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Life energy

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Michael Hedges embraced the "life energy" (chi kung or qigong) exercises that originated in China.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Back in October 2017, I wrote an article called “20 Years On: Remembering 4 great singers and musicians,” highlighting the life, career and death of Michael Hutchence of INXS, John Denver, Rich Mullins and Michael Hedges. All four men died, tragically, in the autumn of 1997.

While I don’t know much about Hutchence’s spiritual leanings, the other three men were quite open about the fact that they on a decidedly spiritual path. Denver, who helped spark the environmental movement in the 1970’s, was viewed as a kind and enlightened human being. Mullins, whom I knew in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, seemed almost like a time traveler, a man who came to our time from the days of St. Francis of Assisi, or even ancient Judea in the time of Jesus Christ. His Christian message was honest, pure and heartfelt.

Rich Mullins deep into playing his beloved hammered dulcimer in the early 1990's. (YouTube)

And the final musician, Michael Hedges, recorded primarily acoustic music that expressed through his guitar in a way that can only be called spiritual.

In 1994, Anil Prasad, writing for Innerviews, interviewed Hedges in an article titled "Finding flow," and, at one point, asked the Enid, Oklahoma native about “the elements of his spiritual path.”

Hedges replied, in part: “It involves no dogma, you see. To me, it is freedom. What is freedom? To me, freedom is what will allow your spirit to expand and grow or gain consciousness. It’s a consciousness expansion. It involves no set pattern. It’s not Christian or Buddhist or anything that can be labeled. It’s the same problem as when you try to categorize music. How can you classify a person’s spiritual path? You can say what influenced it, but you can’t define it as it’s happening. The definition comes after it’s happened. I’m not a member of any organization. I have teachers and this is important to me. I started studying with a Chinese master who taught me Chi Kung (quigong). ‘Chi’ is energy. ‘Kung’ is exercise. That’s how simple it is – energy and exercise. You study Chi Kung and you’re presented with ways to enable your energy to flow throughout your body.

Hedges continues: “What my teacher does is explain the compositional journey and then you go and are free to do whatever you want to. So I apply Chi Kung to my guitar playing and musicianship. It doesn’t mean that I’m following any particular kind of exercise. It’s an awareness that my teacher has given me for energy and he does that with direct transmission. When you’re in a room with this guy, you just get it. It’s really beyond words. It’s just an awareness you get throughout your body. Some people would call this feeling ‘the spirit of the Lord.’ They’d say Jesus Christ gave this to them. And if I was into the Christian form of Chi Kung, I would say that. You feel something in yourself and call it that. But to me, it’s more sacred and personal.”

Prasad, at this point in the interview, says Hedges is “beaming” as he shares all of this insight. Hedges admits he was “fucked up” at one point and when he began to release the ego, and realized he wasn’t “the big man” he thought he was, things turned around.

And discussing his then-just-released ’94 LP The Road to Return, Hedges talks about “finding that God self or finding God within you,” while expressing it “through symbols.” Continuing, Hedges says: “So, The Road to Return is a symbol for inner expansion …

But back to his embrace of qigong.

In Marc S. Micozzi’s 2010 book Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the author explains that qigong “comprises a diverse set of practices that coordinate body, breath and mind, based on Chinese philosophy. Practices include moving and still meditation, massage, chanting, sound meditation, and non-contact treatments, performed in a broad array of body postures.”

Deep diaphragmatic breathing and calm mental focus – as one visualizes qi going through the body. I imagine in his final years of recording and performing, Hedges incorporated qigong as part of the creative process.

And while I don't personally practice qigong, I am fascinated with it and its ability to improve the human condition. That said, I'm also stunned at how much it has come up of late, featured in an entire chapter of Annie Jacobsen's recent book  Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government's Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis and was titled "Qigong and the Mystery of H.S. Tsien."

Tsien was a key figure in America during World War II and when he was betrayed by his adoptive country, he returned to China a committed Communist, willing to help his homeland undermine the U.S. U.S. spy agencies would learn that the incredibly talented Tsien was also very vocal in his support of ESP, PK and qigong

"China has a long and rich tradition of spirit culture, extrasensory perception and superstition," writes Jacobsen. "The I Ching, or Book of Changes, (1000-750 BC), is one of the oldest and most widely read ancient divination texts in the world. It is sadi to have shaped Chinese philosophy, science, and statecraft for thousands of years."

Tsien, meanwhile, would promote the notion that there was a "symbiotic relationship between outer space and inner space, between the cosmos and man. The link, Tsien said, "was qi."

Tsien noted "extraordinary human body function" (EHBF) and how a body, during a time of war, can benefit from EHBF, while ESP abilities could "influence animate or inanimate objects." 

Continuing, Jacobsen notes that the CIA was interested in learning more about ancient, occult practices emenating from China during the Cold War years and the rise of Chinese Communism and the People's Republic of China, which today is the world power making waves, as America turns seemingly inward - confused and uncertain at this point in history. It seems as though China - on this Chinese New Year - the Year of the Pig - is taking advantage of the state of the world. 

Anyway, noting how a martial arts master in China had "studied, honed and modified" qigong (qi or "chi" - being the vital energy or life force) leading to self-healing powers and ESP abilties. Uncle Sam was interested. And while the Communist Party gave a stamp of approval for qigong - being in line with Marxist thought, writes Jacobsen - problems during Mao's "Great Leap Forward" resulted in qigong being "demonized" by 1962, calling the practice a "rotten relic of feudalism." 


In a recent opinion piece in The Oklahoman, written by Shoshana Weissman and Marc Hyden and titled “Regulating your Qi in Oklahoma,” the two take umbrage with a Republican state senator who wants to make practicing qigong in our state that much more difficult.

Weissman and Hyden write: “Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, recently filed Senate Bill 190, which would require individuals to be licensed to teach qigong. This legislation has massive potential to hurt a lot of people and criminalize innocent behavior.

Qigong has been around in various forms since 2600 B.C. According to the National Qigong Association, it is a “mind-body-spirit practice” that integrates “posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent.” There are thousands of different variations of qigong, each of which is associated with many health benefits.

So why does qigong need to be regulated, requiring qigong teachers to complete hours of education and “pay the State for the privilege of working,” ask Weissman and Hyden?

It’s a good question. While I don’t know Rader’s motivations, it is interesting to learn that he was a college football coach. One would think Rader’s players would benefit from qigong, unfettered (after all, Republicans claim to want to deregulate all matters and all things)  by the machinations of the State.

This “ancient Chinese artform” does not need state approval, adding, “(T)he government shouldn’t even be in the business of licensing a peaceful, harmless practice that has existed safely without licensure for thousands of years.

Qigong is part of who we are. It’s natural. And human beings are part of nature, despite some efforts to downplay that reality.  As Kenneth S. Cohen writes in his book The Way of Qigong, “Isn’t nature always practicing qigong? The trees ‘expel the old breaths, draw in the new.’ The clouds are moving fluidly, without sign of excess, depletion, or stagnation. The animals, because they are in harmony with nature, demonstrate balance, coordination, and grace, the qualities of a qigong master.”

And yet there are forces at work that want to put a stop to humanity's ability of realizing just what kind of abilities and powers they really have. That is why allowing methods such as qigong to be spread in an easier manner, not a manner made more difficult for those seeking to better themselves. I suspect if Michael Hedges were still alive, he would urge legislators in his homestate to promote qigong for all citizens in Oklahoma, demonstrating its life-enhancing qualities. 

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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