THE LISTENING SEED
I had entered through the forest of burgundy-turned Oak and golden-leafed Cottonwood, and after having crossed the arroyo through the thicket, I stood in the meadow of wild grasses, a flaxen sea lit up by the morning sun that had taken its sweet time in burning off the last of the clouds from a series of overcast days. My taiji quan form was given to the cliffs I faced, whose own faces I knew held petroglyphs I longed to see.
As my body moved the qi under my palms, I sensed others soaking up the essence of the landscape. They, too, were in silence, all part of a qigong, taiji, gongfu, and yoga training intensive— day five of seven 15-hour practices. Our task for the next two hours was to immerse ourselves in the natural world and to allow our senses to re-sensitize to it.
Silence has a way of making the senses speak out with precise amplification.
I travelled on, following the call of the prehistoric carvings in the rocks beyond, not knowing the way, but feeling for it, and trusting its summons. I found a pale footpath in the grass that took me to a fork where I discovered bear tracks clearly defined in the crusted mud.
To my left, a massive Cottonwood, with nine huge trunks reaching out from its enormous base— more than six feet across. On a small patch of green grass at its bed were two crossed legs with boots peaking out just so.
I let my friend have her time there and I took the path to the right, which led me to a stairway of earth and railroad ties. These gave way to a narrow trail that paralleled the long stretch of rock-wall.
I followed my intuition, veering up its side where it was less steep and found a fence with the barbed wire pulled up to make a portal to the other side. I slipped through and after a short scramble up a patch of lose rocks I found myself with a view of the entire surrounding landscape.
A keen examination of the rocks revealed a series of petroglyphs carved into the flat-sided boulders: A spiral, then a snake, a herd of elk or deer, a handprint that matched mine exactly as I pressed my palm into its shape, the fingers stretched to make pointed nails like flames.
I meditated with the sun on my face and soon my friend from the cottonwood had arrived. I silently pointed out the rock drawings and let her enjoy her own time with them. As I was leaving she handed me a note that read:
This was the phrase we had been given the night before during the Qigong Theatre in which some of us were named as such and had to play that role while exploring a world of archetypes presented to us by way of other qigong actors.
I began hiking down the same way I had come up. But already I felt the trepidation of the descent working its way into cracks in my confidence. On my way up I had been fearless, spirited, and bold. The way suddenly seemed daunting as I inched my way down the cliffside.
I felt the rocks give way under my feet and I slipped.
I caught myself in time, but I was shaken; I looked back to the summit to see if my friend would be coming along, too. She was not.
Sometimes you must descend the mountain alone, with no one but yourself to count on to make it through close-calls and only you to rely on when you lose your way.
From there to the earthen steps I had already lost the path twice. Adding to that, at the base of the stairway I took a wrong turn. Doubling back toward the other direction I finally found the nine-trunked Cottonwood giant, only to lose the trail yet again.
I found myself guessing incorrectly time after time, squeezing through saplings, scraggly oak, and grasses that stuck their seed pods to my pants as I forced my way through. Three, four, and perhaps five times more I ran into obstacles: a ravine, a thick cluster of cholla cacti, a tangle of sweeping branches like arms walling up a boundary to block my way.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
The stickiness of the first, subtle signs of the birth of panic began to whisper blows at my heart. I brushed them off with a deep breath, or a moment of appreciation for the natural beauty in which I was enveloped.
When the mind catches wind of worry the body follows that new rhythm by making the breath shallow, inconsistent; one must lengthen and steady the breath to cue the mind back into a settled state.
I kept glancing back for my friend. I thought of her confident stride, her hiking boots. I looked down at my practice sneakers and wished she was there to help me find the way. Maybe she was nearby. The vow of silence said I couldn’t call out. Should I whistle? Clap my hands?
I finally reached the head of the wood where the adobe walls of the retreat center suddenly came into view over the hill. I was soon stepping sure-footedly across the courtyard and into the dining hall, through the grounds and into the kiva where class was about to begin.
In silence we practiced four hours and in silence we ate our lunch afterward. I sat in the sun on the ground, facing the cliff I could not see but knew was there, through the woods and beyond the meadow.
My friend spotted me and approached, handing me a poem she had penned on that same piece of notebook paper. It’s heading still declared, “Intrepid Adventurers.” Underneath was her story, the tale of her morning adventure.
I looked up and she pointed to her chin, blood visible underneath a bandage. She rolled up her pant leg to reveal a scraped leg and knee. Her hand and elbow were rashed.
She had taken the short way down. Coming straight down the front of the cliff, she had lost her footing and tumbled, slamming down on the rocks.
I opened my mouth and placed my hands over my heart. She took my hand and nodded slowly with a wise calm. She pointed to her mind and placed her arms in Heart Protection position, crossed over the chest in surrender and transcendence. Her eyes were serene; her heart was in peace.
One of the most life-changing teachings I have gained from my years as a gongfu practitioner is the importance of remaining calm in tense situations. Had I given in to the worry over losing the path it could have easily tangled itself into panic and that would have made it even harder to find the way.
In keeping with the idea that the mind and the body are constantly informing each other, influencing each other, and inspiring each other, I’d like you to become aware of what this dialogue looks like for you as you go about your day.
What is your mind telling your body and how is your body responding?
Can you catch your mind telling your body to do things that don’t serve you— like breathing shallow, increasing your heart rate, or tensing up your muscles simply by the thoughts you’re having?
When you do notice these body reactions, are you able to use the body to calm your mind, by breathing deeply and with awareness, by relaxing your muscles, or by slowing your movements?
Pay attention to the communication your mind and body share, and actively take part in that dialogue, using your body to soothe your mind.
As I looked at my friend, with her chin bandaged up, my eyes welled with hot tears. I wanted to say I was sorry I had left her. I wanted to tell her I got lost. All the things I thought I needed to say with words were spun on the breeze like the golden Cottonwood leaves making ocean sounds like, hushhhhhhhhh.
Words ain’t got nothin’ on the language of the heart.
She shook her head in response, drew a heart on her heart, and pointed to me. She opened her arms and I met her in a hug that melted me into trust that what was essential had been communicated and what was true was understood.
One way to use the body to cue the mind back into calm, is to practice qigong and tai chi. If you’d like to learn, DOORS ARE NOW OPEN TO SIGN-UP for the Pay-What-You-Like Qigong Lesson Film Subscription Series. Sign-up is fast and simple via patreon.com/breafisher. Click the Become A Patron button and follow the prompts to create an account.
Suggested contribution to be automatically included in the Lesson Film Subscription is $10 a month; however, if you chose a membership tier less than $10/mo simply send me an email to let me know you’d like access to the series.
On my way home from a trip into the mountains I stopped at a hot springs and had a soak. I began practicing qigong within the chest-level lithia water; the pool for uplifting the mood and for aiding digestion.
Digestion is more than the processing of food and nutrients; the spleen and the stomach are hard at work digesting ideas and emotions as well. And since my time in the wilderness had brought so much up for me to chew on, I picked this particular pool in which to soak and to move.
I chose a spot to begin practice that faced the massive rock-face peaking just below the rising sun. I deliberately positioned myself so that there was plenty of space in the pool from which others could choose to soak without invading my personal qi bubble during practice. And then I settled in for some medical qigong.
Ten minutes into the form, I felt the presence of someone entering my energy field to my right. Another minute and she had inched into my line of vision. Within a few more minutes she was sitting nearly directly in front of me as I faced her, the rock-wall beyond her, and the sun beyond it. I went through the movements of sinking and lifting, drawing in and sending out, replenishing and releasing, all while she sat little more than an arm’s reach away.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
I felt myself involuntarily shrink my qi closer into myself, to give more room to this woman and also to protect myself and remain in my own field without sharing it with someone I hadn’t invited in… Or had not known I had invited.
But, as I was already in a deep state of qigong meditation, I watched myself have that knee-jerk response and then I promptly released it and opened back outward to include her because it felt right.
She inched even closer then, as if on the breeze of my window opening. I soothed my protesting mind by telling myself she was someone I loved. She became family. She was an auntie. She was my mother. She was my teacher.
I felt honored to have her there in witness of my practice.
She opened her arms wide to receive.
As I finished the form she left my field and when I got out of the pool she motioned for me to sit beside her. She thanked me and started to explain that she just need to be near me while I moved. Then she stopped, took off her sunglasses, and spoke from her heart.
“My husband passed five days ago.”
I looked into her eyes and held space for her grief. “He was a healer, too,” she said, beginning to cry. I held her in the best hug I could give and we stood like that, in embrace, and we became family.
I felt so very honored to have been there with her. I was grateful to have given her something during her grief. I was humbled by the power of qigong as a treatment.
When you practice qigong near another person the vibrations radiate outward, creating a healing field that can be felt by those around you.
This is a qigong treatment. It’s the process of sharing your qigong practice with another— giving them part of the experience.
Had I slunk away after feeling this beautiful grieving woman enter my personal space I would have missed that sacred exchange. I allowed her into the healing space and by witnessing my practice she benefited by it, too.
The brain makes little distinction between what the body is actually doing and what the senses perceive.
Think back to the times you’ve been watching a movie and had your heart rate skyrocket during the climax of a thriller, or have had your breath become shallow while the star of a scary movie crept through the pitch black of the unknown horror to come.
The eyes perceive the movie, which causes the emotional and physical traits being viewed to manifest themselves according to what you’re seeing.
When you watch someone moving in a calm, slow, and centered way, your brain begins to take those aspects into your body as if you yourself are moving calmly, slowly, centered.
That’s why the Everyday Tai Chi Films are popular with such a wide range of viewers. One of the reasons people who have no martial arts experience are drawn to the short practice films I publish is because seeing me practice qigong and tai chi is a way for them to slow down themselves.
When we practice qigong or tai chi the breath lengthens, the body relaxes, and the mind is calmed; and when you view someone else practicing, those things are likely to happen within you also.
It’s not just the visual that inspires the qigong treatment to have an effect. One can receive the healing without ever seeing the form at all. It follows the same principles of distance healing.
If I hold you in my focus during qigong practice I can actually share with you the qi I cultivate.
My students and I often do this at the end of class. We mentally and energetically call forth someone in the world who could use a little extra healing. Individually, we hold them in our focus. And then we use the intention to share the qi we’ve made with them.
I’ve been recording my daily practice every single day for over a year and there are over 300 Everyday Tai Chi Films posted online for you. By watching these short practice films (they’re all one minute or less), you can get your own qigong treatment from me.
You can bring the qi I’m cultivating into your own body.
Your challenge is to take me up on the invitation. Watch one or two— or a handful of films— and sink into it. Let yourself soften as you watch. Breathe with me. Feel your breath slow down to match my movements.
If you want to go the next level, follow along with me in movements that speak to you. Many of the Everyday Tai Chi Films include Form Notes. Call someone to mind either before or afterward and use your intention to share the qi with them.
Sharing qigong with others is in service to all involved.
Giving someone a qigong treatment doesn’t deplete the one practicing as one might fear. Qigong creates a circle of energy that flows continuously and generously; therefore, sharing the qi you cultivate can actually make the experience of one’s practice even more potent.
After having remained in my practice in that hot springs pool I felt uplifted not only because of the minerals in the water. It was mainly because I had opened myself up to give to another.
By sharing my qigong with that dear, grieving woman I had comforted her in a way I could have never imagined possible as a stranger. By letting her into the healing space of my qigong practice she became my sister.
The gift was deeply moving and one I will not forget. It is my wish that you, too, have the good fortune of experiencing such a blessing in your own life.
May you share your qi or open your arms wide to receive the qi of another, and in so doing may you draw the generous circle of energy from your heart to the hearts of your fellows.
If you’re interested in receiving a Qigong Treatment from me, reach out. I’m currently offering them free for as long as it feels right to do so. You can comment on one of my Everyday Tai Chi Film posts on Instagram, Facebook, or Patreon, comment below, or simply send me an email. Feel free to share as much or as little about what you’re working with right now and I will hold you in my focus during an upcoming practice.
And if you know someone who may benefit from these articles or from any of the other offerings I share, please do me the great honor of sending them my way. I am ever-grateful for shares!