06 June 2010


This is the third blog post I've begun in two weeks! I started writing a "fake" blog as a Word document back in early March to see whether my writing muse had returned from her 18-month hiatus. I wanted to chronicle how lessons learned through Qigong manifested in my everyday life—a sort of road map of changes in perceptions, emotional responses, thought processes etc.

Initially, ideas and words gushed like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. For the first time since mid 2008 I got so engrossed in writing that time whizzed by without me playing Scrabble on Facebook or getting up to pluck chin hairs or make tea.  The first six posts took a few hours each—an Olympic record compared to the agonizing days and weeks I spent producing a few desultory paragraphs two years ago. Or endlessly rejigging even the simplest email.

Those first "fake" blogs needed little editing. Thanks to Sifu H's constant remonstrations to "simplify your mind, your thoughts, your words," I stopped inserting my trademark flowery descriptions just for the sake of it. Short and to the point, I admonished myself. Seemingly, the formula worked. "I'm back!" I crowed, hugely relieved and proud of myself. I conveniently neglected to notice my burgeoning attachment to being a famous blog writer.

Flushed with ego, I told myself, "Why not write a "real" blog?" I presented Sifu H with the idea, which he immediately nixed. "What's the point?" he asked over the phone, wondering who I was writing a blog for and to what purpose.

"It'll be useful to me," I insisted. "if it helps me trust in my writing abilities again." He didn't buy this explanation but for once I didn't heed his advice.

I futzed around for a week setting up the blog. I loved figuring out how to change HTML code to widen the post margins, playing around with background colors and trolling for photos on Google images. On 20 March I took the six "fake" entries live on Qigong for Neurotics and announced my existence on the blogosphere to a few dozen friends. The next half dozen posts flowed easily too. I was ecstatic!

I told myself I didn't care what anyone else thought about the blog, though I did start running potential posts by my good friend and fellow blogger YC. Supposedly impervious to others' reactions, I still glowed inside when he praised the writing. Over the last few months his own blog, Slightly Pixelated, has evolved from a dispassionate analysis of the Thai political situation to a very personal and powerful chronicle of his feelings about current events. (I watched myself grow envious and jealous of his ability to express his emotions so succinctly.)

As blogging became increasingly cathartic for YC, it's become increasingly onerous for me. A post about a weekend meditation retreat in early May turned into a major whinge about the venue, the visiting monk, the food and my fellow meditators. I spent days on it before deleting it. I can fool myself that someone might enjoy reading about a transforming neurotic, but nobody wants a litany of complaints from a Qigong backslider. The last post, Home Alone, took nearly a week to write. (I predated it back to 21 May to give it a semblance of timeliness.)

My road map of transformation has hit a road block of self-doubt, self-criticism, comparison and negativity. Perhaps I'm not destined to write a blog that turns into a #1 bestseller after all. Or perhaps this entire yes-I-can, no-I-can't drama just underlines the impermanent nature of success. Or failure. According to Sifu H, navel-gazing psychodrama blogs are all about illusions anyhow.

Yesterday I started Qigong, round #5. Besides reconnecting with my dan tien, learning how power comes from relaxing not forcing, and getting over the "I Me Mine" mentality (not the Beatles song), hopefully I'll figure out how to write from my heart.

22 May 2010

Poem for Humankind

Buddhadasa Bhikku 1906-1993

Poem for Humankind
by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
(Late Abbot of Wat Suan Mok)

Translated by Susan F. Kepner

We should behave toward our fellow human beings as if they...
Were born, and will grow old, suffer and die, like us
Enduring the wheel of existence, of samsara
Living under the power of attachments, like us
Subject to desire, rage, and delusion, and
Careless in their ways, like us
Having no idea why they were born, as we have no idea
Stupid in some things, as we are sometimes stupid
Indulging their own whims, as we indulge ours
Wanting to be good, perhaps prominent, even famous
Taking advantage of opportunities to take advantage of others, like us.
They have the right to be crazy, to get drunk, to become obsessed
They are ordinary people who cling to this or that, as we do
They are under no obligation to suffer or die in our place
They are our fellow citizens, in secular and spiritual realms
They behave sometimes in haste, carelessly, like us
They have the duty to be responsible for their families, not for ours
The have the right to their own tastes, their own definition of well-being
They have the right to choose (even their religion) to suit themselves
They have the right to a share of public resources equal to our share
The right to be insane, in the world's opinion, as do we
The right to seek our help, and pity, and compassion
The right to our forgiveness, depending upon the merits of the case
The right to be socialists, or liberals,
To think of themselves before they think of others
They have the right to every right we claim, to live in this world.
Could we all but think this way, conflict and discord would not arise.

21 May 2010

Home Alone

Seeking balance amidst chaos

Two days after Thai soldiers drove Red Shirt protesters out of their Ratchaprasong encampment which catalyzed a spree of looting and burning throughout the center of town, Bangkok remains unnaturally quiet. This morning I finally put my suitcase back in the closet and hung up the clothes I'd strewn over half the bed on Wednesday afternoon when I frantically started packing. After that I watered the indoor plants from the bucket I'd hurriedly filled when I feared the power would go off. Of course neither Bangkok nor I have regained our sense of normalcy. 

Last week I still believed I could still collate all that information about Thai politics and email it on to a list of interested people without getting swept up by the content of the articles, blogs, photos, etc. That dispassionate stance began evaporating after Sae Daeng was shot in the head by a sniper on the 13th, the BTS and MRT shut down on the 14th, and the Red Shirts started lighting tires and blockading roads around town.

Losing balance amidst chaos
By the weekend I'd whipped myself up into a frenzy of worry and decided I couldn't stay alone in my riverside apartment. On Saturday (15th), I spent the night at the house of two good friends on Ramkamheng 81. Except for the lack of traffic jams, this suburban neighborhood seemed completely untouched by the events unfolding in the center of town.

On Sunday afternoon we ventured out for scrumptious New York-esque pastrami sandwiches at New York Cheescake deli in the Crystal Design Center and then wandered amidst the shopping hordes at The Mall, Bangkapi. How could everyone look so "normal" in the midst of this surreal situation, I wondered. Despite my friends' offer to stay another night, I decided to return home. No place felt safe any more, but at least at home I could look out over the river and cook for myself.

By Monday morning the situation was spiraling evermore out of control. My Facebook status messages from the 17th record my own downward trajectory into chaos. Attired only in my underwear and a wet cloth around my neck, I spent most of the day at the computer while the nearby fan futilely churned the 34C air around. I alternated between between checking Twitter, looking at news reports, watching terrifying images and talking to friends.

One of my best friends, Ms. Pollyanna, resolutely refused to discuss the crisis. Normally we chat volubly on the phone nearly every day, but now an uncomfortable chasm opened between us. Deep down I knew she was probably struggling to maintain her famous positive attitude, but I judged her for caring so little about her adopted homeland. Then I judged myself for judging her!

Monday, 17 May, 13:05
Jennifer Gampell  OK. It's official. I am NOT doing a good job of clearing stress from all the violence in Bangkok. My center's moved to Bon Kai and it's not feeling tres tres bon at all! 

Monday, 17 May, 15:48 
Jennifer Gampell In all my 12+ years in the river view pad in lower Chinatown, I've never looked back toward town and seen huge columns of smoke rising. I first thought they were gray storm clouds, but alas I think they're Din Deng. 

Monday 17 May, 21:48 
Jennifer Gampell Unbelievably, a huge disco boat with lights blazing and amps ramped just sailed past my window on the Chao Phraya!

On Tuesday I talked at great length with K Kini, a dear Thai friend who gave up a cushy job in the business world a few years ago to become a kinesiologist. Since then she's been a constant source of encouragement and inspiration in my ongoing struggles to nurture the Transforming Jennifer. She rarely panics; rather she looks at uncomfortable or stressful situations as opportunities for awareness and inner growth.

Instead of feeling trapped at home because of closed roads and no mass transit, she counseled, why not examine all the activities I normally do in the world every day. Are the really so necessary to my existence? (No.) And does jumping on Twitter every few minutes change anything except the intensity of my own emotions? (No.) That's when I made an anti-Twitter resolution.

Tuesday 18 May, 12:28 
Jennifer Gampell is trying hard not to read ANY news, tweets, etc. until 5 pm. This addiction must be broken. If I can summarily cut out sugar, surely I can stop eating news!

Tuesday 18 May, 14:30 
Jennifer Gampell Staying at home has been easier today than yesterday after a friend pointed out how we're all addicted to activity and going wherever we want whenever we want to. Enforced homebound-ness highlights my need to be engaged "out there" rather than engaging more from "in here."

I awoke on Wednesday determined to continue focusing on engaging from "in here." By noon that resolution had disintegrated in the fiery denouement to the army's invasion of Ratchaprasong. Instead, I rode the waves of negative energy crashing in from "out there" and barely noticed as my tenuous-at-best center came loose from its moorings.

Wednesday 19 May, 11:20 
Jennifer Gampell totally panicked this morning about the latest madness and mayhem. First reaction: get out of Bangkok NOW! I live on the river slightly away from the current epicenter. Looking at the reality, I'm not in danger now. It could even be an opportunity to connect—yet again—to my own epicenter. Without that, not matter where I'm physically located, I'll be a prisoner of fear. 

To cover all my bases—or at least pretend I had some control over events—I called Air Asia about flying to Chiang Mai and reserved a room for the 21st Friday at Charcoa House, my home away from home when I study with Sifu H. I got my suitcase from the cupboard and haphazardly dumped a few clothes and toiletries onto the bed. Truthfully the idea of flying to Chiang Mai brought no more reassurance to my adrenalin-fueled mind than staying put.

Driven by fear and panic, the "what if..." thoughts bombarded my mind like endless rifle volleys. How could Ior anyonehope to calm down sufficiently and observe the reality of the situation while whipping around in an emotional maelstrom of fear and terror? 

Early in the afternoon, both Ms. Pollyanna and K Kini reported power outages in their Sukhumvit 26 neighborhoods. Neither of them panicked; both were waiting to see what transpired. Not me. I summarily decided the "reality" of my situation was impending disaster. By now it was too late to pack and arrive at the airport before the 8 p.m. curfew, but I'd leave for the airport first thing Thursday morning. My jumping bean mind arbitrarily decided that leaving town must be better than staying. At least I was doing something instead of sitting around helplessly.

Wednesday 19 May, 16:30 
Jennifer Gampell OK. I'm gonna work on conquering fear as I leave town tomorrow morning. I just hope Chiang Mai doesn't turn into Bangkok #2 and that the power stays on a bit longer. Friends on Suk 26 are already without power.

Electricity returned to Sukhumvit 26 after less than an hour. K Kini and I talked on Skype about her feelings during the outage (levelheaded, dispassionate) versus mine (desperate, anxious). In the middle of the conversation she suddenly announced, "Ohmigod, something's burning! Ohmigod there's black smoke coming into the apartment!" Her voice sounded deadly serious, but not scared. Looking out her window she saw smoke coming from a Bangkok Bank kiosk at the end of the road opposite Carrefour. "Put a wet cloth over your face and get out of there," I counseled as she rang off.

K Kini called back a few minutes later to say she'd closed the windows, the smoke was dissipating and she saw no reason to go anywhere. Her peaceful and sane attitude throughout a seriously hazardous situation amazed me, especially as I was flying off the handle in my danger-free riverside abode.

Then someone posted a Facebook message about Red Shirts burning tires and blocking bridges in Chiang Mai. Oh shit. Now both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, two supposed oases of safety and comfort for me, were similarly unstable. What does poor little me do now, I whinged selfishly. I never stopped to realize how nowhere "out there" could offer safety as long as every place "in here" screamed in fear and terror.

Wednesday 19 May, 17:35 
Jennifer Gampell is changing plans. I'm gonna work on conquering fear as I stay here contemplating where to go now that Chiang Mai is being torched too.

Wednesday sunset
Finally I stopped the manic activities. I breathed. I listened to a dhamma talk by Ajarn Sumedho, I called K Kini for another chat. By early evening I'd traveled full circle back to the resolution I'd made upon waking at dawn, which now seemed like days ago.

Wednesday 19 May, 18:20 
Jennifer Gampell  Today marks the end of the Bangkok we've all known and loved. Whatever emerges from this conflagration will be completely unlike our fondest memories of it. However I suppose it's a necessary process.

It took the complete disintegration of life as I knew it in Bangkok to remind me that the only reality I can ever hope to know or understand is the one within. Please hold that thought Jennifer!

06 May 2010

I Want It, I Want It, I Want It

I just paid a deposit on a new computer, the first Mac I've owned since 1993. I should be psyched about changing from a four year-old PC to a sophisticated 13" Macbook Pro, but I feel strangely underwhelmed. I keep wondering whether I've made a mistake. As a shopaholic—my primary addiction is low-budget secondhand clothing and accessories—I expected to feel the normal rush of post-purchase euphoria, not all this free-floating anxiety.

Earlier this year I decided I needed a new computer even though my small and slow four year-old Fujitsu laptop still handles all my writing, emailing, internet needs. I pictured myself slipping a lightweight new Fujitsu netbook into my bag and traveling to...somewhere. Surely a tiny netbook would inspire me to greater heights of word production. What an insane fantasy for someone who six months ago could barely string two coherent sentences together! Even now I sometimes find writing a huge slog.

I've used Fujitsu computers for 14 years because of the company's personalized service and extremely helpful staff. Recently the last of the original employees left and the new team neither knows nor cares about me or my need for a new computer. I easily let go of my attachment to Fujitsu. Its new range of glossy multicolored PCs look terminally tacky compared to the sophisticated older models. So does every PC out on the market today. And that's when visions of Macbooks started dancing in my head. "I want it, I want it, I want it," came a little voice from somewhere inside me. And unlike in the Who's famous Magic Bus, no voice piped up to say, "You can't have it."

Was the desire for a new computer a sincere need or just a want masquerading as a necessity? According to the second of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhist philosophy, all suffering stems from craving, whether for a computer, a pair of 500-baht secondhand clogs, two bars of chocolate or a relationship. Even if/when we receive the object of our craving, it never brings lasting happiness. Soon we yearn for the next must-have item or experience. This constant state of wanting more deprives us of happiness and contentment in the present moment.

High minded twaddle I thought a decade ago when I first heard about the Four Noble Truths. One day during last February's session I outed my shopping addiction to Sifu H and he reiterated the same concepts. After one intensely frustrating morning working with him, I headed straight for a market in Chiang Mai and bought a 250-baht pair of secondhand Levis I really didn't want and definitely didn't need. As I forked over the cash, I thought angrily to myself, "Ha! That'll show him." I noticed my pursed lips and furrowed brow and suddenly felt the anger at the root of this sudden shopping attack rise up from my gut. Clearly even 100 pairs of secondhand Levis wouldn't assuage this violent emotion.

Since then, I've started examining the root cause of my weekly Saturday forays to Chatuchak Weekend Market. A single pair of pants, a top, dress, or pair vintage plastic earrings is enough to satisfy my craving. But craving for what? I love the praise I receive for my eclectic one-of-a-kind dress style, but that's not enough to keep me coming back week after week. I still don't understand the true nature of the desire behind my shopping addiction. Nor do I know whether the Mac is yet another casualty of the Second Noble Truth or a realistic need.

01 May 2010

Shirtless in Bangkok

Aphrodite of Melos and Jennifer practice non-attachment to the shirt-color wars

Living in the midst of an escalating political crisis creates plenty of opportunities to practice letting go and non-attachment. I thought these were Buddhist concepts I'd never assimilate because I didn't meditate, but Sifu H incorporates them into his teachings too. As the links make clear, non-attachment isn't a synonym for detachment. An example: When I returned to Bangkok after the second round of Qigong in Chiang Mai last year, the entire metropolis looked straight out of the 1982 movie Koyannisqatsi. (The title is a Hopi Indian word for life out of balance.) Hoping to block out the intense sights and sounds, I carefully lowered my eyes when walking around downtown.

"That's not non-attachment," said Sifu H when I rang him to describe my reaction. "The point is not to avoid seeing the reality," he counseled. [That's detachment.] "The point is to see the reality but not let your mind reach out and cling to it." [Non-attachment.]

As the current situation in Bangkok and across the country slowly deteriorates into what looks like anarchy, I focus on not letting myself get sucked in by all the anger, fear and hatred spewed out by leaders of the Red, Yellow or Multicolor shirt gangs. That doesn't mean I ignore what goes on.I've always been interested in what happens around me and enjoy listening to thoughtful discussions, like that recent FCCT (Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand) panel on the crisis.

And most days I continue a practice I started after the 2006 military coup that ousted Thaksin. I sift through blogs, websites and emails to extract articles offering different perspectives from the standard media buzz and forward the links to a growing list of people interested in Thai politics. During the 2006 coup, the 2008 occupation of Suvhanabumi by the Yellow Shirts and last year's Red Shirt violence over Songkran I was a panicked worrywart. Like an addict, I craved ever more information about situations over which I had absolutely no control This year, despite exposing myself to large doses of an even bigger political drama, I can stand back and observe it. Doing the daily Qigong routine releases tension and calms many irrational fears.

I had a chance to note my changing reactions to mega doses of political palaver last Sunday when I went to a birthday lunch for YC, a long-established and respected photographer. He's close to many Bangkok-based shooters and journalists, including some world renowned luminaries.

During my freelance writing heyday (1994-2007) professional media types always intimidated me. I'd compare my quirky, description-filled tales in international magazines and newspapers to their globally relevant efforts and belittle my work as the stuff of kindergarten sandboxes.

Back then I didn't appreciate my distinctive style and unusual story angles. I pooh poohed anyone who praised my writing and figured they were just being polite. Instead of being grateful for my gift, I continually trashed myself for writing trivia and not being a "real" journalist. Sometimes photographers approached me regarding potential collaborations, but they always ended up doing features with other more versatile writers. I purposely misconstrued our professional incompatibilities as a rejection and used it as another excuse to beat up on myself.

Cultivating non-attachment requires conscious effort, especially when the dramas are playing out in my adopted hometown. I arrived late to YC's lunch and squeezed in among the dozen or so of his friends—including several of the aforementioned luminaries. We sat around a table laden with homemade salads, grilled meats and fish, pasta cheeses and assorted taste treats. After piling a plate with grilled squid, ribs and various salads, I decided to join one of the conversations swirling around me.

People's body language telegraphed the gravity of the topics. Instead of lazing about in the afternoon heat enjoying scrumptious food, French wine and what should have been a relaxed atmosphere, everyone was leaning forward and talking or listening intently.

Worrywart Jennifer of yore would have joined one of the confabs and worked herself up into a frenzy of fear and anxiety over the increasingly bizarre confrontations spreading out around Bangkok. Transforming Jennifer sincerely wished the guests would drop the political analyses for a couple of hours and focus on the raison d'être of the gathering, i.e. YC's birthday. Even after YC popped the corks on two bottles of Moet Brut and poured glasses for everyone, the political repartee didn't miss a beat until I gently suggested perhaps a toast was in order. The fog of seriousness finally began to lift after the two best known participants left; one to file a story and the other to chase after photo of another brewing confrontation.

During my 15 years as a freelancer I observed many talented creatives whose deep passion for a story or photo continually impelled them into the world's danger zones. Some grew addicted to their lives of tension and even when not on assignment sought out similar adrenaline-producing activities. I don't criticize anyone for being passionate about their work; at one point I yearned desperately to be that dedicated about mine. However I now believe it's all a question of balance.

Through practicing Qigong I'm realizing the importance of being physically and mentally centered, even though I'm far from achieving those goals. In physical terms it means relaxing my body yet feeling the strength emanating from my dan tian. Mentally it means hearing/seeing but not attaching to the drama of people, situations, conversations, events, etc.

22 April 2010

Panic in Hipville

I can't concentrate on much of anything except my left hip. The upper left thigh started hurting last week and the pain's gotten steadily worse. I'm try hard to relax mind and body—a non sequitur if ever there was one—during Qigong practice every morning, but to no avail. The hip flexor now pulls when I walk; the left abductor hurts when I lie on that side. When I stand up after sitting too long at the computer, the left gluteal muscles ache.

How do I know these terms? After undergoing four hip replacement surgeries in three years, I'm a walking Gray's Anatomy when it comes to naming the muscles around hip joints.

My hip saga began in February 1991 outside the northern Thai town of Chiang Saen on the afternoon of the first day I'd ever driven a motorbike. Coming into a turn I accidentally accelerated instead of braking, hit a small concrete road barrier and catapulted into a narrow roadside ditch filled with water. Miraculously I only dislocated my right hip and not my non-helmeted head. The month I spent immobilized in traction in the orthopedic ward of the Chiang Rai government hospital catalyzed my love affair with Thailand. The accident itself catalyzed a decade-long process of hip degeneration resulting in arthritis.

Starting around 2002 I developed persistent lower back pain and a reduced range of motion in the left hip. By 2004 Thai doctors counseled hip replacement surgery. A highly recommended Thai surgeon performed a partial replacement on the left hip in May 2005. The standard total hip replacement was unnecessary, he said, since the hip socket was fine. Thanks to a rigorous physical therapy program taught me by Mr. Jun, an incredibly talented young physical therapist, the right hip started feeling more or less normal two months post-op.

In October 2006 the same surgeon performed a similar partial replacement on the ailing right hip. I followed the identical physical therapy regimen but this hip wouldn't heal. When I limped into the doctor's office five months later demanding to know what was wrong, he mumbled how I'd probably be better in a year and practically threw me out. Around the same time the left hip started seizing up.

I ended up spending three months with old friends in the Belgian countryside during the summer of 2007 while a surgeon at a university hospital in Ghent successfully fixed both botched Thai replacements in two separate operations. This hip specialist couldn't believe the Thai doctor hadn't performed total hip replacements because the both joints were completely arthritic. Alas he couldn't repair the torn right abductor muscle— that large muscle along the outer thigh—which the Thai doctor inadvertently slashed using his outdated operating techniques.

Once again I relied on Mr. Jun's exercises to get myself up and walking. By the end of 2007, apart from a slight weakness on the right leg from the torn abductor, my body felt pretty great compared to the previous five years. Instead of being grateful, I believed all those medical travails gave me carte blanche to worry and whinge about the tiniest skeletal-related ache or pain.

Beginning with our first session in March 2009, Sifu H discounted my every complaint about hips or other body parts. "The pain's in your mind," he asserted back then and still reiterates with mantra-like regularity whenever I present him with a new symptom. I used to burst into tears whenever he said that and sobbingly insist he couldn't possibly understand my fear that both hips might fail again. "See the reality," he dispassionately counseled.

At the end of each session with Sifu H I actually do see the reality. Until now, however, I've simply refused to acknowledge it. The reality is that four month-long sessions of learning Qigong and a daily home practice have diminished or eliminated all the physical ailments I presented with in March 2009. Ditto for the other minor aches and pains I created for myself back home by forcing instead of relaxing my body during certain moves.

Sifu H constantly reminds me that power doesn't arise from brute force. Learning how to relax using the breath and how to move from the dan tian lets me perform powerful movements without yanking or thrusting. Instead of relying on medication, massage or acupuncture, my own energy has gradually healed one bunion, two achy shoulders, and a swollen and clicking thumb joint. Not to mention how it's cleared years' worth of stress stuck in those multi-operated hips.

It's taken almost a week to write this post. I began by attempting to justify whinging about the latest hip-related symptom and conclude by admitting that none of the evidence supports my panicky doom and gloom hypothesis. I've also officially outed a dirty little secret to myself and anyone else who reads this post. To whit: I've been health-obsessed—a polite euphemism for a hypochondriac—for decades. Never loving myself enough, I try to elicit caring and sympathy from others by complaining.

Another important reality is that while four hip operations aren't pleasant, many people suffer far more serious and life-threatening conditions with humor, strength and equanimity instead of constant moaning. My biggest problem is not an aching hip but a hyper-active mind that delights in concocting scenarios filled with dire outcomes. Mental maladies don't heal as quickly as  physical ones, but acknowledging them is half the battle.

Being grateful promotes health and happiness. Whinging creates stress which in turn weakens the immune system. So herewith some hippy gratitudes:

•  For years I hated the Thai surgeon for being an incompetent blowhard  and a liar. Now I'm grateful to him for screwing up. Even if he'd performed total hip replacements on both hips, I know his antiquated operating techniques wouldn't have compared to the Belgian specialist's.

•  I railed against the Thai hospital for plying me with antibiotics during and after both surgeries. When I developed horrible sinusitis after both operations, they prescribed even more. Now I'm grateful to those months of antibiotics which wiped out my immune system and resulted in systemic candida. Without being so ill I'd never have radically changed my diet nor discovered Sifu H.

Oh, and that pesky left hip still aches, but less so than before. Or perhaps it aches as much as before but I've stopped worrying about it.

15 April 2010


Here's the gist of an argument Transforming Jennifer and Resistant Jennifer have every morning around 5:30 a.m.

RJ:  [Stretching.] Let's stay in bed. Who cares about missing one day of Qigong practice? We can always do it again tomorrow.
TJ:  [Looking at the clock and getting out of bed.] No way. I'm getting up now. The exercises always give me energy and a positive outlook for the day.
RJ:  Aw c'mon! It's comfortable here and we can lay about reading the latest issue of [New Yorker, Vanity Fair, whatever].
TJ:  No! I can read later. If I don't start Qigong now there won't be enough time to shower before Noi comes at 8:45 (on Mon, Wed., Fri.). Besides the living room'll be too hot soon.
RJ:  Puh-lease! Who cares if we miss one measly day?
TJ:  I care. You don't notice all the positive changes in me since I started Qigong. It's only the best thing I've ever done for myself! I'm finally becoming mentally and physically healthy.
RJ:  Oh spare me! If you were so mentally healthy we wouldn't even be having this conversation! [Sighs.] Well as long as we're up, let's do something constructive like [showering, washing, nail clipping, hair cutting, going online, eating breakfast].
TJ:  Give it a rest! That's petty stuff I can do anytime. First comes Qigong. Now get your butt to the living room!

Internal tugs of war between opposing mindsets are longstanding and instinctual behaviors for me and, I imagine, for other people too. I'm not talking about multiple personalities (dissociative identity disorder in contemporary therapy parlance), but merely the incredible diversity that comprises each of us.

I learned something about the cast of characters inside my personality one Christmastime in Thailand during late 1990s. I was very depressed and contacted Ken Fox, a wonderful former therapist and friend in California who via email taught me a technique called Voice Dialogue. It's designed to bring the different aspects of our psyche into more balance. With Ken's caring online encouragement, I discovered The Writer, The Critic, Little Jennifer, Big Jennifer, etc. Each morning I'd sit down and hand write the "conversation" that took place between one of the characters and my Objective Self. (That's the subconscious me—or was it the über conscious me, I forget—that objectively understands the Real Jennifer.)

Voice Dialogue got me over that particular episode but I soon gave up doing it, like I abandoned all the other mind-centric therapies I've dabbled in over the years. I'd always feel better for a while until my non-stop worrywart mind found another opportunity to beat up on me again. I hated feeling like such a loser on the inside but like any other addiction it was a familiar and somehow comforting state. And it took far less effort to stay stuck in a rut than to change.

RJ:  My, my. Isn't this just fascinating. I bet everyone's absolutely enthralled with all your self-centered navel gazing.
TJ:  Jeez. Don't you ever give up? Why are you still hanging around yammering and trying to undermine my progress?
RJ:  I've grown accustomed to your face, you almost make my day begin.
TJ:  Until I started doing Qigong daily, I could never get past your mental chatter and learn how to love or accept myself.
RJ:  Well just cry me a river.
TJ:  Why am I arguing with you? I should be grateful. Every morning you give me yet another opportunity to overcome your relentless negativity and clear my mind using the Qigong movements and the breathing.
RJ:  Trust me, you'll abandon this too.
TJ:  Instead of spouting corny lyrics or making your standard doom and gloom prognostications, listen to the lyrics of DWBH. Sifu H recommended it back when you could still transform my every molehill into a mountain. You think it's easy to not worry and be happy? Why don't YOU try it then. Not worrying so much and being happier helps me transform your negativity into acceptance! If Ken Fox were still alive, he'd be cheering me on with one of his big gins and a heartfelt "Yippeeee!"

10 April 2010

The Menace of the Calculating Mind

According to Sifu H, I've got a very calculating mind. Indeed he says it's the biggest obstacle to unlocking all those creative and healing abilities he swears I possess. During every session he relentlessly points out the many instances of my calculating mind in action.

Being forced to confront how my overactive mind permeates — and pollutes — so many interactions with myself and others isn't a feel-good experience. I always reacted defensively to Sifu H's comments — which I inevitably perceived as criticisms — by arguing, getting angry or bursting into tears. "I'm not criticizing you," he'd patiently assure me. "I'm teaching you."

I may be incredibly resistant to facing my inner demons but I'm also extremely diligent and deeply want to heal. Especially because Sifu H says that as people age, their negative energy only intensifies. Unless I start seriously dealing with these issues now, he warned, my dysfunctional coping mechanisms would only worsen.

Little by little I'm recognizing how my hyperactive mind works to protect me by attempting to control this inherently uncontrollable condition called life. It does this by treating life as a mathematical equation. It constantly weighs the pros and cons of every situation and evaluates potential outcomes of various courses of action. IF I pay, say, wear, achieve, think, work, perform X, THEN the logical outcome will be Y.

Some examples:
• If I am [a good writer], then I will receive [money/respect/travel] and feel [important]
• If I am [thin, funkily dressed], then I will receive [praise, a boyfriend] and feel [loved]
• If I am [a good Qigong student], then I will receive [praise from my teacher] and feel [special]
• If people are [nice to me], then I must be [a great person] and I feel [important]
• If people are [mean/critical], then I must be [a terrible person] and I feel [miserable/a failure]

Terrified the world would fall apart if it relinquishes control, my calculating mind never allowed me to simply relax and accept the realities of life, warts and all. Unconsciously I assumed the worst in most situations. To orient myself in time and space, my mind feverishly planned, judged, compared, analyzed, criticized, looked for hidden meanings. With such a mindset, no wonder I had such trouble unconditionally loving, trusting or giving to others.

Over the decades I've tried countless classic and arcane therapies. Yet only Qigong Psychoanalysis (my pet name for the Qigong practice and the intense conversations with Sifu H) has broken through the thick armor shielding me from my true self. What a joy to jettison so many decades' worth of inappropriate and ultimately self-abusive behavior patterns!

07 April 2010


This is only the eighth post and already a couple of readers have asked me to explain more about Qigong. My newly renascent writing muse completely balks at the idea of synthesizing pages of internet research on Qigong into interesting Jennifer-speak. It's just too reminiscent of when the candida-brain muse and I stared at 40+ typewritten pages of interview notes and internet research for an entire month in 2008 while trying—and failing—to produce a publishable magazine article about Penang.

Besides, this blog is a chronicle of one person's Qigong journey, not a bunch of essays on the practice itself. Last year Sifu H gave me several books on Buddhist-related topics, but none about Qigong. I completely trust his sense of when I'm ready to learn something new and reckon he's got his reasons for not going into it right now.

While looking for an image of the two Chinese characters for Qi gong (roughly translated as energy work), I found this overview and history which pretty accurately describe the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of the practice. Some, but not all, the FAQs are relevant too.

All that said, from our first day together in March 2009, Sifu H conveyed tons of useful Qigong tips which I dutifully tried to record. I wanted to capture his every word, but he insisted that until I  experienced Qigong in my body, writing words was a waste of time.

"The mind is not dependable on," is a typical Sifu statement. And as usual he's right. Paging through my little notebook to pick out salient tips for this post, I'm shocked at how often he repeated the basic tenets and how quickly I completely forgot them. "Forget the words," he'd say when I tried to bring out my digital recorder. "You can't tape record a feeling or how to feel it!" I've got plenty more Sifu-isms for other posts.

Relaxing = Letting Go ≠ Floppy
This sounds deceptively simple but even now I still struggle to understand that Qigong strength comes through letting go, not tensing or forcing.

Body parts to relax
This list doesn't include many other body parts I've discovered since those early days. Back then these were more than enough for my tense, gym-exercised body and frenetically busy mind to handle:

• eyes • neck • shoulders • elbows • coccyx • soles of feet • hips • knees •  groin • hands • wrists •  fingers. And the most crucial body part of all...... • mind.

Body Can Release Mind
Mind Cannot Release Body
•  Tight strong muscles = mind (Sifu H is totally against gym training)
•  Dynamic energetic limbs = body

•  Mind = physical tension
•  Mind = control

•  Pumped up body = brute strength
•  Qi-ful body = quiet force
•  Qi generates its own energy

•  Pain arises from mental tension
•  Mental tension arises from fear, desire for perfection

• Trust: my body, myself, my teacher

•  The mind commands (the GENERAL)
•  Dan tian executes (the CAPTAIN)
   (Dan tian is the region in the lower abdomen below the navel where Qi is cultivated and stored.)
•   Arms and legs are SERGEANTS
•  Captain can't execute the command if the mind won't let go
•  Breath can release the mind.

•  Trust the energy in the dan tian. Let it guide the body.
•  Energy moves body, not vice versa!
•  Energy channels regenerate.
•  Like a stream, energy finds its way
•  Body decays; energy does not

05 April 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good:
Yesterday I gave birth to a blog about my personal transformation through learning Qigong. Not bad for a blocked writer who's barely written anything coherent for nearly two years.

The Bad:
Today I woke up with a severe case of postpartum depression. No sooner do I achieve something positive that I'm proud of, negativity demons start barraging me with a litany of criticisms:
•  All that good writing was a temporary fluke.
•  There's nothing more to write about; you've shot your wad.
•  How boring to post different versions of essentially the same message, i.e. that you now respond to situations in new and positive ways.
•  You're not demonstrating HOW Qigong is changing you. This blog is a huge time waster that cannot possibly help anyone else.

And in case I wasn't sufficiently demoralized, the demons iced their negativity cake with the same cosmic questions that for decades have dragged me down into a quagmire of self-criticism and self-pity:
•  So what?
•  What's the point?
•  Who cares anyhow?

In spite of all this negative mental chatter, I got up early as I do every morning and did an hour of Qigong. I showered, breakfasted and, wonder of wonders, sat down to write! Outing my demons to the world isn't half as much fun as talking about formerly vicious dogs licking me, but it's probably just as integral to the healing process.

The Ugly:
 In Why QFN? I wrote that this blog was only for me and I didn't care what anyone thought about it. No sooner did I take the blog live than a friend wondered why I'd put up such an unflattering passport photo in Screws and Snaps. Especially when he knew I had tons of better ones I could have used. (He probably just looked at the picture without reading the post.)

Why indeed? Posting the photo represented a half-hearted attempt to embrace the essential human condition of decay and death. Without the tender ministrations of Photoshop, cheap studio lighting and camera flashes bring out the worst in any subject, even a young hottie. And for a 62 year-old with pretensions of looking as young as possible, the photo highlighted the grim reality far too well. Terrified the entire world would see the "real" me, I deleted the offending passport photo and inserted an innocuous snapshot of an earring.

If I can ignore the constant harping of my longstanding negativity demons and get on with my life, embracing decay and death should be a piece of cake. Gulp. So to support my progress in letting go of old paradigms and accepting new ones, here's that pesky passport photo along with another more flattering head shot. Both were taken in mid March.

31 March 2010


At the weekly Monday meditation evening a newcomer came up and asked what work I did. Ohmigod! For most of my life that's been the most anxiety-producing question imaginable. Last Monday I just smiled serenely and answered, "Oh for the last 15 years I was a writer. Now I'm transforming."

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" my father constantly asked me as far back as I can remember. After my parents divorced when I was 10, he still called most days to find out what I'd done in school. He paid me $20 for every A on my report card. "You're smart and if you get good grades you can be anything you want," he loved to tell me. "The wider your horizons, the more choices you'll have in life."

The notion of infinitely wide horizons and deciding what/who 8-year-old me wanted to be when she grew up was terrifying. I craved small manageable horizons. I understood that while Dad promised a world of work options, he implicitly dismissed many potential career choices as inappropriate. I could grow up to be anything I wanted as long as it was a reputable profession like doctor, lawyer or anything that required lots of studying at a prestigious university. (Dad started out as a doctor and at age 40 switched to become a lawyer.)

"What does XX's father do?" Dad asked about every childhood friend I played with and every guy I dated through high school. "What does XX do?" he asked the adult me about the men I dated. For many years I never shared such information with him because I knew instinctively that "motor trader," "weird Austrian author," dope smoker," "itinerant musician" or "industrial firebrick layer" wouldn't satisfy his criteria of acceptable career choices. Once I proudly introduced him to a "math professor" I dated in the late 1970s even though this guy was fundamentally nuttier and more dysfunctional than any of the others.

As for my own "profession," I spent the first 28 years of my life assiduously avoiding the issue. I dropped out of college after the sophomore year and spent five years working at increasingly bizarre temp jobs in Swinging London. I returned to the US in 1972 and waited tables in the Napa Valley for a couple of years. Eventually Dad offered to put me through court reporting school in San Francisco. He probably figured that as long as I wasn't going to be a lawyer, at least I could sit in rooms with lawyers and breathe lawyer air.

I type super fast and was acing the court reporting course until I developed tenosinovitus (repetitive motion injury in today's parlance) in my wrist and dropped out. Perhaps Dad finally accepted my overt and covert resistance to "professions" because he gave up on his dream of my getting one and told me to find a job.

Getting a job was easier than choosing a profession. I became secretary to Dr. K., a Hong Kong scientist who ran a research lab at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. During the 15 years I worked for him—1975 to 1990—my title changed from "secretary" to the slightly tonier "administrative assistant." Neither sounded like the sort of "profession" I'd been brought up to covet.

After ending up in Thailand and become a published writer in the early 1990s, I felt better responding to "what do you do?" questions. I called myself a freelance writer, not to be confused with the professional journalists who all seemed far worthier of the writing title than I. People often complimented me on my pieces, yet their praise felt undeserved because I never embraced my own talent.

In late 2008 a slowly developing case of systemic candida invaded my brain. I could barely think straight, much less write coherently. The last magazine article I wrote, a 3,000-word destination piece, would normally have taken a few days to write. This one took a month and ended up being completely rewritten by the editor. I was mortified. I started a very strict anti-candida diet in early December 2008 which gradually cleared up the worst symptoms after a few months. My mind returned but my desire to write had vanished.

Even a few months ago, writing a simple email was a daunting and scary task. Sifu H insisted the block was mental, not physical and after the month-long session that ended on the 10th of this month, I suddenly became psyched about writing a blog. For the first time in years, writing has become so absorbing that playing Scrabble on Facebook, plucking chin hairs or the many other time fillers I relied on no longer appeal.

So far I haven't figured out how to show how learning Qigong has transformed my life so drastically. I'll just keep noting changes on the blog and stop tying myself up in knots trying to explain everything.

What I do know with certainty is that "transforming" is the best job I've ever had!

30 March 2010

A New Spirit of Place

Sunday evenings have been reserved for Movie Night at Bob's for almost as long as I've lived in Bangkok. When I first met Bob he lived in an old wooden house behind Suan Plu market. I quickly became a regular among the small band of movie buffs who'd crowd onto his bed to watch videos on a 14" TV screen. I was there when Bob graduated to a DVD player and 21" TV screen, and also when he moved to a spacious house surrounded by gardens some seven years ago.

Compared to the old Suan Plu days, movie watching at Bob's Ramkamheng abode is a sophisticated affair held in a large living room with sofa, chairs, wide screen and surround sound. The one constant remains Bob's commitment to screening a diverse and fabulously eclectic selection of movies from around the world. Bob's understandably proud that movies we've watched over the years always appear in lists of the world's Top 100 best all-time films.

Anywhere from four to 12 movie watchers can turn up for the Sunday night screenings. As one of his most consistent attendees, Bob started calling me his Spirit of Place. Ol' insecure me loved feeling "special" and to justify the title I devised a list of dedicated SoP movie chores. Apart from arriving early, I'd switch on the upstairs light, arrange chairs, turn on the aircon and the various electronic devices. One everyone had taken their seats, I'd put the DVD in the player and switch off the room lights.

By far SoP's most important self-imposed task was shepherding kibitzing attendees from the kitchen to the living room for the 7:30 pm start time. Some folks might not have seen each other in ages and were deep in conversation. Others arrived late but acted like they had all the time in the world to chat. During the process of cajoling people into the living room I felt more like a whip-cracking lion tamer than a shepherd! Probably that's how everyone else perceived me too.

Through learning Qigong with Sifu H, I've come to realize how tightly I've always clung to the myth of CONTROL. Intellectually I can spout that change is the only constant in life. Acknowledging it deeply is another matter. I've always proudly described myself as an aging hippy who lives an eccentric and unstructured existence, though deep down I was extremely unhappy. Punctuality, order and ritual fed the illusion that I was in charge of my life whereas actually they only underscored my fear of change and the unknown.

Qigong's given me a gut-level awareness of my inability to control the constancy of change. Today's Spirit of Place feels imbued with a loving and caring spirit instead of a controlling one. I "see" how furniture arranging, lighting setups, clock watching and people herding contribute nothing to my sense of self worth. So I've relinquished those tasks. What's so crucial about starting at precisely 7:30 pm anyhow? By letting go of the patently false notion that exercising control means I'm powerful and important, I've opened myself up to the possibility of meaningful and heartfelt interactions.

P.S. I can almost hear Sifu H reminding me that attaching to what a fabulous new SoP I've become is just as dangerous as attaching to feeling powerless and insignificant. Awful or fabulous is all an illusion in our minds anyhow, he'd say. I'm not quite at that level of awareness, but at least I'm finally walking the walk instead of merely talking the talk!

25 March 2010

Screws and Snaps

I'm off for a US passport renewal photo and all all aquiver about what to wear for a picture that'll end up showing nothing below my Adam's apple. I've ravaged my small closet and can't come up with an unrevealing sleeveless top! For Thai documents requiring photos, local photo shop employees happily use Photoshop to hoist up an overly sexy décolletage or remove unsightly wrinkles and eye bags. Obviously such manipulations are unthinkable for nitpicking US government agencies! Finally I find a garment that'll look suitably prim if I pin the floppy V-neck front shut.

Now the accoutrements. Out goes the nose stud. But what about the five earring holes on the right ear and the one on the left? On the right I've worn the same four stainless semi-circular earrings for years — mainly because it's a huge pain to screw in the teensy stainless balls on the end. Lately I've changed to wearing colorful vintage 1970s plastic earwear from Chatuchak market in the circa-1965 holes at the bottom of each ear.

I contemplate whether I'll really want to keep looking at a passport photo of me wearing big dangling plastic earrings over the next 10 years and decide not. This necessitates inserting a fifth stainless semi-circle earring in the bottom right hole and finding another unobtrusive one for the bottom left.

Cop out photo of earring instead of me!
It's 32° in my river-view pad at 4 p.m. when I begin the dreaded end-ball screwing process. After 10 minutes of hoisting my right elbow up and unsuccessfully trying to get the threads of the minute 2.5-mm stainless ball to engage with those on one end of the earring, the temperature feels more like 40°.

Suddenly I hear Sifu H's voice in my head. "Relax your shoulders, relax your arms, relax your breath, relax your mind." I drop my elbow and shoulder, relax all the tension and breathe. Presto chango, the stainless-to-stainless connection is effected! Now for the photo.

Sitting on an uncomfortable stool on the hot 2nd floor of a Sukhumvit photo shop recreates the same kind of angst/dread as screwing on teensy earring balls. Once more I recall Sifu H's relaxation tips. Keeping my body erect with eyes facing forward but relaxed, I again breathe to release the tension in my mind and body.I abandon thoughts of opening my eyes wide so the wrinkles won't show and allow the corners of my mouth to turn up in a gentle smile. I hold this facial pose without moving or changing during three blinding flashes. Surprise surprise. The photo turned out much better than I anticipated. (And I successfully cajoled the technician into reducing the intensity of a dark circle under my right eye to match the lighter left one.)

All this tension reduction is a major step forward. Nonetheless I still missed several opportunities for applying Qigong awareness to daily life situations.

•  I'm still too attached to the exterior trappings of clothing and accessories. (And passport photos are far too small to showcase them anyhow.) Only overworked airport check-in staff and immigration officials scrutinize them and what do they care about clothes or looks? As long as I vaguely resemble my picture and my passport says I'm not a terrorist, I'm OK in their minds. So why don't I feel OK in my own?

•  Intellectually I accept that I'm aging and can't possibly look as young as I did in the current 2001 passport photo—although I definitely look more relaxed in this new one. Nor do I look as old now as I will in 2020 when the new passport expires. Sifu H constantly reminds me about the inevitability of decay and death. I hear the words but am nowhere near grokking the concept!

23 March 2010

That Sinking Feeling

After going with a friend to the Monday night meditation at Ariyasom Villas and eating a divine Arab meal at Petra afterward, I came home around 11 and crashed. Around 4:45 a.m. this morning I suddenly awoke to loud sounds of gushing water. It took barely a minute to realize the source was a ferociously strong jet of water gushing out from under the sink and spraying across the living room with fire hose intensity!

Yesterday the building handyman replaced the kitchen sink faucet. When he went to shut off the main water valve in the corridor he discovered it doesn't completely shut off the flow of water. While changing the faucet, he noticed a slightly cracked plastic joint nut in the pipe under the kitchen sink. He changed the reinforced rubbery connector hose (with nuts on either end). The plywood cupboard floor got wet during the process and I'd left the cupboard doors open overnight open to dry it out. Apparently the handyman's cobbled together pipe repair weakened other joints and allowed the water pressure to burst through.

My tiny place has an L-shaped "kitchen" area consisting of the sink unit in the short part of the L. It creates a small divide between the living room and the tiled indoor balcony/dining area. The long part of the L is a counter top and waist-high cupboards running along part of one wall in the living room. End to end, the living room is just long enough for the three forward lunges in the final part of the 7-star form I started learning with Sifu H in March 2009 and continue to practice every morning.

All the floors are parquet except for the 1.5-meter wide tiled indoor "balcony" that runs horizontally along the windows fronting on the river. It creates the minuscule dining space, bathroom and bedroom plant area. The floors are as old as the apartment or at least my landlord's ownership of it. I've been here 12 years and he lived here before that. Sunlight streams in through huge windows all day and over the years the varnish has starting wearing off.

I raced out to the corridor and shut off the water valve except, as I'd discovered yesterday, that didn't entirely cut off the flow. Yesterday this was a minor inconvenience, but today it was a major one because even though the jet of water no longer sprayed across the room, water still streamed inside the plywood sink unit.

I started mopping up the puddles of water that ran from the sink across the living room to a small cabinet with a Bose CD player and phone/fax machine atop it. Fortunately they didn't seem too wet and I put them on the dining table to dry. Meanwhile water continued to run out from under the sink unit and onto the parquet floor. I tried stuffing the cracks with two chamois-like cloths and ran downstairs to get the guard to wake up the handyman.

Unlike their counterparts at snazzier buildings, the guards at Thai Sathit Condo aren't hired to actually do anything, especially in an emergency situation at 5 a.m. This guy was entirely too kreng jai to knock on the handyman's door. I tried knocking myself, yelling (politely) and phoning his mobile, all to no avail.

Back upstairs, I ran back and forth between the still-leaking sink area and the rest of the living room to gather soaked cushion covers, CDs etc. and spread them out on the outdoor planter boxes. This took until around 5:30 a.m. For the next two hours I stayed on my hands and knees next to the cupboard wringing out those pseudo chamois every couple of minutes. Finally at 7:30 the very sleepy handyman turned up. He removed the patchwork of pipe joints and replaced them with a single new connection.

I give so much background information because my responses to this predawn drama were 180° from how I would have reacted pre-Qigong. I'd have spewed out as much anger on all concerned as that split joint gushed water. I'd have screamed at the guard for being a useless git and at the handyman for being incompetent. (O.K., I did get pretty annoyed at him but nowhere near as dramatically as before.) I'd have stayed angry and tense for days and bent everyone's ears with "poor me" stories.

Instead, I wrote a list of gratitudes:

•  I'm very grateful the pipe joint burst while I was home. Given the amount of water released in barely five minutes, apartment and the one below would have been completely flooded had I not been there to turn off the valve..

•  I'm very grateful I woke up so fast and stopped the jet of water spurting across the room before any real damage occurred to books or electronic gear.

•  I'm very grateful the handyman lives in the building and dragged himself up to my place long before his usual 10 a.m. starting time. (I was fully prepared to keep wringing out the cloths until whenever he appear.)

•  I'm very grateful I live in a hot climate so everything dried off quickly.

•  I'm very grateful that the breezes that sometimes blow on the river blew today so I could stay home in relative comfort despite the 32° temperature and ensure everything dried out.

•  I'm very grateful I'm grateful instead of angry. Gratitude makes situations flow much more easily!

•  I'm very grateful Sifu H and the Qigong practice is teaching me to let go of my attachment to perfection. The floor wasn't perfect before the brief flood and it's even less so now. Achieving perfection in all things is no longer the guiding principle of my life.

•  I'm very grateful I had nothing planned for today because I'm utterly exhausted from the pre-dawn waterworks.

21 March 2010

If Dogs Feel My Energy, Why Can't I?

On Saturday morning I went over to my friend Tom's house to watch the Academy Awards. We have a 10-year tradition of watching the awards together and since I was in Chiang Mai for this year's, he very kindly copied a DVD for us to watch.

I've known Tom for ages but can't say we were especially close. He presents a pretty crusty/cynical exterior. Of course underneath he's extremely kind and caring, but insecure me often felt threatened and put off by his outer shell and sarcastic comments. Mainly I visited his house for his huge annual Thanksgiving parties and our own Oscars mornings.

A typical Bangkok soi dog
If I were an abandoned soi dog, I'd definitely experience Tom's warm and cuddly side. He's rescued nine over the past years and given them complete control over his heart and home. (Seven are still alive.) Over the years of their lifetimes and my Oscar visits, not one dog has ever done anything other than bark its head off or growl at me from the moment I ring the doorbell at the outside gate until I leave.

Oscar watching takes place in Tom's bedroom, the most effectively air conditioned room in his rented 1970s house. In the past I always fought with the mutts to carve out a space on the large bed covered in dog hair. (I never wear black and always bring a clothes brush.) Whenever I'd get up to pee or readjust my shawl (I'm not used to air conditioning) they'd ramp up the barking at instantly take over my spot on the bed.

You could wonder why I put up with all this discomfort and canine abuse. Well, I'm a sucker for tradition, especially in ever-changing Bangkok. And Tom has a steel trap mind for entertainment trivia and makes fabulously insightful—or appropriately snide—comments about people's clothes, what they wore last year, who they're dating etc. Plus he can name 99.9% of the faces on screen whereas I'm lucky if I recognize 30% of them! Deep down, I loved watching Oscar with Tom.

I haven't been to Tom's house since before starting Qigong. I rolled up yesterday at 9 a.m. with my bag of J.W. Marriott pastries (for him) and rang the doorbell. The predictable cacophony of barking ensured as the dogs stampeded out of the house to the gate. And then the barking stopped. A row of dog snouts protruded ouf from under the gate. Tom opened it and instead of barking their heads off, the dogs all surrounded me, jumping up, nuzzling and licking my hands!

It was the same throughout the 5-hour visit. I still had to carve out my space on the bed, but this time the dogs didn't mind and actually made room for me. (Fortunately not all seven are on the bed simultaneously!) Several put their heads in my lap or stuck theirs heads in my face demanding some ear scratching.

HELLO......is this a concrete example of an energy shift or what!!!!! Honestly their reactions didn't come as a total surprise because last fall my friend Bob's three former soi dogs also stopped their aggressive barking at me. Funny.....that was just around the time Tom and I got much closer too.

20 March 2010

Why QFN?

This blog charts the progress of a recovering neurotic —me —and describes how Qigong is transforming my life.

At first I thought I needed to chronicle how and why I've been plagued by anxiety, fear, anger, depression, self-loathing, inertia etc. for most of my life. But who'd want to read a self-indulgent whinge disguised as a blog? Surely, reading about someone's healing journey toward self acceptance and empowerment would be more interesting. And if I write honestly, all those inner struggles will emerge within the posts anyhow.

I grew up in the 1950s and 60s and "neuroses" sounded like an appropriate moniker for my various problems. When my Qigong teacher and I came up with the title in June 2009, we were discussing how my writing a book about the ways Qigong has changed my life could help other people too. Qigong for Nerotics had a catchy ring like the XXXXXX for Dummies series. Back then, merely contemplating writing a book filled me with so much fear, anxiety, lack of confidence, etc. that I spent the next 10 months assiduously avoiding the issue.

Since starting in March 2009, so far I've done four one-month stints of private training with a Qigong master in Chiang Mai. We work together 3-4 hours/day, 6 days/week. (I may be neurotic but I'm also extremely diligent.) Thanks to this amazing teacher and our intense schedule, I've been releasing many of the neurosis I knew about and others I didn't know existed. Nowadays I feel like a butterfly emerging from a 62 year-old chrysalis and while writing a book remains too daunting, a blog project seems definitely doable.

As part of my healing process, I'm not writing this to please anyone except myself and thus shouldn't care if anyone reads it or not. Nonetheless, as a published writer from 1993 to 2008, I depended on the judgment and approval of editors. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be happy if someone stumbled upon this blog and was in some measure helped by reading it.

To protect everyone's anonymity on the blog I'll refer to friends by their first names or sometimes by their initials. As for my teacher, let's call him Sifu H. In Chinese, Sifu means teacher or master, especially in the martial arts field. In moments of epic struggle when we're working together and I'm sobbing as yet another layer of a mental, physical or emotional problem starts peeling away, I privately refer to him as Snafu. Of course I'd never say that to his face because Sifu H has given me the greatest gift any teacher can possibly give: the tools to understand, love and heal myself.