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Exile No More

March 3, 2012

Home again, exile…

The skull attic exile who plays simple brain-games like Floating the Triplex and Rolling Along the Midway (see previous posts) has come two-thirds of the way back home again to his lost empire.

Triplex is simultaneous awareness of the crown of the head and tips of fingers and toes — it is an overview of the lost empire. Midway rolls a point of sensitivity up and down, back and front, around the body — it is a walking-tour of the lost empire. Lastly, comes Sinking Your Weight: learning to do what Chinese boxers call “rooting.” This is you, exile, taking command of your empire once again and forever!

How to stand easy

Think of it this way. A little boy hypnotized by a toy store window never wants to leave. Anybody who ever tried leading the child away knows what happens next. The kid permits you to take his small hand, but the limp arm isn’t connected to anything anymore, having become what tai chi chuan calls “empty.”

Tugging on it does not move the little body. A firm yank (“Come on!”) only causes him to sway toward you and then sway back, shining eyes always fixed on one special toy. The fact is, to get him moving along, you must “break the root” by lifting the stubborn young man off his feet.

Chinese “soft” boxing cultivates in adults this same ability to instantly become rooted to the spot. The fighter who keeps the best balance has the best chance of winning the fight; and a gentle but expertly placed push by a well-rooted tai chi player can send you staggering backwards, arms windmilling, half the length of a basketball court.

How do adults learn to root like a child? One way is by practicing a chi gung posture called Holding the Ball (or the Tree or the Column, etc.) Chi gung is standing meditation, and this version is done with arms rounded out, fingers almost touching, as if you were hugging a beach ball.

Holding the Ball you suspend your crown from tai chi’s famous “golden thread” and dangle yourself like a med-school skeleton while systematically willing yourself to relax from head to toe. This feels like you are sinking your weight down your body. You feel wonderfully light and loose and limber up above your unrelaxed weight.

After a while, when legs tire from standing, people shift weight to their other foot or change stance, which offers some relief but only displaces the same tension elsewhere. Soon, if you can’t sit down, the legs start trembling. But there’s another solution. Take command of yourself.

You can master trembling legs, not by moving, but simply by consciously relaxing these twitchy muscles, by continuing to sink your weight farther and farther down both legs. Comes a day when your weight feels as if it goes right through the soles of your feet and into the floor, and, just like that, you are rooting. From this day forward, you can stand motionless and in perfect comfort for however long you must.

Skull attic exile trio

Triumphantly, this is the third and final of our skull attic exile games.

Exile, once you were cheated out of your body like a younger son in a bad kung-fu movie. To return in fact is to physically re-experience being there again. There can be no other meaningful definition. Agreed?

So, to remind yourself of your stolen holding’s boundaries, Triplex is like standing on the highest hilltop commanding your land in one panoramic view. Then, Midway takes the former exile for a walk around your grounds and back up the hill again. And, lastly, Sinking Your Weight makes a physical fact out of your moving back in, by consciously taking control of every inch of the no-longer-lost empire. Welcome home!

There may be a million other ways, such as years of yoga and tai chi, but these three easy brain-games can, will and do re-establish a good working mind/body unity. An endless amount of other challenging possibilities now emerges for the new old you to explore — what’s all this chi we hear so much about? — but those adventures must wait to be discussed until another day.

After so much blogging on this one esoteric subject, let me end these recent posts with a joke on me. What follows is, I swear to God, a true story.

Whaaa?! Turning into a munchkin

So, on this one night, I was just standing, eyes closed, dangling and sinking and rooting, when Something Weird Happened. I… compacted. I felt the top of me was sinking slowly into my own legs. I felt half as tall as I really am, as if I were now wearing my shoulders around my waist.


I experienced this compacting as an absolute physical event — the first new physical sensation inside my body since junior high. My six-four slowly but surely compacted into a body that felt, from the inside, to now be about the height of a munchkin.

It didn’t hurt or feel unpleasant. In fact, for a brand-new experience, compacting felt sort of natural. And it didn’t frighten me, either — remember how completely relaxed I was — because I knew I hadn’t actually shrunk.

Or had I?!

Do we ever stop believing in magic? I did open one eye and check to make sure all the furniture in the room was still being looked down on.

Weeks later, after I could perform the compacting at will, a Chinese stylist friend of mine set me to reading certain key passages in the tai chi classics, and I understood better what before seemed obscure.

Good luck, exiles! Nothing beats being home again!

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