Larry Parker answers the question:
What is the nicest thing a non-family member has ever done for you?
I would have to say my connection and introduction to the Universal Healing Tao by Sharon Smith [the host of The Shift Network’s Qigong Global Summit]. To put it in context, the story in context, I've been involved with the healing arts since I was approximately nine years old, I started out looking at medical illustration with Dr. Frank Netter, MD in the old CIBA — they were commercials [posters], and also they were charts and drawings that depicted medicines, and different parts of anatomy and physiology, when I was probably in the fourth, fifth, sixth grade. I used to go down to the Rundel Library, and specifically, one day I went down to a store called Sibley, Lindsay & Curr, it was a department store. My favorite thing to do would go down there on Saturdays and go to the art department. Two books I connected with. One was Michelangelo, and the other was Leonardo da Vinci. I connected with Michelangelo's famous painting on the Sistine Chapel, where you see a person reaching out to the fingers of God, hands of God, that illustration or painting of the Sistine Chapel. In that same incident, or moment you might say, I picked up a book on Leonardo da Vinci's inventions, Man in Flight. I was interested in the illustration, but what captured my attention was a phrase in Latin that said, "Una cosa mentale," which translates, "A thing of the mind."
I started investigating what “mind” meant, psychology and all of that. I went over to the Rundel Library and it was interesting, a little African American boy on Saturdays going there, to the library, in the adult section reading all these heavyweight books. I got a lot of support from the librarians and older adults. They gave me a lot of guidance and assistance in what to read. I could read quite well prior to going to school as a result of my mother and father.
Anyway. Here comes the turbulent 60s, and my passion for assisting others and helping others started to formulate. I then decided I was going to be a person of peace, that I wanted to see peace because this was during the height of the civil rights movement. The riots and the whole thing, East coming to West. So much was going on at the time in the 60s, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers and Malcolm X, that whole story. I was a part of it; my mother and father were very active in the civil rights movement, going on bus rides and all of that; so I grew up around that. I'm originally from Rochester, New York, which is and was a very progressive city at the time.
My parents raised us to do a lot of reading. So I did quite a bit of reading, that was my passion. I didn't have a lot of money, so I learned mystically, if you will. I did a lot of traveling mentally in my mind, going on these vast journeys through history and studying various topics of art, art history, science, and different forms of medicine, et cetera. Then it came time for me to be drafted, you might say; the draft was on and I had a 1S status, so I had a student deferment, and I was very concerned about being inducted into the military. So I made a conscious choice, with my dad, to select my service. I scored enough to pass the test, and I became a part of the United States Coast Guard. I spent eight years in the Coast Guard, and my job was... I was a dental technician and cross-trained as a paramedic. During that time, the Coast Guard, which is an elite maritime service, was not a part of Homeland Security as it is today; [it came under the Department of Transportation and its mission was] aids to navigation and search and rescue. That, to me, allowed me to fulfill my obligation to this country, as well as my spiritual obligation to myself, my higher purpose.
I then, after eight years of the Coast Guard, I then went to college and became a registered dental hygienist and health educator, other degrees in that. Speeding right along, in 1984 I had a scholarship to come to New York City to study a double masters, MS and MPH in public health at Columbia University, as well as working in the Department of General Dentistry as a registered dental hygienist and health educator here in Harlem at Harlem Hospital. I also decided to become a massage therapist, so I came here actually to study the advanced healing arts and metaphysical science, and also African American history. Because in Rochester, everything is censored in small towns. As you know, people come to the larger cities, especially New York City where it's the center of everything.
I also became familiar with Mantak Chia at that time, but I went a different way. After 1986, I graduated from the Swedish Massage Institute, and became a massage therapist. Opened up a practice here in Harlem. In 1989 I met Brenda; we've been together for 31 years, and she actually loaned me the money to join the Metro Chapter of The National Speakers Association. So I became a professional speaker. I've been [one of the modern pioneers] in consciousness being the foundation for healing [and spirituality since the 1960s].
In 2008, I started to lose my eyesight and I had a diagnosis of legal blindness. I gradually lost my eyesight over the course of, from 2008 to now, so I see very little, at least on the physical sense. If you listen to my Shift Network interview, I go a little bit into what blind people can actually see with acoustic imaging, and also when the visual cortex opens up, as we train.
How I got to meet Sharon Smith... I've been involved in the martial arts as well. Tai Chi, I started getting involved in Taoism and yoga and Tai Chi back in the early 70s, around 1973. Reading and taking classes with various Tai Chi teachers, and as I said, studying many aspects of alternative healing and medicine, et cetera. So I had quite a bit of experience in the healing arts before I met Sharon.
I would say in 2008, I was looking around for someone to teach me a little bit more advanced aspects of Tai Chi. I looked around, and I studied with a few people for awhile, but people were uncomfortable with me being non-sighted. I looked at Aikido, I went around to dojos and different things. I joined various organizations around blindness to get some support because I had to learn how to be blind because it's a multidimensional experience. It's psychological, it's emotional, it's energetic, it's social, it's spiritual, it's medical. It's a whole thing. In fact, when you lose your eyesight, something like this, your whole neurological system has to be recalibrated, restructured. So I had to reinvent myself and learn how to function as a blind person. Of course, I had been sighted all my life, and that happened at the ripe old age of 60 years old. I'm 72 years old now, so that was 12 years ago, almost 13 years. It's been quite the journey.
Long story short, here we are. In 2018, early 2018, my research partner and I, Natalie Danford, were on the computer, all over the country, looking at places I can at least interface with or interact with that would give me some assistance in working with a wise person in the martial arts. So we happened to come across Sharon Smith and we looked at her website, and Natalie, who was a very good friend of mine, as well as my research partner, was very excited about her professionalism, the way her website was constructed, her bio, her experience, all of that. So we gave her a call right then and there. And when we called, the absolute joy and enthusiasm that she greeted us with was just really amazing. And I explained to her that I was blind and I had a bit of experience with Tai Chi.
And at that time… I started taking classes, so I've been at this for about 48 years involved with Tai Chi, but not at the level that the Universal Healing Tao approaches it. So Sharon was very happy to have me in her class. So Brenda and I, we went down and we took the classes together, for approximately six months. And after six months, Sharon said to me, she said, “You ought to consider being an instructor.” And I thought about it. And I said, “Well, okay, I'll give it some thought.” I really had no interest in becoming an instructor. And I never really said too much about my experience. I don't really talk about my journey to anyone. I've been very humble with this. And so Sharon really didn't know; she knew I was a massage therapist, but she didn't know that I had all these other experiences.
So when you look around the healing arts, especially at this level, you don't see a huge amount of diversity, especially with African American men, and so she pointed that out. She said to me, she said, “Well, just consider it.” So I then decided to become an instructor, and just recently, when she called and asked if I wanted to participate in The Shift Network [Qigong Global Summit] to be interviewed, I said no. I emailed her and I said no, and she called me back within the hour and she said, “What are you talking about?” She said, “You got to do this.” And so I reluctantly said I would do it.
Now I can see the value of it, because for me, the most important thing when you look at this planet and this country, it's important for those of us who are walking this path, who call ourselves healers, is to bring ourselves... all the techniques are fine, but what we need to do at this particular time is to bring ourselves not only into harmony with these higher points of light, but also to bring it into expression. So techniques are fine, titles are fine, all that's fine, but the planet and this country needs us to show up and change the paradigm. But we have to change this through what we think, what we say, and ultimately what we do or express.
Sharon, when she chose me to be one of her students, has been a light and absolutely masterful in the way she conducts herself as an instructor; and she's very humble, and I appreciate that. And so literally becoming a part of the Healing Tao family has absolutely changed my life for the better. I really sincerely appreciate it. And that's it. I mean, I'm saying that from the bottom of my heart, and I always tell Sharon that I love her, and we've become very good friends. And I tease her, I say, "Hey, I'm your favorite student." And so for that, I think it's one of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for me. And I sincerely appreciate it at this particular point in my journey and on my mission and my purpose.
Larry Parker is a blind professional speaker, trainer, and stress fitness coach who for the past 40 years has committed his professional life to the healing arts. His focus is on a twenty-first century approach to defining and recognizing stress as it moves through the body's systems in order to share tips, tools, and strategies, which have enabled his many students, patients, and clients over the years to turn stress into vitality.
Larry, who has assiduously studied martial arts — principally Capoeira and Tai Chi — has a variety of licenses and certifications in fields ranging from dental hygiene and massage therapy to professional speaking, Tai Chi, and Qigong. He also has many years of training and experience in alternative approaches to healing, health, and wellness.
Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.
This article appears in: 2020 Catalyst, Issue 21: Qigong Global Summit