Highlights from Tai Chi Alchemy XVI
Tai Chi Alchemy XVI in Sedona astounded and delighted in ways earlier chapters could not have anticipated. Writing about it is a bit like piecing together a dream: the few markers that stand out in the memory are but the tiniest fragments of what happened. The high octane information that is shared provides a context and a structure for the real miracle– the incredible interactions of people in a vibrant, intelligent natural setting. The level of dialogue has evolved to where even newcomers are comfortable discussing and working with energies that seemed distant and elusive in our earlier meetings.
In 1997 or 98, I announced in my opening comments that I wanted everyone in attendance to “feel their qi” before the weekend was out. My partner at the time told me I was nuts to suggest such a thing. He said it took years to develop that kind of awareness. Well, everyone got a taste, and have every year since. Now the level of certainty has risen dramatically and we work with qualities of energy with confidence.
Just a few years ago Stephe Watson amazed us by “moving” people without touching them. This year, Rob Mann helped the whole class understand how to execute this remarkable skill in a drill called “Search Center”. It’s actually a cooperative exercise, where the “pusher” directs intention and the “pushee” feels the intent and goes with the direction of the flow. We start out with eyes open and physically touching, then gradually gain confidence and do it eyes closed at a distance. The exercise teaches us to direct intention coherently and to sense intention before the actual physical execution (ting jin).
Each year we add to our vocabulary for describing and clarifying what was only recently quite ineffable.
New Venue: Poco Diablo
TCA XVI was held at a new place, Poco Diablo Resort (about 4 miles from Bell Rock). The resort was easily accessible, the surroundings were exquisite, the accomodations were very comfortable, the food was good, and you couldn’t beat the company.
I liked the energy of this place–delightfully mellow. It didn’t crackle like some of our other locations, but I think that allowed for more attention on the really cool stuff being presented. The usual open-hearted joy pervaded the group. Where else do you find adults of all ages hugging spontaneously and laughing unabashedly at 7 am? Seems you were never so happy to be reunited with people you just left a few hours ago.
We had quite a few contributions from unexpected sources this year:
Noted author, teacher, filmmaker and film critic, and contributing editor for Inside Kung Fu Magazine kicked things off by stressing the importance of developing a “mental kung fu” in our lives.
Since the most challenging opponent we’ll meet is our self, then we have to prepare to meet this worthy over and over. He emphasized that “the only one Bruce Lee couldn’t defeat was himself.”
I followed by taking the group through “The Edge”–an exercise designed to increase our ability to calmly and consciously handle incoming energy without contracting or flinching. It takes the triggers that would ordinarily produce a fear response in our nervous systems and re-programs our nervous system to respond from higher centers of consciousness.
Lynn Sharp and Nick D’Antoni got us started Saturday morning with some powerful energy exercises, focusing on stretching, strengthening, balance, and qi flow. Rich Szeligowski showed how the Taiji Tu (yin/yang symbol) can be used to heighten awareness of shifting energies in sparring and push hands (This was a subject for a recent article he wrote for Inside Kung Fu.)
It is a TCA tradition to take a field trip Saturday morning to Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, two of the most powerful and popular vortexes in Sedona. (As many times as I’ve been there, I am always blown away by them.)
This year we were honored to participate in an amazing Native American blessing by kung fu teacher and shaman, Tom Delacy. He invoked the spirit of that sacred place in a special smudging/drumming ceremony that brought many to tears. It was as profound and moving a religious experience as I have had, and it set the tone for our vortex explorations with reverence and humility.
After lunch I reviewed how to use “energetic coherence” and “central equilibrium” to access effortless power. Once you establish these two, many of the seemingly miraculous taiji tricks become understandable and available. For example, I showed how pointing at your opponent’s center line in push hands or sparring will strengthen you and weaken him. If you trace a meridian backwards, even at a distance, you can weaken or strengthen it. The same principle can be used for healing or fighting, depending on your intent. We used this technique to hone our intention.
Guru Mike Casto took it a step farther and showed how to use intention in sparring. Using slow, no impact drills we practiced reaching through our partners’ guard to make contact.
Saturday Night at TCA is reserved for energy healing. Anne Buhlig took us through Self Healing with Jin Shin Jyutsu. Catherine Carrigan presented Healing Your Hara. I found myself blissfully transported during a delightful group healing led by Rob Mann, called Wei Qi Gong. He learned it from Professor Duan Zhiliang.
Great stuff in the early session (7-8 am). Rich introduced exercises for Hemispheric Brain Synchronization. Ethan DeFord opened our heart chakras with mudras and meditation. Tom followed with a section of Bodhidharma’s Yi Jin Jing (Muscle Tendon Changing Classic). Very powerful.
After breakfast, Maria Barrett led a meditation, then the transformative “Healing Your Voice”. Valarie Gabel shared an ingenious set of exercises for accessing the “light and insubstantial energy” above the baihui (crown point of the head). Balancing small baggies with a few ounces of rice on top of our heads, we practiced our forms. When the bags were removed, the sensation lingered for a long time. Simple, yet profound.
Rob’s “Search Center” was a huge hit. Everyone got a real sense of transpersonal play at a high level. Then we finished up with Maria and I leading “Small Changes” (an exercise created by Don Miller and I, a crowd favorite). The group divided into two teams, the “Marias” and the “Ricks”, and played push hands. I would pose a challenge to Maria (the smallest movement needed to establish an advantage) and all the Ricks would do that to their partner. Then Maria would counter with the smallest change necessary to reclaim the advantage. We took turns posing questions to our partners, and answering in turn. The Marias won.
TCA XVI for me was an exquisite, illuminating, radiant experience full of surprises and opportunities to connect with loving, creative, passionate people. Thank you all.