I've found this spot near shaker lakes where I can do my Tai Chi Wu forms. it is isolated from people, virtually untouched wooded parks. We seem to have quite a lot of those in the greater Cleveland area and I'm coming to appreciate them. This one is perfect because it is overlooking open water right below where the sun sets (as you can see in the picture) and all the best Tai Chi (QiQong) practitioners I have had suggest doing it outside. So, I did at 9am this morning because I needed to make some decisions and noticed my thoughts were getting cloudy and overrun with emotion.
Tai Chi, the philosophy underlying it, and meditation used to be just anecdotally interesting to me (some time in University of Illinois during a Non-western Literature class, I was introduced to the poetry of Lei Tzu and became interested) and then recently my hypertension has gotten to the point where it needs to be managed by medication and I have some difficulty doing so because I believe (at a purely intuitive level) much of high blood pressure (mine at least) has to do with the cumulative effect of living in an industrialized, modern society. Everything is fast paced, on the go. There is always some (mostly material) milestone we are always chasing.
I was never consciously aware of this state of mind. The idea of the Matrix (the movie plot) is where I was first able to concretely able to articulate it. The mind state of just being plugged in, living out a meaningless life (because the life is basically software simulating modern industrialized society in order to preoccupy our minds as our bodies are being used as an energy source unwittingly). Back around the time called 'The Warring States period' (about 600 years before Before Christ) there was a flourish of philosophical literature in Ancient China about the same idea and practitioners of meditation honed their art by making a science of describing the mental process of unleashing yourself from the mundane (they even actually called it 'the Matrix' which makes me wonder if that is where the Wachowski brothers got the idea or at least the term ). They formulated the state of hurried mind, overrun with the 'ten thousand things' as they called them. If you pay attention to how people obsessively text, chase polls, plug into the 24 hour news cycle you might see a pattern of society consumed by self-indulgence, accelerated chatter, and enslaved by technology. Even me, I'm guilty of obsessively scanning Facebook, posting short nothings about something I saw or reading about some other nothing someone else saw or heard about. Reminds me of when I used to play Counter Strike.
The basic idea of the particular kind of philosophy of meditation that I've been studying is to stop thinking (rather than to focus on a particular thing on its own). I told this to my son once, and he didn't understand what it meant to 'stop thinking'. Sounds impossible, right? It isn't. When you are able to become aware of this 'matrix' state of mind and pay attention to your breathing, you can *maneuver* your thought process until it comes to stop completely. There is a specific way you are supposed to breath. I'm not as good as describing it as the people who became practitioners of this, but - as I understand it - you breath like a fetus does; so the air goes to your lower abdomen and not your chest. You breath slowly, with your tongue in a special way (at the roof of your mouth) and your head suspends like you are a marionette and there is a string attached to the top of your head up to the ceiling. When you control the breathing and it is soft in that way, you start to 'turn the light around' - i.e., turn the focus of your perception on to yourself and your thoughts - by becoming aware of your thoughts, where they come from, and what they are - dismissing them one at a time as you do so.
You continue to extinguish your thoughts by becoming aware of them until you are no longer thinking and everything you do is done from pure intuition rather than from your 'conscious' mind, the one that is like Neo before he realized he was just plugged in. From what I understand, there are ways you can empirically verify you are in this state by seeing if you have a buoyant (intoxicated) feeling. Similar - in some sense - to how you might feel if you were hyperventilating and your pores are wide open (or you are on a narcotic or some other illegal drug). The other effect (and this is *my* conjecture) is that you aren't anxious and cease to remain a slave to the gossipy, text messaging, twittering state of mind that modern day society wires us to have (a sort of *de facto* Matrix).
Usually, when I have done it properly, my blood pressure easy drops from 140 over 90, to 110 over 70. I have to measure my BP periodically to determine if the water pill (essentially) I take is working and don't need to try something else (in some ways, my friend who is a Physician has told me, Hypertension is a Syndrome in the sense that it's etiology is not fully understood).
Tai Chi is the perfect calisthenic exercise for me because it is a completely coordinated physical exercise engineered to maintain a meditative state of mind, while strengthening and stretching the body, providing all the benefits you would get from a similar calisthenic exercise: Yoga. This might sound naive, but I'm confident if I am diligent in Tai Chi, meditation, physical activity, disciplined etc. I might get to the point where I don't need to take a water pill to manage my particular chronic disease. So, I have a legitimate motivation, despite the fact that I get the idea that my family members - who are devout Christians in the same evangelic manner that many First, Second generation Nigerians are - often subtly suggest that I'm spiritually 'lost' and obsessed with Chinese culture and in desperate need for 'God to take over my life and for me to give myself to Christ', etc. I have this conversation with people who love me frequently and more often than I can count. I'm always polite and never try to dig to deep into it, because to explain takes too long. But I wanted to try to explain it here for a change.
Meditation has changed my life and *my* testimony (I use the word in the same evangelic sense as they) is how I've been able to maintain after having to bury children after unspeakable tragedy (so much so that I have yet to talk about it on a blog where my brother and I write a ridiculous amount about alot of things). It is something you can't explain but can only experience. But meditation, and my interest in the writings during the period of the warring states period also has to do with the similarities between the times we live in and the times the authors and practitioners lived in. There is alot of chaos, confusion, false ideology and vast power struggles; some visible, most not. The philosophy underlying the calisthenic exercise of Tai Chi was born in a time of chaos when people were trying to understand how a people living subject to violent forces were able to maintain an ethos that made sense, gave them tools to live healthy, gave them a moral framework that required some amount of spiritual discipline, and steeled them against turbulent times.
As I've gotten better in understanding how to adapt to change, doing the fetal, meditative breathing thing, and become more intuitive about the Tai Chi core forms, I've been trying to find local places where I can practice the 'right way'. So, I found this spot that is perfect for it. I think I'm going to go back frequently.