Yesterday afternoon, rockets were fired at us. I ran to my first line of defense – to check my email. I found a message from Ella, with a writing trigger centering aroung a bizarre time journey. This was good, a way out of now, just what I needed. What came out of me was kind of depressing but for a few minutes I was able to ignore reality by looking at it straight on.
My computer is in my safe room, and when I get into my space, close the door and turn on the fan, I disconnect from everything else.
Sometimes life intrudes – like a shake of the house, or a voice coming unexpectedly close, jarring me out of my trance. The space is there – a cocoon for the taking.
Those uncertain afternoon hours. It was Tuesday, and that meant there had to be a phone discussion: would we cancel T’ai Chi?
Would Doron, our teacher, risk coming to Nir-Oz. Would others want to venture out? We were all under a warning to be 15 seconds from shelter.
We cancelled. Better not to take the chance. This gave me a night off and one more week to try to get acquainted with the fan cutta – the frighteningly fast set of movements with the periodic zaps of the fan opening that they’d all learned last year while I was at MindCET.
After dinner, I walked Zohar, my soldier daughter, to her room on the kibbutz. My phone rang. A new teacher was seeking advice, lots of it, about how to go about teaching high school English next year with all its new programmes. I offered to help.
Zohar and I got close to the kibbutz swimming pool and heard party sounds. Soldiers were there for R & R and she decided to join a friend and check out the scene. Was it a good sign that they were still there, I wondered.
I walked back home talking to the new teacher, watching the sky and listening for booms all the while. Then another English teacher called asking for sympathy and support: “How can we start the new year? What’s this shit?”
Clearly, it was time to reconnect to society, I realized with a sinking heart. People would be calling. I’d be answering. Summer solitude was ending.
A few minutes later
Then it began – whams of rockets all over the place. The alerts were flooding the TV screen, blocking out the junk TV show I’d been staring at.
Bedtime. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I checked for red alerts and text messages from the Security Head. We’d been ordered to get into our safe rooms for the night. I tried it. But there was no way I could get into a coma state. I gave up, drank some de-caf and tried to feel a normalcy in what I was doing. Normal! Everyone has problems. Writers thrive on neurosis and ennui. Why shouldn’t I rejoice in my unusual set of circumstances! But the unusual was becoming mundane, no real seething fear or anxiety. I was in a safe room and I heard nothing, except that boom that shook the 40 cm thick wall. But still I was alive. So no big deal.
Sometime later my phone vibrated beside my head. It was Zohar. “Mom, what should I do?”
Me: “I don’t know, I haven’t looked at the red alerts, yet”. Zohar: “Red alerts? Mom, we’ve got ‘orange panther’ alert.” Me: “Oh, so, we have to stay inside?”
Zohar: ” Mom, there’s a terrorist infiltration.”
Me: “Oh, so call your army base. Tell them you have an infiltration and you can’t come.”
Good morning, Hamassssssss – so said Joe on facebook this morning. Oh yes.
They greeted my daughter before I did.
Reminds of the time that Hanna-le, night-guarding with Gadi, found out that I was pregnant with Zohar before I, myself, knew. I’d thought it was the flu. But in their discussion that night, she was 100% sure of my true condition. (*note: When we first got to Kibbutz Nir-Oz, there were still Children’s Houses where our children slept the night. We needed night-guards to listen to intercoms to hear who was awake, to go ease them back to sleep or to call their parents to offer comfort.)
It’s not just kibbutz that’s a small place, but also this part of the Middle East. A tunnel here, a tunnel there, and a stranger gets there before I do.
During T’ai Chi practice, questions arise during the break. Sometimes a question leads to many stories ranging from Masters all over the world to specific anecdotes regarding health. Ruthy, one of those who regularly comes to practice T’ai Chi posed 3 health questions to Doron.
Doron Lavie answers questions (transl from original Hebrew by judih)
Does T’ai Chi affect one’s posture and balance
Doron: Absolutely. Studies that have been conducted on practicing adults in various locations in the world over a 3-month period (note: adults with no previous history of having done T’ai Chi), compared with groups of adults who engaged in alternate forms of movement strategies. The T’ai Chi group showed 15-17% fewer falls or diagnosed physical damage in conducting their daily lives.
2. Are there standards of physiology that can be measured after practicing T’ai Chi?
D: There are many studies available of research, observations and experiments on the effects of T’ai chi on health, agility and motor skills. The most studied are: the Cardiovascular system (heart and circulatory), the Nervous system (mostly brain and memory). One of the pioneers in the field and a real ‘Nut’ in in the field of Stress Management and the spirit, is a teacher of T’ai Chi, Lawrence Galante. In his book “T’ai Chi the Supreme Ultimate” he’s devoted an entire chapter to this, bringing inspirational examples of those who have been affected by T’ai Chi. It’s possible to find a wide network of detailed information, if anyone is interested in examining the data.
3. Is it accurate to say that practicing T’ai Chi can lower high blood pressure?
A: Yes, that’s correct and in fact the practice of T’ai Chi has a positive and significant effect on your heart’s health and maintaining the balance of blood flow.
Doron Lavie, teacher of T’ai Chi, Chi Cong, Zen meditation, kung fu and practitioner of holistic healing has won championships in Tokyo in T’ai Chi, and has worked with many populations bringing the benefits of his knowledge and experience to a wide variety of populations. I, myself, have been studying with him since 1993 when he first began classes on Kibbutz Nir-Oz. I was fortunate that Doron agreed to be interviewed and am happy to share his answers to my questions.
J: What is T’ai Chi, Doron?
Doron: A Chinese Martial Art, definitely martial arts combined with awareness. It works on our quality of life: how to use the body, the mind and how to use them well.
J: What are its origins?
D. In early Chinese history, there evolved the idea that the world and its processes work according to the principle of yin and yang. The I Ching developed at the same time, according to the same principles. Everything is balanced. This balance of power controls everything in the world.
These two principles are not opposite as some may think, but rather they complement each other. It is our task to find the balance between them and in all areas of life, we need to maintain that balance. Along with that, we endeavour to learn more about our bodies in accordance with the same principles and rules. The Chinese, who originated this point of view, realized that the cosmos and the body work in the same way: the body being a microcosmos of the same guiding principles.
This philosophy led to the development of different branches. Some were religious, as happens in all cultures, some were mental processes, such as meditation, without a religious element, some were physical exercises or sports, and eventually developed therapeutic branches such as chi cong, acupuncture, etc.
T’ai chi fits combines physical movement with awareness.
J: Who can benefit from t’ai chi?
D: Everybody! Everybody who truly cares for him/herself, who values their quality of life can benefit.
J: How often does one have to practice it?
D: There are many people who practice once or twice a week, but the more the better, in accordance with one’s schedule, time and how long one can invest. As in most things, people who are attracted to t’ai chi and see results from their practice, tend to practise and develop a regular routine.
Favourite Childhood memory: There are many to choose from. When I was growing up, I was surrounded by nature. That is what I remember, that and my family life – which was very strong, very enjoyable. I loved our family trips into nature.
J:When did you first become interested in T’ai Chi?
It’s hard to say directly. Not specifically T’ai Chi, but, at a young age, I was interested in seeking something “more”. As an adolescent, it didn’t seem right that there was just daily life and nothing beyond it. I always looked for something more. At first, I tried looking for it in religion and I went in that direction. Up till today, I’m connected to it. I’m not orthodox, nor do I keep Shabbat in the religious sense, but I feel religious. I say the Kiddush (Kaddish) and I live my daily life in a ‘God-awareness’; that there’s no such thing as randomness, but rather there exists some kind of larger order. While on this search, I found many things. Yoga was good for me, and I discovered meditation which I continued while in the army and afterwards. Then a friend invited me to observe t’ai chi and I’d never seen anything like that before. I was enchanted and I went again and again and continued. And that was that. That was my connection. I connected to my teacher, who was very special. He combined mental/spiritual/meditation work with exercise. He taught the total concept of doing holistic work.
J:Who were your first teachers?
First teacher? Tzvi Weisberg, an American, who wanted to immigrate to Israel. He was the first to make tofu in Israel; he would sit and prepare it as it is done in a monastery. He was also one of the first to bring the practice of zazen to Israel.
J: When did you first go out east?
We went at the end of 1985- We (Irit and I) got married and went. I had thought it wouldn’t be for a long time, but Tzvi had always told me to leave this place and not to hang around him. I wanted to be with him, I was sure that it would take a lifetime to learn all that he had to teach, but he urged me to go out into the world and look at other things. My wife also strongly encouraged me to go look at other things. And that’s what we did.
J: What would you say were the most important elements that you found while you were in Japan and China?
I learned about processes. It’s hard to speak of specific elements. The first thing was how to learn. What it is to seriously learn. It influenced me deeply in how I saw things. I learned I could see things differently, I could do things that I’d thought were impossible. I learned that it is possible, there is a way, the mind has a lot of strength if used properly. This would be the most important thing.
I also got acquainted with chi – I felt the sensation of chi. Before that, I hadn’t really known what it was. But in the east, it was very clear – I knew when Chi emerged. It was more than a feeling of the flow. I knew chi, beyond all doubt, very clearly. Especially in a group exercise, when others had the same experience and we all felt it. It was obvious that we were not imagining or fantasizing, but that it was real.
J: What do you try to impart to your students?
First of all, I would be very happy if I could awaken within them an inner curiousity. And with that, a broader look at the world around them. If a connection can be made in those two realms, a person is taken to a better place where every day is a little better than the day before. There is an underlying feeling that everything is okay.
J: Can anyone do t’ai chi? Everybody can do it
J: What about Chi Cong. Can you explain what it is?
It is similar to T’ai Chi, but it emphasizes the energetic side, teaching us to learn to recognize it and to control it. Someone who is strong in Chi Cong can truly help others.
J: There are different forms of Chi Cong that you teach. Could you briefly mention a few and explain them?
There are many series of Chi Cong. Most of them work on improving posture, balance, to remedy disease or unbalanced emotions. They all work to increase chi and its balance. That’s the most important aim.
There are some very static forms and others dynamic, some very dynamic like shaolin. One form, for example, used in almost all schools is The Five Elements, or Five Postures (as called by the Chinese).
These are static positions which are held, then changed, from position to position, relating to the Chinese five elements and addressing the five pairs of organs in the body. This is a little different to what we know in the West.
The elements relate to the natural cycle of energy that flows between these five pairs of bodily organs.
The Five Elements balances the mental, emotional, hormonal energies within the organs, themselves, and in their relationship with one another.
Another series is called the Eight Pieces of Brocade. It is also one of the ancient series, getting its name from the lace from which the Caesars’ robes were made, a very expensive cloth. The Eight Pieces do major work on all aspects of health; one on cartilage, another on the skeleton and others on the seven emotions (joy-anger, happiness-sadness, etc).
One works on the nervous system, another on the immune system. It does thorough work.
Another series of Chi Cong is the Wild Goose, which develops the body and awareness through movement. It is one of the few Chi Cong cutta –(a dynamic series of movements). Most are static.
Because it’s not too technical and fairly easy to do, it improves coordination, orientation, and body awareness in general. There are a few forms of the Wild Goose. They all open up energetic channels, providing a good base for other movement or awareness work, no matter what it might be.
It works specifically on the immune system.
Doing almost any form of Chi Cong will relax the body, relieve tiredness, awaken the body. It can dissolve negative emotions including anger. People feel good afterwards and don’t think of negativity.
J: Would you say that t’ai chi has changed you?
In many ways.
First, when I was young, I would get angry quickly, and I was easily frustrated. At times, I even got violent. My attitudes about life were set and inflexible. All these things changed. I was suddenly able to relax, through my own control, something I never could have done before. I could deal with my frustration in a kind of dialogue. I learned (perhaps by myself) that the world was nicer than I had thought. Of course, there’s no shortage of things to fix and I wish that things were different but it’s not as bad as we think. There are many issues in the world, whether individual or on a universal scale that I once assumed were lost causes, beyond anything I could do. Now I think I can influence things, by every positive action that I take.
J: Do you see T’ai chi making a change in your students?
I have many students, thank god, everyone different, in personality, in their reasons for coming. I can see where it doesn’t work. Not everyone is ready or open to doing t’ai chi. But definitely, as they become more aware of their movements and improve, I can see how it also influences their approach to themselves and to the world. I have seen self-deprecating people who suddenly recognize their own abilities to do things. And for some, it’s a true discovery, allowing them to explore totally new things in their lives. Tai chi is a vehicle to self-awareness.
J: You have a very gentle way of teaching. You target one particular point for a student to work on and help them focus on observation and correction. Is this a method that other teachers use, or is it your own particular technique?
Yes. This is one of the things I learned with Tzvi, and in Japan or China, but mostly in Japan, during a very intensive period. When I arrived there to do T’ai Chi, I searched for something similar to what I had been doing with Tzvi. But, I couldn’t find the same style. There were many styles, of course, but due to my own state, I was unable to adapt. Nothing seemed to suit me. Also I had no criteria with which to judge what was good or not. Then a friend of mine who was studying acupuncture invited me to a monastery to watch a T’ai Chi class. I went there and suddenly, it didn’t matter about the style: I saw the teacher, a woman, and how she moved, her very being, her aura and I wanted her to help me get to her level. Wherever she was, I wanted to be there.
The teaching was very gentle, very harmonious. People were never reprimanded. Sometimes, I missed that, sometimes I felt as if I needed to be hit on the head. In China, they would do things like that to awaken awareness. When required, I sometimes use that technique, but afterwards I feel badly for doing it.
In Japan, however, they were very gentle, focusing on one thing. When I was an assistant-teacher, I used to show a person everything that needed adjustment. But it’s impossible to remember so many corrections, and I learned to look for the most central thing. People are able to work on one thing, and if central enough, other things will be corrected as well. And that will open up the possibility of working on something else. The issue for the teacher is to locate the center of the problem. When I look at a person, I look for what is being done right, and I emphasize the positive. That way I can see more clearly where the interference might be coming from. In getting to that central thing, you solve more than one area.
J: You give several T’ai Chi classes in the Negev area, including kibbutzim and the University. Do you find any noticeable difference in the classroom atmosphere?
Yes, every community has a separate personality, making it special. I work in different sorts of communities and the atmosphere is very different in each.
For example, I work with the elderly and I work with a younger group of pensioners. With one group, I am not expecting them to be t’ai chi masters, not at all, but we work with the here and now, what is possible in the lesson and what will remain with each person after they leave the class. What is unique in working with that group is that there is a very harmonious feeling in the room. With the slightly younger pensioners, on the other hand, there can erupt some rather angry dialogues, in the middle of the lesson. It’s very interesting that the lesson sets the stage for such discussions. I am not a part of the particular stories, but since it happens in my lesson, I have to deal with it. I can either ignore it or relate to it. The fact that I can dissolve any negativity that might develop is very satisfying. Sometimes, I can deal with it in a joking manner and that can transform the entire situation. So although such things are not directly connected to t’ai chi, they can constitute a major part of the lesson.
J: Are there any other questions you wish I had asked, or any comments you’d like to add?
Yes, I have a question: I often find myself wanting to give more than students apparently want. When I first came back to Israel, society in general tended to be more attracted to holistic practices but, in recent years, that has lessened. The fact is that I don’t understand why people don’t gravitate more to t’ai chi. Or to yoga or meditation. Why aren’t more people doing these things?
We are at a period in society where most people are good people, clever people trying to live well. But they focus on the external. They devote attention to their car’s colour, its radio, its GPS, but not to the engine or the gear. This is why they work extra hours, make one more deal. Even nurses will take care of one more patient, instead of going home, instead of paying attention to the time or to themselves. They themselves could be sick, but they don’t offer themselves the attention they give so freely to others. Why must an actual illness force people to finally pay attention, when it can so easily be prevented.
It takes awareness to maintain the body. More people need to make a connection to themselves.
This brings back the point I made earlier. The essential thing is to arouse a true curiousity in the self and when that happens, a person will be able to see what is required, aware of what’s important in life.
Is it really necessary to have a better looking car, a larger TV, or is it more important to feel healthier, better nourished inside?
If one’s priorities are in order, one feels inner contentment and nothing external can change that feeling.
If you are happy, you are happyl Receiving a gift is always nice, but it all starts on the inside. That’s the place to start.
Thank you, Doron.
Doron Lavie : T’ai Chi and Chi Cong classes are given from Sunday to Friday. For inquiries about classes in t’ai chi, chi cong, zen meditation and kung fu, contact Doron. Email: email@example.com Telephone: 08-651-2636
Doron has been teaching Chi Cong and T’ai Chi on Kibbutz Nir-Oz since 1993, on Tuesday nights from 20:30 – 22:00. For information about classes given on Kibbutz Nir-Oz, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Doron offers clarification
Watch a short clip of Doron illustrating a point in ‘Wave Hands Like Clouds’ (Hebrew spoken, but useful to watch)
The sunrise seen from an airplane makes planetary living just a little more thrilling. It’s good to rise above daily circumstance and experience life from a different plane.
I was in Toronto for a short 2-week visit. Filled with love and hugs (but never enough), I return to a hot dusty Negev. Afternoon walks provide immediate brown fields, steaming that distinctive stink of organic fertilizer. Flat lands remain flat, even after experiencing green ups and downs experienced in Canada.
We’ve arrived to the beginning of the installation of our protective structures. The kibbutz will soon be tunnelled and readied for sewers and the upheaval of shovel and crane. Half of the structures will be built elsewhere and lowered onto the cement bases about to be prepared. The other half will be built on-site, meaning constant noise and workers threading through our year.
School about to begin at the end of August is still being built. Most of the buildings are ready, except for the library, but the beautiful Ma’ale Habsor landscape is now dust and dirtpiles. Our wonderful landscape gardeners, especially Neomit Dekel-Chen, are wearing themselves to the bone hoping to provide the rich paradise they were imagining.
English teachers will be alone in our old English Centre, with grass and trees, while the rest of the staff will be stationed in various buildings. We’re going to be living a new reality.
But all that pales in the light of politics and heat. The new Fatah with its new upgraded denial of Israel’s right to talk peace will make these new protective structures even more timely. For a while, we were hoping that we’d simply have a room, just in case. I fear that the ‘in case’ might be a matter of ‘when’.
Due to jet lag, I dare not censor what I’m writing – who knows what’s clear these days. I can attest to the fact that while walking in 24degree celsius delight last week, along Queen Street West, amongst galleries (my friend Kurt Rostek‘s show at the New Gallery) and sidewalk cafes, I was able to breathe and enjoy normal weather. But home is always sweet and once more being able to participate in a t’ai chi class makes it all seem more like home sweet home.
Watch out for the Perseids tonight! And I’ve been assured that we’re in for a dynamic power meteor shower towards the end of December, so get your star-eyes steady.
There were qassams in Sderot today, one landing in a yard. People were treated for shock. Just last Thursday, I was in Sha’ar HaNegev High School talking to Grade 12 students about how they like living in Sderot. It’s great! most of them said, except for the qassams.
Well, hmmm. I can hear planes overhead right now. During T’ai Chi, a member of Kibbutz Nir Itzhak reported that they had a Tzeva Adom alert. It’s hard to keep students in line these days. Summer’s approaching and that, alone, is enough to rain pre-mature freedom in the minds of young learners. Now, with the added anxiety of war sounds, I wonder how it will be to enforce quiet attentiveness in the class.
It’s also hard to be creative these days. I wish a troupe of Pilobolus, or Cirque du Soleil would show up to remind us that life is incredible no matter where or when.
My daughter slept in one of the protected Children’s Houses last night. It was a spur of the moment decision. She was going to hang out with her friends who’d already spent the previous night there, and she decided to stay.
The morning newsrelays info about casualties in Ofakim, Ashdod and rocket fire up in Yavneh and Ashkelon.
Right here in Nir-Oz, the morning’s been relatively quiet. There’s no school today. I’m in contact with a few of my students. Most are not feeling the need to talk to me, their teacher! (What a surprise). But still, I’ll send them messages to remind them that English exists, still.
Take care. Those of you in Otef Azza or out of the country, post your comments or questions.
Judih 6:56 a.m. 30/12/08
Evening update: 19:25 30/12/08
It’s been a day. On a morning walk through the kibbutz to check out a potential protected space for the evening T’ai Chi, I visited my daughter. She’d just arisen from a night sleeping on wall-to-wall mattresses with the ‘Neurim‘ (kids from 7th – 12th grades) in the Children’s House. She had slept well. They’d been reassured by the security head of the Kibbutz who had dropped by to explain the sounds they were hearing, and the Night Guard who fortified himself with tea while making his rounds.
My son was also among the crowd.
Invitations to leave the area
The kids were issued two invitations to spend the next few days in other locations – one further South and one up North. My kids weren’t terribly interested in leaving, but after a group brainstorm and the possibility of spending a less tense New Year’s Eve, they both decided to go.
On Nir-Oz, the day included one “Tzeva Adom” and a few loud booms. My friend was out walking her dog on another kibbutz when the Tzeva Adom alarm went off. She ran for cover among some huge concrete pipes, with her dog cooperatively lying on top of her. She heard a whizz and saw a rocket land on the kibbutz Dining Room. No injuries. She was quite sure of that because there was no sign of an ambulance. She, herself, was out of breath from her super fast sprint and the reality of what she’d seen and how close she’d been.
Life goes on.
T’ai Chi is about to commence. People are coming from a few different kibbutzim, wanting to come together for this peaceful, self-balancing regenerator. Our teacher made it clear that he would come to teach no matter how many people would show up. He’s a provider of sanity for so many and for so many years.
Hopefully a photo to come of this incredible man who has helped us cope with various degrees of tension from war and anxiety for the past 14 years.