Saturday, July 31, 2010

Geese Flap Their Wings

It's the Bayfield Arts Festival weekend. Downtown streets streamed with visitors when I visited town to shop at the Farmers' Market.

I bought some awesome bread and produce while I chatted with farmers and friends. Then I listened to a neighbor's story about a predatory black bear that chased him, his son, and their dog in two separate incidents. Tony owns property that borders the backside of our 25 acres. He speculated that these frightening encounters may be related to hunters who bait bear prior to the start of bear hunting season.

This afternoon we expect out of town guests so we're cooking, baking, and clearning like madwimmin. I practiced TCC in the yard mid-afternoon in the presence of our geese. During my first repetition of Bird Flaps Its Wings Ander joined in and flapped his own wings with gleeful abandon. Then both Ander and Lucy drew close and observed the rest of my practice.

I feel calm, rested, and well-prepared for our friends arrival....

Friday, July 30, 2010

I become part of it...

The mountains, I become part of it ...
The herbs, the fir tree, I become part of it.
The morning mists, the clouds, the gathering
I become part of it.
The wilderness, the dew drops, the
     pollen ...
I become part of it.
          Navajo Chant
          From: Earth Prayers, p. 5
I was reminded of this chant today when I thought about my blog yesterday on Oneness and unity. Today's TCC practice was another good example of how it feels to become part of the wonder of nature.

While I moved through my T'ai Chi Chih practice this evening the earth was still, and a light, soft rain pattered upon the leaves and undergrowth. The gentle rain soothed me as I listened to its quiet conversation from the inside of my screened window.

I was a tree. I was the rain. I was a leaf drenched by the rain's liquid massage. It felt comforting and comfortable to be a part of everything. Which reminds me of another quote I read on this internet this morning from Daily Good:
Through meditation and by giving full attention to one thing at a time, we can learn to direct attention where we choose.
          --Eknath Easwaran

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chi = Compassion and Cooperation

Our TCC class moved through another wonderful outdoor practice this morning. At one point it was so quiet--all I heard was the sound of several dogs barking in the distance--that it seemed as if time had stopped. How special it felt to dwell in that one timeless moment....

After practice we read and discussed Verse 68 of the Tao ("Living by Cooperating" per Wayne Dyer and "Heaven's Lead" per Ursula LeGuin). This verse is the shortest or one of the shortest verses in the Tao. LeGuin sums up its message in her final line: To follow heaven's lead has always been the best way.

Dyer explained:
The Tao Te Ching teaches that all of the 10,000 things emerge from the same state of nonbeing. Here there's only oneness, which implies complete collaboration, not competition. Who can there be to defeat if you see yourself in everyone?
How is this sense of oneness, of cooperation versus competition, reflected in our practice of TCC? For me, TCC is a dance with the Universe. When we move through the form, we engage in a joint effort to collaborate and unify our minds/bodies/spirits. The power of the Chi energy increases as we move in silent unity while we focus on rooting ourselves in earth and suspending ourselves from sky. As we feel our Onessness with all of nature, our hearts and minds expand beyond our single, solitary self into a space of compassion, cooperation, and non-competition.

The essence of our T'ai Chi Chih movement form is all about cooperation, sharing, and growing as One. First, though, we must be willing to relinquish the ego for the ultimate good of All.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Merging with the Flow

     The essence of life shall never be known by a human being as long as that person seeks to observe life like viewer and subject. The absolutely essential nature of life can only be comprehended by merging fully with the flow of life, so that one is utterly a part of it.
          From: 365 Tao, Deng Ming-Dao, p. 208 ("Essence")
The rain that fell from the sky last night resulted in a precious and beautiful day today: low humidity, light, cooling breezes, and glowing sunlight.

During this afternoon's TCC practice I observed the flutter of sunlight on forest-darkened leaves. I basked in the cool breath of air that rushed through my window and moved like a deer gently treading across rain-softened earth. For me, that's the joy that comes from living and practicing within this tree-filled landscape. I can easily join in the dance of the Universe. Undisturbed by human activities and expectations I merge with the environment, the atmosphere, and the landscape that surrounds me.

It bathes me in peace....

Which brings me to today's reading of 365 Tao, "Trap" (p. 209). I quote:
Many people allow themselves to be trapped into a miserable life....
     Those who follow Tao do not want to end up in this way. They want to be free. They do not want to be victims. Therefore, although it is a difficult path, they constantly seek to expand the parameters of their lives. They do not suffer to be exploited or enslaved, and they will eschew what is considered 'normal' in order to be happy.
I'm happily abnormal. Though I may sometimes feel as though I'm swimming upstream it's more likely that I'm softly floating downstream and, just like the reluctant messiah in Richard Bach's Illusions (see "Floating Free" blog, July 6, 2010), I'm riding the tide of Chi that carries me where I need to go....

Postscript: Sometimes that ride is bumpy and uncomfortable but it doesn't mean that I should abandon the flow (i.e., The Way).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Watchfully waiting ... watchfully moving

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 -- Watchfully waiting for rain

It's ironic. We spent three full days and two partial days in the Roseau, MN area and experienced rainfall every single day. In Bayfield no rain fell. Now that we're home again there's a hovering humidity that promises to shower down upon us soon.

It feels great to be back with our animals. Our animal/house sitter experienced a variety of wild creatures while we were gone (a mama black bear with one to two cubs, another yearling black bear, and a mama deer with two fawns). Thus far we're simply enjoying the presence of our own animal friends.

Chiripa rushed up a tree trunk near the front door this morning. If that wasn't enough, she ventured out onto a narrow branch, turned, and as she tightroped her way back toward the trunk, slipped off the branch and dangled, supported only by her front claws. She hung and swung her way to the tree trunk, clutching tightly with those same claws, then ventured downward.

Chiripa's method to disem-bark is dicey. She starts down the trunk headfirst and loses her balance because her claws can't hold when she's moving forward. Her rear end flips around and then she quickly backs down the tree paw by paw.

I'm tired today from the traveling and socializing that filled my days during our trip. My just-finished TCC practice out in the porch was a welcome rejuvenator. My flagging energy revived as I moved through the thick, heavy air and stared watchfully into the deep, dark forest.

We're back in our peaceful woods and happy to be here....

Travel T'ai Chi Chih

Monday, July 26, 2010 -- Travel day from northwestern Minnesota to northwestern Wisconsin

Heavy rain this morning in the flatlands of Roseau County. Water stands in the ditches ... and the fields. By the time we left for home skies had cleared and the sun shone. Today was our first opportunity to visit one-on-one with our host family (Frances's brother and sister-in-law) due to other visitors, the Roseau County Fair, a short overnight trip Curtis and Becky had already scheduled, and our various comings-and-goings.

I took a clue from the student I recently wrote about who reiterated the benefits of rehearsing T'ai Chi Chih in his mind. Since we were on the road all afternoon and evening I decided to practice TCC in my head while I sat at our dinner table in Bridgeman's. I started with Rocking Motion and made it through Pulling in the Energy. It felt sooo good. And, I'll bet, it kept me awake and alert for the rest of our journey.

After our late evening arrival and a short visit with our animal- and home-caretaker, I finished my practice by moving next to my bed before I crawled in. Then I slept like a bear in her den ... total comfort. The combination of a mental and physical practice with hours in between may have been a first for me and it worked wonderfully.

It's interesting to realize that sometimes our students need to remind us of the words we've spoken at previous class sessions. Thanks to this student I managed a full practice during a long, full, and tiring day.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summer Silence

It's a special gift to take time to travel to zones beyond home. Here in Roseau we see magpies, sandhill cranes, scores of dragonflies, and blue, blue wide open skies. Frances also caught sight of a skunk during yesterday morning's group bike ride.

We awakened this morning to the sound of Lizzie, the cockatiel, whistling for her breakfast. She ventured through a long unfamiliar melody and then inserted the familiar Pop Goes the Weasel. On and on she sang punctuating her refrain with a lusty chorus of Pop ... Weasel. Frances decided that her efforts deserved a reward and clipped several corn chips inside her cage which she promptly ate.

My morning phone check-in with our animal and house sitter revealed that she's contending with a mama bear and cub(s) that ventured into our yard at home. Our dog, Namaste, is well versed in catching the scent of these woodland creatures and letting her know through his wild barking that they're nearby. I wish I were home to see these visitors for myself but I'm also enjoying the critters we're finding here among the wheat fields.

Because of bright sun and heat I practiced TCC inside and positioned myself in front of the living room door. From there I could see the hot pink blossoms of hollyhocks that reached to roof height and an occasional handful of magpies that dipped and soared over the yard.

It's quiet here, too, just as it is under our forest canopy. We're in the middle of acres and acres of farmland with few nearby neighbors. Passing car traffic is infrequent and we avoid turning on the TV or tuning in the radio and simply appreciate the silence.

I thoroughly enjoyed this silence during my TCC practice and I'm grateful to sister-in-law, Becky, for the generous sharing of her computer to record my TCC blog. Tomorrow we head home to the woods. Today we'll enjoy more visits with relatives....

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Slow Down You Move Too Fast

After a rain-filled night we woke to mostly-clear skies and sunshine in the flatlands of Roseau. It IS muggy. Needless to say, I did my TCC practice in the shade where I felt an occasional coolish breeze.

I'm out of whack today ... slow moving, dropping things, boiling oatmeal over on the stove, etc. I don't know what's going on but I do know that something's not quite right. So what better time to do a T'ai Chi Chih practice? I skipped out on the group biking opportunity (I didn't trust myself on a bike for the moment) and did my practice instead.

It felt good to quit pushing myself and simply s-l-o-w w-a-y d-o-w-n. I DID slow down as I went through the motions and though I still feel a bit out of round I do feel better. With TCC as my motivation to go slow I think I'll take a clue and continue my slow, relaxed pace throughout the day. As I discovered earlier this morning, the more I push myself the faster I drop things and end up with a mess to clean.

Today I'll practice staying rooted to the earth and suspended from the sky as I go through my day.  It's clear that I need a lot of support and my TCC practice got me in the groove. On with the day at a slow, careful, relaxed, enjoyable pace....

Friday, July 23, 2010

Taking TCC on the Road

Thursday, July 22, 2010 -- En route to Roseau, Minnesota

This morning's TCC class was held indoors because of light sprinkles. Our practice was wonderfully calming and centering plus an interesting discussion of the Tao followed.

One student told the class that when he first studied TCC with me I asked the class to choose one movement and practice it for 5 to 10 minutes. The following week I asked class members to share their experiences and he told us that he had practiced in his head but did not practice an actual movement.

This student thought that this was a cop-out and was surprised when my response was "cool." I then explained to the class that as you become more familiar with the movements a mental practice can stimulate and circulate the Chi just as efficiently as a physical practice can.

After he described this earlier episode the student went on to verify that he often uses, and benefits from, a mental rehearsal of TCC. When he finds himself in situations where he wants to relax or calm down but does not feel comfortable doing a physical practice, he consciously--or unconsciously--chooses to think through his TCC practice. And, he proclaimed: It works! T'ai Chi Chih helps you feel better whether you do it physically or mentally....

Immediately after class Frances and I hit the road for Roseau, MN to attend her aunt's 90th birthday party. We'll spend an extended weekend there and head for home on Monday. In the meantime I'm unsure whether I'll have access to a computer to publish my blog as it happens. Entries may not be posted until we return home.

Friday, July 23, 2010 -- Beautiful warm, sunny, northwestern Minnesota summer

After a group bike ride with four other adults this morning I chose a quiet spot under a pine tree for my noon TCC practice. The branches were so close to me that I stroked the needles with the fingers of my right hand during Working the Pulley ... life force to life force.

Eventually several biting flies visited my ankles so frequently that I moved to a new tree in a more open spot with the hope that a breeze would brush them away. That ploy was unsuccessful. I must admit, though, that it's fun to practice with a wide open view of the blue, blue sky. (The unexpected consequences of traveling out from under the forest canopy....)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Three Treasures

I reread Verse 67 of the Tao today to prepare for tomorrow's T'ai Chi Chih class. Wayne Dyer titles this verse, "Living by the Three Treasures" which he articulates as: mercy (compassion, kindness, love), frugality (moderation or simplicity), and humility (not presuming to be above nature or ahead of others). As a longtime practitioner of TCC I believe that this practice opens a doorway and invites us to incorporate these treasures into our souls as we embody them through our practice of TCC.

Today, in fact, I was presented with the opportunity to model humility at the beginning of my practice. I positioned myself near the geese as they grazed along the driveway. Soon Lucy crossed the drive to stand close to me. Almost immediately her mate, Ander, walked over to intervene since he holds the position of male protector. Evidentally I was too close to Lucy and Ander made that fact evident through his body language; he started moving toward me with his beak extended and his neck shaking (a clear sign of aggression and his intent to nip).

Yes, it was intimidating! Still, I focused on my practice, on maintaining my sense of inner peace, and on not getting into a power struggle with this goose of ours. I ignored Ander even as I continued to be aware of his position and state of mind. Ander did eventually bend his head and lightly nip at my tennis shoe and ankle. I stepped calmly backward one complete step as I continued my practice.

Ander was satisfied. He'd succeeded in forcing me to move away slightly and that was all that was required. He returned to Lucy, turned his back to me, lay down in the grass, and settled himself. His eyes--just like Lucy's--closed gently and both geese rested as I continued on through my practice.

The geese are usually standoffish. It felt like a special moment to be able to observe Ander and Lucy close up as their lower eyelids closed and occasionally reopened. Soon I slowed down, let go, and joined my feathered friends in a shared state of deep relaxation. It was ducky (or should I say, goosey?)!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shadow Players

Tonight I attended an information session about a First Peace circle that is forming in this area. What is First Peace? Here's how Black Elk describes it:
The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all of its powers...
How wonderful to spend one day per month with others who choose to join this in-depth study that helps each member learn to find peace within. Hey, I'm all for it....

T'ai Chi Chih practice is an easily accessible tool that teaches/reminds/inspires us to bring peace into our own lives on a daily basis. On some days, of course, that goal is easier to accomplish than on others. But, just like anything else, it takes practice to gain expertise and mastery.

My TCC practice late this evening was pure fun. I played TCC in the upstairs bedroom. The lighting was different or maybe it was the fact that I have dirty, fogged over windows that I've been meaning to clean for ages. Whatever the reason, when I looked into the darkened window, I saw two shadows of myself.

Throughout the practice my movements were echoed by these two versions of me. Both were reproductions of my familiar movements but one Me looked smaller and more condensed, the other Me was more expansive, larger, and surrounded by light. I suppose you could say I had a group practice. This group, though, was totally coordinated. We all moved in exquisite harmony

Monday, July 19, 2010

We are the Earth

Another evening spent anticipating rain ... lately it's a daily occurrence. It is now dark and overcast, the air is heavy with humidity, and it is oh so quiet.
If you will think of ourselves as coming out of the earth, rather than having been thrown in here from somewhere else, you see that we are the earth, we are the consciousness of the earth. These are the eyes of the earth. And this is the voice of the earth.
     --The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell from The Mystic Vision (p. 109)
It's easy to feel myself of the earth when I live so closely connected to it. I watched a hummingbird sweeping up and down, up and down next to its feeder during my TCC practice. I felt the cooling breeze on my skin and heard the bird sounds emanating from the forest. Mother Earth/nature/the forest canopy calms me and brings me peace.

TCC practice flowed by quickly and smoothly. My back felt sore from picking raspberries and blueberries today so I promised myself that I'd end my day by lying on the Chi machine and relaxing into its gentle side-to-side movement. This day is soon done....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day of Rest

What a wonderful day of rest!

I practiced TCC in the calm quiet of evening after I positioned myself within view of the napping geese and simply flowed through the motions....

Shortly after my practice began Namaste and Ander engaged in a short episode of macho challenge and response. Ander dipped his head and headed toward the dog with an intent to nip. Namaste rose quickly and dashed from side to side avoiding, teasing, and playing.

Sometime later I head the sound of a tree cracking in the woods. Bear, I'll bet. This isn't the first time we've heard such a sound. A year or two ago Frances actually spotted a young bear dangling from a tree as it attempted to eat berries.

After I relaxed into the first half of my practice, I incorporated Seijaku into the second half. The evening was deliciously quiet. And now as the sun drops lower on the horizon I'm quiet too ... and peaceful.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Re-Membering Peace

Early evening skies adopted the color and feel of rain. It's still and subdued as we await the arrival of a storm. Every moment feels over-plump with anticipation....

Earlier today skies were clear and sunny. During my morning walk I encountered a fawn and its mother crossing the road that I'd just turned onto. The fawn led the way and both it and its mother paused to watch me before leaping into the opposite ditch.

I spared myself from tonight's hungry buzz of mosquitoes and practiced TCC in the upstairs bedroom as I looked out the window. While moving I watched the golden orange-red flames of a fire that Frances started in the firepit as they leapt and danced in the quiet green woods. Near the end of practice I noticed Frances walking toward the fire carrying a stick with a large collection of marshmellows to roast.

It's been a busy day filled with dishes, laundry, cooking, etc. The TCC movements invited me to slow down, relax, and re-member peace....

Friday, July 16, 2010

Slivers of Chi

A sliver of moon hung in the sky during my late afternoon TCC practice. It's milky shape stared at me out of the clear blue. Occasionally as I moved a welcome breeze shifted through the air while temperatures tilted downhill from their high in the low 80s.

Though I practiced outside on the deck--the breeze was strong enough to keep mosquitoes at bay--I turned up the music inside the house to add more relaxation and comfort to my practice. The only sounds were breezes stroking the trees and the watery call of dolphins in the musical background. Until, that is, Frances started the tractor and headed down the driveway to scrape our road back into smoothness after its sad episode of rut and gut from heavy rains.

I inserted three repetitions of Seijaku in the middle of my nine repeitions of each TCC movement. Some days it's easier to accomplish than others. Still, today when I placed mental focus on softening my legs as I shifted weight forward and back, side to side I noticed that I can, indeed, soften and relax the tension in my feet and legs. Yes, it feels good!

It's Friday evening and time to cook up a healthy, delicious dinner.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Live by Emulating the Sea

Our driveway desperately needs major care and attention after large portions of it flowed downstream with the rain yesterday. Unsure whether I could hold my TCC class outdoors this morning I walked carefully around the grassy yard of the Bell Town Hall to determine if it was waterlogged. Nope.

Hurrah! Our group joined together in a beautiful, sunny, breezy outdoor practice.

One class member arrived during the second half of the form as we performed Pulling Taffy Variation #1, Anchor Step. She told the group later that it was fun to see us move ... we looked beautiful. She also commented about today's reading of the Tao (Verse 66, "Living by Emulating the Sea,") that many people are drawn to the Bayfield Peninsula because of Lake Superior, our own inland sea. "It feels so peaceful and powerful," she said.

That, I replied, is how we also feel when we do our T'ai Chi Chih practice: peaceful and powerful. As we emulate water in our practice and in our lives we soften, flow, and release tension in our movements and we go with the flow in our life choices, decisions, and attitudes. When we maintain that feeling of flow, all is well.

Dyer's interpretation of the first line of this verse reads:
Why is the sea king of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them.
Humility gives it its power.
His instructions and advice later in the chapter reiterate two key points: Be humble. Never put yourself above others or see yourself as superior to anyone.... Become a servant, not a dominator....

Many of us who live here on the Bayfield Peninsula are surrounded by watersheds, streams, and rivers that flow to Lake Superior. There is no question that Lake Superior contains a special power and beauty that draws us to her. We live in a location that allows us--perhaps more than others--to have insight into this verse of the Tao. To suspend the ego and release the need to control others, though, is an ongoing challenge.

T'ai Chi Chih practice is a gift and a tool that reminds us, teaches us, and encourages us to live by emulating the sea....

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stormy Weather

A day-long rain fell today. It was wonderful! Now it is calm, quiet, greener than green, and very wet.

Today I received an email about the T'ai Chi Chih Teachers' Conference scheduled for August 12-15 in Nebraska. I'm excited about attending this year. It has been at least nine years since I went to a conference in St. Paul, MN and that seems (it was!) so long ago.

Conference participants are asked to bring a favorite quote about gratitude since that is the theme of the conference. These quotes will be shared throughout the gathering. That assignment alone is enough to add to my excitement as I'm curious to see what quotes people--myself included--choose to bring.

Here's one possibility from Grooks by Piet Hein (1966):
Grook to Stimulate Gratitude

As things so
     very often are
     won't get you far.

So be glad
     you've got more sense
than you've got
Today's late afternoon practice followed the ending of our rainstorm. The earth, trees, and windows were drenched with wetness. I looked out the rain-spotted window at a dusky grey sky and moved slowly through the heavy humidity. As I've noticed before when it rains, the energy felt potent in the palms of my hands. Now I'm happily filled with energy....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

T'ai Chi Chih-Initiated Relaxation

A beautiful, cool, sun-dappled evening cycles 'round me. I practiced my TCC in the presence of my family members once again ... Ander and Lucy, Namaste, and Chiripa all lounged in front of me as I moved through the form. At one point Frances also passed by and plopped the geese into their handmade pond one at a time.

It's another peaceful day here in the woods. I'd never know it when I venture out into the larger world; there was constant bustling traffic when I drove to the library, pharmacy, and grocery store today. That's saying something ... the normal off-season mode here is quiet with little to no traffic.

It felt like my new tennis shoes eased the pressure on my foot neuroma as I practiced today. That's a very good thing! Less pain ... more gain. The skeeters (mosquitoes) were in prime form and I finished my practice with a number of itchy spots on ankles and legs.

Now it's time to continue my T'ai Chi Chih-initiated state of relaxation. I hear the dinner bell ringing in my head....

Monday, July 12, 2010

Carrying the Tea Cup

It's been a day of surprises. The first occurred when Frances and I unintentionally disturbed a Great Blue Heron who floated on the river next to the road where we walked. We didn't know it was there; it was hidden from view by tall grasses. Once it took flight, though, it was wonderful to watch as it straightened its body, extended its wings, and circled above us.

Later in the day we went to the movie "The Last Airbender" by M. Night Shyamalan. It contained numerous references to Chi along with a variety of martial arts. As we watched the airbenders and waterbenders go through the process of manipulating these elements their movements looked amazingly similar to t'ai chi ch'uan. It was beautiful and inspiring to watch.

This evening I received an email notifying me that Joe Apt, one of the Twin Cities' T'ai Chi Chih teachers, died on Sunday. Joe was an early TCC teacher in this area and was often present at TCC trainings since he contributed a number of his students to teacher certification classes.

I'll never forget Joe's description of Working the Pulley. After you press forward and open your palm up, imagine that you are carrying a cup and saucer on that upturned palm as you pull the palm back toward you. You'll have to drop it eventually, of course, as your hand passes your side and begins to rise and ready itself to press forward once again. Joe helped me remember to keep my hand parallel to the earth and to hold it soft and steady as I pulled back.

Tonight's practice was performed in new tennis shoes that are intended to help me deal with a recently diagnosed case of Morton's neuroma on the ball of my right foot. The shoes are sturdy, stable, and larger than previous shoes which allows my foot plenty of room to be.

It was dark outside while I moved ... and cool ... and quiet. I sunk into the quietness and slowly flowed through the movements. Now as the clock ticks toward midnight it's either publish or perish....

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What would Justin say?

Today is a nice cool-down from the past few hot, humid days. Now, in late afternoon, it is 70 degrees, overcast, and, though it threatened rain several times throughout the day, no measurable wet stuff has tumbled from the sky.

I'm spending the day in sorting mode. Frances and I worked on the basement this morning; I'll spend the rest of this afternoon organizing files and papers in my office. It feels tremendously helpful to release and let go of excess. And, the more I clear and organize, the better and more energetic I feel.... The Chi can flow!

I chose my TCC practice spot today based on air circulation. The northeast corner of the deck had a wonderful breeze so it was there that I conducted my practice. When I came to my final standing pose, I felt as though I was cushioned in a cool, comfortable swirl of air.

I recently read (I can't remember where) that Justin Stone thought TCC teachers who live in small, remote communities slip more easily into bad habits. Perhaps that's one reason why I practice as often as I do with the teachers on Justin Stone's TCC DVD. I frequently evaluate my practice and search for ways to improve. How can I relax more completely? How can I open the way for Chi to flow with greater ease and freedom?

Gee. What would Justin say??? Practice. Practice. Practice.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Family Practice

Frances and I spent much of the day making grape leaf rolls (Greek Dolmades) for a dinner with friends tonight. Though time-consuming and labor-intensive they are fabulously delicious. The secret to their success, I think, is the combination of spices: fresh lemon juice, fresh picked mint from the garden, cinnamon, parsley, pine nuts, and currants. Mmm. Mmmm.

During TCC practice my animal family surrounded me: the dog to my left, the cat to my right, and the two geese directly in front of me. I moved through the motions in the late afternoon heat glad to use little effort since my motivation deteriorated as the temperature climbed.

One of my favorite activities today was watching the geese splash in their small pool while I ate lunch. Water flew up, down, and all around as they flapped their wings, dipped their heads, and threw water onto their backs with a flip of their beaks. It was a rousing good time for participants and spectators.

It's late. I'm tired and ready for bed. I wish I could say that I learned something earth shaking during today's TCC practice. But no. All that I'm sure of is that it is difficult to practice when the heat and humidity climb too high. Thank goodness that late evening brings a cool-down. And, for the moment anyway, I'm positioned in front of an open window with a fan blowing cool air all around me....

Friday, July 9, 2010

"Bear"ing my Weight

Bear footprints galore--and, yes, I mean bear not bare--as we walked along a dirt road today on our early morning hike. Though Frances and I continue to discover prints of all sizes along this route we have yet to see a bear visitor in our own yard.

Our lack of visitors is in stark contrast to the stories we've heard from others in the area. The DNR trapped six or seven bears on one family's property. As soon as the bears were removed from the premises they saw new bears.

About 1:00 a.m. on July 3 a City of Bayfield resident's dog was attacked by a bear which next tried to get into her house. She hit the bear over the head with her cell phone as she dialed 911. This woman bakes bread for local restaurants and the farmers' market which leads me to wonder: Did this intrepid bear merely recognize a delicious jackpot when he smelled it?

Two days ago Frances and I met a porcupine in the middle of another dirt road. We pulled our car off to the side in order to pass and strongly encouraged it to vacate its center of the road location before another driver barreled along and chose not to stop. As the porcupine lumbered to the roadside I marveled at its quill-covered body and recalled several gorgeous quill boxes I've examined at Native Spirit Gifts in Red Cliff. Frances, of course, speculated about how a porcupine removes a woodtick from its own body while I wondered whether a tick would even dare to navigate its rough and spiny terrain.

Back home in my own yard it looks as though the fledgling robins took flight sometime between last night and this morning. The nest is quiet and the branch upon which it rests no longer bustles with the frequent visitations of mom and dad Robin. Frankly, I miss the overhead activity.

During today's TCC practice I focused on keeping my lower body soft and relaxed while I moved. I continue to hold tension in my legs and I was glad to receive Justin Stone's reminder to stay soft when I recently watched his Seijaku DVD. Yes, indeed, it felt good to relax my body from the waist down since I typically focus my relaxtion attention and intention on my upper body.

This day is absolutely, positively, fabulously beautiful!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Silence? Root? Balance? Harmony?

How ironic that yesterday's blog focused on silence. Today our outdoor group practice moved to the tune of loud construction equipment moving earth. The noise began just as our practice did and continued through the first two-thirds of our form.

What did I learn from this? That even when there is noise and distraction in the external environment you can still find silence within yourself. I soon grew oblivious to the noise and focused on relaxing and releasing. After the heavy equipment ceased operation I enjoyed the beautiful birdsong and treasured the peaceful, quiet atmosphere even more.

We began our class practice under the cooling shade of trees. By practice end much of that shade had moved beyond our circle. It felt comforting and comfortable to move together as one large human body filled with spirit.

During our outdoor practices I notice that students often struggle to keep their footing, to stay grounded. I do as well. It's a valuable experience to focus so intently upon what lies beneath our feet and to take nothing for granted.

I related a conversation I had yesterday with an acquaintance who recently traveled to China. As they boated down the Yangtze River she and her husband joined morning t'ai chi classes on the upper deck. I positioned myself away from the deck railing, she said, because it was difficult to keep my balance as we dealt with the sway and flow of the waves beneath us.

Everything is relative. Noise or silence. Practicing on solid ground or practicing upon the fast-moving, ever-changing waves of a flowing river. When we maintain our focus and intent, virtually anything is possible.

It's important to remember that in the end it is my attitude that informs my experience and brings me pain or pleasure, distress or harmony.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Silence is the general consecration of the universe. Silence is the invisible laying on of the Divine Pontiff's hands upon the world. Silence is at once the most harmless and the most awful thing in all nature. It speaks of the Reserved Forces of Fate. Silence is the only Voice of our God.
          --Herman Melville, The Writings of Herman Melville, vol. 7
The above quote is another gem I discovered during my effort to cleanse files. Silence is such an integral part of T'ai Chi Chih practice. And, undoubtedly, that's why I love this practice so much ... it is the only group activity that I've ever engaged in that allowed--no, required--all of its members to move beyond social interactions and into the Oneness without a word being spoken. That's a gift to us all.

Today's TCC practice was divided into two parts: the first half I practiced in the yard while watching the geese. The day was hot and I felt revved up by multiple projects I hoped to complete. While that practice went fine it was not as relaxing as my second half-practice.

Begun around 7:00 p.m., this practice was performed after said projects were completed. In the early evening segue of sun to gathering rain clouds I practiced inside. This practice was quiet--no distractions--and I felt a distinct difference from the earlier practice. This time there was no competition with other responsibilities, thoughts, or anticipated activities. I sunk into the silence and let myself Be.

Though I felt tired at the beginning of this practice and I continue to feel tired at the end, I am more relaxed, at ease, and peaceful. Evening's silence is settling across the land....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Floating Free

A female hummingbird buzzes by en route to her feeder as I write my blog. Today's beautiful 60 degree morning transposed itself into another hot, humid day. Late afternoon sunshine speckles the ground with bits of brightness. A flash of light reveals clusters of swirling insects.

The geese turned their backs to me during my TCC practice this afternoon, heads swiveled backward to tuck beaks under wings, and an eye slitted open several times to check my progress. As I moved I heard snatches of birdsong and gazed at butterflies riding a sweep of air through long shafts of light.

Practice was nondescript--simple quiet and peacefulness--as I gazed into the forest and felt gratitude for this beautiful shady woods I call home.

While purging files this afternoon I rediscovered a favorite story: Illusions, The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach (1977). Bach writes about a village of creatures that lived along the bottom of a river where they resisted the current by clinging to the rocks since that was what they had learned from birth.

One creature lets go, trusting the current to take it where it will. At first this creature is tumbled and smashed against the rocks but it continues on and eventually floats along freely. Further downstream other creatures see this floating stranger and cry out, A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!

The one carried by the current replies: I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.

This river Bach writes about can be literal or figurative. It may be a flowing body of water, or the Tao, or Chi. T'ai Chi Chih practice teaches us to glide along the river of life by asking us to trust the process as we relax, release, and float rather than hold fast, clutch, and cling. TCC offers us a daily opportunity to let go even though some days we may find ourselves caught in tumultuous waves, other days we might bounce over rough rapids, and on others we may well swirl around and around in eddies.

Still, with practice we grow accustomed to releasing and letting go, relaxing and being, trusting and accepting. Our fears and judgments are replaced with love and compassion. Our need to control abates as we are guided by an inner knowing, a sense that there is wisdom greater than ours alone.

All we need remember are these wonderful, wise words by Richard Bach: The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Loosey Goosey

A cool(er) beginning to the day. With temperatures near 60 and zero-nada-nothing for a breeze I opted for an indoor TCC practice. The mosquitoes used me for target practice during the few minutes I ventured outside to hang bird feeders. It didn't seem worth it to add to my collection of bites.

I began my practice in the living room as I peered through the patio door into the dark woods. The only sounds I heard were the roar of fans on the north and south sides of the house as they shuttled fresh, cool air inside.

Few creatures were stirring. Several birds fluttered across my visual field. Another tiny creature scuttled across the deck (a mole? mouse?). Near the end of practice Chiripa appeared, mewing for me to open the door.

Today's practice was different. Looser. My movements felt so effortless that I shied away from adding Seijaku to my practice. I felt that it would require more effort and intent than my body could give. Later in the practice as my body and mind gained energy I added Seijaku with some of the movements.

It's another glorious summer day. I just took a break from writing this blog to help Frances give Lucy her second-to-last dose of antibiotics. And now ... on with the day!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Living Happily in the Present

The weather cooled slightly today after a long, hot night. It's cloudy with brief moments of sunshine, sprinkles, and heavy showers. Plus it's windy, very, very w--i--n--d--y.

We're enjoying a mellow, laid back, stay-at-home day. What a treat! said Frances about our breakfast. We ate my homemade granola with Frances' homemade kefir and yesterday's handpicked raspberries. Delicious!

Lucy consumes lettuce like her stomach is a bottomless pit--it probably is!--plus she's back to grazing and drinking copious amounts of water. It is wonderfuly satisfying to see the geese behave in their normal goosely fashion and interact as if nothing out of the ordinary occurred just one week ago today.

A brief heavy rain cleared the humidity from the air and I'm back to feeling comfortably human once again. During my noon TCC practice I realized the major difference that a 10 degree temperature drop (from yesterday) can make in my movements.

Today it felt effortless to incorporate Seijaku back into my practice. Halfway through the form the geese joined me after downing another round of lettuce and water. Ander stood about six feet in front of me and Lucy stood directly behind him ... quietly watching.

I'm not accustomed to these two birds noticing my practice and/or needing or wanting to be physically close. But I do think they've realized that we're paying close attention to their whereabouts and monitoring them to ensure their safety. Their days of free ranging may be over.

Do they mind? I'm not so sure that they do. Ander approached me while I wrote my blog and he is currently asleep about six feet away from me. Lucy sleeps across the drive happy, it seems, to have some space from her humans who snatch her up twice a day to force food and medication down her throat.

Lucy's attack last week taught me to live happily in the present while I attend to the minute details of avian life and habits. I AM here now....

Saturday, July 3, 2010

An Organic, Free Range Day

First, an early morning walk. Then a trip to the Farmers' Market, an outing to pick raspberries at Blue Vista Farm, and a visit to Flying Snake Farm (Frances calls it a peaceable kingdom because of all the free range birds scattered about: turkeys, ducks, geese, chickens, pigs, a goat, a cow and calf) to buy two dozen free range eggs, then home again. Everywhere we go people comment on the heat. It was up in the mid-80s earlier today ... and humid. Those of us who live here year-round prefer cooler temps.

Today--miracle of miracles--Lucy started eating romaine lettuce again. Yesterday she nibbled on cracked corn, today romaine; it appears that she's well on her way to a full recovery. It's hard to believe that just a week ago a fox was dragging Lucy into the deep forest before we scared him or her away.

Yes, the weather is HOT. During my goose observation time I did my TCC practice in the driveway. Try as I might I could not get my body to do Seijaku. Much of my get-up-and-go drained out of me when I picked berries in the hot, relentless sun. Now in an effort to conserve energy I performed a slow, relaxed, plain old regular T'ai Chi Chih practice. It felt just right.

The geese groomed and groomed and groomed in front of me. The kitten stuck her arm into a chipmunk hole and kicked, scratched, and flailed around. (It was humorous.) An adult robin flew to its nest to feed babies. And I moved into the breeze each time it headed my way deeply grateful for its welcome breath. And now, now, I sit at my computer in deep relaxation.

All is well.

Friday, July 2, 2010


This hot summer day gleamed with sunshine. Early evening temperatures are now in the upper 70s after highs in the upper 80s. A pleasant breeze brushes through the leaves and across the undergrowth.

Even though we drove to Lake Superior yesterday to entice Lucy into the lake she still had blood on some of her feathers. This morning Frances built a swimming pool out of boards, sandbags, and a thick piece of plastic. Both geese eagerly climbed into the pool and floated, dipped their heads, flapped their wings, and began to groom. After exiting said pool Ander and Lucy groomed for hours.

Post-bath there is absolutely no blood left on Lucy's wing feathers which is good since yesterday flies were pursuing Lucy relentlessly. We do not want flies to lay eggs in Lucy's wounds; maggots are the disconcerting and disgusting outcome of such an event.

Frances and I take turns sitting outside to observe the geese as they wander, groom, graze, and socialize. As a result, I noticed a robin's nest atop a tree branch high above one of our parked cars. Now Frances and I can watch mom and dad Robin coming and going as they feed worms to their fledgling babies. I doubt I would have located the nest had I not slowed down and taken the time to watch the geese. What a treat!

My evening practice was warm but occasional puffs of breeze delivered relief from the heat. Other than one mosquito bite on the knuckle of one hand I emerged unscathed. In the meantime I enjoyed the flow as I moved forward and back on tired, sore feet. It's another beautiful day in the woods of Wisconsin.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Being Here Now

We welcomed back several "summer people" to our TCC class this morning. The Bayfield penninsula draws many big lake/cool weather seekers during our beautiful summer months which means that every year I have students for my summer class who live elsewhere during the rest of the year (i.e., Sweden, the Chicago-area, Phoenix).

Today's indoor practice was energizing. By the end of practice I noticed a number of big smiles on faces around our circle as we performed the Healing Sounds. It felt fun, almost celebratory, to loudly whisper the sounds as we moved in unison.

After our tea break several students mentioned how much they looked forward to today's class because they knew it would help relieve their stress and return them to a more balanced state. One student told of his experience traveling across the country to visit his children. One morning his daughter asked him if he wanted to do yoga with her and, after they completed their practice, he asked if she wanted to do t'ai chi chih with him. What a wonderful bonding experience to share with family members!

Wayne Dyer calls the 64th verse of the Tao, "Living by Being Here Now." After I read this chapter I thought of these questions about TCC practice: Why do we practice TCC? What does it give us? How does it make us feel?

For me, one of the biggest benefits of TCC practice is the way in which it pulls me into the present moment. It feels wonderfully freeing to reside in the now where I'm removed from worries about tomorrow and released from regrets about the past. When I'm in the Now and connected to the Tao, I'm attuned to my innermost self ... and the living is easy.