Meditation: A Crazy Wisdom

What is it supposed to feel like when you’re meditating? We might have some ideas about what meditation is, based on something we’ve read, or seen in a film, or something a friend (if you hang out with hippies this is quite likely) or acquaintance who meditates told us (if you’re not a hippie, maybe you were stuck beside this person on a bus, or at the  juice bar after a pilates class ).

Mental images like these come to mind, of patchouli-smelling spaces inhabited by baggy-trousered, joint-smoking, perma-smiling dreadlocked hairy-underarmed kafir eating hippies living the life of leisure, usually sponsored by rich parents somewhere in the background, without a care in the world, while the rest of us plod our way responsibly through life, with hardly enough time left over after the daily grind to wipe our noses, or other end, let alone spending hours every day whiling away our time without a care in the world. Or maybe not, anymore, since meditation is becoming a much more mainstream thing since it first came to the West and exploded into Western consciousness in the last two centuries, introduced by people like the Theosophists,  and of course the hippies of the 1960s.

John Everett Millais’ Ophelia

So, it seems we have lots of preconceptions about what meditation is (some of the reasons for our preconceptions about everything we encounter in our existence are discussed in another post where I talked about meditation, over here), but have we got much of an idea about what goes on in the mind or body during a meditation session, or sitting ( or sesshin if you wanna get all Zenny about it).

Your beginner’s meditation position – just joking! image from

Well, first off, there’s this idea about bliss. Samadhi is just one of the names used for the state of concentration that can arise during a meditation session. The theory is that if you don’t have too many mental hindrances getting in the way of it,  a state of deep concentration will arise, and that state is experienced as a very pleasant one. It is our base state of consciousness, according to many esoteric philosophical systems which use meditation as a tool to train the mind to observe dispassionately and live in the moment. The point of doing that it makes life so much nicer for you and everyone else in your life, cos you tend to be a nicer person, when you get truthful with yourself and those around you, and stop creating wars in your head because of the stories you tell yourself about who you are.

Whew. That’s a lot of baggage for a little bit of breathing (breathing is used as a way into a state of concentration in many meditations).  But, I don’t want to give the impression that meditation is all about feeling nice all the time. One of the most powerful meditations I know is all about opening up oneself to other people’s pain and distress, in order to develop compassion and loving-kindness in yourself, without which, meditators might argue, you aren’t really living well at all. It is calledTonglen and one of its other purposes is to help free you from the fear of other people, and yourself, that often accompanies the human predicament. This meditation is led by Pema Chodron, a lady I like to think of as ‘Auntie Pema’, ‘cos I’m so fond of her, and grateful for her instruction in meditation practise.

Resources: Here’s a link to some interesting short audio files you might find helpful for beginning meditation, and here’s that link to my earlier post on meditation, and for those that might have missed the link in that post, here’s a download link to Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power Of Now’.

Another book which you might like to look at is the one reviewed over here, Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements.

Here’s a link to the meditation instruction sheet, for anyone feeling brave enough to attempt a Tonglen meditation.

A short article on the brain and meditation, and an article about how different types of meditation effect different parts of the brain. Finally, one on brain waves and different states of consciousness.

A movie I would highly recommend is ‘Crazy Wisdom. It’s about the teacher Chogyam Trungpa, one of my favourite meditation go-to guys ever, and it’s a fascinating movie. Here’s the trailer for you, plus a short taste of his excellent book, ‘Training The Mind And Cultivating Loving-Kindness’ for you to read. Chogyam Trungpa, in this book, says that our hearts should be open and tender, like a deer’s new-grown horns, as it is in this rawness that we discover our compassion. I love that image, and I hope you will make a little time to investigate for yourself some of the things that meditation has to offer for living well. And it feels good to live well.




What’s So Great About Meditation, Homer?

I’m sure you’ve got at least one friend like mine, the type that gazes off into space when you are talking, then says ‘What?’ when you get to the end of your sentence. I have an acquaintance who does this constantly, and odder still, forgets whole conversations we have had previously. She worries that she might have Alzheimer’s, or some other progressive brain disease, which is robbing her of her powers of concentration and her memory. A little further investigation revealed the fact that she was off somewhere else in her thoughts while the conversation was going on.

homer simpson gif

I admit, I’m not the most interesting person you could be stuck in a room with, but this habit of being off somewhere else while someone is talking is a thing most of us do; maybe we even get caught out once in a while nodding in agreement when while our friend looks at us expectantly, waiting to know whether we would like to order pasta from the menu, or go with the chef’s special?

It’s very human of us to be constantly thinking ahead, indeed it’s a strategizing tool the mind is equipped with to help us with survival. We also spend a lot of time living in the past in our heads, because we have a mental schema or map that we need to fit together, and when we get a new piece we have to find where its place is in the jigsaw that comprises our outlook of the world and our individual take on reality.

Homer simpson thinking

We use heuristics, mental rules of thumb we have developed from past experience, to help us deal with new situations; they are a kind of mental short-cut we can take to save us from taking all day over every decision. A schema can be described as the script we follow when in a particular recurring situation. The result of using some of these useful tools in our mental toolbox can be helpful, undoubtedly, as problem-solvers. The side-effect of our efficiency as problem-solvers, however, is that we may miss what’s going on right now, because we are either thinking ahead, or looking back, in order to sort and file our experiences into a coherent reality. The implication of this failure to stay in the moment, and experience fully what is happening right now, can result in a feeling of unreality or dullness of experience which robs us of  some of our joy in living. Further down the scale of spending too much time in the present or the past lies the depressive outlook, in which distorted ideas based on the stories we tell ourselves about what reality consists of, result in our capacity for logical thought as well as our joy in living to become so eroded that it is difficult for the person to function well at a mental, and often physical, level at all.

Kenzo ad girl

The mental and physical realms are connected; science is now confirming what many traditions have asserted, as for example, in Chinese ideas about ‘Chi‘, that the body has an intelligence or brain, as important to our health and vitality as the ‘mainframe’ brain in our head.

One way to get the mental and physical aspects of our bodies hooked up to reality is to do a little meditation on a regular basis. Meditation can take many forms; we have had a look at a popular form of meditation,  exercises the body as well as getting the ‘chi’ flowing in a mind-awareness sense, in an earlier post over here. Another popular type of meditation which beginners might like to try out is known as ‘mindfulness‘ meditation. This is a very easy one to get into, because the idea behind it is very simple. Put plainly, this technique makes use of paying attention to one’s breathing in order to access the mind’s ability to stay in the present moment.

That’s basically it, but if you fancy reading a whole book about the concept, you won’t do better than Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power Of Now‘, which is a beautifully written book about what a wonderful thing it is to be noticing everything your body and mind is experiencing right now, rather than being off with the fairies thinking about the future, the past or even comparing what’s going on now with either of these. Eckhart’s book became an even bigger success after he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, but don’t let that put you off har har!

When you get a bit further into meditation, there are all sorts of meditations you can do, all of which are designed to expose how you think, and by exposing it, iron out some of the flaws and traps in thinking that we all tend to get ensnared and entangled by, opening up new vistas where you might surprise yourself in a million ways. Meditation is different for different individuals, but most people find it can be like a wonderful voyage of self-discovery and also a discovery of some of the jewels of living that we all possess as our birthright, and which some of us may have dropped here and there on our way to adulthood. And it’s all right there on front of us, just waiting to be noticed!

If you liked this post, you might want to read my  post on ‘Meditation: A Crazy Wisdom’.


How to Be Kung Fu at Being Excellent!


So I’ve been brushing up a bit on my Tai Chi skills (see previous post here), and came across a very interesting article about the relationships between Kung Fu and Tai Chi ( Taijiquan). It points out that the term ‘Kung Fu’ is used in China to describe someone who is very good at something, since the term refers to a skill which requires a lot of practice. So, when you meet someone who is very good at something, you can compliment them, as well as confuse them,  by telling them that their Kung Fu is great!

Precision in Tai Chi
Tai Chi is another martial arts based skill that takes a lot of practice to become good at. It’s not exactly difficult, but it is tricky to do correctly. If you tried to get the hang of it just watching videos, you would end up maybe being able to ape the general movements, but wouldn’t gain much of an understanding of the importance of

  1. Mindfulness – utilizing the mind’s energies as well as the body’s
  2. Precision – why doing moves correctly matters

Tai Chi Book

Let’s talk about these two points right from the start, when you are taking up Tai Chi for the first time, to get you off on the right foot, so to speak. The book I recommended in the last post covers both these topics excellently (the authors have super Kung Fu writing skills!), and if you want to download the book, I have included the link for you here; just click on the image to download the .pdf. Many thanks to whatever kind person uploaded it in the first place. The book is also available from Amazon at a price that won’t break the bank, if you’d like your own copy.

Breathing, mindfulness and Chi

I included a video in my last post that explored a Chi ‘light ball’ energy-focussing technique, but I didn’t discuss the role that correct breathing has in the generation of this energy. Chi (Qi) energy can be described as Life Force energy. When you do some of Tai Chi’s Qigong exercises, often incorporated into warm-up routines for Tai Chi sessions, you will soon see why they are thought of this way; abdominal deep breathing floods the body with oxygen, and wakes up body and mind, giving you energy throughout the day. Let’s see how abdominal breathing works, since, surprisingly, so many people just aren’t doing the breathing thing right!

Well, you might be surprised that the topic of the perineum came up in a video about breathing! These Tai Chi practitioners have quite a science behind their art, and often are experts on Chinese traditional medicines as well. I think some of the ideas about meridians and energy channels could be related to Indian chakra systems well also. However, I digress slightly (it’s just so interesting, I can’t help it), so I’ll get back to the point; to break down the abdominal breathing thing to it’s simplest explanation. When you breathe in, let your belly expand. When you breath out, let your belly contract. That’s it, in a nutshell.

The next video shows a Qigong technique for building up energy before a Tai Chi session. It is called a ‘Permeating Technique, or Guanqifa, if you wanna get fancy, or bore your friends with new-found knowledge at get-togethers. There are instructions for this in the book too, starting on page 26 (link in book image).

The point of entry for the energy the universe is so kindly providing for you is a point at the centre of the top of your head (any hippies reading this will know it as the Crown Chakra!), and at the end of the movement, the stale energy and tensions which your body may be holding get released into the ground, through  points located just behind the balls of your feet.

Image from

Posture wise, it’s also important to have a straight line going from the crown of your head, down to your perineum. Visualize all the stale energy and tension going down about 3 feet into the ground beneath you. Incidentally, the lady in the video is getting a good grounding herself by doing her exercises outdoors, and if you take your shoes off and get those toes into some grass or even get some sand between your toes you are electrically getting yourself back in tune with the earth’s energies.

Precision – Start With Your Stance

Your stance in Tai Chi, like all martial arts, is very important to get right, since it’s where you generate power. Think of the energy coming up from the ground, through your body, and flowing out through your hands, and you will be on the right track with your Tai Chi efforts. Pushing off with the feet, or using your back leg as a tripod, as is done with the Bow Stance, helps you generate more power up through your hips and arms, power which is intensified and concentrated with the circular movements and twists the hips and arms use. Tai Chi isn’t done with great power, but do remember, it should be done with energy flowing at all times, and it is important to bring the mind to bear on matters, and think about where in the body your energy is travelling, and where it is being directed, and to this end you may want to repeat the moves you are learning over and over again, and think them over between sessions. Here’s the best explanation of the Horse Stance and the Bow Stance that I could find;  you need to learn these in order to do your Tai Chi routine, and they are a good place to start.

Keep about 70% of your weight over the front leg when you move forward into the Bow Stance. You can see how the stance is used in the Tai Chi routine  if you look at the instructional video in the previous post again.

Let’s finish up with something fun, that teaches you a new skill. This one is known as ‘Cloud Hands’, and you will be in your Horse Stance while doing it. As well as feeling really nice to do, it teaches you how to move your waist, and get arms, body and legs working all together. Brain too, hopefully! I always feel chilled out and happy doing this one. It’s my favourite Tai Chi move, and a good example of the circular movements used in martial arts to generate power. Think of the concentrated power in the tip of a twirling whip, or how the movement concentrates and speed builds up at the tip of a piece of ribbon twirled by a gymnast. The guy in the next video is great fun , and although I wouldn’t normally teach something by telling people all of the million ways they are doing it wrong (which he does for the first 2 mins and 50 secs on this video), we could all probably do with a bit of a laugh, after our big, heavy-duty info giving session. The far less funny, but much easier to understand video tutorial is below this one.

Well done if you are this far down the page, ‘cos that means you are probably already very motivated to learn Tai Chi! Try putting on some music you like while you’re practising and you should have a wonderful time!

For those intellectuals out there who always must go deeper into the subject, and Tai Chi will bring you about as deep as it’s possible to get, here’s a bonus video. If you want to go back to my previous Tai Chi post, click here.

For anyone who just wants to do party tricks with their Chi, start watching the video from 2hrs 5mins in; grab a friend for the second Chi trick, and see if s/he can sense you interfering with their Chi vibes. Click the video below to go straight  to the party trick section. Have fun exploring Chi.



Tai Chi for Beginners – Flows Like Water (but has paws like a tiger!)

A friend asked me to show him how to do Tai Chi, so I thought I’d throw together a short post on the topic, to help me get it together with figuring out how to go about teaching this martial art to a beginner. ‘Martial art, really?’ I can imagine at least a few readers (if I have any at all, har har) will be surprised to hear that the thing they normally associate with elderly people waving arms about gently at a sloth-like pace in the park is a martial art.  In fact, Tai Chi is a relation of the well-known martial art Kung-Fu, popularised by the late, great Bruce Lee. Ah, hell, let’s stick a clip of Bruce in, just ‘cos he’s still cool, even if he’s no longer with us.

OK. Back to the art of Tai Chi. Many of the circular, curving movements, and twists that makes up the moves, known as ‘forms’ of the Tai Chi routine, are energy-generating movements, designed to channel power to the direction you want it to travel. In martial arts, the twisting movements are getting energy not only from the energy-storing core of the body, the area known as the Dan Tian, but also up through the ground, and controlling it mindfully throughout the routine. The style of Tai Chi explored here is the Tai Chi Chuan, 24 form one. I have included the video on Chi light energy here also, because the utilization of Chi energy is so important when learning Tai Chi. This technique is also very useful for focussing bodily awareness in meditation practices.

Now that we’re all in a focussed and calm frame of mind, we are better able to admire the beautiful, flowing forms of the Tai Chi practice. I’ve included two videos below for you, one with a guy performing the forms, and one with a girl.  Watch one, or both, to get an idea of what Tai Chi looks like in action.

There’s a lot to take in, so obviously things need to be broken down a little for you to learn the 24 forms, and it takes a little patience. It is, however, very rewarding, mentally and physically, because as well as teaching you to slow down and pay attention to what you are doing, it strengthens your body and keeps you loose, and you don’t have to be super-athletic to get started either. The next video I’ve included is a good place to start. I think this guy is easy to follow, and performs the routine in a clear way and at a good pace for the beginner. This is the first video in a series of three, which take you through the full routine.

Let’s have a look at this lady doing a Tai Chi routine with a great big sword in her hand. You can really start to see how the martial arts come into it, can’t you? Looks like she is ready for a part in the next  Matrix movie. This is how I look (in my dreams) by the way.

Here’s another helpful link to get you started with your Tai Chi (or you can click on the book image below, right). Some things I really like about this book is the fact that it shows you the fighting applications of the moves, and it has lots of photographs and diagrams to make things clear. It’s a great resource when used withTai Chi Book the video instructions. You can’t beat classes from a good master, of course, but we don’t all have lots of time and/or money at our disposal, so make use of free stuff that’s out there by all means. I was lucky enough to start from a position of familiarity with martial arts before I took Tai Chi classes, and that gave me a bit of an understanding of what Tai Chi was about, although the martial art I trained in was Taekwondo, which is a bit different from Kung Fu. Here’s the guy who founded the school I trained in; most martial arts have sets of forms students learn to improve their skills. These are the ones Taekwondo students have to learn to earn their black belt.

Let’s give Master Kan from the TV series ‘Kung Fu‘ the last word. He always gave such great advice to grasshopper.

In the Shaolin temple there are three kinds of men: students, disciples and masters. Development of the mind can be achieved only when the body has been disciplined. To accomplish this, the ancients have taught us to imitate God’s creatures…. From the crane we learn grace and self-control. The snake teaches us suppleness and rhythmic endurance. The praying mantis teaches us speed and patience. And from the tiger we learn tenacity and power. And from the dragon we learn to ride the wind. All creatures, the low and the high, are one with nature. If we have the wisdom to learn, all may teach us their virtues. Between the fragile beauty of the praying mantis and the fire and passion of the winged dragon, there is no discord. Between the supple silence of the snake and the eagle’s claws, there is only harmony. As no two elements of nature are in conflict so when we perceive the ways of nature, we remove conflict within ourselves and discover a harmony of body and mind in accord with the flow of the universe. It may take half a lifetime to master one system.’

Master Kan

Link to next Tai Chi post