A Trail of Tears . . . A Tái Chi Teacher
Finds Meaning on the Reservation
By Bill Douglas
I have taught Tái Chi and Qigong in some amazing and strange places, including Folsom Maximum Security Prison, Kansas City’s Inner City Drug Rehabilitation Program, for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and in penthouse boardrooms for some of the world’s largest corporations.
However, this summer I have begun the most meaningful Tái Chi adventure of my life. This summer I was asked to teach T’ai Chi for an Indian Nations youth uplift program. I was excited about it, diving in without really thinking about what I was getting into — as I often do. Oblivious to the fact that I would be trying to teach a quiet meditative art to 70 testosterone/estrogen-energy-surging teenagers. So, as you can imagine, my first day was . . . a test.
I had high hopes for this program. I’d gotten my publisher, Macmillan in New York, to generously donate 75 copies of my book, and my video company to donate several thousand dollars worth of my videos for the program, and got my audio company to donate, and even a Rotary Club pitched in. But, on that first day reality sunk in, that these were teenagers with short attention spans, and I was trying to teach them a quiet meditative art. But, it was more than just teenage angst, for many of these kids had another barrier, a kind of quiet resignation that ? it was beyond them. I couldn’t understand this quiet desolation, especially in a teenager.
My first few days were trial and error, mostly error, but I did my own Tái Chi and Qigong everyday, processed my fears and doubts, releasing them into the energy, and I persevered.
In the meantime, this experience became extremely interesting, as I was able to meet and chat with Indian university professors, one of whom was the grandson of a Cherokee Medicine Man, who is writing a book on Cherokee wisdom. I discovered many parallels between ancient Chinese wisdom and Native American wisdom as this man explained Cherokee insights into life energy and how we access it as human beings. He asked me to listen to what I hear before anything else. I wasn’t sure what he was after, and tentatively said, “the trees?”
He said, “no, before you hear the trees, you’ll hear a vibration in your ears. This is the sound of the universe. No matter where you go, you will always hear this sound. If you are in tune with your mission, it will be of great comfort. If you are not, it will haunt you.” He explained that, “Cherokee medicine men taught that all of us have “a mission,” and that in this way all of us are medicine men or medicine women.”
As he spoke I remembered that my Tái Chi teacher had spoken about how we can “hear Qi,” or in other words “hear life’s omnipresent energy,” when we do energy work meditations. I also remembered how Taoist philosophy (which I consider Tái Chi philosophy) extols us to give ourselves over to the Tao, or the way of the universe. When flowing with the Tao (the way of the universe) the Qi (life energy) is soothing, when out of step with the universal way, we feel dis-comfort. And it became obvious that the Cherokee concept of “mission” was synonymous with being “in the Tao.”
In my Tái Chi classes with the reservation teens, I timidly tried to offer some insights into the parallels of Qi philosophy and Native American Indian philosophy, with moderate success, as again these were antsy teenagers. However, today I had a breakthrough. I spoke to them about how I’d been told that Cherokee philosophy explains that we all have a “mission” in life, if we can quiet our minds enough to hear its message.
I explained that T’ai Chi and Qigong are tools designed to help us do just that. The Cherokees say that we must “empty the bowl” of our mind, that we must “let go of the world” in order to find that we are connected to the whole world. I went on to tell them about how Tái Chi and Qigong had helped me find my own missions in life, and helped me overcome the fear that would have prevented me from fulfilling them. I showed them the media about World Tái Chi & Qigong Day and how I had pioneered the event, but, what really got their attention was a news-clipping about a much earlier mission I’d had in my life.
T’ai Chi & Qigong opened me in so many ways to see life and the world differently. One thing that happened after I began practicing Tái Chi was that I became more concerned for the state of the earth’s environment. This led me to open my mind to other things, and before I knew it I was serving under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in war torn Central America, in the early 1980’s. I had a clipping of a magazine article’s photograph of me standing in a group of little children, Salvadoran refugees, who probably looked very much like the children on these teenager’s reservations, and like their little brothers and sisters.
I explained to my Tái Chi class how Tái Chi and Qigong had helped me discover “this mission” that led to the refugee camp, and that in this camp I discovered that tens of thousands of innocent people were being killed by a policy supported by my own government. I told them this made me so angry that I went to Washington D.C. and argued with my Congressman about it, and in fact argued/debated with Congressman Robert Dornan on television over this horrible policy.
Suddenly, I noticed that every soft brown eye was looking right at me. You could’ve heard a pin drop. And from this silence there was such an energy of sadness that filled the room, it broke my heart. The great British Biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, writes on what he calls “morphic resonance,” whereby living entities have a collective memory that actually flows them toward their future — almost creating reality before they get there. I realized at that moment in that room with so many young sad brown eyes looking transfixed into my soul, that that river of morphic resonance followed a trail of tears.
These children understood on a level they may never be conscious of, that horrible things can be done to people by faceless governments, and that horror can live on far beyond the event. The U.S. government has broken nearly every single treaty we ever made with Indian Nations. Anytime the worthless land we had placed them on was discovered to have any value, they were again moved off it and the oil was taken, or the minerals were taken. Only the land that was absolutely worthless was ever given to them. Those lessons of worthlessness have a thick and heavy cloak that weighs down on these great great grandchildren of those who suffered these abominations, even though these kids may not be conscious of it. The energy is still heavy and so extremely sad. On the way home I literally wept, as my heart ached with such waves of horrific sadness, I thought my chest would rupture with the sobs aching out of me.
I think, by sharing our daily Qigong and Tái Chi experiences, I may have tapped into their morphic resonance in a very conscious way. But, I can’t begin to describe the desolation and bone marrow squeezing sadness that gripped me in seemingly endless waves of relentless sorrow. I had never felt so very “un-honored” and “dismissed.” But, what was so agonizing, was that beneath this abject dismissal of my worth, a heart crushing sorrow that the profound wisdom held in my heart could never be expressed to a world moving too fast to ever have the subtle ears that could hear it.
Earlier in the class, I had spoken to the issue of delusions of worthlessness, apparently aware of it even then before the wave would hit me on the way home. I explained that Tái Chi and Qigong are tools that can help us clear ourselves of what holds us back, the fears and doubts we all have. I explained that when I went to Washington D.C. after my work in the refugee camps, I had much fear and self doubt, hearing those internal voices we all have saying, “who are you to talk to a Congressman, let alone debate one on television? Why, you don’t even have a college degree! Who do you think you are Bill Douglas?!?”
Then I told my transfixed class that without T’ai Chi and Qigong I would have let those voices silence me and make me feel small and powerless. T’ai Chi and Qigong, when done over and over again, give us a safe place, a clear place where we can let go of what the world thinks of us and open to “our mission.” I told the class that I had not shared these personal missions so they would think about “me,” but so they would realize that THEY are filled with a power so grand that no one will know what it is until it expands through their lives, and by using Tái Chi and Qi-gong to loosen, to open, and to release our fears, “our mission” can come through us so much more easily and powerfully. Today after the above discussion for the very first time, I was able to get every single kid in my class to practice Qigong yelling exercises, to let the power and force of their Qi explode from their dan tien up and out through their throats and mouths, our primal yells exploding across the campus. I could feel a wave of power rush at me, a sleeping power that was beginning to awaken. It awakened something deep and abiding in me.
Today my Kickapoo, Cherokee, Apache, and Chippewa students allowed me to flow on an emerging power they are discovering, aided by an ancient wisdom from the opposite side of the earth. I believe this world is in dire need of Native American wisdom, as we are on the verge of destroying life on this planet with our endless mindless consumption. I believe this much needed wisdom resides in these children’s sleeping giant’s morphic resonance just as much, or perhaps even more, than the trail of tears does. My dream, my deepest hope, is that China’s ancient wisdom will help unlock and re-awaken in these young emerging giants the wisdom of their culture that our world so desperately needs today.
The Indian Medicine Wheel is made of four different colored beads. White, Black, Yellow, Red, symbolizing the four directions and the four original peoples of earth: North-white people, South-black people, Yellow-Asian people, and Red-American Indian peoples. This image symbolizes the need for the wisdom of all peoples to create the wheel of life. In our age of mindless consumption and exhaustion of the earth’s precious resources, it is time for us all to find value in Indian wisdom, just as American Indians today found the value in Eastern wisdom in the sacred experience that was our Tái Chi class.
Bill Douglas is the author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi & Qigong,” presenter in the world acclaimed video “T’ai Chi & Qigong: The Prescription for the Future,” and he is the Founder of World Tái Chi & Qigong Day. He is currently working on the creation of another worldwide event, to be called “World Healing Day.” If you would like information or to become involved, you can e-mail him at www.worldTaichiday.org ’s website.
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