“Hey!” the woman shouted as she crouched and lunged at me, limbs pumping and body weaving like a two-legged spider.
She closed the sidewalk distance between us and wrenched out her arm. “What’s this?” The black spots of her missing teeth looked like a pair of giant dice in her mouth.
Her hand clenched my inner thigh. It felt like a toothless dog chomping me with its gums. As I lurched back, she scampered away, cackling, “I told you this was my sidewalk!”
I was on the southwest corner of Broadway and Nassau Street in Englewood, Colorado, a regular stumbling ground for drug addicts. To the north, the buildings of downtown Denver floated and shimmered as if a mirage. Heat pulsed from the concrete of the sidewalk, the asphalt of the road, and the cinderblocks of buildings, their dull red and grey paint chipping. A row of thirsty bushes were squeezed in a bed of rocks beside the road. A nearby tree sprouted from another pile of rocks, shading the rubble.
For 40 hours per week – excluding a half-hour lunch and two 10-minute breaks – I stood on this corner waving a sign. Every workday morning, I shimmied into a costume that looked like a giant $100 bill – ten times more than my hourly pay.
Because thousands of cars and trucks chugged by me daily, the smock got caked with a combination of exhaust fumes, sweat, and the occasional BBQ sauce stain from a co-worker who used the costume as a bib for his lunch. Hours of Colorado sun baked everything into the fabric. Sunburns stung my skin – it felt like rubber. The Stop sign to my left cast an octagonal shadow. I ducked my head behind it.
How the heck did my life end up here? And how much crack did that woman smoke before she grabbed me?
I could answer the first question.
Six years earlier, I dreamed of becoming a millionaire. I fantasized about dating gorgeous women. I was a dedicated student of self-help and I took action on everything I learned. Six years later, I’d grown a compost heap of entrepreneurial failures, broken friendships, and debt. I am such a loser. My thoughts, like starving animals, turned on me. They clawed at my brain. I wanted to put a bullet through my head.
Debt collectors hounded me. Each time my phone buzzed like a hornet nest, I cringed and didn’t dare touch it. Even after the ringing stopped, the phone murmured a beep for a voicemail, reminding me that the delusions I’d constructed about growing wealthy were crumbling. I played the message and heard a voice reading from a script, “This is an attempt to collect a debt…” I pressed the #7 button to delete the sentence before it finished.
My $10-an-hour wage wasn’t enough to pay them off nor the IRS debt hanging over my head. In a few months, I would file for bankruptcy, which lowered my debt to “only” $50,000.
A couple of years earlier, I’d had started a business selling nutritional supplements with two partners. One morning, I woke up in my Denver apartment, plopped in front of my computer, and typed my username and password for some of our online software.
The login information you entered was incorrect.
Huh? I slowly typed it again. Incorrect. Once more, this time watching my fingers on the keyboard. Incorrect. I tried logging into a different piece of software connected to the business. Same result.
My gut twisted. They had locked me out overnight. Typical of my sloppy thinking, I hadn’t bothered to get listed on the corporate papers or bank account. With just a few taps on a keyboard, they guaranteed I’d never see a dime of the profits. There weren’t any shouting matches, demands or drama. I didn’t even bother trying to sue.
That betrayal was the last morsel of rotting food to top the financial compost pile I built. Which was why, instead of enjoying a prosperous career, I was a 25-year-old college dropout who worked as a living, breathing punchline on a street corner.
If you were one of the thousands of people who drove by me, you might have looked at me with a sad smile. Plenty did, including a couple of high school kids who stopped in front of me on the sidewalk as if viewing a zoo exhibit, shook their heads and, deciding to talk to the animal, said, “I’m so sorry.”
“Oh, don’t be!” I replied.
Even though it appeared as if my outer world was burning down, my inner world was rising from the ashes. Yes, my dreams of riches were, at that moment, splattered on the sidewalk. But something was different inside me.
I felt the happiest I’d ever been — in my entire life.
My thoughts were encouraging, I buzzed with energy, and I smiled way more than in the past.
How could this be?
Because even in the midst of my challenges, I was practicing a unique way to rid myself of emotional gunk and re-write my mental programming – and it was working. Rather than the latest self-help fad, which always failed me, this secret was thousands of years old.
I was still getting used to my happiness. Since childhood, I’d been trapped in an ugly cloud of sadness, a perfect reflection of the household where I was raised. As I grew from an oddball pre-teen into an angry, gangly teenager, I got more and more consumed by my storm clouds. Sitting on therapists’ sensibly beige couches for 55-minute rounds of BSing didn’t help. Maybe nothing could. As I grew into young adulthood, my silent scowl kept my pain buried out of sight, but it was festering.
A fresh start, I thought when I applied to colleges and chose UMASS Amherst. However, when I arrived on the colossal campus and shuffled past excited students, including gorgeous coeds, I realized feeling hopeful was foolish. As everyone around me looked brighter and happier, my thoughts grew darker, especially at night when I curled up on my dorm room mattress. So many other kids here. So many beautiful women. They’re out having fun. They’re getting laid. But not you. Who’d want you? They think you’re a loser and they’re right. I squeezed harder into the fetal position, tears soaking my pillow, choking down the noise of my crying so my roommate wouldn’t hear.
A million fresh starts wouldn’t change a damn thing if I was too shut down to connect with others – or myself. My inner world needed to change, but I didn’t know how. After three miserable semesters, I dropped out of college with no close friends and, seemingly, no future.
In lieu of traditional education and support, I turned to the hyped-up world of self-help. Apparently by thinking big and fixating on cheesy stock photos of mansions, smiling couples, and secluded beaches, changing my life was a matter of mental photoshop.
I learned doctrines like just imagine what you want and write down your intentions and, in direct contrast, be in the present moment. I bought everything hook, line, and sinker – with the hook firmly embedded in both my wallet and my confidence.
I set all kinds of goals. Some were to hit certain levels of strength and muscular development. Others were to hit certain levels of income. I can’t remember all the different goals I wrote down and committed to, but I’ll never forget the result; I failed to achieve a single one.
As instructed, I sat and visualized every scenario I wanted to unfold in my life, almost undulating with emotion as I delighted in every crisp detail. I talked to myself in the mirror with the same fervor and belief as a coach in a Hollywood movie halftime speech. Who cares if the neighbors heard me ranting? Maybe they’d get inspired too! Then I took whatever action with the deluded belief that I’d attract duffel bags stuffed with cash and McMansions galore — as if wielding the same powers of manifestation as that creepy kid from The Twilight Zone who turned his parents’ friend into a jack-in-the-box. But the universe behaved much like the voicemail of potential dates in those days – I left messages but never heard back.
I also learned some spiritual practices from books – including the standing meditation this book is based on – but I barely tried them with any effort.
Setting goals, dabbling in spiritual practices, and visualizing success gave me brief glimpses of purpose, like bobbing my head out of the ocean briefly to glimpse the sunshine. But I sank back underwater just as quickly. I worked hard and thought positive but my poor choices and self-sabotage still stuck to me like a pit bull’s clamped jaw.
All I had to show for my faith and effort were my credit cards declining, no friends, and dateless weekends. More than once, I planned my suicide. I began making a glass of vodka mixed with an energy drink as my morning medicine. First, I poured the vodka, usually three fingers, then grabbed an energy drink can from the bulk package I’d buy online. As my anger and sadness caked deeper in my body, the alcohol helped me float above, helped numb my nose to the stench of where my life was stumbling.
At the time, I had a mentor who was a world champion athlete, multi-millionaire, entrepreneur, author… just the kind of guy I admired and wanted to be like. So I’d invested the equivalent of a house down payment for his group coaching.
He saw I that was suffering, despite all my efforts. But he didn’t give me a motivational pep talk or demand I double-down on my goals. He showed me something completely different — a form of meditation he used to bring everything in his life together. He didn’t invent it. This secret had been taught from person to person for thousands of years. After learning it, he went from broke to millionaire. It came from something called Daoism (pronounced DOWism), a spiritual tradition stretching back thousands of years.
At this point, I was no stranger to meditation. To me it felt like sitting in a chair and fighting off waves of impatience while thinking about not thinking. Hardly life-changing stuff. Plus, I was growing more jaded with anything that had a whiff of woo-woo, which seemed to either be “harness the universe’s power to attract what you want” or weekend courses in “aligning with your spirit vibration highest truth… blah blah.”
This training is different. The following story, possibly legend or possibly true, shows how.30
Roughly 200 years ago, in a village in China, robbers regularly raided caravans full of grain, sometimes killing the merchants who drove the caravans.
The robbers were deadly martial artists and the local judge realized the criminals couldn’t be stopped by ordinary means. The judge secretly hired a powerful martial artist Master Kuo Yun Shen to stop them.
Master Kuo assembled a group of his own martial artists and one night they confronted and killed the gang of robbers. However, one robber escaped and demanded Master Kuo be executed for his crime.
The judge had Master Kuo arrested, but there was a problem. Master Kuo could testify against him, “This is what you hired me to do, your honor.”
At the trial, the judge motioned the bailiff to escort Master Kuo into a private room. The judge met him there and said, “The robber is demanding justice for you murdering his gang. I can’t reveal that I hired you and I can’t go easy on your sentence, either. If you keep quiet about our deal, I won’t have you executed. Instead, I’ll sentence you to three years in prison. But both your hands and feet will be shackled the whole time. This way, you’ll serve only three years but because you’re chained up, it will still appear harsh.”
Master Kuo agreed. The judge brought him back into the main chambers and announced his sentence. At first, the robber was angry. Just three years in prison? Then the robber realized something. Because Master Kuo’s hands and feet would be chained the whole time, he couldn’t practice his martial arts.
The robber, himself a deadly fighter, decided he’d wait the three years and, when Master Kuo was released, the robber would easily kill him – thus giving the robber a legendary reputation.
Master Kuo was thrown in a small cell. His hands and feet were chained together. He couldn’t throw a single punch or kick, but Master Kuo didn’t simply sit in his cell. He stood and held his body in a certain way to enhance its energy. Upon his release, Master Kuo was confronted by the robber. For three years, the robber had trained himself in the martial arts — now they squared off and fought. After three years of standing still in a small cell, Master Kuo defeated the robber.
As I listened to the story, I was getting a glimpse into another reality. I didn’t want to be a martial artist, but to transform my mind’s shackles into assets, so I wasn’t imprisoned by confusion, frustration, self-sabotage, powerlessness, and self-hate. True or not, the story contained a real lesson. Master Kuo had found a new and odd way to meditate; I wondered if this could help me.
After learning the standing meditation, I returned home. A couple years earlier, I had dropped out of college, started my own business, moved to Boulder, Colorado, and lived a Spartan lifestyle – a cheap futon with a metal frame resembling a public trash can, a chair, and a particle board desk. One plastic dish, one fork, and one cup that I hand-washed over and over. I left every item where I last used it – my condo a museum of joyless efficiency. No decoration except for a list of goals and a vision board I later shoved into the recycling bin. And a brown wall-to-wall shag carpet, even in the bathroom, holding enough microbes to become a sentient being.
My only decent furniture was my bed. Every day, after I lurched out of it, I practiced the standing meditation and wondered if I were quietly absorbing some esoteric power from an unknown source. For the first few weeks of standing in one place with my knees slightly bent and my arms held up, it seemed less like a meditation and more like a diabolical punishment out of a junior high gym class, my legs feeling like chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
As the weeks went by, my shirts started feeling different, because my shoulders grew a little wider from relaxing. No surprise there. But how I felt did surprise me. Something buzzed through my body, like the first warm wave from a good cup of coffee. My mental chatter began turning from a hurtful critic into an encouraging ally. I felt a little better. Could this actually help me?
I kept practicing the standing meditation and one evening something shocking occurred.
Outside the screen door of my condo crickets chirped a gentle chorus as I stood to do the practice. Some nights, I heard nearby trees rustling in the wind like gentle brooms but tonight they were silent. I deepened my breathing as I adjusted my body’s position. Within a few minutes, my entire body buzzed with warmth, like being dipped into a soothing hot tub. It felt as if a glowing sun had ignited within me, emanating light throughout the dark room. I basked in what felt like a state of bliss. Then I eased onto my futon.
As more weeks went by, my sadness started to dissipate. Other people began looking at me with their heads cocked, commenting that “something was different” about me, even though I hadn’t told them I was doing any kind of meditation.
The bliss settled from a boil to a steady simmer, with no crash or hangover. The more I practiced the meditation, the more confidence radiated through me. I’d given up on trying to think positively, but my thoughts were now more loving and helpful. For most of my life, I’d regularly – almost daily – lose myself in vivid imaginings of how I was a failure and would always fail. No bully or cruel person could possibly match the intricate, precise scenarios I’d constructed where, over and over again, I’d see myself in this way. But as I practiced the standing meditation, those awful mental spirals became rarer.
Behaviors that used to sabotage me began to evaporate. I lashed out less and became more reflective. Even though I’d abandoned all goal-setting, my life began to arrange itself as I’d wanted. Things I’d chased after began to appear. The practice didn’t wipe away all my problems. In fact, my life was about to enter a multi-year hurricane-like healing crisis, but the standing meditation made me strong enough to face the challenges. Instead of panicking when my business partners cut me out, I came to I recognize that I was now removed from a toxic relationship.
For years, my budget-balancing consisted of dropping unopened credit card bill envelopes onto the carpet as if the shag would absorb them with the same efficiency as other spills. When that didn’t work, I’d pile other mail on top, burying the bills like a bad memory. I had a tsunami of credit card and IRS debt. I’d slouch in my chair, imagining calls from my landlord. “Your rent is, uh, a bit late so I was wondering…” Then angrier phone calls. Then an eviction notice taped inside my screen door. Then a sheriff drilling the deadbolt so they could grab me and drag me to the street.
The standing meditation practice, however, helped yank me out of my financial drowning and gave me the good sense to swim to shore.
It wasn’t a magic wand for making money or for absolving my past money misdeeds. Early in 2012, I filed for bankruptcy. I walked to north Denver to my bankruptcy meeting, commonly called the “341 meeting” (named after section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code). After the judge questioned me about my tax payments, I walked home almost free and clear of debt. I got forgiven for all my credit card debt and some tax debt. However, more than $50,000 IRS debt was, in bankruptcy lingo, “non-dischargeable debt” and still stalked me like a vulture.
I also got the job spinning signs and moved to the cheapest place I could find, so I could save money, pay off the IRS debt, and begin to build wealth.
As I struggled to rebuild my life, the lessons from the meditation and the Daoist tradition it comes from cradled me like helping hands to organize the rubble of my life. I fundamentally believe that (to get a little more woo-woo) it reconfigured my energetic field to give me a healthier life and opened possibilities otherwise locked away.
I decided to dedicate my life to practicing this form of meditation and learning everything I could about it. Daoism is a spiritual tradition believed to have started with China’s Yellow Emperor, around 3,000 BC.1 The ancient Daoists used rigorous experimentation and spiritual inquiry to discover “… that all things in the world were composed of the same energetic vibrational substance, constantly moving and interacting.”2 They found that we can harness the power of this energetic substance to enhance our health and spiritual development. The methods for practicing this energy cultivation have been kept secret – plus they’re hard to do – so very few devotees exist today.
After a decade of immersing myself in these Daoist teachings, I decided to share my experience with as many people as I could by writing this book.
In the following pages, I’ll show you how to perform the standing meditation, which is called the Immortal Post. I’ll give you all the general guidelines for the Immortal Post, as well as the tricky details I learned through hard-earned experience. I’ll also write the Daoist lessons I used to put my life back together and, ultimately, to thrive. I’m also going to quote from a book called the Dao De Jing (also spelled Tao Te Ching), often translated as The Way and its Power. Although it can’t be confirmed, most people believe it was authored by a Daoist philosopher named Laozi. * The paradoxical lessons in this short book are timeless.
*Also spelled Lao Tzu or Lao-Tze.
This Daoist practice of standing meditation saved my life. They got rid of my self-sabotage and sadness, when nothing else did. They helped me build my career, when so much else failed for me. They’ve made me a better man.
But what you’re about to read is as much a warning as it is encouragement. Even with Daoist meditation helping me along the path, I still fumbled into stupid decisions, buried my face into my hands and cried, screamed, and wandered into enough dead ends to fill, well, a book.
As the saying goes “the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” Sometimes you’ll sprint, saunter or march forward on this journey and other times you’ll crawl or seem to sit still. But as long as you’re on the path, you’re home. Daoism won’t remove the challenges from your journey. It removes the weakness preventing you from pulverizing those challenges. I’m not going to ask you to embrace Daoism as the answer, but I do ask you to give the practices you’re going to learn an honest chance. Test them as you walk your own path and discover how your life transforms. To quote Morpheus from The Matrix, “… all I’m offering is the truth – nothing more.”
If you’re interested in hearing when my book is complete, please enter your email address below:
- Pronounced DOWism.
- Johnson PhD, J. A. (2019). Yiquan Neigong Daoist Training. The International Institute of Medical Qigong Publishing House.
- Johnson PhD, J. A. (2020). The Secret Teachings of Chinese Energetic Medicine Volume 1: Energetic Anatomy and Physiology (1st ed.). The International Institute of Medical Qigong. Pg. 18
- Johnson PhD, J. A. (2018). Daoist Internal Alchemy (Final ed.). International Institute of Medical Qigong Publishing House. Pg. 10
- Also spelled Lao Tzu or Lao-Tze.