Late September, 1991, I was driving an old Honda Accord on I-10 in Tallahassee, Florida when the most amazing song came over the college radio station at FSU. Smells Like Teen Spirit was the most uplifting thing I had heard in years. It was my confirmation that the 80s were over and a new world was at hand--thank God.
Music had an unbelievable run from 1967 to 1977, starting with The Monterey Pop Festival and ending with the death of Elvis and the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash. Not to say there was no good music before or after that time, but nothing is equal to that ten year span. Think about it.
In any case, by 1978 the creative energy fermented by the Baby Boom had run its course. By 1980 we were in a new world, culturally, economically, and musically. For me, having cut my teeth on the aforementioned decade of music and counterculture, it seemed like a wasteland. Added to that were the ups and downs, growing pains, joys and confusions of navigating life. I had some good times and bad times, made some personal mistakes, but also made some of the best decisions and life choices ever during that time. So, I'm not really complaining. However, by 1990 my family and I needed a change--I think the whole world did.
In September 1991 I had just left service in the Army and relocated to Tallahassee. The economy was in a recession. My wife was pregnant with our second child, and I was starting all over in the civilian work-world. Leaving Virginia and the military felt like losing 100lbs off my shoulders. I didn't have a job, housing, or anything near security waiting for me in Florida, but then again I didn't have it anywhere else either. We were quite literally starting all over. The 70s and 80s were nothing more than memories. The 90s were nothing less than dreams. We had no idea what we were in for and no sense of assurance anywhere. We had nothing to go back to, and no future to anticipate. We were literally living in the moment and it had a sparse soundtrack.
Then I heard that song. And I knew. Old things had passed away, all things were new.
"Rites that the Vedas ordain, and the rituals taught by the scriptures, all these I am, and the offering made to the ghosts of the fathers, herbs of healing and food. The mantram. The clarified butter. I, the oblation and I, the flame into which it is offered. I am the sire of the world, and this world's mother and grandsire. I am he who awards to each the fruit of his action. I make all things clean. I am Om!"
Bhagavad Gita. Chapter IX
Ultimate Reality is infinite and without attributes. It is the unseen basis of everything. The expressive aspect of Ultimate Reality is Primordial Nature and it creates space, time, and fine cosmic forces. It's vibration is "Om". We can lock into this vibration via meditation, Qigong, etc... and work with it to some degree in co-creating our Universe. Note, I said we can work with it. We can't use it or manipulate it, but in a very real sense, we are it. Further, we can observe it and take comfort in its consistent and impersonal nature.
In 1965, John Coltrane recorded an album entitled "Om". On first listening, it sound like chaos. In fact, it kind of is. But if you listen with an open mind, you will notice the different instruments each are doing something consistent. There is an order there, even if it appears wild and random.
It was speculated that Coltrane was doing LSD during this recording and later wanted it scrapped. Who really knows? It was released after his death. But I think it is very instructive in terms of Om itself, the expressive aspect of Ultimate Reality. How often does life appear to be falling apart, or proceeding in a direction much different from our plans, our desires? Yet, if you look back you will see that things worked out quite well most times. And that's true for all of us. Again, we can't really control or manipulate life, but we can learn to go with the flow, to cooperate. That takes wisdom and discernment. And it takes faith. Not blind faith based on mere belief, but functional faith based on understanding and patience.
This is The Way.
I am and have been fond of the pointers we devise, the specific seasons being prominent. Today is the Fall Equinox, 2021. As of this writing, the weather where I live is great, a little chilly at night, still a bit warm during the day. The leaves are just beginning to change. In the broader world, COVID is still present in a big way, along with all the attendant fear and loathing. For the first time in a long time, inflation has become a major issue. But considering we have been printing money like it was going out of style, for a good 20 years, and giving it way just as freely over the last 18 months, who could be surprised? But that is a topic for another day, if at all.
I have dedicated a good part of this year learning, studying, and practicing Tibetan Yoga. This is and has been very informative. I'm not really a Buddhist (I don't claim any specific religious or other clannish affiliations), so my motivation is from a different angle. As a practitioner of movement and energy arts, these practices appeal to me. I am at this point still in the middle of a 4 month virtual retreat, so I don't want to draw any firm conclusions or, frankly, say much about the specifics at all. I have been and am enjoying the practices and so very grateful for the opportunity to learn. The environment for the last 18 months hasn't been conducive to a lot of the external practices I have been involved in. I have tried to take advantage of opportunities for other things as I find them.
Back to the environment: Over the next few weeks the temperature will really begin to change here. Accordingly, activity and diet will, or should, be tweaked as well. I think it is important to be outside as much as possible, regardless of conditions--unless of course it is storming, or otherwise overtly dangerous to our health. I have always maintained the best time to train Taiji-Qigong outdoors is on the hottest and coldest days. But even beyond that, just getting out to walk, work in the yard, etc... is crucial year-round.
As far as diet, I sometimes eat a bit more as the weather cools. My personal preference is to still focus on fresh fruit and vegetables and fresh fish as much as possible in the Fall, to extend Summer eating habits before Winter arrives. Over Fall, I like to increase warm liquids--tea, coffee, cider--but otherwise I don't tweak a lot between Summer and Fall. Once Winter arrives, I like to focus on root vegetables, heavier soups, and a bit more carbs. Throughout the Winter that will be my focus. Otherwise, I eat the same as any other time of year. As Spring begins to unfold, I will pretty much stay with what I was doing over the Winter, as local fresh fruit and vegetables aren't in season yet and I like to transition slowly, much as I do Fall to Winter. There are some Spring options, like Rockfish, that I will seek out. Note, these are small seasonal tweaks to a pretty standard Pescatarian diet that for the most part is standard year-round. I do take some advice from Ayurveda and TCM, but it is limited. I do not advise my diet, or any diet whatsoever, for other people. Following a template of any kind is never a good idea. We are individuals. Typology is a scam. The best "way" is the way that unfolds naturally in front of you daily. To that end, the best way to know what is the right practice, or diet, or routine, or whatever for you is to know yourself, intimately, spiritually, energetically, mindfully.
For now, there is a storm brewing right outside my door. Thunder will clap tonight and it will be 12-15 degrees cooler tomorrow, 20 degrees cooler tomorrow night. This is the Way.
What a strange world we live in. Hypocrisy always finds a way to reveal itself. The present revelation is in the tragedy of Afghanistan. Oh, how we who opposed that conflict were reviled then. Now it's ho-hum. Brand new Saigon, same old failure. In the meantime, another tragedy is unfolding in the name of public safety. Just as we were sold a bill of goods by the neocons in the early years of this century, we have been sold a bill of goods by big-pharma in the light of COVID-19. These events have in common the ultimate motivators of collective, irrational fear and money.
George W. Bush and his cadre of criminals never had any intention of righting the wrongs of 9/11. If they had, they would have taken it up with Saudi Arabia. Granted, Osama Bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan, aided by the Taliban, but they didn't really go after him. If they wanted to find him, they could have sent a team of specialists and executed him in the desert, which is basically what eventually happened anyway. What they were really interested in was re-shaping the Middle East, starting with Iraq, moving on to Iran, then Syria, etc..., which lead to a lot of money in the pockets of big oil. This is an open fact. 9/11 gave them that opportunity and they took it. But the failure of Iraq is not only self-evident, but a topic for another time. Right now my focus is Afghanistan.
As Iraq became more and more of a fiasco, the left took up Afghanistan and hunting down Bin Laden as an alternative strategy, first with John Kerry, then with the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Obama--whose bloody hands are only surpassed by a previous war pig winner, Henry Kissinger. Anyway, Obama did direct the elimination of Bin Laden, but then let Afghanistan become another never-ending government program, one we even forgot we started and why. Ironically, it took the worst president in recent memory to begin the process of ending it (even a broken clock is right twice a day), and the oldest to preside over the unfortunate aftermath.
So, here we are. At the time of this writing Kabul is primed to fall and the Taliban primed to take over again. Note, the only reason they haven't been in charge these last twenty years is because we have been investing US tax dollars and blood to keep them down. A task that, much like trying to eliminate the VC some 50 years earlier, was bound to fail. In a nutshell, we were sold a bill of goods. Which brings me to domestic insanity.
At the same time we are admitting defeat in Afghanistan, we are setting ourselves up for massive failure at home. Science and real life events are serving to prove that COVID vaccines don't work for shit. So many well-intentioned people are so invested in this that no one wants to admit it. Combine that with the fact that the CDC is admittedly not collecting data on break-though cases and you can see how the deceit is planted and thriving. Also, the myth that the unvaccinated are the cause of Delta variant increases is also bullshit, but again it is soothing and allows for an easy scapegoat.
A major problem with this particular deceit and the accompanying scapegoating is they also, not unlike Afghanistan, are bound to fail. In the meantime, individual rights, if not constitutional rights, will be violated en-masse. To mandate vaccines is to force someone to have chemicals injected into their body against their will. And before you go there, no it doesn't serve to protect those who choose the be vaccinated. If the vaccines work, it doesn't matter; if they don't work, it doesn't matter. If you are protected, why worry? If you aren't protected, it doesn't matter. But even if it did matter, a violation of individual rights is not vindicated by the desires of the collective. Wrong is always wrong.
To be clear, I am not anti-science, or anti-vaccine in general. Even if the current situation is proving these vaccines to be ineffective, one always has the right to put chemicals in one's body as long as it is consensual. But just because you believe it is right for you, or even if you believe it is right for others, you don't have the right to force it on them overtly or subtly. I know a lot of good people who believed George W. Bush's lies. I know a lot of good people who believe Joe Biden should force all Americans to have vaccines. I know a lot of good people who still think Donald Trump had the election stolen from him. People can believe what they want, but when deceit becomes policy, we have a problem. When human rights are violated, we have a problem. BTW, individual rights are human rights, that's a no-brainer.
I will always argue for peace and the rights of the individual. My point here isn't so much about the specifics of these situations as the general principles. It is immoral to convince a nation to go to war based on lies, always. Further, the rights of society never outweigh the rights of an individual. There is no actual entity as a society, opposed to individuals, for society is nothing less than a collection of individuals, each with his/her own rights. The problem with all of this is the tendency of folks to follow irrational thought processes, especially once they are invested in something. Cognitive dissonance is powerful.
I remember sometime after George W. Bush had admitted there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I saw two guys being interviewed on TV. One of them said he still believed they were there. The interviewer insisted that the president had admitted otherwise. This guy said something to the effect that, 'I don't care if he did. I still believe they are there.' For him to admit otherwise would be to concede what others had been saying all along, the president lied to him and took advantage of him. George W. Bush did that to our country then. Few rational people will argue otherwise now. Well, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, the CDC, and several pharmaceutical companies are doing the same thing now, and for the same reason: fear and money.
Bottom line: you should think for yourself, but even if you don't, leave everyone else alone.
I recently read an established and well-respected teacher discussing his progression with respect to Taiji. Where at first he was interested in the martial aspects, this soon progressed into interest in the internal, Neigong aspects of practice, which led to interest into application of fa-li, and finally progression to the point that Taiji is now a support for spiritual growth. I understand that. I can identify with that progression.
Some time back it dawned on me that I am interested in Taiji for the sake of Taiji. There are so many aspects and modalities of practice and application. There are countless ways practice supports us and is beneficial holistically. But these can be seen as a whole. For me, the best way to appreciate Taiji is as Taiji. Not Taiji for Health or Combat Taiji, or Taiji as Dharma, or as an aid to a good night sleep, but as a practice, period. Of course, all the former are included in the definition of the latter, but that is the point. Those things are a given. If one accepts that and instead looks at the art in and of itself, a new and different picture emerges: Gongfu.
The overall majority of students I've ever had who were interested in Taiji because their doctor or therapist recommended it, or because they wanted to address this or that medical or emotional aspect of life, eventually quit or moved on to something else, or just went back to their previous lifestyle. The student who wanted to learn the art because it is an art, or because they just want a new hobby typically stay with it a lot longer. Taiji isn't a pill. It is good physical therapy, but typically as a side benefit not as a driving factor.
I find great benefit in traditional Taiji, the whole practice, not as bits and pieces. I have no interest in changing Taiji, watering it down for this or that reason, teaching it as primarily a health practice, or a self-defense art, or a spiritual practice, or any other sub-category. I find it works well as it was originally practiced and taught. This is the Way.
A Book Review: Notes From The Drift
A couple of weeks ago I received a copy of “Notes From The Drift” by Anthony Guilbert, a practical yet poetic look at the world from a certain viewpoint. For me it is a timely reminder of the simplicity and beauty of living life. A few days later I had to spend the day in Virginia Beach, a trip that would require some time waiting for a friend attending to business, so I took my new book along. There are few things in life better than coffee and a new book, so I found a coffee shop and started reading. I was intrigued from the first page: “There is something unqualified, an anonymous flux surging in, around, and through our world that seems to urge everything.” Yes. I know this. I think we all know this. However, I will allow we sometimes forget it. In any case, the more I read, the more I felt a reflection of what has been in my own mind a thousand times in any given situation.
“Those within the drift enter into a dialogue with the world. They allay the mysteries by making contact with them.”
In some ways this book is a travel memoir, in some ways it’s a poetic rendering of life lived, in others it’s an intimate look at the natural world around us and our place in it. I think that last one is what resonates the most with me. Every person’s reading of any given book is individual and unique, and this is mine, this how this book speaks to me.
“Children of the Earth, students of the universe make intention their first practice. They step barefoot into the mysterious and feel ‘their way’ with their toes.”
A part of what the indigenous Tibetans consider as the process of Soul Retrieval is reconnecting with nature. And even though that process can be fairly in-depth and formal, when you get down to it it’s basically all about developing awareness, paying attention to the world around you. This is something we can all use more of: simply take a walk in the woods, a drive in the mountains, or sit by the ocean. Feel a sense of oneness with your environment. And while I would never pretend to know Guilbert’s intention in writing this memoir, it seems to have that essence to it. An essence of renewal, of awareness, of paying attention and recording the results like they were an endless flow of magical data. Which is apropos because the world is a magical place and we need writers like this to remind us of that. Like Han Shan and Ryokan, Zen Poets of another generation roaming the countryside and recording their observations, Guilbert unveils the beauty, mystery, and power that surrounds us, all the while reminding us how common it is.
“For half a million years, a very-human being has walked this world. They stood on the same coasts, got swept up by the same surf, cut against the same rocks….”You ask how we know? We know, because we remember—we are old—we are wise. World-worn, we wrote our history in the earth, in our flesh.”
I had time and coffee and I used it to my advantage. I read half the book in short order and took a break to change locations. I moved over to the local park, found a nice little oak tree and did my Taiji form with a specific intention to feel ‘The Drift” surrounding and supporting me, that anonymous flux so close at hand. I sat on a bench and considered what I had read so far. A vivid sentence from the last page at the coffee shop replayed in my head as I picked myself up to move on: “Going on from here, you must welcome the mystery in the everyday. Don’t try to possess or detain it—become instead, a likeness of truth. Go on then, the drift has limitless contours and many, many, inspiring spaces.”
The next morning I woke early and took a walk along the ocean with a renewed sense of wonder, or more likely a remembering from deep in my flesh. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but sometimes words—the right words—can have so much power, a flux of their own. And so it is with this book, these words. I have to say I enjoyed my first reading of this book, my next reading now at hand. Buy this book. If you can appreciate the power of words, the mysteries that surround us, the miracle that is life, the observations of a good writer, this book will speak to you. And in the end, that’s what makes a good book great.
Over time, as one might expect, my training regime has changed. What guides me now and what I have found to be most beneficial is variety, doing something different every day and not necessarily on schedule. I always want to keep the mind-body guessing so that it never knows what is coming.
My categories of training are as follows:
The specifics of routines will necessarily cross over these categories. For example, Shaolin Qigong will be flexibility training, energy training, and martial training; Hatha Yoga will be strength training, flexibility training, and energy training; Meditation could be mind training and energy training, depending on the routine, or could just be mind training. While Hunyuan Qigong could be mind training and energy training. Taiji form could cover all categories, as could weapons training, push hands and other partner training. The key for me is to cover all the above categories while maintaining a level of variety.
The end goal is comprehensive total well-being that covers all known aspects of existence, while enjoying the ride in the meantime.
Understanding the movements of the world around us requires understanding what moves what. Politicians, the media, advertisers all use fears and ignorance to motivate. Maybe the words truly resonate with you. Maybe they are just pushing buttons. Maybe you should take a closer look at it all.
Case in point: How Populists Talk
At some point in every discipline the disciple has to leave the nest and venture out. Teaching is a temporary thing, learning is forever. As students, we eventually risk missing the bigger picture and must distance ourselves to some degree from the teacher and the teachings. We don't do this so that we can disregard the teaching, but rather to test it, to experience it in real time, to get our own interpretations, to form our own versions of the teaching. This is not necessarily easy. In fact, I would say it is typically difficult. But if we are honest we will see there is no choice. The teaching can be a living thing or a dead one. What makes the difference is the interpretation and application.
If we, as students, stay at the teacher's feet for the duration of our lives we risk becoming clones. If we look, really look, we will see that the teacher's approach is always a bit different from his/her teacher, who was in turn different from the preceding teaching, etc... Perhaps the ultimate points are the same, but the approach, the form, the constituent ingredients are fresh and innovative. That is the hallmark of a living teaching. At the same time, we are typically indebted to and connected with our teacher(s). That is also a hallmark of a living teaching.
Venturing out has a thousand faces. There is no one way to do that. Many teach in turn. Others just apply and live. There is no template for that, and that is a big reason why it isn't easy. We may also find that we are , in many ways, right back where we were when we began, albeit with more tools and experience. We may find that leaving the teacher brings us back to the world that we inhabited before. This is one of the first real tests of the teaching. The world we left has always been here in our presence. Hopefully we can experience it through various lenses.
It may be the case that one needs to completely move on, leaving the teaching and the teacher behind. If so, we hope the teaching itself was solid enough to support the new reality. In many cases, however, we don't turn our backs on the teaching or the teacher; we do move on but we stay engaged with teacher and teaching as well, forging a new now while respecting the past. Either way, we find ourselves in a brave new world, so to speak. There is no going back. Forget about it. There is only forward. Would that we all walk it well.
Rodney J Owen