It was the mid-1950s when Jack Kerouac hit the road and produced some early new journalism – reflections on a movement of Beats, Poets and Prophets who followed a trail to the West Coast, sometimes through Mexico, in search of higher knowledge, higher purpose, or just higher. He was in the middle of the action, of course.
My favorite tale from the Kerouac library is The Dharma Bums, in which Kerouac rides the freights up from Mexico to San Francisco, carrying a torch for Buddhism and Zen artists, especially poets Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg. Eventually, he takes his meditation north to Desolation Peak in Washington, a fire lookout post near the Canadian border.
Sixty years later, I have in mind a New Dharma Bums that borrows from Kerouac’s story and style but updates the characters and expands the search for “dharma,” an expression used in many Asian religions and philosophies that relates to the universal search for the “cosmic order.” I know many who are on this path, teachers and “grasshoppers” alike, trying to sync their inner being with the cosmic order. “Dharma” is something we all have in common.
The new dharma is tied to good health, vitality and inner strength, relaxation and central equilibrium — all key to the practice of Tai Chi. While Tai Chi is rooted in the martial arts of the Taoist tradition, it is also an application for healing, and part of the search for cosmic truth. I have identified a new breed of Tai Chi practitioners as the new Dharma Bums, hardly the hobo class but many dreamers and doers. They are teachers, at their best.
My teachers taught me to build internal energy and find balance through the Tai Chi form, and to strengthen my inner core through Qigong, or Chi Kung, energy work. For the past 28 years, I’ve practiced daily Tai Chi exercises, seeking to build internal power and improve balance, both physically and mentally, based on the Yang style introduced to the United States by Master Cheng Man-Ch’ing.
Kerouac made his way hopping freight trains and hitchhiking, but that’s a bum’s life hard to square today with modern transportation – and communications. Social media allows you to share video and literary traditions in Tai Chi, as well as to make friends among the community of practitioners across our nation and the world.
I’ve met many new Dharma Dudes on the Internet – I wouldn’t consider them Bums, just dedicated people very passionate about their art, but I think the shoe still fits. I’ve joined group chats across six or seven social network groups, all resembling each other. There is sharing and some disputes among friends and compatriots, with avenues open for further exploration.
But you can learn only so much in a virtual community – especially with Tai Chi, and the secondary stage, T’ui Shu, or “push hands.” To understand and feel the internal power of Tai Chi, you must work with a partner, which I’ve learned in theory but haven’t had much opportunity to practice. Sifu Mark Rasmus provided me with some practical applications a few years back.
I am preparing to set off on a journey to touch hands with friends and teachers, and to explore the metaphysical as well as the physical dimensions of this ancient Chinese art that has drawn many Western practitioners. I am pointing toward certain destinations on the West Coast, but I haven’t set a firm itinerary. In this case, I am the “bum,” with a hand out looking to hitch a ride.
I expect a Kickstarter campaign to provide direction for me, and funds that will allow me to raise awareness of Taoist and Tai Chi resources and experiences. This will be a New Journalism project for me, and I envision a gonzo-style book at the end that closes the circle on the Dharma Dudes. Publishers are welcome to contribute on spec, or contract. I have details.
Kerouac kept a stream-of-consciousness journal on his Crown typewriter, feeding it rolls of paper, which he periodically ended and sent off to agents and publishers as his latest novel. Most did not sell until years later, when he had established himself with On The Road.
Today we can all self-publish, and I have been doing that for years with my own personal blog, when not working for paying clients. I’ve covered many topics, and the Tai Chi blogs have had the widest distribution. Every day I get “hits” on these blogs from seekers all across the globe, from China and South Asia to the United States and both Eastern and Western Europe.
Since my 2013 lessons with Mark Rasmus, I’ve expanded my experience with Chi Kung, learning to get in touch with my organs through Dragon and Tiger exercises, and Taoist breathing, from Master Bruce Frantzis and his Energy Arts associates Aaron Green and Paul Pallante. Richard Clear came in from Tennessee to conduct a workshop on chi healing. I’ve driven to Asheville, North Carolina, to touch hands and spirits with Lester Holmes and Bob Messinger, two Facebook friends.
This is a journey that is just beginning, with uncertain destinations. First up was a trip to Florida for a birthday bash for The Kwoon, Sifu David Carr’s fine Facebook forum for Tai Chi and other martial arts. We had two camps at Hontoon Island State Park in the St. Johns River near Deland, Fla., May 14-15, and enjoyed a virtual orgy of T’ui Shou and Taoist camaraderie.
I’ll be reporting on the Florida lessons soon. I’m going to stay on this story until I’ve got a good bead on it, so that you, the reader and participant, can digest it. Readers have too little opportunity to participate in stories in today’s media, dominated by talking heads talking down on the masses. This report, the New Dharma Bums, on the road with America’s Tai Chi masters and students, is asking for help to find the Way.
We will make space for ads on the blog, and distribute pieces to local media outlets. I expect to breed other reports with the blogs, including in local markets, promoting Tai Chi and other Taoist Chi Kung exercises. In the end, I want to portray a vibrant movement that is international in scope but alive in communities across the United States.
I am setting a modest goal of $5,000 to finance a trip that will yield regular blogs and other communications. Ad space will be available to larger contributors. In-kind contributions also will be welcomed, through other channels.