How Teenagers Channel Qi

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Twenty teenagers arrive in two vans. Who are they? Football players, basketball players, baseball players. Aspiring doctors, teachers, scientists. Dancers and artists. Lonely ones, determined ones, rebellious ones, introspective ones. Leaders and seekers.

For the third year, our friend and dance teacher Nives Wetzel de Cediel has invited us to teach a day within a week-long retreat she leads each year for her students. The first thing she does is gather everyone’s cellphone. The message: Be here, now – this time and space is sacred.

The week’s theme: creating sacred space within the self and in the surroundings.

Then Nives hands the day over to Kaleo, with me assisting.

We and they wonder, who are we to be to each other?

For us: How do we best connect with them? What do they want and need? How do we inspire them?

For them, I imagine: Who are these people old enough to be our grandparents? Will we be bored? Same old lectures? What if I don’t want this crap?

When we check in, each sharing one word to describe the energy he or she feels inside, “calm” and “tired” come up a lot. The energy in the room, diving down after the initial excitement of arrival, is low.

Kaleo gets them moving in Qigong, and they are mesmerized by the sensations of Qi, the vital life force.

They become aware of energy: What feeds me positively? What depletes me?

“Be careful who you hang with,” Kaleo cautions. “Ask yourself, is this person’s energy pulling me down or is it supporting me?”

Then they work in pairs, looking for energy auras around each other’s body and exploring the ways energy between two people interacts. I watch doubt turn to curiosity and, sometimes, awe.

Then, attuned to their inner and outer energies, they sink into soft cushions of a circle of couches and allow us to guide them on an inner journey.

I lead them in: “You find yourself relaxing… all the muscles of your body softening… nothing to do but sink deeper into the cushion beneath you… your breath becoming longer, fuller, deeper… until you find yourself in a place you really love to be, an inner sanctuary just for you.

“Where are you? Inside or outside? What is this place like? The air? The colors and shapes around you? What surrounds you? What does it feel like inside you to be in this place?

“Among the shadows you see a movement. This is your personal guide coming forward to meet you. Who appears? Ask this being if it has your best interests at heart. If not, send it back and ask for your true guide to appear. How is your guide dressed? What is the expression on its face, the look in its eyes?”

Then Kaleo comes in… “Feel your guide’s energy and your energy connecting… connecting heart to heart… and receive a gift… What do you receive… a talisman, a sacred object, a special tool…?

“Then, getting ready to return, bring your gift with you, as you come back, back to the present, to this time and place, surrounded by all your friends in this sacred space….”

Returning, they let images gather into the words of their journals.

After lunch we go outside where they can explore in nature what they discovered about energy during the morning. They reach out and feel the energies of the stones, the trees, the flowers. One girl sits before a lemon tree and seems to enter deep conversation with it. One boy scans the energy of a stone cairn. Three students lie down with their bellies, hearts, and faces pressed into the grass. We prompt them to ask, what are the messages in the stones, the sound of the bole of the tree, the rhythm coming up from deep in the earth?

Then, we go back inside, and they channel the energies of nature, their inner sanctuary, and guide, into powerful collage-drawings. The creative energy in the room turns buoyant, palpable, pulsing – a collective Muse.

When they’re done, we advise them to stand before their art pieces, each one receiving the message from the heart of the collage.

During the closing circle, the depth of their sharing touches each of us. One young man – sensitive but strong, an emerging football star – has created a box with his distress about the needless deaths resulting from racial profiling screaming from the outside: “When will it all stop – Oscar Grant – Trayvon Martin….” On the inside of the box are a tender pink heart, an image of Mother Mary, and a smaller inner box with the word “DREAM.”

One girl has ripped out a heart shape and placed it behind a door in her paper, so that she can open and close and secure it at will. On the edge of her paper she has cut out the word,
“T-H-I-N-K.” It stands stark and bold as a petroglyph on a stone wall. The wisdom of the heart converses in intimate dialogue with the wisdom of the mind. Nives’ theme for the week is already expressing itself in very personal and profound ways.

I wonder: Which ones will realize their dreams? Which will close the doors of their hearts from too much pain? What struggles will they face? What defeats? What triumphs? What kind of world are we preparing for them? How will it be to be in middle life, thirty, forty, fifty years from now?

What can we do, all of us together, to better care for ourselves, each other, and Gaia, our shared sacred space?

All we adults can do is help prepare the path – be honest with the youth, mentor them, befriend them, listen to them, encourage them to know and love themselves so they make better choices in life. May the young ones find solitude and safety in their inner sanctuary, their guide, nature, the Divine.

Qi, Grace, and Other Blessings

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We finally did it! In collaboration with Pastor Steve Harms of Peace Lutheran Church, we finished writing “Qi and Grace: An Embodied Lord’s Prayer.”  It’s a thirty-two page guidebook to the “Abba-Imma Qigong” and includes Steve’s explanation of the wording of the Lord’s Prayer, Qigong foundations and practice guidelines, and step-by-step photos plus instructions of Kaleo doing the Abba-Imma Qigong form. Right now it’s available in PDF form but we plan to produce it as a print-on-demand book available through Amazon.

Did you enjoy the last Peace Dance to World Music (January 10) or miss it but wish you’dbeen there? Another one’s coming on June 14 from 6:00-8:00 pm. The Fire Element in Chinese Medicine is about joy, freedom of movement and expression, connectedness with others, laughter, and play. Save the date and help us celebrate summer, the solstice, and shared joy!

We haven’t been teaching as much maskmaking since the phasing out of John F. Kennedy University’s Arts and Consciousness program, but we’ll be offering a maskmaking weekend April 25 and 26 at the art studio of Diane Williams and Chuck Potter in Benicia. Details and flyer forthcoming. We’re looking forward to, once again, sharing the joy of shaping, painting, and embellishing masks from the creative well of the soul.

We’ve been learning Spanish in preparation for a trip to Puebla, Mexico, in late May to teach “Healing Sounds Qigong and Expressive Art” at the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology there. We listen to “Living Language” CD’s while driving, have post-its with Spanish names for things all over our house, and even talk to our Australian shepherd, Kahu, in Spanish. At first he sat down and barked at us. Now he seems to like it. He used to roll his eyes (like, “Whatever…”) when we’d say, “Come!” yet rushes to the door when we say “Venga!”

We got interviewed the other day by our friend Karen Cashman for the “Published Writers Program” on Rossmoor TV. What? Rossmoor has its own television station? You bet. There’s an amazing amount of talent, intelligence, and fascinating life experience in this valley. We talked about “The Creative Art of Living, Dying, and Renewal,” and Kaleo shared some experiential Qigong. The producer was pleased and invited him back to do an hour-long Qigong class for the station in the summer.

Friends Craig and Arlynn Bloom introduced us to Mussar – a thousand-year-old study and practice of Jewish ethics – first through the books of Alan Morinis, then inviting us to join them at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette for a class in the Mussar teachings. We find the reflection and practices related to traits like loving-kindness, awe, and humility to be meaningful both intra- and inter-personally. It’s like singling out the features of the soul and welcoming them into dialogue one at a time toward the aim of growth and integration of the whole.

2015-02-18 09.52.16We also got to visit with our friend, Debby Schwartz, who introduced us back in 1988. She gave Kaleo my (Elise’s) phone number when he moved out here from Houston. The rest is history. It was great to visit with her and fill in the gaps from many years living on different sides of the country. Kaleo and I both got to talk on the phone with her ninety-eight-year-old dad. That brought back lots of memories for me, as Debby and I have known each other since junior high when we shared a whole-hearted passion for horses. I can’t even count the number of times I was thrown off a bucking or rearing horse only to get back on and try again until we (horse and I) worked it out. Older and wiser, I now leave such endeavors to the joints of a teenager. Shimmering Qigong and “downward-facing-dog” (Yoga) are more like it.

Sleeping, Praying, and Dancing with Qigong

We celebrated the New Year with Qigong infusing other areas of our lives.

January 10, participants from all over the Bay Area joined in joyous dancing for body and soul. We began with Pili doing a Hawaiian chant invoking ancestors and guides (http://www.okupu.com). Then we, Kaleo and Elise, led everyone in Qigong – sensing Qi, cleansing stagnant Qi, then harvesting the flowing Qi of the music into our bodies. This is spontaneous Qigong – letting go, surrendering to the music within. Our hearts and bodies pulsed with the rhythms of Kotoja, Oliver N’Goma, Koffi Olomide, and Babatunde Olatunji (African), Jaleo and Gypsy Kings (flamenco), Johnny Lee Hooker (blues), Glenn Miller (swing), Hubert von Goisern (Austria), Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu (Hawaii), Mari Boine (Sami, Norway), Tinariwen (Mali), Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn and Sheetal (Pakistan/India), Cheb I Sabbah (Algeria), Marcus Miller and Jaco Pastoius (jazz), Abdy (Morocco), Huun Huur Tu (Mongolian), Carlinhos Brown (Brazil), et al.

We’re planning future world music dances (Spontaneous Qigong) in June and September at Peace Lutheran Church (http://www.peacejourney.org) If you’re interested and not already on our email list please email us at lotus@kaleoching.com.

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January 18, during Sunday’s worship service, we led the congregation at Mount Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church (http://www.mduuc.org) in harvesting Cosmic Qi with the intention of bringing healing change for self and others. From this sanctuary overlooking a fog-cloaked valley with the sun squeezing through to light the green hills in the distance and the sacred space within, Qi rippled outward for the benefit of the world beyond.

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January 24, we taught a Sleeping & Dreaming Qigong workshop, held at Peace Lutheran Church. This ancient Daoist practice cultivates deep, restful, dream-rich sleep. Mahalo to our Daoist brother and Chi Nei Tsang master Gilles Marin for sharing this wisdom with us (http://www.chineitsang.com).  Lying on pews or mats in the sanctuary, participants – embraced by the prayers in the walls, the lovely shared Qi of the group, and Kaleo’s hypnotic voice – experienced a new portal into the passageways of the subconscious.

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Thanks to all you who enrich our lives in shared journeys with Qi and the Creative Spirit.

Microcosmic Orbit Meditation and Chakra Awareness

The other day after leading the Microcosmic Orbit meditation during Qigong class, I (Elise) am talking with a student who has been practicing Qigong for several years. She’s smiling broadly and comments, “I love that meditation. It feels so grounding and centering. But I noticed doing it that there were some areas where the Qi seemed to get stuck. When I felt that, I kept guiding the Qi with my mind and felt the stuck places open.” She has integrated well the old Chinese Medicine adage: Where the mind goes, the Qi follows. She asks, “What do the stuck places mean, and is there anything I should do about them?”

“You did just right to keep guiding the Qi with your awareness. You’ve been practicing Qigong for a long time now, and it shows! Just make a note of where any stuck place is located and continue guiding the Qi, as you did. Later, you can bring attention to any stuck area and explore what door, front or back, of what chakra is related” (for more on the Microcosmic Orbit and chakra influences, see our book, Chi and Creativity: Vital Energy and Your Inner Artist, © 2007, Blue Snake Books, pp. 224-234).

Our chakras, with their emotional intelligence and the sensations they generate are our teachers. A blockage in the flow of Qi in the Microcosmic Orbit; an area of darkness; recurrent physical symptoms like a headache or a knot in the stomach, constipation, or jaw tension – they lead us to what in our life is calling for attention. In Chinese Medicine this means not just physically, but energetically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, as well. Besides addressing the physical source of the ailment, one might ask of an occipital headache: What’s happening in my dream life, or, How is my imagination longing to express itself? One might ask of constipation: What am I holding on to that I no longer need? Of a knot in the solar plexus: How am I not being true to myself?

Later when Kaleo and I are reflecting about the student’s experience, I ask him, “Has there been an area for you that was more challenging to move the Qi through than the others when you’re running the Microcosmic Orbit?”

“Yes, I’ve felt that before around my chest, over the middle of the sternum, more to the left, around the left lung and the old rib injury I got surfing as a teenager.”

Kaleo shares his story of bringing healing to this area for himself through Qigong and self-hypnosis (from our book, The Creative Art of Living, Dying & Renewal, © 2014, North Atlantic Books, pp. 183-183).

Kaleo’s Story: Dialogue with Grief
A few years ago, Elise and I were back in Hawaii visiting my parents. Mom, seventy-nine years old, was in her fifth year of Alzheimer’s, and Dad, at eight-six, insisted on being her sole caretaker. It touched me to watch them holding hands while they walked slowly, mom shuffling, in the local air-conditioned mall. Mom could no longer speak. Her eyes had an emptiness to them, and sometimes she didn’t even recognize me. I felt a deep sense of loss and grief.
Years later on the anniversary of her death, I’m in California, at home recovering from a bout with bronchitis. I’m lying comfortably on the futon, with my finger-pads pressing gently into the hollows of my shoulders (Lung 1 acu-points). Recalling how loss and grief triggered many episodes of bronchitis and pneumonia as I grew up, I dialogue with my lungs for healing.
Closing my eyes, I greet my breath, this old friend, who has been with me for sixty-five years. Its comforting rhythm lulls me into relaxation. My lungs invite me to enter. They’re kind of silvery gray. I recognize the grief. It’s dark, heavy, round-shaped, fuzzy on the edges, almost prickly. It feels very old.
My finger-pads sink deeper. They touch the grief, which thrives by sucking energy from the lungs, thus weakening them. I sense there’s lots of guilt, also, from my strong Catholic upbringing. The guilt is stifling, a yellow-green mucous. I ask the guilt and grief, “When did you first appear in my lungs?”
Whoosh! I’m in Hawaii, it’s four thirty in the morning, and I’m eight years old, in bed, hiding under the covers. My parents, in the kitchen, are screaming at each other. For months they’ve been arguing and threatening divorce. I fold my hands in prayer, “Jesus, please help me! What have I done wrong? How can I make things better?” Suddenly, an intense cold fear shakes my body. The floor is being ripped away from under me, and I feel myself falling helplessly into a black void as huge as the night sky.
My adult-self uses Gestalt dialogue to address the floor. I ask it, “How can I feel stability in my life?” The floor responds, “Be mindful of situations that drain your energy. Focus on what brings you joy, confidence, and groundedness.”
Now I turn to the void and ask it, “Why are you here?” The void responds, “I’ve existed for eternity. It’s up to you to find your way through me. Aim for the light.”
I turn to my eight-year-old child-self and reassure him: “I love you, your sincerity, your determination. Don’t fear. The path you follow leads to the light.”
My adult-self looks at the dark grief and asks it, “What do you want for healing?”
The grief responds, “Let go of the fear and guilt from your past. You’ve outgrown them. Practice your Qigong exercises, inner healing sounds, and meditation to cleanse and nourish your lungs and kidneys. Fill yourself with compassion for self and others. Remember, gratitude strengthens your Qi and your immune system.”
An understanding emerges. Loss, grief, and fear will always be there, but I have a choice. I can let them either bring me down or make me a kinder teacher, healer, and companion on life’s journey.
My breath beckons me back into my lungs. I stand and move in Qigong to massage and nourish my lungs. They also want to be cleansed and wrapped in white light. On inhaling, I visualize pure white light entering and filling my lungs. On exhaling, I make the sound of Hsss and visualize heaviness and dark grief leaving my lungs. The grief does not fight or resist but becomes smaller, softer, pinkish-gray, and pliant. With each breath my lungs feel healthier, stronger, clearer, and filled with pure white.

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“Dialogue with Lungs,” collage-painting by Kaleo Ching

More on Death & Microcosmic Orbit Meditation

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As the Microcosmic Orbit opens and flows, I recall when I first experienced what, at the time, felt like its magic almost twenty years ago. My mother was on her deathbed, her body overcome by metastatic breast cancer. I was deep into her death vigil. The following is from our book: Chi and Creativity: Vital Energy and Your Inner Artist (Blue Snake Books, © 2007, p. 223):

“The third night seems very long. I stand beside her many hours, holding her hand. I wonder how long my stamina can last.

“I shift to stand in meditation. I feel my body centering, grounding. My feet open to the support of earth, my crown open to the support of the heavens. The earth’s Chi [Qi] flows up through the soles of my feet, up my legs, up my spine, and out through the crown of my head to an apex a few inches above. The energy crests, mingling with heavenly Chi, then travels back down through my crown, down the front of my head and torso, down my legs, out through the soles of my feet, and back into the earth a few feet below. The circuit of energy between heaven and earth through my body along the pathway of the Macrocosmic Orbit restores my strength. I feel my breathing relaxing and deepening as it fills and empties from my pelvic Tan Tien [Dan Tian]. I feel my mind alert but calm. I feel my heart open, as the energy travels through my arms, connecting me through my hands to my mother.”

In the middle of loss comes awareness – of gratitude, for the gifts of what was, for the strength and beauty of what is, for trust in the continuity of what is to come.

Returning to the present and the more recent death of our neighbor, Yoshi, I wonder, did he know it was coming? Or did it creep up on him in the night and usher him quietly from the unconscious state of sleep into the deeper realms of death? And this leads to another question, one I carry with me: How do I live life now so that I’m aware of and ready for death when it comes?

To One Dying in Autumn

Air churns pungent like cracked herbs
green turns amber, rust red, dark as humus
leaves are clenched fists against long, cold night
acorns pop and dive from oaks into a womb of soil

Alone in deep night
breath in and out,
roughening, then slowing,
no one to witness how the pause
lengthens to infinity

What ample hands caught
as you dropped into this world,
what luminous ones midwife you beyond?

The scalpel that slices the life-bond
the sword that magnifies the samurai
the spirit-knife that severs flesh from soul
point as one to bring you home

Death Meditation and the Microcosmic Orbit

2014-10-20 13.22.40for Microcosmic Orbit image (p. 172) and other references, see The Creative Art of Living, Dying & Renewal by Elise and Kaleo Ching (© 2014, North Atlantic Books)

Three police vehicles are parked outside our neighbor’s apartment. What’s happening?

From the dark entryway, a young police officer emerges, pink-cheeked, smooth-faced, neat as a cadet in his starched uniform. He could be my grandson if I’d worked young and hard at starting a family rather than devouring books and writing poetry. He enters his car and gets on the radio. There’s no urgency in his manner. He speaks so quietly that all I hear is the radio’s static. The nearby Japanese maple’s autumn-bitten leaves curl like fists, glow dark as venous blood. Wind gusts and leaves tremble and drop, bowing to the season of letting go.

A “Cremation and Funeral Services” vehicle arrives. Two middle-aged men climb out, dressed neatly, conservatively. They wheel a gurney into the apartment.

The officer writes in his log book. Finally he exits the sanctum of his vehicle. I ask him the only question I think he can answer, “Is it Yoshi?”

“Yes,” he says, his tone quiet, polite. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

What I’m witnessing is standard procedure for someone who dies at home, alone.

My thoughts are leaves. They swirl around, fly up, alert the heavens, here comes Yoshi, until they are squelched by the honking and flapping of Canada geese circling above in a feint of southerly migration.

Other neighbors gather on the sidewalk, talk about Yoshi’s health, his cryptic references to elevated enzyme levels, how he seemed to have lost weight.

Last time I saw him across the driveway, our Australian shepherd, Kahu, tugged me over for a face-to-face hello. Kahu loved a good squirm around “Uncle Yoshi’s” legs. Yoshi seemed subdued, maybe even sad.

Now I watch as his body, sealed in a white bag, then draped in an elegant deep-sea-green velvet blanket, is wheeled out of its familiar home and into the chamber of the van. I say a goodbye prayer – aloha Ke Akua mau loa, go with eternal Divine love.

That evening as Kaleo and I sit in our usual half-hour meditation, I continue my prayers for Yoshi’s passage, to the radiant light, to the embrace of his Japanese ancestors, who, I am sure, are there to welcome him. As I sense the spirit world hovering close to the threshold of my consciousness, I feel  my Column of Light expanding to the walls of our meditation room then contracting to wrap me in its shimmering boundary of Qi (p. 96). Using my hands like siphons, I gather the energies of Earth, Environment, and Heaven then offer them in the Qi Blessing (p. 229) to encourage Yoshi’s spirit safely on its journey. I feel the Qi flowing strongly in the Microcosmic Orbit of my body (p. 172). It flows from the energy center of my lower Dan Tian, down the center of the front of my torso, up the center of my back, over my crown, and back down the front, bridging where my tongue nestles against the roof of my mouth. Its flow is like being gently plugged in and lit up – plugged into the energies of Heaven and Earth and lit up by their interaction with my own bio-electric current of Qi. I am grateful for the support of this ancient Qigong meditation.

(note: events are true, but for privacy the deceased’s name has been changed)

After The End

2014-07-04 09.46.46 2014-07-17 16.41.58What do you do when an intense creative endeavor ends? Start another right away? Savor the creations of others? Take a trip? Do everything you longed to do but had no time for during the birthing process? Or?

Numb. That’s how I felt after Kaleo and I released our most recent book into the world. It was as if a constant companion had moved to another state. I realize this is the incubation period—fruits harvested, seeds back to earth where hulls harden for winter’s vigil.

Today is the Harvest Moon, season of the Earth Element and the emotional strength of trust—trust in every phase of the creative cycle.

Earth is about shared bounty. We are nothing if not in community. The outer community invites me to eat, dance, do art, walk on the beach with friends. The characters from The Creative Art of Living, Dying & Renewal, like an inner community of old friends, still chat in my head. I find myself asking Alex, how is death treating you? Jessica, what are you up to now? I find she wants to continue her story.