Posts Tagged ‘Ba Gua’

To Heal a Tummy

January 11, 2015

The weather has been on a crazy whirl this past week – sunny and a spring-like sixty-five one day, icy twelve degree fog the next coating everything in sheaths of white rime. Then another warm day melting it all, to be followed once more by ice rime and black-ice accidents on the highways. We’re projected to have several more of these mood swings in the next week, around which I am trying to plan my work-related travel.

I regularly go up over the mountain (part of the Rockies) from my home to Taos. I have to accommodate my planning not only to the fluctuations of weather as I experience them where I live, but also as they manifest quite differently on “the other side.” Just last week, I spent a warm and lovely day seeing clients in Taos, and did not know it had been a fogged-in and icy day at home until I came back over the ridge in the late afternoon, and looked down onto clouds.

Above the fog

Above the fog

Bodies react to these unpredictable changes in climate. Old injuries begin to ache, remnants of bronchitis flare, sinuses swell and congest, even tummies become sensitive and refuse to function properly. There is a very direct cause and effect for the bone and joint aches – heat soothes and cold aggravates these types of reminders of past incidents. To the extent that the warmth releases pollens, chest and sinus irritations can also be understood as directly related to weather. But tummies?

I’m one of those who are most sensitive to what affects tummies. Mine has been – my husband sweetly calls it fragile – since infancy. I’m more inclined to use harsher words, like irritable, aggravating, infuriating. It’s definitely where any and every stress lands. My mother complained to all who might sympathize, that the only formula I could tolerate as a baby was one which required a great deal of work – a complicated process involving twenty-four hours of advance preparation and multiple periods of cooking. I also had many food allergies, and did not outgrow them until I was well into my teens. Some I have retained all my life, in the form of sensitivities I’ve learned to recognize.

Some days I can eat eggs, other days they make me very sick. And I react horribly to the ‘flu vaccine, incubated in eggs. I love fresh tomatoes, but have to moderate my consumption, and must avoid most cooked tomato products, like spaghetti sauce. Thankfully, I can usually enjoy strawberries, and most thankfully I’ve never, as an adult, re-experienced hives from eating hard-shell seafood. I am gluten intolerant, have probably been so all my life but have only accepted and adjusted to that limitation in more recent years… hmm… nearly ten years now.

I’ve repeatedly questioned why, when I mind my diet and adhere to its restrictions, I can still suffer from severe and usually totally unanticipated abdominal distress. It’s too easy to blame the weather, claiming some as yet unrecognized link between storms and digestive upsets. My latest bout was with an actual bug that is going around.

Identified cause, commonly experienced effect.

I treated the episode partially with a special form of deep breathing I’ve learned in Ba Gua, something called empty breathing. The unpleasant symptoms of stomach ‘flu remained present. Empty breathing did not eliminate them, but it did seem to reduce the pain and cramping side effects. And I recovered quickly, for me. Instead of a week of subsequent hypersensitivity, I was able to eat my normal diet by the third day.

Which set me to reflecting further on breathing as a relaxation technique, and breathing helping my tummy recover, relaxation being related to quick recovery… maybe relaxation being related to not being so fragile, going forward?

I’ve begun 2015 focused on doing what arises for me, to the best of my ability, in a flexible way that does not allow for me to berate myself for what is not done – or what is not done as thoroughly as I might like. I’ve even incorporated that goal into the “work-related achievement objective” that I must create as part of my employee evaluation criteria for this new calendar year. My personal achievement objective (another requirement) dovetails, in that I’m committing to a certain number of blog posts, which means committing to a consistent pattern of taking time for myself in quiet reflection.

I’ve learned that if I don’t write, I don’t reflect – and conversely if I don’t take time to reflect, I can’t write. And I’ve also learned that my tummy is less fragile if I’ve reflected more. Because I breathe differently when I reflect? Maybe. Because I release tension when I reflect? Certainly.

Which brings me inexorably to the conclusion that my childhood must have been filled with tensions (gee, I had no idea) and was consequently one of frequent sickness. I learned a pattern then, related to my mother’s fierce dislike of “the sick room”, which was that if I was sick, I was left alone (not harassed, nor subjected to demands). No wonder, for years, when I began to feel overwhelmed, I’d fall ill. Even after I was on my own, and being ill only added to the pressures I was experiencing, rather than providing relief from them.

Then, finally, I recognized that pattern and the need to release it. I came to the realization that if I didn’t take time to care for my spiritual self, I’d get sick several times a year – brought to a halt, confined to bed, enabled to contemplate what had brought me there.

Lesson learned.

As noted above, now I mind my diet, I exercise, I pursue my daily spiritual practice, and I treat myself as respectfully as I treat others. But still there remains that fragile tummy, that I’d like to see be more durable and tolerant, especially when it comes time to travel with my husband to Cameroon.

So it seems I’m being asked to take a next step, to actively and consciously come to recognize the tensions I habitually tuck into my gut, and to stop doing this basically harmful practice.

We all store tension somewhere. If I see my husband stretching his neck, rolling and flexing his shoulders, or holding his head somewhat rigidly when turning to look to the side, I know to ask what family matters are bothering his mind. He quite literally “carries the weight of the world on his shoulders.” I, on the other hand, apparently absorb and “swallow” the cares of others.

People – especially my clients – are inclined to say that they feel better after talking to me. I’m very glad for that ability to help them, and do not want in any way to diminish that form of service to those in need of a listening ear. However, I do want to learn to recognize when I am taking their cares into my body and Being, and to stop doing so, on however subtle a level I internalize their issues.

My Master teaches us about the goal of being “a pure and open channel” for the Shabda, or Divine Soul Current, or Sound, or – to Christians – the Holy Spirit. When one is such a channel, others are enabled to clear their own karmic issues, while the channel remains free of the shadow of those issues. Putting the abstract into a very mundane image, one becomes able to clear the soot from a wood stove without getting that soot on one’s hands and clothes.

I obviously have a way to go, down this new path of understanding. I’m still at a point equivalent to getting soot on my hands when I load wood into the stove for burning. But each time I load that stove, less soot transfers. Each time I notice my tummy being “unhappy with me” I can stop, breathe deeply, and tell it lovingly to release whatever emotional tension I’ve unthinkingly crammed into it. And above all, I can remind myself daily that my job, my busy days, my world are all too big for my puny mind to encompass, let alone control. As soon as I no longer try to control my days, they sort themselves out far more perfectly than I could ever have imagined.

Ice Dance at Sunrise

Ice Dance at Sunrise

THAT is the blessing of not being a human being, but rather “being a Spiritual Being, having a human experience.” (T. de Chardin).

‘Tis a Gift

March 23, 2014

I have only a little time this evening, set aside for writing, but without any strong motivation regarding a topic. There are four or five essays I’ve started at various points in the past few months – none of them grab me just now, asking to be completed and posted. Too abstractly intellectual; too much social commentary when I don’t feel particularly engaged; too removed from my current state of being… Too, too, too.

The only immediate concern that engages me in this moment of relaxation, is how to keep my present calm acceptance and contentment going when I am bombarded by Saturn’s powerful strictures, or the draining needs of others. I’m sure you’ve encountered people whose sense of deprivation, or overwhelming pain, or just plain exhaustion have turned them into emotional black holes, sucking life force from everything around them. I’m not referring to those who have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder – the ultimate in black-hole-ness. Working effectively with these fragmented people requires professional training and a great deal of practice.

No, I’m referring to people who mostly manage to make their way in life, but lean extensively on anyone and everyone around them in order to function. They hold jobs, they raise families, and they suck up the energy, the enthusiasm, the very vitality of those around them. I’d forgotten how many such souls draw on our health care system for portions of their support. I’d forgotten to what an extent I have to develop mechanisms to balance myself out, after spending days working with these needy individuals.

Some of the exercises in my weekly Ba Gua class draw energy from the earth and bring it up through the body and out the fingertips. After a particularly challenging work day recently, I rooted myself in the standing tree pose until I felt a resurgence of chi in my body. The technique is effective, but not one I can practice easily in the car, traveling between clients.

Checking in with my Master helps, always.

So does the company of friends, though I feel cautious about relying on the energy of others, not wanting to become, myself, the sort of leech that I am seeking to recover from.

At Upaya, a Buddhist retreat center in Santa Fe, there will soon be a workshop on compassionate caring, subtitled how to be engaged without being entrapped. It sounds like an answer to the challenge of my present situation. I will have to absorb the lessons by osmosis, however – I can’t take that much time off from work just yet.

Nor do I think such a workshop will guide me in dealing with the most serious source of leeching energy – the brutally frustrating, inefficient, too often non-functional data software system with which I must interact on a daily basis at work. I’ve learned that my employer is threatening the computer system contractor with a breach of contract lawsuit – and cancellation of the contract for failure to perform. One part of me is cheering wildly at the thought of becoming free of the monster. Another, though, cringes at the idea of having to redo – in a new data base – all the work already completed since the first of the year.

You’ll get some idea of how awful the data system is, if I say that keeping paper records and duplicating multiple entries by hand would be far more efficient and user friendly than the program we are expected to negotiate, when it works – if it works. I had set today aside for data entry – and couldn’t even get into the system until almost 1PM, effectively losing half my work day. To keep up and not feel totally overwhelmed by unmet obligations, I’ll have to work on Saturday – again.

I can work on Saturday. I’m free to work on Saturday. I have paid work to do on Saturday. I have a good paying, mostly enjoyable job being of service to others, after many long months of being turned down for every sort of work I sought.

No, I’m not practicing affirmations, just reversing a possible spiral into negativity that could begin with today’s frustrating failure, yet again, of a system that is supposed to be an asset in my work my life.

Giving attention to that which uplifts, enjoying the company of friends, sharing a bit of my daily life with these words – these are activities which allow me to regain energy, to move forward into my next day of interaction with whatever sentient or mechanistic black holes cross my path. Outstanding astrologer, Eric Francis of PlanetWaves, urges that we face the coming months of a unique and powerful astrological grand square by daring to trust. For me, that translates to moving forward with confidence that my inner sun is strong enough (provided I remember my Source) to keep shining despite any loss of energy or sapped strength.

To have the opportunity to experience this constant regeneration is a gift for which I am most grateful.
CIMG1281

Not a Christian

December 21, 2013

“I am not a Christian.” A simple, declarative sentence.
My housemate’s aide asked why we do not yet have a tree up, and I answered, “I am not a Christian.”

Why is this the first time I’ve made that statement so openly? In the past, I’ve evaded. “We don’t make a fuss over the holiday, since it’s just the two of us.” Or, “I wasn’t raised to celebrate Christmas.”

It’s true, I wasn’t. My culturally but not religiously Jewish upbringing included commemoration of holidays as a remembrance of history rather than as spiritual practice. I’m old enough to have attended public schools that started the day with both the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. For all of my first 6 years in school, I would silently add “Cross that last line out, God” when the teacher ended the prayer “In Jesus name.” Later, at convocations, graduations, other public events in pre-politically-correct times, I didn’t bother with the amendment. Other people could pray as they wished, and assume what they wished about me.

While I lived in Vietnam, in order to participate in a choir, I practiced with the group at a non-denominational Protestant church. My mother did not let me perform with them on Sundays, however. I lit incense at a temple with our Chinese housekeeper, and watched the elaborate funeral parades of some of Saigon’s wealthiest families. The first time I encountered the concept of reincarnation, I knew it to be truth, resolving as it did so many of my questions and doubts.

One of Many

One of Many

In college I took several courses in comparative religion, and sat in silence with the Quakers, drawn both by their lack of ritual and their commitment to social action. The practice of seeing “that of God in every man” enabled me to feel part of a larger whole, in contrast to my life’s lessons of being an outsider. I diligently sought, in the silence, to discern “God’s will for me” and to listen to the “still small voice” giving direction to my life.

I’ve rarely had – or perhaps only rarely remembered having – dreams. The few vivid ones that have occurred have always been crystal clear as to their meaning, and prophetic. My access to inner answers has been simpler, more direct than dream interpretation. If I frame a question before going to sleep, I awake with the answer. If I frame a question before participating in Quaker Meeting, I leave the meditation having received – either from within myself or from a spoken message – a sense of direction. I never conceive of this instruction as God speaking directly to me. Rather, I remember my grandfather’s answer to a question about why one should do right. “Because you know it is the right thing to do.”

I have followed my inner instruction because I know it to be right for me. Living and working these past twenty years amid practicing Christians, primarily Catholics, I’ve kept my views to myself in order not to offend, in order not to disturb their settled beliefs. I’ve been respectful of our differences, not feeling any need to explicate those differences.

For more than twenty years I have been student of MasterPath – a spiritual teaching, an instruction in how to find “one’s way back home” to realization of one’s true nature as Soul. Practitioners number now in the tens of thousands, come from many countries and a wide variety of faith – or no faith – backgrounds. What we have in common is the desire to know our Divine purpose – to know and be our true selves, to manifest wisdom unadulterated by considerations of body, emotions and mind.

Different religions use terms like man’s purest essence, Buddha nature, the Soul self, Christ consciousness to describe the state of pure consciousness to which my Path leads me. Many religions ascribe the capacity to manifest that pure consciousness only to the founder(s) of the religion, as something outside oneself, to be worshiped and admired, but not to be attained.

Regrettably many religions are now adulterated by ego interpretations of what it means to act “as a ______” (fill in the blank with Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jew, Buddhist, Taoist, etc.) so that instead of manifesting the beauty and truth of their faith, they demonstrate violence, intolerance, exclusion and dominance all in the name of religious purity. It should not surprise anyone that atheists point to the history of war waged in the name of religion as proof that belief in God has a negative influence on humanity.

Religious history has little to do with why I reached my seventh decade before stating plainly, “I am not a Christian.” Or maybe it does? Maybe the intolerance of differences reflected in all those wars waged in the name of religion has seeped into my being, quietly persuading me to not make an issue of my difference from my neighbors?

No, I think it has taken me this long to be truly comfortable with who I am and what I know to be Truth; to achieve a genuine indifference to reputation and how others perceive me; to feel certain in my knowledge of my Inner Being. In other words it has taken me this long simply to Be, and hence to be free to speak my own truth. I need not weight myself down with a responsibility not to offend others. If they are discomforted by me, so be it. In a far from cartoonish and Popeye’d way, I am what I am.

In the words of a blessing spoken at the start of a lovely Ba Gua exercise called Swimming Dragon, “I am health, I am beauty, I have enough.” It is enough, that I AM.

It’s No Coincidence

October 19, 2013

This piece has been written in sections, over time. I began it back in early August, completed it just a few days ago. Gaps in time are indicated by a change in typeface, as well as by subsection dividers.

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It’s no coincidence – I’m certain it’s no coincidence – that I spent time this morning writing out my answer to the question, “What do you fear about moving forward?” and within half an hour of finishing the exercise, received a phone call giving me the opportunity to push into fast forward. I accepted the offer (a well-paid job doing work I generally like) despite my identified reservations. Identifying the reservations let me see that they are not insurmountable challenges, merely conditions which will necessitate new adjustments to my schedule, diet, work habits, writing goals.

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Nor is it coincidence that things come to hand just as you need them. I’ve been having a discussion with writer friends, and reader friends, about how to intermix inner thought with third person narrative in my novel, in a seamless way that will pass muster with editors. (Editors are known to object to the mixing of points of view). Various suggestions have been made, including using italics for the thoughts. I tried the italics and don’t like them – they jar my awareness, as a reader, pulling me out of the flow of the story to register the fact that some change is being made apparent. I also rejected elimination of the self talk/thoughts/inner monologues solely in order to meet a style ‘rule’ that I know has elsewhere already been broken.

Ready to turn my novel rewrite back on itself, and find a way to signal shifts to first person without the jangle of italics, I was forced to turn off my computer and unplug from power to assure protection of the equipment from a fierce thunderstorm raging overhead. Reading lights have been flickering as wild electricity jumps from the sky to disrupt the flow of its domestic kindred through the lines in my house. I picked up the book I’ve been reading – Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon – and there before me was a chapter of exactly the sort of intermixed action and thought I’ve been considering. It works – it reads smoothly, no italics, only here and there a couple sentences set apart within parentheses, which I find an unnecessary distinction. A separate paragraph would be equally effective and clear.

Posing the question to the LinkedIn group Authors, Writers, Publishers, Editors and Writing Professionals brings more valuable input, including recommendations for good reads which effectively mix first and third person viewpoints. I have my answer – a good writer can pull off the violation of rules. It is up to me to assure that my writing is good enough to do so.

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That I write well is no coincidence.

It is the product of early indoctrination, a great deal of practice, and continuing learning. I finished a blog post (Ba Gua Lessons) in the morning, and then at noon participated in Lesley S. King’s free telephone class on vivid writing. She offered the session, full of helpful guidance, as an example of what one can experience taking a writing workshop she will be producing soon. I hung up from the hour and went back to review what I had written earlier.

Look Ma, I used present tense, active verbs, multiple senses… I hope I engaged my readers, asking questions, encouraging the possibility of dialogue. But I can do it better, as evidenced by my desire to tweak a sentence here, add a challenge there. What I gained from Lesley’s class was a framework for evaluating my writing, a standard against which to stretch myself further. Good writing is fun, it’s my passion, I don’t consider it work… but it does require effort, absence of ego, an open mind, curiosity, and an unfettered willingness to learn.

It is no coincidence that my encounter with Lesley – who encourages writers to build a career from their writing passion – comes at exactly the moment when I am choosing to once more put writing into second place in the prioritizing of how I spend my time. My new job will initially require enough attention that I can meet my commitment to myself and my readers with weekly blog posts, but am unlikely to do much more about building my platform (the latest word for audience), or marketing my novel.

I am not abandoning a writing career; I am accepting that I’ve been offered an opportunity to do something else I care about (assisting others to access services which help them live their fullest potential despite health issues), and to meet an external financial need, while I learn to maintain a balance between competing interests. Not an either/or choice, but an integrative one. Continuing to write is a crucial part of “taking care of myself” – that imperative frequently stated but not so easily implemented. One of my writing projects, a book of creative suggestions for managing the challenges of Parkinson’s, will undoubtedly be furthered through my new job.

Mind likes to create dichotomies. It suggests that just when my focus on writing is beginning to morph into a career, the rewards of my efforts are being taken out from under me. Mind might think so, but I don’t! Instead, I’m being offered the opportunity to meet both outer and inner needs, to manifest balance not only in the activities to which I give my attention, but in the way I blend social interaction with quiet time, and productivity with stillness. I don’t know yet how this balance will manifest; I’m looking forward to discovering the various ways it will express itself. The one thing I do know, with certainty, is that its place in my life at this time is no coincidence.

Unlearning

June 30, 2013

For the last twelve months I’ve been taking a Ba Gua class from the wonderfully skilled man who also gives me acupuncture treatments. I’ve used acupuncture as my primary form of medical care for more than 40 years, and have been cared for by a number of able practitioners over that time. Without question, John Mince-Ennis is the best of them all. He’s a gentle and effective teacher as well.

I began my physical-activity life as a dancer, studying both modern and Thai classical styles, with an occasional ballet technique class thrown in for its discipline. I’ve also been a horseback rider, European rather that western-style, and a hiker. In later years, I’ve learned a 27 form Tai Chi pattern, taken a couple years of Tae Kwan Do, and finally found Ba Gua. Also a ‘soft’ martial art, like Tai Chi, Ba Gua works on realigning the fascia, resulting in a suppler yet strengthened body, improved balance, and overall improved health. Used as a fighting form of active martial art, it is both beautiful and effective, with a distinctive circular, coiling and uncoiling movement.
The challenge for me in learning Ba Gua is in fact not learning something new, but unlearning something old. My body has had many decades to practice moving in ways instilled from as long ago as those first dance classes at age 8. Legs turned out from the hips, knees over toes, balance maintained by tight control from the core (abdomen) which is pulled in and up. All movement (including the graceful lifting of an arm) originates from that same central place.

An overlay of how to swing through with a tennis racket, was added during my sojourn in Saigon. I had no language in common with the pro, so he placed himself behind me, reached around and grasped the racket with me, then moved my body through the correct motions. An amazingly effective and enduring type of instruction. I don’t run to meet a ball any longer, but placed where it will bounce, my body still knows the right way to connect with a solid swing.
None of which is of use – indeed all of which must be refuted – as I learn Ba Gua. Instead of pulling my core in and up, I must “hang from the one point” at the crown of my head, sink my lower body into a semi-seated stance and relax the middle, “rotating waist inside of hips”. Toes are slightly pointed inward (a similar slightly pigeon-toed walk is understood to be natural to some Amerindian tribes) in direct contradiction to my ingrained habit of toeing out. A set of twenty-four “gao” – exercises – seem to begin with arm movements, but have the effect of teaching the inner core new ways to move. In other words, where my dance training initiated movement in the belly, from where it moved outward, the beginner’s instruction in Ba Gua initiates movement in the limbs, from where it works inward to retrain the fascia.

My teacher on the MasterPath speaks of a similar, necessary unlearning of all our habits of mind and unconscious ways of believing, thinking, behaving – in order to uncover the truth of Being. Neither process of unlearning the old, to acquire the new, is easy. Both take years of instruction, diligent practice and, above all, the willingness to change. Odd, how persistently we cling to old ways of doing and being, even in the face of ample evidence that our circumstances have changed, and we should change also.

Staying at an acquaintance’s home recently, I looked for silverware in the drawer closest to the sink. Instead I found storage containers. My hostess directed me to a different drawer to find a spoon to stir my tea.
“Why did you look in the drawer by the sink?”
“Because that’s where the silverware would be in my own kitchen.”
After a pause to reflect, I had to add, “That’s where my mother stored the silverware.”
Decades later, I felt disoriented because something as mundane as the location of a silverware drawer was not in accord with my conditioning!

Beliefs about ourselves, about how to relate to others, about what aspects of ourselves we should identify with – these concepts are so ingrained that few of us are required to examine them unless we experience a traumatic shattering of our sense of self from which we must work to find our way back to wholeness. Or perhaps if we start on a path of spiritual exploration.

The challenge, the excitement, the work and the reward of MasterPath lies – for me – in being asked to examine every single assumption, expectation, concept and belief in my life. Most especially, it challenges patterns of being which are buried so far down in the unconscious that I have no recognition of their existence, until some circumstance or life event pushes me to bring the assumption into awareness, to be contemplated and understood for what it is (or is not).

Just as my body is being renewed by the process of unlearning/relearning that is Ba Gua, my essence is being redefined by the unlearning/relearning of what I Am – of what it means to Be, to Know, to See.

On all levels, the unlearning/relearning is hard work, but amazingly rewarding!


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