|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:10 PM|
Prison – Of All the Places to Discover T’ai Chi Chih
It seems I was connected to T’ai Chi Chih and Folsom State Prison long before I’d heard of or given much thought to either. It was through listening to the voice of Spirit, or Prana, as April Loeffler would say, that I found my way to the practice, as well as to the prison. Actually, they came together as a package deal. It began sometime back in 2007, while I was practicing my Tai Chi form (I began my study of Tai Chi in 2001), when this “random” thought popped into my head that this would be a relaxing thing to do it one were in prison. Now, I had never met anyone who’d been in prison, nor had I ever been to one – so I just brushed it aside as one of those weird things our brains do sometimes. But over the next couple years, this idea just wouldn’t go away. I guess I’m kind of slow, as it finally occurred to me that perhaps I was supposed to do something about it. Upon further reflection, I realized that they probably wouldn’t want you teaching Tai Chi in a prison – because Tai Chi is a slow fighting form – a martial art - so I decided I needed a Qigong Teacher. Looking back on it, it wasn’t a very well thought-out plan; like I was just going to learn Qigong and they were going to let me come into a prison and teach it. It turned out I didn’t need a good plan, because I had Prana on my side. So I Googled “Qigong Instructors” located in my area, printed out a list of about 15 teachers, and picked out a name. Without knowing anything about this person, I called her up and asked about classes. She responded that she didn’t think it would work out because she was so far from me, but then she paused, and said, “I don’t know if you’d be interested, but I teach a class inside Folsom State Prison one day a week.” Wow! All the hair stood up on my arms and neck – I couldn’t believe it. Here was the first teacher I’d picked off a long list of names, and she was the EXACT person I was looking for! I didn’t know it at the time, but this was my introduction to Prana, to listening to the inner voice. Her name was Judy Tretheway, and I began coming in to the prison with her in 2009. I learned T’ai Chi Chih in the prison class, then assisted with teaching, and became accredited to teach in early 2011. When Judy retired in 2011 after 13 years of teaching T’ai Chi Chih in the prison, it became my class. (Judy later confessed to me that 2 weeks prior to my calling her, she had put out a prayer for an assistant.)
In November of 2010, after one year at the prison, I went to Albuquerque for my Intensive. I didn’t know at the time that it was connected with Justin Stone’s birthday. What a great introduction to the Community! Pam conducted the Intensive, and I got to meet Sister Antonia, Sandy, Dan (and his belt buckle), Carmen, and people from all over. Justin came to speak to us, and I got to share with him that the men at Folsom still talked about his visit there. I also met my dear friend Banks Upshaw, who was participating in the Intensive. On the first day as we went around the circle introducing ourselves, I had said that I’d learned Tai Chi Chih at Folsom State Prison, thinking that most people knew it was a men’s prison. Well, Banks went home to Portland and told his wife he’d met this amazing woman who’d really turned her life around! It wasn’t until I saw him again at our Teacher Training that he figured it out. We had a great laugh over that one.
Teaching the class at Folsom has been, without a doubt, the most important spiritual experience of my life. It started out as a spiritual experience, and has kept on rolling. The men’s are very focused on the movements, the teachings, and our time together, because they are highly motivated to heal. They are incredibly appreciative of my coming in to teach them. Initially, they were MY teachers, then they became my students, and as with all students, they are my very best teachers. We have come full circle, and I am so grateful for all of it. T’ai Chi Chih and teaching at Folsom have changed my life in unimaginable ways. Thank you Justin.
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