Having a Sick Day

The dust got all kicked up in our house yesterday. The landlord, and then a nice guy from the gas company, came by to see about getting our furnace repaired. Some progress was made, and a lot of gunk was loosed into the air. I don’t know is that’s the primary factor, but I have a heck of a cold today. Head congestion, lung congestion, fever, sore throat. The whole good time.

As I’ve shared before, I happen to have a touch of manic-depression. Nothing kicks me into a depressive cycle quite like losing an entire day to being ill. A while back I stumbled across an antidote, and I was glad to have that antidote today. The trick is to get something done anyways. That way when the day ends, you can at least feel the satisfaction of moving your work and goals forward.

I find it doesn’t take much for this to work. Today I got some web work lined up, and answered some logistics questions from another client which may lead to more work. I also got some progress made on my coloring book project. Additionally, I managed to get a few more job applications out, along with doing some transcription work. Finally, I am following through on my experiment to post every day for 2017 by writing this very post.

I’ll feel like crap when I go to bed tonight, but I won’t feel like crap who didn’t get anything done. I’ll sleep much better that way.

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Some Lessons Take a While

I was going to title this post, “My Aunt Was a Go-Go Dancer and That Screwed Me Up For a Long Time”, but I am pretty sure that sends the wrong message. I think it’s awesome that she was a go-go dancer.

Let me backtrack here. Developmental psychologists say that we imprint behaviors at certain critical stages of our development, as well as in response to crisis situations. In other words, we latch on to behaviors that seem to work to ensure our survival, and if those stop working, we switch it up. Sometimes when the crisis comes in the form of negative response from our authority figures, we transfer the guilt we feel outwards as a way of avoiding feeling it ourselves. We project out onto the world the bad feelings we felt at the time.

These crisis moments can seem fairly trivial in retrospect, but they can have a debilitating effect on our socialization. Blaming others for your guilt is not a winning tactic over time. I’ve been doing that around a specific issue, and today I figured out that I was doing it, and why.

You see, one of the ways I have learned to get at these little sticking points is to hunt down the inciting event. When you look with grown up eyes at a behavior learned in childhood, the story of that moment can be undone. You can stop transferring your guilt, and figure out a way to forgive yourself. This is especially true if the event is something you realize you really shouldn’t have guilt about.

So, what does this all have to do with go-go dancing aunts? A few days ago my cousin posted something to Facebook. The post included reference to Madonna, Lady Gaga, Miley Cirus, and their styles of performing. (The post was not positive, but that’s beside the point here.) It got me thinking about my aunt and a specific incident from my childhood.

I have this bad habit. When someone questions my qualifications for something, when they have no way of knowing about my qualifications, I get upset. For example, if someone starts telling me all about how Tai Chi works, I feel affronted since I’ve been practicing Tai Chi for 26 years now. Of course, the unfair part is that the person in question may have no way of knowing that. Somehow I think they should.

When thinking about my aunt, I recalled a moment that had a big impact on me. For a few years, my aunt and her family lived with us. Music was a big part of my mom’s life. She often had the radio or record player going. There was a pop-rock tune playing on the stereo on this particular day. I wandered into the kitchen to grab a soda and found my mom and aunt dancing to the music. My aunt was bumping and grinding as well as any professional dancer I had seen.

I made the comment, “Yeah, aunt Alona, you’re getting it!”

She laughed, stopped dancing, dropped her arms and said, “Oh, shit.”

I didn’t get the joke at first. Then my mom said that my aunt had been a professional go-go dancer in her earlier life. Apparently, she was a highly sought after dancer. I was embarrassed and tried to play it off, but that didn’t work and the guilt set in. I had questioned my aunt, an important person to me, on something she was an expert on. That was the moment I acquired guilt about not knowing what someone was good at. To prevent myself from feeling guilty about feeling guilty about my faux pas I started projecting that guilt outwards. When someone innocently told me something I already knew or somehow implied I might not have some expertise that I do, it would bring up my guilty feelings from the childhood moment, and I would transform that into anger towards the person.

All of this came together for me today in a flash. Hopefully, I can drop this pattern which has caused me to come across as a bit of an ass hat in my dealing with people. Time will tell. Either way, if and when I do it again, at least I will now know why.

Thanks, aunt Alona! You are still teaching me valuable life lessons!

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Layers Upon Layers

I have been practicing Tai Chi for 26+ years. During that time, I had a Sifu (a “Father-Teacher”) for about five years, and I didn’t even have that until I’d been practicing for about 4 years. My first period of study was a 1,000 day vow I took to do Tai Chi every day. During that time I got up to 5 hours of practice a day, with most averaging around 2, or 3. Most of my learning and exploration has come by way of my own practice. When I first met my Sifu, he was quite surprised that I had no previous instruction other than from books. He refused to be my “teacher”, saying instead that he wanted to practice with me and that we had things to learn from each other. I don’t say this to impress, but to highlight how my particular path has been laid out.

The deepening of my understanding of Tai Chi comes in fits and spurts. I’ll be going through the form, no different than any other day, and something will shift. It might be my stance suddenly dropping a couple of inches, or my pelvis flattening, or an energetic flow in part of my body that did not previously seem to have one (at least to my conscious awareness anyways.) These shifts are not apparent from the outside, generally. Only someone who had been working with me for some time, and who had a very keen eye, might pick up the difference. Mostly it’s just me who notes these shifts. I think that is as it should be.

The weakness of this approach is that I would probably be farther along if I had worked with a teacher for more than a quarter of the time I’ve studied Tai Chi. The strength of this method is that I can, at this point, say that my Tai Chi is “my” Tai Chi. There is something very special, and precious in that.

I’ve never nailed myself down to one path in life. I study many, and take what is useful from each. I make a decent Buddhism practitioner, a horrible Hinduism student, a barely passable Christian mystic, an okay Gnostic, an above average Discordian (a contradiction in terms of epic proportion), a somewhat skilled Philosopher, and so on. The one path I feel a good amount of comfort, and confidence with is Taoism. The reasons are many fold, but the pertinent one here is that Tai Chi, if anything, is a physical expression of Taoist thought. To a large extent, to study Tai Chi is to study the Tao. From that perspective, I have been studying Taoism for two and a half decades (actually more like three and a half since I studied Taoist thought before I took up Tai Chi.) Because my Tai Chi is “my” Tai Chi, I am afforded the opportunity to study Tai Chi, and thus the Tao, from “inside.”

This is something missing in my culture. By my culture, I mean the Western modern world of the 80’s and 90’s, in California. I don’t want to assume anything for other people. However, in my culture, a certain sense of positive ownership was missing. Other than vague notions of “finding my voice” given by early English teachers who saw some talent in writing for me, there was a basic sense installed that I should find some comfortable, well-worn path, and pursue that for life. Be a Doctor, or a Lawyer, or a Mechanic, or something. Luckily for me (mostly) I have never been much of a joiner. Tai Chi is the first place where I found great encouragement to make something my own, to find my own expression of self. That lead me to a lot of “independent study” in my life, and my wandering career path has definitely born witness to this proclivity.

I am slowly coming to learn, and be grateful for, how much Tai Chi has held open a welcoming space for me to explore who I am in the world. Others use different modalities. For some it is cooking, for some crafting, for some art, for some scholarship, for some religion, etc. Regardless, it seems to me that being human, and understanding what that means, requires some path to follow, develop, and make your own. Whatever that path may be, everyone who I have ever met who has found theirs has been far better for it.

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