I use collage as my medium to create multidimensional interwoven pieces that bring forth my fondness of 80’s culture and imagery. The collages typically work together as a series, creating a hypnotic pattern of meticulously dissected images with contrasting colors. My work has been previously shown in galleries in Brooklyn, NY, Baltimore, MD, Atlanta, GA and Los Angeles, CA.
This essay is part of our month exploring the theme of Self-Care.
I studied martial arts for three intensive years, until I started to spar, undergoing a barrage of hooks and jabs, reluctantly taking my part in the group onslaught. Perhaps, I engaged myself in such activity due to my own accumulated self-hate. I was in my mid-twenties when I studied this tradition, with Jeet Kune Do at its core, and was content to remain ignorant of my own internal sphere of conflict and identity misalignment resulting from years of burying the emotional pain of my childhood—a time full of great sadness and loss.
I was studying in a strong school, filled with loving people and teachers. The head Sifu was a second generation student in the direct lineage of Bruce Lee. There are many people who find benefit in such training, but for me, it had simply outrun its course with my own threshold for physical pain and my fear surrounding direct conflict. As my own struggles with my health began to outweigh my ability to deny them, I slowly drifted away from attending classes in much the same way a lifeboat will separate from the larger vessel, floating in the sea, slowly diverging towards its own trajectory. I suppose this is common for many modern mariners out there. Maybe you reading this now find the pattern familiar. Perhaps all of us can learn how to truly undergo and manage the constant ebb and flow of our lives. Perhaps I could somehow, someday, learn to be truly unattached to anyone or anything, with the exception of love and God. And when that day comes, call me Odysseus. Call me capable of making my way home.
PERHAPS I COULD SOMEHOW, SOMEDAY, LEARN TO BE TRULY UNATTACHED TO ANYONE OR ANYTHING, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF LOVE AND GOD. AND WHEN THAT DAY COMES, CALL ME ODYSSEUS. CALL ME CAPABLE OF MAKING MY WAY HOME.
Qigong felt like going home to me. The first time I sat down to take a class, I was 27 years old. A familiar impression stole my senses, and a feeling of safety came over me as though I had done it before. I entered my first class having been gently ushered in by a well-respected Los Angeles-based yogi, a man I love and respect. And, with a face full of cystic acne and an identity full of shame, I began the practice and simply never looked back.
There are many ways people define Qi. I personally like the interpretation of the Chinese character that illustrates steam rising off of cooking rice. That is one definition. But I would urge a more reliable one through letting the internal experience of awakening to Qi define itself. Many people don’t know how to pronounce the word, which is understandable considering there are many ways do to so, depending on cultural tradition, country, or religious roots. As a result, the practice of Qigong, as varied as its pronunciation, represents a body of wisdom developed over millennia by a myriad of schools, families, and religious traditions. And, as that wisdom over time began to coalesce into a definition of forms, movements, and meditations, the overall Qigong schematic widens and deepens, and with each piece of shared insight, it may assist someone in finding his or her own path of healing and self-development. Such as it was with me. Such as it continues to be. Such as it was on that first day of class.
The experience of my adeptness with Qi rose to my mind on that day in much the same way any skill might. In much the same way I imagine a musician may discover his talent as he first sits down to play. Or in the way a budding scientist formulates and proves a theory to match his or her youthful vigor and optimism for the search itself. And, as I continued to train with my Qigong master, my direct experience of the power of Qi has immeasurably grown into a tangible and altogether humbling force.
At this time, I was a jealous young man with a reflex to steal wisdom from my teacher. I was in awe of her personal power and unconsciously acted out to avoid my own fear. As a result, I attempted to unconsciously intercept her wisdom as it became obvious that she had attained a great degree of spiritual and healing ability. You see, my Qigong master had clairvoyant, clairsentient, and clairaudient gifts. And I was jealous. I wanted to have those abilities. And, fortunately for me, I was given the chance to study with someone who could not only perceive those manifestations of my own shadow and ego but also help guide and process me through them. The fact was, I desperately wanted her abilities, and, my corrugated ego desired to have those clairvoyant gifts in order to give itself more power and control.
AT THIS TIME, I WAS A JEALOUS YOUNG MAN WITH A REFLEX TO STEAL WISDOM FROM MY TEACHER. I WAS IN AWE OF HER PERSONAL POWER AND UNCONSCIOUSLY ACTED OUT TO AVOID MY OWN FEAR.
One time, I witnessed my teacher emit Qi into a dog who needed help, and as she sat with the animal lovingly in her lap, I visibly saw Qi’s energetic effect. Other instances of the power and direct experience with this life force energy would continue to reveal themselves to me as the years went on. Years that would give rise to my experience of sinking deeper into the sensations of my body. This time allowed me to pursue ways to heal my jealousy and other aberrations in my shadow or personality. And as they began to soften, grow, shift, and heal, my own experiences with Qi deepened.
I wait tables at a crazy, loud, intensely physical restaurant in Venice Beach, CA. This is a restaurant on steroids, and due to its derisive physical effects on my body, my continual practice of Qigong and my facility to use Qi is an invaluable resource that has allowed me to meet the stress of my job with necessary vigor. I find that practicing Qi cultivates and stores it for future use. I have been waiting tables for the last ten years in Los Angeles, and last year my job began to get the better of my body. The shoulder I use to carry trays had really begun to give me pain. Sitting down, I would simply call the Qi to come into my shoulder as I gently rolled them and worked the Qi into the joint and through the blood. I could feel the Qi come into the joint, and over time, the pain began to dissipate. Along with my physical prescription, I found that there was an emotional component as well. As I sat down, I would give the pain in my shoulder a ‘voice’ and began to communicate its pain out loud. I also have experience using the Qi of the earth to soak into my muscles, tendons, and ligaments of my legs while I sit and stretch. Or feeling the sensations in the acupuncture meridians of my arms, slightly open up, like feeling a physical expansion as I glide the palms of my hands down their pathways. Occasionally, I will have a deeper experience of Qi, which often happens without expectation and makes me feel a dislodging of stagnation inside my body. My body will shift internally, and I will feel a release.
QIGONG, I HAVE LEARNED, IS A GREAT EQUALIZER AND REPLENISHER. IT HAS GIVEN ME THE STRENGTH TO ENDURE THE DRAINING CHALLENGES OF LIFE, PEOPLE, AND TECHNOLOGY.
I suppose all these experiences, in the end, have helped to give me tools and a practice I can engage with in order to meet the oftentimes exhausting reality of living life. Living in a large city can truly run its toll on the body, mind, and spirit of a modern day industrialized dweller. I have lived here for thirteen years and consider myself to be a blue collar worker. Qigong, I have learned, is a great equalizer and replenisher. It has given me the strength to endure the draining challenges of life, people, and technology.
I continued to confront my jealousy over my teacher’s abilities up until the days before her body finally gave out. I was overcome by grief after losing her, because I loved her. Days after her death, I was at my familiar spot in the park in Santa Monica, and as I went through my Immune Enhancement Qigong (a form I had learned from her), I came to a difficult movement which would almost always precipitate a correction from her. With my arms raised straight above me, my fingers pointed towards heaven, my legs and body in proper form, I invited the Qi from heaven to flow into my finger tips, down my arms, and to let it gather in the space between my shoulder blades. From there, I pushed the shoulder blades down as I sank my arms to deliver healing and protection to the kidneys. On this sunny morning, tears in my eyes, remembering my teacher, I suddenly felt her spirit’s presence there. As I progressed through the movement, I felt a rush of healing energy flow into my kidneys and my entire lower back. I felt the warm flood of Qi flow through me and felt with such specific intensity my teacher’s presence and my belief that she had instructed me from the spiritual realm and had elucidated to me the essence of the movement.
Now here I am, no longer having a Qigong master to be jealous of. My path of learning self-love is all that remains as I continue to work with the Qi, submit myself to further self-inquiry, awaken to my own life path, and remain steadfast and faithful in my ability to live a life of self-loving kindness. The Qi continues to be a reminder of my own humility. For the Qi is far more intelligent than you, or I, or any Qigong master we may encounter in a park, in a temple, or any other overlooked sacred spot.