Sunday, May 30, 2010

Human Tuning by John Beaulieu

Very exciting news! Dr. John Beaulieu has just released an incredible new book called Human Tuning. I have only read a few chapters so far, but I'm excited and could't wait to share!

I met John in the early 90s at a "sound healers colloquium" in New England. I went to his seminar not knowing what to expect. The paradigm I was driving at the time was like an old Chevy and I happily left after his talk in a new BMW. He wove together insights gleaned from decades of research into psychology, music, naturopathy, meditation, martial arts, alchemy, astrology, Polarity Therapy, etc. with practical, demonstrable exercises. His insatiable curiosity had taken him around the world to study with amazing teachers and healers and his open-hearted generosity led him to share it with anyone drawn to his tent. John is a naturopath, mental health counselor, composer, accomplished pianist, martial artist, energy healer, and raconteur of the highest order. A renaissance man, not a jack of all trades.

That introduction led me to study energy healing with him at his home in Stone Ridge for a number of years. A group would meet for a weekend once a month at his 4,000 square foot log cabin in the woods near Woodstock to learn Polarity. Most of us were experienced energy healers and teachers already, and were drawn to John's comprehensive vision and vast experience. I really resonated with the yang of his bold explorations into the terra incognita of really woo-woo material with the yin of his Hoosier "Show Me" empiricism. Carl Jung meets quantum physics meets medieval alchemy meets chaos get the picture. We learned tons of practical workable healing techniques and practiced on each other exhaustively. It was an amazing learning experience.

Human Tuning articulates some of the essential parts of his vision in a coherent readable way and presents a simple, effective way to implement using tuning forks. Tuning forks have been a staple of my healing sessions for a long time, but this book takes my understanding to a whole new level. An important section describes the effect of tuning on nitric oxide release at the cellular level. Dr. Beaulieu collaborated with scientists to publish research in "Medical Science Monitor".

On page 55 he writes:
Research suggests that vibration transferred to neuronal, endothelial, and immune cells through tuning forks stimulates nitric oxide, and sets off a cascading of physiological events which directly influences our health, well-being, state of mind, and consciousness. By understanding nitric oxide, we can establish a scientific link between molecular science, medicine, and sound healing.

The book is loaded with lots of great techniques for using tuning forks and tips for selecting which to use. Great for novices and veterans alike.

John Beaulieu is clearly in the avant garde of healing research and theory. His vision takes us boldly in the direction of health creation and away from dependence on harmful chemicals. He empowers every person to become the primary force in their own healing.

He will be teaching in a sound healers training program at the New York Open Center this year. If there is any way you can attend a class or lecture grab the opportunity. You won't regret it!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Energy Testing Pitfalls

I have been using Energy Testing for a long time to show the huge difference between crude muscular force and the coordinated power derived from a whole-body energetic connection (energetic coherence). Energy testing is called “muscle testing” in Applied Kinesiology and has been used for decades to diagnose and treat a wide variety of illnesses. When something jams up the smooth flow of energy in the body/mind, there is a significant weakening of the muscle being tested.

I don’t use energy testing to diagnose, but rather as a teaching tool. It’s easier to feel your arm abruptly getting weaker against a gentle push than it is to sense a disruption in energy flow. You can develop energy sensitivity over time, but it really helps to have some physical way of confirming what you are sensing.

If you are using energy testing to diagnose, it really doesn’t matter much if your clients understand what’s going on. They primarily care about getting better. But if you are using it as a teaching tool, it’s crucial that both of you have confidence in it’s effectiveness. That comes from practice…and knowing what you’re trying to accomplish.

There are lots of ways to do it, but the one I use most often involves having a subject stand (or sit) and extend an arm to the side with elbow locked. You put one hand on the opposite shoulder and press down slowly on the extended arm. You want to use as little force as possible to bring the arm down, slowly and smoothly. This is an important part of establishing confidence. You are establishing a base line of resistance that you both can agree to. So when that changes it’s readily apparent to both of you. I usually use one finger to make it clear how little force is being used. (This takes a lot of practice!) You want your partner to feel the point where the arm starts to weaken.

This is where most tests fall apart: no baseline is established, so there’s nothing to compare. If you push down too hard or too abruptly your partner doesn’t get a real felt sense of what is happening. So take your time. You are doing this in cooperation with your partner. It’s not something you are doing TO your partner.

Once you establish a baseline you can see if something weakens or strengthens the energetic coherence. In the picture above, I have Jeffrey touch his thymus point to test the immune system. He’s a bit tired, so the arm comes down quite easily. I have him tap the point several times with his knuckles to stimulate the thymus gland and then retest. His arm easily resists the downward pressure. It’s an old trick in Chinese medicine to thump the thymus to restore your energy.

You can screw up the test by pushing too hard or too abruptly on the second part too. So keep the force even and predictable.

It’s also crucial to establish the intent of the test before you start. Sounds obvious, but unless both know nothing is demonstrated by the test. If I’m testing the coherence of a Taijiquan posture, I ask a student to assume the position and have it do what the posture does. For instance, if I’m testing a Ward Off posture I ask the student to ward off a certain amount of force with their forearm. If that cannot be done easily, then we look for a “kink in the hose”—a place where energy is not flowing freely. If we can correct that energy block, then the Ward Off will indeed ward stuff off. If it doesn’t, then I look for another kink and correct that.

If my hidden intention is to show how powerful or clever I am, then that will corrupt the process too. I have to park my ego and do what I can to help my partner discover something new and important.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Scholars Garden Event?

I've been remiss in notifying everyone about the status of the annual Scholars Garden event. We usually do it at this time and this has prompted some inquiries. Mea maxima culpa!

Two things:
1. I was planning to do it a few weeks later anyway, hoping to get better weather. Which leads to the next point,

2. We need a backup plan in the event of rain. My usual options aren't available, but there is talk that a canopy will be installed over the stage area. This would be idea, but I haven't been able to nail down a date. There has been a lot of bureaucratic shuffling at Snug Harbor and I haven't been able to get a straight answer for the past couple months. I kept putting off telling y'all until I got my facts straight. Still not there, but I have been given hope that things will be sorted out soon.

I'm shooting for Sunday June 6 and hope I can confirm that real soon.

Thanks for your patience.

Free Class at New York Open Center May 24

I'm presenting a free class next Monday, May 24 at the New York Open Center, 6-7:15. It's an introduction to a sweet little course I'll be giving every Monday in June (same time) called "Grasping the Sparrow's Tail: An Introduction to T'ai Chi' (an introduction to the Introduction, if you will). Here's a link for information or registration:

This course will be geared to absolute beginners looking for a serious taste of the internal energies of t'ai chi ch'uan, as well as veteran practitioners who would like to learn to bring effortless power to their form. I'll be covering some of the core principles I talked about in Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate and some new stuff as well: energetic coherence, central equilibrium, ball-knee-kua, sequential joints.

My goal is to get everyone to feel their ch'i and at least get an idea of how to use it in their t'ai chi form. We'll be doing the first few moves of William C. C. Chen's 60 Movements, but the principles and methods can be applied to any style.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Prince Wen Hui's Cook

Prince Wen Hui’s Cook

At the start of a recent push hands class I read my favorite story from Zhangzi (Chuang-tsu). I think it captures an essential quality of higher level martial arts of all kinds.

Prince Wen Hui’s cook was an absolute marvel, a master of his art. He displayed effortless grace as he butchered the livestock that would be featured at the Prince’s table. The prince was unstinting in his praise. The cook responded:

“What your servant really cares about is Tao, which goes beyond mere art. When I first began to cut up oxen, I saw nothing but oxen. After three years of practicing, I no longer saw the ox as a whole. I now work with my spirit, not with my eyes [“Use the Force, Luke!”]. My senses stop functioning and my spirit takes over.”

(All quotes from Chuang Tsu: Inner Chapters, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English.)

Clearly, the cook would enter a transrational state (spirit=shen) while performing the mundane actions of his craft. He’s slaughtering animals, yet exhibits such a high level gongfu it comes from spiritual place. What does this allow him to do?

“A good cook changes his knife once a year because he cuts, while a mediocre cook has to change his every month because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and have cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the edge is as if it were fresh from the grindstone.”

Here’s the secret:

“There are spaces between the joints. The blade of the knife has no thickness. That which has no thickness has plenty of room to pass between these spaces.”

He’s not cutting muscle, sinew, bone, and ligament. He’s cutting space! This is Taijiquan. It’s moving meditation. He’s able to perceive the path of least resistance and move through it like water. He has enough gongfu (skill and experience) to know what he’s doing, but then he takes it to another level. By engaging his spirit as he works, he is able to sense things he can’t with just his mind. In a transrational state he is able to process much more information than in the rational mode. Transrational has a much bigger bandwidth.

“When I come to a difficulty, I size up the joint, look carefully, keep my eyes on what I am doing, and work slowly. Then with a slight movement of the knife, I cut the whole ox wide open. It falls apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground.”

Wu wei (action based in absolute non-action). He moves from stillness. He “listens” with his knife, seeking that path of least resistance. When found, little force is needed to bring about a huge effect. When he “comes to difficulty” he doesn’t just try to force his way through, he brings his awareness to the challenge and works slowly, trusting in his gongfu.


Prince Wen Hui’s cook illustrates two very important lessons for push hands:

1. We can better access our gongfu from a transrational state.

2. The highest level of gongfu seeks the path of least resistance.

When we respond to a challenge from a prerational (Eye of Flesh) state, our responses are usually filtered through reptile brain responses (fight, flight, or freeze). Body consciousness is incredible when functioning properly, but reverts to a fear-based state when threatened. This is the lowest level of gongfu. Rational (Eye of Mind) consciousness allows us to see differences and similarities, to contrast and compare and is an essential stage for developing gongfu. This mode can easily be overwhelmed by challenges to the system and easily reverts to a fear-based response. This is because rationality has a fragmenting effect on our body/mind, by its very nature. This is not a bad thing, generally, but good gongfu requires that we act from wholeness, not fragmentation.

Transrational consciousness transcends and includes both the prerational and rational. We still feel and we still think, but we're not limited by those modes of consciousness. Transrational consciousness allows us to sense in ways unavailable to the other two. A higher level of intuition can be cultivated that permits us to sense in ways that can seem superhuman. Like the cook, we act from our spirit, not from pre-programmed patterns of behavior. He was able to find spaces where others would only see solid mass. Michelangelo could see the finished work in the lines of raw marble. A great kick returner in football sees seams in the defense develop a second or two before anyone else.

High level taijiquan always seeks the path of least resistance. It eschews meeting force with force. Instead, the ideal is to use "four ounces to control a thousand pounds of force". How do we hope to develop such skill?

Certainly not by doing knuckle push ups and dead lifts. The answer lies not in adding to physical strength, but in shifting our state of consciousness. This doesn't deny the importance of physical conditioning, it just states its limitation. We don't need a lot of force to get the job done, just enough to slide a blade through the spaces.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Welcome to Through the Western Gate. This blog picks up on some of the themes I Introduced in Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate and integrates them into all forms of internal martial arts, nei gung, and energy medicine. I’ll be offering practical suggestions about health, healing, meditation, and martial arts as well as thoughts about consciousness research, philosophy, and the gongfu of life.

I came up with the idea of “Western Gate” as a shorthand description for the philosophical and scientific assumptions that have dominated our interpretation of phenomena since the Age of Enlightenment. In short, the perspective that is generally given the most credence is that which can be proven scientifically. This way of thinking is a huge step forward in the evolution of human consciousness because it demands that our ideas about life should actually conform to that which can actually be experienced. It frees us from the tyranny of “authority” and superstition. Lofty arguments based on the opinions of thinkers of the past were replaced by observations of what is actually occurring. Galileo got into a peck of trouble with the arbiter of “acceptable” knowledge of his time, the Church, by insisting that scientific knowledge be based on such observations. The success of the scientific method speaks for itself, providing us with unparalleled advancement in science and technology.

We run into trouble, however, when we try to apply a rational analytical approach to aspects of life where it’s not suited. Reductionism is a valuable tool for distilling the important parts of anything we’re studying, but is only part of the story. To “study” anything, we must objectify it—reduce it to an object—which can then be contrasted and compared to other objects. But my ideas about something are NEVER the thing itself. They are merely surface impressions. (My thoughts about my dog can never add up to the spotty guy himself.) Unfortunately, this is the source of much confusion. We become so entrenched in objectifying life that we forget how to BE in the world. Our ideas become more “real” than the things they represent.

The successes of the Western Gate have made it the default mode of explaining the world for all “educated” people, even allowing them to scorn all other approaches. What makes the rational scientific approach a gate for me is that it takes us to the edge of an expanded way of seeing the world that transcends and includes it. That gate is locked to those who can only see with the “eye of mind”, but opens to those willing to perceive trans-rationally.

There are many ways to open the Western Gate into the vast territory beyond, but they all demand that we gradually wean ourselves off our dependence on a narrow band of consciousness. Never in human history have so many opportunities been available to ordinary folks like you and me to explore the terra incognito of consciousness, while also living in the world. This is a pivotal point in human evolution and how this plays out probably depends on each of us raising our personal vibration to embrace Love and Light.

I look forward to reading your thoughts on the subjects posted.

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.
Mother Teresa