Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Planting My Feet - part ll

The young man sent to me sat seated on the opposite end of the couch. The meeting had been arranged in response to a request I’d put out that I was looking for a chi kung teacher who understood using the ancient Chinese martial art with cancer patients as a tool for healing. Chi kung [or chi gong] is the mother of all the other Chinese healing disciplines such as tai chi, acupuncture and all the many martial arts. In my stereotypical expectation I thought I’d be meeting an elderly Chinese master [my stereotype based on the reality of having studied previously with an elderly Chinese master, but he was now deceased and could no longer directly help me]. Instead, there sitting across from me, was a young, blonde guy who looked as though he could be ‘another college student’ in this sea of college students of the university town I live in. My ‘expectations’ were thrown.

My expectations were further thrown when after only about two minutes of light introductory conversation he looked me deeply in the eye and said, “Okay, so you could live or die,” [this wasn’t in the abstract philosophical sense as I looked the part of someone attempting to keep their feet from being dragged down into the grave] “… you could live or die. You say you want to live. Why?”

“Ballsy,” I thought as I sat there shocked by this young man. I liked that. He knew we were on serious ground and at the start he was letting me know he took the situation seriously and we weren’t fooling around. My life was at stake – and he got it. Still, he stopped me in my tracks with that question – particularly since it was being asked with all seriousness. So far since my diagnosis, NO ONE had asked this most pertinent of all questions. We easily take our everyday life for granted, until one day it’s no longer just a given. Tomorrow is looking questionable and there sits someone wanting to know why I want to live; wants me to justify my allotment of air I breathe and how I use that life. I respected him immediately just for the courage it took to say to a stranger whose mortality was center stage, “Tell me why you want to live.”

At this point in my story I dare you to do the same - answering to yourself “why do I want to live another day?” This may seem like a silly philosophical exercise, until it’s not one day. My day had arrived.

I don’t recall what my answer to him was. I would hope it was something halfway intelligent that would make him interested in working with me, but considering the high amounts of morphine and other mind numbing drugs I was on, not to mention the chemo-therapeutic battle zone taking place inside my body – I’d be pleased if I simply didn’t drool.

What I do recall is my ‘homework’ for the following week [there was always homework].

As he prepared to leave he said to me, “I want you to list twelve things you love. – And then another list of twelve things you want to learn.” I thought this was odd; no martial arts exercises to practice, no special, secret, therapeutic movements to discover, no special meditation practice or breathing techniques to raise my ‘chi’ – simply list twelve things I love and twelve things I want to learn.

Okay. I was used to teachers throughout my life who taught in unconventional ways, in fact I often preferred them – and already I respected this man, despite his unconventional, conventional appearance; I couldn’t let my rigid stereotypes stand in the way. I was willing to play.

Twelve things I love; that was easy. And over the course of the following week I came up with many, many things I loved; so many I had to keep refining the list to limit it to the everchanging top twelve. As I worked with this list, over time I realized that these people and things that I loved were my links to my life here on this Earth: my wife, my sons, dog, home, nature, the beach, my work… All the things that if I were to die I would leave behind here on earth. It began to become clear to me that the twelve things I loved were twelve anchors – tethers connecting me to this place called earth that I had such a tenuous grip on.

“Brilliant!” I thought, “These twelve things that I love are the things that I need to keep foremost in my mind and in my gratitude if I hope to remain here.”

But twelve things I want to learn? That question just annoyed me. I didn’t feel as though I was exactly in a good spot to take any classes or take up any new hobbies. I wasn’t really looking to learn anything new in the midst of my crisis – and what the hell kind of question was that? What did learning something new have to do with my healing?! But still, I pondered that second question over the week also. Was there anything I wanted to learn?

Well, yes, I needed to learn about lymphoma for one thing, pronto! I wasn’t wanting to learn about that, but I certainly needed to familiarize myself with my opponent. I also had a lot I needed to learn about chemotherapy and how to survive it. And nutrition – I wanted to know more about nutrition and especially was there anything I could do to help in the cause: cancer eradication. Oh, and chi kung, I definitely wanted to be a student of the martial art applied internally for healing. There were four things right there that seemed imperative that I learn. By the end of the week I easily had twelve things to report to my chi kung teacher that I wanted to learn, many of which had to do with surviving cancer and cancer treatment, but also included gardening, writing and painting.

While reflecting and revising my lists one more time before I sat with my teacher again, I suddenly saw it! Again, he was brilliant! The twelve things I loved easily were seen as the anchors that tied me to this earthly home. The twelve things I wanted to learn connected me to a Future – something that had been looking kind of questionable. To attempt to learn new things gives yourself the message that you’ll be sticking around a minute to apply that new knowledge, to develop that new skill. To want to learn new things connects us to an unknown future in a very real and grounded way – connecting us to ‘here’ and to what we love.

This was the beginning of my training in chi kung practice as a healing practice for myself - and an auspicious start it was; a simple exercise really, but one with profound and deep effects.

So I offer it to you as the next piece of the physical quadrant on the Restoration Wheel:

What are twelve things that you love that connect you to ‘here’?


What are twelve things that you’d like to learn?

Enjoy the buffet.


A special thanks to Ryan Wilson of Black Dragon Gyms


Sandi said...

This is brilliant! I'm starting my lists right now! Thanks!

el poquito said...

....and what I find Sandi is it's an ongoing exercise - the list is everchanging. The focus changes as circumstances change. The 12 things I love can as easily be 12 things I'm grateful for [refocuses the attention]

Twelve is kind of the magical number in this teacher's tradition [and many others]. Behind the idea is constructing a matrix.

We constantly are building a matrix, a template of sorts, a window of viewing. We easily build the negative matrix. 12 things I'm worried about I can name in under 4 seconds flat [a negative matrix that is going to keep me looking out that 'worry window'. Instead, this teacher would constantly give me the assignment of '12 things' to build the positive matrix. So 12 things I love; 12 things i want to learn; 12 things I'm grateful for. From there the 'game' got upped: 12 things good about chemotherapy [while everyone and everything is giving you contrary messages about the horrors of chemo. The biggest challenge I remember was as I was teetering the cliffside of steroid psychosis [from treatment] I had to find 12 positive things about steroids! I struggled and eventually came up with 10 - not quite 12 good things about high dose steroids that also were ripping through my being and psyche - and I never did become ENTIRELY over the cliff psychotic. The circle of 12 saved my ass - just enough. Building a positive matrix is a challenge at times - the times we REALLY need to find our way out of the darkness.

Good luck with your list. Remember, you are the list. You are the medicine. It's not outside yourself and is everchanging. Such is life, eh? And here we are still here; still constructing; still re-constructing. Side by side we are, hammering, sawing, reconstructing - building something new. It's a good thing - even when it's hard; still a good thing - this living on planet earth among the mortals working hard, side by side.

May your work be filled with joy and a true expression of your heart and self. Burn brightly, Sandi.

xo-el po