Archive

Archive for June, 2011

THE ILLUSION OF PHYSICAL PAIN

One of my students was in such agony from a punch to his shoulder that he had to sit down, shaking his head from side to side.  Yet I only gave him a light tap.  The reason that he felt the light tap as a powerful blow gives an important clue to Tai-chi as a martial art and as a healing art. 

I struck him at the moment he was about to punch me.  At that instant his attention condensed into his punching arm.  By striking the area where his attention was condensed, I shattered the attention.  Only a light tap was necessary to disrupt the attention because his attention was so condensed.

The instant shattering of a condensed attention is so disruptive that people usually interpret the experience as physical pain.  Yet when my student actually thought about whether his shoulder really hurt or not, he realized that, not only didn’t it really hurt much, but it didn’t hurt at all.  There was no real physical pain.  It was all psychological pain interpreted as physical pain.

In our culture, we are taught to condense our attention into a single point in the head. This is because our eyes are on our head and we are so visually oriented.  When our attention is locked into one part of the body or into a habit of thinking or acting, the attention is not really functional. 

One of the main reasons Tai-chi trains you to be fluid in your movements is to develop a fluid attention as well – one that can move, vary in its qualities and dynamics.  This is essential in fighting but also in living one’s everyday life.  The more rigid you are, the less functional you are and the more easily your attention can be worn out or broken.

When practicing a Tai-chi form, allow your attention to sink down into the ground, as if you are a lotus plant, floating in a pond with your roots deep into the mud below.  As you breathe in, your attention flows up through your stem (up the body) and into the lotus flower, which is within the chest at the sternum (breastbone) level.  Continuing to breathe in, the lotus flower opens and so the front of your body flows up and then opens out to the sides, like an opening flower.

The opening flower then lifts your head which is the center petals of the lotus.  Breathing out, the front of the body sinks, the sides of the chest drops to the center and your attention returns to your roots.

 This process will bring fluidity to your attention so that it can never be frozen again.  Frozen attention makes you vulnerable and ineffective.  As the reality of life tugs at your attention and your attention resists the tugs, life seems like a struggle.  You feel as if you are at your “wit’s end” because the requirements of the dynamic mobility of your attention is greater than its actual abilities. 

Once attention is freed from its rigidity it instantly has all the energy it needs.  It becomes more balanced and easier to move – just like the needle of a compass.  The needle is so balanced that it can spin around easily.  But if you move its fulcrum even a tiny bit, the needle will fall over and not move at all. 

Breathing as if you are a lotus flower is a very valuable form of meditation even while standing still (as long as you allow your body to sink down and expand upward as described above).  As we get older there is a tendency for our attention to condense (yin condition).  The lotus flower meditation helps to prevent this aging process. 

Remember that what you may interpret as frustration, anger and even physical pain, may just be the result of a rigid attention which not up to the task of functioning properly in our complex modern world.  My student could barely stand up at first because of the “pain” he was experiencing until he realized that it wasn’t pain at all but rather, the shock of a suddenly opened attention.

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?

BATTLE OF THE TIGER AND DRAGON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO KEEP YOUR SKIN YOUNG

Healthy skin is an important part of staying young and avoiding the normal process of aging.  The ancient Chinese Taoist healing systems describe a secret training specifically used to keep the skin young.  It is an important part of Tai-chi and Zookinesis training.  Since lung tissue originated from skin tissue in fetal development, proper breathing is essential for healthy skin. 

The dynamics of the transition between the in-breath and out-breath are considered to be especially effective in preserving young skin.  I will describe this training below in a way that anyone can practice on their own.  A full program of rejuvenating the skin would also include a special type of massage I call “Zookinesis Massage” or “Tai-chi Massage”.

Following are some simple descriptions about use of breath to rejuvenate and preserve the skin.  You would practice this breathing for five minutes at a time, twice a day.  These suggestions assume a basic training in Tai-chi and its principles.  In Zookinesis training, this is called “Dragon Breathing”.  Mythology is used to describe internal processes.

1. As you breathe in, bring your attention to the inside of your whole skin, as if your skin was a balloon and the incoming air fills the balloon evenly.

2. At the uppermost point of the in-breath, prepare to breathe out by relaxing all the muscles of the body (especially the back). 

3. Just before actually breathing out, take one extra in-breath very quickly and then breathe out.  Even though you think you have breathed in completely, there should be a little more space in the lungs to get that extra breath in.  The extra in-breath comes as you are relaxing the muscles of the body.

4. Then breathe out slowly and continue to relax the body.

5. Take one normal breath in between each “Dragon Breath”.

6. Just before breathing back in for the new “Dragon Breath”, relax the bottoms of the feet, the lower back and the glute (butt) muscles as well as the back of the head.

Pointers:

It is important to relax all the muscle of the body near the surface of the skin as you are finishing the in-breath and are about to breathe out.  This includes the skin all around the head (especially the top of the head) and neck, your back and front of the body.

As you are about to breathe out you should feel as though energy from your surroundings are falling back into the center of your body and then down into the earth. 

When you are about to breathe in, fill the lower part of the lungs first.  Your belly and lower back will expand.  Then fill in the middle and upper part of the lungs.  Fill the back of the lungs as well as the front so that the whole torso expands.

This process will bring energy (“chi”) up from the earth, through your body and out the skin.  It is very important to allow this feeling of energy to move through the skin as you take that extra breath.  Release the energy that has moved through the skin.  Let it go! 

The energy that remains within the body will then sink back into you and down into the earth as you breathe out.  This in turn, will draw more energy into your body from the environment

This movement of energy through the skin keeps it refreshed and energized. 

This process is called the “Dragon’s Breath” because when you transition between the in-breath and out-breath, the relaxation of the muscles causes a feeling of the breath “igniting”.  You feel instantly supercharged.  This is why you must take a normal breath in between the “Dragon Breaths”.  The normal breath calms the energy.  Going from charging the breath to relaxing the breath is an important component of this training.

When you are receiving Tai-chi Massage you are practicing this breathing.  The masseur paces his massage according to your breathing.  This allows the flow of energy in and out of the body to penetrate all the body’s tissues, reversing the aging process throughout the body.  It greatly magnifies the effect of the “Dragon Breathing” to reverse the aging process of the skin.

Another effect of these practices is that the eyes become bright and energized.  You can see the vibrant energy in the eyes of a person involved in this training.  It creates a feeling of emotional calm yet an energized, positive outlook on life.

Dragon breathing is easy to learn and takes very little time to practice. It is also a safe practice.  Before you begin this practice, feel the quality of your skin.  Then feel your skin again every month to notice the improvement.  Also pay attention to the improvement in your attitude, your energy levels – your general outlook on life. It is sometimes hard to remember what you used to feel like before this training

PUSH HANDS AS CHI-GUNG

Push Hands is the most effective way to get in touch with the inner workings of your body, to learn to perceive and use internal energy, to perceive the dynamics of consciousness itself and to unite mind and body into a powerful and efficient system.  The original type of Push Hands exercise was a type of two person chi-gung. I list below some of the Push Hands principles for those who want to use their practice to develop internally.  These points will be especially meaningful to those who already practice Push Hands.  For those who have not yet learned this wonderful exercise, this will give you some insight into its flavor.

The exercise begins with the two partners facing each other with one foot forward.  Their forward feet are right next to each other.  Their arms are connected and the goal is to push each other over.

1. Aligning Heaven and Earth.  The earth is solid.  Heaven is gaseous.  Align the body in such a way that all of your weight sinks into the earth.  The legs are heavy with weight and the top of the body is very light.  The hips are in-between so they feel rubbery.  The hips connect the lightness on top to the heaviness on bottom.  There is a tendency, when force is applied to you, to tense up on top, bringing your weight upwards.  Think of yourself as a pyramid.  You have a wide base on bottom.  Your head is like the point of the pyramid.  When someone pushes you on top, your chest for example, they feel that there is nothing there; that most of you is underneath their push.

2. Connective Tissue.  Absorb their push into your connective tissue (ligaments and tendons and fascia).  Think of yourself as the bowstring of a bow.  The bow itself is between you and your partner.  When your partner pushes, he is pushing back the bowstring.  You then release that stored force from your center (your tan-tien) as the bowstring releases, (adding your own internal energy and the force from your legs and hips).  This is just like an arrow shooting out from the center of the bow.  Remember that the bow itself (the structure of your body) must remain firm.  The bowstring (your connective tissue, ligaments and tendons) is all that bends.  It is also important that all of the connective tissue of your whole body bends equally, just as the bowstring bends equally throughout its length.  As to how to direct the partner’s force to just these tissues of the body, a competent teacher is necessary to help you learn this principle.

3. No Telegraphing. When you are about to push, don’t telegraph your intentions.  This means that you don’t raise up your force to your upper body as if to say, “I am about to push you.”  There is a psychological impulse to prepare for the push.  You must remain in an aligned position throughout the Push Hands so that you can push at any moment from where you are.  Needing to prepare for the push means that you are not aligned at that moment.

4. Notice Telegraphing.  Watch for this telegraphing activity in your partner.  As soon as he prepares to push, push him at the moment of preparation.  His force will be top heavy at that moment and he will be easy to push.

5. Don’t Resist.  Don’t tighten up if you feel your partner is about to successfully push you.  It is better to get pushed than to tighten.  The whole point of this exercise is to learn to remain relaxed, to neutralize the opponent’s force through relaxation and to issue your own force with a relaxed mind and body.  You are only cheating yourself if you tense up to avoid getting pushed because you will never learn real Push Hands.

6. All Force is Your Force.  Don’t think of the force of your partner as “his force” pushing against you.  Accept all force as part of your own energetic system and realign your body to distribute that force equally throughout your body.  If you remain even in this way at every moment, his force will have no effect.  You are like the ringmaster of a circus.  You are coordinating all the acts so the show runs smoothly.  Similarly, coordinate all the forces you feel (gravity, momentum, the partner’s force etc.) so that nothing gets jammed up.  Don’t think of the partner’s force as an attack but just as force that needs to be aligned and balanced within your energy system.

When you do any chi-gung exercise it is important to balance the chi, not only within your body but with the chi of your environment as well.  It is dangerous to hold chi just within your body and isolate it from the environment.  Push Hands teaches you the importance of balancing your internal forces with outside forces. 

7. Use of the Joints.  Receive your partner’s force within all your joints as well.  Don’t deal with his force as one attack but absorb the force into all of the joints of your body.  In this way each joint will be dealing with only a tiny fraction of the original whole force.  That will be much easier to deal with.  When your joints and the connective tissue, ligaments and tendons are all dealing with his force, what seemed like a powerful push now seems like a bunch of tiny pushes that are easy to neutralize.

8. The Floor is Under You.  When you push, there is a tendency to freeze part of your body (usually your back) to serve as a solid floor from which to push.  Your back should remain relaxed and flexible.  Use the real floor itself as your ground.  Position yourself as a wedge between your partner and the floor with no frozen part of the body in between.  There is also a tendency to freeze your attention in order to push.  This is a difficult issue to learn about on your own and requires a competent teacher.  Buddhists call this “the round of birth and death” (of the attention).  It is similar to the issue of “telegraphing” (#3 above).  You feel you must solidify your attention in order to act.  Push Hands teaches you to maintain the fluidity of your body and of your attention at all times and to use the solidity of the ground beneath you.

9. Remain Stable.  Don’t lean on the partner.  If you try to thrust your weight into the partner, he will just turn to the side and you will fall down.  Always remain stable within yourself.  The applications to everyday life are obvious.  Force issues from the ground up with the sequential expansion of each joint.  In this way the force moves in an upward and forward direction, uprooting the partner.

10. The Tan-tien is the Top of Your Force.  As the force issues from the ground upward, it moves into the Tan-tien (just below the navel in the center of the body) then out to your pushing elbow and into the partner.  You force should never rise above elbow level.

11.  Yin and Yang.  The Yang part of the body is the back and the outside of the legs and arms.  The Yin part is the front and the inside of the legs and arms.  Yang force can only move through the Yin parts of the body.  Imagine a ceramic water pipe.  The ceramic is the Yang part, the structure of the pipe.  The empty space inside is the Yin part.  Water can only flow through the empty space, not the ceramic.  Your pushing force should only move through the front of the body and the inside of the arms and legs. 

12.  Breathing.  It is common to breathe out when pushing.  I teach that you should breathe in.  Imagine that you are a balloon.  When you breathe in the balloon expands, pushing the partner.  Try sitting down in a chair and then standing up.  When you sit and relax, you tend to breathe out.  When you stand and are ready for activity you tend to breathe in.  Breathing in is active and breathing out is passive. 

It is important to breathe into the lower abdomen only and not into the upper chest.  Breathing into the upper chest will bring your force upward and it should rather go forward and outward.  Breathe equally into the belly and the lower back so that the whole center of the body expands.  Remember that a balloon expands spherically.  In this way you will not need to tense your back.  The breath will provide the solidity.  This is why breath is called “the soft bones”.  Breath provides solidity so that the body can remain relaxed.

13.  Maintain Your Connection.  Make sure that the connection with your partner through your arms and hands remains steady.  Keep that pressure constant even though the pressure should only be “four ounces”.  You may have a partner who is extremely tense.  In that case the pressure should be four ounces lighter or heavier than his, depending on whether you want to lead him into you or away from you. 

14.  Control from Your Center.  Lead your partner into your center.  From there you can make slight adjustments in the angle of your hips to lead him off balance.  If his force is connected to your center then you are controlling the action from the center of your body.  Imagine you are picking up a heavy metal pipe.  If you pick it up from one end, it seems heavy.  Pick it up from the center and it seems light because it is balanced. 

When you connect the partner’s force to your center and work from there, you need much less effort and movement. 

15.  Eyes in the Belly.  There is a tendency to “view” the interaction from the head because that is where the eyes are.  I teach that Push Hands should be done with closed eyes so that you are concentrating on the feel rather than the sight of the interaction.  This also allows you to center your attention in your belly rather than keeping it in the head.  Once your attention is centered, the whole body will become centered.

These are some principles you can bring into your Push Hands practice to make it a form of chi-gung rather than a pushing and shoving contest.  When it is done properly, Push Hands can easily take care of the “pushers and shovers”. More importantly, it can be a great tool for healing and learning to live your life more effectively.  (See our “Push Hands – the Heart of Tai-chi Training” dvd).

HOW CHI-GUNG WORKS

Chi-gung (Qigong) by the stream.

Chi-gung (Qigong) by the stream.

Chi-Gung is a type of Tai-chi exercise that heals the body by strengthening the flow of internal energy (“chi”).  It is important to appreciate the way chi-gung works in order to practice it properly.  We see examples of the energizing force of nature when we see flowers turn to and reach towards the sun as the morning warms up.  The flower “knows” that the sun is its source of energy.  “Reaching” for the sun is a large part of what allows it to grow.  We know of course that reaching for the sun is a chemical process and can be explained on that level.

We can use this example of a flower to better understand the training of chi-gung.  Your mind (attention, consciousness) can be likened to the sun.  Your body can be likened to the flower, let’s say a tulip.  When we see a bunch of tulips, all opening up and reaching for the sun in the morning, we can imagine each tulip as a part of the body.

When you pay attention to a part of your body in your practice, that part will naturally “reach” for your attention.  Attention and the physical body are naturally attracted towards each other.  In a natural state they are completely integrated with each other but in our modern world our minds are focused on our thinking mechanism.  This is so much the case that the terms “mind” and “thinking” are synonymous.  We can hardly imagine the mind doing anything other than thinking.   

We have withdrawn our attention from the body so that almost all of it can be used in the thinking process.  But the body longs for attention, which is a form of energy, just as the tulip “longs” for the sun.  Without the sun the tulip will wither and die.  Without the energy of attention the body will degenerate.  When we practice any form of chi-gung you are called upon to pay attention to each part of the body, to release any excess tension there and to allow the body to expand with the in-breath and relax with the out-breath. 

Your attention is not fixed in the head or in the thinking process but rises and fills the body with the in-breath and settles into the ground and condenses with the out-breath, creating an ebb and flow like the tides of the oceans.  This releases your attention (your mind) from a fixed position in the body (your head) and from a fixed process (thinking).  Now attention becomes fluid, functional and connected to all parts of the body. 

At the point when your attention meets a part of the body you breathe in, that part opens and stretches, just like the tulip, and the body receives the energy of attention.  When you breathe out, that part of the body relaxes.

There are yet greater sources of energy than your own attention.  There is the chi of the whole flow of nature.  As each part of the body reaches for your attention, it also reaches for this greater flow of energy.

In the chi-gung practice of Zookinesis we are taught that when the body opens up to your own attention, this also allows the body to receive the greater flow of energy from nature.  You are breathing in, expanding the part or parts of the body you are working with and bringing your attention to that part of the body.  When your attention is no longer locked up in your head, but releases and flows to that part of the body, you will feel a greater source of energy that comes flowing in and energizes both your body and mind.  You then feel connected to all of nature. 

This is not a mysterious process but a natural, biological process.  It is our natural, healthy state. 

When your mind and body are connected and the chi energy of nature is allowed to flow, your mind and body start to heal on all levels.  It will heal physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. 

You may have heard that practicing chi-gung by yourself or with an inexperienced teacher can actually lead to internal damage.  The main reason for this is the apparent lack of understanding of the dynamics of attention.

There are two basic modes of your attention – yin and yang attention.  Yang attention happens when you forcefully push your attention towards part of the body.  In yin attention you allow your attention to settle and to be absorbed by that part of the body.  This is an important distinction though it often takes many years of practice to fully appreciate the difference. 

In our culture we almost exclusively use yang attention, except perhaps, when we listen to music.  We allow music to take our attention away.  We willingly let our attention travel on the magic carpet ride of music because we know how good it makes us feel. 

When we pay attention to a part of the body in our chi-gung practice we need to use yin attention. As the body opens on the in-breath it will pull on energy within your body, trying to absorb it.  This will create a movement of energy towards that part of the body.  Allow your attention to settle into that flow of energy, merge with it and be pulled into the body. 

At first the student hears these instructions but can’t make sense of them.  He or she has to be led step by step through a series of internal experiences.  This gradually builds up a feeling “picture” of what is going inside the body.  The teacher explains the principles of chi-gung and what these inner body feelings are according to those principles.  A whole new world opens up for the student as he realizes that the quality of his internal world directly affects how he interacts with the external world.  In this way, chi-gung can greatly improve his everyday life.

Students often fear the fluidity of the attention.  They feel it is like a loss of control of their fixed-pointed minds.  This is why chi-gung practice is slow and gradual and connected with physical movement.  The movement exercises allow you to retain the feeling of control while allowing your attention to become fluid. 

There is also a fear of the greater flow of the chi energy of nature. You may fear losing control when you experience a force greater than yourself. When you realize that this energy is healing in nature, that it connects you with the flow of all life on this planet, you can lose your fear. 

This greater connection to life is physically felt in a very concrete way.  When you feel it you immediately remember having experienced this state of being, even if it has been many years since you felt it last (perhaps as an infant). 

You must then end the conflict between the fixed-pointed, thinking mind and the mind that is connected to the body.  These are not really two separate minds but are two ways in which the mind can work.  Your body obviously continues to work while you are thinking.  The blood doesn’t suddenly stop flowing.  Yet your thoughts can influence the health of your body.  In many disciplines the emphasis is on thinking the “right” thoughts to keep you healthy such as in the many “positive thinking” teachings.

With chi-gung, the emphasis is on allowing the thinking mind to think and allowing the rest of the mind (the “Body-Mind”) to work properly.  We can allow our attention to completely fill the body while at the same time allow it to fill the thinking process.  If the attention is fluid it can operate in many ways at the same time.  If it is fixed-pointed it can only operate well in one mode.  It is only the fixed-pointed mind that hurts the body by pulling the energy of attention away from the body.

When the body is filled with the energy of your attention and of chi from nature, it grows strong and healthy.  You feel that you are part of the whole world and no longer isolated.  Your body is no longer a big lump “down there”, carrying around your brain, but it feels like a vibrant, energized, alive being which it truly is.

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.

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.

MEDITATION

The process of meditation returns us to our natural state.  Our culture and our own minds have weaved many tales of who we are, where we came from and how we must conduct our lives.  Yet within us, there is a direct experience of our biological nature.  There is also an experience of our connection to the rest of nature.  These direct experiences are overshadowed, in modern times, by the stories we have been told about who we are. 

The direct, natural experiences are like a small child who constantly tugs at his parent’s clothes to get attention.  The adults keep talking to each other and ignore the child. 

Meditation is the act of yielding to the tug of your biological nature.  It is like water sinking into the earth.  As it sinks, the water enlivens the earth, allowing life to flourish.  As your attention sinks back into your body, and then into your connection to the rest of nature, the body, mind, emotions and all the other parts of a human being, become enlivened.  You realize that you are not just your thinking process.  You are not just your opinions.  You are not just your job title.  You are the experience of life itself.  This experience is often lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday living. 

Imagine you are walking through a carnival.  The carnival barkers (the people running the games) call out to you to put a dollar down to throw a ball to knock down some bottles or to throw a dart to puncture balloons.  As you walk, each barker shouts at you loudly to get your dollar. 

Life is like this.  The story our culture tells you is that your choice in life is to decide which game to play – which barker to yield to.  You may yield to the barker of buying the latest fashions or the newest cars.  The barker’s job is to convince you that you can only be a good person, you can only be satisfied, if you yield to him.  That barker may also be selling a religion or a political party. 

When you experience your biological nature, the barkers no longer have any hold on you.  They are merely people yelling at you. 

So people ask me, “How should I meditate?”

While sitting meditation is popular, I have found the best form of meditation for me is natural movement.  This may be Tai-chi, Zookinesis or any other form of activity based on the movement of animals.  Even watching animals in nature is a wonderful form of meditation.  When you imitate an animal’s movement you participate in its flow of energy (chi) and that heals you.  Dance serves a similar purpose. 

As the body moves, the mind (attention) moves along with the body.  Body and Mind flow together and become united.  The connection of body and mind heals a basic rift in the fabric of your spirit.  By experiencing the interpenetration of body and mind, you become more sensitive to the possibility of being part of a larger “body” and a larger “mind” – that of nature.  You become aware of movements of energy, movements of consciousness that flow through you.  You no longer feel isolated. 

Rather than your body and mind battling each other, you experience integration.  This affects your relationship with other people resulting in a less combative feeling.  In this way the practice of meditation can lessen the conflicts between members of a society resulting in less animosity and a more enjoyable way of life.  At the same time, each person is more of an individual.  Rather than tying your identity to the stories of the society you identify with the experience of your own individual nature.  The stories are then seen as creative expressions of deeper truths rather than as shallow facts.

I was inspired to write about meditation this week because of the Christmas holiday and the many television shows about Jesus and the history of Christianity.  It always seemed odd to me that all of the focus of these programs were on what happened rather than on what he taught.  The same could be said of other ancient religious figures.  Nowadays Jesus’ teachings are laid out in beautiful detail in the Gnostic Gospels.  They are amazing in their clarity and beauty.  Yet it seems that all people want to discover from these documents is whether Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. 

I think that our culture has become shallow in many ways.  We seem interested only in the gossip, the soap operas.  In the martial arts we are only interested in techniques rather than principles.  We think of Tai-chi as a six lesson course to memorize a series of movements rather than as a life long dedication to health and awareness.  And I have never been able to figure out why in heaven’s name, is a perfectly good pair of pants or shoes suddenly out of style. 

This past summer my daughter told me she finally had it with my lack of style.  She bought me a new bathing suit.  When I looked around on the beach it was true that no one was wearing the style I had been wearing all these years.  There was a new style that looked like a pair of baggy walking shorts.  My daughter told me that this new style had been around for a few years and I never noticed the change before.

Apparently your biological nature does not warn you about style changes.  It tells you about how to stay healthy and happy.  It tells you about your connection to all people and all life.  It shows you how being violent to others (physically, emotionally or intellectually) is really being violent to yourself.

Meditation really serves to remind you who you really are.  We need to be reminded from time to time.