Pricing Value

This is my annual uncomfortable note to all people across the board who take classes with businesses like mine. Summer is a strain on us financially. So many people take off and of course don't sign up for classes. And yet, we have rent, utilities & taxes to pay. So many people say, "see you in the fall." Most of us say to ourselves, "sure if we are still here." 

If you are an ongoing student in a school/dojo/club that is a small business please consider making a "keep the lights on" donation to your organization even if you are not here in the summer. We never ask for it because we just can't. At the same time, I don't think most people quite understand the way our businesses work, which is not on a thick margin. Most of your dues go to expenses, not to our pockets. When the dues are not there, the expenses come out of our pockets. 

Most of us like myself who have been in business for a long time, plan for the lean times and are grateful for the students who pay whether they are there are not, and I do have several, thank you, you know who you are. But this is a bigger call. 

If you want folks like us to support you in your health & transformational endeavors then please pay your dues even if you aren't there. Compare your dues to your Netflix/Amazon Prime expenses. Seriously. You pay for those even when you don't use them, correct? Or something like that? Just so they are there when you do use them. So the value of Netflix is more than the value of a health/transformation class? I'm sure you don't think like that really, but can you see my point? Most of us are way beyond PhDs in our education, experience and commitment. But we do not bill out like that. We bill out at $15-20/hour; most of that is to expenses. What do you charge for your value? 

This is not about shaming or begging. This is about perspective and contemplating what we value and how we actively and consciously support what we value. This is about seeing those who work to bring that value into our lives, the sacrifices they make to support us. This is about how we can respond to and return that a bit. How we appreciate the value and support the value bringers. Sure there are things and activities that are fee for service, but are your transformational health classes really one of those things? Do you really just come to them every week and then forget about them? Or does your life change? Do you practice what you learned every day? Is your life and that of your community's better because of your involvement with the classes and the schools and the people in them? How would you feel if they were gone? Would you say to yourself, gee, I wish I might have found a way to help keep them going? 

My students will likely see this post and that is uncomfortable for me, but every year about this time I feel the need to speak this for all of us who are in this position. Dojo/school owners, please feel free to share. 

Respect.

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.