Monday, October 29, 2012

What is T'ai-Chi?

My Answer:

What is T’ai-Chi? What am I aiming for? Why do I practice it? What is it?

It is unforced balance. Unforced peace. It is being comfortable in my own body. It is being and feeling honest, inside and out. It is being and feeling relaxed, ready, loose, neutral, and unforced. It is being myself and feeling like myself. It is being and feeling fluid and nuanced in my movements. It is feeling in control of the degree of force I am using in any task. It is knowing what feels right and what does not. It is sensing danger and not panicking. It is keeping my tools sharp and ready to work.  It is being efficient without being mechanical. It is being willing to proceed in total darkness with no clear idea of what will happen or where I am going. It is knowing what the state of unforced balance feels like. It is knowing when unforced balance is being lost. It is knowing how to make corrections to get back to it, or near it, or at least towards it. It is having faith in Nature to always restore and express balance. It is understanding that balance is not a thing but a dynamic process, a constantly adjusting dance of fluctuation, always a work in progress, never still, always moving and always changing. It is feeling whole complete and unashamed. It is feeling alive. It is meeting life. It is meeting experience. It is being as true to myself as I can be.  It is being aware of the utter futility of trying to do this. It is being willing to do it anyway. Because nothing short of consciously experiencing the underlying nature of Nature, in action, in life, in relationship, in physical movement, in art and in friendship is worth consecrating myself to. It is using less and less force. It is surrendering to what is most natural. It is unforced balance. 

Friday, October 26, 2012


And Karma...

Every time there’s a major earthquake or some other natural disaster, people around here start freaking out, talking about the end of the world and various astrological or Karmic debt explanations based on the way we have treated the Earth. This happened big time when the 2011 quake hit Japan.

Now I do believe to some degree in the cause and effect, relatively “instant Karma” of “what goes around comes around”. For example, if you dump poison in the water, people are going to get sick. If you treat people badly they will tend to treat you badly. And who knows, there may be some kind of Earth electromagnetic rhythms that correspond to the movements of stars that have somehow affect a person’s temperament at birth…

But…I don't really believe in Karma or Astrology when it comes to events like this. Earthquakes happen with pretty steady regularity, year in and year out. Just like tornados and hurricanes. It's just that most earthquakes and most tornados don't do any damage to our precious structures and lives. When they do, we tend to read all kinds of stuff into it. I don’t see any evidence that the stars or our past actions have anything to do with the frequency of these disasters. We seem to be looking for mystical or emotional reasons when there are plenty of ordinary and logical reasons available.

It's well known where earthquakes are most likely to happen and we choose to live there because we're willing to accept the risks and the benefits of doing so. Japan has been having serious earthquakes since people started to live there.

For instance where I live, here in the Pacific Northwest, there is ample geological evidence that there are massive subduction quakes every several hundred years. They do core samples into the ground at the coast that pretty much turn up 50 feet of trees, 50 feet of sand, 50 feet of trees, 50 feet of sand. The Indians have legends about the sea swallowing the forest. It's gonna happen, and happen again and again, as long as the Earth is still here and those plates keep pushing against each other. And when it does, I've heard estimates that there will likely be 50% casualties from Vancouver BC to Eugene Oregon. That's every other person dead or wounded in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and Eugene. And yet I live here because, for me, the benefits outweigh the risks. Japan built those nuclear reactors for the same reasons.

I don't believe how we treat the Earth has anything to do with natural disasters. They happened when the American Indians, who were relatively nice to the Earth, were the only ones who lived in North America. It's just Nature and its forces doing their dance. To say a given natural event is some kind of retribution from God, even if it's a cool New Age version of God, is on par with Pat Robertson saying that Hurricane Katrina was punishment for Mardi Gras. As much as we’d like to believe in our central role in the operation of the Universe, I think it is pretty indifferent to our comings and goings.

As Nature unfolds it’s easy to see each major disaster as some kind of break from the usual patterns and therefore the result of some new thing we’re doing to the Earth. But all of Nature's patterns seem to have sudden exceptions, and almost always, with study, it is revealed that even these seeming aberrations are part of an even larger longer pattern. We could see normal earthquake or intense weather levels suddenly increase, only to find that every 700 years or so, they always do. And of course some of these patterns are probably too long for us to see given how long we've had to study them. True aberrations that are not part of any pattern are very rare in my opinion. I say, in my opinion, because there is always the question of what constitutes a "pattern".

Even in the 20th Century, there have been way worse earthquakes that caused way more damage than the 2011 quake in Japan. I believe there was one in China during the 70's that killed over 200,000 people and one in Japan in 1923 that killed 123,000 people. It’s the same with hurricanes, storms and volcanoes. These kind of things happen with fairly predictable reliability on this planet. We're getting sharper about this stuff all the time, even given how much more money could be put into geological research and disaster prevention measures. It wouldn't surprise me, if we flooded this field with money for a few decades, to be able to predict most of the major earthquakes in a given year and have much better disaster preparedness worldwide. But of course we'd much rather just flush a trillion dollars and tens of thousands of lives down the drain with our adventures in the Middle East. That’s a different kind of Karma!

Whether a new pattern is emerging or simply an era of instability, I don’t think panic is a good way to respond to the changes. I don't even think you should panic if your house is in flames. Panicking is never a good idea. If you can do it, take a breath, assess your situation, and take the best action you can take in the best way you can take it. When it came to radiation from the 2011 Japanese quake, I took a wait and see attitude. When it first happened you couldn’t find an iodine tablet in my town. The New Age hypos and their minions bought ‘em all. That was fine with me. It was good for the local economy. But personally, I was too busy to worry until the risk got a lot more serious. I'm still keeping an eye on the situation and I still haven't felt inclined to buy any iodine tablets. 

It's hard to accept sometimes, but as a Freestyle Taoist like myself might put it:

Shit Happens.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Acoustic Music

Is What I Love Best...

Although there is plenty of electronic music that I like, generally I much prefer acoustic music played on acoustic instruments. I play two myself, my guitar and my voice. I think a human voice is an acoustic instrument, provided it's not amplified, auto-tuned, looped, modified, pitch corrected, echo-plexed, or processed in any way. Not to knock that stuff categorically. I just don't consider all that stuff to be "acoustic". To me that's electronic, it needs outboard electricity to function. I'm just saying I prefer acoustic instruments. 

I would not go as far as Mojo Nixon who said that “If you can’t take an acoustic instrument and make someone from a different culture butt dance, you ain’t doin’ shit.”, even though I love the spirit of what he's saying. He believes in directly shaping the air around him, rather than controlling machines that then shape the air through other machines. 

I don't mind electronic music myself, or rock 'n' roll for that matter, but I still prefer the organic flesh and blood earthiness of instruments made of wood and metal and skin, played in real time by real people. I don’t even like microphones that much. I prefer gear-less shows and I play a lot of them. Every now and then when the gear is late or malfunctioning at some show or another, I’m always happy that I don’t need gear in order to perform. There’s nothing quite like stepping up when the gear is faltering and doing a set acoustically that people can still hear and understand.