Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The yield of Thanksgiving

In the states we're getting ready to gather together for Thanksgiving. As a kid and young adult, I always looked forward to the holidays with family. Every year, in my little fantasy world, I imagined family gatherings with laughing, great conversation, sharing, deepening connections.

You know, fantasy.

Because the reality of it is this: there are some family members I've just handed the steering wheel to and allowed them to drive me nuts. I have a really hard time with: racists, elitists, manipulators, semantic nit-pickers, viciously sarcastic, materialistic, neglectful, and self-centered. Ironically enough, they all exist in this lovely extended family with whom I spend the holidays.

(Private conversation with universe:
Me, with sarcasm: "Thank you so much, universe, for always thinking of my personal growth!"
Universe: well, the universe never responds verbally, does it? It just kind of lets you know subtlety. )

And if I were really honest, (which I'm not going to be because I'm not ready. Although if you just read this entry the answers float pretty quickly to the top) some of those personality issues probably reside in me as well. Someone, somewhere, at some point said something like this, but don't quote me on it: "What frustrates you in someone else is the same thing that frustrates you about yourself."

So, when someone would hit me with, let's say, a racist comment, my initial response had always been to hit back: hard and fast. That was how we were raised in our family. Immediately shut down someone who was WRONG. (And, of course, we inherently knew what wrong was, being the elitists we were!) Then, between the two of us, whoever had the stronger words, the pithier statement, won.

It's very similar to a physical fight. Whoever is stronger, wins.

And what was the result? The racist's ostracized fear deepened. My elitism strengthened.

Hmmm...not exactly the true outcome I wanted.

When I started practicing taiji, I learned a concept called "yielding." Yielding, in taiji, is the ability to allow your opponent's strike to come in. As you yield to that strike, (by deflection or rotation) you are able to move with it so that you aren't absorbing the hit, you are one with it. When you yield, you don't get hurt. Sometimes the opponent wonders, "What happened? I threw a punch, but my opponent disappeared!" Sometimes the opponent hurts himself because he's thrown a punch so forcefully and you yielded so gently that he falls forward and ends up on the ground.

When you don't yield, painful things can happen. You don't move with the strike, you absorb it and you get hurt.

The same is true with a verbal toss. The racist makes a comment and when I absorb it as a strike, I feel pain. When I choose to return the strike, the fight doesn't end. We take our scars and our deepened fears and elitism and move on to the next battle.

But when I yield to a racist comment, I can hear the truth of the statement: deep, ostracized fear. When I yield and connect, the racist comment dissolves, the frightened human stands. And there is where true communication can exist. Even if the person leaves with racist ideas intact, they have not left the conversation unchanged. They were connected to with compassion for what their racism really is: deep ostracized fear. And it didn't deepen.

And my elitism didn't either.

And that is something to be truly thankful for.

Here's what the Tao Te Ching has to say about it...although, you know...I'm not sure Lao Tzu was actually thinking about Thanksgiving and holiday gatherings with family...but you know what I mean:

Tao Te Ching - trans. Stephen Mitchell

The generals have a saying:
'Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.'

This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one who knows how to yield.

When I was younger, I never saw the beauty in yielding. But this is another Thanksgiving where I am moving into the holiday season with love and compassion...and hoping that others will help me dissolve my elitism.

Whew. There. I admitted it.

For those who are celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope you have a deeply thankful, connected, loving time...

I suppose I'd like that for everyone, actually.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kidneys: The Root of Life?

Yep. That's what they've been called.

Well, not in the mid-west where I'm from.

We picture the kidneys as...well...big honkin' kidney beans that hang out inside of us somewhere. Who knows, maybe that's what's causing the intestinal gas.

The kidneys are each about the size of your fist. They are located near the middle of your back, just behind the lower ribcage. We are born with two of them - one on each side of the spine. (One is usually up a little higher than the other, if that helps the visual.)

They're important, very important. The poor things are constantly, constantly working to keep your blood composition in a healthy balance. They regulate the volume of water in your blood. They make sure important ions and other substances are at the right level and at the correct concentration in the blood stream. They remove yick from your body - yick is a personal technical term meaning: the junk you've put into your body in the form of polluted air, fast food, chemically-ridden city water, and stress. The somewhat real technical terms are: urea, toxic substances, ammonia, etc.

The kidneys even help regulate your blood pressure, help maintain calcium (very important for women in my age group) and they also stimulate the creation of red blood cells - the ones that carry oxygen everywhere in the body - i.e. really important for healing.

But in eastern medicine, the kidneys do this and more. The kidneys store what is called "Essence" or "Innate Jing", or if you will, hereditary energy you received from your parents. Kinda like other things you inherited: hair and eye color, skin coloring, and short stubby little brittle nails that never grow long enough to scratch an itch with. (Thanks a lot, Dad.)

This hereditary energy is expended throughout your life. When it's gone, you're gone.

So, it's important to maintain your Essence for as long as you would like to live. And you do that by not using it up eating poorly, breathing poor air, driving while talking on a cell phone, etc. You can't increase your Essence. It is what it is. You can, however, take hereditary energy supplements. But not from the local drug store.

These supplements come in the form of qi, life energy, and you get it from eating good foods, breathing clean air (sorry, I know most of us can't fully control our immediate environments), getting good amounts of exercise, and ridding yourself of stress.

So, how does one rid stress from their lives? Get a good teacher and practice tai chi. Or yoga. Or glass blowing. Or kite flying. It doesn't matter what it is as long as it: helps you breathe deeply and evenly, keeps your sitting heart rate low, maintains healthy blood pressure, and keeps your mind clear. Clear of thoughts that cause emotional stress - like constant ridicule, or judgemental thoughts (which come in many different forms including humor), anger or hostile thoughts, panicked thoughts of insecurity, and thoughts of inferiority.

There are a lot more, but you get the drift.

These kinds of intense emotions really rock the kidneys (never say 'stone' to a kidney).

They do it figuratively and physically.

The adrenal glands lay on top of each kidney. They kick into gear when we choose to feel stressed out. They start shootin' out hormones like an AK-47 on fire. When they start vibrating, the kidneys do too. That's why we always feel like we have to go to the bathroom when we're really nervous.

So here's a good starting exercise to bring health to the kidneys. This is one of many qigong (energy work) exercises from Master Yu-Cheng Huang:

Info you'll need to know for this exercise:
Laogong Point - the laogong is located on the palm of the hand. If you take your middle finger and touch your palm, you've found it!

It really helps, when doing the following exercise, to be as relaxed as your body can at this moment in time. The shoulders are in their natural position - not forced back, the feet are relaxed and not clenching the floor, breathwork is slow and even. The pelvis is slightly tilted forward to round out the lower back. The crown of the head is the tallest point of the body.

1. Bring your attention to the palm of your hands. Don't picture your hands in your head. Feel them. Concentrate on the laogong point. Imagine yourself bringing energy to this point. Now, place the palms of your hands or the laogong points on the back over the kidney area.

3. Take a nice breath in expanding the belly, not the chest. As you do this, imagine energy entering into the laogong. Exhale and imagine the energy releasing into the kidneys. While breathing, the hands move...rub...from the kidneys to the coccyx (tailbone). When inhaling, the hands move up, when exhaling, the hands move down. Repeat this exercise between 9 and 36 times.

4. When the hands are at the kidneys and you have inhaled, imagine that you have sealed the energy in the kidneys and count to 9. Imagine that energy now moving to the dantien while your hands move around the sides of the body and create an inverted triangle with the thumbs and index fingers on the dantien. Allow you mind to seal the energy in the dantien.

If anything, this exercise allows you to take a moment to breath - even if you can't imagine the energy, can't feel the palms of the hands, can't imagine sealing anything, anywhere. It's okay. It takes time to settle into new practices. Give it time.

So now let me ask you a question: When's the last time you had a glass of water?

Well, go get one. Hold it high and toast your kidneys. They've been working hard.

Don't forget to drink the water.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

stillness in movement

Where is your stillness?
When someone is talking to you. Do you stop typing and look them in the eye?

Where is your stillness?
Can you hear their words? Stripped of emotion or drama? Can you sit with them, look at them, for all of the moments they need, before you respond?

Where is your stillness?
Can you listen without working at forming a response, without finishing another's sentence, without thinking of what you were doing, without thinking what you would rather do?

Where is your stillness?
Can you only be still when the lights are low, when you're in the right space, when the nose can smell only just what it wants?

Where is your stillness?
Can you sit in your living room? Just sit for a moment? Can you be there without a laptop, without the television, without the radio, without the mp3? Can you feel the couch supporting you? Can you feel your feet on the floor? Just for that moment can you feel?

Where is your stillness?
Can you cook in the kitchen? Just cook? Nothing else? Can you touch the ingredients? Can you bring them to your nose? Can you smell them? Can you feel the working utensil in your hand? Is it firm, soft, strong? Can you smell the aromas again as they mix together?

Where is your stillness?
Can you drive? Just drive? Can you feel the steering wheel in your hands? Can you feel the immense weight of the vehicle? Can you sense the steel as it moves so close to other lives?

Where is your stillness?
Can you lay in bed? Just lay? Can you feel the mattress supporting your body? Can you feel the sheet? Can you feel lightness and cool underneath it? Can you feel a blanket? A quilt or comforter? Can you feel warmth? Can you feel the extra layers? Can you lay down? Just lay?

Where is your stillness?
Can you breathe? Just breathe? No thoughts? Can you feel your lungs expand? Can you feel the air coming in? Gently moving out? Feel it coming in again? Expanding? Slow or fast? Short or long? Can you feel it either way? Can you just feel?

In your life - your life - where do you create stillness?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pop Quiz!

Don't you love the tests the universe gives?

If you don't do well...no worries!! The universe ALWAYS gives you another chance.

Even if you do well - you've aced that test - if the universe thinks that you might just need the test again...well, VOILA!!! The test presents itself!

Yet again.

And again.

Damned pop quizzes.

So the pop quiz for me came last night during my tai chi class.

A new person arrived to take the class, and it became clear to me that he was not there for tai chi. He showed no interest. He looked toward the ceiling in boredom when the class was working on fundamentals. He only made eye contact when smirking at others. He asked questions about my background, but interrupted the answers with his own.

After class I found out he studies with another teacher whom I don't know. He's here to...well, I still don't really know - and that really isn't the issue. The issue is that I wanted to punch him in the face.

In taiji, when an opponent's force comes in, you are relaxed, you yield and deflect. You shift to your opponent's incoming energy so that he/she can't connect to your root, control you, and knock you down. That's a tenet of internal martial arts like taiji.

It's very similar to not allowing yourself to get emotional over situations. If someone insults you, you yield and deflect the insult by being grounded in your being. You are. And nothing can shake that. You smile and are still at peace.

I was not so grounded in my being. I felt the need to defend my class, my self, my teaching...my ego...for many minutes after class.

I finished tidying up the studio. Took a nice deep breath. I am. It is. Words dissolve. Emotions settle. I smile and feel at peace. And I laugh because I screwed up the test again.

But that's okay. I'm sure I'll get another chance.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Staying even

"A girl cries as she carries a sibling on a search for their parents in Kiwanja, Congo. Nearby U.N. peacekeepers were unable to protect the villagers, a rights group said."

Jerome Delay, Associated Press

This photograph shot into me yesterday. I couldn't stop looking at it. I cried. That tiny child, the pain, the fear. And the brave sister, such a young child herself, pain, fear, forced out of childhood.
I felt it. It just kept jabbing my insides and I just cried.

I'm still having a hard time looking at it without tearing up - and judging the pain I've been through. Judging that it hasn't been nearly as tough, nearly as painful, nearly as full of suffering.

I can't do it anymore. I walk away from the paper and sit down in another room. I flip through the Tao Te Ching...here's the verse I turn to:

Verse 29

Do you want to improve the world?
I don't think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can't be improved.
If you tamper with it, you'll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you'll lose it.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the centre of the circle.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Happy again to say I'm from Ohio

I was woken up last night by a loud crash. Turned on the t.v. and found out the glass ceiling barring people of color to the presidency of this country lay sparkling on the floor.

There's some sweeping up to do, and through my tears of joy, I'm going to work.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Solid, Liquid, Gas

I'm downstairs in the basement waiting for the spin cycle to end when I notice a glass of water on a short, plastic shelving unit next to the washer. The shelf is where the detergent hangs out and other laundry things that I sweep out of the washer at the end of a cycle - like pebbles, coins, hair bands, an occasional dead beetle. I'm assuming it's from my kids' pockets, but I've never asked. Who knows, maybe my husband is a closet entomologist.

So, here I am, checking out the water in the cup. It's vibrating like mad, which is cool. But then I realize that the shelf is free standing, not touching the vibrating washer. So the water in the cup is responding to the vibration of the washer through the cement floor and up the plastic shelf. I touched the shelf to feel the vibration.


I couldn't feel anything at all. But the water - so sensitive - was really vibrating.

The cycle stopped and slowly the water became calm.

Watching this unfold immediately made me think of a couple of days ago when I got a phone call from someone I let shake me up. She called to question me about a blog entry I had written. She didn't understand why I was writing about something that I had experienced a few years ago and 'passing it off' as if it had happened recently.

It's clear, when you read the entire entry, that the experience did take place in the past. But she hadn't read the entire entry.

I was ticked off. And I was short with her on the phone. And I took that short, ticked-off feeling and lovingly spread it to everyone I had contact with for the next half hour. Nice, huh?

Rather than seeing her questioning just as it was - questioning - I also added the baggage of our relationship to it, thinking "Here we go again, she's got to start off the conversation by criticizing me." "She hasn't even read the entire entry and she's complaining about it!" "Once again she's just trying to undermine something that I'm enjoying." Blah Blah Blah.

So, washer, cup of water, phone call, pissy mood. How do these possibly link up?

The caller was the washer, creating vibrations. I was the glass, allowing her vibrations to literally move me, shake me and control my flow. And each one of my negative mental responses were adding more vibration to the cup. I wasn't physically attached to the person talking to me, but I was moving to every word that was said. Just like the cup wasn't touching the washer, but it was totally reacting to it.

I realize all of this was brought forth in a weak attempt to protect my ego from shots that only exist because I have an ego! If I didn't have an ego, I probably wouldn't have even felt the vibrations, let alone reacted to them.

So, the imagery of this leads me to the stages of water - liquid, solid, gas. Liquid feels good to me - flow, allowing yourself to mold into any shape at any time. Steam - the ability to expand and connect. Steam can reach all places, it's big, expansive and connects. And ice - solid, stable, rooted.

You notice that all of these qualities are needed in taiji practice? Ice- you have to have a solid, strong foundation to your stances, a solid structure to you posture, to your intention. Liquid - you have to be relaxed and flexible to move flawlessly through postures, to allow energy to come in and to be released. Steam - to be present, expansive, connected to your opponent.

And all of the qualities are needed in life relationships too. What a great relationship if you were solid in your being, relaxed and flexible enough to accept others as they are, present and connected to those around you?

That would rock.

So thank you, caller, for giving me insight into my ego driven slosh. And I'm sorry for the short, ticked off conversation we had. I have some work to do.

And thank you washer, for reminding me that I don't always have to be water, reacting to everything.

And for clean clothes.

***Hey, if you haven't gotten the phone call yet: today is Election Day.***