Lately, my Qigong practice has been focused on the warrior stances, the best known of which is the Wuji stance. These are meditations in stillness for the gathering of qi. You feel grounded through your feet and practice letting go with the rest of your body. Energy flows to you from the cosmos.
The Wuji stance is woven into lots of Qigong exercises, but this is the first time I am focusing on it and other warrior stances as a distinct skill of their own. The instruction for these postures comes again and again: bottom heavy top light. Connected and free. Rooted and flying. It’s a double-mindedness. It has to be. Sometimes we have to be double-minded.
The warrior stances were on my mind yesterday as I swam laps at the pool in the city of St Petersburg. Almost as soon as I started, clouds from the Gulf of Mexico were suddenly gathering full of threat from the west. Our part of Florida gets more lightning than almost any other part of the country and we have to be very serious about the threat of lightning around water. If my kid were in the pool I’d get him out.
I’m feeling this way about Florida right now and I’m not the only one. (If it were my kid I’d get him out.)
The Florida memes are pretty much true today: Protest is banned, reproductive care is criminalized, immigrant families and transgender people are being hounded out of the state, the roads are being built with radioactive asphalt, schools are required to teach racist garbage, books are being banned, and our elected Democrats are regularly removed from office for daring to have policy differences with the Republican Governor. He likes to say he will start “slitting throats on day one” of his next job.
However disturbed I may be about the state of things right now, it’s nothing compared to how I feel about what seems to lie ahead. Our Governor brags about leaving Democrats as “dead carcass(es) on the side of the road”. Scholars of authoritarianism tell us his policies and language are unmistakably fascist. They portent massive, systematic violence against Black and LGBTQ people, immigrants, journalists, teachers, and anyone opposing his consolidation of power.
We can all tell this is a prelude to genocide.
I have worked in civil rights organizations and as a community organizer my whole adult life. I spent years organizing protests to protect the rule of law during the Trump administration. I worked for decades as an advocate for LGBTQ equality. I have founded community gardens and door-knocked for dozens of candidates. My wife runs a major civil rights organization in the state of Florida and plays a national role in our movement. We are not looking for more ways to be involved.
The question now is to what degree we will let our lives be threatened. Even if we had the chance to relocate we know that the vast majority of people don’t. We are in a version of the prisoner’s dilemma – our community is safer the more who stay and fight, even if individually we might not be safer staying here.
My qigong practice brought my health back from a perilous collapse over the last two years, but it is doing more for me now than at any time previously. For me the warrior stances in particular are crucibles for coping with the two minds I have to live in: staying and saving our own lives. Our analytic minds can’t easily cope with two seemingly opposing truths. Our brains were made to send warning signals and fix this kind of thing.
But I can’t fix this, at least not by leaving. Qigong gives me a way to take some of the steam out of this paradox each day, acknowledging my two minds: staying and going, grounded and gone. It’s a board meeting without the talking. It is helping me survive.
The pool yesterday kept bearing out the metaphor. Swimming down my lane in one direction I looked at a landscape of danger. Turning around to swim back and I was looking at the most beautiful day I’d ever seen.
These two pictures were taken less than 30 seconds apart and from just 25 yards away from each other. I am going to let this lesson about perspective sink in.
Our community is alive here in St Petersburg and we will see each other through this storm. We will beat the fascists. Dictators eventually fall. Greg Olear’s Sunday Pages yesterday from his Prevail podcast expressed this so beautifully through a quote from the Star Wars series Andor:
“There will be times when the struggle seems impossible. I know this already. Alone, unsure, dwarfed by the scale of the enemy.
Remember this: Freedom is a pure idea. It occurs spontaneously and without instruction. Random acts of insurrection are occurring constantly throughout the galaxy. There are whole armies—battalions—that have no idea that they’ve already enlisted in the cause.
Remember that the frontier of the Rebellion is everywhere. And even the smallest act of insurrection pushes our lines forward.
And remember this: the Imperial need for control is so desperate because it is so unnatural. Tyranny requires constant effort. It breaks, it leaks. Authority is brittle. Oppression is the mask of fear. Remember that.
And know this: the day will come when all these skirmishes and battles, these moments of defiance, will have flooded the banks of the Empire’s authority, and then there will be one too many. One single thing will break the siege.”