Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Noisy Brain Syndrome

I still talk in my sleep.
I still dream.
How can there be perfect stillness
When my brain's so noisy?

     We carry on a constant dialogue within ourselves. This is the origin of our problems.
     The very word dialogue means talking between two sides. We could not have an inner dialogue unless there was a split in our minds. We all have two sides; as long as they are not united, we cannot attain the wholenss that spirituality requires.
     Even with years of self-cultivation, it is not easy to tame the wild mind. One might appear to have attained perfect control in all waking situations, only to find endless turbulence during meditation and sleep.
     ... rather than shutting away the unpleasant or unruly aspects of ourselves, we must take them all out and examine them....
     From: 365 Tao by Deng Ming-Dao, "Dialogue," p. 243
Today's reading from 365 Tao is a reminder that there is always work to do in managing Monkey Mind. I often revisit this fact during my daily T'ai Chi Chih practices. I feel relaxed, calm, at peace ... and then I notice that my mind is leaping from one topic to another as it mimics a monkey swinging from tree to tree.

Today--case in point--I dedicated my TCC practice to my mother since August 31 is her birthday (she died over five years ago). I wanted to honor Mother for the role she played in my life, the ways in which she shaped me, the habits and behaviors of hers that live on in me, and more. Soon enough my mind was off on another adventure stalking the wild pendulum (per Itzhak Bentov's book of the same title).

Bentov was a scientist, mystic, author, and accomplished meditator who believed that vibration permeates all things and that our brains receive and amplify thoughts rather than being the source of thought. So, as many regular TCC practitioners have discovered, our daily TCC practice offers us the chance to experience the vibration that permeates all things (i.e., Chi).

If the split in our minds is a mirror of the yin/yang energy that continually seeks to find balance and harmony, does it also follow that the thoughts we receive (and amplify) offer us the opportunity to change and grow and accomplish a greater good?

Monday, August 30, 2010

My Crimson Child

It's been a hot, busy day ... a busy, HOT day. Yes, the heat is challenging but the expectation for a long, dark, cold winter is equally so.

I chose to practice TCC today within my air-conditioned house rather than venture into the heat and humidity. In the semi-heat--with a fan blowing directly upon me--I mixed TCC with Seijaku and focused on how the softness and hardness of each movement felt within my body. It felt wonderfully delicious to note the differences between yin and yang, receptive and active, soft and hard.

Today's reading of 365 Tao: "Heart"
Imagine your heart as an opening lotus.
From its center comes a crimson child,
Pure, virginal, and innocent....

Bring this child out of your body and imagine him or her floating above your head....

Sometimes, you may even doubt that you have a pure and innocent self to bring out anymore. But each of us does. Each of us must find that crimson child within us and bring him or her out. For this child represents the time when our energies were whole and our hearts were untroubled by the duplicity of the world and ourselves.
I'm aware of my child self today because tomorrow would have been my mother's 84th birthday (she died five years ago). As I think of her and reflect on our life together I imagine both of us as pure, innocent children. We battled, yes, but as I grow older and see the ways in which her genes, habits, and personality influenced and live on in me I realize that, if I can feel young and innocent in middle-age, then my mother's crimson child was also there within her until the day she died.

My child came out to play today as she does on many occasions when I'm engaged in my TCC practice. And, while I'm experiencing joy thru movement, my heart is untroubled by the duplicity of the world and myself....

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I am enthusiastic about life ...

Interesting ... I completed a morning TCC practice several hours ago and it feels as if it occurred during another lifetime. The perception of time is an amazingly changeable and elusive concept.

During this morning's TCC practice on the deck I glimpsed Lake Superior once or twice as branches swayed forward and back across its beautiful, watery expanse. I won't see much of these sky blue waters until fall temperatures color tree leaves and send them tumbling to the ground. When the trees stand naked, the sky, clouds, and waters will be revealed in all their glory.

Chiripa stalked an invisible prey in the tall grasses and ferns lining the edge of the woods while I moved through my TCC meditation. I included Seijaku at the start of my practice, then focused on softness and relaxation in the middle, and finished with more Seijaku at the end. It felt wonderful to flow with the winds and waters.

It's a beautiful summery day with bright sunlight and the whisper of winds dancing through leaves.

Suddenly these words float into my consciousness. They are taken from a years' old collection of affirmations that I occasionally sang in my car en route to work and home (authors and singers unknown).
I am alive. I am alert. I am awake and joyous.
I am alive. I am alert. I am enthusiastic about life.
It's time to put my enthusiasm to good use....

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tomato Zucchini T'ai Chi Chihnini

It felt delicious to finish this hot, sweaty day with a TCC practice on the wind-cooled deck. All was still save for the buzz of a bee visiting a red-orange nasturtium; it sounded as though it was trapped deep inside the brightly colored blossom.

As I moved I noticed a few ripe-looking tomatoes on the vine and I vowed to pick them immediately after my practice ended. I also decided to walk down the driveway in search of Chiripa who hadn't returned from an earlier afternoon walk to the mailbox. Happily she emerged from under the deck directly after practice as I moved from tomato plant to tomato plant searching for newly ripened fruits.

After this morning's visit to the Farmer's Market (one of my favorite weekly outings) I spent most of the day in the kitchen cooking up entrees based on a tomato and zucchini theme: spaghetti sauce, chili, and Zucchini Linguini. Cooking brings me much joy and I always feel healthy and happy when I can use freshly harvested produce in my weekend cooking sprees.

The T'ai Chi Chih practice was a nice follow-up to a full afternoon of chopping, cutting, cooking, and standing. So much so, in fact, that I'll squeeze a short bike ride into my day before dusk falls.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A New Day

It's a glorious morning! So glorious, actually, that I flew out to the deck to practice TCC immediately after I fed the geese and birds.

In front of me sit a dozen ripening tomatoes lining the deck railing, half green and half red. I placed them there before my practice to offer them every single inch-ounce-pinch-bounce of available sunlight. I carry them inside each evening, of course, to avoid a juice-splattered bear feast in the darkness of night.

Further into the woods sunbeams pierce the forest canopy and settle their light upon a dead tree trunk, leaves, a fern, and miscellaneous undergrowth. The kitten races around me checking for who knows what on her daily rounds. Several hummingbirds visit feeder and jewel weed then jet into the sky. Within a week or two the hummers will journey to their winter home in Mexico or Central America and I'll miss their flitty, flighty, busy, buzzy presence.

I end my TCC practice by quietly sitting in a lawn chair on the deck. As Justin advises, I simply receive. I receive the rays of sunlight. The quiet, gentle breezes. The busy buzz of hummingbirds. The chatter of a squirrel. The wonderful, enlivening silence of a new day....

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Where Attention Goes....

Thanks, Evergreen, for your comment on yesterday's blog. You were guided to focus on feeling the energy in your body and ... you did! This experience reminds me of the oft-repeated saying in the bodywork and healing fields, Where attention goes, energy flows.

Last week, as we traveled home from the T'ai Chi Chih Teachers' Conference I commented to the two teachers traveling with me that I noted an increase in energy when I practiced with the large group of TCC teachers. Yes, the silence was deeper than in a typical TCC class. And, yes, there were a number of teachers whose hands and fingers shook and vibrated from the energy as did mine. In addition, I witnessed one teacher during our final practice who paused in place, mid-movement, while her entire body trembled.

Normally I'm fairly oblivious to the movements of my hands and fingers though I previously realized that when I practice with Justin Stone's TCC DVD, as soon as several of the practitioners' fingers begin to tremble the movement of my own fingers increases. Hmmm. Could it be that my body is responding to the above refrain: Where attention goes, energy flows?

Like you, Evergreen, I typically feel the energy in my hands and fingers rather than my entire body. But your quest reminds me that all I need to do is place my attention inside my body and pay attention to how/what I feel.

On occasion I feel a surge of energy in my heart region, my chest, the trunk of my body, or my legs. And many years ago, when Frances and I went searching for the earth's energy meridians (a/k/a ley lines), we found ourselves outside of Spirit Lake, Iowa doing TCC practice right next to the road. When I stepped into Cosmic Consciousness Pose, my body began to shake furiously. I felt as if I had plugged into a ley line and become an energy conduit and I immediately placed my attention into the soles of my feet to ground, ground, ground.

What a wonderful adventure we're on, eh?

Today's TCC practice was performed in the midst of picture-perfect weather: a light breeze, comfortable temps, no mosquitoes, waving leaves, and a few flitting hummingbirds. Ahh. The joy has returned....

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Eat Tomatoes ... Recycle ... Plant Trees ... Practice TCC

Yes, today is a good-better-even better day. In late afternoon I discovered Ander, the male goose, eating several of our ripe tomatoes right off the vine. Frances banished him to his barnyard. Frankly, it's difficult to keep our tomatoes from being gouged out and sampled by slugs. Our geese are extremely well-fed and we'd like to eat these highly prized tomatoes ourselves, thank you very much.

During a late afternoon car ride to the dump to drop off recycling and garbage we stowed the cat and dog in the car too. Chiripa--like most cats--doesn't leap at the chance to ride along on car trips. She managed to attract attention at the dump, though, as several neighbors and acquaintances approached the car to see her and exclaim over her beautiful markings.

Today I discovered photos from the TCC Teachers' Conference posted on my Facebook page and include a link here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeagle/sets/72157624651090793/show/

It's worth checking out Lied Lodge, the handsomely designed hotel that hosted our conference. Initial pictures show some of the huge, beautiful tree trunks that stand in the reception area as guests enter the hotel. The banner that reads Plant Trees in 12 different languages figures predominently in these shots as well. Later in the slide show there's a shot of Anna and I as we prepare to lead the first morning's TCC practice. TCC Guide Sister Antonia and teacher-trainer Sandy stand nearby.

This evening's TCC practice was quiet save for two sets of buzzing: mosquitoes that circled 'round me like a crowd of guests at a dessert bar and Frances as she sliced off a section of bass tree with her chainsaw a short distance down our driveway. A light breeze massaged me with cool, deft fingers and I flowed through my practice like an agile stream gliding down a well-traveled ravine.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Put a little love in your heart....

The days flash by me like the flit of a firefly, a strike of lightning, or the turn of a page. Summer recedes into the distance as fall approaches with a steadfast tread. I can sense a change in the light; the sun passes lower in the sky, the breeze is cooler, the shadows longer.

I'm in a funk though I'm not sure whether it's related to the time of year, hormones, or another unidentified cause. I do my daily T'ai Chi Chih practice despite the fact that I find myself going through the motions without vim or vigor. Where is the joy thru movement?

I want to hibernate, procrastinate, abbreviate. Still, I persist. I know that Justin Stone reminds us to practice no matter what. Practice when you feel like it, practice when you don't. Perhaps, just perhaps, my practice keeps me going when all else fails.

Today I practiced outside on the deck in the midst of sunshine and cooling breezes. I had no time or patience for the beauty surrounding me. I felt fed up with the effort of moving. But I did my practice anyway.

I comfort myself with cliches: This too shall pass. There's always tomorrow....

And, when all else fails, music inevitably offers some solace:
Take a good look around and
if you're lookin' down
put a little love in your heart....

And the world will be a better place
          --Jackie DeShannon

Monday, August 23, 2010

Buddha's Brain ... and Mine

Today I reviewed a brochure passed on to me by one of my TCC students at our last class session. It advertises a seminar/webcast scheduled for mid-September based on the book, Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom.

The book's author, Rick Hanson, Ph.D., combines modern neuroscience with ancient contemplative teachings (meditation) to explain how to build self-compassion into the brain and activate contentment, belonging and peace. Interestingly, this book was mentioned at the TCC Teachers' Conference a week ago. I don't remember the context for the comments about Buddha's Brain at conference but I believe that it may have been mentioned during a discussion about how to improve our teaching skills.

The blurb about this book reads as follows:
Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Gandhi, and the Buddha all had brains built essentially like anyone else's, yet they were able to harness their thoughts and shape their patterns of thinking in ways that changed history. With new breakthroughs in modern neuroscience and the wisdom of thousands of years of contemplative practice, it is possible for us to shape our own thoughts in a similar way for greater happiness, love, compassion, and wisdom.
I'm hooked. Of course, I believe that a regular practice of T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation accomplishes this reshaping automatically (subconsciously?). It is interesting, however, to examine how we can harness our thoughts in a more conscious, goal-oriented, life-changing way.

One written commentary about the book proclaims:
With Buddha's Brain, we are invited to take a deep breath and consider the neural reasons why we should slow ourselves down, balance our brain, and improve our connections with one another, and with our self.
          --Daniel Siegel, M.D.
            Author of Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation
Given the synchronicity of the Universe I'll have to read this book....

In the meantime, I continue my TCC practice. Today I felt lost and bored. I slipped Justin's DVD into the player and followed along with the teachers' practice to get myself motivated. Time sped by and now ... I do feel a wee bit better.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Buzz ... Bounce ... Move

How do you like this Facebook entry posted  last Wednesday by someone who lives near Washburn, WI? rain, rain, rain, rain, rain rain rain rain, THUNDER rain, rain, rain, rain. (Thank you, Evergreen.)

This is an hour-by-hour word picture of the weather this past week. At Farmers' Market yesterday I learned that the neighbor who borders the back side of our property caught six inches of rain in his gauge during the first three weeks of this month.

Today the sun appeared, temps rose, and we turned the central air on for an hour or two. When I went outside for my t'ai chi chih practice, I searched for a clear space--acorn free--in which to move. The oak trees near the house are dropping acorns by the hundreds. When they bounce off our metal roof, it sounds like a golf ball, basketball, or hammer pounding the metal surface. Such a powerful, unexpected sound from something so tiny.

Today's TCC practice was relaxed and peaceful as I abandoned my need to do things just right and simply flowed. My blue stained fingertips circled in front of me, a reminder that I'd just finished arranging blueberries on cake pan lids en route to the freezer. Light and shadows danced across the wall of the house as a hummingbird visited blossoms in the flower garden alongside.

Last week fall was in the offing but summer returned momentarily. I must take advantage of this sunshiny weather for soon I won't have the pleasure of practicing TCC outside in my shorts with mosquitoes buzzing and biting and challenging my concentration....

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Emerging into the Light

Yes! I completed my day's TCC practice before 8:30 a.m. That's later than our usual 7:00 a.m. practice at the T'ai Chi Chih Teachers' Conference in Nebraska but much, much earlier than my typical late afternoon/early evening practice that's now become a deeply ingrained habit.

It feels good to circle/cycle the Chi energy at the very beginning of the day rather than at day's end. Now I'm free to stroll through the Farmer's Market downtown, pick blueberries at the Highland Valley Farm open house, and dodge the raindrops that are sure to fall out of the grey, moist sky above.

I'm continuing to play with the task of reorienting my body as I stand in Resting Position per a suggestion from one of the teacher prep trainers at conference. She noticed that I leaned backward (something that I talked with previous TCC Head Ed Altman about many years ago) and she suggested that I try one simple adjustment: bend my legs at the crease where each leg meets the trunk of my body.

I've been intent on maintaining my "tuck" as taught 20 years ago in my t'ai chi ch'uan classes (i.e., thrusting the pelvis forward). Unfortunately it feels as if I've frozen my posture in a permanent pelvic tilt that is far from relaxed. In fact, as soon as I began to readjust my stance at conference my tailbone (an old injury site) started to ache. Where this seemingly minor adjustment will lead is hard to say....

My next bodily adjustment, as suggested by this same teacher prep trainer, rests in my hips. And, as she encouragingly reminded me, the hips store emotions. When stiff, tight hips can open and move, emotions that have lodged in the body are allowed to open and move as well. Yep. It's exciting and daunting to tinker with the mechanics of the body. Who knows what ancient history may emerge into the light of day?

Friday, August 20, 2010

TCC: A Special Remedy

Recently my days and nights are filled with two constant sounds: acorns crashing onto our metal roof and rain pelting, splashing, and cascading upon roof, deck, and earth. Now late on a Friday evening all is quiet.
I put my T'ai Chi Chih practice to good use tonight as I prepared for a reading at our local coffee shop, Big Water, in downtown Bayfield. Those of us who published articles several months ago in the blurb.com book, Love Stories of the Bay, gathered together to share our stories.

Since I'm basically an anxious person I rely on a variety of tools and assistance to ease my nerves. Before arriving at the coffee shop, after returning home, and during the reading itself I practiced T'ai Chi Chih. My home practices were physical while my coffee shop practice was conducted mentally. All of these TCC moments plus the addition of a Bach flower Rescue Remedy helped. By the time I rose to read my piece, "Vegetables Galore," which I wrote a year ago, I felt relaxed and at ease.

I'm reminded of a TCC teacher trainee at a teacher certification years ago who was an opera singer. He admitted that he relied on TCC practice to prepare him for auditions. And, at last week's TCC Conference in Nebraska I met another TCC teacher/opera singer. He acknowledged that his TCC practice helped him prepare for his performances. In addition, he said, it offered him a comfort zone when another performer on stage suddenly skipped 50 pages of script and he was left to find a way to get back on track.

Yep. Though it's not a potion in a bottle, TCC is its own special remedy. Just ground, focus, and move (physically or mentally) and you'll discover peace of mind....

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Wave that Nourishes the World....

As of 11:30 this morning another eight week session of T'ai Chi Chih classes is over, complete, done, finis, termino. I felt a bit sad last night as I prepared for this final class. I never know for certain that the next series of classes will fill with enough students to continue and so time after time I wonder, Will this be my last class with this group of students?

I don't agonize over the ending which is sure to come someday but focus instead on the blessings that have filled me through many years of practice with this special group. Though none of us do this practice perfectly we have managed, still, to benefit greatly from the gifts it offers to each one of us. Just as we were told at the TCC Teachers' Conference last week: We're not the same person since we encountered T'ai Chi Chih.

But what is it that we've become? During a phone conversation last year with Kim Grant, the person who manages T'ai Chi Chih communications through the Vital Force Journal, Good Karma Publishing, and our official website, I mentioned that the changes produced by regular practice of TCC can be so subtle. Or not, she replied.

It's true. Many of us who choose to become TCC teachers have found multiple benefits in our physical health, marked changes in stress levels, and deeper, more nourishing spiritual lives.

In my own students, many of whom do not practice daily, I observe the following: They've learned how to slow down their bodies and minds. They are more comfortable with silence. They breathe more deeply. They offer greater compassion to themselves and others. They go with the flow.

I am grateful for many things not the least of which are these: For each day of T'ai Chi Chih practice, for each class meeting, for each time I feel the Chi flowing through my body, and for each person who joins the ever-expanding circle of T'ai Chi Chih practitioners.

Perhaps one day we will embody the dream of one of our teachers at TCC Conference who hopes to see groups of people practicing T'ai Chi Chih Joy Thru Movement in parks throughout the country. Or another teacher's hope for a TCC future: From each of us the Chi will continue to grow as a wave that nourishes the world....

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Jewel of TCC ...

The jewel of T'ai Chi Chih is its teachers.
          --Justin Stone
The above quote hung in the front of our meeting and practice room throughout our 25th Annual TCC Conference. It was a wonderful reminder of the role we play, the responsibility we carry, and the benefits we receive when we introduce and nurture our students in the T'ai Chi Chih way.

Both Anna and Judy (my traveling companions) teased me the first night of conference when they saw me approach and talk to Suni McHenry and Connie Hyde. Both women are included on Justin Stone's instructional T'ai Chi Chih! Joy Thru Movement DVD. They are two of the four Albuquerque teachers who participate in a group practice at the end of this DVD and I practice with them often (especially whenever I feel the need for a group practice).

Oh, you're such a groupie, Anna and Judy teased me, You just want to rub shoulders with the stars. Suni seemed pleased to receive my comments. "It's so nice to meet you in person since I practice with you often and see you regularly on my TV screen," I told Connie. She replied, "Well, I see you, too, from the other side of the screen."

It rained heavily during the night last night and today was dark and rain filled as well. During tonight's TCC practice I focused on Sandy McAlister's "String Theory the T'ai Chi Chih Way" as presented last Friday at the TCC conference. My 30"+ string serves as a feedback mechanism to check my stance and foundation, the orientation of ear/shoulder/hip, and the position of my knees in relation to my toes. And that's not all the ways in which the string can be used.

Tonight I played with adjusting my pelvis and hips to avoid leaning backwards while in Resting Position. And ... there's more to come in the days and weeks ahead.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I've Only Just Begun ... (Again)

Today is my first full day at home following the T'ai Chi Chih Teachers' Conference. NOW the real work of refining my form begins once again.

There are the simple recommendations, i.e., step out less far to the side than you do to the front since the leg should not fully extend when moving side-to-side. Or, imagine that your fingertips are tracing a circle when you Push-Pull forward and back. Or, allow your wrist to relax and drop a bit as you create two interlocking circles in Passing Clouds.

Then there are the more complex, time-consuming refinements that require several weeks? months? of dedicated attention to resolve. So, for instance, I knew that I leaned back when I stepped into Resting Position. Now I know what to do to modify that position but it will take time and attention to break myself of this deeply ingrained habit.

During tonight's practice I took note of and focused on some of these detail-oriented corrections. In the cool, crisp, early evening air I moved and recalled comments, corrections, suggestions, and feedback that was meant to assist me in improving the circulation and flow of the Chi.

And, like The Carpenters used to sing: "I've (we've) only just begun...."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chi-Full, Cheer-Full, Tear-Full

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Another full, full day of TCC information, expertise, and refinements here at our 25th annual TCC conference. One retired special ed teacher developed a chart to evaluate TCC teachers' teaching skills which she shared with the group. Later a panel of three experienced teachers offered recommendations on how to prepare students for teacher certification training.

Two TCC practices plus another two and one-quarter hours of refinements filled the rest of our day before our evening rededication ceremony when we remembered our teachers and students and recommitted ourselves to a renewal of our practices and classes.

Our day ended with a raffle to raise money for teacher scholarships. Those funds are available to anyone who wishes to travel to the annual conference but who doesn't feel that they have the funds to attend.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What a beautiful, cool, low humidity day! It's a wonderful respite from the moist heat that has kept most conference participants firmly rooted within the confines of our air-conditioned hotel.

Today was a unique experience: two full TCC practices before noon, one at 7:00 a.m. and the other at 11:15 a.m. Because we practiced twice within a short period of time it was interesting to notice the differences between the first practice which was conducted in variable rows and the second practice which was performed in a circle.

As my continuing students know, a circle practice is a high energy experience because the Chi circulates back and forth across the circle and around the room. Sometimes the circle is also more distracting depending upon the room layout, the number of participants, sight lines, energy flow, and other subtle variables.

Today's final practice--which was dedicated to Justin Stone, TCC's founder--was a mixed bag. Though we flowed with wondrous energy there was a sense that our retreat was over before it was over as teachers came late and left early in order to pack up and catch transportation toward home.

Monday, August 16, 2010

After a full day of travel I'm back home in the woods. Ahhh. It is wonderfully peaceful and calm here. Yes it is fun and invigorating to be around other teachers and it is also exhausting. Despite the quiet and silence during our group practices we are also a loud, talkative, and excitable bunch.

I admit, I felt lonely during this evening's TCC practice. There is nothing like a group practice to stimulate, escalate, and circulate the Chi.

Despite feeling bereft I also noted that I do have a circle within which I practice every day. Instead of being composed of other human beings, my circle is made of trees. And, after staying at and touring Arbor Day Farm, I'm even more aware of how important and valuable my practice partners truly are. Though their roots run deep and far, their branches and leaves often bounce, dance, and shake with the slightest of breezes.

Still, they contain Chi just as I do. And their life force energy greets and meets mine as I go through the motions of my dance with the Universe....

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ah, Joy! ... and Gratitude

I lucked out. Our hotel does have computers available for their guests. I'm using this opportunity to catch up on TCC doings since I left northern Wisconsin on Tuesday....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 -- T'ai Chi Chih Annual Teachers' Conference, Lied Lodge

We arrived at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska in late afternoon. Shortly after check-in Anna and I practiced TCC in a conference room with windows facing the hazelnut orchard. First, though, we managed to interrupt TCC Guide Sr. Antonia and teacher trainers Pam and Sandy as they flowed through their own TCC practice in another unlocked conference room.

The moist heat is intense (104 degrees when we came out to the car around 8:00 p.m. after our dinner at a popular Mexican restaurant in downtown Nebraska City). There's been so much rain here that earlier in the day we were routed off the freeway due to water flowing over the road. Later, when we crossed the Missouri River near our final destination (Lied Lodge) one lane of traffic in the opposite direction was closed for the same reason.

There are many trees and a wealth of tree information here at the Lodge, as well as tree trunk beams in our rooms, the hallways, and the entrance area. Our indoor arbor adds to the energy of our location in a positive and powerful way.

My practice with Anna was high energy and I anticipate more to come as our full group of 83 arrives on Thursday in time for a mid-afternoon registration and 5:00 p.m. group practice. The cicadas are tremendously loud but fun to listen to since we don't have these lovely insects in the northern climes from which I came.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

HOT-HOT-HOT. A wonderful start to the day ... 7:00 a.m. TCC practice with the two Rochester, MN teachers with whom I traveled. We practiced outdoors and could feel the heat building as the sun pierced the early morning coolness.

After breakfast we walked to Arbor Day Farm to explore their trails and canopy treehouse before the heat and humidity drove us back to our air-conditioned rooms. Following afternoon conference registration our newly-convened group gathered for our first TCC practice. Our two teachers trainers (Pam and Sandy) circled up with Sr. Antonia (TCC guide) and the newly certified teachers attending the conference for the first time. The rest of the teachers in the room created another circle surrounding them.

We had a wonderful deeply silent practice. The energy. The quiet. The peacefulness. Well, I'll say it again: It was wonderful. Our conference theme is Gratitude. When our group sat in silence for ten minutes following practice, I felt incredibly grateful for this experience of communion with other teachers.

This evening Sandy asked Anna and I to lead tomorrow's 7:00 a.m. group practice. Though it's a rather intimidating prospect I welcome the opportunity....

Friday, August 13, 2010

Okay, it's true. Anna and I did feel anxious about our role as TCC group practice leaders this morning. I think it affected sleep for both of us. We did, of course, lead the practice today and all went well. One trick: lead with your back to the rest of the group so that you can see the beauty of nature through the windows right in front of you.

Anna was the primary leader. I followed. And, other than the fact that we were positioned on a very small riser/stage and I never knew for sure where the edge was behind me, it was fabulous. Anna admitted to me later that she shook throughout and I breathed many deep, deep breaths to calm and ground myself (and her).

The day has much in store. We'll have another group practice later this afternoon plus time to evaluate a partner's and our own foundation (foot placement, weight shift, etc.) and hear information about Seijaku (advanced TCC), how to lead seated practices, the status of the Vital Force Journal and Good Karma Publications, and much, much more.

Now, late in the day, I skipped our evening barbeque in order to rest (I haven't slept well all week!). It is wonderful to spend time by myself and revisit the computer screen before me. Still, I'm tired; I'll save some of my conference stories for my return to the North Woods.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I just finished my TCC practice in air-conditioned comfort and now I hit the road! It's like a sauna outside ... dripping, wet heat.

I finally broke down last night and turned on the central air. I'm glad that I did.

Usually I don't take the time to do a TCC practice when I'm leaving for a long road trip. Today more than ever, though, I figured I'd need the extra energy and umph to drive into and through this heavy, wet, blanket of air. Perhaps because I began with my TCC practice I'll be able to fly down these mushy, heat-infused asphalt roads like I'm skimming over the surface of a cool, dark lake. One can always hope.

I expect many adventures in the days ahead. Tune in next week for an update on the TCC Teachers' Conference. And ... don't forget to practice.

Monday, August 9, 2010

On the Road Again....

It's the eve of my departure for the annual T'ai Chi Chih teachers' conference at Lied Lodge and Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska. I've been preparing for this trip for several days and a number of last-minute details still need attention.

This mindset was reflected in my evening TCC practice when I noticed myself pushing through my movements; the weight shift seemed forced instead of free flowing. Luckily I caught myself in the act and gently reminded myself to release tension and slow down (in other words, forget about my conference preparations for 30 minutes and allow myself to sink into the moment). It worked!

By practice end I received a phone call from my friend, Anna, who is one of my traveling companions. She mentioned that temperatures at our conference location are predicted to be in the upper 90s and low 100s. Huh. Today's northern Wisconsin temps in the mid-80s dripped with humidity and were barely bearable.

I'm grateful that we'll be staying in an air-conditioned lodge. By the way, Anna continued, the Missouri River is flooding and we'll have to cross it to get to our destination. It was supposed to peak on Saturday but should be fine by the time we get down there on Wednesday.

I can sense that a TCC adventure is waiting for me (us) just down the road....

To all my local readers: My blog will be on hiatus during my travels. I'll take notes between our twice-daily TCC group practices and refinement sessions and provide a full report after I return home on Monday, August 16.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lightning and Thunder

It was a shhh, chatter, shhh, peep, shhh TCC practice today. A quiet effort to balance the effects of the enormous shuddering thunderstorm that woke me from my dreams last night.

Our huge, loud rainstorm caused flash flooding in Duluth. Here in the woods there were a few terrifying moments when the telephone rang between a dramatic flash of lightning and the resultant thunder clap. No, someone wasn't trying to call us. Umm, except God perhaps.

I alternated TCC with Seijaku during my pre-lunch practice. It occurred to me later that maybe I was inadvertently replicating last night's forceful thunderstorm in today's movements as I intermixed soft and quiet (TCC) with hard and loud (Seijaku with some deeper, louder breathing).

You have to admit ... it is invigorating to be caught in the midst of a powerful demonstration of Mother Nature's dominance over mankind. I listened to Krista Tippett interview Bill McKibben (author of Eaarth and The End of Nature) on Speaking of Faith this morning. McKibben, who's spoken and written about global warming for several decades, presents a convincing argument linking the effects of a slightly warmer atmosphere upon our environment. He cites the current forest fires in Russia and the floods in Pakistan as examples of humankind's deleterious impact upon our natural world.

And so I continue my practice. Rising and falling. Pushing and pulling. Shifting forward and back. Resting. Choosing peace in the midst of chaos ... blessed calm in this moment, NOW.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sacred Space

Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.           --Joseph Campbell
          From: Afar: Where Travel Can Take You
                   September/October 2010 (p. 24)
I found the above quote in Afar after it came in the mail today. Campbell's definition of sacred space reminds me of how I feel about T'ai Chi Chih practice. Perhaps that's why I typically feel better once I engage in my moving meditation. There are many times in life when I feel lost but my overall feeling during and after TCC practice is one of comfort, connection, and a sense of "all's right with the world."

Right now the sky is raining its way into darkness. The air puffs with coolness and there's a steady thundering of drops against the earth, roof, and window screen.

I began my practice outdoors but soon discovered that I was the main entree for hungry mosquitoes. Out of the corner of my eye I watched little white Chiripa slouching under the ferns and grasses in search of an unknown prey. After the rain began I moved my practice inside.

I keep wondering: How will it feel to practice TCC with 150 other teachers next week at the annual conference? I'll join in six practices over the course of two and a half days. And I'll move with others who've taught T'ai Chi Chih for many, many years. I expect that the energy will be abundant and that these practices will return me, over and over again, to a sacred space that is shared by all of us as we move together in one room.

Friday, August 6, 2010

One Eternal Moment

I practiced TCC outside on the deck this morning. A light breeze breathed through the woods and stirred the wind chimes into a subdued waltz. A woodpecker tapped a light rhythm on a nearby tree. And the geese clucked and conversed quietly between themselves. Occasionally the wind drifted toward and past me with a huge exhale that stirred the leaves into a hushed dance.

It was amazingly quiet. I didn't hear the mother deer and fawn but sensed that something moved down the driveway. When I turned my head slightly, I saw a beautiful brown silhouette filtering through the leaves with another one--smaller--leading the way.

This deep stillness is unusual here in the woods. There are usually flutters and flickers, waving branches, swaying treetops, and throngs of singing birds. But today was quiet. The stillness settled all around me. It invited me to sink into my peaceful surroundings and release Monkey Mind into the sun dappled woods.

Inhale. Step. Exhale. Shift foward. Inhale. Move backward. Exhale. Move forward. On and on. Into this one eternal moment....

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Going Forward without Advancing ...

Breezy coolness today after a stretch of too-humid days. It was so breezy this morning that the wind tipped and tilted me several times during our outdoor TCC class practice. Remember the root.

Twelve students attended class, the largest group practice this session. There were moments when our silent, peaceful, and coordinated movements felt like they'd been designed by a master choreographer. Quiet joy pervaded our circle....

Wayne Dyer titled today's verse of the Tao te Ching (Verse 69), "Living without Enemies." Stephen Mitchell translates this verse as:
The generals have a saying:
'Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.'

This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons....

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.
One student pointed out in today's discussion that we are constantly "going forward without advancing" in our TCC practice. In Push/Pull, for instance, we shift our weight to the forward foot at the same time that we press forward with both palms. We always leave some weight on the foot behind us and, though our hands extend out in front of us, our center (t'an tien) is located midway between our furthest forward point (our extended palms) and our rear foot. We can easily retreat, if need be, because we have gone forward without advancing.

T'ai Chi Chih practice reminds us of our unity as we flow into this dance of Oneness. Can you image fighting or battling when you're in the middle of your TCC practice? No. Why is this? Because you've taken yourself beyond polarities and merged yin with yang to create wholeness. Doesn't that feel better and more productive than making enemies, fighting endless battles, or being the victor?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The more I live, the more I am realizing the importance of space. Space between thoughts and actions. Space which has room for possibilities despite being crowded with opinions. Space which makes choice possible. Space that allows me to respond instead of having a knee-jerk reaction....

And sometimes, holding a free and open internal space, or presence if you will, can result in a transformation of the environment around you. The environment around me, and I suspect for most if not all people, is mind-blowingly complex and full of divisive groups at odds with each other....

But if I hold an internal space that ... allows people to come together towards a common objective, I find that sometimes it results in almost magical co-operation. Where meditation comes into this equation is that it allows you to open up to all your opinions, pre-conceived notions, irritations and reactions on the cushion and have equanimity with this so that when they surface in the middle of a meeting or any work-interaction, they have a lessened chance of making you react blindly. [My emphasis.]

          --Ashvin Iyengar
          From: Daily Good, August 3, 2010
The above quotation speaks about seated meditation practice but the same holds true for T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation. When we move into a clear open space around and within us, we can more easily detach from all the ego identifications and struggles, both large and small, that circulate through us constantly. That's one of the reason why TCC practice feels so good ... and so freeing.

I thought about space this evening while performing my TCC practice on the deck. Clearly I have tremendous space around me given the location where I live (in the middle of 25 acres of woodland). But it is my TCC practice that brings me into an internal space that empowers me to live larger than my own "opinions, pre-conceived notions, irritations and reactions." The circulation of the Chi brings me into a psychic/spiritual space that offers me the opportunity to move beyond my personal limitations to embody the person I wish to become (and already am if I only allow it).

Space ... what a simple concept. Yet, unexpectedly, it allows us room to grow.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Decline ... and Incline

I played tonight's TCC practice on our gravel drive past the curve as it heads downhill. Why? Because when I searched for the geese (they'd followed Frances, Namaste, and Chiripa partway down the drive when they walked to the mailbox), I found them grazing on grass along the ditch.

Since I'm not yet willing to let those goosies too far out of sight I planted myself on a downward angle in the middle of the driveway and hoped for the best. It is interesting--and helpful as I've mentioned previously--to vary practice locations and experiences. I typically choose a flat, level spot for my practice. It's good, though, to impose challenges that require me to maintain my form and full weight shift when I'm dealing with uneven terrain.

I began my practice facing downhill and found that the downward slope aided in my full weight shift forward. About halfway through practice the geese ambled by me and I turned to face uphill in order to monitor their activities.

Both geese settled on the gravel and rested. Ander closed his eyes to sleep; Lucy watched my practice then resumed her grazing. My uphill portion of the practice was more challenging (I felt like my leg muscles worked harder) but observing my resting geese helped me to maintain my own relaxation and restfulness. Afterwards I walked them up the drive closer to the house for their last meal of the night before heading to their barn.

Today's reading of 365 Tao (#215) was interesting and appropriate: "Decline." Deng Ming-Dao writes about the decline of summer as it heads into autumn but his final lines reminded me of my TCC practice on the decline, then incline of the driveway.
... there should be no emotional values attached to it. It simply happens, and that is all.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Abundant TCC Practice

The smell of burning wood hit me when I walked out of the house this morning. It appears that a forest fire is raging somewhere (I've read about fires in western Canada but I'm unsure whether the smell and smoke would travel this far).

The morning sun was glorious but soon the sky was blanketed with clouds. Now it's 70ish and heavily humid. Tremendous rains fell last night and have threatened through most of the day.

Today's TCC practice flew by. I felt relaxed, at ease, and quietly calm. Next week I leave for this year's T'ai Chi Chih Teachers' Conference in Nebraska City, Nebraska. Our group of teachers will practice TCC twice daily with time in-between for refinements and corrections. I realized during today's practice that perhaps I could step up my practice to several times per day over the next week to ensure that I can handle the extra movement time with easy grace.

Today's reading in 365 Tao discussed "Abundance" (p. 214). It reminded me that my time at the TCC conference will be abundant with movement, Chi, conversation, connection, new learning, improved understanding of the form, plus practice, practice, practice ... and more practice.

Practice is the best way to pinpoint weaknesses in the movements, to discover more direct ways to stimulate the flow of Chi energy, and to understand and embody the movements on a deeper level. I'll welcome the opportunity to refine and refresh my T'ai Chi Chih form.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Awesome Silence

Frances, Namaste, and our guests drove to Little Sand Bay to see Lake Superior and plan for an evening fire ceremony. I stayed home to practice T'ai Chi Chih.

Ohhh. The silence. It is wonderful.

I'm enjoying our visit with friends immensely. Yet, when everyone's gone and I'm home alone with the geese and the kitten, I relish the silence.

Today's skies are clouded grey and rain seems imminent. Consequently the silence is even deeper than usual. No breeze. No birds. Just the sound of Chiripa's yawn as she stretches luxuriously on the deck nearby and the chip, chip, chip of a squirrel somewhere in the woods.

Practice felt incredibly relaxing and rejuvenating. And I'm basking in my alone time. The silence is awesome. The silence is ... silent.