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WEALTH

ALONE

SUNSHINE

NOT SEEING

PLAY

POWER

HARD AND SOFT

This is the first in a series of nature photos with sayings by Bob Klein.  You can print these as posters or to create a notebook of photos.

NATURAL MIND AND THE MACHINE

My days as a zoologist, canoeing through the jungles of Central America, gave me a unique perspective of how living in a wild area affects the perspectives and perceptions of people. Living in my canoe or in a small tent set up by the edge of a river made me feel like just another animal among many. The villages I visited were just a few huts clustered together every few miles at the river’s edge. The human presence was small compared to the overwhelming intensity of the jungle – its colors and shapes, its humidity, smells and rhythms of life.
As soon as I arrived in the jungle, it “grabbed” me. There was an instant transformation in the way my mind perceived and understood my relationship to the surroundings. By travelling back and forth from New York to Central America, I could feel the effect of each environment on me. I could also see and understand how the people in each area were very different because of their respective environments.
This experience, plus my life-time of training in several types of traditional healing, has led me to several conclusions. The first is that the natural tendency of our minds, (our consciousness – or what I call “attention”) is to expand into the environment and connect with it. This means more than looking at something. It means that each of our minds, in order to operate properly, cannot be locked up inside of us. The mind is not just a by-product of brain activity. It is the biological glue that connects us to the environment.
One of the effects of modern life is to “lock up” our minds into our thinking process. In this way, mind is no longer connected to the body. The body seems to be “down there”. The mind is no longer biologically connected to the environment, except in the sense that we think about our environment.
I have found a fundamental difference in human nature in those societies in which the mind is “locked up” as compared to those in which the mind is not locked up. Stress levels, for example, are higher when the mind is locked up, as if it were soda in a bottle that was shaken. Warmth and humidity have the effect of making the mind more fluid so that it is like watercolor ink dropped onto the wet rice paper.
Notice how you feel inside your home in the winter as compared to lying in an open area on a warm summer day. We have designed our environment to be disconnected. Our shoes and our floors disconnect us from the ground. Our cell phones and computers disconnect us from other people, even as we try to communicate with them. Our packaged, prepared foods disconnect us from picking food from trees and plants.
Our single celled ancestors gathered together in colonies and eventually formed multi-cellular animals that are now considered to be a single animal. Each cell became more and more disconnected from the “natural” environment. In the same way, we are now creating super-organisms, disconnected from the natural environment.
But there are many people who don’t feel comfortable giving up their individual, biological identity, in a sense handing over their very minds to the “hive”. These people require a direct connection to nature, balancing their membership in society with their membership in the living earth.
One of the things I have noticed is that the more removed you are from nature, the more you are addicted to the “drama of life”. The people living at the edge of the jungle certainly had their interpersonal dramas, but their joy of life came mostly from simpler things. On my first trip to Panama, my hosts sat at the edge of the river every evening, staring at the river. They weren’t looking at anything in particular; they were just participating in the world around them. Even when I was young, people would sit in chairs in front of their houses in Brooklyn, “participating” in life.
Things have changed drastically since then. Now we have our televisions and computers to look at. Our activities are less communal. While our society is becoming more isolated from nature, we are becoming more isolated from each other, even as our society as a whole is becoming more condensed and interdependent.
When single celled animals formed into multi-cellular animals, each cell lost much of its function and became specialized (muscle cell, gland cell, etc.). They were no longer whole organisms within themselves. I am reminded of our educational system, no longer emphasizing a “classical education”, but just teaching students to pass tests.
It certainly seems like we are witnessing the birth of a new type of organism which requires a new type of “mind”. This new mind is not whole and balanced. It is not aware of the whole history of humankind, to serve as the backdrop to understand what is going on now. It is designed to be only a piece of a person that is useful for one particular function of the society.
The goal of many philosophies and religions is to acquire a natural type of mind. When Buddhists speak of Buddha, they aren’t only referring to the person, but to the state of mind that he attained and that we can also attain: The same for Christians who use the term “Christ”, really meaning the Christ type of mind. When Taoists speak of “no-mind”, they mean a mind not filled with excess of any kind.
I consider each to be a rebellion against re-shaping the natural human mind for use in the new societal “machine” of each time period. With the natural mind, each person is a whole human, directly connected to the living earth. Relationships are between two whole people rather than between two parts of a machine. Each person is allowed to grow and develop into a mature, full person, rather than be molded into just a piece of a person.
If we believe in developing whole people, connected to nature, then I believe that a well-rounded education is the place to start, an education that emphasizes creative thinking rather than memorizing answers to tests. Growing your own food is another place to start so that your food is healthy and nutritious and so that you have a feeling for where your food came from.
I cut and split wood for my wood heating stove. If I figured out the amount of labor involved in getting wood and taking care of the heating stove, I’m sure it would be a lot cheaper just to use the furnace. But heating the house by my own efforts keeps me connected to nature, especially in winter. On the one hand, I could just consider how to be the most efficient to amass wealth. On the other hand, I could consider how to be the most efficient to maintain the natural mind. I try to balance the two, willing to sacrifice wealth in order to hold onto the wholeness of my life.
What is the balance of these two factors in your life? It is especially hard to maintain this balance in tough economic times. Putting food on the table – any food – is pretty important. But let’s remember that if we put off the health of our bodies and minds, we are more prone to disease and we feel miserable. If you can find one thing to do that re-connects you to nature, such as cooking your own food, or growing it, that will go a long way to keeping you healthy and happy. Meet someone face to face, rather than texting. Sit in the back yard, or at a sunny window, and watch the sun set. Doing one natural thing each day can help us to maintain our humanity in the face of a more and more machine-like world.

THE CONCEPT OF “SUNG”

This concept in its simplest form means sinking into your root. More specifically, it is the ability of each joint and muscle to drop individually towards the ground. Most people interpret sinking as dropping the knees. Sung means that each joint drops independently of the others.

You feel as if there were a string, attached to the center of each joint, with a small weight hanging from the bottom of the string. As you move, each joint is pulled downward by the weight and then bounces back up. This brings flexibility and awareness to the body.

The problem is that students sink the body as a whole and cannot allow each part of the body to respond in its own way to their movements. The body is essentially frozen, even though they may do a very smooth and slow Tai-chi form. There is no flow of momentum through the body.

There is no “intelligent” interaction of each part of the body with the ground. By releasing each joint and muscle to relax into the ground and then bounce back up, you bring intelligence into each part.

As you practice your form (or any other activity), your attention flows along with the momentum created by the movements of the body. As each body part sinks into the root, the attention must follow each part into the ground and back up. This means that your attention also must not be frozen.

Attention becomes like the tributaries of a river, flowing back into the ocean. The bounce up is like the evaporation of the ocean water coming back as rain to flow back to the tributaries. Your back must be very flexible and active. There is a tendency to maintain a solid back which is then used to move from. A stiff back becomes your floor; you keep it solid so your arms, for example, can move out from it.

This is a mistake. The only floor is the actual floor. The back must be as flexible as any other part of the body. We say “The back must be like the hand”. You are used to using your hand in a dexterous way. The back must be as dexterous as the hand. The same is true for the chest and especially the ribs. I see many people practicing a Tai-chi form with frozen ribs. The ribs must be like the hands.

To develop this flexibility, part of your attention must always be connected to the root. This creates a network of attention to the root so that the pathways to the root are always maintained. I use the analogy of taking a piece of wood and holding it on a slant. Then place a drop of water at the top. The friction will prevent the water from flowing down the wood unless the piece of wood is held very upright. Now wet your finger and trace a pathway, even a winding pathway, down the wood. Then place the drop of water at the top of the path. Now the water will flow down the path you traced. That is the path of least resistance.

In modern times our internal attention has become frozen so there are few such pathways. Sung requires that you maintain these pathways by developing an agility of attention within your body. If you were to learn chi-gung (developing chi flow within the body) without developing the flexibility of the body and attention first, it would be like a sudden downpour on parched earth. The earth would not absorb the downpour and there would be a damaging flood. But if there were a gentle rain one day, followed by the downpour the next day, the ground would have been softened the first day. When the downpour came, the earth would be ready to accept it.

Working with Sung readies the body to practice chi-gung. In Zookinesis training the softening process is incorporated into the chi development process so that both proceed together. At all times, attention and chi are connected to the earth. To get deeper into the concept of Sung, the earth really means the whole world around you (not just in the downward direction). It means being connected to nature.

In many chi-gung classes, you are taught to develop the “microcosmic” and “macrocosmic” orbit (particular circles of energy flow) as the first part of your training. I believe this is a mistake. You are taught to manipulate your energy flow, but in the “correct” way.

In Zookinesis training, we understand that we modern humans are already experts at manipulating our energy flow. What we need is training in not doing that, or what is called, “not doing”. Once we can stop the addiction to manipulating our energy flow, the body will function perfectly well on its own without sticking our noses into it. The emphasis on early Zookinesis training is to release the talons of the thinking mind on the body – to stop manipulating the chi flow. Then just be quiet and see what the body does. Let the body teach you. I use the expression “Be still and know that you are alive”, to borrow a phrase from the Bible.

Then, when the talons have loosened their grip, you work on the connection between the chi flow of the body and that of the rest of nature. This connection has been severed in modern times. I discuss this in detail in my novel, “The Doubting Snake”.

The chi flow of nature does not need instruction. By allowing your inner chi flow to align with the rest of nature, it will work just fine. The modern training of chi-gung de-emphasizes this connection to nature and I believe this is a huge mistake. Sung means connecting to all of nature. Nature is the root. We are, of course, aligning with gravity as gravity is a big part of nature. And so the feeling of Sung is to sink downward. But that should not confuse you that it really implies connecting with nature.

How is all of this done? It is done with the Zookinesis exercises, with Tai-chi forms, Push Hands and all the rest. Unfortunately, such practices often neglect this principle of Sung and so the practices may look pretty but don’t accomplish the goal of rejuvenating mind and body. Allow the aliveness of your body to express itself. You are a community of life – the body, the thinking mind, the memories, the will, creativity, emotions and much more. Each of these is a world in itself. Zookinesis and the training of Sung allows the spirit of each being within you to express itself fully.