It was February, 1998 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and at 45 years old, I had studied different martial arts for 25 years, had been in the internal arts for more than 10 years, and had practiced qigong diligently for more than a decade.
"Just get into the zone," I told myself as I calmed down and prepared to do my broadsword form.
God, there are a lot of people, I thought.
"Settle down," my inner voice said. "Detach. Rise above the pressure."
It was the worst advice I could have given myself.
A few movements into the form, I turned to my right to do a sweeping cut and noticed a young boy was walking across the ring, just a few feet from me.
Within another movement or two, I completely spaced out and forgot where I was in my form. For a flash of a second, I was mentally paralyzed, then I made up some movements, wrapped up the form, and bowed out.
I did not place in weapons forms that day.
I was disappointed at myself. After using qigong in my life so effectively during the past decade, why was I so nervous and unable to hold it together when performing for the first time as a black belt in front of a jury of strangers and a gymnasium full of spectators?
Shouldn't I be a bit more "one" with the universe? Shouldn't I be able to detach my mind?
Last night, a member of my website -- a man who is becoming a friend -- told me how he was very nervous during a recent karate test (which he also studies) and had the same thoughts about how qigong is supposed to help him remain calm in those situations.
But here is the real secret of qigong practice.
It does not prevent you from being human.
Qigong is not intended to prevent the normal human emotions that we all experience. The key to effective qigong is that you do not hold on to emotions like fear, anxiety, greed, and other negative thoughts.
To suppress negative emotions is to give them even more power.
And that is where the mindfulness component of qigong comes into play. It is actually an important part of our quest to calm and center ourselves -- to "be in the moment."
When you are "mindful," you are completely in the moment, giving attention to the people or the situation that needs your attention. Your mind is not wandering, and if it does, you simply bring your attention back to where it needs to be.
The negative feelings, the butterflies in the stomach, the fear of failure -- it's all part of the experience. No one ever brags about doing well when nothing was at stake. We don't sit around in our golden years reminiscing about all the boring times we had.
The best moments in life -- when you are most alive -- happen when you are testing your comfort zone and feeling every sensation.
And so I realized that calming and centering were not enough. I needed to be in it.
Over time, I developed a joy of being in the moment, whether that was a happy moment or whether I was about to perform in front of a panel of judges and a crowd at a tournament, or whether I was going to be grilled in a job interview by a panel of staffers and VPs.
When I was being interviewed by a panel at the University of South Florida in 2007 for the director of media relations position, I sat down, smiled and said, "Take your best shot."
I enjoyed every moment of that interview, fielded all their questions, was honest and let my creative mind flow. I started a month later.
I want to experience it all -- to be in the now and fully feel the experience:
- To enjoy demonstrating my arts in a tournament and show martial artists something different.
- To enjoy the competition of sparring without being overjoyed or upset about individual point calls by judges.
- To enjoy the "competition" of a job interview, and display my experience and knowledge in a creative way.
- To be in the moment in a tense personal or job situation, where I can take care of problems without exploding.
Qigong helps us relieve stress, calm our minds and body, and helps us to center ourselves. The goal then should be to recapture that calm, centered feeling in times of tension or crisis.
You should not think of qigong as a way to detach your feelings or your mind from the moment. That is not living.
A key part of qigong is mindfulness: the joy of living and being part of everything; the unpredictable nature of challenges that are thrown at you, then learning from them so perhaps the next time, you can handle them even better.
I got better at tournaments. I still got nervous occasionally, but I felt it fully, I experienced it completely, and I sure did have fun.
-- by Ken Gullette
Check Out Ken's Qigong DVD with Exercises for Stress Relief
Want a more in-depth interview on Mindfulness? Check out Ken's podcast interview with Mark W. Muesse