Finding Chi

by Buffy Owens

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The Year was 1994 and I was a bicycling dread-head with a desperate urge to grow my consciousness, heal my body and figure out why the holy heavens I was here on earth.

I had not yet entered my 20’s and although I had lived in at least five states, all of them were in the Midwest…  which by the way is awesome for oh-so many reasons. But none the less, my belly ached with a desire to find something different — to be something different.

I was living in a personally mystical time and in the magical town of Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was blessed to be a part of a wonderful tribe of women who were all searching for a way to live more fully and a way to make their mark on this earth.

Yet somehow, even while so young, I felt deep down as though I had already missed out on a lifetime.

Ridiculous I know.

But this feeling gnawed at my soul until the only remedy I could muster was to walk the path of mindfulness & embodied movement.

Do not try to forget the past; it is impossible to forget the past without forgetting oneself at the same time.
— Moshe Feldenkrais, The Potent Self (pg xxxv)

So I read books

I read books on Feldenkrais, yoga, meditation and much more. I put what I read into practice, daily. In fact, I was a bit insatiable in my spiritual seeking.

I searched for teachers in the flesh.

A guru to show me the way.

Now in that time in Tulsa, there was no shortage of guru wannabees lingering about Cherry Street. Perhaps many of them were perfect teachers for others, but they didn’t quite resonate with me.

Then one day, a friend introduced me to Lin. A short intellectual man from China who was working on his PhD at Tulsa University and teaching Tai Chi & Qigong on the side. We met in Woodward Park, just under a large magnolia tree. No guile. No frills. Just straight instruction on Tai Chi with a bit of silent practice at the end of our session.

Perfect. Someone to show me the form and encourage me to practice.

So we met each week under that tree. We would review and refine what I had learned the week before and add a new movement sequence for me to learn and practice on my own. Eventually, I learned all of the 108 sequences of the Yang Style Long Form.

Moving Past Form and Into The Formless

Lin encouraged me to come to his Qigong class. Now I was very interested in qigong, but I was also horrified by the idea of joining the class. Qigong was more elusive than learning the moves of Tai Chi. I would be the only female, the youngest person and the one with the least amount of experience.

I felt small and unworthy, but I went anyway.

The class was different than our private sessions. It started off with a more metaphysical discussion on the BIG reasons why we practice Tai Chi. I listened to Lin speak like listening to a fairytale— enchanted and in disbelief.

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Then I heard him say, “…my mother only has one more life to live.”

Wait. What?

There’s more than one life to live?

Bamb! My world was shaken. I had heard of reincarnation before. But his mother!? I didn’t know anyone who lived this belief. Let alone, their mother.

So I blurted out, “How do you know she only has one more life to live?”

Without hesitation, he said, “Because she can walk through walls.”

Shut the front door! Mothers who walk through walls?! It split my mind wide open! My current reality was arguing, negotiating and whirling… and I didn’t know what to believe.

I can’t tell you what was said next or how long he talked. But I can tell you that every cell in my body felt uprooted — dizzy and confused.

So we practiced.

As we moved into practice, the men faced north and I (the only woman) faced south. Lin moved gracefully through the motions and offered up precise verbal cues.

But only a few minutes after we began, Lin looked directly at me and barked, “You are faking it! Just going through the motions. Find your chi!”

I nearly cried.

He must have noticed. Because he softly walked across the room and gently placed a ball of chi in my hands as he whispered, “Like this.” My eyes nearly popped out of my head. I couldn’t see anything, but I could feel the weight, the size, the shape.

It was real!

Three Things I Took Away From This Experience

  1. Reality is not a fixed thing. Sometimes it gradually takes form over time and sometimes it is flipped on its head.
  2. Sensing something that was previously unimaginable can feel impossible, but it’s worth the pursuit.
  3. My self-image is a result of the culture I am from and the experiences I have had, but it is (I am) also capable of expanding.