Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Single Step

I came down off the deck today and did my TCC practice on the ground near the geese. Frances and I are taking turns monitoring Ander and Lucy as we continue to discuss how to best protect them knowing that a hungry fox is in the area.

It has been three days since Lucy's "assault" and her recovery is coming along nicely. We brought her outside to reunite with Ander for the full day today and, if you didn't know that she'd been injured, you'd have no idea by looking at her. Her puncture wounds are healing nicely and she's able to drink water though still resists food since she likely feels uncomfortable from the swelling in her throat.

We began oral medications this morning and mixed her antibiotics with baby food at the vet's suggestion in order to get some nutrition into her crop, the first stage of digestion. Tonight she'll go back into the goose barn with Ander. Amazingly, it was just yesterday that Frances and I discussed whether we should try force feeding or consider euthanizing her.

It is a huge relief to see Lucy relating to Ander in her normal way. And her day-by-day recovery reminds me of Verse 64 of the Tao which we'll discuss in tomorrow's class. The most famous line of the entire Tao is contained in this verse: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Indeed. If I had continued to speculate how? what? if? about Lucy's care and outcome, I would have driven myself crazy. Caring for her moment-to-moment and watching how she responds to our care makes it easier to continue on.

I enjoyed practicing next to the geese today. I feel grateful to have them as companions in my daily life and it was a comfort to both me and them, I think, to have a close proximity.

The weather was postcard-perfect again today with temps in the low to mid-70s and a cool lake breeze whiffing through the woods from time to time. A distant fern gave me a beauty-queen wave, slowly shifting from side to side. And I flowed through the T'ai Chi Chih/Seijaku practice with ease, grace, and deepening relaxation.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sunshine and Shadow

There are few days more beautiful than this. Cool. Low humidity. Bright sunshine. A pleasant breeze. Right now Ander and Lucy are lying side-by-side in the grass and plantain on the west side of the house not far from the pond where Lucy was nabbed two days ago.

Frances and I are injecting antibiotics, pain, and anti-inflammatory meds into Lucy in the hope that the damage to her larynx and nerves will repair. There is uncertainty about the outcome and our major goal is to get enough nutrition into Lucy to aid her process of healing and regeneration.

Now is the time when a T'ai Chih Chi practice is not only helpful but also vitally important. Stress, doubt, and fear have the potential to exhaust the toughest body, mind, and spirit. A TCC practice can re-energize and restore the self as well as create a positive, upbeat attitude. I certainly discovered this yesterday after my walk and TCC practice on the beach. My energy was much more vibrant after that lakeshore respite.

Today's TCC deck practice in sunshine and shadow was relaxing, pleasant, and peace-filled. I'm glad that I've started to include Seijaku in my practice (small bits at a time) and I find myself relaxing into the Seijaku portion of my practice more with each passing day.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Washing Away Stress

It's been a rough couple of days. Yesterday afternoon Lucy, our goose, was taken by a fox or some other wild creature as she and Ander, her mate, swam around in a small pond near the house. I heard Ander honk loudly as he ran by the house and immediately knew that something was wrong with Lucy. Without a moment's hesitation I dashed to the edge of the pond.

I could see movement in the tall grasses on the other side of the water. Hoping to startle and scare off the intruder I clapped my hands and yelled as I ran into the woods. Frances heard the commotion and raced out of the house to join me. Eventually we found Lucy sitting quietly some distance into the woods with blood running from two puncture wounds and a raspy sound to her breathing. We located a vet in the area who works with birds and rushed Lucy to her office. Now we're tending to an injured goose in the hope that she'll be able to swallow as her swelling subsides.

I'm exhausted. On my way home from the grocery store this evening Namaste and I stopped at the beach at Friendly Valley Road (how's that for a name?). I planned to walk Namaste but it felt so wonderful to walk along the shoreline that by the time we reached a sandbar extending into the lake I stopped and did my T'ai Chi Chih practice.

It's been many months since I've practiced along the water and it is always a challenge to stay rooted in the shifting sands of the lakeshore. Since I no longer practice barefooted due to knee and foot issues I spent almost half of the practice establishing my balance and stability.

There are many other aspects to a lake practice as well. In addition to the surface of ever-changing sand, there is the sound and feeling of waves breaking on shore, and the almost-constant wind. Tonight I felt that I was faced off against the power of the greatest of all Great Lakes. It was a bit--just a bit--intimidating.

I smiled broadly through much of the form because it felt so wonderful to be there in that spot by Lake Superior, breathing in the sky, interacting with the waves, and listening to the sounds of water washing in and out. By the second half of the form I felt more stable and secure. And, interestingly, the sideways movements (from the Taffys on) were quite easy to do as compared to the forward and back movements earlier in the form.

At practice end I stood in Resting Position and let the sound of the waves wash over me. Ahhhh. W-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rain Touched

Clouds mask the sky and buffer the sounds of the forest. I look up and see low-lying clouds sweeping west to east. It's dark and growing darker. Soon the air cools and I sense a shift. I begin my TCC practice well aware of an innate sense of anticipation. And soon ... I feel a light sprinkle of moisture across my bare arms.

Perhaps this shower will be brief and light, I muse. I continue my practice. The dripping clouds soon pass and I move through Pulling in the Energy and Pulling Taffy. Then a new set of clouds appear offering heavier raindrops. The falling rain showers the leaves like colored sugar sprinkled across a freshly frosted sugar cookie. 

Eventually, the rainfall increases. I don't wish to retreat indoors so I turn quickly and move under the eaves. In order for me to continue my practice I must slightly adjust my movements to fit my body under the limited space that shelters me as I perform Anchor Step Taffy and Wrist Circle Taffy.

Once again the rain ceases and I step forward onto the deck and continue: Pulling Taffy Variation #3: Perpetual Motion, and on. Just as I lift my heel for Cosmic Consciouness Pose the rain returns. I bow my head and move indoors.

It felt especially wonderful to practice at the edges of a rainstorm. So quiet. So peaceful. So touched by nature.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Basking in Beauty

Fog fingers its way through the trees in the early morning coolness. My backyard fog horn is alive not mechanical; first, an enormous bee drones in and out of the purple-blue Johnson geraniums and then a hummingbird emits a low buzz as it hovers lightly in front of its feeder.

This morning's outdoor TCC practice is accompanied by beautiful background music, i.e., birdsong. It weaves its way into my subconscious and offers a comforting, pleasant harmony.

As I move forward-and-backward, side-to-side I soak in the bright flowery colors that spring up before me: oranges, yellows, blues, pinks, whites, and purples pop forth from the abundant, ever-present waves of green that circle 'round me. An occasional brush of breeze sends raindrops tumbling to the ground from the large oak that stands on the east side of the deck. Then an unexpected sneeze bursts out of me and blasts a chipmunk off the bird feeder.

Even the geese are quiet as they work their way around the deck and rummage through the multitude of green to pluck out a tender morsel. I feel part of everything, at one with the flowing movements of nature as I flow, too, from one gentle movement to the next.

When a friend telephones me later, I'm in exceedingly good spirits. I'm filled with the energy that I circulated and accumulated during my morning TCC practice ... and still basking in the beauty of nature that surrounds me morning 'til night.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Gentle Approach to Health & Enlightenment

We're caught in the middle of another day long rain-filled weather pattern. It's back to the cool setting of the northwoods (mid-50s). My sister, when I tell her the temperatures here, always says, "You live in a godawful part of the country." She left her Midwestern roots far behind and is no longer willing to visit unless it's during the warmest months, July or August.

I managed a short outdoor practice this morning before rain started to seep from the sky. It was peaceful and calm in the quiet, grey moments before moisture fell.

Immediately after the practice a previous t'ai chi chih student (one of my first students when I moved to the area almost eight years ago) came for a t'ai chi chih tune-up/refresher lesson. It was grand to focus on the teeny weeny itsy bitsy elements of the form. I thoroughly enjoy refining the movements of TCC because I know that as movements are adjusted and deepened more relaxation is possible which then allows more Chi to flow.

Since I've lately been in the mode of watching every variation of TCC movement possible I popped in Steve Ridley's video, T'ai Chi Chih: A Gentle Approach to Health & Enlightenment. Steve was the teacher-trainer who certified me as a T'ai Chi Chih teacher in October 1996. Several years ago a local friend of mine (who studied TCC near Duluth, MN with another TCC teacher certified by Steve) passed this video on to me. I didn't know that the video existed--it was produced in 1987, nine years before I was certified--but I've since spent a number of wonderful practices with Steve and his wife, Lia.

After watching this video carefully I can say with confidence: Yes, T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation continues to change, grow, and refine itself. It lives and breathes and occasionally has growing pains. Still, it's a wonderful blessing for those of us who've invited it into our lives....

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Greatness in Little Things

It's a sunny mid-60s to low-70s afternoon following several consecutive days of consistent and sometimes torrential rain. I held this morning's T'ai Chi Chih class session outdoors (class 1 of 8). What a joy!

Our almost-silent TCC practice was full of bird song that one student claimed was much nicer to listen to than any of the music I normally play. I agreed.

The grassy earth where we practiced was soft, moist, and yielding underfoot. I assured students at the onset that they'd enjoy their practice on this supple surface; it's much easier to move on flexible earth than a dry dirt surface that is hard, rough, and rigid.

Our Tao discussion centered on Verse 63, "Living Without Difficulties" (per Wayne Dyer). Much of this verse reminds me of the practice of T'ai Chi Chih. "Practice nonaction. Work without doing." Does this sound familiar? Justin Stone reminds us often: Practice TCC using the effort of no effort.

The Tao continues: See simplicity in the complicated. Achieve greatness in little things. Again, I revisit TCC practice which may be viewed as a simple, uncomplicated movement form. The potential benefits it yields, however, are great: improved mental and physical health, expanded Chi flow, increased centeredness and focus, lowered stress, increased feelings of compassion, and an expanding sense of the Oneness of all things.

Ah, yes, through these 19 simple movements and one pose we discover greatness in little things (i.e., Rocking Motion, Bird Flaps its Wings, Around the Platter, Bass Drum, Passing Clouds ...).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The T'ai Chi Chih Tune-up

So the thing to do when working on a motorcycle, as in any other task, is to cultivate the peace of mind which does not separate one's self from one's surroundings. When that is done successfully, then everything else follows naturally. Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.
                    Robert M. Pirsig
                    From: The Little Zen Companion, p. 304
It's my guess that the above quote is exerpted from Pirsig's book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. His description of how to work on a motorcycle is akin to the way in which one engages in a regular T'ai Chi Chih practice.

Surely one of the major reasons TCC practitioners continue with their practices--at least this is what my students tell me--is because they feel so good afterwards. That good feeling comes out of their ability to become one with their surroundings and consequently flow into a relaxed and peaceful state of mind. To carry that outcome further and realize, as Pirsig proposes, that peace of mind leads to right values, right thoughts, and right actions provides an even greater motivation to continue to practice, practice, practice.

Today has dripped from dawn to dusk; on-again, off-again rain throughout. Funny. Everyone, cat and dog included, seems to want to stay inside. I practiced with the TCC teachers on Justin's DVD again this afternoon. It's helpful to be able to examine the subtle do's and don'ts of TCC practice while watching 4-in-1 (four teachers in one practice session).

It's  incredibly easy to unintentionally modify the form when you're engaged in your own private practice. Without realizing it you may start devising short-cuts or running movements and Resting Positions together. I appreciate Justin's instructional DVD along with regular retreats, trainings, and the annual teachers' conference for the opportunities they provide to refine, revise, reiterate, and renew my TCC practice.

Call it a tune-up, if you will. Human beings--like motorcycles--need regular maintenance to keep the Chi flowing....

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Be Like a Butterfly

This evening's outdoor TCC practice was spectacular. I moved through our sun-dappled, slightly breezy woods feeling deep gratitude for this beautiful tree-filled spot. It felt easy and effortless to go with the flow while surrounded by a sense of peace and just-rightness.

I'm still contemplating an article written by Carmen Brocklehurst and published in the May issue of The Vital Force. Carmen mentioned that it's always a joy when Justin Stone (TCC's creator) joins the Albuquerque, NM teachers for their Tuesday morning practice. Justin usually provides helpful suggestions, she said, and when he last came to practice, he noted: I see softness in the wrists, but I don't see looseness. Such a simple comment but also one filled with great insight.

As Carmen went on to explain her interpretation of Justin's message:
It's easy to be relaxed when everything is going the way we'd like it. But tht's not usually the case for most of us. Not only are situations not going our way, but many times, it seems as if the whole universe has decided to gang up on us, making sure we don't get our way. This is precisely when Justin's advice is most necessary and helpful, because the alternative is to drive ourselves crazy or into a deadly challenging position. So the practice of looseness that comes while doing our TCC practice could save our lives. It's a rewarding reason to practice loosely.
I notice how my wrists feel as I circle them in Bird Flaps Its Wings and Pulling Taffy Variation #2: Wrist Circles. And, how do they feel as they lead me around the circle in Bass Drum or up the mountain in Daughter on the Mountain Top or into the valley in Daughter in the Valley? As Justin instructs, the wrists lead us through all of the TCC movements and it's well worth noting how relaxed and loose they feel.

For the first time during my practice I noticed that Chiripa joined me while I moved. She located herself on the deck near my feet and quietly fell asleep, safe in the knowledge that I was nearby. Soon Frances called me to supper and I finished my practice and suggested to Frances that we return to the deck to enjoy our dinner of delectable delights.

Earlier in the day as we walked along our regular route butterflies flew, floated, glided, and slid gracefully by. White Admirals and Mourning Cloaks fluttered around us and an occasional Monarch and Canadian Tiger Swallowtail cruised along our path. At one point a circle of White Admirals sat together in the middle of the road as if socializing with each other, their conversation punctuated by wings rising and falling.

Rising and falling. My new goal: to move my wrists, my waist, my hands and arms, legs and feet with as much lightness, gentleness, and effortlessness as a butterfly drifting peacefully by....

Monday, June 21, 2010

First Day of Summer Torrent

The days seem anticlimatic after the departure of our fine feathered friends from their nest above the patio door. Yesterday I saw another phoebe flying back and forth to and from the nest and wondered whether it's another mother--or the same one--preparing to lay eggs and hatch the second brood of the season.

Frances wants to take the nest down and encourage the phoebe parents to rebuild their home above the kitchen window since it seems to be a safer, less high traffic location. I'm not sure, though, how much you can fool with Mother Nature....

Today's TCC practice occurred during the heaviest rainstorm of the year. After a warm, sunny morning the skies grew dark and forbidding. At the sound of the first raindrops I rushed outside to carry Chiripa in; she napped comfortably in a folding chair on the deck. Very soon the raindrops fell faster, harder, louder.

After an hour or so the sound of torrential rain drew me into my practice. Since it distracted me from other activities I thought that it might actually serve as an appropriate accompaniment to my TCC movements. It did feel comforting to move to the sound of the falling rain. (Don't ask me why.) Again, I noticed that rain seems to potentize the energy somewhat. Has anyone else noticed that effect?

It's a drippy summer solstice. Foggy windows and foggy air surround me and a cloud-filled sky has darkened and dampened the light on this longest day of the year....

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Life Moves On ...

The baby phoebes took flight! All four fledglings were still in their nest last night as darkness fell. When I hung bird feeders this morning, I checked the nest and noticed only three birds. After I let out the geese, I thought, I need to hurry back. If one of the birds is already gone, it won't take long for the rest of the nestlings to fly.

First, though, I fed the geese, threw a ball for Namaste, made nectar for the hummingbirds, and prepared my own breakfast. Then and only then did I remember to return to the nest (about 7:30 a.m.). It was empty.

I'm relieved that all four birds launched out of the nest safely--they're hidden somewhere in the woods now--and I'm glad that we have a reprieve from monitoring the cat's activities. Still, I wish I could have seen these young ones take their first flight. We've observed phoebes leave the nest two previous years and each time we felt incredibly blessed.

It's a gorgeous morning: mid 50s are now mid 70s, a still, silent morning now sways in the breeze, and constant bird conversation flutters through the leaves.

I practiced T'ai Chi Chih on the south end of the deck this morning. Since there are no longer any birds living here I can use the space as I please. It was difficult to quiet myself. The form passed quickly but I couldn't feel much energy until near the end of my practice. Consequently, when I finished, I immediately restarted the form at Around the Platter hoping to replay the first half with greater attention and intention.

Soon the dog asked me to let him into the house. Then I realized that I felt shaky. Finally, I decided I should stop practice to check my blood sugars. Sure enough, I was low. It was time to eat a snack and move on into my day....

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Taking Flight

At noon it's breezy, 72 degrees, with occasional sunshine. I watch the Eastern phoebe fledglings like a hawk. (Okay, not exactly like a hawk since I don't want to eat them....)

Frances believes that today is the day our nestlings will take flight. All evidence points in that direction; the parents aren't catching insects and carrying them to their young in the nest as usual. Instead Mom and Dad position themselves on the deck railing or atop the nearby bird feeder pole. Then they turn their backs toward the nest, swivel their heads around to look behind, and pump their tails.

If I were to anthropomorphize their actions I'd imagine them saying to their young: Come on kids. It's time to fly. Follow me.... Once the first phoebe takes flight it's a matter of moments--a minute or two at most--before the whole gang, bird by bird, hits the skies. So, though we'd like to watch their exodus, it's hard to predict the just right moment when someone (Mom? Dad? babies?) determines that the time is Now.

During my TCC practice I positioned myself on the east side of the house within view of the doings of Mom and Dad phoebe on the south side. I also kept an eye on my profile in the living room window to determine how much my yin leg stiffened/straightened as the weight transfered to the other (yang) leg. (Uh oh, was I multitasking?)

The breeze felt cool, the day relaxed, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the birds as I moved my way through the form and substituted Seijaku for a number of the T'ai Chi Chih movements during the second half of practice.

The babies were still nestled in their cozy home by practice end. Thus, the mystery remains: When will our resident phoebes take flight? 'Til then, we're monitoring the kitten and restricting her access to the nest area and/or keeping her inside the house as much as possible. Leaping into the unknown is challenge enough for the bravest of us. A two-week-old bird shouldn't be expected to evade a crafty kitten on her first-ever flight....

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wind Blown

Summer is back with a passion ... by late morning it was 90 degrees, then it settled down to 85 for much of the afternoon. The cat and dog abandoned Frances on her walk to the mailbox and chose, instead, to lie on the cement front step and soak in its coolness.

Today's wind was torrential. Not surprising after the Twin Cities had heavy winds yesterday and Wadena (in central Minnesota) was hit with a highly destructive tornado last night. I practiced half of the TCC form outside on the deck in the midst of the wind. Although we're protected by our close-in forest, I found myself longing for a quieter practice spot and eventually moved inside to complete the form.

I know that wind is hard on my psyche. If I find myself blown about for more than a day or two, I quickly feel out of sorts, ill at ease, off kilter. I wonder, too, whether wind affects the Chi as I found it difficult to feel the energy flow while I practiced in the midst of gusts and surges of loud, uprooting air flow.

I'm currently reading The Journal Keeper: A Memoir by Phyllis Theroux. She writes about the intense quietness that characterizes Ashland, VA, the town where she lives. Theroux notes:
Sometimes it is so quiet here in Ashland that I wonder how we don't die of it. There is nothing to remind you from the outside that you are here. I understand why it is so hard to get people to visit. They know what they will find, a quietness so deep and steady it creates a kind of nervousness.... One must have a very active imagination to withstand it.
Interesting. I, on the other hand, feel nervous when I'm bombarded with overactivity (high winds, large numbers of tourists during the summer months, bumper-to-bumper traffic, multiple projects, etc.) I like nothing better than to breathe in the quiet, sleep in it, walk in it, meditate in it, live in it.

This is why I love to teach TCC. It is one of the few social activities I engage in that can be done in a roomful of people who are totally silent. The quietness feel nourishing, replenishing, restorative.

And ... while you're doing TCC you can't multitask (per my statement in yesterday's blog); you have to be in the present moment and in the present movement to fully experience the Chi and TCC's subtle levels of relaxation. As Peter Bregman pointed out in his blog about multitasking: Research shows that multitasking isn't just inefficient, it's stressful.

When we engage in TCC practice, we are bucking the cultural trend toward multitasking and returning ourselves to a kinder, gentler way of life that I'll call monotasking or solotasking. Here we can literally take one step at a time, eyes straight ahead, circles flowing softly and continuously. Meanwhile we still have Monkey Mind to contend with which is more than enough multitasking for one 30-40 minute practice.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

[We're All Just] Babes in the Woods

Summer came closer today than it has for several weeks. Sun shone on me and the rest of my world for the entire day (almost). By late morning temperatures were in the 80s; now clouds huddle across the sky as temperatures fall back to 60.

We're finding more evidence of the existence of babes in our woods. Two days ago we eyeballed teeny deer footprints at the end of our driveway. The indentations in the dirt were about an inch long from front to back which gives one pause ... how can a fawn walk on hoofs that tiny, much less survive the stalking of coyotes, bear, and wolves?

Our phoebes now fill their nest to the rim. Earlier today I saw one baby stretched across the front of the nest with another directly behind it faced in the opposite direction. Squeezed up against the house wall were the remaining two nestlings, their small heads and beaks facing west. The quartet were amazingly quiet, their eyes closed. They'll be leaving home soon once their parents decide to quit feeding them insects and the fledglings have no choice but to take flight and fend for themselves.

I returned to the deck today for an outdoor TCC practice. The numbers of insects have exploded since this spell of rain and clouds began but the plants and leaves and never-ending shades of green are also richly abundant.

My eyes looked east as I positioned myself on the far side of the deck away from the phoebe nest. Mom and pop are already freaked out by our little kitten so I found no need to elevate their anxiety even more due to a too-close TCC practice.

I'm exploring a few more refinements to my practice based on Justin's instructions from the TCC DVD. First, I'm observing what happens when I rock backward in Rocking Motion and second, I'm more conscious of my T'ai Chi step when I step to the left or right for Carry the Ball to the Side.

Every tiny adjustment makes a difference in my practice though, more and more, I recognize that my mental focus (or lack thereof) is the key to my TCC experience and the circulation of the Chi. Which reminds me of a blog I read today in the Harvard Business Review: "How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking." I'll write more on that tomorrow....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wordless Mysteries

Though this day is, again, shrouded in darkness, my heart lightened through my practice of qigong and T'ai Chi Chih. I've felt the Vital Force energy vibrate through me and it reminds me that all is well.

While reading The Mystic Vision this morning I came upon an interesting and empowering segment that introduced the theme for the month of June, "Wordless Mysteries":
The real war in the modern world is not between democracy and communism or between capitalism and totalitarianism or between liberalism and fascism. It is the war for the mind and heart of humankind between two completely different versions of reality: the version that materialist science, most contemporary philosophy and most modern art gives human beings, as driven, dying animals in a random universe (a version that many institutionalized religions unconsciously abet with their emphasis on human sinfulness and powerlessness) and that version of humankind's essential divine destiny that mystics in all ages have discovered and struggled to keep alive..... Bhagavad Gita: He is forever free who has broken out of the ego cage of I and mine to be united with the lord of Love. (p. 88)
What a wonderful freedom to be released from the polarized world of either-or and right or wrong into the wide open spaces of love, acceptance, and compassion.

This is one of the gifts of T'ai Chi Chih practice .... it offers us the opportunity to realize and experience a different reality. In its special moments of peace, quiet, and serenity we can remember that no matter how driven, judgmental, or power-hungry we or the people around us may be, we can always return to our Self, to that place of pure self awareness that is one with all Life.

When we connect with the Chi, we can step out of the materialistic pursuits and destructive tendencies of our human culture and reconnect with the spiritual powers of the Universe. We can heal our brokenness; we can become whole. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The most important thing I do each day ...

Today's weather: more of the same. It's raining this evening after a long day of overcast skies interspersed with brief kaleidoscopes of sunshine. Tomorrow may bring a day of sun....

Tonight's practice was a repeat of yesterday; instead, though, I began practicing qigong with the Garripolis and finished with a full TCC practice with teachers Suni, Connie, Vic, and Rhonda. I interspersed my TCC practice with segments of Seijaku. It already feels easier to incorporate brief sections of Seijaku into my regular practice. As Justin says, what better way to learn than to: Practice, practice, practice.

I'm currently reading the May 2010 issue of The Vital Force journal. The writings offer glimmers of wisdom and inspiration from TCC's teacher trainers, Justin Stone himself, and other teachers. I particularly enjoyed a short piece by Judy Hendricks from Albuquerque, NM. She noted that after receiving some corrections at a TCC retreat she could feel much more Chi. "Since then," she continued, "practice has become more joyous. I pay attention much more closely to the flow [of Chi] during all the movements."

She ends her article by writing: The most important thing I do each day is my TCC practice and my sitting meditation. Realizing this I'm motivated to practice and experience the bliss. Yes! ... I agree.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Serenity Overdone?

This CD player (i.e., blog) is set on repeat. Today's temperatures crept up slightly ... it's now 50 degrees. Still, after several minutes of on-again, off-again sunshine early this AM, skies drifted in with huge piles of snowy clouds.

During these cloudy, grey days I've kept myself busy with a myriad of indoor projects. But I'm growing impatient with the grey days and feel ready to break out ... escape ... feel the sun massaging my skin again!

Today's T'ai Chi Chih practice was a do-along with Justin Stone as I followed his DVD instructions to review Seijaku. If I truly want to incorporate Seijaku into my regular practice, I'm understanding that I need to revisit Justin's DVD daily until I feel more comfortable and familiar with this variation of the form. It has been too many years since I was certified in Seijaku (1999) and I failed to maintain it as a part of my regular practice.

Seijaku feels good while I'm performing it but I question whether I'm trying too hard; sometimes I feel worn out or physically sore afterwards. I do believe that regular practice and familiarity with this aspect of Serenity in the Midst of Activity can ultimately lead to great benefits.

I followed today's Seijaku practice with a review of Francesco and Daisy Lee Garripoli's Qigong for Cleansing DVD. These movements, too, felt good, refreshing, and a bit challenging since I last practiced this qigong form a number of months ago.

Now it's off to walk the driveway, down and up, down and up, down and up....

Sunday, June 13, 2010

If Only for a Moment....

Lest I continue to sound too repetitive let me note that today's weather included a rise in temperature to 60 degrees. Right now, mid-evening, it is 54. The day was cloud-filled and dark-skied.

I performed today's TCC practice along with Suni, Vic, Connie, and Rhonda. Initially I began Justin Stone's DVD with the intention of reviewing Justin's comments and instruction. Instead I jumped into the group practice; I'll review Justin's instructions after writing this blog.

Oh, it was fun to practice with my group of TCC teachers. I found myself smiling frequently during the practice as I joined my energy with the energy of the videotaped practitioners. Yes, I miss my students when we're between class sessions. Private practice is inspiring; group practice is exceptional!

I read Sr. Antonia's June 2010 T'ai Chi Chih newsletter today. She wrote about ESSENCE as it pertains to the practice of TCC. Sister explained that the simple movements of TCC practice can offer us the opportunity to obtain essential essence. Her definition of essence stretched beyond the accumulation of things to the search for a deeper reality.

TCC, Sr. Antonia posits, can be a route toward experiencing this ESSENCE as we become acquainted with the presence of the present. She cautioned: Essence of itself cannot be experienced for long because our beings are not able to contain it ... it is too overwhelming and we may burst.

Still, human beings often long to find meaning in life that is beyond the ordinary rituals of day-to-day living. Without knowing or understanding why we continually search for our fundamental nature, the basic or indispensable element or thing that defines who we are. As we become more familiar with and at home in our T'ai Chi Chih practices, we let loose of our egos and allow TCC to do TCC. It is then that we can "be in the Essence," if only for a moment.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Re-, Re-, Re-

I'm beginning to sound a bit like a rerun but here goes.... Skies, cloudy grey. Temperature: 45 degrees. Precipitation: rain's a'comin' soon.

Yep. Another day in the great North Woods. Meanwhile I've talked by phone to my sister in Baltimore, MD (90 degrees) and a friend in Columbia, MO (85 degrees, humid). Oh, yeah, I forgot. Summer solstice will be here in a week.

Meanwhile there's lots of animal activity in the neighborhood. Some creature left an unexpected gift on our deck last night. My guess? Bear. I'm surprised, though, that none of us awakened to the sounds (there had to be sounds). The dog didn't even bark.

Today Frances glimpsed three baby Eastern phoebe heads and beaks peaking over the edge of the nest above our patio door. Mom and dad are busily flying to and fro in their efforts to keep up with the feeding demands of their offspring.

During my TCC practice I watched a significant amount of tail pumping as the attentive parents worked diligently to catch insects and deliver them promptly to their babes. Occasionally I heard tiny cheeps and chirps. Other times there was no sound or movement visible other than an abrupt sweep and swoop of bird to nest and away again.

I didn't feel the same level of energy in the palms of my hands during today's practice as I experienced during yesterday's rainstorm but practice time flew by and I am re-energized, relaxed, and restored.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Following the Flow

Everything runs downhill. If I ever doubted that fact, today proved the point. All day rain has strummed our metal roof with thunderous pourings followed by scattered drips and drops. Tiny streams rush along outdoor staircases, across pathways and, of course, down our driveway. As a result, water pools in every unoccupied low-lying spot.

Ander and Lucy--the geese--are enjoying the day. Lucy stretched her neck to dip her beak into our overfull rain barrel (no luck) while Ander positioned himself next to the car. There he caught drops of water in his mouth as they rolled off the wheel well.

It's been a dark and dismal day but I won't complain. Moisture is good, water is fine, and our trees and plants and people desperately need this extended rainfall.

I began my TCC practice looking out the bedroom window at vibrant green. Everywhere. The thrums of rain slowed by mid-practice and near the end I could hear the loud songs of birds seemingly anxious to continue their day on a drier note.

Energy poured through my hands and fingers as if inspired by the abundance of wetness dripping down from the heavens. We may be wet ... but we're grateful.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Beyond Habit

Early morning skies lay clear and open; late this afternoon they dampened down to a light grey haze. Rain seems likely, even probable. We're huddled under the curved glass ceiling of a cloud-filled heaven.

Frances spotted oyster mushrooms on several poplar trees earlier this week during one of our walks. We've been eating wild mushrooms in abundance since then. Delicious!

Tonight's TCC practice skipped from a movement at the beginning of the form to a movement at the end, then back to another movement from the beginning, followed by another movement from the end. I worked my way gradually from each end to the center. It was delightful to alter the form in this way, to discover which movements meshed side-to-side when taken out of the context of #1-20.

After many years of practicing T'ai Chi Chih it's effortless to move from beginning to end and back. Still, there was an element of mystery in the resultant development of the form. I enjoyed varying the traditional front-to-back practice and shattering expectations about what to feel or how to move next. It's freeing to step beyond habit and explore new variations.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pure and Simple

Slowly, softly, I settle back into the peaceful quiet of the woods. My trips to the Big City are welcome journeys beyond the realm of small town life. Still, though I enjoy the energy and excitement of new people and places, I feel grateful to return to the quiet of woods and sky, lake and land.

Today I drank in the silence and was grateful for its nourishment. Though this morning began with wide open golden skies this evening brings the sense and scent of rain. As I moved through my TCC practice I watched the sun dance across the trunk of a yellow birch. It leapt and twirled, shone and faded. Eventually the sunlight disappeared ... soaked into grey puffs of clouds that straddled the bridge of sky arching overhead.

I follow t'an tien throughout the TCC movements, let my center lead me through every movement beginning to end. When t'an tien leads, I relax my upper body, my arms, hands, shoulders, torso, and allow them to follow quietly, calmly. Always releasing, releasing, releasing the tension that crawls down my neck and into my shoulders. I feel the energy of movement, the flow of heat, the tingling of this intention tremble through my fingertips and into the Universe.
If my heart can become
pure and simple like that
of a child, I think there
probably can be no greater
happiness than this.

From: The Little Zen Companion
          Kitaro Nishida, p. 139

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

After our 85 degree welcome to the Twin Cities temperatures fell. During much of our visit I wore pants instead of the variety of shorts that I'd packed. Now, back in the northern climes, I've returned to early spring clothing: wool socks, turtleneck, fleece pullover.

Today's temps dropped from 50+ to current readings of 40. After our morning walk, our entire day has dripped and dropped with moisture. The rain falls continuously and is both greatly needed and tremendously appreciated. The constant sound of rain on the metal rooftop reminds me that we are well-blessed.

During today's walk we spotted two black bear crossing the road some distance in front of us. First one bear then, after a lengthy pause, another. The second bear turned its head and spied us. After he crossed the road, he turned and looked at us again. Then ... they vanished.

This evening's TCC practice was drenched in the sounds of rain falling, the dull grey of cloud-filled skies, and the heavy green of life growing and expanding. I moved slowly and softly, inspired by the constant rhythm of rain. It was a relief to sink into the practice knowing that I had no obligation to follow a schedule or rush to a meeting.

Now I merge with earth and sky as rain falls from distant clouds and runs in rivelets through the moistening earth....

City Lights ... and Life

Frances and I spent four days visiting friends and family, attending a wedding, and socializing in the Twin Cities without a computer to record my blog. Now home ... this is my t'ai chi chih story, Friday through Monday, June 4-7, 2010, bottom to top:

Monday, June 7, 2010, 8:15 a.m.

Memories.... I walked through the yard and down to the marsh where our animal barn still stands after Frances and I moved away from this property that we shared with Artie and Nancy eight years ago. During my eight years of residence in this Minneapolis suburb Frances and I lived in the small cottage and Nancy and Artie lived in the large house on 4-1/2 acres of quiet nature in the middle of suburban traffic, noise, and busyness.

Now another couple rents the cottage and Frances and I are guests in the large house as we visit with our extended family of friends. After my quiet morning walk with Namaste down to the marsh I return to the house and perform my TCC practice on the deck outside.

I gaze over the huge yard, past grandkids' toys and wading pools, across the newly re-sided cottage and into the past. I lived here for eight years just as I've now lived in the woods near Bayfield for eight years. At this moment--now--I look forward into the past. Much of this--my past home--is familiar even as much of it has changed over the intervening years.

As I move through my practice I see the same yard, hear many of the same sounds, and realize how much my life has changed over the passing years. Now, after I finish moving and breathing through my practice, I rush to greet Artie and Nancy's youngest daughter, child of my heart, Andrea. She's there to fill in on child care for her parents as another daughter and a son-in-law arrive to drop off grandkids.

Soon Artie and Nancy are home and we sit outside meeting and greeting the flow of family, friends, and dogs that come and go throughout the afternoon. Another daughter and dog arrive. Another friend and baby and dog. Another friend. Another friend and dog. It's constant meeting, greeting, conversing, and departing.

When midafternoon arrives, Frances and I depart for the northwoods. It's time to return to the peace and quiet of our home in the woods. Time to leave behind the hustle and bustle of city life and revel in the silence and soulfulness of home.

Sunday, June 6, 2010, 10:30 p.m.

It's the end of another day of intense visitations with friends we seldom see. I am, in one word, exhausted. We breakfasted with one friend, ate a wonderful lunch prepared by two other friends, and arrived late for dinner with yet another friend. Now, finally, we've landed at our evening's destination: a place I called home from 1995 through most of 2002. Frances lived here for another 10 or so years previous to my arrival on the scene.

Due to this long and overbooked day, I crept into an abbreviated practice, rocked and rolled with the Chi through several of the TCC movements, fell into bed, and dived into sleep without even noticing the waves that spun out from my body in circles of deepening, widening, overwhelming peace....
Saturday, June 5, 2010, 7:00 a.m.

I started my day with a TCC practice while I stood in a darkened bedroom next to an open window. Bird conversation--especially a chirping cardinal--and a light sprinkling of rain serenaded me.

It felt absolutely wonderful to start this soon-to-be-busy day with deep relaxation, quiet, and peace. I trust that the Chi will continue to flow throughout the day as I join in the celebration of a friend's 89th birthday, grill out with friends who moved to a new home since I last saw them, and dress up to attend and celebrate a wedding on Frances's side of the family.

This filled-to-the-brim day will be graced by the wonderfully soft and slow beginning I made for it....

Friday, June 4, 2010, 9:55 p.m.

What a day! Rush, rush, rush. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Pack, pack, pack. Drive, drive, drive.

We left Bayfield at 11:30 a.m. in the midst of rain and 50 degree temps. We arrived in Minneapolis at 4:45 p.m. where we were greeted with sunny skies and temps in the mid-80s. After dinner with friends and a walk with the dog I retired to my TCC practice.

It was a welcome relief to slow w-a-a-a-a-y down. As my body and mind relaxed I felt my tiredness bloom. The energy felt full and abundant. With practice completed, I know that I will sleep a deep, restful, calming sleep....

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Grass Practice

A small group from my Cornucopia t'ai chi chih class gathered this morning for a practice, potluck, and film viewing. We're between sessions and it felt wonderful to spend a few hours together outside the realm of our traditional classroom sessions.

Our outdoor practice in backyard grass was filled with birdsong, sunshine, and numerous other sounds. One student thought she heard a baby racoon. I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed practicing in grass (as contrasted with my normal outdoor practice spot on my deck). My woodsy home doesn't have a traditional grassy "yard" or, for that matter, much sunshine either. Living in the middle of woods means shade rather than sun unless you're willing to cut down trees. We're not.

Before and after lunch we watched the DVD, On the Road Home: A Spiritual Journey Guided by Remarkable Women. I discovered this film during the January TCC retreat in St. Paul and was eager to share it with my students as it includes a segment with Sr. Antonia teaching t'ai chi chih and talking about her experience incorporating TCC into her spiritual practice.

Today's practice was special, as always. It feels wonderful to practice TCC in a group. Moving together OUTSIDE on a beautiful spring day is a big added PLUS.

Tomorrow Frances and I leave for the Twin Cities to spend a long weekend attending a wedding and visiting with friends. I'll continue to do my daily TCC practice but may not have an opportunity to post my blogs until I return to my home computer....

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Simple Gifts

The beauty of our spring days is never-ending.... Today was fabulously cool with bright sunlight. A good day for a haircut.

I spent two-thirds of tonight's TCC practice outside on the deck and one-third inside in the living room. The 50 degree temperature was perfect until mosquitoes started circling and dive-bombing my head. Vamoose, I departed to my inner sanctum.

The female Eastern phoebe left her nest when I came outside onto the deck. I was concerned that, given her need to be discreet, she may be spending too much time away from her eggs. Of course, once I was inside I continued my practice near the patio door so she could still see me through the glass. Eventually I backed further into the living room as Ms. Phoebe seemed disinclined to fly into her nest until I was totally out of sight.

I thoroughly enjoy my outdoor practices.... The trill of birdsong, the zip of hummingbirds, and the chatter of squirrels are comforting sounds that add to my sense of relaxation and appreciation for all that surrounds me. I am blessed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Spring Rain

Rain ... yes! Today went from 85 to 55 degrees and now, yes now, rain is falling. We're still desperately in need of this wet stuff so we'll take whatever we can get.

I practiced TCC with music tonight. It was a welcome change to add relaxing music to my practice routine; it helped to lure my mind into restfulness. And ... it worked! Thunder added its rumble to the mix and by practice end the rain began to fall.

The cool breeze is refreshing, the quiet rain is rejuvenating and relaxing, and I feel peaceful. All is well in the world.