Opened Toolkit, Honored Teachers

Mother Daughter

Mother and Daughter, Meinrad Craighead

This Thursday! October 22, 2020, 6-7pm Eastern Time. A conversation with Amy Dosser, Executive Producer of “Meinrad Craighead: Praying with Images,” the 2009 documentary about visionary artist Meinrad Craighead—one of my most influential mentors. You can rent or purchase a streaming version of the documentary here, to watch before the conversation. 

Pre-register for the Zoom discussion at my contact page; please put “Meinrad Craighead” in the comment box, and you will receive a Zoom link from me.

“Honor your parents, teachers, and elders,” is one of Reiki’s five precepts, or principles, as translated in the lineage of Usui Shiki Ryoho. This contemplation is an invitation to reflect on the spark of life, the glimmer of illumination, offered to us by those whom we recognize as “key players” in our life—or as I think of them, “ki players”—however briefly or deeply they may have been active in our lives. 

For myself, I tend to place both parents and elders under the broader umbrella of “teacher,” along with everyone and everything under the sun that has showed me a way (or ways) to live this life that I have been given.

As we tilt into the longer nights and chillier days of an autumn and winter that looks to be different than anything we have ever experienced, I have been thinking long and deeply about my many teachers. I have been considering the gifts, the teachings, that have been shared with me, discerning which of them I can tap into during these uncertain times. It’s been like opening a toolkit, or maybe a box of art supplies, and assessing the state of what’s inside. Some practices, like my Reiki self-practice, are in excellent shape; others are so-so, and some are downright rusty. And that tube of red paint? Totally dried up! I’m going to have start again, re-invest in forging that connection, by consciously choosing to practice again.

How do we honor our teachers? We honor them by practicing what they have shared with us. We open the toolkit, blow off the dust and take a look at what’s inside. We pull books off the shelf; we open old journals with notes from that class we took years ago. We look to the natural world for teachings that have been in action for millennia: the animals that hunker down for winter, the water that shape-shifts and does as it was meant to do: flow, and flood, and freeze.

Our teachers come in many forms. I invite you to set aside twenty minutes to meditate on your teachers: the in-person instructors, the authors, the animals, the elements, and dreams. Even situations or experiences that we move through are teachers. Give some time and thought to those who brought you to better places, helped you to move forward and engage with Life in ways that felt empowering, practical, sustaining. Honor them by practicing, today, even in some tiny way, whatever wisdom they shared with you.

And if you have Reiki hands, well, you know what to do! Place them on your body, perhaps starting with your heart—or wherever they feel called to.

May I recommend:

My Octopus Teacher—For one year, a man goes into the ocean every day. What he discovers is thrilling, beautiful, profound.

Robin Wall Kimmerer’s interview on the podcast On Being—Kimmerer is a plant ecologist whose research includes the role of traditional ecological knowledge in ecological restoration, and the ecology of mosses. In this interview, she talks about adopting the Anishinaabe term “ki” to speak of non-human living beings—and draws a connection to that same sound in Japanese, a word often translated as “life energy”—the ki in Reiki.

Lao Tzu’s Tao te Ching—I never, ever tire of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of this classic of Chinese literature—but I’m very fond of David Hinton’s wonderful translation as well, which offers this gem, in Chapter 27:

Without honoring the teacher
and loving the resource,
no amount of wisdom can prevent vast confusion.

This is called the essential mystery.

Upcoming Virtual Events

Honoring Our Teachers
Meinrad Craighead: Praying with Images
Thursday, October 22, 6-7pm (Eastern Time)
Zoom conversation with Amy Dosser
Executive Producer, Praying with Images

Several years ago, I had the good fortune to be involved with the production of the documentary Meinrad Craighead: Praying with Images (2009). Meinrad passed away in April 2019, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can learn more about Meinrad here; she was an important mentor to me, in art and life. When I learned that Praying with Images had recently been released digitally, I jumped at an opportunity to share Meinrad’s work again.

On Thursday, October 22, I’ll host a conversation with Amy Dosser, Executive Producer of Praying with Images. We’ll talk about Meinrad’s images and her writing, and her exceptional ability to hold sacred space for women. You’re invited to watch the documentary—which you can rent or buy in digital format here—ahead of time, and then join us in conversation. If you’d like to buy a DVD, you can do that here.

Free, but pre-registration is required.
Contact me to register, with Meinrad Craighead in the comment box.
You must download the Zoom app to participate.

Past Event: Resting Warrior 
Breathing Practices for Lung Strength
Thursday, September 24, 6-7pm (Eastern)
Zoom workshop with Meghan Maris
of Mama Priya Yoga

Supporting our lung health is critical as we approach the autumn of 2020. I’m partnering with yoga teacher Meghan Maris, of Mama Priya Yoga in Portland, Oregon to offer a Zoom session on how to breathe better. We’ll explore diaphragmatic breathing, equal breathing, and touch on lunar nostril/breathing. Meghan will also offer some of the theory, mythic elements and philosophy of the subtle body and pranayama—the breathing practices used in yoga practice.

*This event has passed, but if you are interested in a redux, contact me–perhaps we can arrange something!

The Healing Art of Guo Fengyi

 

ToSeeFromADistance

Essays by Rosario Güiraldes, Laura Hoptman, Kathleen M. Ryor, Xu Tan

Chinese artist Guo Fengyi (1942-2010) created mesmerizing ink drawings, intricate images derived from visions that came to her during qigong practice. Qigong is a subtle body practice from the Chinese tradition, and Reiki–Japanese in origin–is sometimes compared to it. Both practices are meditative and seem to facilitate healing experiences. (You can find an earlier post about qigong, here.)

Guo began practicing qigong for pain relief, after severe arthritis forced her to quit a career at a chemical plant, in her late 40s. Guo understood qigong as a method for understanding, and healing, her body; she made detailed descriptions of how her body, mind, and spirit moved as she practiced. In one journal entry, she encouraged herself:

“You have to have a strong will and endurance. Through sustained practice, you will achieve enlightenment. If you hold on to the [qigong] practice, naturally, everything will be achieved through real practice.” *

As Guo immersed herself in qigong, written descriptions quickly gave way to powerful visual images, which she inked onto paper. The images became more convoluted. Guo strongly believed that these drawings were healing, and she never wavered from that intent. The contemporary art world of China regarded her as a curiosity; even those who admired her work were hesitant to call it “art.” Her images were too raw, too weird. And they were rooted in a quest for personal healing—the work of a middle-aged woman, who had no art education, circling at the fringes of a contemporary art scene dominated by men.

No matter.  Guo Fengyi kept practicing. A decade after her death, the first major institutional exhibit of her work in the United States took place at The Drawing Center in NYC. How is wish I could have seen it! Maybe I’ll be able to catch it in Savannah, Georgia, the next stop. For now, I have to settle for the exhibition catalogue, which has well-written, accessible essays and lovely reproductions of Guo’s detailed images.

As I read about the artist’s work, nourished by her qigong practice, I noted how much it reflected my own experience of Reiki. My background is in the arts, but when I first learned Reiki, I had consciously stepped back from art, to focus on a demanding job. However, after a few years of Reiki practice, I noticed that my perception of color seemed to shift; in particular, I perceived a new sense of relationship between colors, a rich conversation that I suddenly felt privy to. The spectrum of color–our old friend ROY G BIV–seemed to stretch and deepen. It was like discovering new flavors that I’d had no idea existed.

When we practice paying attention, we gain new information about ourselves, and the world around us. When we have new information, new options may appear. Often, these options were completely out of our line of sight: out of the blue, we might say. Through focusing on our practice–Reiki, yoga, meditation, qigong–anything that takes us simultaneously out of ourselves and deeper in–we soften our gaze, which allows us to see what is at the edge of our vision.

In many ways, Reiki practice reminds me of walking a path in snowy woods, at night. If I look for the path, it’s difficult to see it in the darkness. But if I move ahead slowly, my eyes roaming gently side to side, the path emerges as a muted brightness, winding ahead of me. It’s the subtle difference between looking at something, as opposed to taking it in.

Practice. Walk the snowy path of whatever practice speaks to you. We commit to walking the path, but we need not stare at it–we simply need to show up, and be receptive.
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* Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, exhibition catalogue, Footnote 5, p 27

Vampires and Garlic Gardens

Garlic

Garlic by David Ondrik

I recently read an article in an issue of Breathe about empaths and “energy vampires.”

This is a phrase I’m hesitant to use, because it encourages us to (literally) demonize other people, especially those whom we find personally draining or difficult. 

Most of the time, a person we think of as an energy vampire is simply someone who is not conscious of themselves, or their impact on others. Think about when children are sick; we love and want to care for them, and when they are deeply depleted, they need more of our ki—our vitalityto sustain themselves. Generally speaking, we don’t think of children as vampires!

What if we apply that same patience and compassion to adults who aren’t able to straightforwardly ask for what they need, due to stress, illness, or past trauma? It’s entirely possible that the person who is draining you thinks that they don’t matter enough to affect other people—a sad situation, indeed.

How do we feel more kindly towards people who exhaust us? The best defense against anything that feels depleting is self care. Deep self care—Self Love, really—is the best protection, because when we are well-rested, well-fed, exercised, and truly engaged with our own life, we are less susceptible to getting swept up in someone else’s drama. When we find ourselves feeling drained by a person or situation that we believe has snared us, it’s usually a sign that that we need to take a good, compassionate look at ourselves. Are we offering up our own life force for the taking, consciously or not?

Another thing to be aware of is our own capacity to BE that energy vampire. What? Me?! No way! Yes. This does not make us a bad or weak person; it means that we are human, and we have down times, just like everyone else. If we’re not attentive to our own needs, and aware of our own less-than-helpful coping strategies, it is easy to tip over to that “dark side,” where we harbor unrealistic expectations of our friends, family, and co-workers, worrying about our unmet needs and unconsciously trying to pull people in to help us.

Building up our psychic immune system is the best way to avoid—and to avoid becoming—an energy vampire.  When I say “psychic,” I mean of the psyche, of the soul or the mind. We strengthen the psyche so that it’s flexible and resilient, able to spot and easily move around or accommodate difficulty, and also able to recover more quickly when knocked down by a challenge. Challenges come in all shapes and sizes, and often they blindside us—such as unexpectedly harsh words from a friend, or criticism from a colleague. When our psyche is strong, we can stand confident in ourselves, sure of our healthy connections with others and in our ability to weather whatever happens next. We can watch something play out, and even though we may not like it, we can wait and see what happens rather than jump into the fray.

Garlic has a long tradition of being beneficial to the immune system (although contemporary medicine isn’t entirely on board with this). And as the old stories go, garlic keeps vampires at bay! So how do you tend the garlic garden of your psyche’s immune system? Here are a few strategies:

  • Schedule yourself first: sleep, good food, exercise. Mind your work, your relationships, and your household.
  • Find a daily practice that requires focus: Reiki, meditation, yoga, martial arts, writing, art.
  • Set your phone to “do not disturb” an hour before bed; turn off your computer and television, too.
  • Go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual, at least once a week. 
  • Take a social media break. Focus on doing what nourishes you, rather than posting about it.
  • Spend your free time doing things you enjoy, hanging out with people you like, and participating in work (and fun!) that is meaningful to you.

Do these seem too simplistic? Simple is good. Simple is healthy. Simplicity doesn’t drain your resources; it builds your primary resource, which is YOU, and your vitality.

If you often find yourself drained by others, try to resist being the girl in the flimsy negligee, barefoot, inching her way down the dark hallway with a wooden stake in her hand. You know where that scene ends up! Instead, get your boots on, go outside (yes, even if it’s nighttime), and check in with your psychic garlic garden. Touch the cool dirt, break off a garlic scape, and breathe in the pungent scent. Look at the stars, and feel yourself a part of this real life on Earth.

There’s no need to waste precious time being afraid of imaginary monsters.

Qigong Practice and Receptivity

Today’s guest column, about the power of Qigong to increase receptivity to herbal medicine, is written by Sheila Devitt of Sun & Moon Dispensary. Qigong is a subtle body practice from the Chinese tradition, and Reiki, a Japanese light-touch healing practice, is sometimes compared to it. Both practices are meditative and seem to facilitate healing.

Sheila Devitt is an herbalist and actor in San Francisco. We met in the late 1990s, while working for an herbalist. I have long admired her equally strong commitments to acting and herbalism, interests which seem to balance and influence one another in ways that I find continually inspiring.

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I’ve been a practicing herbalist since 1998, first working with Western European and North American herbal medicine, then incorporating Ayurvedic traditions, including yoga practice, and in recent years expanding to include Traditional Chinese herbal medicine. A couple years ago, I had an opportunity to study herbal medicine in Shanghai. I traveled with a group of fellow students and teachers for a two-week intensive. While doing hospital rounds, our translator mentioned that she also works at the Shanghai Qigong Research Institute, across the street. She arranged for our small group to meet some of the instructors and drop-in on a couple classes.

One of the instructors asked about our group of herbalists from the United States. “How can you just practice herbs?” he asked. “We do not separate it from the other branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine” (acupuncture, Qigong exercise, Tui Na massage, and diet and nutrition).

“We practice Qigong so that our bodies will be more receptive to the herbs.”

That simple statement was like a light-bulb moment for me, an “A-ha!” Of course.

Qigong is a form of simple stretching and movement that focuses on the meridians: the same meridians that acupuncturists reference when selecting needle points. One teacher defines Qigong as “a form of gentle exercise composed of movements that are repeated a number of times, often stretching the body, increasing fluid movement (blood, synovial and lymph) and building awareness of how the body moves through space.”

Another teacher says, “Practicing Qigong cultivates positive energy.”

When we practice Qigong, we clear stagnation in the meridians. Receiving acupuncture also clears stagnation, or blocked energy, in the meridians. When energy blockages are removed, or at least reduced, it clears the pathway for herbs to work in the body. When we are less tense, more relaxed, the herbs have an easier time getting to where they need to go, therefore working more effectively and efficiently. (Oftentimes, herbal formulas will include a small amount of a warming, spicy ingredient that stimulates circulation, such as ginger, cinnamon, cayenne or black pepper. This serves a similar function, helping to facilitate circulation, and deliver the main ingredients in the formula to their destination, whether that’s a particular organ or joint or limb.)

Acupuncture, Qigong and herbal medicine are all synergistic modalities: each one amplifies the benefits of the others. I believe that any practice that helps to calm us down, reduce stress, quiet the mind and release tension will also help the body become more receptive to herbal medicine, both physiologically and energetically.

I recently read an article about electricity in nature that said, “Plants, being earthed, have the same negative charge as the ground that they grow upon, but they protrude into the positively charged air. This creates substantial electrical fields between the air around them and the tips of their leaves and branches…”

Herbs as medicine contain a variety of active chemical constituents, that can be identified and measured using various scientific means, but they also retain this electrical energy. Of course it’s highest when the plant is alive, and will gradually diminish once the plant is harvested and dried, but it will still retain some echo of that energy.

When we practice subtle body arts, in the form of Reiki or Qigong, we might well tune in to, and amplify, a similar electrical energy in our own living bodies. I believe in this way, we become more receptive.

Here are links to a couple of my favorite Qigong videos. I often recommend the Eight Brocades series and the Five Element series to my herbal medicine clients. The Eight Brocades is an ancient practice that has been handed down over many generations. I think of it as a foundational set, similar to doing sun salutations in yoga. In the Five Element series, I especially like the link between the physical organs, and corresponding emotions. When our emotions feel overwhelming, as if they are too much to contain, this practice can help us to create a larger, more stable container, and to provide us with a greater capacity to process difficult emotions.

Here are links to a couple Qigong teachers and their practices:
Water Tradition Internal Arts (in California)
Water Study Chi Kung (in Oregon)

When we combine the physical exercise with herbal medicine, we are utilizing simple, gentle, powerfully effective healing modalities that bring peace and comfort in a busy world.