Thursday, March 31, 2011

Flying without Wings

Wednesday, March 30, 2011:

This evening's T'ai Chi Chih continuing class was quieter than quiet (or, as I said at class end, Louder than silence). It feels as though we've turned a corner into a new experience of peace, quiet, and relaxation. It's hard to identify what's shifted but, somehow, it feels as though members of the class have--intentionally or not--drifted into a new experience with T'ai Chi Chih group practice.

The beginning class, on the other hand, is entirely different. Out of seven class sessions I've given two classes that were private lessons. It's highly unusual if any student comes to class for more than one or two consecutive class sessions. This makes it difficult to teach the form in a connected and constructive way. Still, that's what T'ai Chi Chih is all about: Go with the flow.

That's my challenge: Meet the students where they are and don't force them to fit into my format or my expectations about how a class should proceed. It obviously won't work when students don't come to class!

Given the political unheaval and earth changes occurring over recent months I remain cognizant of the distractibility and distress that's circulating within and around us all. When I continue with my own personal TCC practice day by day, I hope that that constancy and certainty offer stability and hope to those around me (including my students).

Thursday, March 31, 2011, 1:30 p.m.:

We had a lively, inspiring conversation about Buddha's Brain in today's TCC class. We're just beginning Chapter 2 and, the way we're progressing, it's likely that we'll take months, maybe years, to complete the entire book. Nevertheless, I'm thoroughly enjoying our slow, talkative, enlightening, and participatory journey through the material in the book.

I'm reminded of Entry #16 in The Second Book of the Tao:
You have heard of flying with wings,
but can you fly without wings?
You have heard of the knowledge that knows,
but can you practice
the knowledge that doesn't know?

Consider a window: it is just
a hole in the wall, but because of it
the whole room is filled with light.
Thus, when the mind is open
and free of its own thoughts,
life unfolds effortlessly,
and the whole world is filled with light.
Yes! Buddha's Brain is a window into another way of looking at the world, examining our brains and minds, and exploring our attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and our lives. As Stephen Mitchell explains in his commentary about Entry #16, "Wisdom is not something, to grasp or to have. When you discover the extent of your own ignorance, it's like a revelation.... Eventually you realize that there's nowhere the light doesn't penetrate, nowhere the non-wings can't fly." (pp. 32-33)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Effortless Flow

T'ai Chi Chih mania! That's how it feels when I look for moments, corners, and opportunities in which to slip a T'ai Chi Chih practice into my ever-expanding life.

This morning while I waited for a T'ai Chi Chih student (who's helping to coordinate the discussion on Buddha's Brain) to arrive I switched into a bright white light TCC practice. Yes, there's some anxiety about facilitating the discussion on Buddha's Brain since the material is complex and multi-layered. Somehow, though, when I include my T'ai Chi Chih practice in the mix, the atmosphere relaxes and becomes more manageable.

My body felt tight today. But now, after practice, I feel alert, relaxed, and ready to meet with my co-conspirator. Hopefully, the creativity and ideas will flow effortlessly....

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunshine En-Light-enment

Another beautiful, sunshine-filled day. Somehow life feels easier, more upbeat, and en-light-ening on a day like today.

My morning challenge? To maintain my concentration and focus after friends arrived during my T'ai Chi Chih practice. The designated plan: they would collaborate with Frances on spring seed planting. Our multi-windowed, sun-filled porch could serve as the perfect greenhouse for both our friends and ourselves.

Upon their arrival conversation was plentiful and, occasionally, loud and political in nature. I soon realized how difficult it was for me to disengage from discussions about our town even when I was located in the room above. Once again, I was presented with an important lesson in letting go. I chose to bring my concentration into single-pointed focus. And, subsequently, my mind wasn't as easily drawn away from my practice and into the political fray.

Now I'm tuned up and ready to head off to a busy day at work....

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March-ing Toward Spring

Saturday, March 26, 2011:

This morning was filled with beautiful slow-falling snowflakes that gently and completely covered the Earth. Later we and our guests drove into Bayfield to visit the public library. We then took an hour walk along the Brownstone Trail that follows the lakeshore away from town.

My T'ai Chi Chih practice occurred in early evening as our friend and her two teenage sons argued about which movies to watch during our white sheet screening of action adventure? or documentary? films. Frankly, I was grateful to be upstairs away from the controversy.

It felt wonderful and rejuvenating to take time and space for myself. And, since it didn't matter to me which films we watched, I was perfectly happy to move and sway and circle the Chi. Though it wasn't quiet--the verbal jousting was repetitive and unceasing until some compromise was reached--I remained centered and (literally) above the fray.

Sunday, March 27, 2011:

Today is bright and shining. We had a late morning breakfast with our friends before they headed back to their home. It was wonderful to have guests and also wonderful to have peace and quiet restored to the homefront after they left.

My mid-afternoon T'ai Chi Chih practice (again held in the upstairs bedroom) was delightfully silent. No words spoken, no sounds filtered up from the main floor, no evidence at all that Frances and the dog and cat were located somewhere on the main floor beneath my feet.

While I moved I watched sunlight filter through the bedroom windows, noticed the stripes of tree trunk shadows lying atop the snow cover, and drenched myself in quiet. In the silence of a Sunday mid-afternoon I felt the Chi vibrating through my fingertips and felt gratitude for the presence (and departure) of friends....

Friday, March 25, 2011

Resting for a Time

Yep. You can tell spring is on its way when circles of bare ground appear at the feet of tree trunks. It's exciting!

Last night Frances and I attended Stagenorth's production of Dancing at Lughnasa. Set in 1936 Ballybeg, Ireland, it's the tale of five sisters surviving at the edges of poverty. Their struggle is made easier when they unexpectedly burst into dance or song. They've realized, as I have, that movement lightens the heart and eases the mind.

Our out-of-town guests arrive later this afternoon which means we're all a-scurry. The theme of the day: clean-clean-clean, sort-sort-sort.

My late morning T'ai Chi Chih practice (standing) was--once again--a wonderful respite from the never-ending theme of clean-cook-organize-pick up. I watched the steady trees outside the bedroom window and marveled at their dry feet while wondering about their (also dry?) roots.

Practice was nothing spectacular. Still, it brought me into the quiet moment and allowed me to rest there for a time....


I received word late last night that my Cornucopia class will go forward next week despite the fact that we have six students signed up (two fewer than the minimum requirement). Tres bien! Even better ... my knee is improving.

I can't say enough about the efficacy of Glucosamine. Though my doctor expresses doubts about the benefits of this joint supplement I swear that, after re-purchasing this supplement several days ago, I feel instant relief. And, perhaps, my seated practice helped too.

I stood for both of last night's classes without incident. And I did my own private practice tonight while standing. It felt immensely good to be up and moving. Now, late into the night, I've done my practice and, sad to say, words fail me. It's time for bed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Inhabiting the Moment

As it turned out the Bayfield pennisula was safely north of the snow zone. Hayward, a town 70 miles south of us, received about 14 inches of snow. Our accumulation? An inch. Perhaps.

The vast majority of people I talked to regarding our lack of snow said: That's alright with me. We slid through spring equinox last weekend and virtually everyone is all wintered out. Snow, begone!

My two T'ai Chi Chih classes went well this evening. Last week I invited advanced students to bring in articles or Taoist readings they're like to share with the group. Ask and you shall receive.

Tonight a student brought in and read to the group a wonderful contribution from The Second Book of the Tao. Entry 5 (p. 10) begins:
The ancient Masters saw deeply.
How deep was their insight?
They realized that nothing exists.
This is perfect understanding.
I harkened back to the reading during our group practice. So often I see students (and myself!?!) trying to accomplish something through their movements. Perhaps they decide that the movement needs to look a certain way or proceed at a certain pace or, more often, they aren't really aware of what they're doing at all.

What happens when we realize that there is nothing to do? Nowhere to go? What do we experience when we decide that we don't need to shape or manipulate our movements?

We must learn to have patience, to inhabit the movements in all of their fullness, and to trust that the practice will unfold as it is meant to. Since nothing persists we must inhabit this moment, this movement, now....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Blizzard Mania

Blizzard warnings predict up to a foot of snow. Area residents are on high alert. And a near-to-closing library patron mentioned that Bayfield school cancelled tomorrow's classes. So far, though, no snow.

The winds are incredibly heavy. The front door of the library was forced partially open by the frigid breezes while numerous library patrons came inside looking as though they'd just escaped subzero windchills.

I wouldn't mind hunkering down tomorrow and "putting up with" a snow day. I feel exhausted from my tax accountant meeting and more than ready for a wee bit of time off.

Tonight's seated T'ai Chi Chih practice was a nice variation from a rush-rush day. My body relaxed as soon as I drifted into Resting Position. The energy felt strong (Could it be because everything is being blown about as if a mini-tornade invaded the area?).

I'm ready to relax, retreat, and see what tomorrow brings....

Monday, March 21, 2011

Prosperity, Happiness, Presence

I recalled my February 18th post when I talked with my aunt today. There I quoted a story ("Real Prosperity") from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones in which Sengai tells a rich man that true prosperity and happiness occur when families, generation after generation, pass away in this order: "Father dies, son dies, grandson dies." This, said Sengai, is the natural order of life.

In my aunt's life this order has been interrupted. Not only did Esther experience the death of one of her daughters last week but she also lost a son to brain cancer many years ago. Now, at 89, she has lost two of three children. It's obvious that these losses weigh on her and bring her great sadness (perhaps even compromising her own health and survival).

Yes, all too often life presents us with timely opportunities to experience and learn from the wisdom of the masters.

For the first time in six years it appears that I may not have enough registrations for a TCC class that is scheduled to begin this week. Though I feel saddened I also realize that here, too, the timing is appropriate. Given the pain and strain on my feet and legs perhaps I have something else I need to accomplish or pursue during the next few months. Though it is not immediately obvious I trust that whatever path I need to follow will soon make itself known.

Tonight's TCC practice came at the end of a very full day: tax preparation, tearful phone conversation with my aunt, six hours of work at the library, an after work errand, and then (finally) TCC practice. I know that my legs and feet feel better since I've taken to practicing while seated. And so, I launched into another seated practice.

The cat lounged on the couch directly in front of me and lazily arched her back and stretched her paws toward me as I circled energy in her direction. Today is trailing to a close and tomorrow--yes, tomorrow--may deliver one foot of new snow to these north woods....

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Living the Dance

Today we awoke to new snow. Awww. Just when spring seemed within reach with temperatures warming and snow melting, winter returned to celebrate spring equinox. I can't complain. It is absolutely beautiful outside, refreshingly pure and white.

Seated T'ai Chi Chih practice becomes easier each day. When I told Frances today that I struggle to adjust to seated practice, she immediately responded: It's not dance anymore. Justin Stone often cautions: T'ai Chi Chih is not a dance. Yet for those of us who have a history and/or special love affair with movement and dance T'ai Chi Chih speaks to our 'inner dancer.'

I realize that the transition from a standing to seated practice requires change and change can be a challenge. During tonight's practice I felt more accepting of that challenge. The first few days I tried seated T'ai Chi Chih I regretted that I hadn't taken notes at the August 2010 T'ai Chi Chih Teachers' Conference when someone instructed us in a seated practice. I vainly hoped I'd remember the cues and clues.

Now, months later, I realize that, while it's helpful to rely on other people's experience and expertise, I'm perfectly capable of finding ways to practice seated T'ai Chi Chih that work for me and others. All it takes is practice, practice, practice.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Focus: Inside

Day Two of T'ai Chi Chih seated practice. I moved--umm, sat--in the peaceful sunniness of the porch.

Yes. It's hard for me to remain seated while I go through the form. I prefer to stand up and move. And still, I remained seated.

Perhaps I'm going through a whole new phase of my training. I am certainly aware of other TCC teachers who, due to knee problems or the like, sat through their practices for weeks and sometimes months. And, of course, many elders in nursing and retirement homes, do TCC practice from a chair. Why does it bother me?

I'm reminded of entry #49 from The Second Book of the Tao by Stephen Mitchell. I quote it in its entirety (p. 98):
Chi Hsing-tzu was training a gamecock for the king. After ten days, the king asked if the bird was ready for combat. "No, Your Majesty," said Chi. "He's arrogant, always ready to pick a fight. He's still relying on his own strength."
     Another ten days passed, and the king asked again. Chi said, "No, Sire, not yet. He still becomes excited when a rival bird appears."
     Ten more days. The king asked again. "Not yet," Chi said. "He still gets an angry glint in his eye."
     Another ten days, another question. Chi said, "Now, Sire, he's almost ready. When a rival crows, he doesn't react. He stands motionless like a block of wood. His focus is inside. Other birds will take one look at him and run."
Obviously, I'm not training for a cock fight. But this lesson speaks volumes. Seated or standing I can feel the energy (Chi). Seated, as well as standing, I can lead from my center. The major difference between these two modes of practice lies in my mind. I can do the seated moves fairly easily. But I chafe at the realization that I'm limited in my physical abilities.

I enjoy the relaxed flow that I experience while standing. I like how I look. I enjoy how it feels. But in order for me to get the most out of these seated practices I need to let go of my desires and expectations. I must not react to the circumstances that placed me in this chair. I need to "focus inside" where the battle is being waged, quiet the Monkey Mind, and be at peace with what Is.

This, I gather, is the time to begin with this training. Seated or standing. Now.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sitting through Practice

Home chore day. I finished a number of projects but tax prep still looms in the background. Over the next two days I'll gather and organize information for our appointment with the accountant on Tuesday AM.

Because I committed myself to a seated T'ai Chi Chih practice today I followed through with that plan. I much prefer standing for my practice but with the current pain in my feet and knee it's best to take a break.

As darkness fell from the sky I sat in an armless chair on the porch and went through the TCC form. It's interesting to feel the energy even though I'm not literally shifting my weight. Of course, I still lead with my t'an t'ien which results in a definite feeling of forward and back movement. Still, I have yet to master the sideways movements while seated.

If I continue a seated practice over the upcoming days, I imagine that I'll begin to recognize the best way to accommodate the restrictions/constrictions to my movements that sitting down requires.

Now, though, it's time to r-e-l-a-x....

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stand? No, Sit.

It's been one heck of a day. I received news that one of my cousins died unexpectedly yesterday morning. Then I spent several hours talking on the phone with another cousin and one of my brothers. All too quickly the family dynamics began to percolate and circulate.

By late afternoon when I began my T'ai Chi Chih practice, I was eager for peace, quiet, and healing energy to flood my body/mind. And partway through practice the sun emerged from behind its daylong cloud cover and I immediately felt better ... lighter.

My knee gave out on me again today. It's obviously time for me to engage in some seated practice. Unfortunately, I don't remember that I should do so until I'm into my practice and my knee collapses. Also during this time of year when the days are lengthening and the sun is shining I want to be out and moving. And so ... that's my intention for tomorrow: sit down and practice. No excuses.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

T'ai Chi Chih Fertilizer = Growth

After teaching two back-to-back T'ai Chi Chih classes tonight the bottoms of my feet hurt! And, in the middle of my first class, my knee started to give out. Still, despite my physical dis-abilities my mind and spirit feel energized, calm, and light (with regard to both weight and color).

One student brought a favorite Tao te Ching reading to advanced class (Verse 56). It states, in part:
Who knows
doesn't talk.
Who talks
doesn't know....

Then you can't be controlled by love
or by rejection.
You can't be controlled by profit
or by loss.
You can't be controlled by praise
or by humiliation.
Then you have honor under heaven.
This student was quick to add that you can't be controlled by profit or by loss ... or by politicians. Given the current state of our local, state, and national politics, that's a comforting thought.

We had a lively and funny discussion after our advanced class practice as we played with refining movements. One student who just started taking a yoga class said that his teacher told the class, "The grass grows by itself." He asked: Could that be Taoist philosophy? It could.

Another student piped up: It sounds like kids. And ... it sounds like all of us, young and old. T'ai Chi Chih practice can be the fertilizer that stimulates our growth. If we absorb the light that shines upon and within us, we'll undoubtedly grow into a healthy, hearty garden.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Resiliency Plus

It's a crazy world! Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor destruction in Japan and our government proclaims that nothing similar could happen here in the U.S. Denial. It's more than the name of a river in Egypt.

Here in Wisconsin demonstrations have continued for four weeks over the union-busting (and monarchical)actions of our newly-elected govenor. The chasm between people of different political persuasions and class backgrounds continues to widen. In the rural area where I live budget cuts will weaken our small communities and contribute to unemployment rather than create jobs as Gov. Walker promised.

Of course, there's also the civil unrest in Libya, Bahrain, and Egypt. How does one stay sane in the midst of natural disasters and political and economic unheaval?

Practice T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation. That's one option at the very least. Today I practiced TCC twice, once in the morning and once in the evening. While we're being lambasted with disasterous news, it helps to begin and end the day with peace and, even, hope. The human spirit is incredibly resilient. And, thankfully, T'ai Chi Chih practice reminds me of that fact.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Taking T'ai Chi Chih to the Twin Cities

Saturday, March 12, 2011, 4:45 p.m.:

I'm lounging in our room at The Saint Paul Hotel--thanks to the generosity of friends--prior to going out for dinner then attending the Minnesota Opera's performance of La Traviata. It's the lifestyle of the rich and famous and I'll gladly adopt it for one evening to experience how the other 'half' (err, 10%) lives.

We spent the day visiting with our friends and eating good food. I practiced T'ai Chi Chih while several of our group ate breakfast. Looking out a window downhill into our friends' backyard and beyond I was struck by how dense city living is: house by house by house, backyard neighboring backyard. There's a constant roar of traffic and planes. Each household's actions, behaviors, and noise levels affect the next. (Obviously I've grown used to the rural woodland lifestyle!)

It felt good to slowly move, touching peace and tranquility in the midst of a small house filled with four adults and one dog. Later in the day I overheard the voices of my friends as they rose in volume and intensity and I kept my cool.

To start the day quietly is an enormous blessing.

Sunday, March 13, 2011:

During this morning's T'ai Chi Chih practice I looked down upon Rice Park from our room on the eighth floor of The Saint Paul Hotel. We were higher than the seagulls (or pigeons?) who spiralled up from the park to roost on the roof of the Ordway Theater and the Landmark Center.

It's a lazy Sunday morning with sparse traffic and a perfectly positioned view of the St. Paul Cathedral which dominates the scene. I have a birds' eye view of the winged ones and the street action.

Today we'll head back to the woods but first, breakfast with one pair of friends and lunch with another. I'd like to squeeze in more socializing but think it best to moderate my activity levels since we'll drive five hours this afternoon/evening and then off to work tomorrow.

I'm incredibly grateful to have these precious TCC practice minutes each day in order to return myself to sanity in the midst of challenging times (Japan's earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor failures being just one example).

Monday, March 14, 2011, 8:30 p.m.:

I slept so soundly last night that I didn't realize the cat tried to wake me until I got out of bed and discovered a bloody scratch across one cheek. Yes, friends, I'm back home--home, sweet home--once again.

I experienced terrible stomach upset yesterday during the drive home and eventually vomited up breakfast and lunch. So ... a good night's sleep was a welcome tonic for my ailing body.

Though exceedingly tired today, I practiced TCC before heading to work and moved at half-speed most of the day. By late afternoon I re-membered myself. And now--now--I'll practice some more moving meditation to continue my healing process....

Friday, March 11, 2011

Be Like a Bird Who ...

Thursday, March 18, 2011, 3:00 p.m.

It's a sun drenched 40 degree day. Immediately after this morning's T'ai Chi Chih class Frances, Namaste, and I left for the Twin Cities. It's a wonderful travel day: warm, bright, and shining. Patches of earth and grass peek through snowy fields where deer graze quietly. I expect we'll see more snow at our Twin Cities' destination since that area received more winter storms thus far this year.

In my rush to get out of town I arrived at class in a flustered flurry. I gratefully grew into stillness as we practiced T'ai Chi Chih and sat together for 15 minutes of quiet meditation.

My overactive mind and body relaxed so much during class, in fact, that I napped in the car during the first three hours of travel. TCC class was a wonderful transition from a hurried, over full week into/toward a relaxing weekend getaway. I look forward to visiting with friends and relatives and attending my first opera on Saturday night.

I'm back to writing in my traveling journal since I'm unsure whether an opportunity to sit at a keyboard will present itself. Oh, joy! a welcome respite from a regular schedule and daily habits and patterns!

Friday, March 11, 2011, 1:30 p.m.

We're comfortably settled into the house of two friends in St. Paul. I stayed 'home' this afternoon while Frances and one friend ventured to the Minnesota Textile Center. Me? I'll happily practice T'ai Chi Chih, blog, read, take the dog for a walk, and nap. With my energy renewed, I'll be ready for more visiting or an outing this evening.

This is what I know about myself. The older I grow and the more I practice moving and seated meditation, the happier I am living quietly and simply. When I honor the energy (or lack thereof) that is available to me in this moment, I gradually learn to respect my limits. When I respect my limits--my Self--I'm less inclined to feel that I'm missing out when others take off adventuring. I allow myself to be filled with--and comforted by--the peace and silence that surrounds me in the quiet place I inhabit in this moment.

Today's TCC practice was wonderful and refreshing. With all humans out of the house I positioned myself in front of a mirrored wall and watched not only my reflected self but another shadow of myself that mirrored back to me from a glass door. Two selves: one identifiable in her black pants, lavender turtleneck, and tennis shoes, and another who had a similar shape but who was dressed entirely in black.

I quickly realized that I was more accepting and nonjudging of my shadow self than I was of the reflection that was the more accurate representation of me. The shadow didn't need to look or move a certain way. The identifiable Steph did. Whew. I consciously focused on my shadow and appreciated the feelings of relaxation that flowed into me. (It felt much better to focus on what's inside instead of being waylaid by outward physical appearance.)

I found this framed quote on my friend's desk and decided to include it on this blog because in a certain way it, too, is Taoist philosophy:
Be like a bird
Who halting in her flight
On a limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath her
Yet sings, sings
Knowing she has wings
Yet sings, sings
Knowing she has wings

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Finding The Way

Tonight's T'ai Chi Chih classes were 1) supremely quiet and 2) incredibly relaxing to the point that I thought one of my students might fall asleep while standing and moving! There is so much political turmoil in this state right now which isn't being resolved. Consequently, it's imperative that residents experience some stress-free time in order to balance high levels of anxiety along with feelings of disenfranchisement.

The continuing class practice was quiet to the point where I could hear the swish and swipe of pants leg rubbing against pants leg. During the beginning class my two students were exceedingly focused and relaxed as well. Actually, it's relatively easy to teach when students truly relax and let go.

I read an excerpt from The Tao of Inner Peace by Diane Dreher to my continuing class. Dreher's words explore the meaning of Tao Te Ching, verse 48, which reads, in part,
When seeking knowledge,
Much is acquired.
When seeking Tao,
Much is discarded.
Dreher explains (p. 84):
    The Tao teaches openmindedness, freedom from the tyranny of custom and authority. Much of what passes in the world for knowledge is intellectual clutter that keeps us from thinking for ourselves. The knowledge we find in the classroom, in books, newspapers, or on television is mainly the experience and opinion of others. Some of this knowledge may be true, but we forfeit our intellectual independence if we accept it at face value. The Tao says not to let anyone else do our thinking for us.
     Tao people study life. They listen to others and weigh their opinions. But they make their own decisions, follow inner guidance and the cycles of Tao.
After several days (or more!) of intense busyness it was indeed wonderful to experience slowness, quiet, and space. It's my hope that the deep quiet of practice allows TCC practitioners to listen, weigh, follow their inner guidance, and make their own decisions. That's the beauty, power, and lasting benefit of reading the Tao and practicing T'ai Chi Chih. Each one, philosophy and practice, is intertwined with the other and both allow us to use our intellect, experience, and intuition to find The Way.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Loosening and Lightening

This has been a very long day. My morning practice seems as though it happened days ago. And now, some nine hours later, I'm happy to dispense with this day.

Many people commented on today's special beauty. The sun shone brightly and, with clean, fresh snow sprinkled everywhere, the world felt wonderfully alive.

During my T'ai Chi Chih practice I watched unceasing activity around the bird feeder. Squirrels and birds, a woodpecker, and a huge raven visited the feeder, flying and dashing in every direction. More snow is predicted for the remainder of the week but, for this day alone, there's glorious, fabulous sunshine.

Yesterday one of my co-workers was diagnosed with pneumonia and another with bronchitis. It felt lonely at work as I handled patron requests and phone calls by myself. Though I'm sure that my pre-work TCC practice placed me in the proper frame of mind now, after six hours of complaints and complications, I wish I'd launched into a few minutes of practice to balance the constant demands of customer service.

It takes practice and experience to be able to easily allow people's anger and frustration to simply slide off me and flow into the Earth. At the moment I feel tired from a demanding day but if I take just a few minutes to revisit my TCC practice, I'm sure that my mood with lift and my energy lighten.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Rooted in What is Real

Today's fresh fallen snow whitened and brightened the landscape. Nevertheless, library patrons commented that they felt ready for the snow to be gone. Typically, March is the month when we receive our greatest accumulation of snow. After the next few weeks it's likely that we'll move from snow and ice season into the stickiness and stuckiness of mud.

This morning's TCC practice was a needed respite from overwhelming feelings of tiredness. For one-half hour all was well with the world. Or, at the very least, everything slowed down.

A student brought Stephen Mitchell's The Second Book of the Tao to class last week. I began reading through it today and found it wonderfully simple and enlightening. This book, published in 2009, adapts the teachings of Lao-tzu's disciple Chuang-tzu and Confucius' grandson Tzu-ssu. What emerges is a fresh, humorous, insightful, and easily accessible look at the Tao.

Here's an example, Verse 18 (p. 36):
Step beyond yourself.
Step beyond the whole world.
Step beyond all existence.
When you penetrate that far,
you will shine with the original brightness.
You will realize that you are alone
in the vast universe
and that all things are nothing but you.
You will slough off past and present
and will enter the place
where there is neither being nor non-being.

The Master remains peaceful
in the midst of continual change.
There is nothing that can disturb her,
nothing that she finds unacceptable.
She welcomes all beings,
watches as they come and go,
and stays rooted in what is real.
That, my friends, is what happens when we keep returning to our T'ai Chi Chih practice. We learn, moment by moment, how to stay rooted in what is real....

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Silence for 'Sensitives'

Snow falls through the darkness. It's a quiet day after last night's party that rebounded with loud conversations. I'm grateful for the silence. A friend who's also a "highly sensitive person" told me on the phone today that noise is one of the hardest things for highly sensitives to handle. I'm living proof. I started today feeling weighed down with exhaustion. After a day of quiet I'm gradually beginning to regenerate and regain some vitality.

My evening T'ai Chi Chih practice was enormously quiet. Frances, Namaste, and Chiripa were all outside doing chores. With no distractions near at hand I drifted through my practice in peaceful tranquility. Now, though, I feel a bone deep weariness beckoning me to bed.

It's a good time to cease and desist with my writing since my brain seems to be stuck in neutral. Ahhh. The day is done....

Mid-Night T'ai Chi Chih Practice

Saturday, March 5, 2011 (early Sunday morn):

Well, it is 2:15 on Sunday morning but as far as I'm concerned it's still Saturday night. After a whirlwind day preparing for our party--and a highly successful party it was--I'm still riding the tide of energy and activity that carried me through this day.

I didn't get to my T'ai Chi Chih practice until an hour ago, long after my normal bedtime. And, though I was tempted to head for bed, I told myself that I could do at least 10 minutes of practice. Thirty minutes later I'd run through my complete form.

It felt tremendously refreshing to spend time really relaxing after an overly full day of more cleaning and more cooking (and more socializing than I've done in months). I'm thankful that I convinced Monkey Mind to postpone bedtime for an hour or two. (I imagine that the geese are also grateful I stayed awake because they hadn't been fed, watered, or locked into their barn due to our "distracting" guests.)

Morning is well on its way. It's time to sleep so that I may rise and resume today with another T'ai Chi Chih practice!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Laundering the Body/Mind

Today we're in pre-party mode. All day today and tomorrow Frances and I will clean, cook, bake, and otherwise prepare to host a party celebrating a major decision rendered by our County Board of Adjustment. Last week the Board rescinded a conditional use permit that had been awarded to developers seeking to build an airstrip and fly-in community in our town in spite of constant continuous protests against such a project.

It's time to acknowledge and thank each other for the unending efforts made by townspeople to attend board meetings, write letters to the editor, fundraise, research and track down various pieces of information necessary to pursue this matter, et cetera ad nauseam. This party will be a stretch for Frances and me since we're both introverts and tend to prefer quiet nature to loud people. Still, we're excited to serve as hostesses for this positive, congratulatory event.

Today's T'ai Chi Chih practice occurred in the basement. I positioned myself near the washer (for a reason too complicated to explain here) in order to observe my laundry while I practiced. I know, I know. I was multitasking. Still, the clock is ticking and our list of chores continues to stretch into infinity.

This is what interested me about practice: I began to move in front of the washer but quickly left the area. It was too noisy and distracting and the sound of the agitator set too quick a pace. I resettled in a far corner of the basement. When I heard the load spinning and draining, I returned to the front of the washer. By this time I was partway into my practice; my mind and body had slowed and calmed. And ... I didn't even notice the sound of the agitator.

To me, that's proof positive of the relaxing and healthful benefits of a T'ai Chi Chih practice. It prepares you for anything, including the rambunctious, distracting noise of a washer in mid-cycle.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Suffering ~ Happiness

Huh. I woke at 4:44 a.m. this morning. As I accessed the dashboard for this blog, I discovered that today's T'ai Chi Chih post is number 444. Synchronicity? Destiny? A message from the world beyond?

I write these questions with a smile on my face. Nevertheless, I notice things like this ... numbers that surface time after time (I can't count how often I've seen 11:11 on my kitchen, car, or office digital clock when I check the time).

This is an interesting day. On one front, my health improved significantly (quite likely) as a result of two hours of T'ai Chi Chih classes and practices last night. On the other hand, I'm aware that on the night I teach I don't sleep the full night through. I wake early and, even when I'm tired, I can't go back to sleep. One beginning student told me last night that following our first class session several weeks ago she was up until 1:00 a.m. So ... the energy is highly stimulating for some of us.

This morning's TCC class engaged in a wonderful group discussion about Buddha's Brain. This book is encouraging the lot of us to think about the ways we each get in our own way when it comes to letting go of suffering and, instead, choosing happiness. Luckily, for me, during and after most TCC practices I do feel happier. And, on the occasions when I don't feel an improvement in my mood, I do, at the very least, feel more balance and ease.

These feelings, though often short-lived, are incredibly necessary and important as my state (WI) as well as our society and the world go through major conflict and--hopefully--transformation. Along with all the protestors--including my partner, Frances--who've visited Madison these past two weeks I'm well aware that we live in tumultuous times.

It's my hope and wish that those of us who engage in meditative practices will infuse our personal worlds and the world at large with understanding and compassion. That's--at the very least--a start in the right direction.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Harmony ... and Peace

Tonight's T'ai Chi Chih classes brimmed with energy and inspiration! All eight registered students attended the first class. My challenge was to move the group from animated conversations into quiet practice. I did this the traditional T'ai Chi Chih way that I've observed in teachers' gatherings and trainings. When the conversation won't stop as requested, simply begin to move.

It was fascinating to notice how quickly competing conversations ceased and quiet permeated the room. Tonight's practice was especially wonderful! Movements clicked, energy flowed, muscles relaxed, and Monkey Minds focused on one shared yet unspoken goal: to be in the present moment. To move together with One Mind is a powerful and empowering experience. Yes! That's how I experienced what happened.

The beginning class had a similar outcome though in a much different way. My small group of beginners shrunk to one student. As a result, tonight's class was a private session. Since I seldom have the opportunity to teach a private session I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It felt like a gift for me to focus on one person's movements and to make suggestions that fit that single person's body and movement patterns. Again, the two of us moved in a concentrated and connected way that felt wonderfully nourishing.

Two ends of the spectrum: a full class of eight and an empty class of one. It really doesn't matter how many people move together with the Chi. All that truly matters is that we move. Together. As one. With harmony ... and peace.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Nowhere to be

Is meditation boring? That question was asked by today's InnerNet Weekly email. In response, American guru and spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen, had this response:
In order for the experience of meditation to be endlessly fascinating and infinitely compelling, you have to be interested in 'nothing.' Day in and day out, we are constantly pre-occupied with one thing or another, always busy with 'something.' But if you want to experience profound meditation, and a depth that liberates, the objective of your attention must be nothing--absolutely nothing whatsoever.
Cohen suggests that the meditator imagine sitting in a dark movie theatre waiting for a film to start. Instead of waiting, writes Cohen, imagine that you become passionately interested in the darkness and nothingness. There is, he continues, 'something' in the nothingness that once discovered is infinitely compelling, and absolutely absorbing.... Once you truly become interested in the darkness, you wouldn't want the movie to start. You might actually be disappointed when it started, because it would take you away from your meditation.

I see parallels with T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation. There are days when my practice is so all-encompassing that I need do nothing more than stay in the softness of the present moment: shifting weight, leading with t'an t'ien, keeping my attention in the soles of my feet.

Lately, of course, like many others I've been busy, distracted, and overwhelmed. Though I know the value of staying attuned to the moment, I'm too geared up, too on alert, too high speed to allow myself to slow, breathe, relax, wait.

During tonight's TCC practice I began to deaccelerate. I applied the brakes, movement after movement, breath upon breath. By the conclusion of my half-hour practice I was just beginning to journey beyond the boundaries of my day-to-day existence and relax into a greater emptiness. Tomorrow I'll return to this location. And the next day. And the next. Each day a continuation of the ever-present jouney. Each day a new beginning. Each day, each moment carrying me into the mystery of nothingness. With no-thing to do.