Special 2004 Election Collectors' Issue
Since the Republicans won’t stop invoking September 11th, I thought I would, too. Not to provoke fear to win an election, but to provoke peace. To win, I guess, peace.
I took my first Tai Chi class a week after the World Trade Center attacks. I had not lost anyone in the attacks – a few friends were dislocated, and my sister who had been training there at Morgan Stanley for a month had left the Friday prior and was safely home in Indiana with her husband and daughter. In the assault of thoughts that day, my mind would not even allow me to consider how that day would have been if she had been here. The horror, and the gratitude, would take some time to process – only truly hitting me when I saw the first Xeroxes of others’ loved ones.
I had left work that day thinking that I could maybe help people but then ended up walking around aimlessly for hours, getting on and off of buses, listening to and talking to strangers. I thought I was helping them but then I realized they were trying to help me. I see now I may have been in shock.
Shock. What your body does when you walk into the fancy board room (where war criminals convened and where friends made short comic films) in the moments after the first plane hit, before we knew how serious it was, and one of your bosses says: “We need to go in and wipe out that whole nest of spiders." Who? "The whole Middle East." I might have judged these as words of fear and anger, even shock, if it weren’t for the fact that this company was instrumental in creating, promoting, and implementing the policies that seek to do just that, through the Bush Doctrine.
Shock. The regal secretary to our lordly CEO, instead of being relieved that our often-late receptionist had been late again and so was safe in Brooklyn, demanded that she find other arrangements to get into work. "There should be buses running." I called her back and told her to stay home. Giuliani was saying people should stay home, so I felt I had that authority.
So after I had finally reached my sister, I took a last look around my fancy office to see if there was anything I would ever need, and I left. What I needed more than anything was some sort of hint to answer my question: What the fuck is wrong with these people? They were good people, loving, warm. What happens?
There is karmic retribution, in SEC investigations and harsh media stories and a media empire that crumbles with the administration it sought to prop up. But why do I still get so worked up? Why do I never feel like I'm doing enough to facilitate that downfall? How do you reconcile the desire to have peace and love in your own life with fighting for peace, fighting corruption, on a larger scale?
In the days after the attacks I started to shut down and shut off from everyone and everything around me. I was angry with people who hadn’t called me, even though the phones didn’t work. But that Tuesday, a week after the attacks, I finally left Brooklyn. I had an appointment in my Palm Pilot to go to a Tai Chi class in preparation for a Nei Kung workshop that I had signed up for long ago, at my friend James' insistence. I was in the process of never-speaking-to-James-again after a post-attack political discussion that showed us we could no longer speak and fight the way we used to, me being right, of course, but rigid and inflexible, and him playing devil's advocate. It was his idea that this sort of thing would be good for me, but on that Tuesday, I still hated him. I hated everyone. But I obeyed my Palm. It was easier than thinking.
I walked past the door of Chu Tai Chi many times, changing my mind, chattering my resentments, my fears, mostly out loud. I don't know what finally pushed me in, probably a muttered: I’ll show him. I’m not rigid!
After about 10 minutes of a simple embracing horse pose (legs rounded, knees out, toes in, like you are sitting on a horse, hugging it!), and a simple lifting of the hands to the face, I could feel my spirit lifting my heart opening up. I had the physical sensation of forgiving...of a weight being lifted off of me. I could feel, again, that I was alive.
Though I had left on September 11th for all the right reasons, I went back to work. In the months leading up to the war, I was protesting the war while working for the company that supported it and funded Richard Perle’s sweetheart investments in defense technology and blood bags and other riches to be made off of the dead. Friends told me that being angry just hurt me. I took a meditation class at the center with Sifu (CK Chu) and was surprised and thrilled that he spent much of it discussing politics. I was afraid people would walk out; no one was really speaking that openly against the war then.
Peace for me wasn’t possible until I was out of that job, but Sifu helped, and gave me the courage to work towards what makes me happy and to have the strength to act on my convictions.
Here are some thoughts from Sifu from a recent conversation about finding peace in wartime. Apologies for my hasty transcription.
CK Chu: The fundamental problem is greed. Personal, corporate. In the corporation, it used to be that if you own a company, you are responsible for its wellbeing, but it’s not owned by people now, it’s shareholders, who want to make profit for themselves. The CEOs try to make big benefits for themselves. Even when the stock market is nose-diving, they still make money. Ship sinks, they go to another company.
It’s the same with government. In the old days, the king or emperor cared about people because his livelihood was in the state. Now, it’s just a CEO coming in and running the country. If he’s voted out, he’ll still have a job at another company.
This is particularly bad in the US, where it’s a small population compared to the world but we control the natural resources, control it, mess it up, and make everyone miserable.
And all this personal greed is a danger for the world. The person who controls the US, controls nuclear weapons and then can bully the world. Whole attitude is Kick Ass! If you bully someone, it’s not only condoned, it’s praised.
The people in power, Eisenhower called the military industrial complex, they know how to make guns, weapons that they can sell to Saudi Arabia, Taiwan. But if someone else does, we get mad. This power is very hard to get rid of. We’ve created Frankenstein. This military industrial complex will haunt us for years. They are in power. They want to perpetuate war of fear, sell arms, want to hijack liberty. We pay taxes that go to greedy corporations. And the sad part is it’s getting worse, they own everything. The media…CBS is owned by Westinghouse, NBC is GE.
And at the news corporations. Their job is just to sell, so they go for the sensational to sell advertising. I’ve been here 40 years, and I see the change in the news media. More commercials, no news. Murders, fires, that’s not the news. 99% of the world is not like that. But they are easy reports, don’t cost much money. As a result, the population is ignorant. Watching sports, drinking beer. Who cares? It’s dramatized, so you wanna watch it. Because population is ignorant, they don’t know own self-interest. They are confused and so go against self. Go with party affiliation. All of the sudden liberal is bad. Supposed to be good, compassionate. They use labels to separate by categories. They want to sell, to get the job, get elected. They lose job, so what, they’ll write a book.
This year’s election is a good example. One guy lies, didn’t go to war, sends everyone off to war. How can you not know who is better? Do we want this person, one who lies all the time, controlling nuclear weapons?
If people don’t see that, what can we do? Start from scratch. In the last year, people have been waking up, that’s why we have Air America. Hopefully it’s not too late. They use their power to suppress us. Intimidation, fear, Joe McCarthy, blacklist…they’re doing it today, too. Everybody loses, it’s not one side wins, one side loses…everybody loses.
To fix this, is not easy. It’s fundamental change. Do we all want to be like Cheney living in a bunker? Orwell couldn’t even imagine this. That’s why people want to leave. You only have certain amount of time on earth.
So how do we keep our sanity? We have no choice. We have to stick to it, fight it. But keep head high. Like Chile under Pinochet, that was a dark age. But Chile is small. We’re a big country. People are afraid to speak out. Intelligent people are, that’s why they can get away with it. Whole campaign is based on fear.
So you have to recognize that the problems exist, try to fight, but keep perspective. Keep sanity so you can do action. That’s why people drink, go through depressions. All these forces driving you crazy. Like a rat in a confined situation, it goes crazy. Good for pharmaceutical companies. Big lobby, big control. But these drugs are weakening the system. On TV they advertise benefit but list all the side effects. The ones they know. Kidney failure, etc. No one in their right mind should take those things.
So you get your right mind through exercise and meditate. The theory is that it gives you more energy to do what you want to do. If you cannot meditate, you have problems. You have to be able to detach yourself, see bigger picture, that the emperor has no clothes. Otherwise, you detach by watching the Yankees. Sometimes one team wins, one loses, it’s completely artificial. What is this, ridiculous. Not a big deal. In the old days, China went through this kind of thing. Fooling public kind of policy. Make the public look stupid, no thinking. Are we gonna wake up and realize that NYC, which we bought from Indians, but now we can’t eat fish in the water, it’s toxic, pollution? Is this the world you want? Last 200 years have been the worst. We know how to destroy ourselves, but don’t know how to heal. We’re good at surgery. Cut up. Only way I think medicine is good. The rest is pseudo science.
For a Taoist, you go into society, are a part of every day life, but you’re living in a dark age of America so to get sanity, you have to get out. Through meditation you get perspective of self and the world. Beside meditation, eternal spring tai chi. Breathing, is how you charge the body up, give body energy. Tai chi movement is to get the body more coordinated. Animal part of body--it’s not just the brain you need to support. Healthy brain needs a healthy body. They are all linked together: Tai, Nei Kung, meditation.
You are preoccupied, with own little life, the dark era, jobs, problems, making ends meet. The last thing you think about is health. But there are 24 hours in a day, you need to allocate one hour or so for maintaining the body. Just like car, can’t maintain body without maintenance. Airplanes don’t fly forever. You make appointments with other people, so make appt with yourself. For your health. If you can’t do 1-2 hours, start with 15 min. then increase to half an hour later on.
Meditation and exercise will help you be positive, get perspective, for your own health and sanity. And because society is in its worst situation, you have to exercise more. People are negative, depressed, fighting, so you need more positive energy. Meditation helps you find essence of life. We live a short time…why not make best of it. Satisfy yourself. Like a plant moves towards light. Human is better than a plant. Hopefully we can be better.
You gotta be in touch with body all the time. If you do meditation, you see that the emperor has no clothes all the time. You can’t follow others, you follow yourself. Some things you can’t do anything, gotta wait it out….like Chile…dark age…wait it out.. China went thru a lot, Russians too…people survived. Through mediation you find that the mountain is high, and the king is far away. You can always find sanctuary in your own mind.
I’m not 100% optimistic about it, I don’t know if anything good will come. But for a Taoist, it’s a turning world. It can’t stay dark forever. If it doesn’t break us, it’ll make us.
You can find out more about CK Chu’s center in Times Sqaure at chutaichi.com. (Ed. note: This piece, and the ads in Pipe Up are complimentary endorsements, not paid ads.)