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                                                        Through a moving meditation practice called Qigong

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Risking Vulnerability in our Practice

Posted on July 21, 2014 at 3:55 PM

Monday, July 21, 2014

When I was teaching T'ai Chi Chih (a qigong form) class at the Folsom men's prison last Thursday (7/17/14), one of the inmates asked me why he had to put his feet in a "v" position when standing in "resting pose".  I told him I should probably know the answer to that, but really wasn't sure why, except that it probably had to do with opening the channels so that the Qi (chi) could flow more freely.  I emphasized that if standing in a "v" was painful for some reason, or if he was more comfortable with his feet in a parallel position, he could certainly stand that way. 

He explained that as a man in prison, in order to protect himself he would usually stand with a foot turned in, not out.  It took me a second to realize that he meant, "to not get kicked in his privates."  I said that was a really good point, and I was very glad he'd brought it up.  It led to a discussion of all the risks the men have taken in the prison class: risking looking silly or foolish when learning the movements for the first time; risking asking questions that they think might be "dumb" (but which never are); risking sharing about how the practice has helped or changed them; risking sharing the frustration they feel about their powerlessness to help family on the outside; risking doing the movements on the yard, risking sharing about sick or dying friends or family on the outside; risking showing support, respect and love for their fellow classmates, and risking the trust I've witnessed among classmates.

I thought of all the ways the practice has taught me to take risks.  Listening to my "inner voice" and following the path that led me to the prison; becoming a teacher in spite of being quite shy and anxious in front of groups; travelling distances alone to attend retreats and trainings where I didn't know anyone, expanding my practice to include other teachings (overcoming fear of disapproval); reaching out to other teachers in the Community and asking for help and support; speaking in front of 70 people in L.A. about the prison class... Risking being more of ME, and not playing small anymore.

I thought also of some readings in my Book of Awakening by the poet, Mark Nepo, where he offers the following analogies to risking vulnerability:

1. Learning to swim:  The harder and faster we flounder in our efforts to stay afloat, contracting and tensing our muscles, the faster we sink.  It is only when we can let go, spread out, relax and  trust the depth of the water to hold us up, that we float.  

2.  Birds, learning to fly:  They must step off the branch and spread their wings, trusting in the air beneath them to hold them up.  If they keep their wings folded inward, (contracting, tightening, closing off), then they will only fall and never fly.  

Expansion vs. contraction.  Both are part of the dance.  How will I take a risk, and expand today?  Opening ones feet into a "v" may seem like no big deal to some.  But to others, it is a huge risk, like floating or flying.  


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Categories: Folsom Prison Class, T'ai Chi Chih, General

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