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Gather and Release

Updated: Oct 5, 2019

Posting the outline of this quarter's Mind-Body Recovery Techniques classes got me to thinking about possibilities for the October through December session. Maybe include The Seven Precious Gestures? It's a Qigong form I learned from Roger Jahnke, O.M.D. in 2012 and immediately began teaching at Kaiser and as a Time Bank offering. My mind drifted into gesture number 3 of the set—"Gather and Release"—no doubt influenced by my having listened to Matthew Brensilver's (highly recommended) Dharma talk podcast "Clinging and Letting Go" for 2 days in a row! "Gather and Release." During an inhalation, both hands move to one side near the hip and scoop (gather). Through a long, slow exhalation, the practitioner rotates at the waist, first to face straight ahead; the hands rising, coming to heart level, now open with the palms up. The rotation continues seamlessly to the other side, the hands rising to shoulder level, as they separate (release). For the next rep, the hands simply drop straight down to a position near the hip and scoop, etc. Over and over. This side to that side. Inhale, exhale. Hands scoop, rise, open, separate—hip, heart, shoulder. Over and over. There are many ways of working meditatively with "Gather and Release." Typically in my banter, I declare it to be a meditation on "those changes that happen, whether we want them to or not." (This, as a complement to the preceding exercise—number 2—"Absorb and Dispel"—that I propose to be a meditation on "those changes we work deliberately to bring about.") That which that we gather, contemplate (as it passes before the heart), and release might be a longheld belief that no longer serves or a "rider" in a relational "contract" that one party or the other has added or rescinded (some new "boundary," to use a popular term in the trade). The exercise itself might be experienced as a kinesthetic metaphor for coming to be okay with the constant flow that is Life, with the on-going changes (Impermanence) we have begun to attend to, while undertaking the cultivation of Equanimity.


Since I teach in an addiction clinic with its parallel programs to address Chemical Dependency and so-called "Codependency," I sometimes draw on material from the world of Postmodern (specifically, Narrative) Therapy, such as Lorraine Smith and John Winslade's article "Consultations with young men migrating from alcohol's regime" and invoke the metaphor of journey—the hands traveling side to side, lower to higher, palms this way, that way—and of identify reconstruction. We gather up our stories of ourselves such as they have come to be, we contemplate and unpack them with caring curiosity, we release them and make peace with liminal (in-between) space, tracking the emergence of new and preferred stories. Brensilver, teaching from the Buddhist perspective, suggests "we can look at the ways that insisting on ourselves as 'this' or 'that' complicates our life, compromises our spontaneity, our effectiveness in the world; the ways in which we can find ourselves standing guard at the gates of Self, protecting ourselves against contradictory evidence." "Gather and Release." Brensilver speaks to the difficulty of letting go, releasing, arriving at non-clinging. And he points to meditation practice as "literally practicing or rehearsing non-clinging. That's what we do on the cushion [or, in our case, from our standing Qigong posture]. But it's a practice, we can't just stop clinging." So, we concurrently adopt Acceptance as our stance, we cultivate "caring curiosity," we extend Compassion to ourselves when letting go doesn't come easily. And we gather and release. Overver and over. This side to that side. Inhale, exhale. Hands scoop, rise, open, separate—hip, heart, shoulder. Over and over.

"Winnowing," Joshua Rome. Woodblock. 1985

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