Blog Archives

Twelve (years between) monkeys



I’ve just realized that twelve years have passed by since my first ever visit to Beijing, while it’s nearly six years since I left to return to Wales, not knowing at that time if I would ever come back to China. These are significant numbers: 12 years is the time to complete one full cycle of the Chinese zodiac, so six years is also a half-cycle. It’s also a year since I did, eventually, make it back to China, in April 2015, after being head-hunted out of the blue. A  number of signs and portents are suggesting I should take these signs seriously.


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Is mindfulness dangerous?


Short answer: no, if done properly. Usually not, even if not done properly. Alternatively: yes, decidedly so. Much depends on your perspective.
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End-of-year review 1 of 2: meditation


Candle Meditation

Well, well, well: it’s almost nine months since I came back to Beijing. Here are some thoughts as 2015 inches towards its close.

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Straight up


Receiving an elbow strike to the bridge of the nose certainly focuses one’s attention, and that’s what happened to me recently.

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What lies beneath


I’ve been thinking a great deal about filters recently. By “filters”, I mean mental filters: the means by which we exclude information, and limit our understanding of the world.

This has been a really rather fruitful process, and has led to some useful breakthroughs in the spheres I explore in this blog – namely, martial arts, and spiritual development.

A conversation I was having with a colleague recently, the topic of Buddhism, meditation, and mental filters, turned out to have a real impact… on me.

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Tree and wave



Some thoughts prompted by today’s yiquan class…


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Small steps of progress

Perseids and stars

Take it in small steps. Don’t run before you can walk. Two steps forward, one step back. In it for the long haul. All useful phrases, especially this week.

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The Blue Room



I recently moved into a new place, as I described on my main blog.  It’s a small studio apartment slap bang in the middle of St. Petersburg. The walls are papered with a shimmery blue paper, and the curtains are also a pale blue. The windows face east and, as this is the period of the White Nights, when it’s only dark for a couple of hours, that means that the sun is shining into my room for much of the day. As a result, I keep the curtains closed, and the room fills with a tranquil blue light, as if it were an undersea cave.

My moving came just after the summer solstice when, by coincidence or not, I experienced a sudden new burst of optimism and energy. Consequently, all kinds of plans and practices which had been on the back burner have come back into play.

One of these is that I’ve started meditating again – for half an hour or an hour most days, using the mp3 files from my Vipassana retreats in Thailand. I’m already feeling the benefits, though there’s a lot of lost ground to be made up.

I also realised that I needed to start practising Chinese martial arts again. I’ve been starting to practice the Cheng Man Ching taiji form a bit; I knew that my yiquan teacher’s brother has disciples in Russia, so I Googled to see if there is anyone in St. Petersburg. There isn’t, but I found a wushu group, so I’ll start training xingyiquan with them. They have a teacher of bagua, but her classes are at a time I can’t make, unfortunately. I’ll write more about this in another post, but it seems like it’s time to bring this blog out of mothballs and back into active use…

Image Credits: Curtain Call by user tata_aka_T on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Re-evaluating René

I’m working my way through various yiquan standing positions, gradually working up to shi li exercises as and when I feel I’ve understood the essence of each zhan zhuang pose. It’s incredible how even a small shift in the position of the hands loads different muscles, ligaments, etc all the way up the arms and into the shoulders…

This morning was rather chillier than it’s been of late, but no problem. I was trying to incorporate mindfulness into my routine, with limited success. I observed the patch of sunlight on the grass grower larger as the sun rose. Pigeons launched themselves from trees and rooftops with a heavy thwack of their wings. A pair of blackbirds foraged for nesting materials. I’m not sure where exactly their nest is, but it’s close by; I’ve seen them mobbing a magpie; they obviously don’t want him knowing where the nest is either, for fear that he’ll raid the eggs later on…
The mature cherry tree has been shedding its leaves for a few days now; whenever there’s been a breeze the petals fall like snow, and form banks among the grass. As of this morning, though, it’s shedding whole blossoms instead of just petals. They’ll all be gone soon. The apple trees flowered for a couple of weeks, but have now lost pretty much all of their blossom as well.

This too will pass…

I’m still tangled up in the house move; pretty much down to cleaning now. Soon it’ll all be over. I can’t wait .

In addition to the yiquan, I’ve been reviewing my ZMQ-37 taijiquan, and my bagua lately. I’ll practise for a few more weeks and then try to take it out of the garden. There’s a “hippy shop” in town, so I’ll stick a notice up to see if anyone is interested in taiji in the park on weekend mornings… That’ll encourage me to get up out of bed, hehehehe.

There was an interesting article in the paper this weekend: How meditation might ward off the effects of ageing. I linked recently to a study showing that meditation restructures the brain; now we find that it also affects the chromosomes. What is odd about the article is how apologetic the author is about meditation, and about how the researchers are also meditators etc etc. I suspect it reflects a certain cognitive dissonance in which the author is struggling to overcome the belief that this is ‘Asian nonsense’, ‘hippy mysticism’, etc and therefore undeserving of ‘serious’ scientific consideration. After all, this kind of research surely undermines the Cartesian separation of body and mind; if that happens then a certain re-evaluation of Western thought, science and medicine has to take place. It also opens the possibility that TCM theories – derided as being ‘unscientific’ – may also be valid after all… Of course, these thoughts won’t be new to readers of this blog, but to the ‘ordinary’ Westerner, unaware of the cultural limitations of their knowledge, this could be rather threatening…

If it isn’t clear already, I rather think that such a re-evaluation is long-overdue!

There was another article, on a totally different topic, which I also thought relevant: Economics is far too important to be left in the care of academics… I mention this as it’s rather close to home; it seems to me to embody many of the current problems of western thought…


Well, the trees have arrived, and have been planted in my parents’ garden: apple, plum, pear and cherry in one row, with a hazel tree starting a second row – which will probably be finished with a couple more apple trees, though that’s yet to be decided. I’ve got a row of potatoes dug, with a couple more to be done this weekend. Plus, I have packets of seeds to be started off: chili, four varieties of tomato, basil, and mushroom spores to be set in manure…

All very therapeutic, especially since spring is definitely here at long, long last and the weather has been wonderful lately. I can’t tell you how much it lifts my spirits to be going to work in sunlight, and coming home in sunlight too. Fantastic!

That aside, there have been some tough weeks lately. When I arrived at my new office, I was told “Welcome to the graveyard of ambition” and, in retrospect, I might have paid a bit more attention to that… Still, the change in season got me energized again and got me thinking… As someone said, if your environment stresses you, change your environment; if you can’t change your environment, change yourself. (I can’t remember who said that. Perhaps it was me). So, I’ll be leaving the fishing village in a few weeks; it’s very pretty but I’m not really getting to know anyone there. I’m moving back to my hometown, to a smaller place but at least I have a strong network there. I’ve started making changes at work too, so that should be less stressful.

When I was starting to sort my books for packing, though, I came across Bruce Frantzis’ classic book on the internal martial arts, and realized it was years since I last read it – and I’ve come a long way since then, so I took it to the pub to have a re-read. As I was looking at the section on the overlap between meditation and the internal martial arts, a lightbulb went on, and a big train of thought kicked off, the results of which are:

  • I remembered how much I enjoyed the tui na course I took in Beijing. I wanted to take it further then, but events intervened. However, having looked around, I’ve realised that there is an accredited course available in London that I could do on weekends that would qualify me to practice tui na in the UK with professional insurance. The next course begins in April; I was close to enrolling on that, but eventually decided that it was too soon, especially with the house-move still to come. Another entry point would be in October, running till January, which would be much more practical. It would also give me time to review all my videos, notes and books from the Beijing course.
  • Starting in October would also be a good idea, as it would allow me to take the anatomy & physiology course that I linked to in a previous post; it would make the tui na course far more rewarding if I started it with a good grounding in the physical structure of the body.
  • I mentioned how I have been attending meditation sessions at work, and had managed one session when the instructor was away. That got me looking for courses, and I’ve found a course in leading meditation sessions. Again, it’s accredited, so would allow me to get insurance and run classes professionally. I had a long chat on the phone last night with the trainer, and it looks like that would happen in June. It kicks off with a weekend course, followed by 6 weeks of home-based work.

This wouldn’t be cheap, but it is all certainly affordable for me, and is reasonable given the outcomes. If, by the time next spring comes around, I was able to run meditation sessions and tui na treatments, that would be a good thing to be able to do….

The week after reading Bruce Frantzis’ book, I was in a different pub – this one in my hometown, ie where I will soon be living again. I’d taken my copy of Sarah Pritchard’s tui na book to read through, and was reading through it slowly, when two girls sat down at the next table. I say girls, they were women, likely in their late 20s, early 30s maybe? Anyway, I could see them taking an interest, and eventually one came over and demanded to to know what it was all about. I explained, at which point she demanded a neck and shoulder massage. I pointed out that I wasn’t qualified, but to no avail – she pulled over a chair and sat down. What could I do, but obey? So, a neck and shoulder massage she got, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The other woman is a nurse, and was interested too. By the way, it says a lot about my local pub that although it was really busy, no-one batted an eyelid or even remarked at a massage being given in the middle of the room 🙂 I saw the nurse the following week and apparently her friend had felt much more relaxed the next day. I mention this because it was quite serendipitous, and showed me that should I get a qualification there is actually a market for the skills…

Martial arts: what with one thing and another I’ve haven’t been to classes for a couple of weeks. However, I’ve noticed lately that my back and shoulders have been getting stiffer, and realized that it’s probably because I haven’t been doing any zhan zhuang. Once I started again, and stepped up my practice, all my aches and pains went away, and I even got out of breath less on steep hills. So, I’m really making an effort again with the yiquan. After all, as I’ve often said before, yiquan rocks! I’m hoping I’ll be able to get back to Beijing again this year if money allows, in order to train again with Master Yao; that would be nice…. I’m also making slow progress, in fits and starts, with the shanxi whipstaff, which is a nice form.

Spring, yeah! It feels good to have a plan. Meditation, yiquan and tui na make a nice triad, and one where I’ve already got a good base. Acting, Cossack dance, and systema are another interesting triad; I’ll need more time to develop these…