Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year Resolution: Be Bold

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back ... Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth ... the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one ... all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance ... Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.
                                                Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
This quote lay on my desk today as I sunk into my TCC practice. Perfect, I thought, there's no better way to start 2010 than with this invitation and reminder.

Certainly this blog and my daily TCC practice began as a dream that metamorphosed into reality. I didn't know what to expect, how to proceed or, even, if I was capable of following through with this daily commitment. Now, five weeks later, I find the shape of my life shifting and transforming. I don't know yet where I'm headed but ... the journey is begun. I'm excited and inspired by the life I'm creating.

Take today for instance. I woke exhausted after eight days of travel and new experiences. I delayed my TCC practice knowing there was much to do to prepare for Frances' afternoon massage client. Finally, while Frances vacuumed, I disappeared into my office, shut the door, and began to move.

Almost immediately I felt better. My energy improved. My mood lifted. The trees waved their branches and leaves to welcome me home (okay, perhaps it was the wind ...).

For me, this "Rooted in Earth, Suspended from Sky" practice and blog teaches me to let go and trust. I never know how my practice will proceed. I certainly don't know what I'll write. All that I focus on is this: each day--every day--I will move and write. That commitment and responsibility is a gift I give myself and somehow, inexplicably, it feeds and waters my soul.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


My three day visit in Minneapolis post-Baltimore left me without computer access due to unresolved "cookie functionality" issues on my friend Sue's laptop. Consequently I'll recap my daily t'ai chi chih practices based on handwritten notes from my journal.

Monday, December 28, 2009:

I'm back in Minnesota, the land of plenty: plenty of clouds, plenty of snow, plenty of cold temperatures. I'm staying with Sue, my friend and long-ago college roommate. This morning Sue's cat, Henry, joined me in my t'ai chi chih practice. He rubbed against my legs, turned, then rubbed back in the opposite direction. Again ... and again ... and again.

It felt wonderful to have cat energy as part of my practice. I imagined that soon--unable to capture my attention--he'd cease his intervention. Sure enough, by the end of Around the Platter he leapt onto a nearby card table and reclined.

Snow surrounds me in every direction as I move softly. I feel grateful for this practice that gets me up and moving each day. Though I awoke with a headache--spent after an overlong day of travel and dramatically different climate--the promise of TCC pulled me from bed and into my quiet practice time....

Tuesday, December 29, 2009:

Henry, the cat, joined me after I'd begun my practice this morning. There's no better way to bring attention down to your lower legs and into your feet than by practicing with a cat. The constant rubbing and purring plus my added concern that a paw or whisker could end up trapped beneath rising or falling toes and heels led me to greater care and attention as my weight shifted forward and back.

I began practice at 5:20 am. Darkness circled 'round me but for one brightly shining street light. Softly I followed the flow of my movements as they reflected back to me from a darkened window.

Now that I've lived in the woods for seven years I'm struck by the sensory overload that is a part of city life ... everything you desire lies within blocks or miles from you though much of it is readily available in your own home. There are too many sights, sounds, smells; too much tactile information for me to process.

"Keep it simple," advises Alcoholics Anonymous. I now understand the importance of that basic tenet. In today's practice I turn it down a notch. I rise, fall, glide, and flow slowly, calmly ... I embrace simplicity.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009:

I admit ... lots of thoughts rush through my head during today's practice. Henry isn't there to brush against my legs and warm my heart. I found him nestled on the back of a chair when I got out of bed this morning. After several minutes of stroking and sweet-talking I started my practice. Henry stayed in his nest.

Today I'm homeward bound. I'm anxious to be back in the peaceful woods. Thoughts of last year's travels in Central America during this time of year plus this year's travels in American cities made me realize how much--too much--we Americans have in our lives. It's never enough, it seems. I can't wait to return to my home where nature and quiet, sunrises and new moons, honking geese and twittering birds are enough.

I bought myself a refrigerator magnet in a bookstore in Baltimore. It's a reminder:
peace. it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. it means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.
Yes, my TCC practice helps me to feel the peace, to be peace in the rush and rumble of city life. But this is not where I want to stay. I like my life in the middle of the woods. It's simple, quiet, low-key ... and it fills me full.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tide Point

Today's practice in darkness was illuminated by the lights of Baltimore. Tide Point flashed out in large white letters across the bay, Bond Street Market flowed down the outside of a building kitty-corner across the intersection. Street lights illumined now-dry cobblestones where yesterday it was rainy and damp, the day before, snowy. Business, shoreline, and marine lights reflected off the surface of the water.

As a temporary visiting city dweller I turn on no lights in the room where I practice. Still, I see well enough--due to abundant outdoor lighting--to balance and move. The water's surface ... smooth but for a constant slight ripple.

My thoughts and memories are like those watery ripples. I remind myself to sink into my roots, to rest in my center, to release my mind's flickers and fanciful flights. As Justin Stone reminds us (paraphrased): "Do not be tossed by the waves on the surface of the water. Focus instead on the shoreline. Be as still as the horizon."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Another Day Begun

Today's practice, amid falling rain and a foggy harbor, produced memories from Christmas past. I thought of my parents who have not walked this Earth path with me for a number of years. I missed their presence and felt sad for being without them. And ... I let the sadness flow and go.

The peace and quiet of these morning practices is full ... of energy, rejuvenation, quiet contemplation. Fascination for the natural world around me. Gratitude for where I am and who I have here with me. This morning my practice companions are soaring seagulls, a couple walking three huge dogs, and the patter of rain on cobblestone streets below me.

I practiced in my sister's livingroom today with the same beautiful view of the harbor before me. As I stood quieting myself before practice I watched two tugs move toward me in the darkness. They resembled Christmas trees floating across the harbor, huge in girth, decorated with lights.

Throughout my practice I soaked in peace from the still world around me. I relished my privacy ... the quiet time. Eventually I heard Bertie Wooster (my sister's dove) call from the other room as I exhaled healing sounds to a quiet apartment.

The day is begun....

Friday, December 25, 2009

Peace and good will to all ...

Christmas Day 2009 is quiet here on the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. During my 7:15 am practice two cars passed beneath my window, one woman walked her dog, and a small group of seagulls circled squealing before me.

Bertie Wooster, the dove, was my practice partner. She watched from her cage beside me and made helpful comments throughout the form. If I could play a recording of her song on this blog it would sound something like this: bup butttadoo, bup buttadoo (sorry, that's the best I can do in terms of an aural representation). You need to be here.

The sky, stuffed to overflowing with clouds, was lit by street lights and a few glowing lights on a large ship across the bay. It's quiet. Barely a soul moving. On a day like today I can rest in the peace and quiet of the movements with no effort. Peace IS possible now.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bertie Flaps Her Wings

Had a great practice at the Minneapols-St. Paul airport yesterday (Dec. 23) as I awaited my flight for Baltimore. Lots of energy circled/cycled around me from walkers, gate-waiters, cell phone conversationalists, and the airport tram passing right outside the window I faced. Unending traffic, traffic, traffic entered the airport to drop off and pick up passengers as I moved, s-l-o-w-l-y.

I haven't practiced in such a public place for years. It tooks me a few minutes to establish focus even though I turned my back to the people moving behind me and placed my attention toward the movement outside "my" window.

A brief loss of balance near the end of Rocking Motion and another sideways swerve as I watched the tram outside were my main distractions. Amazingly, it was easy to focus and relax/recharge.

Today (Dec. 24) I practiced inside my sister's apartment right on the Inner Harbor in downtown Baltimore. Her apartment is one block from the water and faces directly onto the waterfront so my practice was washed with sunshine. Sun streamed through the windows and reflected off the water in the harbor. I was struck by the beauty of nature, even within the boundaries of a large city.

Berty Wooster, the dove, watched my entire practice from her perch in the bird cage. She eyed me with interest and eventually returned to her own activity ... grooming.

It was wonderful to practice in the sun's light and warmth (an unusual occurrence in Bayfield this time of year). My sister's at work, my brother is putting together a plant stand in the other room, and me ... I'm flowing with the chi.

I'm glad to have this regular practice as all else around me changes and fluxes during this trip.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Blue Lake, Blue Skies, Blue Highway

A wonderful sunny midday practice today, temps almost 20. Lake Superior's not yet iced over; I kept my eyes focused on distant brilliant blue water as I moved.

Tomorrow I leave for Baltimore, MD to spend Christmas with my sister and one brother. The East Coast was just slammed with a huge winter storm. The Midwest will likely receive its own winter storm starting late tomorrow. With luck I'll be off the tarmac at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport before heavy snow hits.

I plan to continue my daily t'ai chi chih practice during my travels. Afterall, the only thing I have to bring along is myself. I'm unsure whether I'll blog since my only link to the information superhighway is a desktop computer. I have no cell phone, no iPhone, no Blackberry, and no laptop computer which means that I'll rely on other people's technology or wait until I return home to resume entries on Rooted in Earth, Suspended from Sky.

Never fear. My leather-bound journal will travel with me. I'll keep up my blog the old fashioned way ... by hand. Until December 30, then, ...

May you all have wonderful, energy-filled practices as you spend time over the holidays with those you love.

Monday, December 21, 2009

In the Dark

Today I practiced in darkness. The only lights: outdoor Christmas tree lights (our version of a yard light) that snuck around the corners of the house and an office light which emptied into the hallway and leaked into one end of the living room where I stood.

My balance felt shaky, my footing unsure, so I immediately focused on the bottoms of my feet. At first I speculated that my weight shift forward and back was just a wee bit more circular than usual (and I mean weaving to the sides rather than circling front to back) because I was just out of bed, still a bit creaky and stiff. Then I wondered whether my injured knee was responsible for my feelings of instability.

When I got further into the form to the side-to-side movements, Carry the Ball and the Taffies, my efforts to stay balanced eased somewhat. But, after all these years of practicing and teaching, I was surprised by how difficult it was to remain balanced and sure-footed in the darkness. After I concluded my practice and went into my office to write I discovered--upon trying a few movements in the light--that shifting my weight felt smooth and balanced ... easy.

After today I know what it feels like to practice in almost-total darkness. It's peaceful. Quiet. Slow motion as if in a dream. And it's also difficult ... to feel stable, fully relaxed, at ease. Perhaps I'll do future experiments with light and darkness but, for the moment, I'm more than happy to turn on a lamp for my early-morning t'ai chi chih practices.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I become part of it ...

The mountains, I become part of it ...
The herbs, the fir tree, I become part of it.
The morning mists, the clouds, the gathering
I become part of it.
The wilderness, the dew drops, the
     pollen ...
I become part of it.
          Navajo Chant, Earth Prayers, 1991, p. 5
Today I practiced outside in full daylight. It was 12 degrees. Quiet. The snow rested heavily on the Earth. The trees, the woodpecker, the grey squirrels ... I became part of it.

I am part of it still.... My fingers tingle as they rest lightly on the keyboard, waiting for words to come. How do I describe what it feels like to link yourself into the quiet peacefulness of a winter morning in the woods? There's an unidentifiable hum in the air.... Is it the music of the spheres? The heartbeat of the Earth? An electrical charge that stabilizes our Earth's place in the cosmos?

Yes, I hear the sound of snowmobiles in the distance. But here there is nothing more than a slight rustling of branches in treetops as the wind wanders by. Two woodpeckers cheep, cheep, cheep their way up the trunk of a tree. Four or five bluejays whisk to the top of surrounding trees and then disappear.

As I practice I feel like a tree moving lightly in the breeze. But, no, I'm not tranquil, rooted, or strong enough to maintain my Cosmic Consciousness Pose into eternity. Still, for this moment, I become part of it....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Being Peace

Darkness ... my favorite new practice time. Somehow when I move in the dark, I feel softer, slower, more relaxed. I immediately remember Justin Stone's frequent reminder about how to perform t'ai chi chih moving meditation: "Move slow motion as if in a dream."

Perhaps that's why a practice at dawn feels delightful. I'm not entirely asleep nor entirely awake. I'm not entirely in the dark nor entirely in the light. I'm not entirely still nor entirely speeded up.

The day hasn't quite begun and I'm held, briefly, in the "In-Between Times." I haven't allowed the day's busyness to yank me into its endless agenda. My mind hasn't accelerated onto the Monkey Mind racetrack. I can't see other creatures running, playing, flying or feeding and so, perhaps, without conscious intention, I am moving slow motion as if in a dream....

Every practice is slightly different. Each time I bring to my practice a different state of mind, intention, expectation, and body sense. Each time I remind myself to luxuriate in the experience of the NOW. Whatever happens, whoever is present, however my practice is performed ... all experiences are welcomed without judgment.... That's my goal, at least.

Of course, being fully present in the NOW is a never-ending journey. I'm grateful to find a few moments here--and there--to Be Peace....

Friday, December 18, 2009

Coming to Rest

I came to Rest this morning as a peachy-pink glow rose over the steel gray and dusty blue clouds that hugged the horizon. Yesterday's warm-up into the 20s continues ... it was +8 degrees when I rose at 5:45 am and it's eight degrees still, two hours later.

Last night, exhausted, I went to bed early. I couldn't relax, my mind rambled, I started a "to do" list in my head and noted all the things I should/could accomplish. Finally my partner said, "Slow down. Relax. Take deep breaths." That careful reminder helped and I carried it along with me into today's practice....

This morning I noticed how comfy-cozy and nurturing it feels to sink slowly down into Resting Position. Once there, I often imagine myself resting lightly on the Earth. I feel the Earth supporting me. I note the Earth's energy and bouyancy.

Often it appears that my students think of Resting Position as a place to get to but they don't think about how to get there--just do it! (Huh, that sounds like me trying to get to sleep last night!) It reminds me of the old maxim, "It's the journey that's important and not the destination." To me, arriving at Resting and the way in which I get there are both significant.

As a visual aid and encouragement I suggest to students that they imitate nature: "In the fall you're a leaf floating softly to the ground," I tell them or, "In the winter you're a beautiful snowflake sinking quietly to rest." Still, since we live in a goal-oriented society, it's difficult for us to appreciate and fully inhabit the steps we take along our path to a final destination, i.e., Resting.

So today try this: slow down and gently, softy, inch-by-inch allow your weight, the palms of your hands, and your attention to sink s-l-o-w-l-y toward the Earth. No rush. No need to push. No effort. No sense of time. Focus your energy and attention toward floating down, down, down ... softly. Ahhh.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Keeping Still

Quiet, bubbling energy during this morning's TCC practice. Am I still riding the tide of energy from last night's World Peace meditation? Whatever the reason, I joined the harmonious strains of today's dawning and it sings in me still.

My youngest brother called me last night around 5:45 pm. He's not a t'ai chi practitioner of any sort but a fan nonetheless. Years ago he watched me practice t'ai chi ch'uan in my parent's yard then commented, half-seriously, that he didn't need to learn himself because simply by watching me he felt more peaceful.

Yesterday he read my TCC blog entries for the first time. "So," he inquired, "why haven't you practiced today?"

Yes! I'm glad to be asked that question. And, truthfully, that was part of my intent in starting this blog. I've made a commitment to myself to practice TCC daily. Now, though, I have a growing support system of friends and readers who expect me to practice and who will ask me why when I don't. That's a good thing!

Americans have tremendous support from our culture and the world of advertising to engage in unhealthy and even destructive behaviors like overspending, overscheduling, and overindulging (i.e., eating sugar, smoking, and drinking too much coffee, alcohol, soda, etc.). Can we build communities of people who support us in practicing greater self-care?
And now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still ...
     Pablo Neruda, Earth Prayers, 1991, p. 394

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let there be Peace on Earth and Let it Begin with Me

Tonight's practice began, first, with a World Peace Card Meditation. At 7:30 pm I joined other Reiki practitioners and their friends worldwide as we allowed ourselves to become beacons of peace. Our meditations were directed toward five specific images: a World Peace Pendant and four World Peace Crystal Grids that have been placed at the north and south poles, in the Old City of Jerusalem, and in the classroom at the International Center for Reiki Training.

These cards were recently forwarded to me via email (thank you, Anna!) and I knew immediately that I wanted to participate in this monthly practice. For 15 minutes I held the cards in my hands, sent Reiki energy to the symbols pictured on the cards, and meditated on peace. What a powerful and power-filled experience!

I followed this meditation with my t'ai chi chih practice which flowed softly, slowly, and effortlessly. Performing seated meditation before my moving meditation practice was a welcome change. Typically I use t'ai chi chih practice to slow myself down. To begin TCC after I was already slowed down, peaceful, and relaxed was truly a gift.

I'm grateful that my busy day is almost over. Now I can luxuriate in the quiet calm that fills and surrounds me.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Wonder of All

I practiced TCC this morning amid a slanting snowfall. Light flakes of moisture speeding to earth on whispers of a slightly wicked wind. Temp: -4, new snow accumulation: up to an inch ... more coming.

The Bayfield pennisula juts up from Lake Superior's south shore directly into the lake. Most winter mornings we wake to a new layer of fresh-fallen "lake-effect snow." Sometimes it's merely a dusting, sometimes more.

Today's practice began after I stepped out onto the deck wearing a thick layer of clothing: heavy hat, lined leather mittens, Sorel boots, winter jacket topping down vest and sweatshirt, scarf wrapped around my mouth and nose. It felt good to move in fresh air and new-fallen snow. Once I stepped back inside the only sign of a winter-weather practice was the cold tip of my nose.

There is so much silence surrounding me here.... The woods rests beneath snow's thick insulation. The only sounds: the light tapping of a bird beak against tree skin, a quick rush of wind inciting tree branches to motion, my own footsteps crunching and squeaking atop a light coating of snow. The only movement--other than myself--the flutter of occasional birds and the whoosh of the breeze. I am safe in winter's embrace ... enchanted by the wonder of All.
It is our quiet time.
We do not speak, because the voices are within us.
It is our quiet time.
We do not walk, because the earth is all within us.
It is our quiet time.
We do not dance, because the music has lifted us to a place where
     the spirit is.
It is our quiet time.
We rest with all of nature....
          Nancy Wood, Earth Prayers, 1991, p. 324

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wind-Chill Factors

This morning began with a flurry of phone calls, e-mails, and then, a last minute work cancellation. After lunch I dug out an extension ladder buried in the snow on our deck. Then my brainstorm: "Why not continue shoveling to create a small outdoor TCC practice area?" Shovelful by shovelful I removed a heavy layer of snow from a 7x10' area outside the patio door.

By 2:00 pm it was 12 degrees ... warm enough, I guessed, for an outdoor practice. I stayed toasty in a fleece pullover, sweatshirt, down vest, and large, thick mittens. Here was uncontrovertible proof that I could continue my practice outside on other wintry days.

T'ai chi chih practice was lovely. I joyfully connected to the winter wonderland surrounding me. At one point I felt as if I was just one digital camera shot away from turning into a holiday greeting card. A woodpecker hammered on a nearby tree trunk. Nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and black-capped chickadees conversed and twittered, flapped and flittered from tree to tree. A slight breeze danced through the tree tops. An occasional snowflake floated by.

I recalled an outdoor winter practice session some 15+ years ago with my t'ai chi ch'uan practice partner, Timothy. The ground was covered in deep snow so we decided to practice on the frozen surface of a lake. Dressed in Sorel boots and winter parkas we stomped out a small practice area and began our form: rising, falling, kicking, leaping, spinning, squatting. It was fun--we felt like kids playing in the snow--and it was also tremendously difficult to kick our way through snow while remaining surefooted on the ice-covered lake beneath us. Today's practice on a freshly-shoveled wooden deck was, pure and simple, easy.

What, you may ask, is the key to a comfortable outdoor winter practice in the woods of northwestern Wisconsin? "Dress appropriately," I respond without a second thought, "And ... pay attention to the wind-chill factor."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Becoming Whole

I have come to terms with the future.
From this day onward I will walk
easy on the earth. Plant trees. Kill
no living things. Live in harmony with
all creatures. I will restore the earth
where I am. Use no more of its resources
than I need. And listen, listen to what
it is telling me.

M.J. Slim Hooey, Earth Prayers, 1991, p. 109
These words, I think, describe a bit of what happens when we engage in a regular t'ai chi chih moving meditation practice. Intentionally or not, we become explorers on the path of the Tao. As we listen to and experience our rootedness in the earth it begins to change us. We are no longer the independent, self-sufficient, all-knowing humans that our culture and training insist we become. Instead, we sense our connection to all of life in which we are no greater or less than the rest. We are, quite simply, a piece of the whole....

I began today's TCC practice during the slow brightening of the sky. Again, a still, silent day. Though temps rose to 20 degrees yesterday and encouraged me to practice outside today, subzero temps this morning convinced me otherwise.

My eye caught the edge of a print hanging on our living room wall as I began today's movements. It's a painting by local artist Jan Hartley Wise that she was commissioned to paint for the Duluth, MN Women's Center.

In the painting a group of naked women lie on their backs in a circle on the ground. Their rumps touch in the middle of the circle. Their legs, bent at the hip, extend upward toward the sky. Their heads reach out toward the rim of the circle, arms raised above their heads. Hair flows in a spiral around them weaving into tiny, tough tree roots. Standing atop each woman's extended legs and feet is another woman. Each of these women, too, stands naked and erect with arms pointing skyward. Legs and body parts merge together to form the trunk of a human tree. A spiral of life circles 'round their heads ... a circle of leaves, a flock of white birds--some black birds too--and another level of women rises above them. At the very top a white stork stands atop one woman's head, wings extended.

My interpretation? Jan visually portrays the important role played by our mothers and grandmothers and beyond in connecting us to the circle of life. As women, we are supported by the lives, the past achievements, and the love extended to us by our ancestors. Each of us, in our daily practice, is that tree. When we consciously envision our rootedness in the Earth and our suspension from Heaven, we feel nurtured and sustained by the natural world too. We are a part of the Tree of Life. It makes us whole.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

This Magic Moment

Lest anyone be misled by my descriptions of the woods around me let me clearly state: No, I am not currently practicing TCC outdoors. It may appear as if I've plunked myself down in the middle of a snowbank and I'm softly moving through frigid temperatures. Sorry. If it sounds that way, it's because I feel so thoroughly embraced by the beauty of the trees, plants, creatures, and weather patterns that surround me.

was tempted to try an outdoor practice today. The temp was up ... two to three degrees above zero. Total stillness all around. A new winter jacket my partner gave me last night--an early Christmas present--tempted me to test its warmth. But ... the sun was rapidly rising, a bright red cherry popping out of a pie. Instead, I immediately began my TCC practice looking through windows with the best view of nature's drama.

The frosting frenzy from yesterday was definitely over. In the still, calm, growing light I was captured first, in the heat of rosy pink. Soon a fire of golden light burned atop the waves of Lake Superior. Then that, too, morphed into a single, solitary ball of shining white light that rose into the sky, swept between the trees, passed through the windows, and shone over my face and body.

Notably, the energy during today's practice didn't feel as intense as yesterday. The winter storm was clearly over but the sensation of stillness and calm that followed in its path of turbulence was palpable.

Sunrise and sunset are favorite times of mine--I call them the In-Between Times--because it's an all-too-brief transition from darkness (yin) to light (yang) and lightness to dark. The shift from one to the other is short-lived but full of power ... magical.

Nature's switch from night to day and back again could be compared to that brief moment in every TCC movement when the weight shift from back to front and then from front to back (or side to side) rests in a single tiny pause. In that instant the body realizes that the weight moving forward and back or to the side needs to reverse or you'll end up face-down on the floor. During that momentary interval the weight completes its momentum in one direction and reverses back in the other. You can literally feel it in the bottoms of your feet.

What might it be like, I wonder, to imagine those transitory moments in a more visual way? Each time we shift our weight from one direction to the other we could re-experience those In-Between Times, literally feeling our bodies transition from light to darkness and back again.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Snow-covered, Sun-drenched

Today ... the sun. When I rise, it is ten degrees below zero. A fresh layer of lake effect snow rests upon the already heavily-blanketed earth.

During TCC practice I feel as if I've arrived at the scene of a party except ... it's the morning after. A deep layer of white frosting covers the earth. And, in a rush to frost and decorate the cake, the busy baker raised the beaters out of the mixing bowl before they stopped spinning. Frosting sprayed everywhere. Spruce branches are covered with the stuff. It's spattered against bare trunks of trees, over naked branches, and, occasionally, a whiff of breeze topples fresh drops onto the earth.

A feeling of celebration lingers in the air. And, from an azure sky, sunlight sparkles over everything.

The woods bursts with excitement and possibility.... My palms tingle with energy throughout my practice. And I quietly tell the trees that I love them.  I feel secure and protected in their silent presence; held in the circle of their arms.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Living & Moving in Harmony

A world of white greeted me today. Snow everywhere ... on tree branches, the ground, packed against the top, front, back, and sides of my car, plastered against house windows. It took effort to get to class in the snowy, subzero and single digit temps, but, as usual, it was wonderful to share the chi with today's small group of students.

A nice reading of the Tao, Verse 49, in our continuing TCC class. Wayne Dyer calls this verse "Living without Judgment" and his translation of Lao Tzu reads:
The sage has no fixed mind;
he is aware of the needs of others....

The sage lives in harmony with all below heaven.
He sees everything as his own self;
he loves everyone as his own child....
In harmony with that reading, Wayne Dyer asks each of us to begin to see ourselves as a person who notices rather than judges, a person who lives beyond judgment. Simply by changing our attitude toward ourselves and others we create the potential for a world of greater peace and tranquility.

Of course t'ai chi chih practice is the perfect forum for practicing acceptance and nonjudgmentalism. Our TCC practice requires us to soften and relax: first, our bodies, then our emotions, minds, and spirits. That is one of the reasons why t'ai chi chih practice feels so good ... we let go of muscular tension, mental-emotional stress, and automatic judgments in order to flow with softness and continuity. We become like children. We lose all pretense and expectation. We choose to simply be, moving softly and slowly in this moment ... now.

Justin Stone, the creator of T'ai Chi Chih Joy thru Movement, says it this way (from: "Spiritual Stories-Volume I"):
In truth, it is difficult to find a displeasing aspect in nature, if one looks with a quiet mind, not concerned with its own problems.

When the mind is transparent and pure, as if reflected on the mirror-like surface of the water, there is nothing in the world that you would dislike. When it is serene as the light breeze in the sunshine, there will be no one whom you would like to forget.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tingles and Swirls ...

We're in the midst of the first major snowstorm of the season. Snow, cold, 25-35 mile-per-hour winds, white-out conditions.

During today's noon practice I'm mindful of the snow whirling around me. My initial sink into Resting feels like I'm being pressed down into a huge, soft blanket of snow. My palms tingle with energy throughout the movements. I'm not sure whether the tingling is a residual effect from my snow shoveling several hours earlier. Or, might it come directly from the energy swirling around me? Even though I'm protected by the trees and the house in which I conduct my practice I still feel part of the circling, cycling powerhouse of energy that surrounds me.

Perhaps because I'm choosing to practice with greater intention and attention I'm becoming more aware of my own bodily energy as well as the energies of my surroundings. What do you feel when you practice in the middle of a snowstorm, thunderstorm, or lightning storm? What happens during your practice on a sunshiny, windy, or still day?

Your comments and stories of t'ai chi chih experiences are welcomed. My hope is that this blog will become a conversation between a rich variety of people with a wealth of experiences gained from our t'ai chi chih practices. I welcome your input....

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Half Moon Practice

Two degrees. Half moon half-frosted by clouds. It's quiet ... no sound of furnace, humidifier, or, even, music to distract me. As I stand in Resting Position I hear a soft, regular thump just beneath the surface of my thoughts. Is it a wild creature's footsteps on our deck? No. As I listen closely I recognize the deep rhythmical beating of my heart.

I relish these early morning t'ai chi chih moving meditation practice and writing sessions. If I accomplish nothing else during the day, I've begun with two disciplines that ask much of me but give me a tremendous return.... I feel lighter, more energetic, calmer, more centered. Not even dentist appointments can rattle me now.

Several days ago I noticed that I've begun restructuring my daily schedule around this morning routine. I'm opting out of late night movies. I'm pushing back other early morning activities 'til later in the day. Moving meditation ... then writing. This is now my morning routine. It's easy for many (all?) of us to think of a daily t'ai chi chih practice as just one more obligation; time consuming, overwhelming. In this fast-paced world of ours it's understandable we'd feel that way.

My t'ai chi ch'uan teacher spoke these words years ago.... "Monkey Mind will always try to convince you that you don't have the time or energy to practice," she admonished us. She made it clear that it was our obligation to get beyond Monkey Mind's distracting, unhelpful lobbying attempts. We had to take responsibility. We had to honor and uphold our own personal commitment to practice.

For me, at the moment, I've found something that works. Since I've been unwilling in recent years to maintain my commitment to myself, I've now made a commitment to the blogosphere. You--whoever you are--are now my practice partners....

Monday, December 7, 2009

Attention ... Intention

Tiny, light snowflakes float through the the air this morning. Drifting ... sinking.

Part of my inspiration for this blog came from a friend. She mentioned a year or more ago that she read a daily blog written by a woman who described her bike trips to and from work. "I don't know what's so captivating about it," she admitted, "but I'm fascinated. I read it every single day."

That comment likely planted the first seed of intention for this daily t'ai chi chih practice blog. It also asked me to think about the importance of intention and attention in everything I do. If a woman riding a bicycle can find significant moments in every single ride she takes, then I can certainly find some thing(s) of value to share from a regular t'ai chi chih practice.

Interestingly, when I know that after my practice I'll sit down to write, I devote a deeper level of attention to each moment. My body and mind open. I listen more deeply. I feel more strongly. I see with clearer eyes what is unfolding in the world around me AND within me. I search for words to describe it.

Today, and every day of my practice, I drink in the beauty of my home in the woods and am nourished by it. This appreciation and gratitude comes from my attention to what is right here, right now.

My intention to maintain a daily TCC practice and to write about it daily brings me gifts as well. Already I feel that my energy is stronger, my direction clearer, my mind and body, calmer.

And the snowflakes continue to drift and fall....

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Morning Body Prayer

As I moved this day a lovely, white glow crept over the line of the horizon lighting the underside of a heavy bank of clouds. Gradually a fleshy pink settled upon the far edge of Earth and cradled the weight of huge, moist clouds on its belly.

Belly ... that's what I noticed during today's practice. To the Chinese it's known as dantienne. The center is what guides us through every movement in the form. I mention it often in my t'ai chi chih classes reminding us all that we begin from our center, follow our center forward and back (or side to side) and return our attention to center as we sink into Resting.

I'm most aware of the twist and turn of my center during Carry the Ball to the Side; the Taffies, specifically Perpetual Motion; Working the Pulley; and Passing Clouds. Today I marveled--again--at how easily my center propels me through the Pulley, its natural sway from side-to-side allowing my upper body, arms, and hands to float softly through the brightening air.

The gathering light also centered my awareness on the sanctuary in which I live. An evergreen reaches its topmost point toward Heaven, akin to a church steeple. The dark, silent trees remind me of sentinels standing guard. But they, too, are members of my congregation just as the squirrels, deer, and birds are as they begin their morning movements among the trees and over the earth. The gathering dawn brings a memory of candles on an altar. And ... my moving body becomes a prayer.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Darkness coming to light....

Today's practice began in half-darkness. The sky was overcast, the horizon weighted with clouds. Magically, the gathering light seemed to arise from earth rather than sky. Several inches of new-fallen snow reflected the blueish-grey overhead in a brilliant white light from below.

In these weeks leading up to winter solstice I feel the darkness expand day-by-day. By the time solstice arrives I'll be eager to wave goodbye to the lengthening darkness and welcome the return of light. Again, one of the many cyclings and circlings of the Tao.

My practice today was an exercise in "going through the motions." Even so, practice time passed quickly. My body felt stiff, my emotional state, cramped and sad. Yesterday I gave notice on a job I've needed to quit for some time. And, though I felt absolutely right about my choice, it still wasn't easy to carry it to a graceful conclusion. My "boss" felt sad and disappointed. I felt responsible ... and sad. Sometimes when we make choices to support ourselves, to move toward a life of greater meaning, purpose, and happiness, we disappoint others. We feel we've let our loved ones down.

This past week+ of TCC practice helped me clarify that the expectations and desires of other people shouldn't prevent me from pursuing my own dreams, energizing my own passions. Perhaps the arrival of my 55th birthday this past week--a significant mid-decade milestone--may have also inspired this change of focus.

Still, I intuit that my return to a regular daily practice of TCC requires more of me. It insists that I stay in touch with what matters most. As my life force energy balances and expands I realize how necessary it is for me to make a difference in our world, no matter how small. Teaching t'ai chi chih moving meditation is part of my role here on earth but, somehow, I believe there is more ...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Floating Down ... Like a Snowflake

Today's practice ... soft as snow. To begin, I matched my movements to the slow, floating feeling of the snowflakes drifting down outside my window. As I stepped into Resting Position I felt the weightiness of the snow/myself coming to rest on the Earth.

I encourage my students to practice in different locations, at different times, and in different weather conditions to help sensitize them to the varieties of energy that surround us all in our living and work environments. We are, whether we realize it consciously or not, tremendously affected by the pace of life around us.

The next time you're behind the wheel of your car pay conscious attention to how you adjust your speed to match the flow of traffic around you on the freeway. Walking on a busy sidewalk? Do you pick up your pace to flow with the crowd or do you step off to the side and continue down the street at your own speed? Is it possible to opt out of the hurried rush? Try this: practice TCC on a lake or seashore on a windy day and then on a calm, water-smooth-as-glass day. What happens? Do you slow yourself down or speed yourself up to match the lapping or crashing of waves on shore?

We are an integral part of the living body of this Earth. It's only natural that we acclimatize ourselves to the pace, the feeling-sense, the frantic fury or the quiet solitude that surrounds us. That's why a t'ai chi chih practice is so important....

It makes us conscious of the flow of life around us. It teaches us to slow the inhumane pace of our human world to a more sane and healthy speed. It blankets us with peace and quietude in the midst of un-ease and dis-ease. It helps us to decelerate the frantic flurry of our inner and outer lives. It brings us peace.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Floating on the Energy

Today ... t'ai chi chih class day. Thursdays currently consist of two one and one-half hour classes, back-to-back, one for beginners and one for continuing students. The continuing class began in Summer 2004. For the past year or so we've spent our time in a full TCC practice session, then read and discussed the Tao. The question I ask my students is this: How does the message of the Tao relate to our TCC practice?

Today's lesson from the Tao: Verse 48. Wayne Dyer's book, Change Your Thoughts Change your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao, translates part of this verse as follows:
Learning consists of daily accumulating.
The practice of the Tao consists of daily diminishing;
decreasing and decreasing, until doing nothing.
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.
An accurate description of t'ai chi chih practice, I'd say. Why? Because I'm constantly looking for more and more ways to simplify my practice, to let go of tension and become more relaxed, to release Monkey Mind, and to flow through ... and on ... and with ... the chi.

Justin Stone, the originator of TCC, often describes performing this practice as engaging in "the effort of no effort." When we relax enough, "flowing in soft motion as if in a dream," we have the opportunity to let go of much in our practice that is unnecessary: overreaching, overstepping, leaning too far forward or back, making too-large circles in the air, and/or adding beautiful, dramatic flourishes to the form that diminish rather than elevate the chi.

Too often, this overdoing and overreaching distracts from the essence of TCC practice which is to: Activate, Balance, and Circulate the chi or vital force energy. After much practice we become able to recognize the areas in which we overDO. Verse 48 says to me: BE instead of DO. Minimize your movements. Trust the chi to guide and carry you. Float on the energy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Intent and loving acceptance....

A splitting headache and nausea--akin to a migraine--slowed down my morning and delayed my practice. It's now late afternoon and, thankfully, I made it through practice with a less virulent headache than the one I woke up with.

The world of headache pain slows me down physically AND mentally. Yes, I was reminded of that fact during this afternoon's practice. When I arrived at the Taffies, I was so relaxed and/or headachy that I lost track of where I was in the form. Suddenly I was in the midst of Anchor Step Taffy. Had I skipped the Basic Taffy? I decided to revisit it but just as suddenly found my body doing Perpetual Motion Taffy. I'd skipped Wrist Circle Taffy entirely. Eventually I backed up and doubled up on some of the movements.

The moral of this story? It doesn't really matter in which order the t'ai chi chih movements are performed as long as they ARE performed. When so-called mistakes are made, just let it go....

The perfection of t'ai chi chih moving meditation practice is in its goal: to create internal peace (and, eventually, peace throughout the world). How do we do that? With intent and loving acceptance....

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dances with Squirrels

Today's practice: a deluxe edition of "Dancing with the Squirrels." While I moved, they moved. Or should I say--perhaps more accurately--while THEY moved, I moved.

It was a relief to witness their return to our woods. Many red squirrels and occasional greys raided our bird feeders this summer. Come fall, though, they vanished. Several weeks after their disappearance--it was painfully obvious--we speculated that they'd been eaten by fishers, one of the most vicious predators in the forest. Then last week several large grey squirrels reappeared. Still, no reds.

Today the greys were up and down tree trunks, chasing, brushing casually past one another, sprinting across woodland grasses, and twitching their tails. Late in my practice I looked up to see one large grey nestled on a tree branch tail over his head; a still, furry bundle.

It was great fun to watch the squirrely activities as I shifted my weight forward and back, side-to-side, and circulated my own balls of energy. My practice finished a bit sooner today. Was I following the lead of the squirrels? It's hard to say. Today is the first time since I started this moving-writing exercise that I have an early morning appointment ... no time to dally.

Monday, November 30, 2009

These Magic Moments

Trees peopled the landscape. Their dark presence--drawn into brief silhouette by the incandescence of emerging sun--was witness to my practice.

The sunrise was lovely. I breathed it in ... deep, slow breaths. For me, these magical minutes of sun emerging over horizon to light earth and sky are a blessing.

I began practice by standing quietly in Resting Position; feeling my rootedness to the earth, imagining my connection to the sky. Soon I felt energy in my palms, a slight vibration and feeling of fullness, a light trembling of fingers.

Practice time passed quickly. One difference today. Frances rose with me this morning. (I'm typically the solo early riser.) I became aware of her presence through the whirr of the coffee grinder, the clatter of a pan on the stove, the swish of rice pouring into metal.

Surprisingly, I was not distracted from my practice by these sounds but pulled deeper into it. It's easier for me to focus my attention on the present when I hear outside noises and distractions. Inner noises--Monkey Mind again?!?--are a different story....

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Coming to Light

I watched the woods come to light today. I'd hoped to see a gleaming, pink-orange sunrise over Lake Superior.... But, though a three-quarter moon shone brightly through our windows last evening, this morning is dark, overcast. We live on the Bayfield peninsula which juts out into Lake Superior. Late fall skies are often filled with clouds formed by moisture from the still-unfrozen lake. A day, an hour, a few minutes of sunshine is a delight.

Starting my practice in darkness and ending in light felt dramatically different. The energy is distinctive: in the darkness I wished for quiet comfort. I felt compelled to make more intuitive choices about the movements I performed and the manner in which I moved my body. My practice varied from the typical routine: Rocking Motion--two sets (18 total), then Passing Clouds, two sets.

As the morning lightened, energy shifted. The pace of life surged as Lake Superior flashed into view, silvery water reflecting blue-grey sky. Rust-brown leaves shone from the ground as birds flew to the feeder area. A woodpecker hung from the suet pecking out breakfast.

I didn't think about what movements came next but let my body decide. I now felt ready to extend myself further, activate my body more. Two sets of Working the Pulley were followed by all variations of the Taffies, three sets each.

The Lights and Healing Sounds carried me to the end of my practice.

One of my long-time students mentioned recently that she needed to change the atmosphere and time of her practice. Often she found herself practicing while coffee brewed and the clock ticked closer to work time. She recognized that her morning routine pulled her out of the quiet softness of a slow, relaxed, not-on-a-schedule practice.

This morning's practice invited me into a deeper exploration of how my own practice varies from darkness to light. It's inspiration, I guess, to rise earlier, practice in greater darkness. And feel, simply feel, the difference.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Goofy Madness

I was right. Today's moving meditation practice flowed out of me, smooth and calm. After initial anxiety about how to do this t'ai chi chih practice blog writing thing I'm back to center.

I chose a different spot in the living room for today's practice. From here I can see Lake Superior sparkling and glistening in the distance. Of course, acres and acres of trees dropped their leaves in order for this magnificent view to appear.

Today I lost myself in the glimmer of shining lake reflecting shining sky. And then ... practice was over. It surprised me how quickly practice time glided by even as I moved slowly, slowly.

Now at Day Three I enjoy this goofy mad experiment. It gets me out of bed early and plops me directly into the middle of two of my greatest loves: dancing with the Universe and finding words to describe that experience. What could be better than that?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Day Two: Distraction

Today is another quiet day in the woods. Despite the calm--no breeze--I felt uneasy during my morning t'ai chi chih (TCC) practice. Students' words echoed through my mind. I remembered a conversation I had about TCC post-Thanksgiving dinner. I worried about what to write in today's blog. In other words, Monkey Mind was up and running....

Our dog, Namaste, barked incessantly throughout my half-hour practice. Deer were nearby, I know, although they remained out of sight. A woodpecker pounded the hanging suet, a flush of bluejays raided the ground below the birdfeeder, and several nuthatches hunted seed.

Still, though I felt the energy in my palms and I slowed into the movements, I was not totally present in my practice. Instead of "be here now," I anticipated the too-soon-future when my blog awaited an entry.

Well, that's a bit of insight into my personality ... I am an anxious person. Of course, t'ai chi chih moving meditation brings peace and tranquility into my life. But that, too, can be fleeting. Often when I'm in the midst of a practice I wonder, "Why can't I live my life this way? Calm. Rooted in the wisdom and love at the core of my being." All too quickly the peace and comfort I've gained while performing the TCC movements is replaced by Life with a capital "L."

I believe, though, that the more regularly I practice, the more benefits I receive. I told Michael, our waiter at the Village Inn in Cornucopia, yesterday--where Frances and I went for a Thanksgiving meal--that I teach t'ai chi chih moving meditation in Corny.

"Really?" he responded, "Oh, that's why you seem so calm."

My partner laughed at his comment. The laughter was immediate and sure. Yes, she lives with me every day, year after year, and she is witness to my ups and downs. She sees how the raucous, rolling waves of my emotions sometimes turn me into--her words--a drama queen.

I'm better than I used to be. That's what I tell my students. And I know it's true. Earlier in my life I was often swamped or thrown overboard by the strength and ferocity of my anger, grief, and shame. Now I know that, mostly, I can stay afloat and keep my bearings. I seldom drown in the deep lake of my emotions anymore.

Years ago at a t'ai chi chih teachers' training the trainer sat quietly with his legs bouncing up and down. He was sitting as calmly as he could in the circle of certified teachers and teachers-to-be even as his body indicated that it was difficult; he was ready to get up and move, forgo the discussion, just go-go-go. "You think this is bad," he said to the group, "You should have seen me before I started practicing t'ai chi chih moving meditation."

I agree. T'ai chi chih practice doesn't turn us into perfect people. Perhaps more than anything t'ai chi chih moving meditation helps us to accept ourselves exactly as we are. For we are--all of us--imperfectly perfect human beings. And what greater gift can we offer ourselves than unconditional love and acceptance?

I know that tomorrow's blog will be easier. The day after that easier yet. Today I launched my boat into wide open waters. In the days that follow I'll gain greater comfort and experience as I balance myself between these two loves of mine: t'ai chi chih moving meditation and writing. If you'd like, I invite you to join me on my deep sea adventure....

Thursday, November 26, 2009

And so it begins ...

Today is Day One of my daily T'ai Chi Chih (TCC) moving meditation/blogging experiment. First, move. Next, write about my T'ai Chi Chih practice. What happened, how I felt, what I learned.... Sounds simple, doesn't it? It could be. It should be. But ... will it be? That remains, shall we say, to be seen.

I made this reckless commitment earlier today in my regular blog "Under the Forest Canopy" at I wrote that blog after a morning TCC practice in which I'd seen six deer browsing through the woods outside our house. I was bewitched. I felt unaccountably blessed and thankful. And, further, I was unexplainably willing to take a desperate, delightful leap into the known and unknown.

Why does this t'ai chi chih blog journal seem desperate? Perhaps because I've been known to dally weeks between blog entries. Suddenly I'm committed to a daily measure of words. I don't know what those words will be, how those words will sound, or whether those words will flow freely from my brain or falter and stick to my fingertips.

Worse, I haven't maintained a regular daily t'ai chi chih practice for years. An unhealed knee injury from four+ years ago is partially to blame for the deceleration of my practice. A move to the woods of Northwestern Wisconsin seven years ago shifted me into the struggle to survive mode and I've been rattling around on that hamster wheel ever since.

So ... daily writing and a daily t'ai chi chih practice have eluded me for years.

What better time to start than now??