Surface and Depth

 Surface and Depth

Last week, for the first time since March, I was able to go to my Tai Chi class in person.  There were only 4 people there; we kept distance and were masked, following the official pandemic protocols.   Even so, being able to do the form along with other people in real time, to talk in person, unmediated by machine, and to simply sense each other’s presence was a poignant reminder of something slightly suppressed but not forgotten and for which most of us long – being in community with other people in the way people were created to be. 

The sudden advent of the virus, the avalanche of change in reaction to it, and the subsequent rapid chaos has made the apparently mutating virus and the responses to it difficult to understand.  Even though we may understand the opportunities the virus has opened by unmasking the need to make social changes, even though we are cognizant of the relationship between the virus and our own part in the increasingly rapid progress of the death of the planet, even though we have observed the continued predilection for war and concern for individual benefit when many others suffer – even though we may be aware of the connectedness of all things, there is something not quite right about the way this virus is being handled.  It is hard to finger exactly what, but the sense is there.

Most obvious is that people are being asked to change their behavior into patterns for which humans are not designed.  Humans were never meant to exist distant from each other, masked as if the other might harm, not trusting and out of fear putting social pressure on each other to conform.  How are we expected to cooperate with each other (such as agreeing to wear masks as a communal practice) if we are told to stay apart, peppered with fear from media, told our very surroundings may make us ill, hampered in communication, and, basically held in isolation?  Fear is being used to make sure the majority comply.    Something is fishy here.   Is fear not the means used to keep populations stable under a quite different kind of government than we have assumed is ours?  So, we have first required unnatural behavior and next, rule by fear.

We hear a lot about staying healthy by wearing masks and avoiding each other, or by frequently scrubbing any available surface.  We hear that we have hope of health because a vaccine will soon be readily available.  It is good to maintain hygiene, and people do need hope even if there are questions about time for testing of new forms of vaccines and questions about related topics such as the effectiveness of related flu vaccines, given that those viruses tend to mutate, too.  However, where is the information on how to strengthen the innate human immunity or to use the plants found in nature for immune support?  They seem mutually supportive approaches with the masking, distancing, scrubbing and prospective vaccines.  Do those in authority not want us to know about those, or do they want us to consider them inferior to the approved and supported approaches?

There is also a strangeness in the response to economic effects created by requiring people to stay apart.   Small businesses are the most effected.  Small businesses are the lifeblood of a free, cooperative, and resilient population.   Yet, which businesses are going under, some perhaps unable to open again?  It is the small businesses; the corporations are somehow getting enough bailout support to carry them through the crisis.   It is the poor and the small who seem to be getting a choice between death by virus or death by economic decimation.  It is though the destruction of existing society (including major social institutions) were a goal, in favor of an order favoring even further the entrenched privileged.    Yes, the social order we have had has major flaws and needs re-structuring; but is the vectoring towards the upper few the direction in which we want the change to go?

Then there is the prolongation of the situation.  Yes, there is the explanation that it is because of the people who would not comply, and because of incompetent political leadership, even because the virus itself is mutating and re-infecting people.   Those would seem to be reasonable explanations, except that it is highly suggestive of scapegoating – the effort to point the finger elsewhere so as to not have to look at what really is.  Notice also that the fear in the media is increasing – the virus is reported to be more and more deadly and contagious, something we need to fear even more deeply, as if we were not already enough afraid.  Yet an equally dangerous, if even more deadly situation is not even being mentioned – the rapid increase in climate change and direct destruction of our planet, as pollution, soil destruction, CO2 emissions, and waste continue.  The response to the virus is even exacerbating them, such as the increased use of single use plastics.

What we are encouraged to trust is communication technology – internet, social media, email, texts, smart phones, and the like.  Marvelous as the technology is, it is certainly not the natural way to be, human communication mediated by machine.  Many, though, have learned to consider it as natural, to even be more comfortable communicating that way than in person.  The attitude apparently is to not question the situation because we have the technology to turn to.  But is the technology as trustworthy as it seems we are supposed to believe?   There are the scammers and hackers which prey upon the users of technology, targeting the unwary and those not up to par on computer security.  They may be criminals, and they may also be those who want to know what we are thinking so that they may target ads to us.  They are the surface.  Artificial intelligence has made it far easier for our life’s data to be collected, stored, and used to entice, manipulate, or perhaps even punish us.  Use of sophisticated technology is being considered to ensure that we all get vaccinated, whether or not we feel the vaccine itself is trustworthy; in addition to being vaccinated, it is proposed that we be tracked.  Ostensibly, the tracking is to ensure vaccine compliance, but such systems are certainly capable of following people wherever they go, watching with whom they associate, what they say, and perhaps what they think or feel.   Is this the society in which we wish to live?

There are more questions than answers.   Yes, there is a virus pandemic, and precautions need be taken.  Even with consensus on that condition, however, there is a sense that more is underfoot than a pandemic.  It is worth paying attention to.  While we are dealing as best we can with the virus and attempting to stay afloat as we navigate the extant chaos, we need also to maintain an awareness that more may be going on than obviously meets the eye.  Maintaining awareness is the price of retaining choices.  May we all learn to touch the deeper consciousness of the gathering forces and processes endeavoring to change our world, so that we may be able to choose between them and grow to realize our ability to use our choices to shape a world in which we wish to live.

Peace, Diane

Relaxing with High Spirit

Relaxing with High Spirit

We are practicing “sensing/pushing hands” in Tai Chi class. This exercise involves recognizing through the slightest energy movements of one’s partner just what move that partner is about to make, and then redirecting it away from one’s center of balance (root).  Each partner is trying to sense and redirect the other, simultaneously.   The exercise sounds simple, but it is not very easy.

“Relax,” says our instructor.  One cannot do the sensing from a state of tension.  “Keep your spirit high,” we are urged.  When the spirit is high, one is alert, aware.  We keep trying to find an optimal balance.

Trouble is, most of us are wired to tense up when we perceive a challenge, either a contest or a threat.  We get ready to fight or flee.  We are highly alert, and definitely not relaxed.  On the other hand, most of us tend to lose alertness as we grow more and more relaxed.  We space out or even drift into light sleep.  We are very relaxed, and not very aware.  Sensing hands requires us to be both at the same time.

Tai Chi teaches to not resist a challenge or attack.  Instead, we yield and redirect the energy away from us.  We don’t force it away; we simply move in such a way that the force of the presumed attack cannot reach our center of balance or harm us.  It is non-resistance on steroids.

As we practice, we also notice that in order to do even moderately well at the exercise, we must clear our minds of as much thought as possible.  Obviously, we cannot be thinking about a problem at work or what we are going to have for dinner tonight.   We must also not be thinking about what our partner is going to do, not anticipating.  We must not be reasoning out a response to the anticipation.  That is harder.   Non-resistance and sensing are done in the moment, laser-focused in the present.

The exercise is a routine part of Tai Chi training.   It is also, as is so much of Tai Chi, a lesson in how to approach life.    We tend to tense when we sense a challenge, focusing intently on the problem.  We also tend to distract our awareness with memories and rehashing of the past or with worry and efforts to anticipate the future.

When we resist another person or circumstance in life, we become open to being thrown off our center, emotionally and situationally.  To resist what we do not like gives attention to that circumstance, involves us in an energy-sapping struggle, and increases the strength of that which we are trying to resist, change or avoid.  When I resist a situation I do not like, whatever that may be, I actually stick myself more firmly in that situation than if I were able to let it go, to relax, to not focus my energy on how much I do not like that situation and how much I would like things to be otherwise.   Not resisting what I do not like does not come easily, just as the practice of sensing hands is not mastered overnight.  To yield to what I do not like feels like passively allowing myself to be battered.  Non-resistance, however, does not mean allowing oneself to be taken advantage of.  As in Tai Chi, the trick is to act, relaxed, just enough to redirect the energy so that one is not thrown off balance.   One must relax and keep the spirit high.   Both are done with mind focused on the present moment.

“How?” is a good question.  There is no step by step answer.  “Just do it,” is a frustrating response.  Continued practice, over and over, is the path to mastery – or even partial mastery.  It also helps to put oneself in the company of those who have mastered the art of non-resistance.  The energy of the adept surrounding one makes practice easier.

May we, as beginners, forgive ourselves for not yet being masters.  May we be willing to practice, and may we find those with whom we can advance our level of adeptness.  May we be open to the concepts of relaxing in response to challenge, of high spirit and of remaining in the present moment.  May we become skilled navigators of our lives. 

Peace, Diane

The Gift of Being Alone

Humans are a gregarious species.  We have a hard-wired desire to belong to a community or tribe or a group of friends.  We often choose to work in teams, partnerships or companies.  Expulsion from the group or being ignored is a painful experience which can be used to keep members of a group on an accepted path.  Children form bonds within a classroom setting, and recreation or free play is often a group affair.  Truly, we are gregarious, even though many of us need a certain amount of alone time to recharge.

However, we also live in a world of dualities, a world in which paradox is common enough to often pass unobserved.  Look deeply enough, and opposites are linked together in a common continuum, each opposite being true at the same time.   Sometimes we can find the linking thought, the balance; when we do, we are better off for the discovery.  Heads and tails are parts of the same coin.  Sorrow and joy enhance each other, deepening the experience of each.

It follows that being a gregarious species in a world of paradox, we are also quite alone.   Yes, we bond together in groups, desire the company of each other; even more than the company, we desire to be known by another.  We want someone else to understand and hopefully appreciate us. Sometimes, in the closest of relationships, we come close to that.  Yet, even when we are that lucky or successful, we encounter times when it seems that amidst even a multitude, we are completely alone.

In a broad sense, we are never alone; we are all connected in the mystical common web of things, all parts of the original energy of the One.  Some have perceived this mystical energy as holographic, i.e., the total of everything is contained within each part.  In this sense, we are always connected.  It is also true that in order for there to be a universe of entities distinct from each other, instead of a fused glob of energy, there need be boundaries.   Boundaries set us apart from not-us and allow us to exist as individual conscious beings.  They also ensure that we are alone.    We are both alone and connected.

Alone can feel lonely, but it does not need to.  Lonely is having lost sense of one’s connection to the whole, feeling abandoned and vulnerable.  Alone is the realization of one’s uniqueness, knowing that no matter how well we may communicate, no one else can truly understand the fullness of our being, know exactly what we experience or feel.   No other being can make our life’s decisions for us; no other being can take responsibility for those decisions.   If we allow, we may be influenced by others, but the decisions are ours.  Alone is accepting that realization, and simultaneously enjoying the cosmic connection that is our heritage.   Alone is seeing and comprehending the paradox; lonely is seeing only one end.

Some humans prefer to work by themselves instead of in groups; other humans feel a need for more alone time than their peers, desiring time in nature or their favorite retreat.   Even those humans, some strongly inclined to isolation, need connection.  Most of us need that connection with other humans; a few find it in nature, animal friends or prayer.  It is still connection.  At the same time, it is essential, especially for those on the more communal end of the spectrum, to realize their own awareness as unique.  We are a paradox.  For most of us, the alone end of the phenomenon is most difficult to accept. Eventually, even the company, stimulation, adulation (or condemnation) of others falls hollow, until acceptance of aloneness enables our return to connection.

Let us then celebrate with, enjoy and love each other.   Let us also allow ourselves to experience the paradox and find time for solitude and the consciousness of our complete aloneness.  Let us appreciate both the aloneness and the connection, nurturing our wholeness in the process.   Alone is our beginning, leading us back into connectedness in an endless circle.   Alone need not be scary when we embrace it.

Peace, Diane