Saturday, October 29, 2011

Seeking the Mind, Touching the Spirit

Twenty five years ago, I began a quest. I was 39, had been teaching for 17 years and writing off and on for the same time period. I had been watching high school kids struggling with school and parents and broken emotions. I had been watching adults around me tripping over divorce and alcohol and frustrated careers. I wondered if there was something that could help people find a path less crooked. I began to search for a natural, non-addictive aid that could help me, my family and others to become unstuck from bad habits and self-defeating thoughts. I sensed that the answer to positive change was not in a pill or a bottle. It was in the mind. But, how to reach it? How to get past years of negative thoughts that had carved ruts into our psyche? How to offer new choices for reflection and behavior to someone who was feeling hopeless and helpless?

My quest led me down several roads. One of these was hypnotherapy and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). I began training with psychologists in PA and NJ to learn how to gently focus the mind on ways for achieving reasonable and desirable changes. Over three years I attended small seminars and international conferences where practitioners from Brazil to Italy to Canada shared their strategies. I became a registered hypnotherapist and a certified Master Practitioner of NLP. For four years, I offered consulting and counseling to several hundred clients and corporations. The needs ranged from improving communication skills for a thriving Philadelphia business to helping a woman deal with terminal cancer. If I hadn't taped the 60 minute trance sessions so that clients could listen in the future for reinforcement, few would have believed that more than several minutes had passed since I asked them to close their eyes. Buddha said: "The mind is everything. What you think, you become." I saw evidence of this over and over again, then and now.

Another road that I followed, and follow still, was seeking the internal spirit that lies in each of us. In Eastern cultures, this internal spirit or energy is called prana, chi and ki. I began to study Aikido, a Japanese martial art founded by Morihei Ueshiba. I attended a dojo in Philadehphia for a year until I broke my left collarbone one Sunday morning at class from a misplaced grand roll. Although I left Aikido, I embraced its powerful principles. I had not yet felt ki, the energy that the sensei (teachers) at the dojo spoke of often, but I believed that it existed. I saw tiny, third degree black belt women throw huge men across a mat with little effort. They touched spots on my arm to block my ki that made my legs buckle, and they threw themselves high through the air with complete abandon and never hurt themselves.

I began to study Tai Chi and Chi Gung with several sifu (teachers). Tai Chi is a form of moving meditation. Chi Gung is standing meditation. Both involve rhythmical, deep breathing. Breath is another translation for the word chi. Tai Chi, although beautiful and slow, is also a very powerful martial art. Lyrical names of movements like Snake Creeps Down and Playing the Guitar can translate into bone crunching strikes and joint pressures. After a decade of practice, I began to feel chi in my hands. It often felt like electric ants in my fingers and palms. After another five years of practice, I began to be aware of the skin temperature of people around me. Once, at a Chi Gung seminar, I was asked to place my hands near the body of a complete stranger in attendance. We were tasked with trying to feel any noticable differences of skin temperature. I felt nothing of significance until I placed my right hand over his right wrist. I quickly removed it because I felt a hot, almost burning sensation. When I asked him if he had any medical concerns that involved his right wrist, his eyes grew wide. "I have surgery scheduled for carpal tunnel syndrome on my right wrist tomorrow. How the heck did you know that?"

My quest continues. As health issues surface, as parents pass away, values change. There are new roads to explore and new wisdoms to discover. As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross explains: "People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beaurty is revealed if there is light from within."

Copyright (c) 2011 by James Hugh Comey


  1. It is more than interesting to read your blog after knowing you not just through the eyes of the internet but as your son's friend growing up too. Ironic to think that I accidentally broke his collar bone on New Year's Eve 2000, and I remember growing up when you had broken yours many moons ago but had forgotten until now. (Sorry about that BTW.)

    But what drew me to this blog was your writing about your search for meaning and Happiness--each is unique in detail but ultimately the same, universally human struggle. I used to be the high school kid with you as a parent figure, but now I am married, with a career, and like you were at 39, I am searching at 33. I've been practicing Muay Thai and Ju Jitsu for many of the same reasons you picked up Aikido and Tai Chi. I've also been practicing Buddhism, meditation, and yoga. I value the physical training, discipline, and constant self improvement that come with the martial arts, and calm energy and peace that comes from meditation and yoga. Much of what you said resonates.

    A book I've been reading and find really interesting is the Buddha's Brain which draws parallels and connections between neuroscience and Buddhism. There are others but this book seems germane to what you wrote about NLP--though slightly different too.

    My wife and I are watching her mother succumb to Parkinsons, with us unable to help as we're an ocean and many thousands of miles away. Despite this physical void, there is no doubt that this has changed the course of our path and our values. We all walk a different life path, and struggle with different expressions of the same human condition. I have personally struggled more as of late, but maybe I just finally recognize things for what they are, and the picture often doesn't make me proud.

    Doing my best at 33 years to cultivate Virtue, Mindfulness and Wisdom. Elusively Simple. Have a feeling Samsara will just kick me back to the beginning so I can slip on the same mistakes and slide right in again. But I still have a few more years or need be, lifetimes, to finally find the path that leads to the Middle Way. For now I'll keep being and try to find that Way that comes from within. Amazing to think we have it already, but just can't let ourselves find it.

    Really liked hearing your thoughts.

    Be well Mr. Comey.

  2. Hi Ethan,
    I am flattered that you took the time to respond to my blog. The Dao is never simple or easy, but I find comfort in the words of Lao Tzu: "From caring comes courage."

    Take care,
    Jim Comey