlling attention.  One is the various distractions that we encounter every day.  They mold our attention into their shape.  The other force is creativity which is the playfulness that makes each of us unique and is part of our biological heritage.  Any individual may be more influenced by the distractions or more by creativity. 

People with OCD (obsessive, compulsive disorder) are almost completely controlled by their environment.  They are drawn to the strongest distraction at each moment.  People who are completely controlled by their creativity we may call “airheads”.  They are hardly connected to the world around them but only to their ideas and fantasies. 

The job of a parent or teacher is to balance these two forces in the child or student.  The point of balance between these two forces is called “the gate” in Zookinesis.  The goal of the training is to become “the gatekeeper”, that is, to be fully aware of and control the balance of environmental influences and playful creativity on the flow of attention.

The role of a teaching, such as Zookinesis or Tai-chi, is to provide the student with the skills to maintain that balance.  To what degree do you allow yourself to be molded by the influences around you and to what degree do you step outside of those influences and “create your own story”?

At the advanced level of any teaching, the student begins to perceive “who” it is that is learning, controlling this balance and creating the story.  Religious people would call this “union with God”, meaning that you perceive the source of your own creativity.  You understand your uniqueness and yet your complete connection to all other people and forms of life. 

You cannot do this by handing over your attention to any particular dogma, whether a philosophy, religion or any teaching.  You can use these vehicles to develop the balance of external influences and creative influences on your attention, but you do not allow them to fully mold your perspective.  There are many vehicles on the road but in the end you need to step out of the vehicle and get to your destination.

Ancient religions and other teaching were based on “the elements”.  This was an early form of psychology.  You became aware of the influences of your body, your thinking mind, your will and your emotions and the balance of these factors in each moment of your life.  Your goal was to keep the “elements” in balance. 

The result was that you became aware of the fifth element – “spirit”.  Spirit was the force that connected all life together, or what we would call “chi” in Taoist philosophy.  When you achieved the balance of the first four elements it would be as if you were standing in the middle of a spiral staircase and could look all the way up and down the stairs. Spirit is all the activity that you see going on.  Each level is a level of life or consciousness.  Your next goal in these teachings, was to explore all the floors.  The final step of training was to be aware of all the levels of consciousness at the same time so that you are a fully conscious being. 

This is the basis of Zookinesis training.  You first become aware of the dynamics of your physical body.  In order to do this you have to allow your attention to connect to all parts of your body.  This requires working on the flow of attention and letting go of any blockage to that attention.  You gradually become aware of that part of you that directs the flow of attention (creativity). 

Now when you practice the exercises, you are not just shoving your body parts around.  You are lightly manipulating the flow of attention in your body and that, in turn, affects the movements.  Your efforts and movements become lighter and lighter and yet more effective and powerful. 

Through physical exercises, Zookinesis achieves a “spiritual” end, that of true self awareness.  You can then examine the “play” of your life to determine in which ways that play is positive or negative.  You can create a different play or story for yourself, one which is more healing for you and for others.

It all starts with realizing that consciousness itself is a force that connects you to the rest of nature.  It flows through your physical body and animates it. Chi is the biological activity that results.  Creativity is the way we play and is a natural behavior of many species.  We humans “play” with our attention and create stories.  We then build our civilizations on the foundation of those stories.

The physical and mental structures we build seem so solid and everlasting that we forget the “play” behind them.  When play, or creativity is no longer a part of each “element” of our lives, then we become deadened and our physical, mental and emotional health suffer.  Our “will” gets out of balance and we get angry when we don’t get our way. 

That is why I like public broadcasting programs so much.  They explain how creative people and cultures changed their world and their ideas.  They show how our own present situation is the result of this flow of the history of creativity.  Then we can take our part in that history and ask ourselves how we can become more creative.  We realize that rather than being just a member of a race, religion or nationality, we are a member of the creative force of life.

LEARNING TO FEEL

Another episode of my experiences learning from the people of the jungle forests of Central America:

Carlos came down from the hills to our little “town” early in the morning.  Eduardo handed him a cup of coffee and we all waited for the cow to be milked for the cream.  When Eduardo’s son came running over with a bowl of cream, he spilled a little into each of our cups.  Carlos told me that he wanted me to come with him to his cousin up the river so as soon as the coffee was finished we began to walk up the trail alongside Rio Chepo.

A couple of hours later I asked Carlos how long it would take to get there.  He asked, “What difference does it make how long?”  I suggested that we could get there quicker by taking the canoe taxi which was a dugout canoe powered by a motor that took people up and down the river.  He said, “So?”  I explained that back home in the U.S. we tried to find the quickest ways to do things.  He turned and kept walking and reminded me that I was not home anymore.

On the way we met a troupe of howler monkeys in a tree.  Carlos extended his arm and several of the monkeys came over to him and they patted each other on the back.  I was surprised.  He motioned to them to pat me on the back and two of the monkeys actually shook their heads, “No” as if that was out of the question.  But Carlos convinced two of them to climb over to me and pat me.  They then quickly retreated into the tree as if they had just survived a daredevil act.

We then went up a trail away from the river and into the hills.  I was a little worried.  I knew that there was a little store along the river trail and I was hungry.  I asked Carlos if there was a store along this new trail.  He assured me that this was not a shopping trip.  When I told him I was hungry he simply said we would have something when we got there and that was that.

We passed a few huts along the way and they were starting their evening cooking fires.  When we stopped at one hut I could see a little stream about fifty feet away.  Carlos sat down and began talking to the people, two men, two women and a few children.  They were not speaking Spanish but I understood that Carlos was explaining who I was – a zoologist from America who came to study reptiles. 

One of the men came over to me and started speaking but I didn’t understand him until he asked, “Don’t you speak English?”  I told him I wasn’t expecting anyone to speak English so I wasn’t prepared to hear it.  He told Carlos what I had said but Carlos said he knew enough English to understand me.  They both looked at each other and nodded and Carlos told me to just sit by the fire and relax.

An hour later both men came back and told me they had bought some cold soda from a nearby store that had a gas powered refrigerator.  They mixed it with some juice and gave me the mixture.  “You said you were hungry,” said Carlos.  I didn’t feel they were very good hosts.  A glass of juice and soda after a whole day’s walk?

They then brought me about ten minutes up the little stream and told me to sit on the earth.  Carlos said that Hector was good at explaining things.  That’s why he brought me here.  “Hector can explain things in English,” he said.  I asked Carlos why they use Spanish names for themselves when they are Indians.  He explained that they were “modern” Indians and needed modern names. 

Hector told me that I have to learn to hear the “old” language of the forest.  I am expecting to hear a “modern” language from the forest.  I told Hector that I don’t expect to hear any language from the forest, unless he means the noises of the animals.   He told me to just sit there and remember that I couldn’t hear his English because I wasn’t expecting to hear English.  There was some type of communication that I could hear or feel from the jungle that I wasn’t expecting.  He then left.

I was still hungry and the juice and soda didn’t satisfy me much.  In fact it was making me a little sick.  I must have fallen asleep and when I woke up I was still sitting on the earth.  It was very dark and I didn’t see Carlos or Hector.  I began to worry that a jaguar or other animal could attack me.  My specialty is the reptiles and I certainly wouldn’t mind a big boa crawling nearby.  But I wasn’t that familiar with jaguars.

The sounds of tree frogs and howler monkeys began to die down and all that was left was the sound of many insects.  It was an intricate orchestra of sounds and became louder and louder. 

Suddenly I became aware of the presence of an animal off towards the right about fifty feet away.  I couldn’t see it but my whole body responded to its presence.  My whole attention was focused on where I thought it was and dared not to move or I would give myself away.  But I somehow realized that it knew I was there.  My belly began to ache and pound.  My fear grew to such proportions that it became a huge presence of its own right in front of me.  I could not help but concentrate on that fear.  I forgot about the animal I thought was there and felt that I would be consumed by the fear itself.  Sharp pains and aches filled by belly.

When I heard a branch break I suddenly remembered the animal and realized that the fear had become a separate issue from the animal.  Fear fed the pain in my body and the pain fed the fear.  The two became partners against me.  Now the animal itself, which triggered the fear, didn’t seem so threatening.

I realized the idiocy of allowing fear to grow out of proportion, as if it were a real thing and I was able to let it go.  The pain in my belly subsided.  All that was left was the feeling of strong connection from my belly to some unseen animal in the forest.  There was no fear left.  I thought that there may actually not be any animal there but soon heard twigs breaking as the animal moved away and our “connection” broke. 

My experiences seemed very odd and then I fully understood the problem.  For some reason I was afraid that I experienced a communication with the animal that I could not see.  It was as if my sight needed to identify the animal that my “belly” felt and my sight itself became afraid. 

I now felt a very complex interaction of the forest with the center of my body.  Slowly my body became warmer until it felt as though I had no skin and was completely connected to the forest and aware of every part of it.  I didn’t need to see because the information coming in was, if anything, more detailed than what I could know with my sight. 

Hector suddenly appeared, pulled me up by the arm and walked me back to the hut, where everyone was sleeping.  He explained that I was afraid of the “old” parts of me, the parts that could “hear” the forest.  I asked him what those parts were and he replied, “The parts that can hear the forest”.  I wanted to know what specific parts of the body he was talking about but he shook his head and said, “Even when you know I am speaking in English, you can’t hear me!  You felt those parts tonight.  I sat behind you the whole time.  I could see you speaking to the jaguar.”

I asked him if it were a jaguar why it didn’t eat me.  “He was talking to you.  It wouldn’t be polite to eat you.”  He laughed and then said that jaguars don’t eat people.  Hector suggested that I pay attention to how my whole body felt the forest so that I could be as comfortable with the night as with the day.  “We have senses for both the night and the day.  People fear what they can’t see because they can’t feel.  They have been taught that feeling is the devil.  So they have a battle inside themselves.  What they see fights with what they feel.  Silly, isn’t it?”

He pointed to a plate of chicken, plantain, rice and vegetables on the table and finally let me eat.  Before going to bed he said, “Carlos wants you to stop fighting against yourself.”  I stayed up a couple of hours more because I didn’t want to lose the feeling of the forest.  The next morning I awoke on the patio floor.  The feeling of connection was gone and I was extremely tired.  Over the next month, more lessons would drive home this new sense of talking to the forest so that the feeling would never leave me again.

THE ULTIMATE REALIZATION ABOUT THE POWER TO HEAL

All of this training culminates in a single, powerful, all revealing realization that brings power and vibrant health back to your life.  You understand the source of your power as a human being and how to channel that power in your life.  I will describe this realization and how to use it.  The basis is the relationship between consciousness and the physical body.  Imagine a glass of water sitting on bone dry earth.  Sitting on the earth is a little seed.  The glass of water has two eyes painted on its side as if it were looking at the seed.  This is the situation most of us are in.

In this situation it is obvious that if the seed ever were to grow into a plant, the water in the glass would have to be spilled so that the earth could absorb it.  The desiccated earth is our bodies.  The water is our attention (our consciousness).  The seed is the aliveness and power inside of us. 

We have objectified our attention.  We think of it as our eyes looking at something.  The whole approach of Zookinesis training (or any Taoist training) is to understand that attention is not the eyes.  It is an energy just as gravity or electromagnetism is energy.  Our bodies have evolved within the environment of many types of energies and are the result of these influences. 

Our bodies are even pressurized with about fifteen pounds per square inch of pressure, to counter the tremendous air pressure around us.  In every way, our bodies have evolved as a response to the energies around us. In the same way, our minds have evolved in this environment. 

Consciousness (attention) is an energy in which we have evolved.  Yet we think of it as our eyes looking at something.  We objectify attention as if it were in one place looking at another place or thing. 

We know that the water, in the example above, needs to be absorbed by the earth.  The water sitting in a glass does not help the seed.  The water must lend its very nature and substance to the earth to create life.  In the same way attention must be absorbed by the body so that every part of the body can become “moist”.  The attention “knows” how to be absorbed by the body.  The body “knows” how to absorb the attention.  To let the body absorb attention, you must let go of attention rather than holding it rigid.  The rigidity of attention makes the body rigid.  Rigidity separates attention from the body.

That is why we practice to relax the body and to relax the attention – so that the two can merge.

When attention and the flesh merge, tremendous power and awareness floods a person.  At first this may feel threatening.  “How could poor little me have such power?”  The tendency is to “objectify” the power, to call it God or the Devil or a spirit channeling wisdom through you.  We identify our own power as images we have learned just as we originally objectified attention itself by thinking of it as the eyes.

When attention is absorbed by the body you realize your connection to the source of attention.  You can perceive the energy of attention in the world around you.  While the world you perceive is the same old world, it seems very different, very alive.  Your body feels very alive and you feel yourself beginning to heal.  You feel each cell like a baby bird desperately calling out to its mother for food.  Each cell of the body wants to receive the energy of attention and calls loudly for it.  You begin to hear those calls or rather you feel the body trying to absorb attention. 

People whose bodies are especially disconnected from their attention will try to absorb the attention of other people and can be very draining to those people.  When you hear them talk, they sound like baby birds squawking. 

We naturally know how to pull attention from people.  This is important to strengthen the attention of babies.  In Zookinesis it is called “Threading Attention” as if through the eye of a needle.  Everybody tries to get the baby to look at him and respond to him.  This strengthens the baby’s attention.  The baby connects its attention to our own behavior patterns.  We innately know how to do this.  It feels good.

But if you are trying to absorb other peoples’ attention because you are internally disconnected, that doesn’t do you or the other person any good.

When people objectify their attention to an unusual degree and are unusually disconnected, their attention will be concentrated directly in front of their faces.  They will have a “crazed” look.  Some of those people make very good salesmen because the customer is accosted and overwhelmed by the salesman’s energy and they will buy anything to end the assault.  This is really a form of violence. 

I believe that violent people are very disconnected and their behavior results from a misdirected attempt to reconnect themselves.  But since they objectify their feelings they will attempt to connect to other people, often in very inappropriate ways.  They are desperate and don’t know how to heal their disconnection.  If someone displays a quality they know is missing inside of themselves, they will act almost as if the other person stole this quality from them or they resent that the other person has what they don’t have.  The violent person has become lost from himself and doesn’t know his way back.

Zookinesis training is the way back. The exercises are specifically designed to allow the absorption of your attention into your body.  (“Spirit Breathing Workouts” DVDs.  Catalog #’s HE-24D and HE-25D.  “Zookinesis: The Laughing Dragon Exercise” HE-28D).  The books, Movements of Magic and Movements of Power explain the whole process.

So the great realization mentioned at the beginning of this lesson is that attention is not located at a specific point such as the eyes.  It is an energy that needs to permeate the entire body.  When it does, this connects you to the same energy of attention which permeates the entire earth and all of its inhabitants. 

How do you use this connection to make your life more powerful?  To explain this, remember that when the attention is rigid, this makes the body rigid.  Patterns of the attention affect the body.  On the other hand, behavior patterns in the body, such as patterns of tension, affect the attention.  When they are separate from each other, they are like two sets of patterns fighting against each other.  Once they are connected, they are just moist earth – they are organic – and life can begin to grow. 

When you are connected to the larger energy of life, then your patterns affect that energy.  If your patterns are violent they will have a negative effect.  But if you are healed, then you can use the patterns of attention as a rudder, to steer your life in a positive direction.  As a simplified example, if you hold the image of what you want your life to be like, you will see your present situation in terms of how to achieve your goal.  Your choices will steer your life in the desired direction.             

On a deeper level, if you maintain a positive image of what you need in life, that image will resonate in other people and in general in the energy of attention around you.  The ability to affect the larger energy of attention to help your life depends on how connected your attention is to your body.  This is the great benefit of the Zookinesis exercises.  Without that connection, you just struggle.  You can’t beat the whole world into submission to accede to your demands.  But you can connect with the energy of consciousness (attention) that permeates the world.          

Each act of self healing will be magnified by that connection.  When you try to heal others, your efforts will likewise be magnified by your connection.  Life becomes easier and a lot more effective. 

Some people make the mistake of just trying to use what is called, “The Law of Attraction”, that is, to send out those images of what you want, but without first connecting their attention to their bodies.  This is utterly useless.  It is only when the attention and body merge, when you stop objectifying attention, when you become fully connected to the larger energy of attention, that you can have any effect. 

Some deserts only receive a few inches of water every ten years or so.  But as soon as it rains and the ground becomes moist, a thick carpet of colorful flowers appear within days and the desert comes to life.  It is like a miracle.  The Zookinesis training is like this.  Before this training, you are like a desert and then soon your life blooms with beautiful colors.

THE SECRET OF CONSCIOUSNESS

During the winter months, I take the goldfish from my outdoor pond and bring them to a large fish tank in the basement.  I didn’t dig the pond deep enough to be able to leave them out over the winter.  As I watch them swim around I wonder if they are aware of the medium of water they are swimming in.  The water supports them, protects them and allows them to move.

We are also moving within a dense medium – air.  While we can’t see it, the pressure of the air around us is over fifteen pounds per square inch.  Several miles of air above us press down on the air around us, making the air at sea level very dense.

Yet we are not usually aware of air unless it is a windy day.  Then we can feel the air on our skins and can see dead leaves and trash flying around.  We are aware of the effects of air even if we are not directly aware of the air itself. 

Without an atmosphere life could not exist.  Without water, fish would suffocate, dry out and die.  There is another medium which is equally as vital to life as air and water and equally as hard to see.  This is the medium of consciousness.  While most people can’t perceive consciousness directly we can see its effects.  In fact, everything we are aware of is the effect of the medium of consciousness. 

I am writing this subject as this week’s lessons for an important reason.  Many people have told me that they are seeking spiritual development or self awareness or some kind of inner training.   There is a tendency in modern times to think that there is some trick or secret to be learned that will immediately lead to enlightenment or spiritual awareness.  So they repeat phrases to themselves or listen to motivational speakers repeat various clichés.  If they only hear the right phrase or repeat the right magical spell, they will be transformed. 

My take on this is that any kind of training must begin with the awareness of the medium you exist in, the mechanism that you are as a human being and how this mechanism has been designed to work in the medium.  Fish have fins so that they can swim in water.  They are not just decorations someone placed on them.  Animals have muscles and bones so they can use leverage to work with the force of gravity, which is another medium.  Reptiles developed a thick scaled skin to avoid drying out in the medium of air.

We can understand how our bodies have evolved to work within various mediums.  To understand our minds, emotions and other inner aspects of being human, we need to understand the other mediums in which we exist. 

We can know consciousness by the dynamics of our attention.  I have discussed this in other lessons.  I believe that there is no secret phrase or idea we can think about that will lead to a significant transformation of our lives.  But awareness of how our minds, emotions and other “inner” parts are designed to work in the medium of consciousness can’t help but to restore our full potential and vitality.

One of the Chinese Zen (Chan) masters witnessed a group of Buddhists arguing about a waving flag.  Some of the Buddhists said that the flag was waving.  Others said that it was actually the wind that was waving.  The Zen master told them that it was their minds that were waving. 

The wind and the flag show how you can perceive an invisible force by watching a visible objects reaction to that force.  The force was the movement of the air.  In the same way the movement of the flag created an effect on the minds of the Buddhists.  The thinking mind and the consciousness are in the same relationship as the flag and the wind. 

If you were to see a flag moving but didn’t know about the wind you would wonder, “Why is the flag moving?”  In the same way, my first koan (Zen question) as a child was, “Why does one thought follow another in a particular pattern?”  To understand this you need to understand the relationship between thinking and consciousness.  They are not the same. 

The movement of consciousness does not necessarily have to result in thinking.  It can lead to the movement of chi (internal energy).  It is said that consciousness leads, the internal energy follows and the body then follows that.  The saying actually is translated as “mind leads” but this mind does not mean thinking.  It refers to attention itself.  I use the term “attention” very often in my writings instead of “consciousness”.

Our attention is often ripped and pulled this way and that by the influences around us, like the wind waving the flag.  When we are seeking spiritual development, or whatever glorious phrase is used, we are usually trying to bring our attention more under our creative control.  We want our creativity to be more of an influence over our attention than the external forces such as advertisers or peer pressure. 

So spiritual development is really about perfecting the relationship of creativity and attention.  In Taoist philosophy creativity is referred to as the “Yang” force and attention as the “Yin” force.  Creativity is active; it is the shaper.  Attention is passive; it is the substance, the medium that is shaped.

What we are trying to discover in our training, is: to what extent is what we perceive a result of what is actually there and to what extent is it a result of how our attention is shaped and affected by the forces around us.  We are trying to get a clear picture of our lives and the world around us. 

Telescopes are placed high on mountaintops because the atmosphere interferes with the light coming into the telescopes.  This light is distorted by the miles of compacted air which is usually in a state of turbulence.  The higher up you go, the less air and the less distortion.

That is why silent meditation is part of any spiritual practice.  The thinking mind is like the miles of air.  It is usually in a state of movement which distorts your perception of the world around you. The key is to see things as they really are.

Then you can work on your forms, your push hands or, in other systems, on your rituals and really know what you are doing.  You can do your healing such as Tai-chi Massage and really see the problems within your patient about how his creativity and attention interact and how that interaction affects the body.  When these factors become clearly visible, then you can easily see how to use the techniques you have learned to correct those problems. 

There is another saying that if you put a frog into hot water it will jump out.  But if you put it into room temperature water then slowly heat the water up, the frog will not notice the slow increase and will eventually get boiled.  We are in a similar situation.  We cannot see how the influences around us control our thinking minds, how this affects or interferes with the dynamics of our attention and how that degrades the body.  Our whole system gradually degrades until we are in a sorry mess.  The solution is to become aware of this whole process.

One of the reasons I love Tai-chi and Zookinesis so much is that it so clearly explains this whole process and gives you a clearly defined, step by step process to use for your training.  There is no mysteriousness.  Yet there is an appreciation for the process and an awe of the process.  It is similar to a car fanatic who loves his cars and knows every detail about how they work.  He will spend an enormous amount of time repairing and improving his cars while people like me would rather just send it to a mechanic and only if it really needs fixing.

This winter solstice is unusual.  It is also the time of the new moon.  The mythological significance of this is that now we look forward to both an ever increasing length of day and an ever increasing brightness of the moon.  This is considered to be the best time to work on any practice that gives you greater awareness (light).  That is the way ancient people understood things.  Our inner world should be in harmony with the dynamics of nature around us.  If we can see, understand and predict the patterns of nature, we will then know when to plant, when to harvest, etc.

If we can see and understand the forces “inside” of us, then our training will be more effective.  Rather than just making the mind more “windy” by repeating clichés to ourselves or trying to discover the “correct” ideas, we can quiet down the wind and perceive our basic nature and how our nature is designed to work in the medium of consciousness.

THE SPIRIT WORLD

The concept of a spirit world, common to almost all pre-industrialized cultures, lies at the heart of developing and learning to use internal energy (“chi”).  Zookinesis explains this concept very simply.  We humans have senses that we do not use anymore.  The way we have been trained to use our attention no longer allows those senses to function. 

If we were to fully develop our attention, all of our senses would work again.  We would then see the world very differently – more fully.  The world we would see once our senses were restored is called “the spirit world”. 

Two of those senses are the sense of internal energy (biological energy) and the sense of the dynamics of attention (how consciousness flows through the body).  The difference between an “internal” martial art and an “external” martial art is the ability to perceive and use these senses. 

Each part of the body becomes more functional, alive, active and yet relaxed.  You can move one small part of your body out of the way of a strike, for example, without moving the entire body.  When you are grappling you can absorb the force of the partner through your body either into the ground or around back into the partner.  Your body is able to absorb, use and transform energy instantaneously. 

In Taoist terms this would be called, “Taoist alchemy”.  To many people Taoist alchemy is known as training to increase longevity or to increase sexual energy.  But its benefits go far beyond these things.

Taoist alchemy restores our biological consciousness which every animal has, while allowing us to retain that special human consciousness we cherish so much.  Early humans developed a way of developing the thinking mind.  “The elements” were a way of categorizing the world they experienced into five distinct groups.  I have written about this in other “weekly lesson” articles.  Our civilization rests on this particular development of the human mind.  And so we divide our world into matter, space, energy, time and consciousness.  We divide our personal lives into our bodies, minds, personal drive or energy (“will”), emotions and again, consciousness.

But in modern times our educational system has concentrated so much on this categorization or thinking process that it has ignored developing other aspects of our human nature or what I would call our “animal nature”.  We pride ourselves in being superior to animals.

But I think we can all agree that something in our civilization is missing.  There is an inner awareness and a deep inner satisfaction with life that seems to have gotten lost.  In my many years of teaching I have found what I feel is the basis of this lost “animal awareness” or animal nature.  It is the fear that if we perceive fully, if we can see the spirit world and function within it, then our thinking abilities will weaken.  There is a deep-seated illusion that full awareness competes with full ability to think clearly.

The root of that illusion is our weak attention.  This is the root of all the problems.  Our attention is just not strong enough to think and to have our bodies function well at the same time.  If we do not maintain an animal awareness in which attention is distributed evenly throughout the body, then attention actually weakens.  When the attention is so concentrated on thinking as it is today, then the rest of you suffers. 

Attention (or consciousness) is experienced (by Tai-chi students) as an energy which flows through each living thing and therefore is connected to all other living things.  By concentrating it in the thinking process you cut attention off from the rest of your body and the rest of nature.  It becomes like a lake, usually fed by a stream that suddenly is cut off from the stream.  It then turns into a smelly swamp.

Attention that is not connected to the rest of nature decays.  Just see what happens when our political leaders think they know so much that they don’t listen to people who disagree with them.  They don’t consider all views and facts.  The result is poor leadership.

On a biological level all our cells and organs need attention flowing through them.  For most people the body is just a big thing below our brains that carries our brains around.  Tai-chi and Zookinesis teaches the harmonious relationship between the thinking process we have developed and the animal consciousness.  The two don’t have to be competing.  They can re-enforce each other.

In the internal martial arts, for example, you need to fill your opponent with your attention so that you feel every action and intention of each of his muscles and joints even before they emanate as a strike.  You flow with the opponent, allowing him to control the movements but you control the relationship between you.  That relationship is that you move away from his incoming force and into his open, unprotected areas.

Internal martial arts training requires that you can perceive the spirit world before you even start to learn the actual martial arts techniques.  If you can’t see inside your own body and that of your opponent, then you have no business even beginning to learn the fighting.

In modern martial arts schools the students want to fight right away and not have to go through any internal changes at all.  “Just show me the techniques”.  Modern martial arts schools (with some exceptions) are all about the techniques and not about the heart of the martial arts. 

Martial arts is a personal path, much like a religion or a philosophy.  The fact that you are learning to punch and kick people is just the method of teaching the path.  You are actually learning about your own desire to be violent, about its roots and about how to resolve those issues.  You are also learning how to see inside the opponent and understand him on an internal level.  While effectively defending yourself you can still remain calm and not have the violent emotions of the opponent duplicate themselves inside of you.  If the opponent has transferred his pattern of violence inside of you then you lose, even if you have won that particular fight.

And that’s how it is in everyday life.  There are many angry people walking around.  Many of my students are doctors.  One told me that many doctors nowadays are “practicing angry”.  This means that patients are angry at doctors and ready to sue them.  Medical insurance companies look for every excuse not to pay the doctor because perhaps, the patient’s name was misspelled on one of the papers.  This makes the doctors angry.

Our culture is a reflection of our nature as individuals.  We put all of our attention into our calculating minds and fear allowing that energy to connect with the rest of our body and the rest of nature.  Then our culture is composed of closed individuals who fear their connections to other people.  We fear being connected, letting our attention, our feelings merge.  Relationships are strained. 

I remember as a child watching situation comedies on television.  They seemed to all be based on the same premise.  The husband and wives conspire against each other to get what they want.  I wondered, “Is this what a relationship should really be about?” 

Have we become a culture of fearful people conspiring against each other to get what we want?  I guess it’s silly to even ask the question.  But is this what you want for yourself?

The martial arts seem to be so much about fearful people conspiring to hit each other to “win over” each other.  Yet, whether an internal or external martial art, this training is supposed to be about self awareness and the ability to live in harmony with other people.  It is really about spiritual development as defined by becoming a fully developed human being.  Your thinking mind must be involved in learning the martial arts but when you spar you use the animal attention. 

When animal attention combines harmoniously with the thinking mind you are in the spirit world and you are fully human.  You can then perceive the energies behind the physical manifestations.  As an example you can feel the dynamics of attention and internal energy that leads to a person’s behavior.  You feel less fearful because you can perceive the origins of a person’s behavior before they manifest physically and you can be ready.  You don’t get taken by surprise.

In Push Hands practice, you begin to neutralize the partner’s incoming force at the exact same time as the force begins to come in to you.  You saw the origins of that force in the preparation of the partner and know what to expect.  Push Hands then takes place in real time.  Yet as a beginner you didn’t realize the force was coming in until it was right on top of you and then it was too late to neutralize it. 

Imagine if you could see things coming at you much earlier and prepare for them.  Many people can do this economically.  They study the economic trends and know that a recession or that good times are around the corner.  They can then prepare for the future.  They use their thinking minds to see into the future.  We can do this with our animal attention as well.

Just for a moment, think of the trends of how the behaviors of people are changing.  Then look into the future.  Are you happy with what you see?  All we can do as individuals is to develop ourselves.  Our nature as individuals can then affect those around us.  Each interaction with another person is a chance to decide the future of our culture.

I always ask myself, “Am I in the spirit world right now?”  Have I let the angers and conflicts of the world around me program my own behavior or do I have some say over my behavior?  The concept of the spirit world helps me to maintain my direction in life.