Friday, December 31, 2010


All is frozen in place: yesterday's slippy, slidey tire tracks up the driveway, footprints in the snow, and the compost pile, to name a few. Last night's slight dusting of snow covered the ice and we're back to dull grey skies.

During my late afternoon T'ai Chi Chih practice I alternated beginning movements with ending movements. I actually started my practice with Passing Clouds, then returned to Rocking Motion, back to the Healing Sounds, then Bird Flaps its Wings, then Lights at the Top of the Head/Temples, Around the Platter, etc.

Eventually I finished my practice in the middle which seemed appropriate for New Year's Eve. Today we're not quite through 2010 and not yet beginning 2011.

In honor of this last day of 2010 I reread verse 365 from 365 Tao which is one of my favorite entries to share with students at the end of an initial eight-week class. Deng Ming-Dao writes:
Upon completion comes fulfillment,
With fulfillment comes liberation.
Liberation allows you to go on.
Even death is not a true ending.
Life is infinite continuation.
Deng Ming-Dao further describes his interpretation of "Continuation" with these words that seem infinitely fitting for TCC students who have just completed their first round of TCC classes and all the rest of us as we end one year and begin the next:
Always finish what you start. That alone is discipline and wisdom enough. If you can follow that rule, then you will be superior to most people.
     When you come to the end of a cycle, a new one will begin. You might say that completion actually begins somewhere in the middle of a cycle and that new beginnings are engendered out of previous actions.
     Completing a cycle means fulfillment. It means that you have achieved self-knowledge, discipline, and a new way of understanding youself and the world around you..... persevere with joy.
Farewell blessings to 2010 and best wishes to us all for a happy, healthy, and life-affirming 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Eyes Wide Shut

Rain, rain, rain. Tonight? Freeze, freeze, freeze. This afternoon I barely made it up the driveway in our all wheel drive vehicle. I'm guessing the weather during this New Year's holiday weekend will encourage us all to simply stay home.

There were many people out this afternoon running errands, as were Frances and I. Traffic was heavy for this time of year. Of course, heavy is a relative concept.

I'm currently reading a novel set on Red Cliff Reservation, our nearest neighbor (Murder on the Red Cliff Rez). The main character, Red Cliff's police chief, describes waiting for two school buses and five cars to pass before he could turn onto Hwy. 13, the main roadway that circles the entire perimeter of the Bayfield Pennisula. Instead of rush hour, he called his wait rush minute. I chuckled today while I waited at several intersections for a line of cars to pass before I could proceed.

During this evening's TCC practice I closed my eyes for a portion of the practice. I wanted to feel my weight shifting and arms and hands circling without the benefit of visual feedback. Justin Stone recommends keeping eyes open throughout the practice in order to facilitate the flow of Chi. Nevertheless it was an interesting experiment. First, I maintained my balance better than expected. Second, I had no choice but to keep my attention in the soles of my feet while I moved.

I also discovered that I unintentionally migrated forward without realizing that I'd moved from my original position. And I felt amazingly relaxed.

2010 ... going, going, almost gone.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Following the Lead of Tan T'ien

Today is recovery day after two long, on-again, off-again busy work days at the library. While I rested and read (surprise!) I managed to finish two books and start a third.

My dedicated reading indicates that I'm devoted to my job (it's true that I want to be aware of our newest acquisitions--actually as many books as possible--in order to offer informed assistance to our patrons). In actuality, though, I've been a devoted reader my entire life.

We enjoyed another day of sunshine and warm, warm weather (30 degrees). Frances and I took a walk in mid-afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed leaving our heavy jackets and mittens at home.

During my afternoon T'ai Chi Chih practice I focused on following the lead of my tan t'ien. When attention is placed in the center, it feels easy and effortless to allow the body to follow along. I simply allowed tan t'ien to lead me through the Taffies, Working the Pulley, and Passing Clouds while I enjoyed the ride.

And, by the end of my practice, my energy improved. I felt better. Yes, once again, life is good....

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Floating on Softness

It's sunshiney all around for the second day! I'm soaking in warmth and brightness as fast as I possibly can. Tonight freezing rain is predicted.

This morning I practiced TCC by the patio door as sunlight gleamed all around me. Yesterday's icicles were gone except for one long, pointy, glistening tip of light. The escargot begonia in the south window (whose leaves swirl and twist like a snail) birthed two pure white blossoms into the light. The backsides of these delicate star-shaped petals glisten and sparkle in the streaming sunshine.

I'm scheduled for another long solo shift at the library today. Consequently, my TCC practice is part of my preparation and grooming routine. Though it may not be noticeable to others, the feeling of inner calm and grounding that comes from circulating the Chi energy is as necessary to me as washing my face, brushing my teeth, or combing my hair.

I'm still marveling about how wonderful it feels--and how much attention and intention it takes--to stay soft throughout my practice. May I float on this softness and let it carry me through the day....

Monday, December 27, 2010

Chi-ing Up to Serve the Public

Sun, sun, glorious sunshine! My day began at zero degrees but quickly warmed to 20 after my surroundings and I were flooded with warm, delectable light. Yep. It felt great to be alive today!

I practiced T'ai Chi Chih in front of the patio door in order to soak in sun rays as I moved. Everything sparkled. Icicles hanging from the eaves reflected light in every direction. In fact, several minutes into my practice I felt like I was sparkling too!

I practiced TCC immediately before driving to the library to begin my first full day working alone at the library. Though I was fairly confident that I could handle the workload I did have a few qualms about how busy it might be throughout the day. Of course, my TCC practice relaxed me and put me in the proper frame of mind to work with the public for eight hours straight. And ... all went exceedingly well.

Tomorrow's workday ... the same. Both of my co-workers are still on vacation so I'm covering the pre- and post-holiday shifts. Undoubtedly today's TCC practice helped prepare me for my no-break day at work which means I'll make it a priority to practice prior to work tomorrow as well. Why mess with a good thing?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Peace at Home

It was the day after Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse. (Now that would be a miracle in our home--the mouse part, I mean.)

Today truly was a day of rest. Quiet, peaceful, no agenda, no to-do list, no-thing. I read a book, took a walk, had a nap, and did my T'ai Chi Chih practice. End of story.

TCC practice passed quickly, quietly, softly. No earth shaking revelations. No meaning filled readings. No Taoist discoveries. Just quivering fingers, repetitive movements, and circles moving within and around me. Ahhh.

The Stroke of Midnight

The weather was the same today as yesterday--20ish and cloudy--but the atmosphere felt different. Was I tuning into the quiet of my surroundings or the peace of the holiday? Regardless, it felt great!

Frances and I spent much of the day cleaning and cooking. Our friends, Dan and Tanya, arrived around 3:00 p.m. and we talked, ate, talked, watched DVDs (The Weeping Camel and Who Killed the Electric Car?), and talked some more.

It was another wonderful way to celebrate Christmas following last year's holiday with my sister and brother in Baltimore, MD or the previous year when Frances and I traveled to Central America and spent Christmas at eco-friendly Cerros Beach Resort in northern Belize. Today we didn't stay in a thatched roof cabana or share a quiet Christmas dinner prepared by Cerros owners, Bill and Jenny (professional chefs from Miami), and another pair of guests from Great Britain. Despite the lack of warmth, sun, and salt water, today was thoroughly enjoyable.

I squeezed my T'ai Chi Chih practice into a brief time slot between cleaning and guest arrival. That was just fine. By the time Dan and Tanya arrived the TCC had slowed me down and I felt relaxed and at ease.

And so, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night....

Friday, December 24, 2010

Taking Care and Letting Go

It's Christmas Eve and Russ, our carpenter-neighbor, is out in the porch prepping the room for heat and electricity. Frances and I began this project years ago by replacing screened windows with glass. What a wonderful Christmas gift for us to finally complete our seasonal space and turn it into a year-round room!

Russ told us today that people typically love to see carpenters arrive and they love to see them leave. I understand what he means. It's incredibly fun to see a space transformed from something imagined into a reality. But, truth be told, I'm ready to transition into peace and tranquility, i.e., "silent night, holy night."

I practiced T'ai Chi Chih as the light faded from grey to black. I still feel exhausted and on the verge of illness so today I took exceptional care of myself: early to bed, good food, a restful, relaxed day, long walk, and TCC practice.

At the beginning of practice I imagined myself as a puppet with strings holding up my body. Gee. How much more could I truly relax if I allowed myself to believe someone else was responsible for moving my body for me? It was a fun exercise in letting go. And so I did. I can. And I am....

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Moving with the Mind

Today was a T'ai Chi Chih kind of day. I started out the morning feeling overly tired due to extra work hours this week. An interaction with Frances went badly. Instead of slipping into self-protect mode I mentally rehearsed TCC for 10 minutes and found myself settling back into balance.

Back home post-work I felt exhausted. When I lay down to rest, though, I felt my mind speeding. I may have left work ... but work hadn't left me! Again I relied on a mental rehearsal of TCC to create a space for calmness and relaxation.

Now that I've completed the moving part of TCC practice I feel peaceful and energized. I'm not sure that I could have managed my physical rehearsal of TCC if I had not invested time practicing TCC mentally earlier in the day. Those two mental practices transitioned me into a different space from which I moved beyond the mental/physical tiredness and gladly welcomed the physical activity of a T'ai Chi Chih practice. (In other words, I didn't allow Monkey Mind to convince me to skip my regular practice.)

Another TCC teacher recently wrote me an email in which she mentioned that she'd done a mental TCC practice on the bus on the way to work and she found that it "helped tremendously." Yup. I'd say that all three of today's TCC practices helped me tremendously. Now if I can only remember that a mental rehearsal may be just the thing for a tired, burnt out, upside down and inside out TCC practitioner....

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Four to six additional inches of snow fell overnight. This morning's view of our woods and the route to work was stunning. Fresh, heavy, white gobs of snow balanced on branches and deck railing. Last evening we heard the first familiar sounds of snow sliding off the metal roof and landing heavily on earth and deck.

We do live in a winter wonderland. One of my co-workers mentioned that her family and several holiday guests lit a bonfire outside last night and roasted brats and marshmellows while the snow fell softly. She repeated over and over again, "It was so beautiful."

The absolute beauty of the scenery these past few days reminds me of a story from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones called "The Moon Cannot be Stolen" (p. 20):
     Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal.
     Ryokan returned and caught him. 'You may have come a long way to visit me,' he told the prowler, 'and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.'
     The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.
     Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. 'Poor fellow,' he mused, 'I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.'
This story exemplifies the lives and attitudes of many of the people I know who live on the Bayfield Pennisula. Money is often tight because of lack of work and low wages. Possessions are few and/or well-used. Yet complaints are also negligible because we feel richly blessed by the beauty of our natural surroundings.

Tonight's TCC practice followed a full day of work at the library. It felt wonderfully glorious to shed the cloak of the day's responsibilities and busyness while I moved slowly and breathed deeply.

I finished my practice with a five minute seated meditation that I'm incorporating more regularly into my TCC routine. My goal? First, establish the seated meditation as a regular habit. Then, extend the period of time I spend in daily meditation.

It feels comforting and deeply nourishing to sit quietly, especially after I've finished my TCC practice. Why wouldn't I want to feed myself this nectar of the gods? Full-Fill-Meant.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fluffy Stuff

The whiteness around me is amazing. And beautiful.

We finally received our first significant snowfall of the season. In the past 24 hours I'd guess that we received 7-10 inches of snow. Temps were 20 all day (heat wave!). And the fluffy stuff covered us in silence.

I practiced TCC this evening after returning home from work. Though tired, I felt good moving, slowing down, and relaxing. I promised myself a movie after practice because sometimes the anticipation of a reward is a welcome motivator (especially when I feel overly tired).

Yep. The brain is winding down and it's time for rest, a movie, and--soon--sleep. I sure love that fluffy stuff.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holding the Reins

It's cooler again today ... down to zero degrees. The sky is lighter with faded bits of blue showing through. I feel the sun's presence even though I haven't seen an identifiable ray of light. And the cloud cover is breaking up. (Perhaps we'll have a chance to see the eclipse of the moon tonight after all.)

Frances hired a neighbor to finish the trim around the windows in the porch (a project Frances started several years ago and never completed). Today is his first day of fitting, cutting, and hammering pieces of trim into place. I planned to finish my T'ai Chi Chih practice before he started to operate the saw outside the window but failed.

I can--and do!--practice in all types of situations. I've moved in the midst of loud, invasive noises many times before. My preference, though, is to work around such situations when possible. I know that I'm highly sensitive to noise; when I want to relax, I choose a quiet, peaceful setting. Today, though, I actually felt the sound of the saw in my chest and it took full concentration to relax, release, and soften.

So. With all the writing I've done lately about softening my muscles and movements when I do my TCC practice, I'm also very aware that I need to soften my mind. Last week's Dalai Lama quote from Snow Lion Publications expressed this idea succinctly:
The state of the mind of a Buddhist practitioner should be stable, and should not be subject to too many conflicting events. Such a person will feel both joy and pain, but neither will be too weak or too intense. Stability is developed through discipline. The heart and mind become more full of energy, more resolute, and therefore less susceptible to being blown about by outside events.

Deep within the human being abides the wisdom that can support him or her in the face of negative situations. In this way, events no longer throw him because he is holding the reins. Similarly, when something good happens it is also possible to rein it in. Taking the reins is the key to happiness. In Tibet we have a saying: 'If you are beside yourself with joy, tears are not far behind.' This shows how relative what we call joy and pain are.
     --from : The Dalai Lama's Little Book of Inner Peace: The Essential Life and Teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
What the Dalai Lama refers to as "holding the reins" I think of as softness. When I treat every event, person, and situation with an intention to maintain softness and flexibility, I don't react with rigidness and inflexibility.

When I practice TCC daily with the intention to maintain softness and flexibility in body and mind, I train and reinforce my bodymind to maintain peace and presence regardless of what happens around me. Then, truly, I am taking the reins to let peace begin with me....

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's Magic

It's another gray day ... light gray versus dark gray. And that's a good thing because the light leaves me feeling upbeat and encouraged.

My morning TCC practice was uneventful and filled with silence. About halfway through a smile appeared on my face and I knew that the practice was working its magic. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and I know that my mood would brighten if I sat in front of a light box for 30 minutes per day. Instead I do my daily practice of TCC and that helps too.

When Frances and Namaste woke up, I heard frantic barking upstairs. Namaste had been in bed too long and, once awake, demanded stimulation and attention. I ignored him until my practice was complete and then joined in our morning routine.

Last evening on the way home from our errands Frances, Namaste, and I walked along the beach at Friendly Valley Road just as the sun dipped low in the sky. It was a magical time of day. We saw Madeline Island turn a beautiful shade of lavendar and sunlight reflect off house windows on the mainland-facing side of the island. Humps of ice lined the shore though the lake water was still an icy liquid. A swirl of water near the beach forecast the arrival of the Loch Ness monster even as we speculated that a sandbar lying directly below the watery surface was the true cause of the whirling twirl.

As we retraced our footsteps Frances said: I wonder why, when you look at pictures that show a beautiful scene like this, you never think about the cold. When you're walking in the scene, though, the beauty and the cold mingle....

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Inspired by The Happy Lady

It's another clouded, shrouded day. My mood is down due to a headache, mental fogginess, and tiredness. Instead of lounging in lowness, though, I recall a story I read several days ago about Erica McElrath, a women in St. Louis, MO known as "The Happy Lady."

When Erica lost her nursing assistant job last January, she took to the streets. Singing and dancing, that is. Her message to people: "Just be happy and do what you love." So I'm taking to the streets today. I'm off on errands and when I return, I'll bake some holiday cookies. I love to bake and cook and I'm confident that baking gifts for others will elevate my mood.

Before leaving home this morning I did my TCC practice. It helped me to prepare myself for heading out into the world. My goal for today's practice: continue softening my muscles and movements. By practice end I still felt tired but it felt uplifting to merely move my body.

Today I don't feel like an interesting or interested person but I'm continuing on and there's something to be said for that.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Let Peace Begin with Me

Love leans sweet across my memory

A dimestore comb
wrapped in green tissue
tied simple with brown twine

A scotch plaid tablecloth
sprinkled with snippets of ribbon

Puddled snow across the kitchen floor
ending by a tin of sugar cookies

The smell of winter on my father's coat

     ~~ Cheryl Jaques
Frances and I received this poem inside a handmade Christmas card from a friend. A painting of evergreen trees and lakeshore graced the face of the card. Again, created by our friend. (Beautiful pictures painted inside and out!) Since I don't celebrate Christmas in the typical American fashion this card was a wonderful inventive gift that warmed my heart.

It struck me yesterday that Christmas Eve is a week from today. Tonight is the Bayfield Library's Christmas celebration (dinner out at a local restaurant). It's true that I lost my zeal for this holiday many years ago while working in a bookstore. There I discovered that--to some--Christmas meant buying gifts for others without really knowing who they were or what they liked. Cheryl's poem (above) shows that this holiday can be about simple things that cost little money but contain lifelong memories and inestimable love.

It's about 8 degrees above zero today. As the morning draws to a close the sky lightens though it's still plumb full of clouds. I practiced TCC this morning with my Albuquerque, NM TCC pals (i.e., the practice session at the end of Justin Stone's TCC DVD).

When I move with other teachers, I become aware of how I've personalized my practice to fit my own needs and desires. And speed. Portions of the DVD practice move more slowly than my practice and other portions zip by so fast.

I love to dwell in Resting Position between each set of movements because it allows me to ground, focus, center, and truly R-E-S-T. When I'm in Resting, I sense the deep peace that emanates from this practice. Which reminds me of a well-loved Christmas song from years ago:
Let there be peace on Earth,
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on Earth,
The peace that was meant to be....
Ah, yes, let peace begin with me.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Turn the World Around

It's warmer this morning when I rise. Four degrees. The sun skims over the horizon just as I begin my T'ai Chi Chih practice. I squeeze into the farthest northeast corner of the living room in order to watch it rise, a blood red diamond flashing through shadowed tree trunks.

As the sun diminishes in color bright pink reflects from the underside of a distant cloud. And then I notice glowing red mirrored on the surface of Lake Superior. Less than an hour later the sky is overcome by thick grey clouds. This morning's brilliant sunrise is now a distant memory.

Yesterday we saw smoke on the water, a heavy cloud of mist caused by the sun's early morning rays striking Lake Superior's chill waters and suctioning up some of its moisture into vastly colder morning air. Today's post-sunrise view is less visually dramatic: white, grey, and dark grey clouds smother the land in dingy dullness.

During this morning's TCC practice I remembered what inspired me to move more softly. It happened almost a year ago when I watched Sr. Antonia, the TCC guide, lead our practices at the TCC Retreat in St. Paul, MN. Again, during the TCC Teachers' Conference in August, I realized that I could deepen my own practice into greater softness.

Sr. Antonia's movements look gentle, peaceful, and easy when I'm in the same room moving with her. But I'm also reminded of the lovely way she moves each time I re-watch the film, On the Road Home: A Spiritual Journey Guided by Remarkable Women. In the film Sr. Antonia leads several different TCC classes and in each instance her soft, flowing movements are beautiful to behold.

Of course, I'm responding to more than the movements. I realized this more clearly when I recently showed this film to a friend who immediately described the energy she sensed when she watched Sr. Antonia move. I'd venture a guess that the energy that underlies Sister's TCC practice is loving compassion (and more).

I'm reminded of another woman healer: Ethel Lombardi. Almost 20 years ago I participated in a workshop Ethel led at a Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship retreat. A Reiki master, Ethel created a healing system called MariEl. MariEl used heart-centered energy and the essence of the feminine, i.e., Mother Mary (along with the goddesses Isis, Quan Yin, and the moon), to unlock negative emotional or physical experiences stored in the body's cells. Ethel simply looked at me and I felt deep love flowing into me. Several decades later I still remember that moment clearly because I felt as if something in that look changed everything....

Yes, we are all powerful and power-filled beings. It's unfortunate that we seldom realize that the smallest effort on our part can have huge and life-changing magnifications. A movement. A look. A word. When we act out of love and compassion, anything is possible.
Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around. -- Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Diamond Lights

It's a fabulous fall day! I can still say that can't I? Despite the vast accumulation of snowfall throughout the Northlands winter solstice is still a week away.

Early afternoon temps climbed to 21 degrees and bright glorious sunshine filled the atmosphere. I practiced TCC late in the morning after sunlight burned nighttime's tender layer of twinkling frost off tree limbs. As I moved, though, a diamond field glowed around me. Bright glints of light sparked out of the cool blanket of white that lay draped across the landscape.

At the beginning of my practice I stepped forward into sunshine that shone through the patio door. It wasn't long before I stepped backward into the deep shade of the room as my body grew uncomfortably hot. Yet, throughout the movements of the form I stayed soft, soft, soft.

I watched a half dozen blue jays flock around the feeder while chickadees (and one woodpecker) flitted among them. It looked like a free-for-all: flying, landing, playing, feeding, teasing, and chasing. Such joy! Was it my joy or theirs? That question reminded me of a Taoist Mondo from The Little Zen Companion (p. 372):
     One day Chuang-tzu and a friend were walking along a riverbank.
     "How delightfully the fishes are enjoying themselves in the water!" Chuang-tzu exclaimed.
     "You are not a fish," his friend said. "How do you know whether or not the fishes are enjoying themselves?"
     "You are not me," Chuang-tzu said. "How do you know that I do not know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?"
Was it my joy or theirs? Who cares?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Snow Daze

Today's TCC practice was more abbreviated than usual. I was short on time before I headed off to work so I chose to move slowly through the first two-thirds of my practice rather than rush through the entire form.

It was pleasant to practice with a view of sunshine streaming through the trees. (The light was uplifting and warm.) Frances, Namaste, and I walked to the mailbox afterward. It felt good to be outside in sunshine with warmer temps and no breeze to whip up terrifying windchills.

This evening I heard from my brother about snowfall in southeastern Minnesota. His first snow removal, he said, was shoveling snow out of his house after he managed to walk through waist high drifts to open his front door. On this morning's radio news I heard about a 10-12 car accident on a bridge into LaCrosse, WI. And bro reported that Rochester, MN roads are still slick with ice due to rains that preceded the weekend snowfall.

I'm grateful for mere inches of snow compared to one to three foot accumulations. And I'm tired from another busy day at work. Truth be told, I'm ready to r~e~l~a~x.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I am in Divine Order

It's sub-zero. The trees are flocked with snow that fell during the night. Chickadees and blue jays swarm the bird feeder. Treetops that circled in frenzied dances yesterday barely move this morning while a light snow--almost invisible--falls lightly. And now ... all is still.

The snow is a good role model for me: softness extraordinaire. I emulate it while I engage in my T'ai Chi Chih practice. How soft can I be? Can I float lightly, land softly, and rest on the ground (in Resting Position) in total peace? Can I move as if I have nowhere to go? No forcing. No pushing. Simply softening, relaxing. gliding, be-ing?

During my practice I'm reminded of the Reiki session my sister gave me as a gift when I visited her in West Virginia over Thanksgiving. The practitioner asked me to allow my shoulders to open as I released myself from feelings of responsibility, self-blame, self-criticism, and self-judgment.

And then another memory floats into my consciousness. This from a workshop I attended with Don Campbell on Music and Healing 20+ years ago. During that weekend Campbell asked me to sit in a warm whirlpool in order to relax tension in my body and mind. Obviously this issue of holding tension in my neck and shoulders filters through the experiences of my lifetime.

There are more. For years I returned home from teaching T'ai Chi Chih classes with tension locked into my neck and between my shoulder blades. While I taught others to relax and release tension in their bodies I accumulated tightness in my own. The ultimate irony. (It makes sense, of course, because I always considered it my responsibility to know and provide for the needs of others. That responsibility also extends to my students.)

It's exciting now to see my body and daily TCC practice changing as I begin to understand softness on a deeper level. Instead of blaming myself for not receiving this lesson many years ago perhaps I can consider that this moment--now--is exactly the right time for me to re-member it.

This affirmation--given to me by the Reiki healer--is worth daily repetition:
I establish my Divine Presence on Earth.
I accomplish my Divine Purpose on Earth.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Soft-Softer-Softest ...

Well, the storm missed us or, perhaps more accurately, we missed the storm. The snow base is 3-4 inches deeper and high winds swept through the area plunging temperatures zeroward. Still, three of the four invited dinner guests ventured to our house and we shared a thoroughly delicious and wonderfully healthy meal and conversation.

Meanwhile, in the Twin Cities and southern Minnesota and Wisconsin snow fell fast and furious. The Metrodome stadium in Minneapolis collapsed under the weight of 17 inches of snow and the Vikings scrambled to find a location for their game against the New York Giants.

I admit, I'm not keen to venture out into the freezing temps myself. Could it be due to the recent passage of another year of life? Whatever the reason, the cooler indoor house temperatures are enough to discourage me.

Today was bursting with sunshine. I practiced TCC as light turned into darkness. Outside the window pink and dark blue streaks alternated across the horizon. Again, I focused on becoming softer and softer. It's interesting that after 15+ years of T'ai Chi Chih practice I'm moving to a different level of understanding regarding the meaning of soft. And, oh, it feels great to release undue tension and effort.

Tonight feels like a wonderful evening to snuggle up with a good book while I invite an animal or two onto my lap....

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Accept and ... Relax? Persevere? Be?

Snow drifts from heaven to earth as chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and grey squirrels line the bird feeder and scurry across the ground scrounging for seeds. A gust of wind twirls a fine layer of snow off the deck into a cloud of white smoke.

Frances and I are cooking and cleaning for tonight's birthday dinner though we're unsure whether guests will venture through the snow to attend the celebration. If not, we've decided that we'll share the food with elders who live nearby.

I watched the snow quietly spill over the white landscape during my mid-morning T'ai Chi Chih practice. All was still except for those busy birds and three huge squirrels who chased each other up and down, over and around as they leapt from branch to branch, tree to tree.

During my TCC practices I concentrate on softening my muscles and relaxing my mind while I move. Once I release tension in one area of my body, though, I'm aware of tightness in another area. I guess I can say with confidence that this is an ongoing process with no clear end in sight. Today's reading in 365 Tao spoke about this need to be vigilant (p. 345, "Worthwhile"):
     ... sometimes it takes a long time to hear about Tao. There are some days when Tao does not manifest itself right away. It seems that the more you want to love, the more hatred tempts you. The more you want to be pure, the more negativity pursues you. The more you want serenity, the more chaos assaults you. The ordinary have common problems. Those who pursue Tao struggle against titanic forces. What can you do but accept it and persevere? If you fret about it, then you have not only spent the day away from Tao, but you have ruined that day with emotional turmoil too.
It's a blessing to feel the weight of snow around me. The moving hands on the clock lose their power to dictate a schedule, impassable driveways and streets force cars into irrelevancy, and snow's thick insulation silences the noisy speed of the outside world. What a wonderful invitation to release duty and responsibility and simply be.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cultivating Openness

A big snowstorm is forecast for tomorrow and we're rushing to prepare. This is the first major winter storm of the season in our area and the prediction for deep snow and deep freezer temperatures are wonderful motivators.

I practiced TCC in late afternoon after darkness shadowed the earth. Though I focused on softness I struggled to relax after a busy morning and early afternoon shift at the library. When I stepped into Resting Position, I exhaled deeply and visualized tension draining down my body and into the earth. It helped.

For me, softness and openness are similar concepts. I found this reading in The Book of Balance and Harmony by Thomas Cleary and include an excerpt here:
The Tao is fundamentally utterly open;
Open nonreification produces energy,
One energy divides into two modes:
The one above, clear, is called heaven;
The once below, opaque, is called earth.
Heaven is round and moving;
The north star, never shifting, governs motion.
Earth is square and still;
The eastward flow, never exhausted, governs stillness.
The "north star" is the heart of heaven and earth,
The "eastward flow" is the energy of heaven and earth.
When the heart is nurtured by openness,
It thereby becomes still;
When energy is nurtured by openness,
It thereby circulates.
When the human mind is calm and quiet,
Like the north star not shifting,
The spirit is most open and aware.
For one who sees this
The celestial Tao is within oneself....

So we know openness
Is the substance of the great Tao.
          "On Cultivating Openness," p. 91
In the above quote Cleary's characterization of openness is entirely descriptive of the practice of T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation. Heaven and earth represent yin and yang. When we alternate back and forth between these two elements, we create movement.

The root and stillness from below (experienced through the "bubbling springs" in the soles of the feet) allow flexibility and movement in the upper body. Though it may seem counterintuitive openness and softness permit both stillness and movement. We must practice remaining soft and open in the body and the mind in order to experience the movement of the Chi and the quiet stillness of the spirit.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Transparent Eyeball

Today was a stark contrast to yesterday. No sunshine. On and off snow throughout the day with grey skies outside and dark rooms inside. The temp hovered at 12 degrees all day long and now the snow is 2-3 inches deeper.

I practiced TCC with music playing in the background this afternoon. In recent practices I continue to relax my body as I move and hope that someday I'll be soft and light throughout my entire body. It's good to notice differences in how my body feels as I open and release tension. I really do feel more lightness and suspension as the effort dissipates.

Though I started T'ai Chi Chih at the beginning of the form today about five movements in I switched to the end of the form and practiced in reverse. I really must Pay Attention when I choose to do this reversal because the form is deeply ingrained in my body and I tend to automatically move into the following movement rather than the preceding movement. Yes, pay attention.
Standing on the bare ground ... a mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.
     Emerson, from: The Little Zen Companion, p. 18

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Great Faith ... and Doubt

Great Faith.
Great Doubt.
Great Effort.
     The Three Qualities Necessary for Training
     From: The Little Zen Companion, p. 246
Yes. I read these words this evening and thought they appropriately described the life and experiences of a regular practitioner of T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation. The yin-yang aspects of this practice cycle back and forth between faith and doubt. And the reason T'ai Chi Chih makes a difference in my life is because I put extraordinary commitment and effort into returning to my practice day after day whether I feel like it or not.

Battling with, challenging, distracting, outwitting, accepting, and working with Monkey Mind takes tremendous willpower. Yet, when I remember how good I feel and how capable I become as a result of my practice, I realize that this "great effort" is really the effort of no effort (per Justin Stone).

Frances and I walked into the woods today to eat lunch with two new friends of ours who live in a tent on 20 acres. This is their second winter in the tent and this year they added a dozen chickens, several ducks, two pigs, and two dogs to their homestead. Their daily life--their training--brims with faith, doubt, and effort. When we talk with them, though, we're struck by how free they say they feel. Although they live in a way that many people consider crazy, they manage to live outside of the debt-filled existence that most Americans consider normal. Perverse irony?

The elusive sun visited us today and by nightfall the skies overhead were clear. I did my TCC practice in front of a dark window as I continually reminded myself: soften, soften, soften. By practice end I felt more relaxed and at home in my body. Tomorrow? Start all over again.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cold Weather Chi

Baby, it's cold outside! It was below zero when I woke, 10 degrees by noon, and I never heard the wind chill reading.

There are splotches of blue sky overhead and, yes, I did see the sun shining for several minutes again this morning. Each time the sun pierces through heavy cloud cover it feels miraculous.

Monkey Mind was busy during my T'ai Chi Chih practice this morning. Despite that fact I moved with softness and felt the Chi.

I focused on my center (t'an tien) today since that strategy was used by the T'ai Chi master on the Parkinson's DVD I watched several days ago. My students could benefit from spending more class time moving from--and focusing on--t'an tien. Since all movements originate from the center it makes sense to spend more teaching time there.

After TCC practice I took a 45 minute walk. It was frigid! Frances abandoned me at the end of the driveway when the north wind hit her face. Too cold, she said and turned around. I marched on and eventually warmed up. It's going to be a cold week. Luckily I can--and will--practice TCC in the warmth and comfort of my home.

Monday, December 6, 2010

TCC for Energy and Renewal

The sun shone through the dark sky for a few minutes this morning before two heavy banks of clouds squeezed it into submission. I enjoyed its brief shimmering light.

I performed a late morning, pre-work TCC practice that felt like a good self-prep before I headed to the library. My sole practice companion: a woodpecker flitting from feeder to tree trunk.

Last night I watched and followed along with a loaner copy of T'ai Chi for Energy and Renewal: Living Well with Parkinson's Disease. The DVD was produced by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in 2007. The T'ai Chi master who led the practice focused on breathing techniques, Chi Kung warm-ups, and T'ai Chi exercises, both seated and standing.

It was interesting to see and experience a T'ai Chi short form geared toward a specific population. The focus was on relaxation and stress reduction and the teacher presented the movements in a clear, simple manner. Nevertheless, it was hard to follow along. And I was reminded that it's important to study with a real live in-the-flesh teacher.

Afterward watching the T'ai Chi DVD I performed my T'ai Chi Chih practice and felt grateful for its straightforward simplicity. And that's how today's practice felt too: straightforward; simple; relaxed; and brimming with energy.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Awareness is Your Refuge

I started to feel better last night and I feel even softer and lighter today. This is interesting given the InnerNet Weekly and Dharma Quotes I read this morning that reiterated a consistent theme I began to recognize yesterday: My times of feeling down (or up) are a choice on my part whether I consciously recognize or acknowledge that fact. Osho writes in "You Carry Your Wound":
With the ego, your whole being is a wound. And you carry it around. Nobody is interested in hurting you, nobody is positively waiting to hurt you; everybody is engaged in safeguarding his own wound.... you are so ready to be wounded, so ready, just waiting on the brink for anything. You cannot touch a man of Tao. Why? - because there is no one to be touched. There is no wound. He is healthy, healed, whole.
A meditation practice offers us awareness. It's possible that my desire to soften the tightness and tension in my hands and wrists during yesterday's practice had a palpable effect on my mental/emotional holding. It's also regretable that when we feel caught up in our dramas and traumas, it is difficult to discipline ourselves to stay with or return to our practice.

In a Dharma quote from Snow Lion Publications Lama Dudjom Dorjee writes (From: Heartfelt Advice):
As practitioners we will face many obstacles and sidetracks on our path to liberation.... We shouldn't allow our practice to become interrupted due to these obstacles and sidetracks, such as the appearance and disappearance of the many friends we will have over the course of our lives....

And we shouldn't allow our practice to become interrupted by the obstacles and sidetracks presented by the many distractions of mind that are readily available in the mundane world of our external environment. We shouldn't allow our practice to be interrupted by obstacles and sidetracks that arise due to the desire and attachment we feel for loved ones, or our aversion to enemies, or our indifference towards others....
I feel grateful that, despite my sagging heart I continued to practice T'ai Chi Chih daily during this past week. Though I didn't always feel fabulous while I practiced nevertheless I continued. And now something is shifting, changing, moving....
Awareness is your refuge:
Awareness of the changingness of feelings,
of attitudes, of moods, of material change
and emotional change:
Stay with that, because it's a refuge that is
It's not something that changes.
It's a refuge you can trust in.
This refuge is not something that you create.
It's not a creation. It's not an ideal.
It's very practical and very simple, but
easily overlooked or not noticed.
When you're mindful,
you're beginning to notice,
it's like this.
From: Intuitive Awareness by Ajahn Sumedho, reprinted by "InnerNet Weekly: Trust in the Awareness," Nov. 9, 2010.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Therapeutic Chi Chih

I feel as if I'm adrift in a sea of sadness. There are many possible reasons for this emotional state but two likely ones come to mind: SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and my innate resistance to change.

Since I can't make the sun shine and the 10-day forecast predicts that I won't see a shining yellow orb in the sky until a week from today I'm left to pursue other options. Take a larger dose of Vit. D. Get regular daily exercise. Commit to more than one TCC practice a day.

My attitude toward change is another matter entirely. Intellectually I know that change is the only constant in life. But when change affects me directly and (in my mind) negatively, I don't/won't/can't accept it willingly. Go ahead. Drag me kicking and screaming from the room.

During this afternoon's TCC practice my hands and wrists felt stiff and tight. Could that feeling relate directly to my resistance to what's happening in my life right now? Was I grasping? Holding on too tight? Desiring to control or influence something--or someone?--over which/whom I have no control? Perhaps.

The least I could do was release the tension from my hands and my wrists ... allow myself to feel softness ... and notice whether the physical release had any effect on my emotional state. It appears that it did. I'm writing my blog. Moving around. Feeling slightly more upbeat. And ... who knows?

Friday, December 3, 2010

May you walk gently through the world ...

Today is my birthday. This annual event provides me with the opportunity to consider years past, the people I've known, memories of my parents who've been dead for many years, and how I choose to live my life day after day, year by year, hour upon hour.

I started the day with my TCC practice. Out on the porch directly in front of a space heater I felt comfortable despite the 10 degree temperature outside. With windows on three sides of me I watched the whiteness. All seemed quiet except for the flicker of a blue jay that landed on the drive to pick at the remains of goose corn. That same jay flew next to the south ravine and dunked his beak into whatever fresh, unfrozen water ran there.

During my practice I felt the Chi energy even as I felt my mind wandering. Sometimes birthdays and holidays have too much expectation tied into their packaging. My knees felt sore from last night's TCC practice and I focused my attention on relaxing, releasing, softening, letting go....

While Frances fixed breakfast I luxuriated in the richness of a day in which I can choose every single event and activity I wish. Perhaps every day could be this way but I seldom feel that I have the freedom to act as if this is so. Consequently it's a wonderful gift I give myself to consciously choose every single thing I wish to experience on this singular day.

While writing I reread and let the words of this Apache Blessing take up residence within me. My youngest brother emailed this to me over a year ago during a difficult time in my life and it's taped to a file cabinet next to my computer:
May the sun bring you new energy everyday.
May the moon softly restore you by night.
May the rain wash away your worries.
May the breeze blow new strength into your being.
May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days
of your life.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

T'ai Chi Chih Comfort

Brrr. Temps climbed from a chill 8 degrees to a warmer 12 degrees under cloud-filled skies today. It was difficult to venture outside after last week's East Coast visit that felt cold when temperatures were in the mid- to high-40s. Of course comfort's all about being appropriately dressed. When I finally walked down the driveway in late afternoon to retrieve the mail, I felt comfy cozy.

I'm still settling back into the rhythm of home life while sorting through mail, emails, spoiling food in the refrigerature and the like. In three weeks days will begin to lengthen. Until then the dog and cat spend long hours asleep in various chairs throughout the house.

This evening's TCC practice was interrupted by phone calls and Frances's difficulty in scheduling a birthday dinner for me tomorrow night. I felt disappointed but just kept moving through the form. There are a wealth of options for celebrating and, since I enjoy spending time quietly reading, walking, writing, etc., I could easily pass my birthday alone in quiet solitude.

With TCC practice over I feel exceedingly tired. And relaxed. And grateful that this day is drawing to a close....

T'ai Chi Chih Travelogue

Yes, dear readers, I'm back. What follows is my written travelogue from the Upper Midwest to the East Coast (Charles Town, WV) and back again. Frances and I flew halfway across the country to spend Thanksgiving with my brother, my sister, and her boyfriend. These entries come from my written journal and flow chronologically from our date of departure.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010 -- Thanksgiving Eve

Frances and I experienced an easy, event-free drive to the Twin Cities, starting at 2:40 am until our early arrival at the MSP airport around 8:00 am. Security required no full body scans though I did witness one extra-diligent pat down of a female passenger.

After we located our departure gate I took over luggage surveillance while Frances searched for breakfast. When she returned, I headed for a flight observation deck to practice T'ai Chi Chih.

What a find! I climbed two flights of stairs and arrived in a quiet space with windows on four sides. Classical music played in the background with occasional interruptions for final gate departure announcements.

Since three people already occupied the room I chose a location at the far end and began my practice. The observation area was the perfect relaxation spot. I watched planes taxi away from and toward from their gates, saw an occasional plane land, and truly felt that I was--indeed--above it all.

I felt a tremendous amount of energy as I moved and quickly settled into my form paying no mind to my co-observers. As people left and arrived conversations were quietly respectful. Of course! This is what you'd expect to find on a viewing platform ... a woman calmly and quietly shifting weight and energy; balancing and carrying balls; circling back and forth, round and round.

In several hours our plane will land at Washington D.C.'s Dulles Airport and we'll enter a warmer climate and a foreign domain. Then family reunions and thanks-giving festivities begin!

Thursday, November 25, 2010 -- Thanksgiving Day

I'm thankful for the many blessings of my life (first and foremost, life itself)! I'm grateful to my sister and her boyfriend for bringing us here to share Thanksgiving with them. They're also offering us the opportunity to learn a bit about their lives in Charles Town, WV (named after George Washington's brother, Charles).

I'm thankful for the adventure of travel and for new discoveries ... for food and family (not necessarily in that order), and for a TCC practice that travels with me wherever I go, whatever I do.

My 6:30 am TCC practice helped to settle my excitable energy and ease me out of my traveler's fog. Mind you, I'm still tired but I do feel more relaxed.

The weather upon arrival yesterday was 50 degrees and sunny. Rain is predicted. Still, we flew out of an area with winter storm warnings and into early fall (grass is green and some leaves still hang from the trees).

Soon the food prep begins. In fact, it may be beginning now given the activity I hear in the kitchen above.

Hearty thanks and gratitude for my TCC students, the TCC community, Justin Stone, TCC's originator, and a TCC practice that provides me with the subject matter for this blog. I feel grateful, as well, for this daily writing practice that constantly reminds me how important it is to take time for self-reflection, creativity, and gratitude.

Today, on the first anniversary of this daily TCC practice and blog, I feel tremendous appreciation for this journey I'm traveling regardless of the final destination.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My TCC practice offers me plenty of opportunities to set and practice my boundaries. In order to perform my practice and write my blog I must take time and space away from everyone else and devote at least an hour to myself and my meditation and writing. When I was younger, that would have felt difficult.

Now, though, with the guidance, wisdom, and need for TCC practice, I find that I value my time alone. I feel better after I've practiced TCC, written, and spent time by myself. The time I take for peace and rejuvenation is undeniably essential. It took me many, many years to learn this remarkably simple fact.

And, yes absolutely, when I feel peaceful within, it is much easier to maintain that peace-filled presence with those around me.

Our family entourage took a history walk around Charles Town today and found remnants of the Civil War. A sword or bayonet cemented into a stone property fence. A cemetery where Confederate soldiers were laid to rest, and beautiful old mansions scattered throughout town.

More food, conversation, and my late afternoon TCC practice to boost me through the evening tree-lighting festivities.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Thanksgiving family dynamics have caught up with me. This morning I feel sad and bad about myself. I'm weepy. I enter into my TCC practice as tears continue to flow down my cheeks.

When I Push-Pull, I focus on releasing sadness and pulling in healing energy. And still the tears flow. How appropriate that my sister scheduled a Reiki healing session for me today! I arrive with deep-seated feelings of sadness and emotional vulnerability and the practitioner reassures me that my spirit guides have prepared me well for our healing session.

After my session is complete I realize that, although the TCC practice offes me a tremendous amount of healing energy, it's also helpful to rely on the skills and abilities of others. I don't have to travel this journey all by myself. It's okay to accept help.

And so it goes. One more layer of healing sought and found. More to go....

Sunday, November 28, 2010, 5:15 pm

Today is our final full day and night in West Virginia. Frank, Mel, Frances and I took a sun-filled morning walk along the Potomac River to its confluence with the Shenandoah. We strode into Harpers Ferry and passed the infamous site where John Brown, fighting slavery, took refuge in an armory and was ultimately captured on October 18, 1859.

To pass through the streets of Civil War history is an amazing experience. After an early morning of intense emotion, I practiced TCC in the early afternoon.

I felt as if Reiki energy still surged through me from yesterday morning's healing session. My practice feel potent, my body less tense and more open as a result of the Reiki, and the Chi flowed with freedom and ease.

Monday, November 29, 2010, 7:25 pm

In flight somewhere west of Washington, D.C. Complete and total darkness. Except ... a flashing white light on the wing tip and residential lights on the ground below.

Frances and I rode to work with my sister this morning and took a mini-tour of Shenandoah University while she worked. After lunch we walked through downtown Winchester and then took off for the airport.

Fortunately we arrived early because security lines were long. I set off the alarm and was told that I needed to be patted down. I wish I could say it was a fabulous experience but it was not.

It seemed likely that a knee brace I wore was the reason I set off the alarm but, true to Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), that likelihood didn't matter. I became more distressed as the pat down progressed; first my body shook, then I began to weep. Eventually I sobbed out loud. FSA employees seemed surprised that I reacted in such a manner. I volunteered to take down my pants while under observation, remove my brace, and step through the security scanner once again.

That practical solution was against SOP but at last I was permitted to proceed and I passed through security easily. My TCC rehearsal was a mental practice in my plane seat as we backed away from the gate. I completed Carry the Ball to the Side as we lifted into the air. It was a welcome remedy after the disturbing and invasive pat down. And perhaps the timing for my TCC practice was ideal....

Tuesday, November 30, 2010, 8:40 pm

We rose at 5:30 am, spent an hour visiting with our friend, then hit the road to Bayfield. It was a long trip or, rather, longer than usual but not as long as it felt.

I drove the first stretch at 35-45 mph in ice, snow, and utter whiteness. We passed five cars in the ditch. After a stop for breakfast and a quick call to work, Frances took over behind the wheel and I napped. I made it to my library job 10 minutes late. By the time I walked in the door at home it was a six hour day on the road and six hours at work. After a TCC practice and short seated meditation, I gladly ended my day without sitting at the computer.

A few quick minutes of pen to paper and sleep came quickly and easily ... 9:00 pm touchdown in Minneapolis on Monday night, 9:00 pm beddown in Bayfield on Tuesday night. Safe and sound.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010, 7:20 pm

Interesting. Now that I've handwritten my blogs in my journal for a week I'm not clipping my fingernails in anticipation of getting back online. I admit it. I'm enjoying my computer-free lifestyle. Perhaps tomorrow?

I'm gradually reorienting myself to northwoods living. Green grass and 50 degree temps in Virginia and West Virginia to white ground and 15 degrees is quite a change of atmosphere. My body is rebelling against the dramatic change in climate at the same time that my heart and soul feel happily home again.

A headache and low energy were today's feedback loop regarding the stress of my travels. Today I stayed home and enjoyed the quiet along with a lengthy visit with neighbors.

My early evening TCC practice quivered with energy which felt absolutely great. I practiced upstairs while Frances played with the cat and dog downstairs. Despite overhearing her constant teasing and chatter, I settled deep into the rhythm and motion and let my muscles release into the repetition, pattern, and space of my practice. And, yes, I feel better.