Archive

Posts Tagged ‘spirit’

RESPECT

The relationship between mind and body should be the same as the relationship between yourself and another person. Each of you wants respect and wants to know the intention of the other. Each wants to maintain its individuality and also its connection to each other. Each wants to enjoy the interaction and benefit from it.

When you gain a skill, you reach a certain point where you have to let the body do the work (in riding a bicycle for example). You trust that the body knows what it is doing without the intervention of the thinking mind. But it is difficult for the thinking mind to let go of control.

It is difficult to accept that another person thinks differently than you. As an example, it is difficult to accept that an aboriginal culture may want to maintain their way of life, with perhaps, just a few well chosen modern advances. If there are “resources” beneath their land (oil, coal, gas for example), it seems to us unreasonable that they don’t allow another culture to come in and tear apart their land to acquire those resources.

As we learn Tai-chi, the mind thinks us through the movements. We remember all the advice from the teacher on proper mechanics. We “push” our bodies through the movements so they are done properly.

But then we learn the push hands exercise, in which there are no pre-set movements (in free-style push hands). The thinking mind could not possible keep track of all the spontaneous movements and be able to respond.

The student has to let go of the absolute control of the thinking mind and trust the creativity of the body. This creates a fear of dissolution in students whose whole identity is centered in the thinking mind. At this point it is important to examine your relationships with other people. Are those relationships based on respect of their individuality and intelligence?

If you can respect that another person can be intelligent and yet disagree with you then you can more easily accept that the body can have an intelligence that is different in its nature than the thinking mind but equally as valid. You might also be willing to accept that the body can be more intelligent than the thinking mind.

To allow the Body-mind to have equal sway in one’s life as the thinking mind is like courtship. You want the other to be part of you but you don’t really know who she or he is at first. Is she intelligent or does she just parrot what she has heard? Is she kind? Will she treat you well? You look for signs within your interactions that will answer these questions. Yet somehow, you know that for better or worse, she is part of you and you cannot grow as a human being without her. You look for ways of working together in harmony.

The point at which the student “allows” Body-mind to be equal in power to Thinking-mind means giving up absolute power. You no longer “shove” the body from move to move but yield to an inner knowing of the form. You find the Body-mind wants to do the form differently than the ideas in your head, and you yield to that. You allow them to be part of you. You actually listen to what they are saying.

More importantly you allow yourself to change, to be affected by the qualities of the consciousness of others. The two lovers grow mentally and emotionally, from knowing each other. Thinking-mind and Body-mind each grow from having to interact with each other.

So respect, a form of yielding, allows growth. Without growth we deteriorate physically, emotionally and spiritually. We engage in battles both within and outside of ourselves.

What is the degree of respect and yielding in our culture today? Are we becoming more rigid or relaxed and fluid? Where are we headed?

There is a Zen saying that “The inside and the outside are made of the same flesh”. I believe that Tai-chi practice can be a great help to our modern world by encouraging respect on all levels.

TAI-CHI HEALING WITH THE ELEMENTS

The modern idea of healing is to cure a disease or injury when it occurs. Tai-chi represents an older, more traditional approach to healing and that is to keep the body healthy so that it can resist disease and injury.

The idea that your body must deteriorate as you age is a modern idea. Those who practice Tai-chi know that you continue to strengthen as you have more years to practice Tai-chi. It is common to see people practicing extreme Tai-chi forms well into their ‘90s.

Tai-chi Tiger Form

If you read this blog you know that Tai-chi training consists of a variety of exercises (forms, chi-gung and push hands) and healing practices (massage, herbal medicine and acupuncture). There are simple principles to all of these practices and they are expressed in the teaching of “the elements”. This set of principles is common throughout the world. A version of “the elements” can be found in Native American, ancient European and other cultures.

There is great variety in how the elements are explained but in the following description I hope to specifically convey the principles of healing.

Earth
Earth is the physical world. It represents how we need to make sense of the world around us by trying to create a coherent story of who we are and what is going on around us. Our society provides this story to us. Within that story we can find ideas that limit us and ideas that free us. The social movements throughout human history are an effort to change the story of the society about who we are and where we came from. They attempt to fashion a story that frees our creativity and allows us to fulfill our potential as human beings.

Earth also represents simplicity. We are encumbered by fears, patterns of habits and tensions, regrets as well as by “stuff” (junk that we buy and don’t need). By simplifying our lives we can remove the ball and chains we are dragging behind us. We can also learn to let go of negative people who are pulling us down and have no intention of really helping themselves to heal.

Earth is also the food that we put inside of our bodies. That food is sacred. When we shovel pre-made, chemically infused who-knows-what into our bodies, we not only injure our health but break the bond between us and the earth. Simply growing some food that you eat repairs that bond. Eating organically, healthy food helps to repair your body.

Earth is the center as our bodies are the center of our consciousness.

We could go on much further about earth, but let us continue to metal.

Metal
Metal is transformation. It is creativity, the ability to allow yourself to change and to see things differently. We take base ore and melt it in heat to extract the metal. In the same way, you (base ore) go through the fire of life and of your training to become the shining pure gold that you are capable of becoming.

And then this metal is turned into useful implements, swords for example. Do you just live your life to take up space or is your life being used to help the world around you? To help heal our world, you must first become transformed in the smelting process and then become fashioned into a healer of some sort. Simply by having been healed, your presence, by example, can help to heal those around you.

Metal is also the element of “animal consciousness”, or the natural “body-mind”. This mind is contrasted to the “clever mind” of modern times. Not that there’s anything wrong with the clever mind – it has produced technology. But the natural mind is the common sense and sensitivity to the natural world that lies at the base of our consciousness. It becomes aware of imbalances in our lives and pushes our behavior to correct those imbalances. In contrast, the “modern mind” seeks the extremes.

When you wake up in the forest and breathe in the beautiful scents, your natural awareness is awakened. Metal is associated with the lungs in Chinese medicine.

Wood
Wood is the element of life itself. It is the way nature unfolds and provides energy to all its creatures to promote the consciousness of metal. It is wood that provides the fuel to transform the metal ore.

Wood is the tree whose branches and leaves reach towards the sun to absorb energy and whose roots reach deep into the soil to absorb water and nutrients. It is an example of the balance of “heaven and earth”.

If you are not rooted well, the events of your life will throw you over easily. To be rooted in an understanding of your personal history and the history of humankind is essential to really know who you are. To be rooted in a love of the natural world and therefore a love of your own health will strengthen your body and soul. To be rooted in your family and community will balance and empower you.

“Heaven” does not refer to the mythological place we go to when we die (if we are good). It refers to yielding to the forces of nature around you so that your life can be lived in harmony with the promotion of the living world. It means accepting that you can become greater than you are now and yielding to teachings of all kinds so you can continue to grow (towards sources of “light” which means knowledge). Wood allows you to become transformed for the better (as it is burned to transform metal ore) while remaining rooted in the real world (earth) so you don’t become an air-head.

A tree provides a home for birds, monkeys, insects and others. It provides food for everyone. It provides the raw material for homes and furniture. It holds the soil to prevent erosion. Wood takes care of the basic needs of life to make our lives easier. Is your life like a tree?

Fire
Fire is the energy of enthusiasm. When you let go of the encumbrances of life, the bitterness, resentments, self-righteousness and anger and learn to appreciate the simple, sacred beauty of the world around you (natural and human), they you can be enthusiastic about life. That enthusiasm goes a long way to healing you and it can be considered to be the result of healing.

Fire is what gets you up in the morning because you love your life and want to live it. It is the heat in relationships that makes you want to interact with other people. Yet it is earth that moderates that heat so you don’t become too aggressive. In this way the elements balance each other and the job of the healer is to find out which element is too strong or too weak. It is the balance that leads to health.

Fire gets you involved in practices like Tai-chi because you appreciate the beauty of the teaching. In this way it transforms you as fire transforms metal ore. Fire is the movement of the exercises, like the dancing flames of the campfire or fireplace.

Fire is the energy flowing through your body when you release the blockages to the flow of chi or when you let go of sorrow. When your muscles let go of their tension through Tai-chi Massage, you feel energy flowing through your body. While you feel very relaxed, you also feel cleansed and energized. Fire has burned up the fear stored in the muscles and released the energy.

Water
Water connects. It is love and compassion. It is the end of the feeling of isolation so that your spirit can “enter the world” and become part of it. Yet it is balanced with earth, which establishes clear distinctions and boundaries, so that we don’t lose our individual identity.

In any relationship there is the fear of losing oneself, yet the desire to lose oneself in the relationship. The balance of water and earth allows both to happen.

Water cleanses. When you release sorrow or physical tension and feel a rush of energy through your body, the element of water then cleans out the debris (like tears cleaning out sorrow). The body is mostly made of water. The lymph cleans out lactic acid and carbon dioxide from cellular metabolism. The intercellular fluid transfers nutrients and oxygen from the blood vessels to the cells.

Yet these fluids have no pump other than the movements of the body. Each muscle of the body must be used, in fluid movement, in order to move the lymph and intercellular fluid. Otherwise the nutrients and oxygen won’t get to the cells to be metabolized and the cells will be bathed in waste. Your food will wind up as fat and you will be tired because your cells are not metabolizing well.

Water conforms to the shape of the container. It is what allows us to be “invisible” during push hands or fighting because we flow with the movements of our partner. It is the principle of not opposing force but flowing around it to continue to come in and accomplish our task.

Water is strategy as it is so adaptable. It allows us to “shed” our fixed patterns and become more creative. This is called “shape shifting” in some cultures. We identify more with our creativity than with our fixed patterns of behavior and thought.

Meaning of the Elements
This is just a hint of the levels of meaning of the elements, their interactions and use in Chinese Traditional Medical Theory. It is a holistic approach in that it considers the body, mind and spirit and the relationship of all aspects of our lives. Each element is associated with a season, a direction, a color, an organ-system, etc.

And so you can discuss the elements in diagnosing an ailment as well as in how you live your life. It is a set of principles based on balance that is useful in every aspect of your life. The way that most people start to learn this system is through Tai-chi practice. The teacher explains how the elements are used to explain aspects of the movements of your Tai-chi form, chi-gung exercises, push hands, massage and, if you go further, the self defense.

This training strengthens each individual from the inside out. It strengthens not only their bodies but their lives as well, allowing them to live full, productive, long and fulfilling lives.

SACRED AMERICAN INDIAN SWEAT LODGE CEREMONY

Bill Elwell

On our youtube channel “zookinesis49” I have a sample video of the “Native American Sacred Sweat Lodge Ceremony”. Several comments by Native Americans have expressed the view that this ceremony is only for Native Americans and other races should not be allowed to participate in this ceremony. This is my response to those comments.

I am a teacher of Tai-chi-Chuan. In my efforts to become a better teacher of this system I spent many years studying the teaching methods of traditional cultures. Each of these teaching methods had a common goal – to help the student become more aware of the world of spirit both within him/her and in the world as a whole. Each taught how to participate in the common spirit of humanity, with its many expressions.

While my goal was to specifically teach Tai-chi I realized that the other cultures I experienced had the same goal, although at the surface the paths to getting there were very different. Even different Tai-chi teachers have very different ways of expressing the same principles.

When you become more aware of your spiritual nature, you become more aware of the common bond of all humanity on that level. You tend to become more open to and appreciate the diversity of humanity. Anger towards those who express their humanity in different ways seems ridiculous.

There is a tendency in Tai-chi to just memorize forms or push hands techniques rather than to understand the underlying principles. In other cultures there is the tendency to emphasize the mechanics of a ceremony rather than the underlying spirit. (Not to say this is necessarily the case with those commenting on the Sweat Lodge video).

I understand the desire (and need) to maintain the individuality of one’s culture and the pride in one’s culture, but at some point, doesn’t the awareness of the common spirit of all people play a part in the practices?

Everyone who practices Tai-chi understands that it is of Chinese origin. No one thinks they are going to become Chinese by practicing Tai-chi. But people are attracted to this method for improving their health, their spiritual awareness and yes, their self defense. I don’t know of any Chinese person who says that only Chinese should be practicing Tai-chi.

When my Jewish family and friends have our Passover ceremonies, we welcome anyone to the ceremony. We don’t expect them to become Jewish but are happy just to share the tradition with others. Their participation increases our pride.

Both Native Americans and Jews faced a holocaust (although the Native Americans lost so many more millions) and I remember the anger my parents had towards the German people. But should a person of German descent want to participate in the Passover they would be judged as individuals – not on the basis of their background.

The teacher on the Sweat Lodge video is a close friend of mine of Indian background who loves his tradition so much that he shares it with others. His behavior is not guided by anger but by love and I believe that he has truly learned to express the principles of his Indian heritage in his everyday life.

Certainly those who have known him and who have joined him in his tradition have benefited greatly. Some have been “stopped in their tracks” in the sense that they have suddenly understood how our society’s way of conflict and aggression have affected their lives. And their lives have changed for the better.

Bill Elwell teaches with gentleness and humor. There is no pretense in any bone in his body. There is no reason to be angry with him.

Certainly most cultures in the world have experienced violence against them and it is anger that perpetuates the violent feelings, if not the violence itself.

Can we remember the common humanity that each tradition tries to teach us and not turn each tradition into another reason to separate ourselves from that common bond? There can be diversity AND unity.

I would suggest that the central conflict in our society is not between the many cultures, but between those who would destroy the earth for their individual profit and those who would protect the earth for all creatures. It is not so much about protecting tradition against “outsiders” but of all people protecting nature. If we fight each other and hide our wisdom from each other, how are we to have the wisdom and strength to protect the earth?

Many conflicts between cultures can be traced to small groups of people who profit off of that conflict. Let us not fall prey to that game! It is common, when an outsider visits a village, to “break bread” with that person; to offer them some of your food. Is the sharing of a ceremony any different?

When I approach a person I am looking for the qualities of his humanness. Is he nasty and violent or is he kind and relaxed? Is he comfortable with himself or is he filled with unease? If he is a beautiful human being I want to know him and will enjoy spending time with him.

When I see a ceremony I look for the same things. If it is a beautiful ceremony, expressing the best of the human spirit, I want to spend time with it. I don’t view a ceremony as a roll of money, to be hidden and kept away from others lest it be stolen. Its value to me is in what it expresses and how it leads us to our own humanity.

To those who have made comments on the Sweat Lodge video on youtube – do your practices lead you to your own humanity and to the connection of your humanity to our common bond?

CHI MEDITATIONS

Breathe in and ignite the sun within your belly.
Breathe out to release its rays to join the sun in the sky and the earth below.
Center your breath and relax your body to the four directions.

Expect to receive energy from everything you see and feel.
Leave space inside of you for that energy to move.
Allow the energy to continue on in its journey.

MELTING THE FROZEN MIND AND BODY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CIRCLE OF LIFE

In many cultures the circle is a symbol of power.  The circle can represent seniors giving their lifetime of knowledge, wisdom and skills, back to the next generation.  In our culture, the emphasis is on constant change, and the knowledge and skills of the past are not as valued as they used to be. 

The circle also represents the constant renewal of the life-giving properties of nature.  The ceremonies of many cultures welcomed each new season and celebrated the cooperation of human and nature.  Imagine spending time welcoming each new day and each new season, rather than plunging headlong towards each year’s vacation or towards retirement.  Celebration of the cycles of nature becomes an important part of the culture, as important as inventing faster computers and new cell phones is in our society. 

I think we have all noticed that in one generation, people have become faster, louder, more frantic and less fulfilled.  While we are told that fulfillment depends mainly on improving the economy and inventing even faster and more powerful equipment, we can also examine how repairing the cycles in our lives plays a part in our psychological and physical health. 

One of the purposes of the Tai-chi forms is to allow the body to move in smooth, unbroken circles.  This heals the “rush, rush, rush” modern attitude, and allows us to feel comfortable and relaxed in our bodies.  I have noticed, in my years of teaching Tai-chi, that most people do not feel comfortable in their bodies.  When you do not feel comfortable in your body, you do not feel comfortable among other people.  You feel unsettled and not centered. 

The smooth, flowing Tai-chi form also heals the attitude that life consists of always rushing to finish the next project.  We have to run faster and faster, to get more and more done, so we can be happy at some unknown time in the future.  The form gives us a few minutes each day to just be relaxed, happy and content in the beautiful feelings of the body, mind and emotions flowing with the cycles of nature.

In a society dedicated not to the cycles of nature, but to constant rushing, the form, or the Zookinesis exercises (or whatever similar practice you are involved in) becomes the daily ceremony reminding you that everything is alright because you are always part of nature.  It reminds you that the ancient wisdom of our connection to nature is still relevant and in fact, is vital to our physical and psychological survival.  By keeping you healthy in many ways, these exercises keep the circle unbroken.  They remind us that it is often the simplest things in life that are the most fulfilling.

WELCOME THE DRAGON OF FEAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RE-DISCOVER YOUR DREAM

When I first began studying Tai-chi and Zookinesis, the 1960’s were in full bloom.  The theme of the times was to try something new.  The music, Eastern traditions such as Tai-chi, exploring space, love-ins and all of the social movements gave us hope that a new world was about to emerge.  There was an energy among people, a concept that we could and should create our world rather than just complain about it. 

It may seem that we are now back to the “grind” and the 1960’s is long dead.  Yet there were hundreds of thousands of people who sought to retain that creative energy throughout their lives.  I have met many people who, each in their own way, try to bring that peaceful, creative energy into their communities. 

Yet there is no getting away from the fact that the theme of our times is survival.  It feels as though time, money, energy and creativity are in short supply.  Is it possible for people who lived through those times to bring back the excitement, the vigor of their youth?

According to Zookinesis principles, creativity is the most important factor in reviving our health and energy.  When you are involved in the creative process, something you are excited about, energy somehow comes to you and you forget about all the aches and pains. 

Your creative energy and your renewed enthusiasm for life then charges up people around you and ignites their creative energy.  It doesn’t matter if you paint, write, do Tai-chi, play music, etc.  Bringing a creative activity into your life, if even for a short amount of time per week, is very healing for yourself and your community. 

More than fifteen years ago I wrote a novel about my experiences travelling in the jungles of Central America and never got around to writing the last chapter.  So there it sat.  I recently completed “The Doubting Snake”, re-doing some of the novel based on my last fifteen years of teaching experience.  It has done wonders for my attitude and feeling of health. 

Have you stopped doing something creative because you “didn’t have time” or because you think you lost your skill?  Some people have the idea that if they cannot be great at what they do, they shouldn’t do it.  They tie control over their lives to other peoples’ opinions (or the expectation of their opinions).  We pay people to make music for us.  We pay people to play sports for us.  Music and sports were invented for everyone.  They are not a contest but part of the enjoyment of life. 

I believe that as a society, we have forgotten this.  We have, to a large extent, become parts of a machine and not part of the energy of creativity that is the basis of life itself.  We are, like the star trek “Borg”, part human and part machine.  The question is, are we becoming more machine or more human.  This is a choice each of us can make.  We can make it every day and every week. 

Dobby Gillis, in the “Dobby Gillis Show” (many years ago) once said, “Have a dream and live it.”  Are you living your dream or have you forgotten what it even was?

“The Doubting Snake” is about the re-discovery of your dreams.  I have found that just by remembering your dreams, you can bring new energy into your life. 

Why not spend just a half hour a week doing something you would never have considered, something from your dreams long past, something positive and creative?

ESCAPING FROM OUR CAGE

The source of joy in our lives does not come from external circumstances but from our internal state, according to Tai-chi and Zookinesis principles.  We have created our own cage of fears and assumptions that blocks us from our full share of joy in life.  Through proper training you find that there are areas of the body that are dead to your awareness.  The body seems dull and clumsy rather than a finely tuned, intricate mechanism.  Your attention seems sluggish and small rather than expansive, detailed and agile.

Proper training in these disciplines begins with bringing the body and attention (consciousness) back to its original vibrant and powerful state.  You first learn to be aware of every muscle and joint in the body, how each feels and how each works.  Students find that they are using far too much effort and movement to accomplish their tasks such as the Zookinesis exercises or Tai-chi forms. 

As an example, self defense students usually respond to the opponent’s strike by trying to block the strike out of their way.  This requires the force of their own arm and results in their arm knocking into the striking arm of their opponent and getting bruised.  Through proper training the student learns to duck away from the strike and deliver their own strike into the opponent’s unprotected areas. 

He can also lightly touch the incoming strike, adding more momentum to it by pulling the striking arm in the direction it is already going.  This throws the opponent off balance.  The student can then easily throw the opponent to the ground or strike him.  In either case you are using far less effort and energy than blocking. 

In the Push Hands exercise, described in many of the articles below, the goal is to push the partner off balance while maintaining your own stance.  Beginning students tighten their shoulders, raise their bodies and push with their arms.  This is very ineffective yet it makes them feel strong.  They feel their own tightness and think they are strong. 

Soon they learn to sink their bodies, relax their shoulders and use their legs and hips to power the push.  The arms become like shock absorbers, remaining slightly firm and springy.  Yet the arms themselves do not push.  The power of the push comes from the action of the whole body.  The result is a lot more power and a lot less effort.

These physical examples are used to illustrate the types of situations that each of us face in everyday life.  Few of us get involved in the martial arts or will even encounter a physical conflict.  Yet how many of us can avoid the daily psychological stresses in our jobs and family lives?

By practicing how to deal with physical conflict in a controlled setting such as a Tai-chi class, we can apply the principles you learn to these everyday situations.  You learn to remain relaxed yet powerful.

As an example, notice how your shoulders rise and tense up during the day.  First notice the feeling of the shoulders when you first wake up and then after you come home from work.  There is no physiological benefit to tensing up the shoulders.  In fact this can lead to headaches, tiredness and add to depression.  It is just a habit.  You can’t punch someone who is giving you a hard time and so the tension builds up inside of you. 

Many people say that they just can’t help it.  But through Tai-chi and Zookinesis training you discover the very psychological mechanism that makes you tense up.  You uncover the internal “control panel” for bad habits and learn to turn them off. 

You must be willing to change.  Many of us feel that we are our habits.  We resent the idea of changing.  Yet these habits will kill us.  In a sense, we identify with these “angels of death” as if they were the basis of our identity. 

With proper Tai-chi and Zookinesis training we learn to identify with our creativity, our health and our feeling of joy.  We feel as comfortable letting go of destructive habits as we would letting to of a “hot potato”. 

As our bodies and our attention (consciousness) become more relaxed, powerful and joyful, this inner state affects our emotions as well.  We find that the aggravations and angers we previously had were not effective in improving our lives.  In fact they only served to hurt our bodies, minds and spirits. 

While it is difficult to let go of our self righteousness (because we feel that we are the perfect example of all that is right), this feeling seems silly after awhile.  After examining all our faults – our tensions and poor mechanics of the body and mind – we can hardly fault others for the same problems.  We understand the problems within ourselves and can better empathize with these same problems in other people.

Yet we can only work to improve ourselves.  Complaining to others about their problems is useless.  If you clear out your own problems you can serve as an example to others without lecturing and complaining. 

There is so much beauty in the world and there is so little time to experience it.  Why orient your attention to anything other than that beauty.  You start by clearing out the debris in your own internal state to reveal the beauty that is already there.  The sun “wants” to come in through your windows.  All you need to do is keep the windows clean.  Tai-chi and Zookinesis exercises fine tune our internal state so that the beauty of nature can always shine through.

It is amazing how, just by learning not to tense up in reaction to external circumstances, our lives can change so much for the better.  By loosening up all our joints and allowing our bodies to become flexible, we can overcome depression.  Such negative emotional states are a reflection of the internal state of the body and the attention.  Attention is a biological state of complete awareness so that every cell, muscle, bone and organ of the body feels fully alive and you feel connected to the rest of nature. 

The internal disciplines evolved during the time that people moved from living in nature to living in artificial surroundings such as cities.  Our natural biological state was being caged by the physical and cultural surroundings.  

Tai-chi and Zookinesis helped people to live in such artificial conditions and yet retain their original natural power and joy.  Remember that even though there is cement beneath your feet, there is living earth under that.  We cannot let the concrete beneath us and the square walls around us imprint their artificiality on our spirits.  Whether our spirits are caged or free is a choice each of can make, as long as we have the tools to remain free.

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.