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REVIEWS FOR “THE DOUBTING SNAKE”

“In the tradition quickened by the Celestine Prophecy, Bob Klein takes us to places at once far away, intimate, strange and familiar. The beauty is in the lush regions, cultures and cosmologies it describes, and in the invisible realms it remarkably and simply illustrates. The warrior within each of us in invited to: Wake up; deeply see and listen; remember what reality is really made of; and honor, cultivate and harness our connectedness, consciousness, power, and history in order to reinvent our culture in a Golden Age.”

Michou Landon, Shasta Magazine

“The Doubting Snake depicts a colorful world full of wild animals that take an active part in guiding Steve to his truth.  Filled with mystery, laughter, and insight, this book is a pleasure to read as we accompany Steve on his incredible journey to self awareness.”

Karen Porter, Indicator Magazine

Note: See information on “The Doubting Snake” by clicking onto our “Online Store”.  You will see this book listed on the left side of the page.  It is also available as an Amazon Kindle download.

BECOMING ALIVE AND CONSCIOUS

One of the greatest benefits of practicing Tai-chi and Zookinesis is that you experience life more intensely.  Your body seems much more alive.  Your senses and your mind are sharper.  You can feel the living energy of your surroundings.  Students often say, “I never realized I had hips before,” or they can finally feel their backs and how flexible they can be.  They feel part of the world of life around them because they are more aware of the life inside of them.

There is a Zen expression, “The inside and outside are made of the same flesh.”   When you change inside, the world around you seems to change as well.  And so I am going to suggest an internal change of perspective that may help to change the way you look at the world around you.

Within the body are trillions of minute processes within each organ, cell and even within the parts of the cells.  Most of them take place at speeds and with precision unimaginable to us. It all takes place without our great intelligence or leadership.  Yet we don’t usually think of the body itself as conscious. 

With all this intricate precision the body is capable of, when I ask a student to just move an arm or the hips in a simple movement, the student feels very awkward.  It may take months until he can move that part of his body with even basic competence.  And yet he feels more intelligent than his heart or liver, or than a single cell. 

We are amazed by the complex interactions of many species and habitats.  If we look out at the cosmos we see great precision and complexity in the interaction of planets, stars and galaxies. And yet, as individuals, struggling to get through life, understand its complexities and even move with a minimum of grace, we feel as though we are the only intelligent globs of matter in the universe.

Many ancient cultures, though, believed that consciousness was a natural force, part of every animal, plant, rock and habitat.  We now call them “animists”.  They felt that the force of intelligence was the unseen mover in all the activity of the universe.  It was not a “God” based perspective but simply included the force of consciousness along with what we now would call the four forces of the universe (gravity, electro-magnetic and strong and weak nuclear forces). 

They searched for the forces of intelligence and creativity in their surroundings and so felt a bond with every animal, plant and rock.  They searched for the forces of creativity and intelligence within their bodies to keep these forces strong so they would remain healthy.  To them, consciousness was as much part of their world as was matter.  Matter did not create consciousness. 

Now, what does this have to do with health – the main subject of this blog?  If the inside and the outside are made of the same “flesh” (as in the Zen saying) and you look at the world outside of you as if it was dead, then you tend to become dead inside as well.  When the science of physics looks at the world as dead objects moving about, then the science of medicine looks at the body as unconscious organs and cells, functioning automatically.  By removing the possibility of consciousness from everything in the world but our brains, the world and our bodies become dead to us. 

This is not a religious perspective.  What would be the point of praying to something?  You are conscious and everything else is conscious.  What is praying to what?  It is simply a way of bringing life back to our world, including to ourselves. 

As we now move into the Spring season, try to feel the energy of life intensifying.  Feel not only the warmth of the sun, the sound of the birds and the smell of the flowers, but the “feeling of the intelligence of the world.”  Let the warm intelligence of Spring penetrate your body, your feelings and your mind.  Realize that you are not separate from the rest of life, either as a glob of matter, or as a center of consciousness

THE DESTRUCTIVE FORCE OF HABITS

The healing principles of Tai-chi identify habits as one of the most destructive forces leading to the deterioration of the body.  These principles explain the underlying cause of those habits and how to resolve them.  We all know that drug habits and eating disorders are destructive but there are more fundamental levels of behavior that we are only dimly aware of.

One of my students recently realized that an old behavior as a child permanently shaped how he uses his attention.  He has a “lazy eye” and had to concentrate in a certain way in order to make the images in his eyes, while reading, merge into one image. This extreme focusing of attention became permanent and required a great deal of energy.  As an adult he forgot about what he had done because it just became part of who he is.  The behavior threw the mechanics of his body way off.

When beginning Tai-chi students practice “Push Hands” they tighten up their bodies and raise their centers of gravity, the exact opposite of what is required.  In this exercise each partner tries to push the other one over.  Push Hands requires a loose body and low center of gravity so that you can’t be pushed and so that your own push emanates from the ground and shoots out like a whip.

The students soon realize that they bring their energy and attention up because their eyes are at the top of their bodies.  They feel their force needs to emanate out of where they’re looking from.  This habit is subconscious until the practice of Push Hands reveals it. 

We have many ridiculous habits formed during childhood, which make no mechanical sense.  Or, the habits make sense only for limited uses but become permanent and are used all the time. 

As a teacher, I am amazed by the habits my students discover as they practice Tai-chi.  By cleaning out those habits we release tremendous amounts of trapped energy and can feel much more relaxed and happy.  We also can avoid the subconscious habits building into even more destructive habits such as drug abuse. 

The difficulty in letting go of habits is that, to a large extent, we identify ourselves as our habits.  These can be habits of movement, of thinking and of emotion.  The habits become an image of us, rather than our true, free, creative selves.  We tend to solidify our habits and defend them because we feel we are defending ourselves.  Even the groups we belong to such as political parties may be a reflection of our ingrained habits. 

This jams up our creativity, our thinking ability, tightens the body and sanctifies patterns of behavior which were created during childhood, when we really didn’t understand much.  The result can be a whole society based on patterns of behavior created during childhood and institutionally maintained. 

The greatest political power any individual can have is, as the Beatles said, “Free your mind instead”.  Examine the fundamental habits of your life and allow your creative spirit to heal you.  Tai-chi and Zookinesis practice was specifically designed for this purpose.

HOW SICK ARE WE?

My doctor told me that it was unusual for a 60 year old man not to be on prescription drugs.  That shocked me.  Apparently most people my age take several drugs on a regular basis.  Does this mean that we are an advanced society because we have invented so many drugs or a very sick society that we need so many drugs?

I recalled a monkey I knew in the jungles of Panama.  He was the head of his tribe but was badly battered from territorial fights or perhaps from encounters with predators.  Three fingers were missing from one hand, two from the other and he had only one eye. Yet he still was the alpha male of his monkey troop.  What he lacked in body parts he made up in attitude. 

One day a potential Tai-chi student walked into my studio with a severe affliction.  He was able to walk only by leaning over and holding his knee with his hands, inching his way forward.  As soon as he made it into the studio he sat down, exhausted from the fifty foot walk.  I thought to tell him that he would never be able to learn Tai-chi but I would never discourage anyone who was willing to try. 

At first he did the Tai-chi Yang form while holding onto two chairs, which I re-adjusted for him with each movement.  He could only last for two or three minutes at a time and then had to sit down.  To make a long story short, he learned the entire sixty movement form without holding onto chairs, the tiger form and the staff form, which are very vigorous.  He also learned the Push Hands exercise and was quite good.  In this exercise you stand facing each other and try to throw each other off balance.

After a few years he told me that he was very discouraged.  He practiced the forms for an hour a day, then did Yoga for fifteen minutes, worked out with weights for forty five minutes and then practiced chi-gung for another fifteen minutes. 

So what was the problem?  He told me that after all this he was so tired he had to stop and sit down.  I reminded him that he used to be tired after two or three minutes and could barely stand up without holding onto something.   He had gotten so used to being healthy that I guess now he expected that he could leap over tall buildings at a single bound.

To some degree we can determine whether we slide down the slope of increasing sickness or lift ourselves up to greater health.  It largely depends on whether we focus on our ailments or our potential.  This is not to so say that we don’t all have some legitimate medical problems.  While modern medicine makes our lives better with great advances, it can also make us lazy.  We reach for the pill or the operation rather than trying exercise first. 

Many doctors will encourage their patients to try exercise to alleviate their problems before trying drugs but unfortunately many people don’t want to be bothered with the exercises.  It is easier to pop a pill down their throats.  But remember that each drug has side effects and you may start taking drugs to alleviate the side effects and then more drugs to alleviate the side effects of that drug and so on. 

I am suggesting that if your doctor suggests exercise rather than drugs then you probably have a caring and knowledgeable doctor.  While the television ads push you to ask your doctor for drugs, I suggest you ask him or her for exercise alternatives. 

Your body and mind are powerful when they work together cooperatively.  Even if you do take drugs, exercise itself can help to alleviate the negative side effects.  Drugs can only really help your body cure itself.  But the body also needs good food, rest and exercise.

EXCERPT FROM “THE DOUBTING SNAKE”

The next morning at breakfast Kano took a small portion of his meal and threw it away.   He did this at every meal.   I always assumed there was dirt on that portion.   But his persistence in this behavior finally caught my curiosity.

“Kano, why do you do that?”

“So you have noticed me sacrificing my food.   The food is what builds our bodies.   One day we will have to sacrifice our bodies.   So it is good to sacrifice a piece of each meal.  This way, we are always ready to sacrifice things.

“Why think in such negative ways – death and sacrifice?”

“I am a happy man, am I not?”  I had to agree that if Kano was nothing else, he was happy.

“And look what I have sacrificed.   Do you know what I have sacrificed?  I have sacrificed my understanding.”

“What do you mean you’ve sacrificed your understanding?   Did you, yourself do that?”

“Yes.  I sacrificed my understanding just as last night you gave up trying to figure out how to get home.   I once understood things, like you.  And yet, I couldn’t find my way home.  Then I gave up my understanding and now come home with ease.   And I am happy.

“I have a place to sleep, food to eat and friends with whom to pass my time.   When the mood strikes me, I sing and at times, I cry.  I don’t know enough to do otherwise and I am happy.

“I am happy whether I laugh or cry, for even in sadness there is joy.  I am happy to be a man, to be a living creature and when I call out to the forest, she gives me what I need.

“She sends me a butterfly to hold, but when it decides to leave, I let it go.  She gives me food, but when I am finished with it, I let it go in the outhouse.

“When I see her beautiful sunset, I let it go and night arrives.  When I have enjoyed the dry season for half the year, I let it go so the rains may come and the plants will grow.

“And when this life comes to a close I will look back at all the wonderful things that have happened to me. I will know that my joy in life would not have been possible without knowing how to let go of just those very things which brought me joy.   And so it will be with joy that I die.”

THE DOUBTING SNAKE by Bob Klein is now available on our “Online Store”.  Click onto the link in the  right hand area of this page.  You will then find the novel on the left side set of links on our online store home page (www.movementsofmagic.com).

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?

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.

WHY IS TAI-CHI SPIRITUAL?

Tai-chi is considered to be a “spiritual” practice and many people wonder how a physical exercise can be called spiritual.  While most people begin their Tai-chi practice to improve their health and to reduce stress, they soon learn that there is much more to this ancient exercise.  As a child, you may have opened the back of a watch (when they were made with gears and mainsprings) and were amazed at what you saw.  You gradually came to understand how the watch worked and may have even embarked on a career as a mechanic or engineer.

When you understand the mechanisms that control how you behave as a person you can be more creative with yourself and improve those mechanisms.  We gain our basic skills in working with the body until every joint and muscle becomes relaxed, alive and conscious.  You feel alive like you never felt alive before. 

When you practice a Tai-chi form, you feel that each part of the body has a will of its own and wants to do the form.  As in a music band, one member may play part of the song a little differently and the other band members, hearing this change, go along with it and support it.  In the same way, part of your body may want to move differently and the other parts are consciously aware of this and support that creative change.

The result is a consciousness or feeling of self, which is evenly distributed throughout the body and not just located in the head. In some disciplines you are taught to eliminate the ego or feeling of self.  In the Tai-chi approach you just share this feeling of self with every cell, organ, muscle and bone in the body.  You become a cooperative community of living individuals who all feel they are part of the same “tribe” (which is you as a whole person).

How would this world be if all people felt they were part of the same tribe?  In Taoist theory, how all the parts of yourself relate to each other determines how you as a whole, relate to other people.  If a whole culture is taught to believe that we live in our heads and in our thoughts and our bodies are just a dumb machine, then that affects how that culture relates to other cultures.  If the head just orders the rest of the body around and doesn’t care how the body feels, that affects your relationships with other people.

When we practice the Push Hands exercise (described in detail in several other articles below), we quickly learn that if we forcefully try to push the other person over, this locks us up and actually allows the other person to push us more easily. 

If you use force, you have the attitude of force in your mind and your opponent can use that attitude to defeat you.  In a similar way, if you are the type of person who is always trying to get away with something, to take more than you give, then you are actually more susceptible to get scammed.  The internet spam emails only work if you think you are getting something for nothing.

That is why, in our practice, we always try to have even exchanges with people, to not cheat them and to not be cheated by them.  In Push Hands, where the other person comes in to push, we yield.  But we move into the part of their body which is inactive.  The balance of yin and yang is maintained but the result is that we always feel empty to the other person and we can always move into them to push.

The other person learns that if he is tense and has an aggressive attitude, then his body is really dead.  It is dead to awareness.  It is locked.  The attitude of balance always leads to maximum awareness.  The attitude of maximum aggressiveness leads to a deadening of awareness.

In this way we learn about the mechanisms behind our behavior.  We learn about balance of aggression and passivity.  We learn what deadens our consciousness and what enhances it.  We learn that the relationships with other people or with how we deal with situations, mirror the relationships among the different parts of ourselves.  If our minds are aggressive towards our bodies, we will probably be aggressive to other people.

If we think of our bodies as lowly, we will probably think of other people as less worthy than ourselves. 

Spirituality is about relationships.  It is the recognition that all life is connected and you are not more part of life than another person, another animal or plant.  Tai-chi allows you to feel that.  It speaks of the experience of “chi” (internal energy or biological energy) that connects all life. 

Some of the practices of chi cultivation require that you move your chi around in various ways, which are supposedly better than the way it is moving now.  My teachers taught me that the secret of chi cultivation is quite different and it is an important lesson in spirituality.

The body, they say, knows how to move chi.  All you can do is to interfere with chi.  By making you practice moving chi along certain pathways, you remain within an aggressive frame of reference with regards to the body.  You are whipping it into shape.

My teachers taught very differently.  Through the Zookinesis and Tai-chi exercises they taught me how my frame of reference interfered with accomplishing the task.  If I tensed up to push them I was just locking myself up and becoming ineffective.  Yet to me, pushing meant tensing the body as much as you can.  They taught me to send a pulse of energy through the body from the feet up, like a whip which remains loose as it strikes.  That required a completely different frame of reference. 

The typical student who learns this method will start with a pulse at the feet and then when the thought comes into his mind, “Push Now!” he tenses up, blocking the pulse and deadening his body.  Instead he has to release the pulse into the other person, not push his tension into the other person.  He should really say “Release Now!” and relax. 

This is the same approach in learning a Tai-chi form.  It takes a long time to really learn the movements but at some point you must release the form to the body and let the body do the form.  Your usual sense of self just sits back and watches.  You don’t eliminate the sense of self.  That sense of self becomes the audience that can appreciate the creativity of the body.

Gradually the body, mind, emotions and all other parts of yourself become equal partners in your life.  There are no bullies within you.  Then chi flows naturally all by itself and “you” sit back in wonder.  You understand your connection to the rest of life.  You understand how all the parts of your body communicate with each other so that your actions in life become effortless and effective.

When you encounter a situation your first thought is of balance – active balance.  All parts of you are alert but relaxed.  You see the situation and the people in that situation clearly.  Just as you can now see inside yourself you can see inside them.  You understand something of their internal relationship which is reflected externally and you know how to use the principles of Tai-chi to your advantage, without taking advantage of them. 

While Tai-chi is not a religion, there is a morality – the morality of balance.  There is an empathy of understanding for the torture many people live with because you yourself extricated yourself from that internal torture.  In this way, you see that there is a spiritual path in life. 

It is not the path of maximum power of one part of you over another or of one person over another.  It is not about thinking this as opposed to that.  It is the path of discovering, understanding and then releasing useless behaviors and allowing the body, mind and emotions to function naturally and in harmony with each other and with the community of life.

The key is to let go.  If your attention is now mainly caught up in your thoughts and emotions, let your attention move into the body as water moves into a dry paper towel.  If you feel your attention ready to combat another person, first let it flow into that person and learn how that feels.  You may think that if you connect with another person in this way you are being too “new agey”.  People say, “We must be tough to live in this world.”

Remember that Tai-chi is also a martial art.  The full name is Tai-chi-Chuan (The Grand Ultimate Martial Art).  One of the most important parts of the skills of Tai-chi fighting is for your attention to remain connected to the “opponent” and to flow with him.  Flow away from his strikes and into his open areas.  If your attention disconnects from his body you are in trouble.

When your chi and your attention are connected to the situations and people around you and you remain relaxed, you are in a powerful position.  You know how to respond at each moment.  Spiritual doesn’t mean weak.

Chi is the biological communications system of all life.  When you become aware of that system you have acquired a new sense.  You can understand the mechanisms behind your behavior and the behavior of others.  At that point it is easy to let go of useless behavior patterns because you just get bored by them. 

The spiritual path of Tai-chi eliminates self destructive and ineffective behaviors as light eliminates darkness.  You don’t beat yourself up about your problems or force yourself to change.  You just see how silly the ineffective behaviors are and you can laugh at them.  There is a lot of laughter along this path.