Sunday, August 27, 2017

In the Valley...

It's been exactly twenty-one days since I returned home, returned to 'the valley.' The transition from being away on the mountain for the previous six months and coming back here has been revelatory, disheartening, affirming, and challenging. More now than ever, I feel how oppressive living in an urban setting can be to the spirit of a person. And, while I've observed what appears to be a qualitative difference between living on 110th Street-St. Nicholas Avenue and living on 110th Street-Riverside Drive that is facilitated by wealth, the assault of asphalt, brick, mortar, incessant blaring noises, bright lights, and stench from sewers nevertheless assails us all.

About ten days ago, on the way home from teaching a Taiji/Qigong class in St. Nicholas Park, I saw a yellow dress and sandals strewn on the sidewalk near the wrought iron fence surrounding the buildings on the block. I assumed that someone had unknowingly dropped them, perhaps on the way to Goodwill? As I walked a few steps further down the block, I saw a black woman leaning against a parked SUV canopied by an overhanging tree. She was stark naked and barefoot except for her gray panties and bra. Her eyes were empty and she looked exceedingly tired. It was a miserably hot and humid New York afternoon, but her choice to unburden herself of her dress and sandals, in broad daylight, spoke more to me about how she was coping with the madness of her existence rather than an inappropriate reaction to the weather.

One morning earlier this week, I was on my way to the subway station to teach a Qigong class at the Jewish Community Center on Amsterdam Avenue. As I neared the corner before crossing the street, I saw this disheveled older black man humped over an even more disheveled older black woman. Both were clothed, but his dirty pants were down by his knees and so were hers. Their loose fitting and oversized tops hid the obvious, but it was clear that he was having sex with her. Right there. In broad daylight. And there was an occupied New York police car double parked on the street directly across from them. A woman going in the opposite direction from me looked and then turned her head in disbelief as she continued on her way. I was shocked, dismayed, and angered by this. I wasn't angry at the two people--it was obvious that they were not mentally and emotionally well; part of the homeless unseen and uncared for in our culture.

What I was angry about is that these types of contortions of the spirit, psyche, and body to chronic assaults from a culture that systematically denigrates human worth has been happening my whole life, literally. I first became acutely aware of this at the age of fourteen after retuning to Harlem from participating in an eight-week summer academic and cultural enrichment program (the Greater Opportunity Program) for one hundred inner city boys at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. This is a preparatory school (High School) that currently has over a half billion dollar endowment, a five to one student-teacher ratio, and where annual tuition and room & board is sixty-five thousand dollars per student. It is an eight hundred acre property with its own lake, golf course, etc. and where the progeny of the Fords, DuPonts, and Mars have attended.

Returning from the Hotchkiss School and getting off that Metro North train at 125th Street and Park Avenue that summer in 1965, my spirit was torn asunder by the vivid contrast between life in Lakeville and home--Harlem had a distinctive stench to it I had not noticed before, I was able to see what appeared to be teeming heroin addicts everywhere as if for the very first time, and the brick, asphalt and mortar of the city was overwhelming. I was traumatized by this and desperately needed to do something to change it, to help. It shaped the trajectory of my life...Not much seems to have changed in the past fifty-two years in that particular area of Harlem despite the steady march forward of gentrification. Those who have not seem to have less and are worse off, in fact.

I recently met a woman who heads an organization that now offers hot meals from a brightly painted freight container parked on the sidewalk under the Metro North train platform on 125th Street and Park Avenue. She also manages having a weekly farmer's market selling locally grown foods to the community at that same location. While the strong odor of urine and sometimes human feces still is noticeable, the darkness that was so pervasive there has diminished considerably, in part, through her efforts. We had a conversation about my experience as a fourteen year old, her strategy and goals for the area, and my years of teaching Qigong and Taijiquan. We agreed that space holds energy and that energy can transform space. As such, I suggested that perhaps having my students do their weekly Qigong and Taijiquan sessions there at least once monthly might help change the energetic field and accelerate the change we were both interested in seeing happen.

So, returning home to the valley from the mountain this summer has provided me an opportunity to come full circle in a very unexpected way. This journey that I was compelled to begin fifty-two years ago as a child has led me down a variety of paths seeking ways to make life better for those who are typically underserved in urban communities. I originally enrolled in college with the intent of becoming an architect or urban planner thinking that changing the tenement housing environments people lived would change their lives. I then pursued artistic skills as a writer and performing poet thinking that influencing the way people thought would be the answer. Subsequently, I became a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist seeking to improve the health and well-being of those beset with easily preventable chronic illnesses. And, now my goal is to synthesize all of my skill sets with a focus on teaching people how to cultivate their resilience to be self-reliant, self-referenced as they  live life optimally and well. In other words, teaching people how to fish rather than giving them a fish. I firmly believe that Qigong and Taijiquan  are portals providing access to energy and vibrational  resources that can literally help transform one's mind, perception, emotions, and behavior in support of living one's life with spiritual integrity and clarity. Change the vibrational field within yourself and consistently practice these disciplines to effectively influence the space you occupy. That seems to me to be the deepest level of lasting revolution-evolution...

I had hoped to practice and train more regularly while off the mountain, but that has not happened. I realized I actually needed to REST after nine months of strenuous training. The signs were there--the first two weeks my lower back was working itself through an unexpected series of spasms that were pretty uncomfortable probably from sitting in planes and airports for over 9 hours. Then I had sudden problems chewing without pain which got progressively worse. I visited my dentist to find out I had two root canals that needed to be done. This was painful, time consuming, and expensive (Medicare does not cover dental costs; especially root canals).

However, it hasn't been all gloom and doom. My Heather treated me to a trip to Mexico as a way to celebrate my completing the first year of training. This was a wonderful experience together! I was introduced to the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan by Julia Kulokova and had a wonderful opportunity to teach Qigong to the seniors there and look forward to doing so on my breaks. I also taught my students at the SAGE Center and, of course, my regular students at St. Nicholas Park. I also spent time sharing my first year experiences with a group of sponsors who continue to support me and my goals to complete the 3-Year Training Program. Without their support and the support of my family, this would be very difficult and I am continually grateful.

Soon, I will be back on the mountain. Once I get re-acclimated to the training schedule, I will keep you posted about my experiences. So, stay tuned...

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All things are possible once you clearly see it, commit your every action to achieving it, and know that what appears to be a roadblock in your way or failure is just preparation for more than you even anticipated achieving. Don't give in, don't give up!