My Qigong journey continues. On Epiphany I drove to Winslow Maine, experiencing my first snow fall behind the wheel of my new gas sipping Prius. My light listening on the drive was “Courting Difficulties”, a suspenseful murder mystery on just enough CDs to get me all the way to my exit in Maine. I was so engaged by the concluding disk that I drove right past Augusta, my dinner destination. I stopped instead in Waterville where I ate spicy Chinese food with brown rice, or rather, white rice in a gooey brown sauce. I should have know better. Anyway, I was determined to be over the flu that had flattened me earlier in the week, to clear my sinuses, and to get on with my adventure.
Paul Weiss, from Bar Harbor, was teaching an introductory evening and day session of qigong at the Living Water Spiritual Center in Winslow. I drove into the snowy driveway of the retreat center and parked behind the building in the snow. A smiling, round faced nun greeted me inside. Lynn gave me the key to my darling single room on the third floor and directed me to the snack/ dining room where I could help myself to tea and look for others attending the retreat. The meeting space for our group was a large room with a circle of wooden rocker/glider chairs at one end and open space with an area carpet on the other.
Little by little our group of about ten students wandered in and began to rock on the chairs and to introduce ourselves. Some of us came because the Living Water Spiritual Center is scheduled to close this year and they wanted to savor the nurturing atmosphere again, while others were previous students of Paul Weiss or simply curious about qigong. There were couples as well as individual seekers, older and younger participants. Most were from Maine. I had read Danna’s memoir in which she describes attending several workshops with Paul and mentions his qigong interest. Danna is a friend, a poet, and long time member of the Kripalu community. If Danna thinks a teacher has a talent for creating safe spaces for transformational introspection, that is a strong recommendation.
As soon as Paul opened the workshop I recognized his emphasis on careful listening and supportive communication from other Kripalu experiences. As we introduced ourselves he encouraged us to take all the time we needed in silence to plan what we wanted to say so that we could really listen to each of our neighbors in turn as they spoke. Already we were making time for ourselves and each other, practicing being present. The meditation that followed was also a practice of being in the moment, in our bodies. If energy follows our thoughts and intentions, taking a moment to feel and bring our thoughts into our most immediate here and now concentrates our energy as well. How interesting to really notice mouth breathing as my nostrils were useless. How could I position my tongue so as not to overly dry my mouth?
Paul explained the proper pronunciation of qigong, “chi gong” with the voice rising on the last syllable. Each time he repeated the word the corners of his eyebrows shot up and he had to grin. This is significant, because all qigong should be practiced with a smile. The following day we even practiced a smiling meditation, visualizing big smiley faces on all our foreheads that lifted the corners of our own brows, softened our eye sockets, and left a faint smile on our lips. After the evening session, a text exchange with Terry, a steamy shower, and some self massage that finally cleared my nostrils, I repeated “qigong” to myself about three times while lying in bed, noting the accompanying smile. I slept instantly!
Paul has an interesting theory about flinch patterns. Worries, anger, joy, frustration, and emotions in general are held in our bodies. Notice when you furrow your brow or make an involuntary gesture with your lips. It is easy to see our friends’ involuntary emotional tics, but we have them too. Some are less visible: a tensing in the gut, a nagging headache, a strain in the neck and shoulders, and so forth. Paul suggests that a lifetime of emotion creates a flinch pattern in our bodies to the extent that we begin to tense involuntarily without recognizing the original trigger. Sitting, standing, lying down, and moving meditation - bringing our attention, love, and breath into every part of our body – can release and open our flinch architecture. Intention is that powerful.
In this brief workshop, Paul introduced imagery and led physical practices to help sensitize us to our energy drawing from and expanding vertically into the deepest earth and the highest heavens as well as horizontally to expand our field of energy wider and wider from our three energy centers and to push apart mountains. Every movement is an opportunity to visualize our presence in the universal energy field and to interact with it. Paul also incorporated the water element. Lifting our arms was effortless, for example, if we imagined them resting on water that gradually rose or fell like the tides.
Stepping our feet apart to begin a form took on mythic dimensions. In every creation story, in the beginning there is an undifferentiated void. The vibrational word of the creator or initial energetic event begins to seperate the light from the dark, the depths from the heavens, masculine from feminine, yang from yin. So we stepped out to begin our practice with reverence. Lying on the floor afterwards, we imagined our breaths washing up cool, moist and yin from below our feet to our kidneys. As the breath rose higher towards the warm, dry heart, the yin energy met and was balanced by the yang. We visualized breath washing up and down, balancing cool and wet with warm and dry. We flexed our feet, pointing our toes upwards to bring the flow of breath up and into our bodies. Relaxing our feet, the exhalation ebbed back down our bodies.
In the last few years I have learned a variety of animal frolics and qigong forms, but Paul’s language and imagery helped me see how I could enrich all my movements with intention for an even more powerfully healing practice. I began to see how I will be able to teach qigong with confidence, incorporating the felt experiences of my years as a yogi and sharing my new journey with students with an attitude of exploration.
For some time I have been offering to lead a complementary introductory qigong class for the stylists at Beyond Waves, where Sandy cuts my hair. There is a wonderful wood floor, a few mirrors, and a wonderful group of women that listen to clients all day while standing on their feet. Yesterday the owner brought up my suggestion and we made a date in March. When the teacher is ready, the students appear?
P.S. – The Lighthouse photo is from Cape Elizabeth, taken on my return trip.