Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

FULL: Tai Chi, Lao Tsu, and Quaker Worship

Workshop Number: 
John Smallwood
Who may register?: 
Adult Only (high school with permission)
Experiential Activities: 
only full time attenders (participants should attend all week)

We will discover the experiences of body awareness, movement, internal energy (chi), and meditative practice. Participants will be taught a simplified tai chi form called Tai Chi Chih. We'll also explore the Taoist contemplative classic, the Tao Te Ching. We will practice and examine silent waiting Quaker worship.

Workshop Description

Come and explore the experience of body awareness, internal energy flow (chi) and meditative practice. You will be taught a simplified qigong form called Tai Chi Chih ®. If you have never done tai chi, you will learn to do the form. If you already know this form, you will deepen your experience. For more information see:   We will practice this form daily to explore its physical, energetic and spiritual effects. At the same time, we will explore the Taoist philosophical roots of tai chi by reading selections of the Tao Te Ching.  This foundational, contemplative text was  written by the sage Lao Tsu. Its present form is a poetic masterpiece in 80 short chapters. Its written form  probably first emerged about 2400 years ago. But its wisdom is much older and ancient. We will attempt to discover how Lao Tsu’s mystical poetry informs our movements and how our movements inform Lao Tsu; and how both affect our approach to living.


We will share thoughts, reactions, personal experiences and experiential exercises to investigate the interplay of body and spirit – a topic which unprogrammed Friends rarely discuss. Also, we will practice regularly and discuss silent waiting worship as used by unprogrammed Friends. Through living out these different practices we hope to discover how they inform, interplay and develop each other in our own, very personal self.


At workshop’s end, you will know the Tai Chi Chih form ®, be conversant in the basic principles of tai chi, the Tao Te Ching and silent waiting Quaker worship. More importantly, you will hopefully feel within you the texture, sensations and transformation these diverse practices can offer.


No prior experience or commitment in Tai Chi, Taoism or Quaker worship is necessary for this workshop. What is required is openness to explore experiences outside traditional boundaries. Tai Chi Chih ® is a series of slow, gentle movements, done standing. Thus, participants should be fit enough to stand and move on their feet for at least 45 minutes periods. Bring with you: loose fitting clothing, a blank note book and a pen, a copy of Tao Te Ching (my preferred translation is by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English).  It will be helpful if you read through this text at least once before you arrive at the Gathering. Also bring your sense of adventure!


Leader Experience

Leading this workshop will allow me to share with Friends the incredible interblending of spiritual resources that have nourished me.


I have been worshiping with Friends for forty years, often holding leadership positions in my monthly meeting and Baltimore Yearly Meeting. I have traveled widely among Friends, worshipping with conservative, evangelical and orthodox Friends. I have lead spiritual workshop and retreats for the Yearly Meeting, Quakerism class in my monthly meeting. For several years, I was the worship leader in the Friends in Christ group and a guest preacher at the Arlington Church of the Brethren. I see myself as a Christian Friend of a liberal persuasion.

 Within the last ten years, I have also been drawn to eastern practices. I am an experienced tai chi chuan student and an accredited Tai Chi Chih ® instructor, who has taught Tai Chi Chih ® classes of all levels. Using chi energy, I have a small healing practice as an accredited Reiki Practioner and an accredited Medical Qigong Therapist.

 Within myself, all these practices have blended with a robust interplay. Some Friends have suggested that I lead a workshop on this interplay. I have lead similar workshops teaching Tai Chi Chih at the 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014 FGC Gatherings,  and they were well received.