Friday, April 30, 2010

Rest and Relaxation

No thunderstorm. Light rain--enough to wet the pavement and earth--dripped and dropped throughout the night and day. Green flushes around us. Frances describes it as the forest is closing in on us again.

Impressions of today's deck T'ai Chi Chih practice: shades of green, phoebe pumps its tail as it perches on a branch, sky heaves with clouds, bird song ... then stillness. I move slowly and quietly and ... just as I settle into Cosmic Consciousness Pose rain returns briefly. Just enough wetness to signal an ending to the quiet movement. Now as I sit at my computer and gaze out the window I watch dark blue clouds chase across a white cloud covered sky.

Few words tonight. Eventually I realize that I'm in the middle of a low blood sugar which may explain my mental confusion and difficulty finding words to write. Enough already. It's time to rest and relax.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gather Spirit ... Be in Harmony

I look out an east window and the sky is darkly clouded, treetops circling and swaying from side to side. Hmmm. Looks like rain. I glance out a north window and the sky is lighter, the wind less pushy, the rain less sure. Perhaps, just perhaps, tonight will be the night for an all-encompassing thunderstorm. One can always hope....

Our morning TCC class was host to a good friend of one of the students. She's visiting from California and she courageously stepped into our practice circle and followed along. Even though Carry the Ball to the Side and the Taffies were a challenge she gamely continued through the practice to the end.

We engaged in a lively discussion of the Tao, Verse 59, afterwards. Wayne Dyer calls this verse "Living by Thrift and Moderation," and Ursula LeGuin calls her version, "Staying on the Way." LeGuin's verse begins: In looking after your life and following the way, gather spirit.

Dyer's verse begins: In governing people and serving nature, nothing surpasses thrift and moderation. Dyer goes on in this chapter to describe the importance of restraint, frugality, moderation, and thrift. He writes:
     Living in thrift and moderation means being in harmony with the world through your generous nature. Rather than continually prodding, directing, giving orders, setting down rules, and demanding obedience, it's important to be a leader who accumulates a warehouse full of virtue by living in accordance with the Tao.... Feel joyful knowing that the example you're modeling is helping others make the right choices, as this is the essence of Tao leadership.
Regular T'ai Chi Chih practice is important for many reasons not the least of which is the opportunity it provides us to gather spirit (per LeGuin) and to be in harmony with the world (per Dyer). One student commented that she views every movement in TCC as being about giving and receiving. When we view TCC in this way, we come to see our roles as TCC teachers and TCC students as knowing that the example you're modeling is helping others make the right choices (again, per Dyer).

What greater act of service can we give to the world?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

For the Love of ... Silence

I practiced TCC in the midst of irony tonight. Earlier today I read an article and review about a new book entitled, In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, by George Prochnik. Prochnik proposes that noise is more than mere distraction; it threatens our mental and physical health, detracts from our ability to concentrate, and breaks down the ideals of dialogue that democracy depends upon.

So here I was ... performing T'ai Chi Chih practice outside while Frances operated the Weed Whipper on the other side of the house. The gas engine whined loudly and occasionally produced mechanical grinding sounds. When Frances came around the corner of the house I smelled the gas, and I immediately vacated the area.

Interestingly, I'm usually not disturbed by noise during T'ai Chi Chih class practices when any number of students comment about people talking in the hallway outside the door, the wood floor squeaking, or the sound of the bathroom fan filtering into our room. But I'd just finished writing an article for a locally produced book called Love Stories of the Bay. My piece, "For the Love of ... Silence," required me to think more deeply about what I most appreciate about peace and quiet. Clearly, I wasn't in the mood for noise.

A class TCC practice is special because of the peace and silence it evokes. To spend time with a group of people where no words are spoken but where there is also a definite sense of harmony and collegiality is a unique situation and a rare gift to us all.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Attention = Manifestation

Spring is sprung ... I noticed my first dandelions blooming along the side of the road during Frances and my lunchtime walk today. I also spotted a male ruffed grouse standing on top of a log next to the road. I'm guessing we interrupted him in the midst of drumming his wings to attract females since he seemed reluctant to leave the area.

Other signs of spring: an Eastern phoebe pair did decide to build a nest over our patio door on the south side of the house. It grows a bit each day but so far there are as many construction materials lying on the deck as there are suspended on the narrow ledge above the door. I'm doubtful about the success of this project since we use this door often during the warm months and I fear that the door's regular opening and closing may wreck havoc on this precariously positioned nest.

More sun-filled wide open skies today. Tomorrow night is full moon so I hope weather remains clear in order to catch a dramatic view of nature's yardlight.

Tonight's TCC class was quiet. I commented to my students after practice that they all seemed to have a nice, upright posture (i.e., no leaning). Several people admitted that they were paying attention to keeping their spines straight and focusing on moving from their centers. It was fun to spend 10 minutes talking about the way in which our mental state affects our movements and our ability or inability to relax and move with a relaxed flow.

Yes, the students are starting to get the principles of t'ai chi chih and recognize the ways in which their attention manifests a more relaxing and relaxed experience of movement and Chi flow.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Whatever Presents Itself

After eyeing a potential nesting spot under the eaves above our patio door an Eastern phoebe pair is building their nest there. It grows day by day even though a portion of the nest has fallen to the deck/entryway (it's mainly constructed of mud, leaves, and grass).

I continually marvel at the fact that a mama bird and four to five eggs, then fledglings will live in this tiny, precarious nest for about a month. How they will all fit remains to be seen....

Evening temps are creeping downward from 40 degrees. The sky is filled with white light even though it's almost 8:00 p.m. A jetstream reflects the evening sun in a wide, white arch viewed from the north end of our house. And the dog maintains his nightly ritual ... bark, bark-bark-bark, whoof, whoof, bark-bark-bark. He's reminding our wild neighbors to steer clear of his territory: No bear, wolves, or coyotes allowed. Keep clear.

Tonight's practice felt good, familiar, comforting. I think about tomorrow night's TCC class and idly wonder what I'll teach. I should know by now that it's often best to focus on whatever presents itself in the moment. Planning ahead is sometimes helpful but often feels like overkill. Being present in the moment and noticing what needs attention typically works best.

I'll leave tomorrow 'til tomorrow and right now say, Good night.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Alive, Alert, Awake & Joyous

Thankfully, a light rain did fall yesterday afternoon. Cooler temps today; a breeze dances through branches and sets them bobbing and twirling.

Today's TCC practice was back to front, end to beginning. It felt good to change-up my routine somewhat ... starting at the end, ending at the start. I flowed right through it as I focused on using my body like a bellows, pulling in the energy of earth and sky as I exhale and inhale, move forward and back, up and down.

I can always relax more but I let myself relax just this much. Later these words from a song-chant-affirmation come to mind: I am alive, I am alert, I am awake and joyous. Yes! It helps tremendously to be rested, relaxed, at ease.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Just Right

Yup. I'm feeling more back to 'normal' today. Grey, grey skies ... with the most hopeful feeling of chance of rain that I've noted all through the month of April. I sure hope that it delivers what it's promising....

My early afternoon practice felt just right for a grey, rain-possible day. Quiet, earthy, slow, and calm.

Each day I see more greenery filling the skies, more blossoming and budding, brightening and blooming. We admired brilliant yellow marsh marigolds along Emil Road today as we walked. Upon returning home Frances mentioned that the tiny blue forget-me-nots are blossoming on the east side of the house. And, of course, the daffodils and, now, tulips are taking their turn in the realm of color-full. Each flower opening is a miracle of color, promise, and magic made real.

Now Frances and I are off to a film festival at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center (NGLVC) outside of Ashland. It's called "Making It Home" and features films about the environment, conservation, local food production, and more. This afternoon's fare includes University of Wisconsin student shorts produced in 2009. These films offer a wide variety of topics from milk production to fruit gleaning to a 77-year-old man who lives on farm land that contains ancient Native American effigy mounds to a profile of an 86-year-old woman who was an environmental hero for sorting plastic and advocating a national recycling policy.

What better way to spend a rain-promising-day than taking in some movies....

Friday, April 23, 2010

Acceptance = Peace

Well now, what do I write when I feel exhausted, grumpy, and impatient? Nothing?

I allowed myself to get overly stressed by several deadlines earlier this week. Today I'm left to deal with the consequences. Despite the sunny warm weather--summer teasing and tempting us again--I'm in a funk. When I'm this tired, it's best for me to simply take the day off, lounge, relax, read, nap. Usually by late in the day my energy returns and I'm functional again.

Today, though, I haven't let myself recover. I decided that I had so much to do that I just couldn't relax. Consequently, by late afternoon I'm still exhausted, still moody, still wandering through the day clothed in the funk.

Surely T'ai Chi Chih practice will help ... and it does, a bit. It allows me to breathe in clean air, listen to bird song, view the deep-blue beauty of Lake Superior from afar, settle my mind, and release some unhelpful thoughts. Next: a walk. And later? Perhaps another round of T'ai Chi Chih practice. On a day like today it's better for me to be proactive about my mental attitude rather than sink deeper into the muck.

Interestingly, today's reading in 365 Tao is "Acceptance" (p. 113). It reads, in part:
     Acceptance is a dynamic act. It should not signal inertness, stagnation, or inactivity. One should simply ascertain what the situation requires and then implement what one thinks is best. As long as one's deeds are in accord with the time and one leaves no sloppy traces, then the action is correct.
 Although I've been struggling with my level of productivity today it's time for me to accept what I managed to do today as well as what I didn't. Then, yes then, I can be at peace....

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Focus on the Unchanging Tao ...

A frosty morning (20 degrees) slowly warmed to 60 degrees then dropped back to 50. Elegant blue sky provided the perfect backdrop for greens and reds to burst from tree branches above; yellow daffodils and pink and blue lungwort blossomed out of the earth; and snatches of budding green tipped branches of bushes and small trees at every level in between. All life buds, flowers, leaves out, and grows....

This morning I heard an Eastern phoebe clinging to the top ledge of the kitchen window. Soon another phoebe flew to the south end of the house. It looked as if it were examining the entrance overhang to determine whether a nest could be built in the shelter of the patio doorway. Nest building is definitely at the top of someone's mind. Enroute to my morning TCC class I spotted three wild turkeys rushing up the hillside away from the edge of the highway.

Our small, quiet group practice felt powerful ... intense. At practice end, one of the class members with a painful injured back stepped into the center and we circled around her to direct our Healing Sounds to her body-mind-spirit. We sent another class member healing energies then closed by reading and discussing the Tao, Verse 58.

Wayne Dyer encouraged us to "focus on the unchanging Tao." I reminded the class:

T'ai chi chih allows us to be untroubled by either good or bad fortune. When we float on the energy of both, we are distracted by neither. We need both positive and negative energies in order to survive and thrive. One of the reasons that TCC practice feels so good is that in our practices as we step and shift, twist and turn, we remain in the center, calm, present, at ease ... focused on the unchanging Tao.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Just as quickly as summer peeked its head through a hole in the leaf-covered ground it quickly ducked itself down below again. Today's temperatures hovered in the 20s ... time to relocate buried long underwear. Skies opened to sunshine in late afternoon and, as evening falls, I'm aware of the air above me filling with buds, flowers, and leaves. Stark, naked branches are nowhere in sight.

I'm thrilled to experience how quickly and expertly my body heals itself. Joints that throbbed and ached after Sunday's canoe trip are quickly recovering; muscles, releasing and relaxing. Other than a few lingering bruises my body seems ready to get up and go.

This evening's practice slipped quickly by as I gazed out my office window. Funny. I don't feel inclined to practice outside in this weather now that I've experienced warmer, more comfortable temperatures.

I'm still thinking about my body as bellows while I move and I find that my waist-belly-t'an tien easily expands and contracts like a bellows filling and pushing out air as my weight moves forward and back and my legs straighten and bend, straighten and bend. It's gratifying to occasionally experience new realizations about practice. Truly, the learning process is never-ending or, dare I say, ending? Never.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What questions do I ask myself?

Today was sun-soaked Tuesday. Early in the day temperatures climbed to 80 degrees promising summer-like weather but quickly dropped 30+ degrees and promptly segued back into a northern Wisconsin spring.

Tonight's t'ai chi chih class was ... dare I say relaxing? After a full practice session I asked the class four of 11 questions that I developed over the last several years to encourage students to examine their practice. These four questions were:
1.  Am I grounded?
2.  Do I move from my center?
3.  Am I gliding forward and back allowing weight to flow (soften knees) naturally without force?
4.  Am I suspended, spine straight, no leaning forward?
We practiced moving our bodies in answer to each of the questions. We also explored the concept of being a "bellows" and how that realization/recognition affects the way we move and what we experience in our bodies.

It's fun to see students experience an ah ha moment during class when a teaching or concept suddenly makes sense in a way it previously didn't. Several gleams of recognition flashed across a few faces in the group before class time was suddenly--and unexpectedly--over.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Stress Transformed

Sunday, April 18, 2010:

The plan:  Take two canoes on a half-day trip down the Brule River to its mouth at Lake Superior. We four adventurers planned to float lightly down the river as we took note of the wildlife and scenery and simply enjoyed nature on this beautiful, sunny, 50 degree spring day.

The reality was a bit different. We anticipated in advance that the river level would run low since rainfall has been in short supply this spring. We just didn't realize how low.... Minutes after Frances and I put in we understood that our day was destined to be rocky in every sense of the word. Soon we found ourselves trapped against rocks, spun sideways, and swamped with water.

Our little dog, Namaste, was dumped from the canoe and, courtesy of his life jacket, paddled safely to shore. Frances and I struggled to hang on to our canoe and equipment as our companions in the second canoe rescued the remainder of our floating gear while we headed for shore. There we toweled off, changed into dry clothes and set off again. New adventures lay around the next curve ... and the next ... and the next ...

As soon as we breathed a sigh of relief after making it safely through another mini-rapids we readied ourselves for the next roiling water. As our journey continued, though, we did become more adept at going with the flow. Nonetheless, our anticipated three to four hour trip took more than seven hours and, by journey's end, my blood testing machine was ruined and Frances was in the beginning stages of hypothermia.

Once home, our joints and bodies ached and, after a day filled with unrelenting adrenaline rushes, our minds and bodies pulsed with exhausted. Still, I took time for an abbreviated t'ai chi chih practice before collapsing into bed. Practice felt like an unexpected gift as I let myself breathe deeply and relax each muscle. Finally, an end to the stress after a long, hard-working day. I dropped into bed--and sleep--like a heavy rock settling into the riverbed.

Monday, April 19, 2010:

Whew! Stress ... Day Two. Today's "crisis" was a closing deadline for a Contract for Deed that my family and I have talked about and negotiated for several months. I found incorrect language in the CD, waited for it to be edited and e-mailed to me, then quickly signed, notarized, and overnight expressed it to a brother in Minnesota.

It was down to the wire ... I arrived at the post office just as the truck driver was heading out the back door with his load of overnight packages for next day delivery. Afterwards I took the dog for a much-needed walk for both of us.

Following dinner, I took myself through my t'ai chi chih practice. As I looked outside at my second floor view I was entranced by the bright yellow gleams of daffodils blooming along the curve in the driveway. It felt as if the sun was growing up out of the leaves and grass in miniature displays of bright yellow.

Once again, similar to last night's experience, I felt transformed by my t'ai chi chih practice. Though the heartbeat had slowed hours before I could feel muscles in my arms, chest, back, and heart relax ... to say nothing of the mind muscles that slowly released their grip and allowed my mind-body-spirit to slide into ultimate r-e-l-a-x-a-t-i-o-n. Whew. T'ai chi chih practice to the rescue....

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mosquito-Free T'ai Chi (Chih)

We're enjoying the beautiful, mosquito-free days of spring.... Yesterday Frances and I took a walk on the Raspberry Trail through county forest land that abuts our property. Today we hiked along the Sioux River at Big Rock county park hoping to come upon rainbow trout heading upstream to spawn. No luck. We did spy one fish hiding behind a rock near shore and a school of fish resting in the water beneath a shallow, rocky ledge that was the next major obstacle on their route toward spawning grounds.

Early this morning we ventured up to the Mt. Ashwabay Ski Chalet to attend a pancake fundraiser for the Bayfield Regional Conservancy, a local organization that protects natural lands, waters, forests, and farms in a four-county region. Afterwards, on our Big Rock hike I heard my first Eastern Phoebes of the season singing their familiar "phoe-be" and back home we heard more of the same. I anticipate a new nest will be under construction above our kitchen window soon....

My late afternoon practice on the deck was warm and sunny. Purple finches and dark-eyed juncos hopped over the ground under the feeder searching for sunflower seeds. A woodpecker watched me from a branch on the east side of the house, then zoomed to the suet and resumed its meal. The kitten skulked along the deck railing then retreated to the patio door. And I moved forward and back, left and right, circling round and round. It felt wonderful to be a part of this peaceful forest scene.

Now a teensy tick travels along my finger, presumably in search of its next meal. I'd rather not provide it so I'm up and off to interrupt its journey...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Stepping into Anchor Step

Tonight's darkened window practice was fun ... I enjoy being able to watch myself as I move, especially when my reflection comes from dark window glass rather than a lighted mirror.

I also like to practice outside in full sun so that I can watch my shadow movements. There's something wonderful about receiving feedback from an indistinct image that feels less intimidating and perhaps more helpful than watching an exact replica of myself mirrored back at me.

As I performed Pulling Taffy Variation #1: Anchor Step I was reminded of yesterday's class practice in the basement at Bell Town Hall. When we Pulled Taffy into the center of the circle, then to the side, I felt washed by feelings of peacefulness and unity.

Here class members were, offering our individual selves along with the peace, quiet, love, and harmony that we'd collected thus far in our practice. What a wonderful gift we give each other in these moments ... often without consciously realizing what we are doing.

Each day I appreciate Anchor Step Taffy more as I experience its unique qualities and realize the ways in which it circulates and cycles Chi through and to me at the same time that it offers energy to the others with whom I practice. Anchors aweigh!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Allow Rather than Interfere

Yesterday's late afternoon/early evening rain leapfrogged us into spring. Today green buds burst from the treetops and ... naked branches are naked no more. This happens every year. Spring arrives in the middle of the night and at dawn we awaken to an entirely different world than the one we'd grown used to over intervening months.

Frances and I spied the meteor that whisked through our atmosphere last night. She noticed it first as she glanced out our south patio door. After I heard her quietly repeat Wow-Wow-Wow, I turned and looked too. It sped brightly by followed by a flash and thunderous sound. No. It wasn't thunder and lightning. But what was it? This morning's internet news answered that question.

Today's TCC class met in a different room in the basement of Bell Town Hall. Ten of us circled a steel pole in the center of the room and moved in harmony (sometimes more harmoniously than others, perhaps). One student mentioned that she liked the basement space because there were less distractions, fewer windows to look out, less to see. I enjoyed the feeling of intimacy and coziness as we stood closer together to fit the smaller space.

Verse 57 of the Tao stimulated much discussion of Wayne Dyer's chapter called "Living without Authoritarianism." Dyer distilled the message of this verse down to these four words: allow rather than interfere. That's the essence of t'ai chi chih practice, of course, as we relax-release-let go of muscle tension, strain, thoughts, distractions (all the things that potentially interfere with our practice) and allow the chi to flow.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Don't Think, Just Do

At last night's TCC class I described to my students a recent image I've held in my mind that reflects how I imagine my body moving during practice. Plain and simple: my t'an tien is like a bellows that expands and contracts to build the power of the chi as I move.

Though it seems odd, I recognize that when my legs straighten and bend, when my weight goes forward and back and I move up and down, when my waist bends and my t'an tien tips and tilts forward and back as I rise and fall, my body reflects the actions of a bellows squeezing air toward burning coals in order to build the flames of a fire. This image has only recently come to me after my TCC retreat experience in the Twin Cities at the end of January. And, typically, I notice this bellows effect while I'm performing movements like Bird Flaps its Wings, Wrist Circle Taffy, Light at the Top of the Head/Light at the Temples ... some of the more stationary movements in the form.

Okay, I've thought to myself, maybe I'm a little crazy imagining TCC in this way. Today, however, I pulled Practical Taoism, translated by Thomas Cleary, off my shelves. I opened to a book marker on page 40, obviously a section that I'd read years ago and thought important. It stated:
The bellows

     The Tao Te Ching says, 'The space between heaven and earth is like a bellows, empty and uninhibited, producing more and more with movement.'
     The Treatise on the Rise and Descent of Yin and Yang says, 'If people can emulate the rising and falling bellows action of heaven and earth, breath going out when opening, breath going in when closing [i.e., Light at the Top of the Head/Light at the Temples], the going out like the energy of earth rising, the going in like the energy of heaven descending, rising and descending alternately, then you can equal the perpetuity of heaven and earth.'
     If you know how to pump a bellows but not how to tune true breathing.... How will you snatch the wholesome energy of heaven and earth to crystallize the elixir?
Clearly this passage is something to think about as I open and close my wrists during the Lights. Without consciously realizing it, am I doing as this quote says by allowing the earth energy to rise as I open my palms and also allowing the energy of heaven to flow into me as my palms come back together? ... I shall observe and notice what I experience in coming practices.

Tonight's practice in my office was wonderfully calming. The energy in my palms was alive throughout most of the form. Why, I wonder, do I feel the energy so clearly sometimes and not at other times?

Of course, I could also ask myself, Why do I feel my mind calm and relaxed sometimes and not at other times? Immediately a phrase pops into my head that I remember my mother repeating to me at various times throughout my childhood: "Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or die." Now that, my friends, reminds me of TCC practice: You don't need to think about it, just do it....

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Peace that Passes Understanding

I prefaced tonight's class with my own private practice before students arrived. Our class meets on the third floor of the Cultural Center in Washburn which means I literally had a birds' eye view of Lake Superior. The sun came out in late afternoon after a dreary, overcast, looks-like-rain kind of day. The rain never arrived--though we desperately needed it--and the late day sunshine and warm-up felt good after the morning's grey coolness.

Class was, once again, special. (When isn't it?) We started with questions about various aspects of the form and the fundamentals of the movements and then segued into a super-slow, super-relaxed practice session. By the end my head was in a different place.

One student mentioned after class that he almost didn't come because he felt so scattered and distracted that he didn't think he'd be a very good student. I responded, Well, I almost didn't come either because I had a headache and didn't think I'd be a very good teacher. Frankly, I'm glad we both were there because I believe we both felt better in the end.

After all my years of teaching t'ai chi chih moving meditation I'm still astonished by the magic that settles over a room when my students and I move together in silence. It's a gift ... a blessing ... a peace that passes understanding....

Monday, April 12, 2010

Each Day is a God

Darkness settles upon another day. As nighttime deepens I practice t'ai chi chih moving meditation, look out a second story window, and notice one piece of sky that holds onto the light longer than the rest. In that one spot light lingers, lingers, lingers ... then disappears. Night crept quietly into daylight's terrain then captured it.

I'm alone in the house. The dog barks repeatedly just outside giving notice regarding property rights ... no trespassers allowed. Between the sounding barks I slip through TCC movements as quietly and slowly as daytime turned into night.

My body is tired; my knees, sore; my back, stiff. I'm grateful for this day and, too, its coming to a close. Perhaps Annie Dillard says it best (Earth Prayers, p. 40):
Every day is a god, each day is a god,
and holiness holds forth in time.
I worship each god,
I praise each day splintered down,
and wrapped in time like a husk, ...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Part and Parcel

It's been a quiet, magical day of rest. Truly. I need days like this to regenerate, relax, and release all the busyness and noise of the previous week.

We own a TV for the sole purpose of watching DVDs and videos; normally I listen to the radio over the weekend, especially when I cook or wash dishes. Today, though, even radio news and information seemed too much. I'm not much of a conversationalist when I'm in this mood; Frances spends time gardening, raking, and working in the yard as I read, nap, and do my TCC practice.

When I stand out on the deck to ready myself for practice, I notice that purple finches, goldfinches, and juncos have reclaimed the bird feeders. Although they live in the region year round, it's only recently that they've returned to our neighborhood. Their bright, highly visible coloration is a welcome addition to the regular population of black and white chickadees and nuthatches that are our unfailing friends and sunflower seed eaters.

Today's early sunshine and 70+ temperatures cooled and collapsed beneath a ceiling of clouds. My t'ai chi chih practice flowed softly and slowly beneath this greyed out scene with bud-tipped branches spanning the skies. Occasionally I felt as if I were being watched and, when I raised my eyes, I noticed several dark bird silhouettes sharing a branch above me. Then I, too, became part and parcel of the sounds of silence.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Morning Gladness

I awakened this morning to loud, joyous bird song. I could choose: join the boisterous choir on the deck or miss out on this glorious celebration of a new day.

Though the temps were low (30ish), the air was calm--no breeze--and I heard the fauna of the forest. Woodpecker rhythms echoed through naked branches, songbirds trilled, two flocks of geese passed overhead, and ruffed grouse flapped their wings.

If you've never heard the sound of a ruffed grouse courting his mate, it's distinctive. Imagine a tractor starting its motor. As the ignition is switched on and gas circulates you hear the putt-putt-putt of a motor coming to life. My Birds of Wisconsin book says of ruffed grouse:
In spring, males raise crest on head, fan tail feathers and stand on logs and drum wings to attract females. Drumming sound comes from cupped wings moving air, not pounding on chest or log.
Let me just say ... there were a lot of miniature tractors out there in the woods starting their engines this morning.

I chose a spot on the deck in clear view of a flat grey sheet of Lake Superior water. It lay beneath an equally grey sky that shifted and stirred itself into separate pieces as I moved through my practice. I heard the sound of one car passing on the road below me; it whooshed by like a misplaced tornado rushing along the pavement.

My morning song was one of quiet listening. I noted the sounds of wild creatures making their way through the woods and following light, earth, and air into the day and I felt the gladness surrounding me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Loving What is ...

Tonight's t'ai chi chih practice felt good for my body and my mind. I began practice feeling tired; now, at least, I'm relaxed and alert. The refinements and adjustments that I've made to my practice since January's TCC retreat are now integrated into my movements and feel natural and easy....

Didn't this day begin months ago rather than mere hours ago? Frances and I picked up our taxes from the accountant this afternoon and mailed in our business taxes as well as providing written approval for our acountant's office to email our personal taxes directly to the IRS. What a relief to complete that last huge step toward finalizing this year's taxes!

Yesterday a neighbor told us that the bar across the road from our house closed down. The liquor license was sold to the VFW hall in Red Cliff so it's unlikely that there will be another bar across the road any time soon. So, too, the issue of exotic dancing at said bar is now a moot point. Talk about yin-yang. What seemed objectionable and unappealing one year ago has now resolved into a non-issue.

Our desired candidate for county board won at Tuesday's election. What I'm beginning to realize, however, is that there is no such thing as winning or losing since everything is relative as it cycles back and forth and around and around. What I'm learning g-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y is this: accepting and loving what is may be the best strategy of all.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Those Who Know Do Not Talk

We're back in the deep freeze ... otherwise known as springtime in the North Woods. Temps in the mid-20s with no snow and abundant sunshine. I donned my long underwear, a winter jacket, and hat and gloves for my drive to Cornucopia for our TCC session. This morning's class practice began at a rapid pace and gradually decelerated. By midway through the form the group energy felt calmer, slower, more relaxed.

Today's discussion of the Tao centered on Verse 56, what Wayne Dyer calls "Living by Silent Knowing." The first two lines of this verse, notes Dyer, are so popular that they're almost a cliche:
Those who know do not talk.
Those who talk do not know.
Dyer explains further:
Silence is your evidence of inner knowing. Talking to convince others actually says more about your need to be right than their need to hear what you have to say! So rather than trying to persuade others, keep quiet ... just enjoy that deeply satisfying inner awareness.
When our group discussion turned to the question, How does this verse relate to your t'ai chi chih practice?, there was an intricate weave of comments about Monkey Mind, listening to Self, listening to others, what we hear and/or think as we move through our TCC practice, and more.

One student commented that she seldom thinks about things while she practices. Instead, she allows herself to feel her body, the movements, and her sense of connection to the Oneness. It's striking when you watch her move. A smile lights her face. A feeling of calmness and letting go surrounds and circulates out from her. And you know ... she has reached that place where no words are necessary.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Daily Devotions

It's a full sun coolish day (mid-30s). I perform my outdoor TCC practice on the deck to the sounds of silence except for an occasional shuffle of leaves underfoot as one of several squirrels dash through the trees then climb up and perform silent aerial ballets. Two woodpeckers embrace opposite sides of the same tree trunk and cackle loudly to each other. But mostly the atmosphere is filled with warm sun, quiet breeze, and ... serenity.

I feel exhausted after yesterday's election day battle. I write battle purposefully. Our local government is every bit as polarized and adversarial as the plethora of schemes and shenanigans we see played out on the national political stage. So what can I do to make a difference? For one, return to my daily practice.

Today's reading of 365 Tao fits my mood and desires: Encouragement
One thousand miles from home, I open the same
     prayer book.
Some nights it was only obligation; tonight,
     it is comfort.....

It's best to be patient and persevering. Devotion may sometimes seem to be pure drudgery....

     Within ourselves, our daily devotions are the way to encourage ourselves to persevere. With others, encouragement is the way to be compassionate. (p. 97)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

Tonight's TCC class was relaxing for all (I think!). After a speedy start and several late arrivals we settled into a rhythm that soothed and slowed us down.

I felt grateful to hear several students comment after practice on recent insights they've gained. One student told the class that he suddenly understood the meaning of Cosmic Consciousness Pose during tonight's class session. Unexpectedly, it wasn't about him anymore, it was about what the Universe provided (without thought, words, identifications).

Another student mentioned that, after taking this TCC class several times through, he finally practiced on his own this past week (he's beginning to remember the movements!) and he found his practices to be incredibly relaxing and stress reducing. (He already knew that from the class sessions he attended, he admitted, but he hadn't tried to practice on his own prior to this week.)

The more I practice ... the more I experience ... the more I examine the role TCC plays in my life ... the more convinced I am that this practice plays a key role in my life by keeping me centered, relaxed, peaceful, and whole. This realization fits with the Dharma Quote of the Week, dated April 1, 2010:
No one achieves perfection in anything meaningful the very first time they try; however, we've heard the phrase over and over again that 'practice makes perfect.' It is true that with multiple repetitions and patience everyone can achieve perfection over time. I don't know of anyone who has sat down to meditate for the very first time and immediately attained enlightenment, but just like the drops of water that we trust will eventually fill our bucket, consistent dharma practice will eventually lead us to liberation.
          --from Heartfelt Advice by Lama Dudjom Dorjee, published by Snow Lion Publications

Monday, April 5, 2010

Silent Knowing

It's election day tomorrow and our town is percolating ... some people think a change in town and county board members is long overdue and others like things just the way they are. Frances and I will be poll observers at the Town of Russell. I'm sure that we'll learn a lot about the democratic process simply by participating in this way. Our town board and county board keep reminding us that ours is not a democracy and if we want change, we need to indicate our desires through our votes.

At times like this it's imperative that I continue my t'ai chi chih practice. When I practiced today, I felt myself slowing, calming, quieting. It's easy to get caught up in the inequalities and inadequacies of our system. And, with the inherent polarity that currently exists in American politics it's challenging to find citizens willing to discuss their differences. It seems much easier for people to join one side or another and wage battles that prove might is right.

I'm reading Verse 56 of the Tao in preparation for Thursday's class and it seems indescribably appropriate at this moment. Dyer's chapter on this verse is entitled, "Living by Silent Knowing." The verse begins:
Those who know do not talk.
Those who talk do not know.
Tomorrow at the polls--and each day during my TCC practices--I want to remember Dyer's observation that silence is evidence of my inner knowing. Talking to convince others actually says more about your need to be right than their need to hear what you have to say!, Dyer writes, So rather than trying to persuade others, keep quiet ... just enjoy that deeply satifying inner awareness.

Yup. Sounds like poll observing to me....

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Daily Practice

Easter day began after rain fell on and off throughout the night, then clouds, sunshine, clouds returning, and finally the sun resurrecting itself into white-blue skies. Even though temperatures rose to 50 while the sun shone I couldn't pry myself from the security of the darkened interior of the house. Just like a jelly bean nestled in the fake-grass embrace of an Easter basket I relished the quiet coolness of my home.

Today's designation as a holiday offered me the opportunity to break ranks from my normal day-to-dayness and rest quietly. Of course, I practiced my t'ai chi chih. The practice came late in the day after I'd recouped from the morning's high blood sugars and taken several naps. I followed the lead of the TCC foursome on the Good Karma video then rested in a chair to 'receive' whatever followed in the wake of my practice.

When I read today's segment in 365 Tao I felt grateful for my commitment to the word of the day: Practice. It reminded me:
Spiritual success is gained by daily cultivation.
If you practiced for the day, then you have won.
If you were lazy for the day, then you have lost....
     Whatever system of spirituality you practice, do it every day. If it is prayer, then pray every day. If it is meditation, then meditate every day. If it is exercise, then exercise every day. Only then will you be able to say that you are truly practicing spirituality.... (p. 94)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Me and My Shadow

Today's two-part TCC practice began on the deck at home and finished in a parking lot in Duluth, MN. The early afternoon home session was windy ... and cold. During the late afternoon final session it was still windy but the sky had cleared and the sun shone brightly. My super-long shadow practiced in front of me and mimicked my movements exactly.

Now I'm home again after a brief escape from the Bayfield area. It felt good to get away from the constancy of daily life and simply relax and play for a few brief hours. It's late, though, and my eyelids remind me that it's past my bedtime and if I don't lie down they'll insist on putting me to sleep while I sit here in front of the computer.

The two-part harmony of my before- and after-practice was a welcome change in my typical routine. I experienced the different feel of moving in the shelter of trees compared with the wide-open brightness of sun. Though the Duluth practice was accompanied by the sounds of nearby traffic roaring by it felt wonderful to move in wide open spaces. Me and My Shadow ... we had a good time.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Calm Came (TCC)

Today was one of those days. Everything felt slightly off balance. I couldn't identify any particular reason for the feeling ... just a vague sense of uneasiness like bouncing a ball that's slightly out of round or riding a bike with one of its wheels out of true.

I definitely know that something's not right when I go grocery shopping--as I did today--and I can't decide on which items to purchase. That's never a problem for me. Is there an astrological explanation for my feelings of unease? ... Whatever the reason I felt like I was circling round and round and round with no landing strip in sight.

It didn't occur to me until I began my early evening practice that a TCC practice earlier in the day may have set me on a different path. For, as soon as I began Rocking Motion, something settled inside of me. With the quiver of energy in my palms came a sensation of internal quietude. Ah, peace. The Calm Came (TCC) ... just not as quickly as I would have liked.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Perfectly Useless

Class One of my next T'ai Chi Chih eight-week session met in Cornucopia this morning. It was a small group--only three students--and we moved, discussed Verse 55 from the Tao, and shared a cup of tea. Today's smaller class size allowed for more intimacy and sharing which felt wonderful.

One student mentioned after practice that she thought she must have ADD (attention deficit disorder) because she found it difficult to focus on the movements; her attention floated away with every thought that crossed her mind. Perhaps we all struggle with a certain amount of ADD if for no other reason than the fact that our culture doesn't teach or encourage us to stay in the now. We constantly must relearn what it means to bring ourselves into the present rather than dwell in the past or anticipate the future.

T'ai chi chih practice is one of our teachers in how to Be Here Now. As we practice over and over and over again we notice how peaceful it is to linger in the present moment. Dyer titled this chapter "Living by Letting Go." He encourages us to allow life's natural rhythm to flow through us--sounds like t'ai chi chih practice doesn't it?--in order to promote and experience well-being. He counsels: Visualize yourself as indestructible.

Interestingly, when I'm in the center of my practice--and consequently, in the center of myself--I feel invincible. If I'm not worried about what others think or expect of me, if I'm not focused on pleasing others or, for that matter pleasing myself, I'm no longer torn by indecision or fear, worry or doubt. I am indestructible because I'm my true self, nothing more, nothing less. I feel free, empowered, and less willing to hold on to the way I think things should be. I can truly live by letting go.

Dyer includes this wonderful quote by Lin Yutang to encourage and inspire us: If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.