Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ending the Calendar Year

I'm watching the snow fall this morning and thinking what a beautiful way it is to finish up the calendar year. Just watching the quiet...before it changes over to rain or the kids come out and tromp it all down attempting to make Snowmen (which is great in a whole other way).
In the practice of qigong, this is referred to as retreating into the energy of the North. Quiet, a rest time when we hibernate our thoughts and ideas... Turning our mental and energetic kettle on low, letting the flavors settle and rest together before developing into the new and bright energy of the Spring (East).
This is one of my favorite times of the year. Take advantage of it for what is is, not what you would like it to be. Remain in the moment, let yourself settle in and gently rework your plans and ideas. Allow yourself some quiet time, give your body permission to rest and take a breath before you charge forward into your next adventure.
Have a good new year...The Mind Body Spirit Marketplace wishes you well!
*photo copyright Diane Fergurson. It was taken a few winters ago in a park in New Jersey. Yes, bet you didn't think Jersey could be so stunning in the snow!

Mind Body Spirit Odyssey Book Review: A Witch's Halloween

A Witch's Halloween: A Complete Guide to the Magick, Incantations, Recipes, Spells, & Lore
By Gerina Dunwich
Provenance Press
You know there is much more to Halloween than jack ‘o lanterns grinning from windows, plastic bats hanging from rafters, and sticky spray-on spider webs crossing front porches. Halloween is also, of course, more than going trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples in the neighbor’s back yard, or attending a costume party. All of these elements of Halloween can be great fun, but there is meaning behind each one of them, and getting a glimpse into the origins of the holiday as well as the significance of the symbols, can be enlightening, and can enrich Halloween celebrations.
Halloween is probably the holiday with the most obvious pagan past. Gerina Dunwich is a High Priestess of the Old Religion and has authored many books on paganism, so her approach to Halloween is particularly instructive, informative, and insightful. She teaches first about the origin of the holiday, and in doing so, dispels common myths about paganism (or neo-paganism), Wicca, and other earth-based religions. For example, she quickly addresses the persistent belief that the devil has a place in paganism – in fact, paganism does not recognize such a concept. Although the devil is a popular costume at Halloween, it has only been a symbol of the holiday since the advent of Christianity. She explains how established country practices were misunderstood and manipulated, and ultimately, persecuted or banned, and when they could not be, they were altered to fit into the practices of a growing religious movement. Halloween truly comes alive when considering the background information that Dunwich provides. As a holiday, it has a rich history, and has been known by many names that have reflected its development over the years, and within various countries.
In addition to exploring the origins of Halloween, A Witch’s Halloween details fascinating superstitions, recipes, poems, rituals, myths, stories, games, spells, and beliefs, as they have been practiced throughout centuries. There are many that are worth incorporating into a modern celebration of the holiday, and there are also a few that might cause you to raise your eyebrows in surprise!
Tarot has a place in this book, of course. Divination is a fun pastime at Halloween, and for many people it is a meaningful element of their celebrations. Dunwich also explains how tarot might be used for meditation rituals that fit well with the holiday.
The book is written mostly from a witch’s point of view. Readers who already follow a related spiritual path will likely get the most out of the book, but it is certainly quite accessible to those who do not. It is a charming read that will enhance your understanding of this popular holiday.
a recipe from the book:
Samhain Cider
  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 cup apricot brandy
1. In a large pot, combine the apple cider, confectioner's sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. Simmer slowly on low heat for about 15 minutes. Take care that the cider does not boil. Add the apricot brandy and then serve the cider while it is still warm. Refrigerate any leftover cider. Serves 8.
As of this posting, A Witch’s Halloween is on sale at Amazon!

~ Nellie Levine 
Thank you to Nellie Levine for sharing this with us!

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Tarot Review:  The Vampires of the Eternal Night
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The Ancestral Path Tarot Deck

The Ancestral Path Tarot, artist Julia Cuccia Watts, author Tracy Hoover, publisher US Games
The Ancestral Path Tarot is one of the most unique sets of tarot cards I have ever seen. Usually, I see decks having only one common theme or look (celtic, fairy, gothic, etc). While The Ancestral Path Tarot does have its theme of the path you take (or may take) and the journey and evolution of problems and situations from their causes to their conclusions, what really sets this deck apart is that, unlike most decks, each suit in this deck has its own look and story.
In this deck, we are treated to four different cultures and eras. The Swords are based on Feudal Japan and Shintoism. The Staves are based on Ancient Egypt, specifically the 19th Dynasty of Ramses II (1304 BC - 1247 BC). The Cups are based on the Arthurian Legend and the Holy Grail. The final suit, usually referred to as rings or pentacles, is this time referred to as Sacred Circles, and is based on Native American culture. An example of each can be seen here:
By using four cultures from four different areas (one North, one South, one East, and one West) and four different eras, it does allow us to feel connected to the whole of existence. We are shown that, no matter what time you lived, what culture you belonged to, no matter who your ancestors were, we are all alike in that we all walk the same paths in the search for understanding. This is best represented in the 22 cards of the Major Arcana, which blend the images from all the suits together, leaving some to feel cross-cultural, some multi-cultural, and some with no culture. While the Major Arcana, on the whole, tend to stay close to the images tarot readers are most familiar with, there are a few exceptions. The most notable is The Hanged Man, referred to in this deck as “The Hanged One”. In this deck, The Hanged One is shown as an inverted fetus still in the womb, a most stunning image:
Another interesting difference between this deck and most decks is that in this deck, there are no reversals. Cards are only given one meaning each. I suppose an expert reader could interpret the reversals as they saw fit, however, for the beginner, this is a good way to get familiar with doing reads and learning the cards, giving them just the one meaning.
Speaking of experts and beginners, this deck appears to have been designed with both categories in mind. While, on the surface, many of the basic images are easy enough to understand, especially for those with experience with other decks, if you look closely at many of the cards, there are tiny details you might overlook. The experienced eye and reader will be able to add these images for a much more layered and in-depth analysis. The idea that you should look deeply into the hidden symbols and images is portrayed almost tongue in cheek by the creator of the deck. In The Fool, she actually uses her own image for the card:
However, if you look closely, you can see that the card she is holding up is The Fool, and it has her image on it. That kind of “image within an image” is an invitation to observe the cards very very closely, and down to the most minute detail. Experienced readers will find many tiny, almost hidden images within the cards, allowing you extra layers with which to do your reading.
This deck also offers up new spreads for these cards, as well as new takes on classic spreads. Two new spreads work very well. The first is a Direct Path Spread, in which cards are laid across the table in a line (the photos shows it isn’t a straight line, as most paths wind a little, so some cards are slightly higher and slightly lower than others. This spread is used to show the progression of a problem, issue, or decision from its history, to its current path, to its conclusion, ending in a springboard to the next circumstance/problem/issue/path.
The other new spread worth mentioning here is a Fork In The Road Pattern, in which, after laying out a card for the influences on the issue, and the current state of the issue, the reading breaks off into two forks, giving you two possible paths and two possible outcomes, so you can see the progression and consequences in each of the two choices you face in resolving your question. Seeing both paths, and both possible outcomes will give you a better insight into what your decision will be.
The imagery in this deck, combined with the uniqueness of the four cultures in the four suits makes this, truly, one of the most beautiful and unique decks I have ever seen.
For further studies into tarot reading, I recommend the books currently sitting in my reading/study pile:
Thank you to Giani for this great review

You may also enjoy:
Sun and Moon Tarot Review
Vampires of the Eternal Night Tarot

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Autumn Blessings and Balance

I’m not sure what excites me about this time of year. On one hand, I feel a hesitative approach to fall, as the days grow colder and I know that soon I will need to order oil to heat the house, and (sigh) get the snow shovel out, and I almost wish I could slow the progress to the colder months of the year. But, on the other hand, my soul is stirred by the crispness of the air, the clearness of the sky, the urgency of the birds – I see more woodpeckers these days and hear more blue jays and crows in the trees. There is a wildness all about, as leaves begin to change their colors with sudden abandon, and are carried in circles by the wind, to the ground.
With the autumnal equinox (or Mabon, as many pagans call it), light begins to die, as the days become shorter and darkness grows. But with these shortening, cooling days, we are provided with sustenance and security. Pumpkins and apples, corn stalks and hay bales – these symbols of fall offer comfort, as do the rich fall hues of orange, gold, red, and brown, the delicious aromas of slowly baked and roasted foods, and the warmth of ovens and wood-fires. We are nourished with deep goodness, to face the dimming days, to accept and understand darker aspects of the natural cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.
The autumnal equinox is a harvest holiday in pagan traditions, and as such, is a wonderful time to put on a feast featuring locally grown foods, expressive of thanks for the abundance we have been given. It is also a great time to allow balance in one’s life – as day and night are equal on this day, so might we find equilibrium within.
The beautiful artwork illustrating this post is Golden Afternoon Meditation, an original painting by ZenBreeze Art Gallery.
If you are interested in reading more about the autumnal equinox as a holiday, please see these books at Amazon:

An Introduction to Tarot

Tarot has been a part of my life, to some degree or another, since I was thirteen or fourteen years old. My first deck was given to me by a friend of my father’s – she was a reference librarian I also knew from her regular “shushing” of me and my friends. She adored B. Kliban cats, watched British comedies, and sang in the choir of her Episcopalian church. She was not exactly the kind of person one might expect to gift young teens with tarot decks. But, the truth is, tarot is often misunderstood, and those who have an interest in it often fall into some pretty silly stereotypes.
When you think of tarot, you might think of cards you have seen in movies or TV shows. Often revealed by a fortune teller wearing jingly bangles and colorful scarves, are the Death card, the Tower, perhaps the Hanged Man or Three of Swords. Any cards that have ominous illustrations are favorites, because they tend to elicit a gasp, as well as immediate fear for the character receiving the tarot reading.
Although the suspense may be engaging, this portrayal of tarot is off the mark, unless at a carnival or festival when one is looking for mere entertainment. Tarot today is not generally about fortune telling, and is more often found in the offices of forward-thinking counselors than it is in the exotic tents of “gypsies.”
Far from spooky, the tarot is simply a deck of seventy-eight cards (the number of cards may vary), illustrated with images full of symbols that evoke response. Our response to those symbols may be emotional or rational, based on personal memory or experience, on what we have learned, or on societal conditioning. Additionally, symbols in tarot generally do carry with them rather specific meanings that we should take into account. For example, a star symbol will be recognizable to all of us – for each person, the symbol will have its own meaning – or perhaps none at all, which might affect how we feel about the card. But, appearing on a tarot card, a star will also have its own meaning, or meanings… depending on what the designer intended, as well as what it might mean historically and metaphysically.
Tarot today can be helpful in sorting out our personal messes, to put it rather bluntly! Turning to the cards is simply another way of gathering some advice – advice that we find in reflecting on symbols and images that are often cross-cultural, and therefore somewhat universal and timeless. This symbolic language makes sense to us. We can find meaning and insight in the cards that can help us make decisions regarding our daily lives. Readings can help us gain understanding about ourselves and the challenges we face. I personally do not believe there is any power to the cards – the power to discern and interpret meaning is our own, the power to apply what we learn to living better lives, is also our own.
If you are interested in learning more about tarot, I’d like to suggest some books you might enjoy. We plan on offering a blog series on tarot here at Mind Body Spirit, so please let us know if there are any specific topics you would like to see discussed.
Recommended Reading:
Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack is an in-depth exploration of tarot that is accessible to beginners, and it offers significant insight to seasoned practitioners as well. Another book by Rachel Pollack is Complete Illustrated Guide to Tarot offering a general outline of tarot, the history of tarot, standard meanings of each card, and ways to use the cards in readings.
Mary K. Greer’s Tarot for Your Self is a workbook designed for the beginner. If you like learning through self-directed exercises, this may be just the book for you.
Pictures from the Heart – A Tarot Dictionary, by Sandra A. Thomson, is a great book to have on hand to look up the possible meanings of specific symbols on the cards.

Lughnasadh Blessings

A few days ago I was listening to tall grasses swaying in the wind. As they brushed together in harmony, they created what sounded like gentle music – like the subtlest harp strings or the quietest chimes. The sound brought serenity and a sense of surety. My mother used to collect such grasses, and placed them in tall handmade glass and ceramic vases, that she then arranged on the floor. Thinking of it now, it strikes me that her favorite plants were of this season… the stalks and reeds of a length that reflect the growing long of summer, Black-eyed Susans that dot fields and brighten back roads, meadow flowers in rich colors, gathered by the armful.
August 1st marks the beginning of the festival of Lughnasadh, an ancient Celtic harvest holiday. It was the time to gather ripe grains, especially wheat and oats, and time for berries and apples. Lughnasadh wasn’t all about working the fields and orchards though… celebrations included games and sports akin to the Olympics, fairs that boasted fine artisans and entertainers, the crafting of ritual items and making of magic. Deities were honored – the name of the festival comes from the Celtic sun god Lugh, known as “the shining one,” and patron of craftspeople. The fertile goddess of the earth might also be praised at Lughnasadh. The deities were honored for their life-giving energy, and the abundance they brought to the land.
As we acknowledge the beauty of the seasons today, we might not honor old gods such as Lugh, but we can certainly treat with reverence the gifts of nature. We can enjoy the music of tall grasses and collect the wildflowers of deep summer. We may not gather the grain but we can work grain, flour, and seed into bread. We can create beautiful altars that express our gratitude for what we have been given. And we can certainly embrace the heat of August, play games in the sunshine, and for all of us here at 1000 Markets, offer our handcrafted items with spirit and joy!
Thank you to PattyMara and her "BIG Blessing Bowl "Sunspot""
Sources and further reading: “The Sacred World of the Celts” by Nigel Pennick ,“Witchcraft Medicine - Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants”:, by Claudia Muller-Ebeling, Christian Ratsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl The Celtic Book of Days, by Caitlin Matthews Celtic Mythology, by Proinsias MacCana The Celtic Realms, by Myles Dillon and Nora Chadwick
~ Nellie, BlackRabbit

Intention...More on the Subject

I know that everyone is anxious to read part 2 of the Qigong interview, but I woke up this morning thinking about "intention" and a question that someone had ask a while back in the forum discussion.
So I decided to do some quick Google research on the subject, for a good explanation of what in meant by "intention". By juggling some "key words" around, it's interesting that primarily two different but still similar views pop up. The business perspective, which countless corporate seminars have been built off of, and the more spiritual approach.
Although it's done in a very subtle manner, the business perspective often tends to be more connected to setting an intention to achieve a tangible, concrete goal in the end. Stronger then an affirmation, it provides almost a purpose or a road map to stay on course towards the desired outcome.
The spiritual perspective leaves a lot more space for universal wiggle room to help shape the course of the outcome. There are also many times, for example when creating a particular product or piece of artwork... that prayers, and high vibrational thoughts and feelings are projected into the work by the artist for healing and peaceful purposes. I know that there are many artists in this marketplace who do that with their work.
Whether the intention is for spiritual or business purposes, the one common factor is that once the intent is placed, the person needs to let it go so that it will come back to you. The act of letting go detaches the person from the outcome...releases the energy so that it can flow back to you. (as your original business goal or spiritual purpose) Letting go or detaching is a purposeful action; yet once you do it your need is gone and replaced by a calm certainty that it will work out the way it's meant to. It's kind of like throwing grass seed out in the lawn and seeing what happens. You still water it to help it along in it's growth, but it's basically on it's own.

Below is a good explanation of intention from a spiritual standpoint. It's taken from the Chopra Center website online. I hope we can continue our discussion in the forums on this subject. It's been one of our most popular topics. I'm going to re-post this back in the forums and lock the comments here. Have a good weekend everyone!
“You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.” ~ Upanishads
Intention is the starting point of every spiritual path. It is the force that fulfills all of our needs, whether for money, relationships, spiritual awakening, or love. Intention generates all the activities in the universe. Everything that we can see – and even the things we cannot – are an expression of intention’s infinite organizing power.
As the ancient Indian sages observed thousands of years ago, our destiny is shaped by the deepest level of our intention and desire. Once we plant the seed of an intention in the fertile ground of pure potentiality, our soul’s journey unfolds automatically, as naturally as a bulb becomes a tulip or an embryo becomes a child. With this issue of Namasté, we invite you to explore the power of intention and harness it for deeper fulfillment.
~ Diane Fergurson

Related Posts:
It's OK not to be Creative All the Time

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Qigong: An Interview with Joanne Kornoelje (part 1)

Around 8 or 9 years ago I was experiencing some unusual energy imbalances in my body. I innately knew that it would be useless to consult a physician (although I would not recommend that to others)…that my energy just needed to be “evened out”. Although knowledgeable in other areas, I was pretty unfamiliar with Chinese Medicine and the various practices associated with it….but somehow I felt that my problem would benefit from taking a T’ai chi class.
I really didn’t want to get into the whole marshal aspect of the practice, so I signed up for an intro class at our local evening adult school, hoping it would provide me with a good foundation and introduction to the subject. Well, to make a long story short…it turned out to be a qigong class instead of a T’ai chi class. There was also a completely different teacher…Joanne.
It’s interesting how life works out sometimes. Meeting Joanne and studying with her opened up a whole new energetic perspective and understanding for me, influencing not only my personal life but eventually my artistic endeavors as well. Although I have had additional instructors over the years, each bringing their own unique style and meaning into the practice, Joanne laid the foundation. A very, very strong foundation.
Joanne Kornoelje is an Associate of the Healing Tao and has been practicing t'ai chi, qigong and meditation for over 20 years. She has taught for over 10 years with students ranging from 9 to 90. I’d also like to add that Joanne is a science teacher. Her ability to convey energetic movement as it relates to the human anatomy is quite extraordinary, and her guided qi meditations are simply beyond compare.
                                                                                                                      ~ diane fergurson

What is qigong?
Trying to quickly capsulize qigong is not so easy. Basically it's a system to move and balance your internal energy (qi). The classic Chinese idea about health is that your qi - your energy - moves in channels throughout your body. Each of your organs has its own channel, and there are larger channels that function something like major rivers or reservoirs of qi. Comparing your channels to flowing water is a useful metaphor. When streams in the forest get clogged with tree limbs and other debris, the flow of water stops. An intervention is necessary to get it moving. When the spring melt comes, the streams can overflow their banks, causing another unbalanced situation. The same thing can happen with your energy channels. When your channels get obstructed, or are trying to cope with an excess flow, pain or illness can be the result. The classic Chinese doctor would then prescribe acupuncture, herbs, meditation, t'ai chi, massage or qigong (or some combination) to restore you to balance.
What is your background? How did you get involved with qigong?
I started taking t'ai chi for no discernible reason in our local adult school held at the High School in 1987. This gave me the foundation that I still rely on today. From there I found teachers at the local Y and a municipal recreation center. Once you start looking there are opportunities all around. I also took advantage of many workshops offered along the way. Workshops will often be advertised at health food stores, holistic health centers or in free newspapers. You can also find out about more through T'ai Chi Magazine or the Empty Vessel (a Taoist magazine) or on-line inquiry. There are also regional annual get-togethers with t'ai chi and qigong instruction, sponsored by different relevant associations or schools. You may have to try a couple places before you find something that works for you.
All teachers are different, and students need to be proactive in finding a situation that benefits them. I got involved with the Healing Tao in the mid-90s, which added a more esoteric understanding to the t'ai chi process. I've been teaching since then: t'ai chi, qigong and meditation. I've taught children from 4th grade to 8th grade, adults, and also adults in assisted living centers.
What is the difference between qigong and T’ai Chi?
T'ai chi is often referred to as a form of meditation in movement. This is the same for qigong. T'ai chi and qigong come from the same root. The primary difference is that t'ai chi is a martial art. It is what is known as a "soft" style, as opposed to karate (for example) in the hard style. T'ai chi infiltrates and wins by being deceptively soft, but always searching for the moment when the opponent is off balance. A good t'ai chi player will take advantage of that moment, and uproot the opponent, while staying rooted herself. The movement in t'ai chi is also slow and repetitive, but with the added dimension of stepping (which does not occur too frequently in qigong exercises). Naturally you do not have to practice t'ai chi as a martial art - you can simply learn the moves and do them as a qigong exercise - for health and relaxation by actively participating in your internal energy flow.
I practice qigong as a preventive medicine to keep my energy balanced and flowing, and also as a way to stay focused and grounded in this life on this planet. The practice has movement - slow and repetitive which chips away at our preconceived ideas of what exercise "should be". The practice also can be stationary, meditations which focus the mind inward, connecting with your body deep inside and encouraging balance there.
End of Part One...

Part Two....

Other related posts:
From Jing to Qi to Shen, An Interview with Healer Darren Orr 

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For additional reading, two very informative books are: The Way of Qigong by Kenneth S. Cohen, foreword by Larry Dossey, M.D. Also, The Healing Promise of Qiby Roger Jahnke, O.M.D.
artwork by Diane Fergurson

Qigong: An Interview with Joanne Kornoelje (part 2)

-- Yoga and qigong both deal with energetic movement and esoteric issues, but yet they are also quite different. Often people will study yoga for years but have never heard of its counterpart. Can you elaborate on that?--
Actually I think the root yoga and qigong are all about the same thing - keep the energy moving. I again do not have much experience with yoga - although I have been taking a kundalini class now for a couple years. The movements are different, but the intent is the same.
Yoga is more popular than I think qigong will ever be - at least in the foreseeable future. I think part of the issue is that yoga appears more familiar - at least in set-up, and as more people do it, a newcomer loses the trepidation of starting something "weird". To my eye it seems more similar to standard aerobic gym classes with a set of exercises not necessarily joined with a connecting theme. Much of the language going along with the class depends on the instructor - I'm not saying there is no connecting theme, just that the instructor may not be comfortable with talking about it in a certain setting. And it can be that the teacher doesn't know or is not interested in the more "invisible" or esoteric side of the work. That can be the case with qigong as well.
Qigong has only recently gained more momentum in the "fitness" world. T'ai chi was the art most instructors were offering, and that looks much easier than it is. It is a set of moves - a "form", like a karate "kata" that requires practice and understanding of body mechanics for what seem to the onlooker to be very simple moves. My thought is that many people started t'ai chi with interest and high hopes, and assumptions that something that slow had to be quick and easy to learn -- and found out it wasn't so, and dropped out. Instructors could also tend to be teaching in the Chinese style - that is, not explaining what was going on, just expecting the students to do what was told. We, in the US, do not enjoy that lack of information. By the way, this has changed dramatically as more and more senior U.S. instructors have captured students through video, as well as personal instruction. While qigong has come a long way in the media in the last 20 years, it certainly does not have the name recognition yoga does. I don't know why!
-- You mentioned that after you became involved with the Healing Tao that you understood the whole esoteric component connected to the practice. To me, studying that is just as important as the forums and exercises themselves. Can you talk a minute about the esoteric component to qigong?--
I certainly don't want to give the impression I know the "whole esoteric component" of anything! Part of the reason I enjoy t'ai chi and qigong is that it is a never-ending study. As you come to understand something, you realize it opens up a whole new avenue of exploration.
Qigong is rooted in Taoist philosophy. It shares many of the ideas that Buddhism made popular in the west, but differs in one major way. In the Taoist idea, we are here on this planet to BE here, not to try to find an escape. Being here is full of challenges, as we all know. Practicing t'ai chi shows you how to move to deflect the challenges, to relax into the present and stay rooted in yourself. T'ai chi mastery is seen when the energy of an individual is so powerful that just by being in a place, the "vibe" (as we would call it) shifts and productive work can be done.
Qigong is a method to help discover yourself. As your focus and movement slow down, and become deliberate and intentional, so too does your mind, and then ultimately, so too does your spirit. You begin to re-establish contact among these parts of yourself.
As a more specific example, the system in the Healing Tao asserts that each of your five primary Yin organs has a consciousness of its own, and has its own set of attributes, including color, emotion, sound, familiar animal, linkages to the physical body, and more. The meditations encourage You, your mind, to get in touch with your organs, understand them and nudge them to work more as a team than a set of 5 individuals going their own way.
Many people work only with the esoteric side - they get interested in the meditations and never move to the movement piece. I started with movement and got into the meditations. I am sure there are qigong and t'ai chi practitioners who do only movement. There is benefit everywhere - the more focus you bring the more benefit there is.
-- After studying qigong for a while I was inspired to create a series of paintings depicting the theme "Connecting Heaven and Earth". Can you explain about the connection and balance of heaven and earth chi?--
A big feature of the Chinese classics is the balance of Heaven and Earth. Heaven is seen as the male essence, creative, outward oriented. Earth is seen as the female essence, nurturing and inward oriented. In the yin-yang sign, Heaven is the light color, Earth is the dark color. Notice in the yin-yang that within Earth there is the circle of Heaven, and vice-versa. Each has consciousness and desires to move to wholeness. They need each other to reach that state, and the human is introduced as the means to connect them, sort of like a lightning rod that works both ways. In some specific qigong forms we've worked with, the intention is clear. One move is called "Bring Down Heaven Qi", and another is "Bring Up Earth Qi". Without the human to facilitate this, would it be possible? Who knows?
-- Finally, one of the last classes I took from you, you were working on a system of using yoga mudras (hand gestures) and combining them with the qigong healing sounds. It was an interesting process. Can you explain about that a little further? What are the healing sounds and how are they used?--
The healing sounds relate to the 5 organs I mentioned before. The sounds can be used to relieve stress on a certain organ system, sort of like humming to your child to calm it. The sounds are not difficult chants, simply syllables which can be used out loud for physical conditions, or in your thoughts for energetic issues.
There are many physical exercises as well that relate specifically to the organs. A friend of mine, Andrena Bonte, an acupuncturist, had developed a series of mudras which also related to the organs. I thought it would be interesting to put all this together in a series following the organs through their daily active cycle, using physical exercise, mudras, meditation and healing sounds to really get in touch with what's inside us. One of the big ideas (in my mind) in t'ai chi and qigong is that we work from the inside out. In other words, we work on the organs inside us, and the rest will take of itself. This in direct conflict with the normal western approach of getting rid of the flab, or developing muscles, or deliberately stressing the heart through approved cardio activity.
*Joanne Kornoelje is an Associate of the Healing Tao and has been practicing t'ai chi, qigong and meditation for over 20 years. She has taught for over 10 years with students ranging from 9 to 90.
'Life is not the way it's supposed to be. It's the way it is. The way you live it is what makes the difference.'
artwork: "Connecting Heaven and Earth: Through Time" by Diane Fergurson

Part 1 of Interview

Related posts:
From Jing to Qi to Shen:  An Interview with Healer Darren Orr

Mudras: Gestures of a Different Kind

If you did yoga, you may have used a few in your practice. If you were a Buddhist, you may have seen them on the icons. If you ever sat on a slow crawling traffic, you may have been tempted to create a few of your own. They are hand gestures or hasta mudras as they are called in Sanskrit. Of course, there are hand gestures and hand gestures. Gestures have culturally specific meanings and in Asian cultures the word mudra raises the meaning of the hand gesture to a spiritual and artistic plane.
In the image worshipping Asian faiths, the deities are portrayed in their multifarious aspects with the use of mudras. In the photo collage above, there are eight basic mudras. The two mudras that are common in both Hindu and Buddhist iconography are the abhaya and the varada. The abhaya is the gesture of “fear not” and is indicated by the right hand raised to shoulder height, the palm of the hand facing outward, the fingers upright and joined. The varada is the gesture of granting wish and is represented with the left palm facing down and outward. Symbolically, the two gestures speak to the salvific aspect at the core of these two faiths of “surrender to me” and “I will protect you”. Along with abhaya/varada, two mudras that are specifically associated with Gautama Buddha are the dharmachakra (turning of the wheel of law) and the bhumisparsha (touching the earth). The dharmachakra mudra symbolizes the preaching of the first sermon in the Deer Park in Sarnath after the Enlightenment. The bhoomisparsha mudra symbolizes Buddha taking the earth as witness to his transformation from Gautama (ordinary human) to Buddha (the Enlightened one). My personal favorite in the collage is the dhyana (meditation) mudra where the back of the right rests on the palm of the left with the tips of the thumbs slightly touching each other with both hands resting in the lap. In the collage, it is stylistically represented with the knuckles touching. Another one worth noting is vitarka, gesture of discussion or argument where the index finger and the thumb touch each other in a circle and the remaining fingers are held straight and joined together. The palm faces outward in abhaya motion. Contrast this with the modern gesture of argument in which the index finger is held straight while the thumb rests on the other three fingers. The collage has a couple of variations of vitarka and vajra (strong, confident).
The meanings conveyed by mudras are simultaneously simple and multi-layered. If you are a scholar looking to write a book on mudras, they are a treasure trove. But, for the faithful, the mudra’s appeal is transcendent. For me, as a practicing Hindu, the appeal of abhaya/varada is direct and immediate.
The yoga mudras are used for healing purposes. The hand is considered a source of energy (prana) with each finger representing one of the five natural elements—the thumb is fire, the index finger air, the middle finger ether, the ring finger earth and the little finger water. An imbalance in any of the elements causes diseases and, can be corrected with the use of mudras. The most familiar one is the gyana mudra, in which the index finger and the thumb are brought together with other fingers held straight. This mudra is used for developing concentration, memory and spirituality. This is the same as vitarka and founders of religious faith such as Buddha are often depicted in this pose. This mudra is also practiced for developing extra-sensory perception. The other familiar ones are the prana and shunya. If you want to read more about healing mudras, there are two popular books: Healing Mudras by Sabrina Mesko and Getrud Hirschi:Yoga in your hands
Finally, there are the dance mudras used in the classical south Indian dances such asBhartanatyamKathakali and Kuchipudi. The classical Indian dance places a great importance on bhava (expression) and it is conveyed through abhinaya (gestures). There are a total 52 basic hand mudras and a number of permutations and combinations have been created out of these basic mudras (see photo for a sample of Kathakali mudras).
This blog post was written by Indira Govindan.

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Serenity of Trees

Just recently one very kind and considerate soul (yes, you Manny) sent me a copy of a poem by Cedric Wright. One particular passage reads:
A tree, a rock, has no pretense, only a real growth out of itself, in close communion with the
universal spirit.
A tree retains a deep serenity.
There is no shortage of mythological and religious resource that enriches our experience of trees. From Yaggdrasil to the bodhi tree to the entire Celtic calendar, trees have played an integral role in our conception of the universe. Our human experience has been enriched with sacred groves, trees of knowledge, and the trees of life. And for many of us, the personal experience is there, proving that this reverence is warranted.
And yet, as much as we impose our wondrous conception of trees upon them, “a tree retains a deep serenity” with “no pretense.” The tree is just being. The tree never strives to be anything other than a tree and this is it’s greatest lesson. As Thich Nhat Hanh calls it in his book "Being Peace", here are some excerpts: this is the lesson of “not talking, not teaching, just being.” And this is Dharmakaya, the teaching of Buddha that can be found within all things. The lesson is to be ourselves, to just be human, wherever it is that you are. For most of us, the hard part is to even recognize what that is. What does it mean to just be? For myself, it is to strip away the desires and endless mental stories of “what if” and “if only.” It entails a long exploration of what actions help me be happy and what actions are led by false concepts. It is discovering truth and living by it. And it is always to smile from that place of serenity. Even when my ego tells me it is better to not smile.

We'd like to thank Indig Woodworks (Mat) for this beautiful blog post.
The exquisite photo "The Tree - A Memory", which accompanies Mat's post, is courtesy of Jude McConkey.

Thank you both very much!

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Wu Chi
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It's OK Not To Be Creative All The Time

Over the last few weeks there have been several instances where the subject of of “I just can’t seem to do anything creative” has come up. I’ve heard it in discussions, read it in blog posts and experienced the frustration first hand with friends and family members who felt that they should be more creatively “productive”...but it just wasn’t happening for them.
You know what? It’s OK. I really believe that although we are all creative beings, our our ebb and flow isn’t always switched on to “fabulous” or “produce” mode 24/7. Why people continue to beat themselves up with the false belief that it should be, is just silly.
It wasn’t, I’ll admit, until I started working so closely with circle imagery (the mandala form) in my artwork that I came to fully understand and appreciate this concept. Everything really does have a beginning, middle and end...and a lot of “in-between”. Whether it be a person’s life cycle, making art, or taking a trip the to grocery store... the same order of process applies.
Metaphorically speaking... we all dance around the circle, around the circle, around the circle....and when there is a pause, we are not always positioned at the top. It’s how we handle the “non top times” that matter in our lives. Are we frustrated? Do we shower that frustration on to others and as a result bring their spirits down too? Or are we a little more wu-wei about it and just move away quietly to something else, mentally switching gears and changing our approach?
From an artistic standpoint I learned a long time ago to not fight my creative lows, and I’m much more centered and content as a result. If a painting just isn’t “coming”...I don’t struggle with it, but move on to something else related to my artwork or jewelry business. A task more mundane seems to always works well for me. It shifts my mind from thinking and feeling to a physical, doable chore. Stretching and gessoing canvases, for example, has always proved to be a very workable solution. I have to make them anyway... Might as well stretch, staple and gesso...and not think. It works wonders.
If I’m designing jewelry and it’s not going right....I paint. Or I clean my studio, list items on the computer or cook. If I’m “stuck” and don’t feel very inspired... weeding through the multitude of “stuff” in my studio also works it's magic on me. Looking through items that you have saved, or even old artwork, can be an amazing creative trigger.
Whatever your personal “artistic slump” solution may be, the important thing is that you have one. Learn to recognize when your flow is about to stall, and understand that it is a normal part of life and the creative process. Use this time to explore other artistic options, don’t take your frustration or sullen mood out on others, and switch your routine up a little. When your circle dance picks up again, you’ll find yourself in a very satisfying new place.
artwork, Mandala #5 Nautica by Diane Fergurson

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Vedic Astrology 101

(As the South node was transiting over the natal in my fifth house, I wondered how it would play out. The South node or Ketu as it is called in Vedic astrology, is considered a spiritual planet that pushes people into delving the inner meaning of things. Ten years ago during the planetary cycle of Ketu I wrote my dissertation on Hindu spirituality in the U.S., and when Diane asked me to write a piece about Vedic astrology, I thought how appropriate. It was meant to be. That is the beauty of Vedic astrology. It enables us to see events that are likely to occur. But, first things first.)
Karma and Rebirth: The foundation of Vedic astrology or Jyotish rests on Hindu beliefs about karma and rebirth. The planetary alignment at the time of your birth is a reflection of the karmas that you bring from your previous birth. This beginning karma determines where you are born, who your parents are, your siblings, your childhood and the general contours of your life in this birth. So much of all these is predetermined. Does that mean you are no more than your chart? No—Hinduism and Vedic astrology fully provide for free will within the framework of what is already determined. In fact, if there was no free will, how can we escape the endless cycle of birth and rebirth? Our understanding of the planets in our chart enables us to accept what cannot be changed, change what can be changed towards the ultimate goal of moksha. Inter-connectedness of destinies: Because Hindu culture is very family-oriented with a strong emphasis on dharma (duty), inter-connectedness of destinies is a key element of Vedic astrology. Thus, your chart is not just about you; it is also about your parents, your siblings, spouse, children, even co-workers. An event which is visible in a child’s chart can also be seen in the charts of the parents as well as siblings. People who come in closer contact in mutual relationships or business partnerships will show striking similarities in their charts at appropriate periods. Often, siblings in a family will have common planetary indications relating to the parents. For example, both my son-in-law and his sister have Sun in a dual sign in their charts. Sun in a dual sign can mean multiple marriages for father, which is correct in this instance.
Vedic astrology is considered a divine science. The knowledge contained is said to have been revealed to the ancient sages and is part of the vedic sacred texts. The principal text is called the Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra and its authorship is attributed to sage Parashara. It is considered a science because like science, astrological knowledge is ascertained by observation and experiment, critically tested, systemized and brought under general principles. While grounded in ancient texts, practitioners constantly add new and radical interpretations. For example, not till long ago planets in the 12th house was dreaded since it meant loss, isolation, death etc. but now it is viewed more positively because they are seen as indications of foreign travel and settlement. Now everybody wants them!
How is Vedic Astrology different from Western Astrology? Jyotish is based on the Sidereal Zodiac as opposed to the Vernal Zodiac of Western Astrology. Vedic/Sidereal Astrology uses the fixed observable stars in the sky whereas Western Astrology is more time based, determining the beginning of the zodiac as corresponding to the start of the Vernal Equinox. In the year 2006, the difference between the two systems is considered to be between 22 and 24 degrees and indicates the difference between the point of the Vernal Equinox and the first point of the constellation Aries. Thus, the tropical sign of Aries corresponds to the fixed stars of Pisces. Which means that in your Jyotish chart, the Sun will be located one sign behind one in your western chart. For example, I was born on July 29 and hence my western sun sign is Leo. However, in vedic chart, it is Cancer. If you want to determine your vedic sun sign, move one sign backwards counter clockwise. Leo---?Cancer----?Gemini and so on.
Because of the use of sidereal zodiac, the Sun is not given as much prominence in Jyotish. The Moon is far more important. The Moon represents the mind which is seen as the agency of perception and, consequently, is a major determining factor in how one interacts with the world. The house placement of Moon in one’s chart indicates where a person will play out her karma.
Jyotish also does not use outer planets such as Neptune, Plato and Uranus. It uses nine planets from Sun to Saturn and the north and the south nodes called Rahu and Ketu respectively.
The most distinctive feature of Jyotish is its ability to predict events in one’s life. The Dasa System (the planetary cycles) is a unique feature used in Jyotish which indicates a period during which a planet’s influence becomes fully operative. This enables one to give precise predictions during a particular period. Questions like “When will I get married” or “when will I have a promotion in my job” are possible to ask a vedic astrologer and a good astrologer should be able to time those events to the exact date.
Another system of delineation in Vedic Astrology is planetary aspects called yogas. This is a unique system for understanding the power of the associations between the planets in their placement from one another. When the planets form yogas, they create specific results which are powerful.
to be continued....

*Thanks to Indira Govindan for sharing her vast knowledge on Vedic Astrology with us. Her shop DharmaKarmaArts can be found on Etsy.

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Mudras:  Gestures of a Different Kind

The Lotus

One of the pleasant challenges of running an online shop is coming up with a name for your shop or website and for each of your creations. I became a merchant just a month ago and as I began to apply to the task of naming my designs, I was amazed to see so many products named lotus. Not surprising, since lotus instinctively evokes a sense of purity and serenity.
In the spiritual traditions originating from India, the lotus is a sacred flower symbolizing creation, divinity, and the purity of soul. Though all deities are depicted as holding a lotus in hand or seated on a lotus, it is most explicitly associated with the Goddess figure. In the Hundred-eight Chant of Goddess Lakshmi (which is actually an invocation for the Goddess), she is referred to as “Padma” (lotus), Padmalaya (residing in lotus), Padmapriya (one who loves lotus), Padmahasta (lotus like hands), Padmakshya (lotus-eyed), Padmasundari (beautiful like lotus), Padmodbhava (emanating from lotus), Padmamukhi (lotus-faced) and finally Padmamaladhara (one who wears a lotus garland). These descriptions also have subtler meanings. The picture above, a painting of the Goddess by a 19th century artist called Raja Ravi Varma, is in many respects a literal rendition of the lotus section of the 108 chants. Here the Goddess is shown emerging from a fully blooming lotus above the water, holding lotus flowers in her hands and clad in rose-colored sari . Since Ravi Varma’s time, this painting has become an iconic standard for pictorial representation of the Goddess.
In southern part of India it is a common practice to name children after gods and goddesses. However, during my mother’s generation, Padma became an unfashionable name to give to daughters. When I named my daughter Padma, back at home everybody was a little scornful of my choice. My most gratifying moment came during a temple visit when my daughter was four years old. As the priest recited the 108 chants her eyes kept getting bigger with every utterance of her name. She is an adult now and not particularly religious, but, I will say with some certainty that it was then that she became proud of her name.
~ Thanks to Indira Govindan for giving us this lovely blog post. Her shop DharmaKarmaArts can be found on Etsy.

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Mudras: Gestures of a Different Kind

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Mercury Goes Retrograde

There are numerous astrological aspects which transit our chart every day, every year. Mercury going retrograde however, is one that has always caused my antenna to rise a little higher and pay a bit closer attention to the situations going on around me.
I grew up with a mother who was a student of astrology. Every time this aspect would approach she would begin her lengthy mantra warning me against signing important documents, beginning anything new, engaging in transactions, and of plans. Although she is in her mid 80's now, I fully expect a letter AND phone call this week reminding me about the transit. It's something she has obviously learned, by experience, to take seriously.
Perusing through my astrology books to prepare for this blog post, I came across a good description of Mercury retrograde by James R Lewis in his book The Astrology Encyclopedia Here are some excerpts:
“Retrograde refers to the apparent backward motion of a planet in its orbit. Because all planets in the solar system are moving in orbits of different sizes at different rates of speed, there will be periods in the orbit of the Earth when each of the other planets seems to reverse direction for a period of time. The effect can be compared with that of a jet as it passes a slower-moving airplane that is flying in the same direction at a lower altitude: As the pass is made, the slower craft appears – particularly when viewed against the backdrop of the Earth – to be moving in the opposite direction. Similarly, retrograde planets appear to move in reverse direction when viewed against the backdrop of the fixed stars.”
Lewis continues: “Astrologers tend to pay particularly close attention to the retrograde periods of Mercury, ruler of the Mind, communications, travel, and related matters. The period of Mercury’s retrogradation may be considered fortunate for introverted activities like reflection and meditation but it is considered unfortunate for traveling and making important decisions (e.g., signing contracts). Travel is sometimes delayed while Mercury is retrograde, and decisions made during such periods are often reversed after Mercury goes direct.”

Mercury Retrograde 2012

March 11/12 to April 4
July 14 to August 7
November 6 to November 26


February 23 to March 17
June 26 to July 20
October 21 to November 10


February 6 to February 28
June 7 to June 30
October 4 to October 25


January 21 to February 11
May 18 to June 11
September 17 to October 9
About the image... This illustration of Mercury is originally from De Sphaera, an illuminated astrology manuscript from the Italian Renaissance.
~ Diane

You may also enjoy reading:
Vedic Astrology 101
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