Monday, January 31, 2011

I Have a Good Attitude

Yeah. I'm still sick and I still have a fever. But I also have a good attitude.

My T'ai Chi Chih practice didn't cure me but it continues to keep me in good spirits. I delved into the TCC movements as dusk fell. The view outside was stark black and white. Snow continues to fall, flake by flake.

And me? I continue to heal, breath by breath. That's my image and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

White Silence

Oh, if wishes could only be true I'd be out snowshoeing through the forest today enjoying the new four-inch layer of fluffy snow that drifted down to Earth last night. Instead, my cold/flu continues to progress. Today I have a temperature and additional symptoms.

My energy is fairly good which leads me to believe that my daily T'ai Chi Chih practices continue to boost my immune system and vital force. One major difference from other times I've been sick ... I don't feel discouraged or downtrodden. I just keep moving along.

During my afternoon TCC practice I looked out the window at the woods thickly swaddled in white. If I thought my practice was quiet yesterday, well ... Nature's insulation flows over every available surface and covers the woods in its huge silence.

I'm grateful for the peace. It happily reinforces my healing process and allows me to rest ... read ... be ...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

T'ai Chi Chih: The Ultimate Free Supplement

Fresh snow balances along the deck rail and coats pine branches whitely. The coating seems to have stilled the Earth. It is tremendously quiet.

Ours is still a household of sickness. I have a sore throat and slight cough now. Compared with Frances' repetitive sneezing and coughing, though, I seem healthy. My energy is up; I spent a good part of the day cooking and working in the kitchen--my normal routine for a Saturday.

I wonder: Is my T'ai Chi Chih practice (along with supplements and homeopathics) stimulating a healing response with fewer and less severe symptoms than my partner? It's hard to know for sure but I can attest to the fact that my late afternoon TCC practice left me feeling good. I'm both relaxed and energized.

During practice I looked out the patio door at unmoving snow ... everywhere. Then I launched into Rocking Motion and stayed with it for five minutes or more. Slowly inhaling, exhaling. Rising, falling, forward and back. It felt wonderful to establish a rhythm and stay with it, rocking myself like a baby.

My goal is to avoid the worst of whatever this sickness is that's currently inhabiting the house. I'll see what tomorrow brings....

Friday, January 28, 2011

Natural Remedies: TCC and more....

I traveled to the coop today to load up on supplements, homeopathic remedies, Vit. C, and green veggies. Frances is well into a heavy duty coughing/sneezing/sleeping illness. I'm keeping my distance, drinking lots of water, eating healthy foods, getting plenty of rest myself, and hoping for the best.

My T'ai Chi Chih practice is part of my health regimen, too, of course. I practiced today as daylight faded and snow fell--and piled up--with increasing speed. It felt good to go through the motions after a busy day running errands and taking care of the entire household due to Frances's illness.

It will be another early-to-bed night and hopefully ... we'll both feel better in the morning.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Promise

My mind is blank. Is that possible? Probably not. But with a blog to write ... words fail me.

This morning's T'ai Chi Chih class practice seems far away and long ago. The day's events are over. I'm tired and hungry and ready to call it a day. I'll start again tomorrow. And, no, that's not a threat. It's a promise....

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chicken Soup for the T'ai Chi Chih Player

The main creature stirring today--other than the cat and the dog--was a mouse that Chiripa monitored, followed, and toyed with right outside the front door. Ms. Chiripa was in fine form today. She's an excellent example of cabin fever run amok.

Thanks to warmer temperatures this morning Chiripa ventured out the door immediately. Later Frances saw her wade through deep snow and leap up a tree. When I looked out the window, Chiripa was happily ensconced in said tree looking insanely pleased with herself, her tail wildly twisting from side to side. This cat has energy to burn.

Frances is sick. I spent part of the afternoon creating a healing potion of homemade chicken soup. I'm currently at work outlining several chapters in Buddha's Brain as Joan and I prepare to discuss its contents with TCC students in Cornucopia.

My late afternoon TCC practice was a welcome break from too many hours spent plopped in front of the computer. All was quiet outside the window. No birds. No squirrels. No movement whatsoever. Simple silence. All was quiet inside, too, except for sporatic coughing fits tumbling out of the bedroom and down the stairs. It's time to serve up the chicken soup and soak in its healing vapors....

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Plunging In

A heat wave is burning through the area ... the day began with temps at 10 degrees! You don't realize how warm that feels until you've grown used to subzero windchills. Suddenly, spring is in the air.... A flock of bluejays--I saw nine--settled beneath the base of the bird feeder and tipped their heads down, tails up as they pecked through snow in search of fallen seeds.

Yesterday a patron at the library--a resident of Madeline Island--talked about the just-frozen lake. The ice has temporarily put his lake swims on hold. Up until recently he continued to don a drysuit (or wetsuit? I'm not familiar with varieties of cold weather suits) and swim near shore as long as lake and air temps remained near 30 degrees. As soon as air temps fell into the teens, he admitted, he could no longer stay warm enough in his suit. Brrr.

During this conversation one of my co-workers mentioned that two years ago she jumped into the lake for her final swim of the season in November. She managed several strokes before she decided to return to shore. Do you have a spotter? she asked him since she'd arranged for her mother to attend her late season swim. No, he replied, nobody wants to be outside watching in this weather.

Cold weather swims were the theme of the day. Later another patron asked for pledges to support her polar bear plunge scheduled for March 6 at the Bayfield Winter Carnival. She's a veteran polar plunger and she proudly announced that she'd talked other family members into joining her. I gave her some cash from my wallet and told her it might be enough to cover one finger in the water. Then we both decided it may more likely cover a toe or two.

Today's T'ai Chi Chih practice was amazing. Comforting. Soothing. Regenerative. It helped that I felt tired at the start since I began my practice with a relaxed, receptive mind and body. (It did take me until the first repetitions of Around the Platter to slow my pace, however.)

Partway through practice tears ran down my face as I connected to an old memory that was obviously still lodged in my body and mind. Later another memory surfaced. Soon the tears were gone and I felt, well, lighter.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Soul that hears loving words becomes more loving

I didn't sleep well last night. In part it was due to the fact that I didn't arrive home until 11:00 p.m. after our Love Stories of the Bay rehearsal at Stagenorth. Even moreso it was likely the result of sharing the stage and sitting in the audience while almost 30 people told stories with poignant, powerful words that expressed our love for this area and the people and animals who reside here.

Yes, I have a passion for words. Why? Because words have the power to express feelings, unravel confusion, draw people into a web of community and connection, and bring deeper meaning to our lives.

I just turned the page in my journal and discovered this quote, "The soul that beholds beauty becomes beautiful." I believe, in a similar vein, that the soul that hears loving words becomes more loving.

I finished reading Wisconsin Public Radio host, Jean Feraca's book, I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death, and the Radio this morning. It was perfect timing to discover these words by Benjamin Cardozo that Feraca quotes at the start:
Everything that is most precious in life
is a form of love.
Art is a form of love, if it be noble;
labor is a form of love, if it be worthy;
thought is a form of love, if it be inspired.
Late in her book, Feraca shares a compelling statement by her college creative writing teacher, Donald Hall, who matter-of-factly told his students: "... there were only two subjects worth writing about: love and death." (p. 122) I truly believe that after listening to several hours of love stories last night (a number of which also included death). This is potent stuff we're writing, reading, and sharing. As a result, my energy flew on the wings of the words throughout the night and into the day (end result: four to five hours of sleep).

Now, late in the morning, I'm tired. I also know that I have hours of unabated work awaiting me. I gratefully slip into my T'ai Chi Chih practice like a skinny dipper sliding into a still, deep pond. The practice refreshes me and bathes me in its liquid breath.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I looked out a west window and spied the moon's beautiful face shining into dissipating darkness. I looked to the east and saw the sun's face, too. It rose into the morning with a pink-rose blush that transformed into orange, gold, and then pure white light. Ahhh, magic.

It's mostly clear today ... and cold. The snow stands in a narrow six inch mound all along the railing on the deck. Thick folds of snow rest on piney branches and in the crooks of naked trees. I snuggle into the warmth of my heated house as I look out onto the stark, cold, pure white scenery just beyond the glass.

Today, as always, I enjoyed practicing TCC while the sun cleared the horizon. In the early dawn I felt hopeful, encouraged; my soul responded eagerly to the sunlight's suggestion, "New beginnings...."

When I read today's entry in 365 Tao, it perfectly portrayed my feelings about the start of this day: Renewal (p. 23):
... no matter how much those who follow Tao may enjoy the city, they understand the need for retreat into nature.

     In the countryside, they find the nurturing quality of freedom. They can see new possibilities and can wander without societal impositions....

     We need time to lie fallow. If you cannot leave the city, just find a little quiet time each day to withdraw into yourself. If you are able to walk in fields or in the hills, so much the better. But none of us can maintain the fertility of our beings without renewal.
This is one of the many gifts I experience here under the forest canopy. And tonight I head to Stagenorth for our first rehearsal of Love Stories of the Bay. I'll read my piece, "For the Love of ... Silence." And, yes, it's all about renewal.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mind Blank ... Life Full

My mind feels blank after completing my T'ai Chi Chih practice and seated meditation this evening. That's a good thing....

Practice itself was wonderfully relaxed and flowing. What more can I say? Frances and I had a beautiful walk through new-fallen snow this morning. Baby pine trees along the driveway were loaded with snow and looked stunningly beautiful.

I've spent a productive chore-filled day moving at a slow, moderate pace. And now I'm content to luxuriate in simple moments of peace and silence....

Friday, January 21, 2011

Trees of Peace

I've thought often over the past few days about a chapter I read last week in The Global Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger. She's a Canadian botanist and medical biochemist whose expertise is the medicinal, environmental, and nutritional properties of trees.

The aforementioned chapter, "The Trees and the Forests of the World Exist in God," describes one woman's journey (hers?) into the forest where she feels the sweet sensation of peace (pp. 26-7):
     Like a soft, sweet, summer rain she became submerged in the stillness of the place. She was aware that it was all around her and it was coming from the trees because it was a part of them....
     Prayer started to leaven inside her. It rose up into her mouth.... The prayers themselves became one with the trees of the forest.... Lulled by such peace she leaned into it. Her body moved forward a touch. The prayer and its meditation filled her up.... She became adjunct to her own peace. It was the peace of the universe. This peace was smooth and it was soft. It fed itself into all spaces. It was in the trees. It was of the trees, the trees of the forest.
     Suddenly she became conscious of something else transpiring. This had been going on, for how long, she did not know, but she became aware of it with a new reality, a new understanding that surprised her. As she had leaned her body toward the trees in the full lull of peace, the trees, all of them, had lured thmselves, too, toward her, in a conspiracy of one another. As she prayed and meditated into their combined peace, the trees had done the same. They had been leaning their trunks toward her also. She realized with a start that the trees were praying, too. The trees and the forest were praying too because both of them shared the same God.
This passage touched something in me because it describes how I feel living in the middle of the woods. It is so peaceful here--and sacred--that when friends and family come to visit they unwind into deep relaxation.

I enjoy practicing my T'ai Chi Chih here in the middle of the forest because its peace and silence is amazingly conducive to quiet prayer and meditation. And I feel that my relationship with the trees is deep and abiding. As one neighbor said recently, "I don't feel like I love the trees (which I'm sure he does) but that they love me."

I delved into this evening's TCC practice long after the trees had disappeared into darkness. The scenery before me was my own slight reflection in the window. I missed the trees because it is they--not I--that calm, quiet, and inspire me.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Move, Think & Live like Water

It's a cold, dark day with cooler temperatures set to arrive this evening. Weather reports indicate that tonight's low could be -20 with windchills down to 30 or 40 below zero.

It takes more energy to be out and about in such extreme temperatures, more energy to heat buildings, and more energy to keep one's body warm. Insulated pants and layers of fleece barely manage to cut the chill. But ... those of us who live in the north know just what to do. We keep on going (at least as long as our cars do).

Today's T'ai Chi Chih class was a semi-private affair with two students present. It's wonderful to occasionally teach a smaller class which allows more time to answer individual questions and address personal idiosyncrasies (we all have some of those now don't we?).

Today's discussion of the Tao focused on Verse 78, Living like Water (per Wayne Dyer). The verse begins:
Nothing in the world is softer
and weaker than water.
But for attacking the hard, the unyielding,
nothing can surpass it.
There is nothing like it.

The weak overcomes the strong;
the soft surpasses the hard.
In all the world, there is no one who does not know this,
but no one can master the practice.
And, yet, my friends, this is what we continue to practice with our daily T'ai Chi Chih rehearsals. Not only do we "go with the flow," shifting our weight and moving our hands and arms softly and smoothly--like water--but we also allow our minds to yield, letting go of rigid thought and habit patterns that no longer serve us.

One example of how TCC has helped me to gain the ability to let go of thoughts and expectations occurred last night as I prepared for today's class. I couldn't find a book from which I wished to make copies for class. I quickly realized that, in the past, I'd agonize and search endlessly for the missing book. Last night I easily switched to another version of the Tao, made copies, and let it go. Of course, as soon as I decided to use a different book, the desired book was found. No matter. My work was done....

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What story do you want to tell?

Zero. That's the temperature. In the morning quiet I'm once again overcome by all things white: white sky, white ground, white falling from the sky, white resting on tree branches. Other than the ever-present stark brown presence of tree trunks, the only other shade of color before me is a dark blue-black streak of bruised sky spreading across the rim of the far horizon.

During this morning's T'ai Chi Chih practice I realized one elemental fact: It's not about doing ... it's about being. And, yes, I've thought and heard, realized, and verbalized this vital theme many times before. Yet it's also true that I frequently and  repeatedly forget it.

Is it possible to simply be in your body during your TCC practice? There's no need to push your weight forward. No need to grasp, pull, push, or manipulate balls of energy. No need to bend over, forward or back. Quite simply: no need to do anything.

Just inhabit your body in this moment, now. Experience your connection to earth and sky. Feel your breath. Observe the weight moving along the soles of your feet, back to front, front to back. Notice your arms and hands floating out and away from your body. Notice your thoughts circulating. Let them go.... Pay attention to how good it feels to be wholly in this one slow, relaxed moment as if that's all there is.

That was my morning practice. And ... it felt wonderful. It reminded me of last week's discussion after TCC class practice. One student in the class commented that she allows herself to move with the flow of energy and simply enjoys the feeling it brings. It's obvious when you watch her. She moves softly and smoothly with a look of pure peace and enjoyment on her face.

Too often we get caught up in how we appear, what we think we should do, and what we think we're missing. I was reminded of this fact when Frances and I watched The Audition on DVD last night. This documentary takes the viewer behind the scenes of the 2007 Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions. It brings us into the lives and final preparations of 11 contestants readying themselves for their first appearance on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

The Met staff who coach these 11 hopefuls during their final week of preparation repeatedly remind them: You're telling a story. What is the story you're trying to tell here? You know what you need to do. Just let yourself do it.

For teachers and long-time students of T'ai Chi Chih I believe this same advice holds true. Once you know and have practiced this form over and over again, year after year, your body retains the memory of what needs to occur. All you must do is get out of your own way and follow the energy.

It's clear that the mark of an accomplished singer, musician, actor, or T'ai Chi Chih player is the way in which she or he embodies his or her role. I see many stories told through the way my students move. The tension in their bodies, the busyness in their minds, the need to push through something, the desire to be perceived in a particular way, or a pure unrestrained enjoyment of the practice.

What's most important is the ability to rest in the moment and trust the energy. If I (you) can do that, we can do anything....

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cleaning Teeth, Focusing the Mind

I had another wonderful opportunity to practice T'ai Chi Chih with my mind today while I sat in the dentist's chair. I was partway into the teeth cleaning procedure when it occurred to me to focus my thoughts on TCC in order to elevate my state of relaxation.

And, yes, it worked ... at least somewhat. My mind was challenged by the loud rock music streaming from a radio in the corner of the room and the constant rubbing of the dental instrument against each tooth as the dental hygenist removed plaque.

Nevertheless, Rocking Motion stimulated wonderfully peaceful feelings. I felt as if I could lull myself into a restful state regardless of what befell me. Other forward and back movements such as Daughter on the Mountaintop and Daughter in the Valley were less successful. When I returned home after my appointment, though, I launched into my moving practice and felt quiet and peace as soon as I began.

The windsled in driving back and forth to Madeline Island as of last Saturday and a stable, secure ice road (County Highway H) should appear soon. Temperatures fall below freezing each evening and rise into the teens during the day creating ideal conditions for the ice to thicken.

Connie, the head librarian at Madeline Island Library was at the Bayfield Library today. When I asked her about winter hours at the Madeline Library, she told me that I should venture over to Madeline once the ice road is functional. I can visit the library there just to breathe different book air, I suppose.

After I closed up the library this evening I walked downstairs to attend Bayfield Library's first Cabin Fever presentation of the winter. I listened to the conclusion of Mayor Larry MacDonald's talk about the sustainability trip to Sweden that he and his wife took last October. Ten mayors from around the United States traveled there to learn about and share ideas about further efforts to "green" up their communities.

Yes, change is happening bit by bit. And, as Larry postulated, it's going to be a bottom-up movement as the federal government seems reluctant to initiate change. The Bayfield Pennisula already leads sustainability efforts around the state of Wisconsin and beyond. We have a huge natural resource to preserve here (besides the beautiful forest lands): Lake Superior.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Inner Hyperactivity

It's a wee bit above zero this morning. Light, light, very light snow falls very lightly. I actually wondered whether I was seeing things when I perceived that the air was moving. Then I realized that tiny moist flakes were, indeed, falling. Now--forty-five minutes later--the flakes are larger and more profuse.

No doubt about it ... it was hard to focus my mind during this morning's T'ai Chi Chih practice. Over and over again I returned my attention to the softening of my knees, the movement of my dantienne, the bending and straightening of my knees. Regardless, my mind flew everywhere and settled nowhere.

Despite the quiet and peace that surrounds me I feel amazingly hyperactive inside. Yesterday's performance of Animal Farm may be partly responsible. I'm still elated by the wonderful energy and artistry of the performance.

I, too, have an upcoming performance at Stagenorth on February 4 and 5 when some 20 writers from Love Stories of the Bay read our pieces accompanied by lights, music, and visuals. Since I'm a born introvert I'll rehearse repeatedly--in addition to our two scheduled rehearsals--to instill myself with confidence for a public performance!

Today is an excellent day to engage in a longer seated meditation session because my TCC practice was obviously not enough to center me in the way I'd like before I head off to work this afternoon. So ... I'll settle myself down, become present in the moment, and instill myself with peace right NOW.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Today I didn't rush through my T'ai Chi Chih practice. I moved s-l-o-w-l-y (unlike my practice yesterday). That was due, in large part, to the fact that my body and mind felt tired. I couldn't have moved faster even if I'd tried.

Although today's TCC practice wasn't a rest-and-recline experience it was darn close ... perhaps rest-in-divine-energy or pause-and-refresh. I placed a lot of attention on my knees to ensure that they softened in order to allow the weight to flow slowly and evenly forward and back. It always feels decidedly different to move with an intention of allowing instead of forcing or pushing my body to and fro.

After practice Frances and I drove to Washburn to attend a matinee performance of Animal Farm at Stage North. What a wonderful, creative, thought-provoking, and inspiring production! The play was based on George Orwell's tale about a barnyard filled with animals that revolt against the farmer who owns and mistreats them.

The animals soon discover that their efforts at democracy fail when the pigs take over. All too quickly their revolution tilts in the direction of a dictatorship as Napoleon, one of the pigs, takes charge and asserts his dominance over the rest of the animals.

The final message of the play is that, even though the animals on this farm failed to create an empowered living situation and eventually succumbed to the same swine-inspired greed and abuse as their keepers--the human farmers--there are other farms, other revolutions that have the potential to lead to evolution....

I'm incredibly impressed and in awe of the creativity and talent that lives within the boundaries of our small rural community. And though I felt tired earlier in the day my passion and belief in the creativity and power of the human spirit (as evidenced through the performance of these part human-part puppet animals) is revived. I'm tremendously grateful for theater, music, costuming, puppetry, and visual spectacle. It was animalistic!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Resting in the NOW

I was up early this morning. The day was dark, the temperature hovered near zero, and the fresh-fallen snow was not yet visible.

Okay, I thought, I'll get a jump on this day and practice T'ai Chi Chih first. I got a jump all right. It took me several rotations Around the Platter to realize that my movements were racing at breakneck speed to catch up with my mind and intentions.

I'll do my practice, check it off my list, and carry on with my day. At least, that's what I believe my unconscious consciousness had chosen as its agenda. Unintentionally, of course, I lost my present moment awareness. And, thankfully, I re-membered and recovered it for the remainder of my practice.

This morning I started a book about meditation that I purchased some time ago. Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World by Ed and Deb Shapiro is a wonderfully motivating and inspiring read. The authors include quotes over one hundred meditation practitioners who speak about their experiences of meditation practice such as this observation by Michael Carroll:
Untimately, meditation is resting in the present moment and discovering how to be fully human. I think it only takes a few moments of sitting to realize that we spend a tremendous amount of time out of touch with our life, that we are typically rushing past our experience rather than actually living it, we are rehearsing what we want to say, recollecting what we should have done, hoping, feaing, having all kinds of internal dramas. Meditation trains the mind to recognize this internal drama, chatter, and panic; it gives us an opportunity to observe the charades. In so doing, we can discover a profound depth to our life that had gone overlooked. (p. 21)
Bingo! I'm grateful for a T'ai Chi Chih practice that brings me back into my body, returns me to the present moment, and opens my heart to the beauty of the experience I'm engaged in right now. May my day ahead be filled with present moment awareness as I cook, wash dishes, do laundry.  May I continue to learn how to linger in the present during the remaining moments of my life....

Friday, January 14, 2011

T'ai Chi Chih: Self-Care Tool

Plain and simple: I'm tired. So much so that I just did a five minute T'ai Chi Chih practice to wake me up to my blog.

Today's morning TCC practice was done with a specific goal in mind. I felt anxious about meeting a friend to discuss some rough spots in our friendship so I relied upon my T'ai Chi Chih form to moderate the emotional distress. It worked.

Minutes into my practice I felt at ease and relaxed. By practice end I was centered, clear, and felt (what Justin calls) a growth in certainty. That doesn't mean that there weren't a few difficult moments during our conversation but, all in all, our discussion went well.

The snow has fallen lightly for the past four or five hours and my short night of sleep is catching up with me. It is definitely time to say finis to this day and remove my fingers from the keyboard.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Playful Practice ... Practice Being Playful

Today's new T'ai Chi Chih session reminded me of the need for ongoing group practices. Several students mentioned that they hadn't practiced much on their own since our previous class finished in early November 2010. Yes, group practice is inspiring, motivating, and in many ways essential. Dare I say that practice begets practice? Feeling good reinforces doing more to feel good.

One student asked me after practice why I always smile when we perform the Healing Sounds. I responded: I've always been introverted and rather shy. The Healing Sounds require me to be out there in a way that is a stretch for me. To make these unusual sounds in front of others is not something I would normally choose to do but for the fact that the TCC form includes this series of sounds and movements. All the same, the sounds allow me to release pent up energy that still rests, stagnant, in my body. It's playful and fun. Plus--and perhaps most important--it feels good!

During our discussion one class member said she disliked the fact that we call our T'ai Chi Chih practice a practice. For her it is playful, all-absorbing, transformative, fun, and relaxing. Practice seems to indicate something that is hard work. (I remembered that when I studied T'ai Chi Ch'uan, my teacher called us T'ai Chi players and she often talked about playing with the form.)

Another class member said, for her, practice means that we can always learn more and continue to grow. Perhaps, too, it includes an element of discipline.

For me, practice isn't about merely moving through a specific form. It's about disciplining myself to come back to that form over and over again, day after day, whether I feel like it or not. It requires me to prioritize my practice above other sometimes more appealing options in my day. And it invites me to bring the practice to a deeper level in my life that includes daily self-growth and spiritual transformation.

What does practice mean to you?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Completion and Beginning Anew

Happy to begin another T'ai Chi Chih session tomorrow morning I finalized preparations this afternoon. It is such a gift to share the Chi with others; to move together in silence and unity. I treasure the moments spent in group practice because the energy feels potent, the atmosphere healing, the coordinated movements uplifting.

During this eight week session our class will complete our first full reading and discussion of the Tao Te Ching. We've spent several years working our way through this text by reading and comparing a variety of translations. To reach this point of completion, of course, only means that we can begin anew.

Our next exploration: Buddha's Brain. Now that I've read this text I see many parallels between the lessons learned from over 15 years of T'ai Chi Chih practice and an additional six years of T'ai Chi Ch'uan study, some on-again, off-again seated meditation practice, and other explorations in personal growth and spiritual journeying. There is always more to learn, digest, and integrate. And, for now, Buddha's Brain is the next step.

Today's TCC practice was just that: a solo practice. Time passed quickly, my body moved smoothly, and my nervous system slowed down and relaxed. Today I read about "no self" in Buddha's Brain and Earth Prayers but I'll leave that discussion for another time....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Our mother, which art the earth

Our mother, which art the earth,
Nurturing are thy ways.
Thy web of life be woven
Thy way be found within,
As it is all around.
Thank you this day for our bread and sweat
and forgive us our misuse of you,
as we forgive others their misuse of us.
And lead us not into exploitation,
But deliver us
From lording it over you,
And over each other,
And over all our other fellow creatures.
For thine are the waters of life,
The hills, valleys, and plains of home,
The breeding, seeding, feeding ground,
For now, and for as close to forever
As we will ever come.
Ah, woman!
     Karen Loveland's reworking of the Lord's Prayer
Above are the words which were used with the Earth Dance that I mentioned in my post two days ago (Dancing in the Footsteps of the Divine). They seemed worth sharing since they express a love-filled, non-judgmental, and cooperative view of life on Earth. If it could be so....

And it is. At least insofar as we make a commitment to engage in our individual and collective practices of T'ai Chi Chih or yoga, or T'ai Chi, or Dances of Universal Peace, or centering prayer, or seated meditation, or whatever method quiets the mind and softens the heart. I am a powerful, loving, and kind person who is connected to all of the other living beings on this Earth and my practice reminds me of that.

Day-to-day life can easily pull us out of our quiet, beneficent, compassionate natures. That's why it is important to keep practicing, practicing, practicing.

One of the reasons I mention the natural world so consistently in this blog is because my daily writing offers me the opportunity to center myself in the beauty and peace that surrounds me. I want to notice the earth, the sky, the waters. I want to breathe the air, smell the scents, listen to the sounds, feel the winds, float through the air with the snowflakes, and lift my eyes to the sunbeams. I want to recognize my part in all that is. And I want to grateful for it. All of it. Could it be that that's what Ms. Loveland was trying to express too?

Monday, January 10, 2011


My morning TCC practice was, once again, a welcome preparation for my forthcoming afternoon of work. It's quite easy to find myself caught up in a pre-work rush as I juggle last minute chores with preparations for the long, unbroken, fast-paced demands of my afternoon.

It's a gift, really, to slow my pace, return to my body, notice my breath, and release the tension I've unintentionally accumulated during my morning activities. Today I purposefully brought myself back to center and consciously reduced the speed of my weight shift to switch from my fight-or-flight (SNS, sympathetic nervous system) setting into a rest-and-digest (PNS, parasympathetic nervous system) response.

I'm well into Buddha's Brain and read today that the authors believe the best opportunity for a healthy long life is by maintaining a baseline of parasympathic nervous system arousal with some mild sympathetic nervous system activation for vitality along with occasional SNS spikes to respond appropriately to major opportunities or threats (p. 62). In other words, remain restful and relaxed as much as possible with occasional activation of the (what I call) fright-and-flight response in order to deal with traumatic events.

Wow! How much of my life is spent in the high alert SNS alarm phase when I could be resting comfortably in the relaxing, rejuvenating PNS rest-and-digest phase? Certainly T'ai Chi Chih practice delivers me into this welcome and all-too-infrequent space. And I'm hopeful that Buddha's Brain will increase the information and tools I need to expand my body-mind-spirit into longer, more healthy and healing periods of rest and relaxation.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Dancing in the Footsteps of the Divine

I entered my T'ai Chi Chih practice this morning after Frances and I watched the rising red sun shoot a spike of pink-red light upward into the clouds. The brightening sky morphed into pure white light glittering with silver sparks of tiny tumbling snowflakes. I wanted to be those snowflakes.

Of course I couldn't float and glide and sparkle like teeny bits of moisture but that didn't stand in my way. If it wasn't possible with my body, I could join the shimmering display in my mind. Divine!

Sometime during my practice I thought of Dorcas, one of the first T'ai Chi Chih teachers I met in the late-80s, early-90s. I was in a two-year Psychosnythesis training program with Dorcas and my eventual TCC teacher, Paula. During one of our training breaks Dorcas and Paula invited group members to join them in a T'ai Chi Chih practice and I eagerly accepted their invitation. Although the TCC didn't capture me immediately it was the first step on this path that I continue to follow some 20 years later.

I received an email last week notifying Twin Cities' teachers of a memorial service for Dorcas who died several days before Christmas. I recalled my interview with Dorcas for a story I wrote and published in the Minnesota Women's Press in December 1999, "To dance in the footsteps of the Divine."

By this point in her TCC practice Dorcas had ventured into yet another purpose and passion, an event called Womansong. This evening of song and dance was designed to use women's songs to connect to the feminine face of God. As co-creator of Womansong Dorcas believed that movement helped bring the experience of the divine to a deeper, more personal level than sedentary forms of prayer.

"The sacred is within and without and the movements help me to see that I am connecting with all that is around me, within me, above me, below me," Dorcas told me during our interview, "I discovered when attempting to connect with the sacred that movements with arms extended upward or hands over the heart seem to stir within me certain feelings even more powerful than words."

Dorcas specifically mentioned Daughter on the Mountain Top as one TCC movement that felt like a prayer. She continued, "I've decided that if everybody danced, we wouldn't be at war because you can't dance and fight at the same time. There is such power in dancing together." (Justin Stone, the creator of TCC, does not call TCC dance although he does believe that if everyone did TCC practice, there wouldn't be war.)

Another interviewee for the story, Hiyalah Indiga, developed Earth Dance, an interplay of words and motions formulated from a reworking of the Lord's Prayer originally attributed to Karen Loveland, a member of Unity Church in Santa Rosa, California. Hiyalah told me, "When you connect with your body, you connect with your breath and you connect with that flow of energy in your body. I think that's a spiritual experience and I think that can be like a prayer."

Indeed, my experience practicing T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation led me to propose this story idea to the editor of the Women's Press in the first place. At that point in my TCC journey I realized that I wasn't simply meditating during my TCC practice, I was also engaging in prayer. As I summed up in the final paragraph of the Women's Press story:
To open our hearts, minds and bodies to the renewing effects of free-flowing energy, to move and truly experience the life force first-hand, may be among the most satisfying and suitable ways for us to express our reverence and gratitude in prayer.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Deeply Nurturing

I was thrilled to learn that my sister began studying T'ai Chi Ch'uan and qigong this week. She attended two classes and has already noticed improvements in her sleep and stress levels.

Her teacher, Barbara Feldman, in Charles Town, WV, also teaches karate and Push Hands and has this to say about the benefits of T'ai Chi Ch'uan (Winter Newsletter 2011):
     T'ai Chi Chuan is a wonderful practice. Health benefits include reduction of stress; improvements in cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, and immune systems; more energy; better posture; better balance; more muscle tone and strength. Mental improvements include increased awareness of one's body and mind; ability to relax; improvement in cognitive functions such as attention, concentration, learning, and memory. Overall benefits include greater calm and a sense of connectedness with others and with the world around us.
Sound familiar? Of course the above benefits come from practices--including T'ai Chi Chih--that focus on balancing and circulating the vital force energy or Chi. Feldman also mentions other important elements in addition to the basic form which include: correct posture, relaxation, awareness of breath, and meditation.

She explains the significance of these elements in the following way:
Like the stone in stone soup, the form is the force that brings all of the ingredients together. But without the other ingredients, the soup has no nutritional value and the form is empty, just gentle exercise. With the other ingredients, the soup, the form, is deeply nurturing.
I agree. Feldman's wonderful description of how all ingredients combine to create the perfect dish is apropos. And though I've never called T'ai Chi Chih nurturing I could immediately relate to her metaphor.

My TCC practice this afternoon was deeply quiet, relaxing, calming and, yes, nurturing. When I do my practice, I'm not only taking care of myself, I'm caring for myself. And that, my friends, is a wonderful loving gift to give to your one and only.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Power Within

Oh, it's much more fun to practice T'ai Chi Chih when I feel good! Today's practice zoomed by as I listened to music and focused, as usual, on softness and flow.

It was a cold day today. To be honest, I didn't venture outside once. Instead I worked in the kitchen from dawn to dusk. I spent the day cooking vegetable stock, barley-seitan-kale stew, carrot-orange salad, black-eyed peas and collard greens, and squash stuffed with cranberry-orange filling. Mmmm. Delicious.

The weather report on the radio focused on sub-zero windchills (25-30 degrees below zero). When I checked I saw a prediction for 4-6 inches of snow. It's cold enough outside that the geese won't emerge from their little house and Frances keeps their heat lamp turned on full time.

It's wonderful to have time and space to stay home and not have to go out or drive anywhere. I don't feel like I'm missing anything as I have unending projects to complete at home.

In search of thought-provoking and inspiring reading I turned to The Little Zen Companion today and happened upon a piece by Gary Snyder entitled "Without":
the silence
of nature

the power within.
the power


the path is whatever passes--no
end in itself.

the end is,

not saving.

the proof

the proof of the power within.
Ah, yes....

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Just another short, cold, grey day. Snow flurries throughout the morning with a big snowstorm to come (according to a library patron I ran into while running errands).

Today I felt tired and run down. Still do. Mid-afternoon Frances and I drove to Ashland (about 35 miles away) to pick up a homeopathic remedy at the food coop.

Interestingly, no matter how I feel during the rest of the day as long as I am in my TCC practice I feel pretty good (and usually very good). Practice over, I'm ready to relax. Soon I'll be tucked into bed for a long winter's nap....

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Perpetual T'ai Chi Chih Practice

The day is cold and grey with occasional snowflakes. It's barely above zero but Chiripa, the cat insists on sitting motionless below the bird feeder. She's not waiting for birds. No, she hopes that a hungry shrew will poke its nose out of the snow in search of seeds. And ... Chiripa will be there to greet it.

My stomach is unhappy today. It's reminding me of its discontent with moments of sharp pain and episodes of roiling and rolling. I feel as if I'm aboard a ship on a rough sea.

I cancelled my plans for this evening. And I discovered by calling the library that there's a stomach Bug going around.

When I finally dragged myself into my T'ai Chi Chih practice, I discovered that I felt better while I moved. I'm reminded of the notion: Where attention goes, energy flows. As long as I focus on my movements and the scene outside the patio door I feel okay. When I sit down again and remember the stomach pain, I feel the discomfort.

I think to myself: Why can't I stay in a perpetual state of T'ai Chi Chih practice no matter what I'm doing? And so that becomes my focus. How do I keep my attitude, focus, and behavior hopeful, positive, and relaxed despite what my body may be experiencing? The experiment has begun....

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Floating through Air

I woke to sub-zero temperatures and beautiful sunshine. When I looked out the patio door, sparkling glints of snow glided through the air in front of me.

Frances went outside first today. I asked her, "Is the wind stirring up snow already lying aground--it doesn't look that way--or is it, indeed, snowing?"

Her response: Oh, it's snowing. It's so cold that the humidity in the air freezes and falls to the ground as snow....

Brrr. I had a choice: Practice T'ai Chi Chih at the south end of the house where I could soak in the light and warmth of the sun while I moved or practice in a room on the north end of the house in the dark, cold, and quiet. Due to feelings of light deprivation I opted for light over silence.

I admired the beautiful, dainty, almost-invisible snow shower throughout my practice. The sparkles lifted my spirits and I floated gently through the air just like those miniature flakes. Practice flew by. Now I'm off to a busy, productive, full day of work.

Monday, January 3, 2011

God's Yellow Face

I practice T'ai Chi Chih this morning in bright coldness. The sun shines even as clouds drape themselves across the sky. I stare into the light and invite it to enter my eyes as if I could direct its brightness into the very center of my being.

I remember a passage from the novel, Room. The book is written from the perspective of a five-year-old boy who spends his first five years trapped in a single room with his mother until they both escape. Here's how Jack describes his natural surroundings after he finds freedom (p. 268):
God's yellow face has a cloud on top. Colder suddenly. The world is always changing brightness and hotness and soundness, I never know how it's going to be the next minute.
That's the way I feel living in the middle of the woods. One day--or one hour's--collection of weather, atmosphere, sun, wind, and clouds constantly shifts, changes, reorganizes. It's up to me to adjust to what is.

My right shoulder aches during my TCC practice. I remind myself to relax, open, and release any stress I hold in that area. And, again, by practice end I feel better, quieter, more relaxed, and ready to depart for my world of work....

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Well, the blanket was thrown back off the sky today and the day was clear and bright. Brrr. And cold.

I took a mid-afternoon walk and bundled myself up in a down coat, thick mittens, a lambswool scarf, and several layers of fleece. It was a beauty-filled walk. The sky changed from blue to pink and lavender and clouds floated across the blue like luscious clots of cream.

Huge paw prints traveled down the road I walked. My guess? Wolf tracks. It was exhilarating to be out on my solo trek and ... infinitely quiet.

When I returned home, I segued into my T'ai Chi Chih practice. It took me a number of movements, though, to realize that I moved as if I were still on my heart healthy hike. I no longer needed to elevate my heart rate. Consequently, moment by moment I slowed, relaxed, softened, and let go.

And gradually my TCC practice entrained me into the deep quiet and darkness of night settling 'round me.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Power and Potency of a New Year

Ah, a new year. Today we turn the calendar from a year past into the year yet to be. There is a feeling of power and potential that enters our psychic space at the beginning of a new set of 365 days.

Of course, today's T'ai Chi Chih practice was much the same as always. Still, in 2010 I practiced--and blogged about my practice--every single day without fail. Perhaps many TCC teachers think that accomplishment is insignificant. But for me, personally, it feels like a major milestone after recent years spent struggling with health and survival issues.

I spent the better part of today cooking healthy, appealing, yummy food. In late afternoon I turned on the Prayer for Peace CD and began my TCC practice in a dark room with my dark shadow playing against a window that revealed an ever-darkening woods and yard.

Unexpectedly I thought about Mike, the apartment manager at a building I called home for eight years over 16 years ago. Mike was a t'ai chi ch'uan instructor who used the basement as his studio and practice space. He graciously allowed me to use that same space to practice my t'ai chi ch'uan form and, eventually, t'ai chi chih.

Mike moved with a softness, effortlessness, and bonelessness that defied understanding. When I saw Mike move, I knew that I had many hours and years of practice yet to invest in my own form. Thank you, Mike, for inspiring and encouraging me in a subtle, unspeakable, and, perhaps, unintended way.

Here's to a New Year--2011--that is filled with many practice hours intended to bring peace, relaxation, and healing to us all. May we each feel compassion, kindness, and understanding for all living beings. And may we all continue to learn how to live in harmony with our Mother the Earth. Namaste.