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Impressions From On the Road: My Book Tour and Qigong Workshop

July 9, 2009

I decided some time ago that when my new book Breathe Into Being: Awakening to Who You Really Are came out I would visit bookstores only in Arizona and California. Since there are fewer and fewer good independent bookstores and since the large chains seem to do less and less for relatively unknown authors like me, this was a sensible decision, especially for a niche book like mine.

My wife, Dasha, would have loved to come with me, but she had just returned from three weeks visiting her family in the Czech Republic and couldn’t take any more time off. So, after some book signings in Arizona, I set off for Southern California alone in my trusty SUV (ah, yes, I drive a relatively large, comfortable vehicle to help safeguard my neck and back that were injured a few years ago in a hit and run rear-end collision) on Monday, June 22nd and stayed that night and the next day five minutes from Bodhi Tree Bookstore at the home of one of my students from Esalen who so graciously offered me the use of her pool cabana. In San Francisco, I stayed for three days with a good friend I have known since the 1960s. And there were, of course, a couple of motels along the way and back (I will not drive more than 6 hours at a time), where I felt comfortable, in spite of the uncomcortable beds, in the solitude they offered.

My Book Event At Changing Hands Bookstore

My Book Event At Changing Hands Bookstore

Though the independent bookstores (especially Changing Hands in Tempe AZ, Bodhi Tree in West Hollywood, and Fields in San Francisco) did a great job in helping to promote the signings, the large chain stores I visited in Prescott AZ and San Jose did absolutely no promotion and weren’t even prepared for my visits. In fact, while someone had ordered the books and had put them in the storeroom, the people working at the stores on the scheduled days didn’t have a clue about my events. Fortunately, well aware of this possibility, I arrived early and helped them get set up. And, once we got started, the book store employees were gracious and helpful.

The book events at the independent stores went well for the most part, but with many surprises. Some of the old friends and acquaintances I invited and thought would come, didn’t show up (nor did I ever hear from them). Others I had not expected to see, did show up. Then there were many people I didn’t know but who were very interested in the relationship of breath to awakening, and we had some excellent exchanges based on some very tough questions.

At one of the large chain stores in San Jose CA, however, no one showed up for the first 10 minutes of the event and then after the store announced my event for the third time six people drifted over and sat down. It turns out that three of these people really needed to learn about the relationship of breathing to health (a couple of them had serious stress and breathing problems), so I radically modified my presentation and gave them practices that could help with their problems. It feels great when I can actually help someone in need, and they were very appreciative. In spite of the small number of people at the event, they purchased many of my books.

I arrived at the National Qigong Conference (Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA) on Sunday morning 30 minutes before my scheduled qigong workshop there. Though I missed the morning session in which all the presenters would be introduced (I had asked when I arrived if there was a meeting before the presentations started and was told “none was scheduled”), ten brave (since they hadn’t met me yet) souls showed up for the workshop anyway (it turns out that several of them had read my books and journal).

At the workshop, I presented a very simple yet powerful qigong form that I had created and practiced over many months called “Humming Breath Qigong.” Midway through the workshop, one of the people suggested that I call the form “Humming Bird Qigong,” and most of the others agreed (still not sure which name I’m going to end up with). Having taught and taken workshops at many NQA conferences in the past, and having experienced the fact that many teachers give their students far more than they can learn and thus end up creating unnecessary tension and frustration, I felt that this new form would be perfect for the three hours we had together. And it was. Everyone loved the form and learned the postures and movements very quickly (the inner dimensions of the form can take many weeks or months to understand and appreciate). One of the participants, who teaches qigong, has since sent me a verbal description of the movements, along with drawings, which I am in the process of editing and will eventually make available to anyone who takes the class. She also asked for my permission to teach the form and disseminate the notes to her students. All in all, this was one of the best classes I have ever taught, especially so because all the students were serious, attentive, and open to having fun as we worked together. It was also a huge help that they had all worked in one way or another with body awareness.

Getting back to trying to teach too much too quickly, I have to thank Bruce Kumar Frantzis, an amazing teacher with whom I studied qigong and tai chi for several years. Bruce taught all of us the importance of The Taoist 70 Percent Rule, which continues to prove itself invaluable in my own learning and teaching. Following this rule–never going beyond 70 percent of what one could maximally do–one remains well within the limits of one’s brain and nervous system to learn new activities and make the adjustments in balance that are always necessary, and thus eliminates the unnecessary stress, tension, and disharmony that would otherwise arise. As a result, in-depth awareness becomes much more possible, and people learn in a deeper and faster way than they would otherwise.

Much of my trip, of course, involved driving, some 1700 miles total from Scottsdale to Southern California, Northern California, and back. Along the way, of course, many opportunities to remain present and keep breathing in the midst of the usual experiences of traveling by auto: schlepping luggage into and out of the car, impatient drivers, bad roadside food, exorbitant gas prices in some places, radio music and news filled with static, long boring stretches where it was difficult to remain awake, almost impossible mazes of freeways, turnoffs, and overpasses in the LA area (even with the help of a GPS unit it was not always easy to get where I wanted to go), and much time alone with my own drifting thoughts, feelings, and sensations (including those related to my aching back). I stopped, though, every hour or so to stretch, move around, and relax, mostly at established “rest stops.” It is noteworthy, however, how much effort it sometimes took to “stop,” since the natural momentum of driving and the desire to get to my predetermined destination were almost irresistible forces.

Also along the way some great conversations with old friends. And a wonderful dinner with my son, Benoit (though the food wasn’t as good as I had remembered it to be when Benoit and I used to go there many years ago), who just happened to be visiting San Francisco with his boyfriend, whom I met for the first time and really liked. Both of them came to my Field’s bookstore event, and Benoit asked a very important question–both for him personally and the others. When I admitted in partial response to his question that the more I realized through the years that I didn’t understand everything about my son the closer we became, one of the mothers who was there with her daughter (who had gone to school with my son at the French American School), said something like “He’s your son, you should understand him. I certainly understand my daughter” (an assertion that came into question later during a private conversation I had with her daughter). I replied, though I don’t remember my exact words, that although I understood my son at a certain level, there was much I didn’t understand, and that it was just this attitude of believing that we understand others or “should” understand them, even our children, that prevents us from opening to who they really are for themselves and that also constricts their lives.

It was a wonderful trip, filled with many new impressions of people and places and myself, and, though I felt at home wherever I was, I was very happy to return home to the smiles and hugs of my wife, Dasha.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. walt permalink
    July 12, 2009 10:28 am

    Glad you had a safe/productive trip!

    Re: Humming (Bird) Qigong — When I was in the nursery business, I wanted to produce strong plants with healthy roots, but my clients wanted only one thing: flowers! I tried to provide good service, good quality, at a reasonable price, but my clients were miffed if we didn’t “do lunch.” I reached the conclusion that, first and foremost, the key to selling something was not the actual contents of the cake, but the “icing” that was put on it.

    Our culture bombards us with promotions so incessantly that, I believe, if folks don’t feel like something is “fun,” or “somehow special”, i.e. a little entertaining, that they are almost being deprived of what’s due them, and move on to something else. It pains me to say this. It may or may not relate to your naming your Qigong.

    Having said that, let me add: “Humming Bird Qigong” does have a nice ring to it!

    The last time I was in Field’s Bookstore, Mrs. Cooke was still there. I asked her about some books about Gurdjieff that had been recently published, saying that “I don’t want to waste my time on wiseacring.” She replied, “Then there’s really only one book to read, isn’t there?”

  2. July 18, 2009 11:50 am


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject. I finally decided on keeping the name “Humming Breath Qigong,” which was the original name I gave this form and which seems fitting. From a marketing perspective, “Humming Bird Qigong” may be more effective, but it just doesn’t quite fit the essence of the form.

    As far as reading books about Gurdjieff, I’ve learned a lot over the years from many such books. But, then, I had the good fortune to be trained for several years by a master who showed us how reading and evaluating what we read are transformed by presence, and by listening not just to the mind’s response but also to the heart’s and body’s. And that made a huge difference.

    Thanks again,


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