Tracy Peck is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist at East Gate Healing Arts Center in Greensboro, North Carolina. He was my first teacher of qigong and taichi at Daoist Traditions and to this day while some of these practices still remains completely foreign to me, I really admire Tracy’s gifts as a teacher. He has a great ability to demonstrate how energy moves in the body and how martial arts and meditation can benefit anyone. In this interview, he shares a lot of insights from his decades of dedication to these practices. One highlight of this interview is a gift of the inner landscape scroll that Tracy shared with me which we speak about during this interview. The inner landscape meditation comes from an anatomical diagram that depicts the human body as a microcosm of nature, an “inner landscape,” using the body as a mountain metaphor for the and 9 palaces of completion in our lifetime. We also shared a tea reading of two alchemical Chinese herbs which you will hear more about during this interview. If you ever have a chance, please visit Tracy Peck at East Gate Healing Arts Center.
Interview with Tracy Peck
At East Gate Healing Arts Center
Greensboro, North Carolina
May 12th, 2017
MBP: What does Daoism mean to you?
Tracy: That is a multi layered question or calls for a multi layered answer. Often the Dao is spoken about with attributes of water and whether you believe in the Dao or not it supports and sustains us. Then there are people that might decide to do so-called Daoist practices and so they do taichi, qigong, and/or other health related practices that are associated with Daoism. I kind of think of that as like riding a boat on the water in that you have more connection to the water and maneuverability on it. Then there’s the aspect of internal alchemy and even the religious aspects of Daoism, which I think of as being able to have a submarine that can dive deeply into the water as well and it gives you a deeper understanding of the water, so there are a lot of different levels to the question…and ultimately it’s not putting the “ism” on it, Dao is just life, It is what sustains and creates. But with the “ism” I think of it as something that we put into action within our lives.
MBP: How have you learned about Daoism, what resources or teachers?
Tracy: I also think of that in a lot of different ways because I’ve had several teachers and some were just qigong, tai chi or Chinese medicine teachers and they weren’t necessarily Daoist per se. I think of these as Daoist practices or within the Daoist realm so to speak, so that even if they don’t consider themselves Daoist I considered them sort of a link to Daoism.
At the present I have 3 main teachers: Master Zhou, who is an 88 year old qigong master that works in my clinic and I have assisted in our ongoing qigong classes since 1995, who can do things at his age that many people can never do. Jeffrey Yuen, who is an 88th generation priest and a pretty knowledgeable “guy”, who has taught a wealth of information from Chinese Medicine and Daoism and Master Chen who initiated me into 2 Daoist lineages and who I have learned a tremendous amount of practices from, particularly internal alchemy, taichi and qigong.
Also, when I was very young I had several experiences that were outside the norm of day to day life for a little dude. I think these mystical or spiritual experiences are what really called to me to initially pursuing a “path” to find a framework for that and so I went along exploring different paths. Finding “Daoism” was like ah-ha this is the kind of thing that integrated many aspects of life.
MBP: What’s an example of one of those experiences you mentioned as a child?
Tracy: Well, let’s see, there’s several that happened very close together that impacted my “journey” when I was around 5-6 years old. Thinking of it I can pull it up just like it was yesterday. One experience was I lying in my bed and all of sudden I turned and there was a Being next to me and it scared the crap out of me. At the time I thought of it as something evil or dark. Years later, probably in college, I was reading a book about how when spirits, angels, immortals or whoever shows it up it can be shocking just like if we were sitting here and an angel walked up behind us and it might startle you but it’s not a negative force, it’s just that it’s jarring and so that was something that took awhile to sort out. It’s really interesting, later when I had experiences with the same “being” I perceived it as a woman and called her the “Purple Lady” through my life, because she was usually cloaked in purple. Much later I learned that one of Master Zhou’s main teachers was a woman, Master Chen’s main Daoist teacher was a woman and then Jeffrey was talking one time about how one of the teacher’s of the Yellow Emperor was called the Purple Lady and I literally almost started crying in class that day. Also Wei Huacun (Lady Wei) is credited with starting Jeffrey’s Daoist tradition. It was like, “Oh my god”, all of this came together. And not that I think it was that same being necessarily but just that archetype of feminine energy and purple being a spiritual connection and an important color in Daoism.
MBP: Are there any Daoist practices that you’ve integrated into your everyday life?
Tracy: In day to day life I try to do some sort of qigong or tai chi and meditation practice everyday. The alchemical meditations are an important aspect and sometimes Daoist rituals which I do less of. I have an altar/meditation room, and sometimes within my space I’ll do walking/footwork practices that opens the “energy field” for a meditation. And then I also think anything that is done with presence is a practice…and I love tea.
MBP: And is self cultivation specific to Daoism or something you practice?
Tracy: It is a word that’s used a lot in Daoism, self cultivation. Whereas I think anything: gardening, yoga, reading a book, thinking about life all of that can be self cultivation but in those practices you don’t usually use that word. I think because Daoism is connected to nature and the natural cycles gardening is a good model for that so they talk about cultivating a garden, so I think that’s the lingo that’s gotten transferred into Daoism. But, I think anything could be cultivation or self cultivation.
MBP: Are you part of a Daoist lineage?
Tracy: Yes, I was initiated into two lineages of Daosim. I am a 25th generation initiate in the Longmen Pai/Dragon Gate Tradition which is a branch of Quanzhen Pai/Complete Reality Tradition and a 15th generation initiate in the Sanfeng Pai tradition. Sanfeng Pai is a branch that developed from Zhang Sanfeng, who is the original “assembler” of Taijiquan. Modernly it is associated with a lot of martial arts, but both Sanfeng Pai and Longmen Pai have many different practices. I’ve never seen it and I’m sure it’s not translated but there’s was a book that was attributed to Zhang Sanfeng called something like Restoring the Root. It was alchemy practices for people that were older that had maybe been married or had been in sexual relations or had already had a loss of jing and so it was for people to restore the root, the jing and the body. Whereas originally the Quanzhen Pai were people that were pretty far along. They were already advanced and then they got into alchemy so they already had a strong foundation.
MBP: What does internal alchemy mean to you?
Tracy: Well I think it can mean different things and it means different things to me at different times. On one level I think it is any kind of transformation from one state to another within ourselves. But then there is a process of internal alchemy that’s a very specific step by step method where you cultivate certain levels of energy and then certain things happen and there’s another level of reaction so to speak and and so it’s a very mapped out process that has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years It was given to humanity by the Immortals. In this context it is an esoteric practice that’s usually taught from a teacher to a student or in a small group. In Daoism and in other spiritual traditions there are the outer teachings, the inner teachings and then the esoteric teachings and one way of thinking about that is that the outer could be the teachings for government or family life or society. The inner being more the philosophical or thought provoking as it applies to the individual and then the esoteric teachings being more of the deeper, energetic transformational practices that are taught to a few and so I think that internal alchemy can be answered on any one of those levels as well.
MBP: And why are you motivated by alchemy?
Tracy: I don’t know [laughs], I really don’t, I guess I have “Yuen Fen”, common affinity with it, it’s like when you meet someone and it’s like wow, I know you or I love you or whatever and I’ve only been with you for a short time. The whole of Daoism was really that way for me, it’s just a resonance and so ultimately the whole journey of mine has been a spiritual pursuit in life and I think that’s even sort of a trap because if one is pursuing then maybe we miss the joy in the moment, so it’s kind of a double edged thing, but that’s it I think, I’m still searching even though I feel like I’ve found it at the same time if that makes sense.
MBP: And why would you stop the alchemical process at times?
Tracy: I think there’s some level within me that’s kind of divided. When I was younger my father told me I have a positive and negative trait and that it’s the same thing.If I do something it was all or nothing. There’s some level of me that feels like I’ll have to leave the world if I go deeply into the alchemical process, you know go to the cave, the metaphorical cave or the ashram or the temple or whatever and I’m not ready to do that [chuckles]. But I think one strength of Daoism is learning to do both, integrating physical life, emotional life and spiritual life. Be in the world and integrated with one’s family, work, whatever and do the practices. I’m kind of on that learning curve of figuring that one out right now, and ultimately I think life is our “alchemical furnace”.
MBP: And at the Wudang San Feng sword class in 2016 at the Dao House where we were in a sword class together, I was wondering what were your experiences? How do you interpret different forms of energy in those practices?
Tracy: In terms of my experience there, which happens a lot of times there and with Master Chen is that you’re pushed to your physical limit, or my physical limit like, “can I go one more step?” or “can I get lower one more inch,” or whatever, and then finding that “yes I can,” or finding that limit, that I can’t. At that particular training I felt sore and exhausted but then there was underneath a building of energy so it was a like a balance of using all this physical and mental strength because you’re learning a form and the order and the names and what not but then kind of letting that go and feeling the inner part which is in a sense restoring the energy. So it’s a balance of expenditure versus holding or collecting energy. And I think that’s one big key with physical Daoist practices that you know it’s not sports where you’re running and really pushing your physicality to the max but then not having a way to regroup the energy. And to an extent even external martial arts. External martial arts has a little more of both energy and form but to me the so called internal martial arts and internal practices really do that. You’re using the body and the energy and the spirit. That’s one thing that drew me to Daoism to begin with is that you’re really using the body to its optimum but at the same time cultivating the energy so that in a sense is like a self circulating system that feeds itself so you don’t just deplete yourself, you know you don’t run your bank account down to zero and then make twenty dollars and blow it again. It’s like you might make twenty dollars and you spend some but you keep gathering more and more and so it builds up the reserves.
MBP: We’re doing a tea reading with two Chinese herbs Shi chang pu/acorus root, commonly known as Sweet flag) and Yuan Zhi/polygala root and in this tea reading have you noticed anything in the reaction of those two herbs infused in water?
Tracy: One thing I was struck with is in the context of talking about internal alchemy and the steps and the processes is that the herbs [herbs in tea reading] were very still and that there’s some movement on top but mine have now kind of sunken or are just real still and that’s actually one of the first steps within one lineage of alchemy is that stillness and we know from the Dao de Jing that “stillness is the root of the Dao,” so hopefully my tea leaves are showing the foundation or possibility of stillness. And you know within stillness, there can be movement and so on the top [of the tea cup] there’s a little bit of movement but not too much.
MBP: A lot of mine [herbs in tea reading] were floating to the bottom too but you had more Yuan Zhi/polygala root floating up [and also collecting towards your direction].
MBP: And so the reference you made to that lineage where it’s about stillness as a first step is which one?
Tracy: There’s a lot of alchemical teachings from different traditions and some are probably similar processes but the one that I have been immersed in is the Longmen Internal alchemy practice. It has a step by step method. The first step is stillness, later out of stillness comes motion. However at first one needs to get into a deep stillness, at least relatively still. They have this in Chan or Zen Buddhism as well as in many approaches to meditation. They might always focus on stillness or nothingness and that is also a part of alchemy but it’s more to initially go into stillness to find movement. It’s just like the yin yang symbol to find the dot within the stillness where there’s movement after that.
MBP: And with the tinctures that you mentioned that you were making of these two herbs Shi chang pu/acorus root and Yuan Zhi/polygala root how do you imagine using those?
Tracy: Well, I sometimes make different formulas and use them pre meditation or pre practice whether it’s qigong or meditation and allow them to be kind of part of my energetic process, the assistants I guess.
MBP: And when you start something new like that in an experiment or something you’ve learned, do you set goals for yourself?
Tracy: I go through stages, but right now I don’t have a big need to accomplish such and such or have insight into such and such. Now, today at least, I connect with the herbs in a state of “what do you have to show me?” I guess being open and neutral. Sometimes if I have a focus or something in life I might say can you give me perspective or help on that, but lately I’ve just been more neutral, it’s almost like opening the door and seeing what the day is as opposed to, “oh, I’ve got to see what the weather is before I go out.” It’s just kind of what does the day hold in a sense or what does the practice hold in that context?
MBP: Is there anything else you want to add?
Tracy: I would say that Daoism is a very rich path and independent of whether you do so called Daoist practices or not the Dao supports and sustains us. If you’re Christian or not or spiritual or not we reap the benefits from it, whatever we call it. I also think that the more that we have cultivation in our life, in whatever way, it serves us better or deeper. The more we do self cultivation, whether that’s drinking tea to gardening to alchemy to whatever, the more we become refined, I guess that is the word, and not refined in an uppity way of I’m better but just honed to our optimum as a human.
MBP: Any follow ups on the tea reading now that we’re done?
Tracy: I think maybe I was saying when I was drinking this [tea] how I felt very warm and open in my upper head and that just to do it as an infusion and you don’t even need the tincture. Have you been doing the tincture?
MBP: Yes, I’ve been trying a tincture with just Shi Chang Pu which I like it tastes kind of spicy or bitter but I like how it tastes.
Tracy: I like something about the alcohol [in tincture] too it kind of gets in your system quickly.
MBP: What does it mean to connect to spirits or immortals I have heard about from a Daoist lineage, what does that even mean or what does the idea of lineage mean to you?
Tracy: There’s a lot people that consider themselves Daoist and they mean they like to do the practices or they like the philosophy or whatever, but I think that one of the fundamental ideas in Daosim is that there is the belief in Immortals, and at the same time, getting back to what I said earlier, I think one of the things that connected me with Daoism to begin with is really about being in the body first, and incorporating the body and then if something happens, good, if something doesn’t happen, good, I remember someone asking a Daoist one time about what happens after death and past life and future lives and all that and he said essentially, “who cares,” you know we’re here now, enjoying this ride, you know you’re on the boat, why are you thinking about the next boat ride,” or whatever, it’s like, “ride the wave.” And so I think, looking at a child, or a pet, or a friend or whatever, you can connect with spirit and the immortals. And we’re all immortals also, I think that’s part of the thing is that we’re trying to get back to unravel that little immortal, or immortal within to unfold [chuckles] or whatever.
MBP: That’s why I’ve really been drawn towards the inner landscape because you go through your dantian areas of the body where you can have visualization or mythology and story to it but then around the area of Ren 15 (acupuncture point where the rib cage meets) that you can imagine joyful, childhood memories, almost like that type of innocence but I’ve had very strong reactions and emotions almost like what’s happening right now (during this meditation) and then that the significance for me was that everything we know or understand in this world is from within, like the microcosm or the macrocosm and everything that we know is already within us and so in a sense you can access by not limiting yourself in those perceptions of things.
Tracy: And then that makes me think, to turn it around, “Why do any of this?” You know because we’re doing it anyway, if we have it anyway so why read a book or whatever? But for me, you know, I need to be entertained a little bit along the way so it is good to have outside things to reflect back in. I think that the idea that the micro and the macrocosm is me, I forget that sometimes.
Tracy: And then that question about lineage earlier, I think in a lineage there is a strong line that helps to have a connection to a teaching and the elders from before but we’re all part of a lineage of humanity and I think it’s just depends on one’s focus in cultivation too.
MBP: How did you get into Chinese medicine specifically as an acupuncturist and herbalist?
Tracy: I had an affinity for herbs and natural healing from a relatively early age. I was a vegetarian when I was quite young, fifteen years old onward and I say that because it was kind of within the context of being interested in the workings of the body and healing although for me it probably wasn’t the most healthy thing at the time but that’s what I was pursuing. So early on I was interested in herbal medicine and all that went with that. I was also interested in music and played music and then I got into sound and lighting design and went to the North Carolina School of the Arts. At the school of the arts I met a taichi teacher. He was a very interesting character he was an acupuncturist, a rabbi and he was definitely the most advanced martial artist I had ever met and also the most advanced hatha yoga practitioner in terms of all the physical forms he could do. He had workshops and so I started studying acupressure and taichi with him. At some point I realized “oh, now I’m aligning with what I want to do or who I am.” About the time I finished college he had what he called a professional program and there were about six of us that studied with him regularly. First learning hands on healing, acupressure and energy healing and then I was always after him to teach me acupuncture and so he started teaching me acupuncture. A couple of years later I went to the Traditional Acupuncture Institute (TAI) in Maryland.
MBP: When was that?
Tracy: I started studying with him in 1980 or 81 then deeper into the healing work in 1984. I went to TAI in 1988. I’m getting to be a “Lao Tou”, a Chinese word that means old man.