My Personal Journey
My Journey into the realm of Qigong/Tai Chi may have begun one day after graduating from my Master’s degree program at the New School for Social Research in New York. I went for an interview at Montclair State College, and was told that due to a faculty member’s injury they needed someone the very next day to teach Graduate Developmental Psychology. They hired me on the spot. I anxiously wondered, having just graduated myself, looking very young for my age, how could I teach a class in developmental psychology when that wasn’t even a subject I knew much about? I went back to my apartment in New York that night and wrote up notes on everything I knew about developmental psychology and read it in front of a mirror. It lasted 20 minutes. The problem was that each class was 3 hours. Fortunately, after teaching that first class, with all the questions asked by students, those notes lasted half the semester. Though I was insecure with my knowledge about developmental psychology, I thought that at least I could rely on my notes to get me through. However, one day the unthinkable happened while on the bus going out to New Jersey — I realized that I forgot my notes. Sweat poured, heart pounded, and dizziness came. I had a panic attack. I had read about panic attacks in my Master’s degree training, but it was a whole different thing being in the midst of one. So, I tried various of the methods that I had learned in my Master’s program. They didn’t work.
Then I remembered this method I had just learned in a book I had recently picked up at Samuel Weiser’s bookstore in Manhattan. The book was called Secret of the Golden Flower, and the method was called Microcosmic Orbit Breathing. I may as well try it, I thought. Almost instantly the panic attack subsided.
I asked myself how could this foreign method help me with this psychological issue when all my education in my master’s degree psychology program wasn’t enough to do the trick. I vowed to learn more about this “Eastern Qigong thing.”
When I arrived at class that day, I told my students that I had forgotten my notes; and I just answered questions from the students that day. It was the best class I had taught. A few students came up after the class and jokingly said that I should forget my notes every day. I was beginning to learn that though I had been identified with being an intellectual scholar and believed that my worth came from that, there was something deeper in me which could be tapped into by “letting go.” I was to discover that the tradition of Qigong (in which Microcosmic Orbit breathing was embedded) was a deep training in how to cultivate “letting go”— for the purposes of healing, spiritual unfoldment, self-defense, and changing one’s life stance psychologically.
After my teaching experience at Montclair State College, as I was thinking about next steps in my life, I decided to go out to California where acceptance of Eastern healing methods was more prevalent. After I arrived on the West coast, I searched for a doctoral program that would allow me to study cross cultural methods of healing the psyche. I found this at a newly forming university, called Saybrook, where I could develop a curriculum based on my interests. During my doctoral years I searched for a Tai Chi Qigong teacher, trying out many different approaches until I found my Sifu, Master Fong Ha. In addition to having impeccable credentials, having studied with various grandmasters of the Yang style Tai Chi lineage (Yang Sau Chung and Dong Yingjie), Master Ha was a warm, graceful, humble human being. The Quest to the West that I had embarked upon was beginning.
Today in 2022, when I look back the journey and the four decades of training that I’ve had in Tai Chi/Qigong I appreciate the various ways that my training has been integrated into my career such as:
• Taught master’s degree psychology students in the integration of ancient wisdom traditions with modern psychotherapy and Tai Chi at John F. Kennedy University (1978-1990).
• Pioneered the integration of Tai Chi/Qigong and psychotherapy, having taught the first accredited university courses to doctoral students in that integration at the California Institute of Integral Studies (1996, 1997).
• Keynoted the National Qigong Association conference, about integrating Qigong with Western Psychology (2004).
• Co-founded an integrative medical clinic where I could put into practice with patients the integrative healing methods I had learned.
• Wrote many books and peer reviewed articles on the integration of Qigong with Western bodymind healing methods.
• Humbled, grateful, and honored by being certified as a master Tai Chi instructor by the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association.
I’m thankful that from this fortuitous panic attack on the way to my first teaching job, my life’s work became integrating ancient wisdom traditions with modern psychotherapy. But most of all I’m grateful, to come full circle to be able now to help my patients who have panic attacks, as well as many other issues where an East/West approach helps such as: anxiety, trauma, insomnia, etc. For those who don’t see me in private sessions, my books give methods so that others can benefit from the East/West approaches I’ve been fortunate to have learned. And now I’ve finally amalgamated my life’s journey in this integrative field into an educational, integral healing, and training program in Tai Chi & Qigong. A blessing of this social media era of extended outreach is that I hope more people will be able to benefit and be able to get introduced to (online at a time of their choice) the treasures that have been gratefully transmitted to me from my Quest to the West — where I have been fortunate to have been able to be introduced to the wisdom of the East.
If you peruse my life’s work, I believe you’ll see why I grew in my understanding that neither East or West alone were sufficient for the integral healing paradigm that I was seeking— but rather, an integration of the two was the magnum opus of my quest. And maybe this joining of opposites – East & West, mind & body, ancient & modern – will become your guiding light as well. I hope in particular that if you embark upon the educational, integral healing, and training journey into Tai Chi Chuan & Qigong that you will benefit from this joining of traditions, as I have.
*For those who are interested in a more extensive look into the origins of my interest in Tai Chi/Qigong please check out my semi-autobiographical book, The Path of a Reluctant Metaphysician: Stories and Practices for Troubled Times.