A PERSONAL JOURNEY
In February of 1989 I was working in a print shop. One day I attempted to help three other guys lift a 500-lb printing press off a pallet: one, two, three, lift! As my end of the press came off the pallet an audible "pop" came from my lower back. The problem: I lifted, the others didn't. I knew I was hurt. What I didn't know was that I would not work again for ten months. More importantly, I was about to embark on a path of physical, emotional and spiritual healing. At that very moment I began an incredibly difficult, yet rewarding journey from which there would be no turning back.
Two months after the "accident" I had surgery to remove the severely ruptured disc in my lower back. The surgery was unsuccessful, and I lived in constant, unbearable pain. I left the house only for doctors' appointments. I was on strong pain medications, which actually did little for the pain but turned my mind to jelly. The doctors told me that I would have to learn to live with the pain. They also said that I would have arthritis in my spine within five years because the removal of the disc would cause two of my vertebrae to compress. They were wrong on both counts!
After sliding downhill for many long months I enrolled in a three-week inpatient pain management program for people living with chronic pain. At my first meeting with the physician, he told me that I looked like a "pretzel" because of the whole-body muscle spasms I suffered from. Here I was, 27 years old, with the posture of a 90-year-old man, and an unhealthy one at that. In this program I learned three very important lessons. First, through the use of meditation and biofeedback I could use the mind to "control" the body. Second, attitude determines what we do. Some people came into this program using wheelchairs and then walked out. Others came in using canes and left using canes. The difference: ATTITUDE… knowing that what you get out of something is what you put into it. Those who help and guide you do nothing more than help you to help yourself. (Years later, when teaching my Tai-chi and Qigong students, I repeat this message many times.) Third, I learned through psychological sessions that my problems went much deeper then the physical.
I learned of Tai-chi through an acupuncturist I was seeing to help me with the still constant and severe pain. I began this next part of my journey by taking a class once a week and practicing every day. It took three years of daily practice before my chronic pain subsided. Why did I keep going? When I practiced, the pain was not present, or at least not as severe. With each day the positive effects lasted a few more minutes after practice. In addition, as the practice of Tai-chi and Qigong was healing me physically, I was realizing that I was in an even worse emotional state. The only emotions I knew were anger and indifference. But as I learned the lessons of Tai-chi and Qigong, I started to relate them to my life in general. All I had to do was practice diligently, and each lesson and its relation to my life would appear. Sounds easy! As the late master Jou, Hsung Hwa was fond of saying: " It's simple, not easy. Tai-chi is hard work."
My first three years of practice were spent primarily focusing on the physical healing. Later on, the practice of Kung-fu also played a great part in this stage of my journey. This, in a very natural way, brought me to emotional healing, which took many more grueling years. Why do I say "grueling?" Because as I now realize, the path to true healing is not easy, it must be challenging. It has to be "earned." It cannot be given to you, for this would take away an important aspect: "the process." The deeper the wounds, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, the more difficult the journey one must take to heal.
Over the years, as I continued my daily Tai-chi, Qigong and meditation practice my body slowly healed. My emotions gradually began to balance. Then it was time to look at my spiritual self. This was when I realized one of my most important lessons: that Tai-chi, Qigong and meditation are, for me, about "letting go." To see what they have to offer me, I must let go. You might ask, "Let go of what?" The answer is different for all of us. For we each hold onto something different. How do we let go of what we hold onto? By realizing that all of these things are blocks to seeing our true self, our original self. These are all the false lessons we have learned throughout our lives: illusions. Master Zhang, Yuanming teaches over and over "move from dantien" (our center). How can we move from our centers, whether practicing Tai-chi or dealing with our lives, if we don't even know where are centers are, if we cannot see the light that is within our centers due to all the "garbage" piled on top?
With daily practice, I would let go of a little more each day until I was able to see this light within. I then realized that if this beautiful light, this amazing energy ball, this illumination was inside of me, an average ordinary guy, then it must be within everyone. At that point I could see this light within anyone, if I chose to look beyond his or her surface "garbage." We all have a "self" that is beautiful and unique. This realization was extremely spiritually uplifting. Again, simple not easy.
I have mentioned a few methods that helped move me from a very deep and dark place to a place of physical well-being, emotional balance and a raised spirit. However, it is important to mention that these are not the only tools I used for my self-development. There is no magic bullet. It is all about balance, and using only one method is not a balanced approach. Another important point is that this has been "my way," the way of Tai-chi and Qigong. We all have to find our own way.
When I look back on my life, I understand that all I went through and am going through now is a necessary part of the whole. As I continue this wonderful journey I am excited about reaching old age and finding what my destiny in life is. I am hopeful that as I continue my work I will be of sound body, mind and spirit so I can fulfill that destiny. I can now say that the arts of Tai-chi, Qigong and meditation are not just healing, martial and spiritual arts, but, for me, a method and philosophy for living life.