Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Resting in a World of White

Our yard is transformed into a beautiful wintry scene. I'd guess that we received approximately four inches of snow last night ... enough accumulation for the Town to send out road equipment early this morning to plow residents' driveways.

Heavy snow is draped over tree branches, vehicles, roofs and the brush pile, tent, and goose barn. And ... there's more predicted to arrive tomorrow. Silence and peace have fallen from the sky and landed on the Earth.

My morning TCC practice was absolutely wonderful. I practiced in the porch with windows on three sides in order to easily absorb the white stillness around me. Now as I sit at my computer and look out the office window I can see winds shaking the treetops and sending clumps of snow plummeting to the ground.

I felt an abundance of energy during my TCC practice. Again, I wonder, what is it about precipitation (rain or snow) that heightens the energetic connection? Theories, anyone?

Around 2:00 am Frances and I leave for the Twin Cities to catch our flight to a warmer, less snowy climate. Where and when I'll perform my T'ai Chi Chih practices and blogs remains uncertain. I'm guessing that an airport practice or two will be possible and practical. If I'm unable to publish my blog via the world wide web, I'll return to the snow-soaked forest next Wednesday (December 1) and restart the cybernet Chi.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving T'ai Chi Chih ... Giving Thanks for TCC

It's 20 degrees and the snow keeps falling, heavy and wet. There may be tornadoes in Illinois and other parts of Wisconsin but here in northwestern Wisconsin, winter has arrived.

Frances and I leave tomorrow in the middle of the night in order to drive to the Twin Cities to catch a flight to DC. I've never flown over Thanksgiving which I hear is the busiest travel time of the year and so I wonder about weather, driving conditions, flight delays, and the new airport security system that requires passengers to go through a full body scan or have their person "roughly" patted down (per news reports).

I could worry. Instead I trust that everything will turn out fine, whatever happens. Typically whenever anything goes "wrong," I have a good experience, meet interesting people, and/or learn something about myself.

And so the most helpful thing I can do for myself over the next few days is to engage in a TCC practice. I did so after work this evening and could immediately feel my body slowing down, unwinding, and releasing tension. After several days of pushing myself to prepare for this trip I've hit the wall and, again, need to trust that I've done all that I need to do.

Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) will be the one year anniversary of my daily blog, Rooted in Earth, Suspended from Sky. I'm unsure whether I'll have a computer available to publish my entries this coming week as I travel to Charles Town, WV and back again. If not, I'll keep a journal and publish my T'ai Chi Chih travelogue when I return.

Rain or snow, delayed or on schedule flights, radiation or pat down, each day is an adventure, each trip an opportunity to practice my ability to go with the flow whether it be watery wet or slickly frozen....

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Body Wisdom

During my early morning T'ai Chi Chih practice I stared out the window into thick darkness. Gradually white patches of snow appeared, the bird feeder, and then the dark, seemingly empty woods revealed itself. As I write, a gentle, light snow falls out of grey skies and covers the earth.

Although it was dark, quiet, and peaceful this morning I was caught up in the crush and rush of my thoughts. Monkey Mind is working at optimum performance this week as Frances and I prepare to depart for a five-day visit with my sister (and one of my brothers) on the East Coast. I'm throughly enveloped in the To Do mode.

As the minutes and hours click by I realize that the list of projects I've conjured in my mind is entirely too long to complete before Frances and I climb into our car in the middle of the night on Tuesday, drive to the Twin Cities, and catch our flight for DC. Several days ago Frances told me that I needed to cut my list of projects in half. Today I realize that if my bag gets packed, my flight caught, and my destination reached, that is what's important.

Tell my mind that. It's busily scheming, plotting, prioritizing, and strategizing. That was certainly evident during my TCC practice today. Even though I was surrounded by all of the necessary ingredients for a calm, peaceful practice, my mind had other plans. I realized part-way through that I was going through the motions. My heart wasn't in my practice and I couldn't feel much energy. Obviously my TCC practice was just one more item on my To Do list.

I toyed with the idea of cutting my practice short. But my body didn't want to stop. By two-thirds of the way through I felt better and my body wasn't about to short-circuit the form just so that I could proceed to the next item on my agenda. Yes! The body does have a powerful intuitive wisdom now, doesn't it?

When I picked up Everyday Tao this morning, I opened the book to page 198: "Verify." Somehow these words seem to exemplify my experience with T'ai Chi Chih practice this morning.
     Life is very short. We all want to live it well. We study spiritual systems in search of techniques and traditions to help us live our lives better.
     While there is no shortage of people purporting to be sages, there is certainly ongoing confusion about which system to follow..... After you subtract all the false masters ... after you subtract all the religions ... after you subtract the traditions ruined by supposed reform ... after you subtract the teachings ... after you subtract all these things, there is very little left. To find the kernels of truth is hard indeed....
     Do the teachings work or not? ... the teachings must work for you in your life and your time. It is absolutely worthless to accept a teaching on mere faith, or because a book says to, or because everyone is doing it. None of that matters. All that matters is that the teachings work for you. And if they do, then faith is never a difficult matter.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Monkey Mind at Peace (Temporarily)

Suddenly we find ourselves launched into winter. It's 12 degrees; chilly and grey and splotched with patches of snow scattered across woods and lawn.

I took up residence in the kitchen both last night and this morning in an attempt to use up all our vegetables before we leave early Wednesday en route to the Twin Cities to catch a flight to Washington D.C. Moosewood Restaurant's Low-Fat Favorites provided me with an abundance of delicious recipes: Armenian Stew with Bulgar Pilaf, Ukrainian Beet and Bean Stew, and Savory Indian Sweet Potatoes for starters. I also oven-roasted root vegetables and steamed brocoli, cauliflower, and carrots.

When it came time for my TCC practice, I made my Wu-wei into the spare bedroom and watched the cat nap on the bed while I moved. After practice I sat quietly for 10 minutes as I soaked in the energy and dived into a deeper state of relaxation. So wonderful....

Frances came inside after sewing and repairing a tent that stores yard equipment and shared the rambling circular thoughts that crowded her mind while she worked. I'm grateful that, for the moment at least, I feel centered, relaxed, and at ease with myself and the world. And now darkness descends....

Friday, November 19, 2010

Outwitting Monkey Mind

Today's wind tosses branches and treetops every which-a-way. A quick glance out an upper window shows clouds crusing overhead with amazing speed. Now the sky is swept clear and the sun is shining. Ahh. It's 30 degrees outside which feels like a huge warm-up after the past few overcast days with temps in the 20s and a distinct chill in the air.

Today I felt soooo tired even though I slept plenty last night. My solution: Engage in my TCC practice with the hope that I'll Activate-Balance-and-Circulate Chi (the ABCs) to the point where I'll feel more energized. (Yes, it did indeed help.)

Last week my two fall TCC classes concluded but today, one week later, I'm distinctly aware of the loneliness of my practice when it's entirely, absolutely, unequivocally up to me. I clearly missed my students as I went through my TCC practice since I've grown accustomed to a Thursday morning practice with six to twelve participants.

What to do? Practice anyway. Put Justin Stone's TCC DVD in the player and join with four of the Albuquerque, NM teachers in their practice or imagine my circle of students as I move or place my intention on sending this circulated Chi energy out into the Universe or ...?

So much of the ability to follow through on practice time is based on a willingness to deal with Monkey Mind. And since Monkey Mind is nimble and well-practiced in convincing us to take the easy way out we must hone our creativity, commitment, and fortitude. So what strategies work for you to maintain a regular T'ai Chi Chih practice in your life? (I'd venture a guess that you're more creative in your approaches than you give yourself credit for.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Today I practiced wu-wei, going with the flow (or "not forcing"). It wasn't easy to do but I realize that it's much less stressful--and healthier--to release expectations and abandon pre-set plans when self-made agendas don't turn out as anticipated.

After Frances and I received haircuts from Oly the barber this morning we discovered that neither of us had cash or checks to pay for Oly's services. I felt frustrated because I had devised an impossibly long "to do" list, items I wished to accomplish in the next week before Frances and I leave for West Virginia to spend Thanksgiving with my sister.

First things first. We drove home for our checkbooks and returned to Bayfield to pay Oly. He said he'd be lunching at Maggie's Restaurant downtown so, after we settled our debt, we sat ourselves down at a table in Maggie's and ate lunch too. It was a delightful, unexpected treat to break up our chore-filled day with a delicious lunch made by someone else.

Though I initially felt peeved I still managed to tick some items off my to do list while engaging in a much more relaxed, enjoyable day. Huh. Fancy that.

I read about wu-wei in Alan Watts' book, Tao: The Watercourse Way after my afternoon TCC practice. Watts writes (p. 76):
     The principle is illustrated by the parable of the pine and the willow in heavy snow. The pine branch, being rigid, cracks under the weight; but the willow branch yields to the weight, and the snow drops off. Note, however, that the willow is not limp but springy. Wu-wei is thus the life-style of one who follows the Tao, and must be understood primarily as a form of intelligence--that is, of knowing the principles, structures, and trends of human and natural affairs so well that one uses the least amount of energy in dealing with them. But this intelligence is, as we have seen, not simply intellectual; it is also the 'unconscious' intelligence of the whole organism and, in particular, the innate wisdom of the nervous system. Wu-wei is a combination of this wisdom with taking the line of least resistance in all one's actions.
I would not claim by any stretch of the imagination that I have mastery in the wu-wei (or the way of wu). I do believe, however, that a daily practice of T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation teaches me how to release physical effort while moving. At the same time, intentional or not, I begin to learn to release mental efforts to control situations or other people. As my body relaxes my mind follows suit and eventually, I find myself in the flow.

Synchronizing with the flow of life force energy is a wondrous experience. It simply feels much better than getting caught in the backwaters of frustration, anger, or dissatisfaction. As usual, it takes practice, intention, and occasional reminders (like my experience today) to be reminded to simply let go....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Practice by the Day, Week, Month, Year....

Calmness in quietude is not real calm; when you can be calm in the midst of activity, this is the true state of nature. Happiness in comfort is not real happiness; when you can be happy in the midst of hardship, then you see the true potential of the mind.
          From: Back to Beginnings: Reflections on the Tao by Huanchu Daoren, p. 34
After a super busy day at the library I'm back at home and ready to settle in for a quiet night. First, though, I performed my T'ai Chi Chih practice with my quiet reflection staring back at me from the dark window glass. I've discovered that even though I may prefer to do a morning TCC practice I'm often greatly helped by a practice that follows--and transitions from--busyness in order to stimulate relaxation and rejuvenation.

Daoren's quote (above) reminds me of Justin Stone's definition of Seijaku (advanced TCC) which he calls "Serenity in the Midst of Activity." Maintaining calm in the middle of noise and activity is a real challenge (I realized today what a different workday Wednesday is after experiencing this morning's storytime for children and receiving and processing three full crates of books, CDs, and DVDs from other libraries in our system).

It is wonderful to achieve calmness in quietude but I usually don't feel the same dramatic effects as when the mind and senses are overwhelmed, overstimulated, or overloaded. Going from calm to calmer is nice; feeling deep stillness in the dead center of frenetic noise and activity is heavenly.

As usual, it's all about practice. First the mind must realize that it is busy. Then the mind must learn to detach from its whirl and swirl of thoughts and feelings. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

As the Dalai Lama says in this quote from The Mystic Vision for November 16: Now is the time when your action is practise.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Knee to Wall (or Bed)

Yes! I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice this morning before work which left me feeling relaxed and ready for the onslaught of people, books, CDs, and DVDs that awaited me at the library. When I arrived at work, my boss--one of my T'ai Chi Chih students--told me that she'd done her TCC practice before coming to work too.

During practice I inadvertently stepped close enough to the guest room bed to allow my knee to touch the edge (two futon matresses high) when I shifted my weight forward. Terrific! It offered me the perfect opportunity to practice and notice whether I overextended or underextended my knee during my forward weight shift.

Another TCC teacher told me about the above-mentioned strategy (learned during the 2009 T'ai Chi Chih Teachers' Conference). Participants were taught to check their posture and stance by first, placing their backs to the wall and then shifting their weight forward and back. (Question: What part of your body touches the wall first when shifting backward?)

In another strategy practitioners turned their bodies 180 degrees, placed the tips of their toes against the wall, and shifted their weight forward to doublecheck whether knees wanted to extend beyond the tips of toes. (It's difficult, to say the least, to look down and guesstimate whether the front of the knee and the tip of the toe align with each other.)

I'd planned to practice this technique but hadn't managed to do so. Now I had the perfect opportunity. In addition, this against-the-bed setup allowed me to move my hands and arms fully because I didn't have to accommodate a wall standing directly in front of me.

It was a bit disconcerting to feel the edge of the bed against my knee but also a valuable feedback loop to think about--and feel--the positioning of knee to toe. Next I'll try this strategy against a wall just for the sake of comparison.

Oh, isn't TCC practice grand? There is always (always, always) a new strategy, technique, or feedback loop to play with, experiment with, and/or try, fail, succeed, and keep learning....

Monday, November 15, 2010

Eight Hours: No more, No less

I told my partner last week that my regular daily T'ai Chi Chih practice led to an unexpected outcome: I sleep no more than eight hours per night (unless I'm ill or overtired). Many people--perhaps a large majority for whom eight hours of sleep a night is a luxury--may laugh at this declaration. Still, I'm a person who always needed a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night ... usually more. To snap awake at exactly the eight hour mark is a miracle and a revelation.

Frances advised me accordingly, You've got to write that in your blog. And so, here it is....

After a busy day, T'ai Chi Chih practice was a welcome end of the day relaxer and rejuvenator. I pointed myself toward a dark window and watched my reflection while the dog barked madly just outside. Eventually, of course, I acclimated myself to the sound of his bark but I also felt relief when Frances let him inside and all turned silent once again.

I hope to flip my practice to the AM tomorrow and the next day before I head off to work and, if I do, I promise I'll make more sense and have more to say in the next few blogs.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Unanticipated Blessings

A wealth of precipitation of the white variety fell to earth in the past 24 hours. Our friend visiting from the Twin Cities was advised by another friend not to drive home yesterday since snowfall was up to nine inches deep while accumulations here near Lake Superior were several inches and no more.

Today we're surrounded by a frozen white wonderland. Heavy, wet snow lines the branches of every tree and we're captured in the midst of softly falling silence. I feel surprised--and unexpectedly happy--to hear each unexpected thump of snow as it slides down our metal roof and onto the wooden deck below.

Our dinner out last night was fun but ended in unanticipated pain and agony. I succumbed to food poisoning. After an hour or two of stomach cramps during which I gave myself Reiki I was more than happy to upchuck my partially digested dinner and go to sleep. Though I'm still weak and tired today I did eat oatmeal for breakfast and formulated my larger than life plan for today: Take it easy.

I performed about 10 minutes of T'ai Chi Chih practice while our friend walked her dog this morning, then delved into the remainder of the form after she departed for home. It felt wonderful to move softly and slowly. And, the fact of the matter was, I had no choice. I had neither the energy nor the fortitude to move any other way. (I guess there are unanticipated blessings in virtually every situation.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Puppet or Puppeteer?

My TCC practice was performed under cover of darkness this morning (5:00 am). I essentially hopped out of bed and slipped into Resting Position. My only concession to the darkness was to turn on a small table lamp behind me. That tiny bit of light helped me keep my balance and allowed me to watch the reflection of my movements in the dark window.

It was early-morning still. All other living beings in my house were in bed, breathing softly. Gathered round me in the morning darkness were: the sound of the wind roaring and howling and the rowdy input of my thoughts, tumbling and carousing.

It always feels good to be the first one up in the morning. It's a sacred, hallowed time. In the still silence I'm alone with my thoughts and desires and all else is motionless. It's an easier time, too, for me to drift into meditation and silence. All of the distractions and diversions of the day have not yet been set into motion. It's up to me to do or not do or ... to simply be.

After my TCC practice I sat quietly in a chair for 15 minutes simply soaking up the silence and quiet presence of unity? harmony? god? peace? Whatever it was, it felt good.

I followed my practice with a reading from Back to Beginnings: Reflections on the Tao by Huanchu Daoren (p. 137):
Human life is like a puppet. Just keep the root and stem in hand, so that not a single string gets tangled up, and you can reel in and reel out freely, action and response being up to you, not subject to the slightest control by anyone else. Then you transcend this stage play.
What a perfect description of t'ai chi chih practice! We begin by acknowledging our rootedness to the earth (root) and our suspension from above (stem). Then we "reel in and reel out freely" through our T'ai Chi Chih movements. It's true, I think, that when we engage ourselves--body, mind, and spirit--in our TCC practice, we have the ability to transcend and transform our lives and our selves.

If we imagine ourselves being held or craddled by Heaven and Earth, and then recognize that our ability to move, take action, and make decisions lies within us (i.e., action and response being up to you), we have the ability to be our own puppeteer. Then we can truly reimagine this "stage play" we call life.

Friday, November 12, 2010

T'ai Chi Chih: A Self Care Strategy

Today--this feeling, this atmosphere, this weather pattern--demonstrates true North Woods fall weather. Overcast, grey, and cool (30s, low 40s).

I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice outside on the deck this morning in 38 degree temps. It was quiet ... and wonderful.

An out-of-town friend is visiting for several days. In the past I typically spent most of my available moments conversing, sharing, and visiting with my guests. Now I appreciate taking time for myself. When I take enough space to practice TCC and write my blog, I also find that I'm rejuvenated, refreshed, and in touch with my self. That's a good thing. I imagine, too, that my self-care contributes to the time I share with my friend. It's a win-win situation.

After a healthy lunch I hope that the three of us will take a long walk in the woods since I, for one, need the exercise. Of course, the prediction for rain and snow is a good motivator to get out moving on dry ground and real dirt before it's hidden away under the cold, frozen, wet stuff.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Flexible Body, Bendable Mind

As I drove home from last night's TCC class evening temperatures hovered in the low 50s. During the night cooler breezes rushed through the region and, at present, under clear blue skies the temps linger in the low 40s.

It was a challenge to slow down this morning's TCC class practice. Students arrived late and an atmosphere of "rush, rush" pervaded the room. About half-way through calm and tranquility began to reign once again.

After practice we delved into Verse 76 of The Tao, "Living by Bending" (per Wayne Dyer). There are a multitude of ways in which this verse relates directly to our T'ai Chi Chih practice. As Dyer points out in his discussion of this verse (p. 361):
Lao-tzu asks us to change the way we look at the concept of strength by noticing how the most solid and durable things in the natural world tend to be soft, gentle, and even weak. If we see strength as being hard, inflexible, and unyielding, he invites us to change that perception. Life, according to Lao-tzu, is defined as soft and pliable.
This verse highlights an essential principle of T'ai Chi Chih practice. First, it applies literally in terms of how we hold our bodies--joints always have a slight bend in them and are never fully extended--which we notice most easily in our knees and elbows but which holds true for all of our joints. And it also applies to what Dyer calls "thought processes and behaviors" (p. 362).

When we loosen the tension in our bodies AND in our minds, we discover that our strength comes from being flexible and by bending not just our joints but also our unbendable attitudes and convictions. I'm convinced that this is a major reason why I feel so good when I practice TCC moving meditation. When my body and mind are flexible and at ease, I'm more open, accepting, and nonjudgmental of all that is. And that place of peace and acceptance is a wonderful spot to return to each and every day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Perfect Practice

I performed a partial TCC practice outside on the deck as the sun set tonight. Bayfield Pennisula residents forced ourselves to wallow through another 55 degree day today--perfect--and pink-tinged clouds floated across the early evening sky. It was quiet and beautiful though less dramatic than this morning's fuchsia neon sunrise.

I practiced, in part, to prep myself--body and mind--for my final T'ai Chi Chih class in Washburn this evening. Since our class met for six weeks rather than the normal eight the time slipped rapidly by.

For some reason it always feels hard to end a class session since each class member invests time, energy, and quietude in order to combine our movements and energies into one complete whole. Just as we're cycling into the groove, it seems, the class session ends and a week, a month, or several months later we start all over again.

My short practice on the deck felt like the perfect way to prepare for tonight's class. It was quiet except for the sound of a few cars driving by and the soft pad of cat paws through dried leaves on the forest floor.

I feel calm, relaxed, rested, and rejuvenated after last night's hit-the-wall experience. I look forward to joining my students this evening in one final super-quiet practice before we all go our separate ways until the dawn of 2011.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

T'ai Chi Chugging

Yet another blissfully beautiful day (55 degrees)! Those of us who live in these northern climes simply can't believe this weather is real. But that doesn't prevent us from enjoying it while it's here.

It was a busy, buzzy day. Brunch with our neighbors to talk with them about animal care while we're off to visit my sister over Thanksgiving. Then a full afternoon of work followed by a town meeting on budget issues. I couldn't convince myself to attend the meeting even though I'd already told Frances that I'd pick her up there.

Immediately after work at the library I spent about 15 minutes in a T'ai Chi Chih practice with the hope that I could build enough energy to drive to the Town Hall and perhaps spend some time at the meeting. No such luck. I wanted to head home and go to bed. And I did head home.

After I entered the house I spent another 15 minutes in a TCC practice, wrote this short blog, and then "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to bed I go...."

Sometimes the best possible solution when you're tired, cold, or hungry is to take care of your needs first and leave obligations for later. I'm subscribing to that philosophy tonight. 'Night, 'night.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Let Good Fortune Jump on You

What a day! What terrific weather!

When Frances and I returned from our shirtsleeve walk this morning, we were stopped by two men driving past who work at the town garage. They'd noticed Frances's smashed car sitting at the end of the driveway and wondered what happened. One offered to ask his mother whether her Crown Vic was still for sale. Perhaps Frances could use that auto body to replace the body of her tree-damaged car.

That wasn't Frances's only stroke of good fortune. She'd noticed and picked up a quarter from the roadside just before the guys stopped to chat. (I was reminded of the title of a book by Zen Buddhist Paul Reps, Let Good Fortune Jump on You. Reps was a writer, poet, and artist who was a friend of Justin Stone's.)

I did my TCC practice out on the deck in 55 degree sunshine before I headed off to work. The forest looked bare but it's great to see deeper into the woods and out to the lake. There's a feeling of spaciousness in the yard and nearby woods that is a temporary respite before snow starts piling up.

Oh, TCC practice felt delicious. It put me into a more relaxed space before I headed off to work. And it's wonderful to start the second week of November soaking up every single ray of sunshine that hits my body before every single inch of skin disappears under multiple layers of wool and polypropylene for the next six months....

Sunday, November 7, 2010

From Push-Achieve-Accomplish to Slow-Mo-Flow

Lately the weather is our main topic of conversation with friends and neighbors. It is unseasonably warm ... and beautiful! Today was another 50 degree sun-filled day. First we visited neighbors who live in a tent in the middle of the woods. They showed us their tent house, gave us a tour of their property, and introduced us to their two dogs, six ducks, 12 chickens, and two pigs.

Back at home, Frances repainted the sign at the end of our driveway while I vacuumed and cleaned out the car. Midway through the afternoon Frances called me outside to watch four bald eagles circling overhead. I don't ever remember seeing so many eagles flying together. We spent several awe-inspiring minutes watching and listening with our heads tipped back and our eyes and ears intently focused on the scene above us.

My evening T'ai Chi Chih practice was performed after the early arrival of darkness due to last night's fall backward into (or out of?) daylight savings time. About halfway through I realized that I was in a push-achieve-accomplish mode. It made sense, I guess, since I'd spent the day moving rapidly from one chore to the next.

After I noticed how much effort I was exerting to push myself through practice I slowed down, relaxed, softened, and switched gears to "slo-mo-flow." I instantly felt better. What a wonderful way to transition from a busy work-at-home-day to a kick-back-and-relax-night.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Inch by Inch

There were two mice--not one--trapped in the heating fan under the hood of our car. A mechanic removed them via the dashboard while I practiced T'ai Chi Chih outside the dealership.

The weather today was warmer, 40+ degrees, sunny, and windy. I faced south into the sun and felt its heat on my face as wind blew hard from the west. I purposefully sent my attention deep into the ground to hold myself steady on my feet and to realign my upper body when brisk blasts of air threatened to tip me.

Even though I chose a practice spot behind the building I sensed activity behind and around me: car horns honking, doors slamming, engines revving, people talking, children running and laughing, and vehicles whizzing by. I continually re-focused my attention forward, into a grass-covered hillside away from the action and dwelt in my own small space of tranquility (serenity in the midst of activity per Justin Stone).

Back inside the dealership the TV blasted. Still, I maintained my interior calm while resting in the midst of American capitalism, the car showroom just beyond the waiting room door.

At the conclusion of a late lunch Frances received a fortune cookie with just the right message for T'ai Chi Chih practitioners: Inch by inch life's a pinch. Yard by yard life is hard.

To me, T'ai Chi Chih practice represents that easy, small progress forward: inch by inch. When we return to our regular practice day after day, it carries us forward one inch at a time. It may not feel like we're traveling far until we look back and realize that we barely recognize the landscape we're traveling anymore....

Friday, November 5, 2010

Holding an Intention

This morning I froze. Try as I might I just couldn't warm up. Granted, it was 20 degrees and ice covered the geese's water bucket and the rain barrel. Later this winter, of course, 20 degrees will feel balmy and unseasonably warm. I'm still caught in an adjustment period, though, and my body's fighting the downward trend in temperatures.

I had a strange sensation today that time was passing so slowly an entire year elapsed since yesterday. When I recalled that yesterday morning my TCC class met and talked about the election, it seemed as if that discussion occurred a lifetime ago.

Last night I attended the opening for the new art show, "Celebrating Diversity" at the Washburn Cultural Center followed by a concert at Stage North with singer/songwriter Sara Thomsen. Both events were wonderfully inspiring but today it's almost as if they, too, happened long ago.

Today's late afternoon TCC practice felt good after a long week of stiff, sore joints and aching knees. Following practice I sat in silence for five minutes. Interestingly, I discovered that when I sat without holding an intention my mind wandered relentlessly but as soon as I focused on "receiving" per Sr. Antonia and the other TCC teacher instructors, I felt an abundance of energy. I'm reminded, once again, of the old adage: Where attention goes energy flows.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Demand Less ... Encourage More.

Dramatic blue-black clouds hung from the sky this morning as I drove to my Cornucopia T'ai Chi Chih class. I was greeted by the sight of waves crashing against the pier and splashing the air with their high-powered droplets as I rounded the curve into Corny.

When I parked, a flash of flurries rained down upon me. Short-lived, but memorable.

After a relatively peaceful practice I shared tidbits from Wednesday night's class discussion about circles and circularity with the AM class. Then we moved into The Tao, Verse 75. Wayne Dyer entitles this verse "Living by Demanding Little" while Ursula LeGuin calls it "Greed." Its words and message are short, simple and direct:
When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.

Act for people's benefit.
Trust them; leave them alone.
The timing for reading this verse was impeccable given the fact that midterm elections concluded Tuesday and, due to voter dissatisfaction with the state of our economy, a major shakeup occurred. There was no way around it ... the group had to talk about the outcome of the election.

It seemed important to discharge the energy; one student remarked afterward that she was glad we talked about what we thought and felt in order to realize that we weren't alone in our perspectives. Unfortunately, our country and political system appear to be so polarized that discussions result in "we" versus "they" and "them" versus "us" language.

I keep bringing the focus back to "me." What can I do to change myself? To become healthier and happier? To deal with a wide variety of people and situations with compassion and equanimity? To trust that the circling and cycling of the Tao, by necessity, must swing back and forth freely.

Dyer's distillation of this verse resulted in two key points: Don't overtax yourself. Trust those you're entrusted to lead. He encouraged readers to take a break from self-imposed pressures and excessive demands to allow ourselves plenty of time for pleasure and relaxation. In addition, he advised that the best way to lead is by demanding less of those we've responsible for and encouraging them more.

Here's what I extracted from Dyer's words: Demand less. Encourage more. Note: This applies to how you treat yourself as well as to how you treat others.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I practiced TCC this evening as I stood before my third-story classroom windows. As I watched the sunset progress before me the clouds' underbellies turned a ravishing shade of rose that soaked deep into their moist interiors. Dark blue clouds transformed into pink, neon pink, then back to faded blue. Since I was off the ground and out from beneath the trees at home I enjoyed a stunning view.

The first half of class was quiet. Wonderfully so. After we finished our full rehearsal I asked students to divide into pairs to discuss the circles--and circularity--that we find throughout the form. Sharing discoveries and comments with one another was interesting and informative. As the conversation proceeded it became clear that circles occur everywhere within the TCC form, sometimes in more obvious ways than others.

From the circularity of the shifting of weight forward and back (these circles are felt in the bottoms of the feet) to the circles of Carry the Ball to the Side (the ball between the palms forms one circle while the hands as they travel in front of the body trace another circle), these circles aren't always perfectly round in shape.

Sometimes the circles are contained between our palms, sometimes they're formed by the ways in which our hands move through the air. Other times they occur more simply, i.e., when the wrists circle round during Bird Flaps Its Wings and Wrist Circle Taffy (Variation 2).

Some movements combine together more than one circle as in Daughter on the Mountain Top that is created from two interlocking circles and Daughter in the Valley that manifests from two circles, side-by-side. And, as one student pointed out, even the wrists circle as they travel down and around for Daughter in the Valley.

I mentioned that Light at the Top of the Head concludes with a huge circle as hands float down from the top of the head to end at t'an tien. Even the Basic Taffy with its figure 8 infinity symbol tipped on its side finishes with the hands flowing around in a circle as they float into Resting.

So ... what circles do you notice when you go through your T'ai Chi Chih practice?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Make Yourself Available

Today is a Xerox copy of yesterday: sunny, clear, and warm (warmer than 50 degrees). The calendar can't be right. It's really not November now is it?

I did my morning T'ai Chi Chih practice inside though I could have easily done it outside. Throughout the movements I focused on my wrists and waist. Again, I followed Sr. Antonia's suggestion to notice the softness in both of these areas as I moved. They don't always feel soft to me so, for the moment, I'm simply paying attention and allowing space for greater relaxation.

After I completed my practice I sat quietly for several minutes simply receiving. It felt so wonderful ... I sensed that a fountain of energy flowed down upon me; it soaked into the palms of my hands and cycled 'round me. Let me be clear: That is not my typical seated meditation experience. However, I was encouraged and comforted to read a wonderful piece by Andrew Cohen on InnerNet Weekly today.

Cohen's article, "A Realm Beyond Measurement," discussed the fact that meditation is not about forcing or pushing deeper. Rather, he wrote:
You just have to make yourself available, and we do that by being still, being at ease, and paying attention. The depth you are looking for comes from letting go, not from 'pushing deeper.' But in any case, you shouldn't be so concerned with how deep your experience is. Consciousness is infinite.
He went on to encourage us, the readers, to cease worrying about how meditation is supposed to feel or how it compares from one experience to another. When you meditate, he insisted, You are entering into a realm where measurement doesn't mean anything.... But if you're holding on to an idea of a particular kind of experience that you are convinced you need to have, you are not going to be able to see deeply into the experience that you are having right now.

As humans living this bodily experience it seems only natural to want to compare and contrast our accomplishments, our failures, our goals, and our strengths. We're always searching for the 'ultimate' experience. It's wonderfully reassuring to read Cohen's words and realize that the simple experience of performing a daily T'ai Chi Chih practice and/or sitting in quiet meditation is enough. The hardest part, perhaps, is being willing to let go of any ideas or expectations about what is supposed to happen or how it is supposed to feel....

Monday, November 1, 2010

Gratitude at all times ...

Today was a fabulously gorgeous 50 degree day with sunshine! Yes, it happened right here on the shores of Lake Superior on the first day of November!

I received Sr. Antonia's email Newsletter today and quickly read it through. She reminded us that Justin Stone teaches a principle of movement which states: "T'ai Chi Chih is done mostly with the waist and wrists." She then encouraged TCC teachers to notice softness in both of these areas.

When I practiced TCC in front of one of the darkened windows in the spare bedroom this evening, I placed my attention in both my waist and my wrists. And, yes, both areas could be softened even more.

The theme of Sister's November newsletter was: Gratitude at all times. I'll end my day--and my blog--with gratitude.