Category Archives: Death and Dying

Qi, Grace, and Other Blessings


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.

More on Death & Microcosmic Orbit Meditation

2014-10-27 13.28.22

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)