As I was packing up the studio in Portland and looking over the work I've done in the last few weeks I've been thinking about my Chi Gong teacher. I haven't practiced with Vince Bruni in a very long time, but he has had a deep and lasting impact on my life.
I recall him speaking about awareness in practice and that anything can be a meditation if you bring your awareness to it. I've spent a lot of time in the little studio in Portland and painting, it seems, has become my practice.
When I find myself going on "automatic", when my heart or mind seem to drift off, the voice of my old teacher often comes into my head, reminding me to breathe and be present...
I first met Vince Bruni when Rebecca and I moved to Toronto in 2001. He was in the Theatre department at the University of Calgary with Rebecca, and they had reconnected when she arrived in Toronto. He was teaching Chi Gong to a small group and invited me to join. I had no idea what Chi Gong was, or what to expect - I thought maybe it was like Tai Chi. Kung Fu, perhaps? I'd always wanted to take some self-defense classes...
Vince is a few years older than me and walks with a slight limp. When he was younger he had been in a motorcycle accident which did a lot of damage to his body, his leg in particular. When Rebecca met him at the University in Calgary VInce walked with a heavy metal brace. She described him as a bad-ass and full of anger. She said that whenever he did a scene in school he would end up throwing furniture.
The man that I met did not walk with a brace, nor did he seem to be anything but peaceful and grounded. He shone with health and emanated light and warmth. It seemed that Chi Gong was a way of peace - and that particularly appealed to me.
And so I went to study with Vince.
We would stand together in the early (EARLY) hours in Christie Pitts Park in Toronto. Rain, sleet, hail, snow, any weather... we would be out there at least once a week. We would practice the Chi Gong set that he taught us. It was both extremely simple, and incredibly difficult at first.
The beginning practice was about breathing. I suppose the end is, as well.
After all - the first thing and last thing we do in this life is breathe.
Vince asked us: how many breaths do you take in a day? How many of those are you aware of?
I was 26 years old and finally learning to breathe; to be conscious and aware of my breathing. It's shocking to think of how many breaths I take in a day that are completely on automatic. Add those up over a lifetime?
Vince remarked that most people go through their lives on automatic...asleep. Bringing your attention to the breath will help you to wake up.
I won't get into the specifics of the practice- only to say that I learned more from doing that set with Vince than I ever learned in school. It was a profound experience and the lessons I learned and the wisdom that Vince imparted during those sessions still resonate in every area of my life.
It was the first time I was brought to the awareness that I could consciously shift the energy within me and around me and that my practice, my intention, could affect my life. It seems like such an obvious idea now, and yet, at the time, it shifted something in me. I have deep gratitude for those lessons now.
In moments when I feel homeless or lost, or my mind races with "what if?" and "what next?" and "what the?...." - I find myself drawn back to the practice of Chi Gong.
I connect to the breath, to the energy within me and the energy around me, to the world beneath my feet and to the people who I am fortunate to have in my life. A subtle shift of focus and I find myself feeling lighter and full of gratitude.
And so today, as I travel from the artistic oasis that was Portland and back on the road, thinking of friends I've left behind, friends I'm moving toward, and those who have passed on, I am grateful to have met Vince Bruni and to have such a teacher in my life to remind me to keep breathing.