What are you looking for?

Beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
-Rumi

Last week a new student shared with me that she felt a bit silly. It was not from looking like a newbie in class, it was about how she had answered a question on her intake form: What are you looking to gain from your practice? She had written, Peace. “Does anyone else answer like that?” she asked. I had indeed noted her response at the time and now assured her about 95% of people answer that question this same way. In fact, over the past 25 years of teaching, this is more and more its singular reply – outweighing answers such as pain relief, arthritis, balance. Given the general polarized state of our country right, the continued horrific incidents of gun violence and our tense election cycle, I decided to concentrate the classes this week on how we can use our practices to find equanimity in our bodies, minds and hearts. How to approach this “peace.”

So how do we use these practices to achieve a sense of serenity? There are several techniques – breathing diaphragmatically, slowing down and concentrating on our inner body’s flow of blood and energy, the feel of our muscles supporting us. Applying the principle of “fang song” – lengthening and loosening our tendons throughout our movements. Opening our joint spaces. Elongating our extensions, softening our contractions. We concentrate our thoughts not on the next social media post but on what we are learning. We turn our attention to feeling our feet, ground our mental energy into the earth. There are many interesting ‘serenity skills,’ as it were, embedded in the principles and techniques of our practices, no matter what form or style you choose to learn.

Practicing serenity, peace, equanimity however is more than just learning a technique or a skill. It is developing a more conscious relationship with our very complex nervous system. Indeed our practices are known for their capacity to “relax” us. “Breathe!” “Calm down!” I have lost count the number of time these cues have make me want to scream! I just wanted to DO something. It has taken me a long time to penetrate the meaning of “doing” the techniques and following cues in a way they could be useful for me and not just something to “achieve” in the “hope” they would lead me to an illusive result.

In the process I have come to understand tension is not a bad thing, nor is stress. It is not something to banish from myself so I can relax and find peace and equanimity. These aspects of our nervous system are deeply embedded in all of us. They kept us going on the evolutionary path and keep us going now. This is a good thing! I am no longer afraid of them. I see them as natural. The issue then, I have come to realize, it is not stress or tension per se, it is habituating our tension and stress beyond where they are useful for us. Our “on” switch gets stuck. This is when we go awry physically, mentally and emotionally.

Somewhere we have to widen our spectrum. Look to nature - everything is a cycle. Too much sun and heat eventually harms the flowers, too much dark and wet eventually rots the bulb. In the case of being human, with so much stimulation, expectation, information, it is easy to get overwhelmed and stuck – either with too much activity or too much self-absorption. We can flame out or rot! Our practices help us to widen our spectrum. They give us very pragmatic methods to help us to remember, look for and actively cultivate and support all the varied and compelling cycles within us. The flower thrives with the right weather. That weather is varied and sometimes unpredictable. Somehow the flower adapts. Our techniques are ways to more conscious, intentional relationships with ourselves. Like the flower, we learn to draw on our natural resiliency, to adapt, and in our humanity, to try out different thoughts and actions. In short, we learn to recall and activate the deeply embedded and evolutionarily apt part of our nervous system where everything is flexible, even right with the world, not just the part where we go on unconsciously living feeling tigers are going to eat us.

I’m remembering a lovely Zen/Taoist saying, “between the opposites lies the path.”

When I get frustrated with my own progress, when I get stuck running from tigers and forget to sit in the lodge by the fire with my friends, it helps me to remember the challenges to this territory are not just now, in 2018 with the world as insane as it is. For millennium humans have been actively finding ways to deal with themselves and to understand cycles around them; we have been practicing meditation, yoga, qigong, and so on for a very long time. It seems to me finding and cultivating practices to have a useful relationship with our nervous system, to find health and skill but moreover to find peace and equanimity, is very much a part of our human legacy.

I always want to remember that any technique  I learn is simply a method for connecting to something bigger than myself. If I learn how to breathe more deeply to balance my nervous system, that is one thing, and a useful thing, but if in that balance I can then become aware of my larger place in the world, and all that I am connected with, the huge cycles of the Tao, this is something much more interesting. Compassion, understanding, listening all emerge naturally. I have a better relationship with my nervous system and in doing so with how I engage with my world. What do we want from our practices? Peace. To set this down as a conscious intention is very powerful.

There is a lot going on right now. Find refuge in your practice. Cultivate your connection to and your relationships with something bigger. Remember everything changes. Cycles go far beyond right and wrong, far beyond righteousness and vilification.  

 

"If I can just make it to the next one."

Classes do seem to be different during times of social unrest and tragedy. I've noticed this for 41 years. Earthquakes, Floods, Stock Market crashes, 9/11, the Tree of Life Synagogue. Usually the classes are much bigger. I think people appreciate a place they can just be with others, to feel positive about themselves, their community and their Way. These types of environments offer that. Breathe in breathe out. Move. Grieve. Transform rage and confusion. Even laugh. 

During Luohan last night I was remembering a particularly brutal hike along the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage. I didn't expect it; I thought the day before was the hardest, but this one was much more difficult. On this particular hike, there are 33 Bodhisattvas spaced at various intervals along the 10 miles. At first they are fun and historically interesting but as the day progressed and difficulty increased, they became touchstones. "If I can just make it to the next one." I would say to myself. And then I would. They were little saviors, really, true to their namesake. It was powerful to realize they have been their for centuries, motivating and saving all manner and number of Pilgrims. 

In class last night I recognized that our practices are like this for us too, touchstones and salvation Kannons, especially in times of deep strife and confusion, when the hike of living is much harder than we expected. When it is, we come to the practice hall. We see our companions. We breathe in and breathe out. We feel the centuries of others and the Bodhisattvas along the Way, we become those others will feel centuries from now.

The Three Treasures

When I encounter multi-layered concepts in Taijiquan and Qigong I seek to find the most simple ways of understanding them. Nature and daily life are great resources for metaphors and examples to help me understand these concepts and principles. After all, all of our practices, nature and daily life are all entwined, all are simply various manifestations of these core principles: Wuij, Yin & Yang, and 10,000 things.  The Chinese really had it figured out long ago!

This past week we focused on The Three Treasures and the Center Line. For this blog, I will talk about the The Three Treasures: Jing, Qi and Shen.

The Three Treasures is a big study in Chinese medicine but they can each, separately and together, be comprehended simply if we look  to nature. Take a flowering bulb, for example. We understand if we have a good bulb and plant it correctly in the right soil, it will grow into a lovely flower, delightful for the eye to see. Metaphorically speaking, our physical bodies are that bulb, full of potential. Our body bulb gets created at conception, formed for nine months or so in mama, and then pushed in the world. Our body bulb, like a flowering bulb, is filled with innate potential with genetic coding. For that genetic coding to manifest, it must be activated upon by correct nutrition. The bulb, from the soil and the atmosphere, our bodies from food and air. As we know, everything alive needs food, oxygen and water to grow. With the right nutrition, innate potential manifests, both flower and body become bright. It is enchanting to be in the presence of such beauty and grace. 

The concept of “Jing” in Chinese medicine (of which our practices are a part), can be seen as our body bulb. We have genetic & historic coding we are born with, our essence, our innate potential. “Qi” can be looked at as both what we are born with and what what we need to activate our potential. We know there is the energy of life in our body bulb, but for our life to sustain and develop, we also need the energy of food and air. The better, the better! “Shen,” then, is the flowering of our spirit, our consciousness, our innate intelligence that will manifest through the combination of the genetic material we are borne with and the nutrition we seek and are exposed to. When we practice our Qigong & Taijiquan we are intentionally enhancing this natural alchemy of life. We exercise our body, which needs to move for health, we breathe more deeply, increasing oxygenation, digestion and blood flow. All of this make more efficient the processes of our body that distribute nutrition through our system and separates the useful from the spent. We who practice know that through these intentional practices we become brighter, happier and more able to interact in the world in delightful and beautiful ways. Jing, Qi & Shen, The Three Treasures!  

These Three Treasures and their layered concepts are a rich study. Here are some accessible books on this topic and on the larger scope of Chinese Medicine.

The Root of Chinese Qigong by Yang Zwing Ming 

The Spark in the Machine by Dr. Daniel Keown 

Between Heaven and Earth by Harriet Beinfield & Efrem Korngold

I found a couple of short online posts that are pretty good:

https://medium.com/a-beginners-guide-to-chinese-medicine/three-treasures-jing-qi-and-shen-173bca0e6308

https://www.thoughtco.com/the-three-treasures-3182922

Additional Thoughts:

We are fully in fall now! In fact, Chinese thought and medicine split this time of the year into 2 parts, early & late fall. Here in the PNW, it is easy to feel this distinction. Though we feel the shift out of summer, late August – September even into early October it is still warm and light. We are still quite active and outward in our presence. Now, its late October. It is darker, wetter and even snow is coming. We are tucking in the garden, getting our polar fleece out, checking our fireplaces to make sure they are ready for the cold days ahead. Winter is not quite here, but it is definitely coming! We can complete our Three Treasures metaphoric exploration by adding one more piece. All that energy of the bulb manifesting? This is the season where those flowers die back and their energy returns to the bulb.  The garden may look scraggly but this is a very important time to allow those saggy leaves and stems to send their energy back to the source to replenish the bulb for next spring. The coming winter is not an outwardly active time, but there is a lot going on under the soil and inside the bulb. Storage, rest and renewal! Just like us, we want to rest more, stay inside more and be cozy. Eat root veggies and stews. It’s all part of how we restore our body bulb. Enjoy the darker more inward days ahead. We and the Dahlias will return in full flower soon enough! 

Here are some words of wisdom for this very important time of the year from Eric Hartmann, L.Ac., M. Ac.

STAYING HEALTHY WITH THE SEASON
By Eric Hartmann, L.Ac., M.Ac. 

 We are in the depths of Fall. This season is associated with and informs the energy of the Metal Element. The organs associated with the Metal element are the Lung and the Large Intestine. The Lungs are a direct connection to the ‘outside’ of our body and thus, susceptible to ‘attacks’ or as we say in Chinese medicine, ‘invasions’.  In Western culture, we refer to these invasions as a cold. So, protect and nourish your Lungs! 

-Keep the back of the neck covered with a scarf
-Support your immune system
-Drink plenty of water
-Go to bed ½ an hour earlier
- Practice rhythmic breathing like meditation or Tai Chi/Qigong
-Go for a walk and get fresh Chi energy to your Lungs

The Large intestine is the organ that lets go of waste products, the things we don’t need or can’t utilize. There are things you can do to help your Large intestine stay healthy:

-Drink plenty of water
-Eat leafy vegetables, good quality, fiber containing foods
-Go for a walk and breath in on a count of 4 and exhale on a count of 6
-Clean out a closet or give away those books you’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill

***


KimSight

I'm one month in to my new routine. And I am just now starting to get used to working one day less a week and not running myself ragged maintaining $72000/year rent and utilities and the pressure of running the Market Street Shop. Sharing space at Shift is working out really well. Still, it is a shift for me, that's for sure, a really big one. My nervous system needs some time to get off the bullet train. I have noticed that my practice and my teaching is transforming. Because I am more rested and my stress level is much less, this seems to be positively affecting my overall practice and life. I knew I had to change because my health was at risk, which seemed very counterproductive to someone who has made a career out of teaching people to be healthy! My transformation is a very interesting process. I was so scared to let go, but pressed on. Now I'm fascinated. (And have enough energy to be so!)

The Dantien, The External Harmonies & Dui-la

Last week and this week we are focusing on three important concepts for both Qigong & Taijiquan: The Dantien, The External Harmonies and Dui-La. All of these concepts/principles relate to each other, all working together to help us create a body structure that is integrated and whole. When we think about these three notions, we can easily train ourselves to feel the body not as individual parts or units but as the whole and interconnected animal body we are. When thinking about the “dantien,” think about your center of gravity, slightly below your navel and inside of your body as the center point in a ball. When thinking of the “external harmonies,” think about how each body part: the shoulders and hips, the elbows and knees and the hands and feet, relate to the center part of the ball and to each other. Perceive these relationships in multidimensional planes: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, circular. When thinking about “dui-la,” think about how the harmonies and their different planes of motion emanate from and return to the dantien - like a rubber band opens and closes in your hands. Practice a movement or two with this in mind. See where it is easy and intuitive, where tension and stiffness make it less accessible. When you raise your arms up, for example, think about your feet going down and rooting. At first, this may seem to be an overly physical approach to practice, but we must address our body “container” and these ideas. Over time the process becomes less mechanical and more intuitive. These basics and this process of inquiry is good for both health & martial arts skill building.

Oftentimes we come to a practice such as Taijiquan or Qigong to “fix” something or “improve” something in ourselves. In doing so we can also overly focus on the part that needs “fixing” or “improving.” We feel we need to breath more deeply or get our shoulders more relaxed, for example, so we try to shove our shoulders down or force air into our lungs. The result is oftentimes that we create more tension and we feel worse. If we think about our body as an interconnected whole, we expand our capacities. For example, when thinking about relaxing the shoulders, perhaps forget about the shoulders and think about opening the feet more, move up your “chain” from there. You may find tension or an old injury that is actually the root of you keeping your shoulders tense. Perhaps it is an ankle or a hip problem that is the root of the shoulder tension. You may notice an unresolved discussion that is the root of shallow breathing and begin to explore possibilities for balancing that stress. We can explore shifting our focus to see if we can discover the root of an issue and see if this helps. 

When looking for a photo for the banner of this blog I realized I loved this picture of my one and only surfing lesson. I failed miserably! However, in falling off the surfboard (in only 2’ of water, mind you), I did it quite well! This falling posture beautifully illustrates how harmonized and elastic my body was, the fall emanating quite nicely from the dantien!

Here are some handouts that might be useful for you. For a visceral understanding of dui-la, get a rubber band, wrap it around both hands and play with expanding and relaxing it. Imagine your whole body is like this.

The Dantien (c Embrace The Moon)
External Harmonies (Thank you to Chen Taijiquan Brisbane for your great public material)

Suggested Reading:
Chen Taijiquan: Masters & Methods, Chapter 4

Coming attractions: The Center Line, The Three Treasures

***

KimSights

These days of such political strife and social acrimony give us all an opportunity to practice mental & emotional “dui-la.” We may not want to, but as a challenging practice it is interesting to really try to see the opposite side of a charged argument or position. It does not mean we have to agree but the very process of attempting to see across the horizon to a different shore expands us. It is interesting to see if the tension created by holding so tight to our position might ease a bit through this practice. I tried this last week and it was really hard, but I actually found myself able to somewhat understand where the other person was coming from and he, me. He asked what we might do to solve the problems we were discussing and I thought, this is it, staying with opposing viewpoints long enough to simply hear the other person. After all, we are all connected to this same planetary/universal center, we are all related to each other’s hands and feet.

I heard this poem yesterday and it resonated for me:

“Mankind owns four things
that are no good at sea. 
Anchor, rudder, oars, 
and the fear of going down.”
-Antonio Machado

Starting Anew

Fall Session Begins!

This week was the first week of classes after our long break and move to a new studio. It was great to be back into a class routine, to meet new students and to feel the softer, quieter energy of the new digs. In all classes, we focused on new entrance and exit procedures, grounding our energy in the new space and getting reacquainted with our practice and each other. Both Qigong and Taijiquan also focused on Standing Meditation, alignment and rooting. Qigong classes further highlighted regaining our flow individually and as a group and acquainting our new students with the movement patterns. In addition to our forms we practiced self-massage techniques. Taijiquan classes further highlighted weight change (move from behind) and waist turn (turn from the front) and how this is applied to each individual movement.  Please spend a few minutes on a regular basis reviewing these principles within the movements that you know as well as observing how they play out in your daily life.  It is as important to take one or two movements and study them as it is to memorize choreography. It is also important to observe your movements in your day to day life, how your alignment is, your relaxation and tension patterns, your state of mind, and so on. All these approaches will bear fruit in your study of Qigong & Taijiquan.

Recommended reading: 

Qigong as a Portal To Presence
The Root of Chinese Qigong, Chapter 3 

The Five Levels of Skill in Taijiquan
The Essence of Taijiquan, pages 96-103

Coming attractions: The Dantien, External Harmonies; Dui-la


KimSights

One of our students asked how my recent Pilgrimage along the Kumano Kodo might spill out into my teachings. I don't know yet really; I'm actually just beginning to digest the experience. I was however recently sparked by a discussion on a Face Book page I'm connected with regarding the KK. A couple people mentioned they found it somewhat "touristy." I found that really odd; that was not my experience at all. I rarely saw others, all the Innkeepers and other Pilgrims really contributed to the sacredness of the experience, but really, the trail itself defined my experience. It was so difficult I just don't see how anyone can think it is for tourism. It is true, I and others I met had serious obstacles to overcome to even get on the trail: Typhoons, Earthquakes, Pouring Rain, Injuries, along with the slick thousand year old steep stone and gnarled thick tree root paths we had to walk up and down most of the time in strong rain, sometimes 1/2” an hour downpours. Perhaps there are times when the weather and all circumstances would be "perfect" and I suppose then a "tourist" would be happy. At the same time, it is a Pilgrimage, and for over 1000 years, defined as such. And so.... it is about obstacles, not tourism. And also, this was my intention. To have a Pilgrimage, not a tourist experience. 

It occurs to me that our life, our practices are like that too. The "Trail" (whatever it is) & One's Intention define one's experience. What do we want? To be a Tourist or a Pilgrim?

This musing reminds me of something our Taijiquan teacher Chen Xiao Xing said one time to a student, asking of the Laojia Yilu (Mother Form), "How long will it take me to learn this form?" CXX replied, "I can teach it to you in an hour, is that what you want?"

Intentional Gratitude

I'm finishing up the last few work details this weekend before I officially embark on my sabbatical. Next Tuesday I leave for Europe where my first stop is Berlin, a city I've always wanted to see. Then I meet several other Moonites in the the Soca Valley of Slovenia for Grandmaster Chen Xiao Xing’s final seminar outside of China. 10 different countries will represent! I’m really looking forward to six strong days of training with my good friends from Great Britain, Russia, Norway, China and more, many of whom I have known for years. Taijiquan, Qigong and the Martial Arts in general attract the best of humanity and international training experiences offer all of us a chance to connect our deepest passion with each other, we from all over the world. My life and how I interpret the world has been shaped and transformed by these extraordinary experiences. I’ll finish my trip with a few days in Amsterdam before heading back to Seattle. 

This in and of itself is quite a full meal. However, with all the profound changes of this past year I really felt I needed something else – something introspective, something quiet, reflective and solitary. Since my mother died last year and I decided to let go of the Market Street space, I have noticed a deep craving to walk. What does one do at 10 pm at night to research such a craving? Google “long walks” of course! The Kumano Kodo in Japan popped up. I knew instantly this was what I wanted and signed on the next day for a "self-guided" experience. And so, September 3 sees me back to Sea Tac on board an Air Canada flight heading for the Land of the Rising Sun. I chose the longest accessible option of the Kumano Kodo, the Nakahechi and Kohechi routes, both, like the Camino De Santiago, are UNESCO designated walks, the only walks in the world with this designation. I will be 11 days along this thousand-year old sacred Pilgrim Trek with bookends in Kyoto & Nara.  I lived in Japan for one year in the early 90’s and knew I’d make my way back someday. Japan met and shaped my heart and my psyche more than any other culture in the world and I’m so grateful to be able to return at this time of my life. 

A student asked me, “What are your hopes and expectations for your walk?” I answered, “nothing at all.” The Ceremony and Celebration of our Market Street dojo (Dojo: Japanese for “A Hall for Training the Way”) continues to resonate with me in ways that eradicated all cravings for “hoping" or "expecting.”  It was a completion of a cycle, we all knew it, but it was much more. How many of us have an opportunity to stand in a room of 150 people and receive such profound appreciation? How many of us have a chance to look at so many people and tell them what they have meant to their life? How many people have a chance to watch stunning demonstrations of work shared and absorbed? How many people have a chance to witness a community gather and share with each other their deep gratitude? In these weeks following our celebration I recognize the great gifts that evening bestowed on me and more, on all of us; I recognize there is nothing more to want, hope for, or expect. 

I believe this evening manifested as it did because this was our intention. We intended to celebrate, to express gratitude, to be with each other with our full selves at this sacred completion of a very meaningful cycle that has touched each of us. We did it perfectly. Starting with the weeks coming up to the event itself we moved ourselves to this completion. The final classes we shared together were among the richest we have ever shared, full of presence, tears and laughter. Full of joy and beauty. The party planning and demo practice and secret surprise for Teacher Kim were all impeccable expressions of the heart. We did this transition together and I cannot help but think this experience will be one of the touchstones we visit over and over again for the rest of our lives. Impermanence is the only thing we know is for sure in this life and to so fully acknowledge and celebrate it is a tremendous act of love. Perhaps this is what my first teacher was pointing to when he said, “one of the most important things you can ever do is leave correctly.” 

In my speech I mentioned a dream I had a few days before the event. I had been spending days putting together the photo collages. My psyche was filled with everyone I had ever encountered in this space. In my dream, everyone was with me. I felt everyone’s presence and remembered the details of our lives together. And then, the dream expounded from there: concentric circles of our connection spiraled outward into the universe. At that moment, I felt to my core how completely and absolutely our lives interconnect, how we all touch each other in ways we know but also in so many more ways we will never know. It seems to me the access code to this realization must be gratitude. Every day now I wake up with one singular intention: to be grateful. 

Thank you all very much for the Grand Salute to Market Street. Thank you for being a part of my life and thank you for allowing me to be a part of yours. 

Respect, Salute, 10,000 Thank You’s. See you in the fall. 

Kim

Ceremony Long Form (1 hour, 20 min)
Demos only (35 min) 

Hallelujah

Lucas Smiraldo's poem brought down the house at our Market Street Salute. I still sing it everyday. Thank you, Lucas. 

1.
I  thought I’d seen this form before
I tried it once and I wanted more
I swore the universe just ran right through ya’

The tiger claw and the denjima
From Chen Bu roots to Omaha
The lineage rent and law are coming to ya’…

Hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah.

2.
A stranger from the land of wheat
Crossed a sea to find her feet
And she deserved a seat and what’s it to ya?

We the student took the cause
Of health stock and many flaws
But most of us will pause at hallelujah

Hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah.

3.
You’ve heard a reference to the moon
Of Chen Xiaowang arriving soon
But did you know the tune is not a secret?

To spread the word, obey the form
Adore the sun, and love the storm
And all the ways my core sings hallelujah

Hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah.

4.
Market Street’s a fickle place
Of twice the rent and half the grace
A willow leaf of palm flew through the door

The wind, the tide, the lease, the floor
And rumors of another shore
And all the while a lunar hallelujah

Hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah.

5.
One night on a quiet road
I plunged into a riot node
Of fireflies, crickets, toads, petunias.

The willow tree was feigning sleep
The woods were lit and dark and deep
And all the bellow praise was hallelujah.

Hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah.

6.
We thought we’d seen this form before
We tried it once and we wanted more
We swear the universe just ran right through ya’

We wave our hand to Market Street
The cause is just but the time is fleet
And ever does it wend to hallelujah

Hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah.

7.
I thought I’d seen this form before
I tried it once and I wanted more
I swore the universe just ran right through ya’…

***
At the open of the closing
Embrace The Moon
July 22, 2018
Original lyrics by Lucas Smiraldo to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

Compass

My intention was to travel to Colorado over the break to take care of my mother's estate. At the last minute I decided with everything going on: recovering from the workshops, moving the School, still grieving my mother's death, and preparing myself and the School for my 2 month break this summer, I needed rest more than I needed more emotional stress. I changed my direction completely and took a week for myself in California that included long beach walks, spas, great food and a lot of sleep. I spent this past week continuing lots of sleeping and time in nature. I will have to still deal with everything, but now at least I'm rested, my mind is more quite and I feel grounded. 

One of the feelings I became aware of is that I am pointing myself in a new direction. One that is wholly unfamiliar. It is as though my magnetic core has been shifted. One of the images that moved me was of the many fisherfolk lining the beach at dawn and dusk, casting their lines and waiting.  As I watched I realized they were really waiting for nothing at all. I woke up one morning from a dream and wrote this down.

Compass

You never see it coming:
The lightening that
Strikes you down to the ground
And buries you. 
And turns you into ashes
And leaves you waiting to become
The Condor
Rising. Will you?

Maybe. 

Or perhaps you will stay buried, you will remain
Ash and be washed over by the tide
Perhaps you will smolder just under the sand until
The fisherman notices you out of the corner of his eye
as he baits his hook
And stands there with a long line of others
waiting.

No matter what, that sharp pierce to your core
shifted your magnetic center
Pointed your compass in a new direction. 
What direction?  
Physics only gives you so many choices. 
And yet, here they all are. Struck down.
You could not have seen it coming. 
Who sees lightening coming? 

You hear thunder rumbling, after,
a rapid expansion of air, an inhale.
You learned to count when you were a child.
They taught you. 
But they never taught you how to exhale
So no matter how much you count,
You can never really know how far away the storm is
It shocks you unawares


Only in hindsight you see
you were too close
and now you are buried in the sand
and conventions of Physics and Lightening and Love and Grief
Can never hold your ashes. 
The needle spins in a new direction
Pointing somewhere
You wait to be oriented again.

But all the landmarks are unrecognizable. 
You try to find yourself
searching the old direction,
looking to the compass you once knew
Looking to the place you learned to exhale  
before the storm, 
But the laws of physics only carry you so far
And you feel there are so many more lightening strikes ahead  

Get ready. 
Count. 
Go the ocean
See the glimmer of the sun
Search inside the shroud of the mist
Taste the salt
Feel the wind
Breathe
Stop asking
Questions

The Time Between Elements: Transitions

By Eric Hartmann, M.Ac. L.Ac. 

In 5 Element acupuncture, each Element corresponds with each Season. The qualities of the Season informs the energetics and functions of each Element. You may be saying to yourself, 5 Seasons? Yes! The 5 Seasons are: Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Fall and Winter.

The Late Summer, the time of the harvest, is associated with the Earth element. The Earth element represents the solid ground beneath our feet or, in other words, stability. As anyone who has experienced an earthquake can attest, when the earth isn’t stable, one doesn’t feel secure, safe and steady. 

The organs associated with the Earth element are the Stomach and Spleen. These are considered organs of digestion. It makes sense that the organs of digestion would be associated with the season of the great abundance of fruits, berries, and vegetables which nourish us. 

As each Season moves into the next season, so do the Elements. One Element transitions into the following Element. That time between seasons, that transition when it’s still Winter and a little bit of Spring or it’s not quite Spring and it’s not quite Summer, for example, is associated with the Earth element.

Recently, I had the interior of my house painted, the ENTIRE house! I had to move furniture, clothes, wall hangings, books, etc.. out of every room in order to paint.  I threw plastic tarps over the furniture that remained in the rooms so as not to get paint on them. Everything in my house was in disarray, in different places and/or covered up. In the morning, I wandered around looking for my socks, a spoon for my tea and my briefcase. My entire routine was upended and I felt discombobulated. This temporary rearrangement of my house is similar to what happens between Seasons. It’s a period of adjustment as we leave the ‘old’ Season and move into the ‘new’ Season.

I realized that my external environment had shifted (temporarily) and left me feeling disoriented.  However, I also realized that my internal environment had not changed and when I turned inwards and focused, I felt steady and stable. It’s times like these that I repeat my personal mantra of, “Don’t just DO something, STAND there”. It’s when I quiet myself, steady myself, that I realize I have the inner resources. And it is a repeated practice, every time I notice myself wandering around the house looking for my socks (which happens frequently), I repeat my mantra.

So, as we transition from one Season to the next, from one solid place to the next, remember your own mantra, your own access to your inner resources.

May your feet be solid on the Earth and your head up in the Heavens!

***

Eric Hartmann, M.Ac., L.Ac. is a licensed 5 Element acupuncturist who has practiced for almost 20 years on Capitol Hill. You can find information on Eric & his practice here.

And be sure to join us for May 12: Harmonious Living Through The Guidance Of Nature with Eric.

Leap of Faith

This session is the final session in our Market Street location. I have been teaching in Seattle for 25 years and for fifteen here at 1716 NW Market Street. I and we together have built quite a unique environment. I have worked 7 days a week running classes, private lessons, workshops, hosting the best international teachers multiple times a year. I have also been heavily involved with Chinese Medicine clinics and colleges, written and taught Western scientific studies. I have been able to train other top notch teachers. I have been interviewed, written and published. All this while managing the studio, its teachers, renters and the overall small business elements. Unexpectedly during these past years I developed a global reputation for successful teaching and successfully transcending the challenges of running a center. (Kim's CV here). I have also continued my own training and the creative development running a shop takes. Most essentially though I have been able to provide safe harbor for a significant amount of people in their transformational process. I have been able to do all this in exactly the way I wanted to with no one to answer to but my own intuition, creative vision and integrity. And you have showed up. You have really showed up. Its been great! 

Because I have never done what I do “for money,” my motivation always one of service, and because of my extraordinary deep well of boundless energy I have been able to successfully pull it off, never really thinking about anything else including the financial ramifications and physical tolls. It was always, in my mind, my destiny. However, with rent prices and property taxes sky rocketing in Seattle and especially in our Ballard hood, unbeknownst to me, I was becoming the proverbial frog in a boiling pot of water. (The frog in the pot doesn't feel the water getting hotter and hotter. It can't perceive that it is being boiled to death until its too late).

Last fall when my mother died unexpectedly I got a good look at what unrelenting suffering in one’s final weeks looks like. I turned 60 ten days later. Shortly thereafter I got the notice of the hefty rent & tax increase for the next 5 year lease. Perhaps if that notice would have come one year earlier or one year later I might have been able to suck it up, but I was in quite a raw place, staring at my own mortality in that way. It woke me up. I felt the boiling water surrounding me. I jumped out of the pot. 

Dojo environments are the only thing I have really been able to count on in my life. I have been in them for 40 years. They have formed me into the woman I am. I know for sure I have been able to share a part of what I have learned within them with many others.  So it was more than a simple business decision when last fall I starkly realized conditions around me have changed and I am unwilling to boil myself to death to keep this particular incarnation of the sacred container going. 

What next? The great news is I am not closing our container. I am moving it! We have been invited to move to a lovely shared space: Shift Movement and Healing Arts and we will begin classes there this fall. Its a great open space, has a "dojo" feel, a sprung floor and its actually a bit larger than what we have now. Parking may not be as convenient for some, but access will be better for most. Our teachers are going with us and a few of them are also opening other classes in other locations. We are still, "Embrace The Moon, School for Taijiquan and Qigong." Most of the schedule will remain as is. Also, in Shift, there are other teachers doing interesting practices you may even want to check out. Everything changes in this life, our practices teach us this and train us for this inevitability. And so, the Moon's container will change, but our intentional transformational process will continue.  

It is a leap of faith for me to make this change.  I do not know where this next incarnation of Embrace The Moon or of Kim Ivy will lead. I have a lot of ideas but I am trying to stay with the creative alchemy that exists in the unknown as long as I can tolerate it. Frankly, I have been more than uncomfortable letting of what has been, putting myself so intentionally in the unknown. And especially being so transparent and openly vulnerable with all of you about it. Its ironic that I am not really a huge fan of change, isn't it?? I like to feel the ground under me. I like my routine. However, after a great deal of wrestling with my ego, studying the options, feeling grief, fear, and much more, I am now fully on board.  I am excited to see what this frog can do now that its out of the pot. I'm also excited to have your creative energy join with mine. Its a short life. We should enjoy our collective energy, vitality and spirit and see where it takes us.  

Lets celebrate this lovely Market Street space with a strong Spring Session. Save the Date: July 22, Sunday, a big send-off party! 

With deep respect and gratitude. I feel wholly supported by you. See you for these last 12 weeks on the Market Street floor! Schedule & Registration here! 

Salute! 

Kim 

 

 

Camp

As a young girl I begged to be sent to Summer Camp. Each year I pleaded to stay longer and longer until one year I got to spend close to two months at my favorite adventure spot in Northern Minnesota. I fell asleep under the Perseid meteor shower and the Northern lights. I woke to bird song carried into my tent by the cool morning breeze. I can still hear the tune of cicadas as their song arced throughout dusk's filtered sun. It all gave me a feeling for the infinite.

It was hard to come home after those months. It was the Midwest in the 60's, a very conservative place with strident definitions of right and wrong, religious ideologies, and generalized certainties. Very little of those divisive times synced up with me the way my experiences in nature did. I didn't quite understand why I felt adjacent to it all and I became isolated and depressed. To survive my cultural surroundings I played outside as long as I could - until the street lights went on - and waited for summer camp time to come back.

I don't remember exactly when or why but one year I stopped going. I sat in my room and listened to the music of the times, and watched the world blow up around me. Kent State, Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War and Stairway to Heaven. Somewhere in the middle of all that I found the writings of Alan Watts. I had never been acquainted with Eastern philosophy or the concept of Yin/Yang before but it was a life-line for me; the idea that nothing is absolute, that everything changes, made sense to my gut the way my earlier experiences in nature did.

I began my quest to more deeply understand. Having few resources at hand I sought out the dead end of drugs and alcohol. Luckily I changed my course and moved away from home. I found the Martial & Internal Meditative Arts and have been at their study with abandon ever since. I have lived and travelled in Japan and South East Asia and still travel to China to this day so I may steep myself in ancient cultures that figured this Yin/Yang thing out a long time ago. I do not idealize these cultures by any means but when my foot falls on their soil my heart feels at home in a very real way.

It is clear my life unfolded from those early experiences. Much of how I spend my time in day to day life now, what interests me the most, is the the inquiry into and the contemplation and practice of yin/yang flow. Most of the time I feel for how to navigate the change that is all around. When I doubt this I go to the garden. I remember Spring turns into Summer, Fall and Winter. Cicadas sing and sleep. The days are light and then night comes.

I find the world right now gives me more and more chances to tug on that early lifeline. The absolutes and dogmatic view points our culture and really our world is attached to has put many of us in survival mode. Our human mind is out of control. It is grasping for something solid that has little sense of the infinite. We have forgotten camp and the night sky. Our heart suffers. I don't think it is unreasonable to feel a sense of dis-ease and anxiety in the face of all this. At the same time we can't live in this state with any long term success and have to find a way to be in it as we go through it.

One year I was in Standing Meditation with my Taijiquan grand teacher, Chen Xiao Wang. Time dissolved in a way that felt like I was canoeing along the lake at camp. When we finished he said to me, "100 minutes." I was so surprised! I said, "all I heard were the birds singing." He replied,"When the mind is quiet you hear the birds sing. When it is not, all one hears is squawking." The story resonates. Somewhere we need to find refuge in quieting ourselves down right now. Yes, time will pass and it is likely what happens in that time will be painful and unpleasant for many people. And yet everything does change and we are part of that too. Yin changes to Yang and back to Yin again. It is written in the night sky, in the cicada's song. We must nurture our lifeline, watch and act with a clear mind and be ready.

 

100 Days of Practice, 2017: Student Interviews

Most years at Embrace The Moon Taijiquan and Qigong we take up the personal challenge to engage in 100 days of consistent practice. It sure seems like a good idea at the time! This year approximately 70 people signed up to try. Three people succeeded! (I think more did but didn’t record it). I decided to conduct a quick interview with each to plumb their own personal process and attempt to gain some motivational insight!  Here are my questions and their answers! Successful Moon Students are:  1) Lynnette Woerne, with Embrace The Moon for 22 years. 2) Caterina Randolph, with Embrace The Moon for 7 years. 3) Nicholas Griepentrog, with Embrace The Moon 4 years, and another 10 of previous practice in L.A. 
 

1)    What inspired you to take up the 100 Days?

Lynette: Each year you have suggested this for establishing a home
practice, so after over 20+ years of practicing at the dojo I was inspired
to tell myself now is the time and accepted your suggestion.  

Caterina: I liked the idea of a commitment to my practice for a set period of time. It made it a challenge that I could take up and try to “win”.  Somehow, that was a hook for my competitive Western mind in a way that the open-endedness of a daily practice for a lifetime didn’t have.  By doing it, I found how much I liked having a true daily practice, so I won in more than one way.

Nicholas: It was your specific idea of someone going through the form, one movement per day, for the 100 days.  I wanted to know what would happen and the best way to find out was to do it.

2)    What was the easiest part for you?

Lynnette: Knowing that I could include the parts of the qigong routines
that seemed right for me.  I settled on standing meditation followed by
gathering qi from 8 directions: S,sw,W,nw,N,ne,E,se.  Then including other
movements like pulling the 9-oxtail or tapping, or measuring the stars with
fingers widely spread, or etc-- not always the same to fill out the fifteen
minutes.  

Caterina: The easiest part-not sure. I guess deciding to do it in the first place. I was ready and had a lot of commitment.

Nicholas: The first 60 days or so were pretty easy.  This was Laojia Yilu, which I know well, so it was time set aside to explore.

3)    What were your roadblocks?

Lynnette: Sometimes waiting too late in the day and feeling very tired but my Crystal Bowls Meditation CD helped me through those points.

Caterina: The roadblocks were the old usual ones.  I don’t feel connected to my body today.  I feel tired today. I don’t know what I’m doing and will do it wrong.  I look like a fool. 

Nicholas: The biggest roadblock was my own stubbornness. Things were relatively smooth up to the time of CXX’s workshop.  I’d developed a specific schedule and created a habit of following it.  Spending 5-6 hours a day working on Xinjia Yilu made the idea of 15 minutes of Laojia seem daunting.  Thankfully I came to my senses and realized the only thing forcing me to adhere to that schedule was me.  Every single day in the workshop I’d have already spent 15 minutes working on a particular movement.  I’d met my commitment but not had the sense to see it.

4)    Did you have anything unexpected show up during your 100 days?

Lynnette: Unexpected was how much I truly enjoy practicing in my living room.

Caterina: I learned so many things from the experience it was truly surprising, and that part I didn’t expect. I thought I couldn’t learn by doing things wrong. It was like I was holding a fragile glass sculpture and was afraid I’d drop it and ruin it. What an idiot!  Among the discoveries that showed up was that I actually do understand the principles, and there is no end to the well of my fascination for the process once I start working with it. I also learned that a daily practice helps with leg strength, and a lot of the resistance and weakness in my practice was lack of the ability to stay with the position. I discovered all the places I come up out of the correct posture, all the places I lose focus and intention. I discovered places I was “leaning” inappropriately, and places my stance was clearly too narrow, or too long.  I started noticing where there was disconnect between upper and lower body. As Yogi Berra put it: You can see a lot by just watching.

Nicholas: I went in with an exploratory attitude so I wouldn’t say things were unexpected but there were things that struck me as unusual.  The one that sticks out most is that, within the context of working on a single movement, fajin were the most difficult movements to spend 15 minutes on. 

5)    What did you learn?

Lynnette:  I learned that I can include a 15 minute qigong practice in my days and feel that I definitely benefit from doing so.  Now I welcome those moments rather than thinking of them as a burdensome obligation.    

Caterina: I finally understand what you meant by exploring, or “finding” it. It appeals the scientist in me too, who had the working principle that you can speculate about a question and wonder about it forever and enjoyably, but you don’t truly know the answer until you do the experiment.*     *For things for which you can devise an experiment only, of course.  I find that I am learning to work with qi just fine without ever having come up with a good western theory about what it is exactly.

Nicholas: The key learning for me was leaving the space open to explore movements.  Changes of intention, speed, and focus allowed me to experience a given movement in a variety of ways. 

6)    What was the funniest story about your practice?

Lynnette:  Having my granddaughters with me overnight one day and almost forgetting; then after settled in bed at 11:00 pm with the eleven-year old I said "Oh dear, I haven't done my qigong (I took it seriously that the 100 days needed to be consecutive).  So I got up and she said I'm getting up,too, and she sat on the sofa nodding along while I played the Crystal Bowls CD and moved through the 15 minutes of qigong.

Caterina: Can’t think of anything really humorous.  An observer would have found it a hoot, I’m sure.

Nicholas: The funniest part was seeing the dogs react to it.  Practice would occur as time was available but I’d always have the same music on.  Quickly they recognized that this meant practice time.  All three would get on the couch and two would watch intently while the other napped.  They’d switch roles from day to day but always two watching.  They did this for everything, except for kicks which they seem to dislike. 

7)    What might you share with others about the experience?

Lynnette:  It is amazing how a daily practice can really benefit the
flexibility of one's body.  

Caterina: All of the above.  Just try it!  Practice because there is fun and joy and wisdom there and in you. And levels of connection you didn’t think possible. Between your mind and body. Your spirit and intention. You and your environment. You and the world.

Nicholas: I would encourage everyone to take this up. That said I strongly recommend making the commitment flexible.  Life will happen and we must get our practice where we can.  I got sick during the time frame and there were days where my energy level was just enough to lay on the couch and that was it.  This doesn’t mean I couldn’t practice.  It just meant that I needed to be smart about how to practice.  I used those times to work specifically with intention and visualization.

8)    Other things you might want to say?

Lynnette:  Without Qigong I don't think I would still be alive at 77 years old with a joyful outlook on Life in spite of 8 very stressful final years in my computer programming and systems design career,  a big move from a house I truly loved, deep grief over the death of my husband of 46 years, a hip joint replacement and two knee joint replacements.  It is not just practicing qigong, it is the supportive environment of a very positive teacher and practicing with others.  

Caterina: Think I’ve said it now. Thanks for bringing this precious gift here and opening it up for us.

 

Never Mind, Just Do It

The more we know, the less we understand.
-Lao Tzu

Temple Mural

I recognized a feeling I had for Asian philosophy and perspective at fifteen, when I encountered the writings of Alan Watts.  I felt an instant kinship to the non-dualistic; it made sense to my gut in a way hardened definitions of right and wrong, religious ideologies, and generalized certainties did not. In retrospect, my life unfolded as a response to this affinity and to the intuitive disappointment I felt at the lack of it in my own family, community and culture. I sought out expressions of beauty that expressed this yin/yang heart/mind base layer wherever I could find them. Back then such expressions didn’t fall off trees like overripe fruit in the way they do now. They were mysterious and hidden, but one could still dig around and link into compelling expressions of art, poetry, story and even of movement, my preferred mode of inquiry. Twenty years later I moved to Japan with the intention of staying there. After a year I found living in a foreign culture too isolating for me but I did take the opportunity to travel on my own for many months throughout South East Asia to drink in the culture a bit more.  I have taken many trips since to China. Each time I am east of the Pacific Ocean I feel in a truly visceral way that I am home.

Of course all my experiences are filtered through my Nebraska raised, American educated mind.  This odd combination of nature and nurture engendered within me, I believe, the capacity to take my feelings about my Eastern experiences, especially as developed within the movement arts, and translate them into Western ideas and words. Early in my career I realized I had a knack for being able to use metaphor, analogy and allegory to articulate difficult concepts such as non-duality. I was no scholar but I seemed to be able to bridge the two sides of the ocean in a way that sort of made sense to an audience of eager but unfamiliar Western minds. I became relatively skilled at communicating to students across diverse educational and experiential backgrounds.  This capacity generated a sense of confidence within me and I believe helped me to cultivate both a useful career and an interesting relationship with the world.

And yet this mind/word/explanation skill is not at all how I learned to feel what I was talking about. My teachers, both Eastern and Western only rarely used words to teach. They demonstrated a process or a technique – perhaps only four times at most, and then it was up to us students to hunt and peck through what we saw, or what we thought we saw, to find something. Anything. It took a lot of tenacity to stay with it but it was understood that was the process. We didn't ask a lot of questions. In fact, words really got in the way. Sure, a morsel here and there to clarify a point could be useful but one learned to discipline both the hunger for that food and the tossing of it out. And one really became good at seeing.

Words are fun. I love a good twist of the phrase and find irony to be one of my favorite perspectives. Yet both as teacher and as student, my favorite learning environments are still the quiet ones with only the soundtrack of foot and breath, the smell of sweat, curiosity not logic driving 'one more time.'  I do very much find full commitment to this style of learning is the only way to break through physical, mental and emotional resistance to hard held patterns and beliefs. And then after a good sweat, after many training sessions, after a goodly number of ‘one more times,’ perhaps there is something to talk about.

This is the “old school” method you may hear reference to. It is a true gift because what it really teaches us is not how to know something but how to not know something. As useful as words and explanations can certainly be they also risk robbing us of the great mystery of having no idea. Too many words,  too much mental activity and even the quest for logical explanations, cheats us out of simply seeing something. It robs us of feeling a feeling and dulls the hunger for the hunt of hidden treasure somewhere inside of us.  Knowing in a very real way, stops the mind. (Or as the East might say, the Heart/Mind). Somewhere, even in the East, we have become hyper-competitive, goal oriented and locked up in the “right and wrong” of things. We know so much, have so many words, so many ways of articulating ideas, we have become in many ways devoid of inquiry for inquiry’s sake.  And I think worse, we have become so incredibly uncomfortable with not knowing we have forgotten how to relax with the vast and fathomless. This is a much bigger problem then not knowing something. 

Lately I find myself stopping mid-explanatory sentence and simply saying “never mind, just do it.” Though I have a lifetime of words, I increasingly recognize I really don’t have much to say. On the other hand I do feel the biggest value I have is my vast library of sensations acquired over years of “one more times.” And yet even with demonstrating, teaching, corrections and yes, even words, I cannot extract my experiences out of my being and give them to another person.  What I can offer though is a window into the courage of having no idea, and following that not knowing inward, one more time. 

SUMMER: THE FIRE ELEMENT

Guest Blog by Eric Hartman, M.Ac., L.Ac.

Sun! Warmth! Joy! These are some of the most commonly ascribed qualities we have for Summer and all it represents. Typically, it’s a time of longer days, warmer temperatures and more outdoor activity. I see my neighbors more often as we are outside working on our gardens or sitting outside in our yards on sunny days. We stop and chat to each other, connecting in a way that doesn’t happen during the wintertime. When we have warmer days, there is a celebratory, joyful feeling in people who are out and about.

How does this season then relate to the element of Fire in Chinese medicine? The Fire element is associated with the season of Summer and all of it’s associated qualities. The organs associated with the Fire element are the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium, and a functional organ (not a physical one) called the Triple Heater. I won’t go into all of them but would like to use the Heart as an example of the Fire element. The Heart and the blood vessels (all 50,000 miles of them!) circulate blood, warmth, and nutrients to the entire body and organs. It is the great connector.

Just like what we are doing in the Summer—warming up, circulating and connecting.The Chinese doctors viewed the human body and it’s organs like the structure of their society. The Heart was considered the ‘Supreme Controller’ or Emperor/Empress of the kingdom.  It is said in the Nei Jing (the classic text of Chinese medicine) that the ‘Mind is housed in the Heart’. So, when we say, “speak from the heart”, the Chinese had realized this thousands of years ago.  The emotion of Joy is associated with this organ. So, when we speak our Mind, it comes from the purest of love and clarity, the Heart.

So, as a way of nourishing ourselves in this season, observe Nature and emulate it. Go outside, take a walk, and say hello to someone. It’s good for your heart!

Please read more about Eric & his work here and look for his seasonal blogs. Save the date for his workshop at the Moon, September 30 on Health & Healing through the 5 Element Lens. 

 

 

Initiation

Sometimes I think it could be the top of the Howe Street Stairs or the top of the Himalayas and the feeling would be the same. Walking up step by step: lung grabbing breaths, firing hamstrings, sweat rolling down my back. The earth beneath each footfall, the sky above with each inhale, mind quiet, heart open to that sense of connection to whatever it is we are connected to. Sometimes I think all I ever need, will ever need, is my body and my breath and the vast library of sensations within. 

On my route today I remembered the first time I encountered myself in this way. Before that moment, I had no real sense of myself at all. It was a rugged early childhood-the type that engenders no sense of worthiness. It was no one's fault. Who can be blamed for generational incompetence anyway? How far back can we go? And still, wandering in that soup of alienation is no one's idea of a good time. 

In the early 1960s the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports initiated many of us young people into the world of breath and sweat. As for me, I remember loving those push ups and sit ups. I felt competitive. I broke time records. My schoolmates groaned and moaned at the requirements but I loved them. Pushing myself and feeling my blood course through my small frame was the first time I felt connected not just to my body but to my sense of worthiness. It was all mine and no one could take it away. My life's course must have been set at that moment.

It's been a shitty few months in my life. Tragedies, surgeries, near deaths and real ones. Good friends moving - the ones that affirm your sense of worth in ways you don't realize until one day you turn to them and their place in your space is a hole you sort of fall into, their laugh, their look, their constancy no longer there to hold you up.  And to say nothing of the social riptides degrading and eroding and shattering the landscape at our shore's edge. I said to a friend I feel my own worth was once again at stake. 

I signed up for a $59.95 e-course on Soulful Aging. Our first assignment was to remember a time when we were young and happy. I wished for my money back. But I thought about it all day today and then on my stairs route I remembered JFK and the President's Council on Physical Fitness. I remembered encountering my muscles, my bones and my breath for the first time then. I don't really remember many times of youthful glee but I do remember going to my body in its absence. And there I felt something. I felt worthy. I felt connected. My life's course must have been initiated then.

Activism

Some of the best friends I have in the world live in Manchester. They are safe, thankfully, but I have no idea what it must be like to be there right now. I keep imagining what it would be like if someone bombed Seattle Center this weekend during Folklife, the Stadium during a Mariners Game. It could happen. It might. In the meantime the world goes on. People cut each other off in traffic and bike through stop signs while looking down at their cell. The walker is warned about the intersection but remains oblivious to anything except the screen and the music playing through the ear buds. Who can't feel this terror and turmoil and unknown and never been here before and not want to rail against it, not want to hide from it all? The baby is fed, the job is attended. All of this, along with the Garden in all its glory, the hummingbird and the hasta, the crow and the clematis, the poppy & peony, is our world right now.

I come to the dojo that is also in a state of change. A close student dies, another sells their house and moves out of the area, another has a stroke. Rents rise, traffic jams the roads, parking is blocks away. This is our city right now. In the meantime the doors open and people step away from social chaos and their garden refuge and come to practice, everyday. Its a blessing and a burden, to keep these doors open but I do it. Its my work. Its my path. It simply is.

I've long held the floor is a place of neutrality. Some think this means I don't believe it is also a place of activism but that is not so. If our practice is not our activism then what is? We find our feet, we feed our root, we turn our attention away from "out there" to "in here" and we breathe. We find and cultivate our inner place of refuge. We make time to find space in our nervous system, which moment by moment jumps from grief to rage to confusion to grasping for answers. We find a moment where we stop chasing all of that and find calm and connection and remember beauty. Love. Even just for a moment we find it or if not, we remember it is there waiting for us. What is more socially active, more personally nourishing than that?

Today is Embrace The Moon's 22nd Anniversary. So quick these years! How the world, this city, my life have turned and changed over that tiny course of sunrises and sets. I'm not sure where I would be in my life without the dojo, in all of its many incarnations past, and those to come. Maybe I would be in the doorway like my homeless neighbors, maybe I would be an Amazon multi-millionaire. Both possibilities are within reason. I said to a friend the other day I'm not even sure what it is I teach, what it is I learn. Is it that which we call Taijiquan? Qigong? I don't think so and yet I am also sure of it. What is it really that any of us teach or even learn in the midst of "all this?" These questions rise and fall. Their import varies on any given day. And yet, somehow doors open, breathing rises & falls. Practice remains steady. I'm not sure what the framework is called but it is familiar. Deeply. And within it, I school and am schooled, by my teachers & friends, by the art itself, by the fellow travelers along the Way, by the Great Mystery.

Respect, Salute. May Peace Prevail on Earth.
 

The Archives

My computer crashed December 30, 2016. I was taken off guard. I use a Mac and erroneously believed it was immune to the mischievous malware and adware that takes out its competitors. Luckily, I back up. In fact, I back up and duplicate a lot. Unfortunately the Genius’s told me I could not simply transfer my main back up since that is where the problem was embedded. So, I gathered together my hard drives and began the excavation process. Each terabyte was layered with years and years of photos, documents, financial records, emails and personal essays. I was put face to face with a hard fact: I am a memory hoarder. Apparently, part of my own internal hardware is wired to fear loss!  In years past I had tried to sort through it all - several times - but the process was too daunting. This time my motivation was stronger: I had no computer. So, I bucked up. I was determined to use this crash opportunity to not just rebuild my computer but to clean out my memory house as well.