Am I a shape shifter now?

I never expected to be able to reshape my body the way my characters Zane and Nell do. I’m not planning on sneaking into executive offices after morphing myself into an indistinguishable cleaning lady and I’m even more unlikely to stop a killer his in tracks by taking on the appearance of his latest victim.

shutterstock_33520513However, I’m discovering a mental sort of shape shifting and it has its uses. As I see my extended limbs become glowing rivers of light that stretch for miles out into space, the kinks in my back evaporate with the image. I have an excellent yoga studio to thank for this. I relax my muscles, my brain and even my soul as I become a happy baby or a resting child. I can be a tree, a cobra or a pigeon as I improve my balance and my flexibility.

I might not take to all this so easily if I hadn’t been lucky enough to find an excellent qigong instructor a couple of years ago. He has a knack for taking a secretive and sometimes indistinct discipline and making it come alive to twenty-first century Americans. My whole sense of balance changed when he shared the concept of “bottom heavy, top light”. My brain now sees my rooted foot or feet as made of iron, or as being a strong plant with roots that twine deeply into the earth. My reaching arms become gossamer wings, lighter than air as they stretch into the heavens.

Psychedelic 15You might think this is just a mental game, until you watch me change a light bulb. I mean a real light bulb, in my real living room. Or watch me paint the top of the wall next to the molding. “Wow,” my husband remarked. “Has your sense of balance improved. How did you reach that?”

Do you have any idea how much easier it is to do yard work when you can lower into an easy squat and stay there till the task is done? I’m not doing yard work, of course. I’m a Hungarian archer riding a wild horse, thanks to the qigong exercise called “riding a wild horse”.  I admit that the shape-shifting is entirely in my mind. The resulting physical prowess is entirely real.

Have I turned into a shape-shifter? Or should I keep trying?

(For more about my recent adventures, metaphysical and otherwise, see my posts Wise and Quiet, If You’re Going to be an Old Car and Greener Grass.)

This box went everywhere with me

On April 28 I gave my king-sized bed away to a stranger, and for the next fifty-five nights I slept on the beds and couches of family, friends and a few hotel chains. It was a transition I orchestrated, born of selling a house sooner than expected while still needing to work and save money before moving across the country. I’ve known folks who’ve volunteered in Haiti and Kenya for longer, others who served in harm’s way in dangerous conditions. I would be safe and comfortable, so my little stint without my own place hardly seemed to qualify as an adventure. It even sounded easy.

mind unleashed 2But life is relative, isn’t it? After fifteen years with my toothbrush in the same place, I found being afloat disconcerting. Like most poor swimmers, I looked for things to grab onto. I was lucky in what I found. Two years ago I started a daily qigong practice, and my fifteen or so minutes a day of moving meditation became an anchor. Greek yogurt, readily available and easy to eat, was my daily bread. While putting the house on the market I worked to develop the habit of sipping water whenever I became tired or anxious, and this routine worked remarkably well once I was adrift. (As a plus, I was better hydrated than I have ever been in my life.)

My most effective idea, however, was an eighteen by thirty inch box I threw together just before closing. It was meant to hold a few comforts that wouldn’t fit into my suitcase, but over two months in turned into more than that. It became my treasure box, a child-like source of comfort that I carried in to wherever I was staying. As I added new items to it and threw other things out, it became a picture of the woman I had become. What did I really need to be happy. Which comforts did I rely on? This box was not about what I wanted people to think I was like. It was about the real me, trivial as that might be.

Contents:

1. a thin microfiber blanket
2. an extension cord
3. to go coffee cups and lids for taking that last cup with me in the car
4. a tote bag with a picture of my husband, 3 children and mother
5. a popcorn bowl and several bags of microwave popcorn
6. a cloth napkin and a real fork
7. a real wine glass and cork screw
8. a scissors and scotch tape.
9. speakers to attach to my computer
10. clean wash cloths
11. a white noise generator
12. a hair straightener to keep my bangs straight
13. a plastic bag with band-aids, hair ties and Emory boards
14. a couple of cans of soup and a can opener

box2Add my cell phone and my laptop to the list and this was everything but my clothes and wallet that I needed to survive. It is accurate to add that the phone and computer provided favorite music, contact with those I love, and entertainment, making them my two most valuable possessions.

Okay …. so it looks like the real me is a lot about eating, drinking and getting a good night’s sleep. And while Ford Perfect traveled the galaxy armed only with his trusty towel, it looks like I prefer cloth napkins and washcloths. To each their own. Could I have gotten by without my box of precious belongings? Of course I could have. Did I need much more? Not really. At least not for only fifty-five days.

 

Many Paths in Costa Rica

I’ve just finished a week of qigong in Costa Rica, enjoying mountain views, fresh food, water and air, and a recharge of the practice that I began with some skepticism a year ago. Last year I came at the encouragement of an old college friend. This year I bring people of my own, hoping that they too will take to this ancient Chinese art the way that I have.

Dalai3My daughter is an avid practitioner of hatha yoga, and at first she finds the quiet simple exercises underwhelming. As the week wears on, however, she devises ways to blend her more extreme stretches with what is being taught and our instructor, or sifu, is patient with her hybrid efforts. Yes, there is a place for both in her life, she concludes, and she is glad that she has come with me.

My husband is one of the least limber people I know, and he starts the class out relieved that the exercises are relatively tame. He is also the ultimate do-it-yourself person and as I watch him in class I realize that in spite of the years he has spent as a high school teacher, he accepts instruction rather poorly. He can teach and he can collaborate, but just listen, watch and do is barely in his repertoire.

Late in the week, our sifu mentions that we need to accept that not everyone we try to include is going to embrace qigong the way that we have. He is probably talking to many people, but I feel like the comment is meant for me and is about my husband. Unfortunately, he uses a phrase that causes a visceral reaction in another whole arena. “You must accept that not everyone is ready for qigong,” he says. No, I scream back in my head. Don’t use the word ready.

Ready implies that there is only one way. As a Catholic child in a small Catholic town, I was taught that not all Christians were ready to become Catholics and we should help prepare them lest they be relegated to a lesser place in heaven. Later, evangelical Christians shook their heads at me when I argued with them about the narrowness of their faith, assuring me that I would come to believe what they did when I was ready. At least they hoped so, as they just hated the idea of my being tortured for an eternity.

I wasn’t ready for Eckankar, or ready for EST and I’m still not ready for any organized religion that asks me to accept that it offers the only way. I’m not an only kind of gal. One of my favorite quotes from Buddha is that there are many paths to the top of the mountain, and this quote alone has helped me embrace qigong.

I’m also not one to suffer in silence. At the next break I take my sifu aside, and share my discomfort. He is a very reasonable man, and a reflective one as well. After a few seconds of thought he agrees that I have a good point. During the next class the word ready is stricken from the record. “Qigong isn’t for everyone,” he corrects himself. “Others have other paths and it is good to accept that.”

Yes, it is. My husband has agreed to practice qigong for thirty days and now that he is no longer being instructed he is beginning to show a little more enthusiasm. We’ll see. Maybe this is a path he will want to walk along with me, for awhile at least. I still hope so, but if not it is okay. He needs to walk his path.  I need to walk mine. You need to walk yours. We all need to let each other get to the top of the mountain using the route that is best for us.

How do your find your path? I think that you know it in your own heart. You just have to stop and listen.

 

For more on my own personal story of my Costa Rica qigong experiences please see
1. Embracing the Yin in Costa Rica,
2. Finding Forgiveness in Costa Rica
3. Breathing Deeply in Costa Rica and
4. Animal play in Costa Rica

If you would like to know more about qigong, please visit Flowing Zen
Also please drop by the Facebook page of Dalai Lama Daily Quotes and drop off a like for the great image above.

 

Gratitude

raising 3I’m getting ready to do several blog tours over the next few months, hoping to gain readers for my two most recent books z2 and c3. Part of the process is a series of interview questions, and part of answering those questions is having to reflect on personal choices like “why do you spend so much of your free time writing?” Good question.

I think often about the power and joy of realizing that writing is what I am meant to do. This is usually followed by a litany of complaints. I don’t have enough time to write. I can’t possibly concentrate with that damn leaf blower going next door. Why is my shoulder so sore. You get the idea.

Today, I’ve decided to focus on the things that make it easier for me to write.
1. I’m grateful I have a job that pays the bills well, and even more grateful that these people let me work just four days a week.
2. I’m thankful that my husband thinks it is incredibly cool that I write, as opposed to tolerating or even resenting it.
3. I’m grateful I’ve got the reasonable good health that I need to do this, and I appreciate the things in my life that keep me healthy. (a shout out here to qigong and my husband’s relentless efforts to feed me a healthy low carb diet)
4. I appreciate that all three of my children, my only sibling, and a fine smattering of other friends and relatives, have encouraged my writing, proofread for me, offered ideas and provided whatever publicity they could for my efforts.

Whew. That is a lot to be thankful for. Time to stop complaining and get back to writing. It is amazing what gratitude can do.

(speaking of gratitude, please drop by the Facebook page Raising Ecstasy and drop off a like for the cool image shown above.)

Sharing the joy

It’s not as easy as you’d think …..

TennisflowersMy husband and I don’t really have all that much in common. He loves sports. I love to read. He plays music and hates yard work. I plant flowers for fun and lack all sense of rhythm. My ideal vacation would involve trekking in the Himalaya’s, preferably with people who like to talk a lot about philosophy. His would involve lots of tennis, good beer and people who hardly talk. You see the problem.

Every once in awhile, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, one of us decides that the other just has to try something that we really enjoy. This bout of optimism occurs because we happen to genuinely love each other, so it’s understandable, even though it often ends poorly.

click to learn more about qigong

click to learn more about qigong

This past week-end was the result of such a burst of enthusiasm. Weeks ago I convinced him to spend a perfectly good week-end in Gainesville Florida with me attending a weekend workshop in qigong.  I am amazed by this ancient Chinese form of moving mediation that I discovered last summer and, like most new converts to anything, I have a burning desire to share my joy.

I didn’t occur to me that he’d be spending the better part of his week-end in an uncomfortable folding chair while his perfectly good couch sat empty at home. Worse yet, I failed to predict that his favorite team, the Red Sox, would go on to make it to the world series and would now have to be watched on a dinky hotel TV for two whole nights with only mediocre snacks and no ability to rewind. He was gracious about the whole thing, but it was fair to say that this was not the weekend that either one of us wanted.

red soxBut luckily the story didn’t end with Sunday night. Yesterday, he asked a question or two about how one starts practicing this stuff and it sounded like he was doing more than being polite. Last night, Boston went up in the series three games to two, in spite of my husband not being fully engaged in their fate all weekend. Today, he told me he tried to use some of the ideas from qigong out on the tennis court, and he thinks it might have helped his game. A little anyway. Tomorrow? Who knows.

Luckily, sharing joy doesn’t have to be instantaneous, or an all-or-none thing. Give it time. Give it room to be just okay for awhile. Who knows. Maybe this new passion of mine will still join the short list of things that we both embrace.

Feeling gratitude in Costa Rica

Costa Rica 2Pick something that you are grateful for.  It sounds like an easy directive, coming from the Qi Gong instructor.  Friends have talked me into joining them on this week-long retreat in beautiful Costa Rica to learn what is commonly called “Chinese Yoga”. We are entering into the meditation phase of the day’s session.

Okay. I do a little Americanized “Hindu Yoga” and I am familiar with the gratitude thing. Good stuff, this feeling of thankfulness. Perhaps it is the Chinese influence, but my first thought is of my parents. Raising me to be open minded, to try new things. Good, that’s settled. I am grateful for my parents.

My Sifu offers more clarification. Yes, I do now have a Sifu. This retreat instructor, by virtue of being my first teacher in this art, is now my “Sifu”, my tutor on this path. Oddly enough, independent western soul that I am, I am completely okay with this. “Make sure you choose something simple, with no complications,” he tells us.

Oh dear. Parents are complicated, aren’t they.  Even basically good and loving ones. Perhaps, for the purposes of this exercise, I need to be grateful for something that carries a little less baggage. That quickly eliminates my spouse, children, sister, job and friends. Let’s try another approach.

Costa Rica 1I open my eyes and steal a quick peak at the gorgeous tropical flowers surrounding the pavilion where these sessions are taking place. My sense of sight. That’s it, I am grateful for my vision.

“This gratitude should erase all worry, remove all the stress from your mind,” my Sifu says.

Oh dear. My eyes have been aging, my vision is not what it used to be.  On some deep level I fear losing my sight in my old age. Maybe this isn’t such a good choice either.

He sees many of us struggling. “Just pick something that brings you joy,” he suggests to the class. “If you really like chocolate,” he says, “be grateful for chocolate.”

Okay, I am not the extreme chocolate lover that some people are, but I do have a similar illicit love affair. Mine is with ice cream. From the almost guilt free lemon sorbet that nursed me through the flu a few months ago to the cappuccino gelato that has no equal, I am grateful for ice cream.

“We are going to use what ever you pick as a focal point all week,” my Sifu adds.

Oh dear. I am always trying to drop a few pounds. Do I really want to spend the whole week focusing on my appreciation of ice cream? Probably not.

“Now concentrate on this gratitude,” he says. I start to panic. What to pick? Something. Quick. Of all the million things I am grateful for doesn’t one, qualify as simple and stress free?

I comes to me. Sunsets. I am grateful for sunsets.

My monkey mind (of which I am hearing a great deal about this week) has not one single objection. Sunsets it is.  I imagine the beautiful colors of the sky at dusk as they burst into oranges and purples. I am grateful.

Costa Rica 3

Read more about my novice attempts to quiet my monkey mind here. Read about other changes this week has wrought here.

To learn more about Qi Gong and what I have spent this past week studying, please visit Sifu Anthony’s website called “Flowing Zen” here.