Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May We Be Healed

It's a windy, windy, truly, uncompromisingly W-I-N-D-Y day. And today the sore throat-cold has progressed into my sinuses.

Late this afternoon I received an email from a Minnesota T'ai Chi Chih teacher who asked that healing energy be sent to another TCC teacher. That person? My dear friend, Anna, who almost died last week from uncontrolled internal bleeding. Needless to say, today was a day that called for T'ai Chi Chih practice.

I dedicated my practice to Anna. And I purposefully imagined her receiving some of the Chi energy that circulated throughout the form. I needed that energy to heal myself and I also knew that Anna could use some of that energy too.

I read a segment in Be the Change today that discussed compassion meditation or tonglen (the practice of receiving and giving). I hope that my T'ai Chi Chih practice today served as a tiny bit of healing compassion for myself and for Anna as described by this quote from Peggy Dylan (p. 157):
We inhale the external pain, the resistance and fear, the great fear at this time in the world. We inhale it and take it in to our heart, where we turn it to joy, to tenderness, to delight, to ease, to healing, to whatever is needed. When it is transformed in our heart, then we just exhale it into the world. We are using the body as a filter for those negative things.
May we be at peace. May our hearts remain open. May we know the beauty of our own true natures. May we be healed....

Monday, May 30, 2011

Allowing Myself to Be

Today is a do nothing day and ohhh it feels so good. I seldom allow myself the freedom to really veg out but when I do, it's delightful.

I stayed in my pjs most of the day. And, both last night and this morning, I read and read and read. Evening and morning thunderstorms encouraged my take-it-easy attitude. An unremitting sore throat sealed the deal.

Last night we saw our first black bear of the season. Around 8:00 pm the dog started barking frantically. Frances stepped out on the deck and spotted the little guy (probably a yearling) close to the deck. By the time I arrived he'd moved further into the woods. The three of us simply stood observing each other. Then he was off and running. What a treat!

Tonight Frances invited guests for desert and a movie. Normally I'd be cleaning and cooking but not today. I'm on holiday. My most labor-intensive activity of the day was T'ai Chi Chih practice and that was slow and easy. It felt good to move. Lucy watched me on and off throughout my practice by peeking through the porch windows. Eventually the chicken emerged from beneath the deck, hopped to the cracked corn, and started to eat.

I'm so grateful for days like today when life is simple. No to dos, must haves, or get back to mes. Quiet, peaceful, and calm. Just allowing myself to be....

Sunday, May 29, 2011

One Long Breath

The day is quiet ... immensely quiet. I feel as though I'm waiting for something to happen. Rain, perhaps? An occasional breeze tickles high hanging leaves but otherwise the world around me is held in suspended animation.

After a post-lunch walk I took myself out on the deck for my mid-afternoon T'ai Chi Chih practice. I soon discovered, however, that the damp, windless atmosphere offered me up as bait to the multitude of mosquitos and flies.

My practice lost its attractiveness as well as its inherent element of relaxation to the constant buzz and cycling of insects that purposefully invaded my personal space. Still, I did manage to slow down and center myself.

Today I am in seclusion. My weeklong work schedule exhausted me. All I wish for is total, complete, uninterrupted silence.... If the buzz of insects is the loudest sound I hear today, I'll manage somehow: To take in the silence. To be fed by the peace. To linger in the holiness of these few quiet moments strung together into one long breath.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Living with a Full Moon in Each Eye

After a full night of rain, the weather continues to look iffy. A constant flow of people through the library today seemed to reinforce what we're all thinking: Hmm. Relaxing Memorial Day weekend indoors rather than outside.

A multitude of DVDs and books circulated in and out. And me? I contained myself ... only five books and eight DVDs came home in my car.

By the time I arrived home I was exhausted. Following a brief conversation with Frances I headed to the deck for T'ai Chi Chih practice.

I knew that practice could help me transition from busy body to calm, relaxed mind. And it worked. I moved to the sounds of singing birds, buzzing hummers, and honking goose. The sunlight flickered briefly then disappeared as storm clouds floated through the neighborhood. And, by practice end, I was a new woman (or at the very least, renewed).

As I perused my library take-homes a poem by Hafiz caught my attention:
With That Moon Language

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them,
     'Love me.'
Of course you do not do this out loud;
Someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying
With that sweet moon
What every other eye in this world
     Is dying to

     From: Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, by Gregory Boyle, p. 17
Tattoos on the Heart author, Gregory Boyle, is a Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in Los Angeles (the gang capital of the world). His life of service is a testament to the tremendous power of unconditional love. I borrowed the book because I was sure that the stories inside would reinforce the message of Justin Stone, T'ai Chi Chih's founder. When you practiceT'ai Chi Chih regularly, it teaches you how to open your heart to love and compassion.

I know without a doubt that that is true for me. And, as I continue to practice day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year perhaps someday I, too, will live with a full moon in each eye.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Unity Consciousness

To define meditation is to limit it by reducing it to a mental concept. You cannot define meditation just like you cannot define presence or grace or God. We know the mind always wants to define things, but the mind is conditioned by the past and so can only see the projected condition, rather than what is fresh and new in the moment. It also only sees in fragments, not in the whole, so anything that can be grasped by the mind is not the whole truth. To find truth, we come into stillness, for stillness is not personal. We cannot say, 'This is my stillness, and that is your stillness; I have this presence, and that is your presence.' We cannot claim ownership of stillness because it is everything. It pervades all that is. When we can move from separate, ego-based consciousness to unity consciousness, then we know the other as ourselves.

     Constance Kellough
     From: Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, Ed and Deb Shapiro, p. 23
This unity consciousness is what we receive from a regular T'ai Chi Chih practice. Need I say more? I think not. Ahhh.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Beginnings? Endings? Or one continuous flow...?

Wow! This was that kind of a day. You know, the kind of day when you don't even remember when you did your T'ai Chi Chih practice because one event or activity flowed immediately into the next. Non-stop.

After breakfast Frances invited five people to lunch which meant that we spent the rest of the morning cooking and cleaning. Then visitors (which meant we also drove to downtown Bayfield to stroll around town with them).

Tonight we attended StageNorth's performance of Moon Over Buffalo. Hilarious. And, oh yeah, I squeezed my T'ai Chi Chih practice into a brief space of time between our visitors' departure and our own travel to the play.

I practiced TCC out on the deck while Frances placed coverings over all of our recent vegetable and flower plantings that may be vulnerable to tonight's 25 degree temps. Today I wore gloves while I moved. Yes, the sun shone. But a chill wind blew, too.

As usual, I enjoyed taking the time to slow down, relax, and unwind after our too-busy morning of lunch and visitor preparations. Now we wait 'til morning. Will frost lie draped across the landscape? Will orchard fruits be nipped in the bud? Or will all be well? This, my friends, is life in the Northlands....

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chi Rejuvenation

Whew! It was a busy day at work.

There were two separate story hours for kids today and, even though I stayed upstairs to work the front desk, I could feel the kid energy buzzing around beneath me in the basement children's area. Plus, on story day parents and children come in with armloads of books to return to the library. Then both parents and kids select bags of books to check out and bring home.

By lunchtime I was whipped. The noise and activity levels of the kids plus the constant flow of patrons at the front desk wore me out.

Thank goodness it was sunny and beautiful. I adjourned to the small yard outside the library during my lunch break and practiced T'ai Chi Chih. That was more important than eating. And, sure enough, when I walked back inside again I felt calmer, quieter, and less harried.

Hurrah for Chi rejuvenation!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cool Practice, Warm Heart

It's a glorious day! After several days of rain, clouds, and fog, we're back to sunshine and cooler temps. Frances and I ate breakfast on the deck and realized after we sat down that it was cold. Brrr. After we finished eating and headed back into the house we checked the temperature gauge: 37 degrees.

It's funny, I commented, what we'll put up with at various times of the year. We'd never sit out on the deck for breakfast if it were this temperature during the winter or early in the spring.

Oh, said Frances, it makes all the difference that flowers are blooming and we can watch the birds as they visit our feeder.

It's true. I just finished my T'ai Chi Chih practice out on the deck. When I came back inside, I checked the temperature: 50 degrees on the south side of the house and 44 on the west side. I wore a wool shirt and, despite cold hands, I reveled in the cool, fresh breezes and the varieties of green vegetation that grew all around me.

It took me until Carry the Ball to the Side to really slow my body down. I'm busy fitting in extra work hours, out of town visitors, and a holiday weekend and, needless to say, I'm distracted. But it felt fine to move in the midst of cool freshness: no bugs, clean air, and lush, green growth everywhere.

At the moment I'm in love with spring and my T'ai Chi Chih practice simply magnifies the experience.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fast Forward into Summer

It's a beautiful rainy day with greens turning greener and leaves getting leafier. Seriously, it feels like nature pressed a fast forward button. Maple trees on the north side of the house with teeny tiny leaves just last week now exhibit half-sized--or larger--versions of their soon-to-be adult selves.

I practiced T'ai Chi Chih upstairs in the bedroom tonight which allowed me to look out into my rapidly expanding field of green. Very soon Frances, Namaste, Chiripa, Lucy, Chickie, and I will be thoroughly encased by this world of green. Leaves up, down, and all around!

My practice felt better than it has for days. I was calmer and more relaxed. And I could feel energy flowing free and easy. I'm still curious to discover how much--if anything--rain has to do with energy flow. I've certainly noticed a difference when I practice in rainy weather. But what that means I've yet to discover.

I was busy today at the library. Now, post-practice, it feels wonderful to flow into calmness.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Chi of Life

Be praised, my God, by butterfly and dragonfly wings exercising
     for their first flight.
Be praised by lightning and thunder causing spring showers.
Be praised by the silent voice of grass growing and trees budding.
Be praised by all the colorful flower trumpets of spring.
Be praised by downy feathers freshly dried on newly hatched ducklings and chicks.
Be praised by the songs of birds, crickets and frogs.
Be praised, my God, by all your creation which tells of new life.
          Mary Goergen, O.S.F.
          From: Earth Prayers, p. 299
Such a wonderful poem/prayer that describes the unfolding of spring that I'm witness to here in my woodland home. Just today I noticed the first butterflies circling around my head as I walked down the driveway.

The lightning and thunder, too, have come and gone, come and gone throughout the day. One moment distant thunder drums through darkening skies and the next moment hot yellow sun shines onto colorful blossoms that peek quietly through grass and trees.

While I practiced T'ai Chi Chih on the deck during a rainfree half hour I watched Frances walk the chicken and goose down the drive to feed (worms emerging from the darkness of the earth for Chickie and bountiful grass growing along the drive for Lucy). Meanwhile birds fluttered from the feeder and sang through the trees like an impromtu chorus of seasoned professionals.

After I finish my blog I'll pick a bouquet of tiny forget-me-nots to place on the dining table in order to bring the beauty of the outdoors inside. Of course, insects and mosquitoes have arrived in my neighborhood too. They flitted around me during my outside practice and managed to take a nip or two.

During my practice, though, I felt like a lucky recipient of all of creation; of life, and birth, and growth. Of budding, opening, greening, and expanding. I am aware of so much new life that is currently rooting itself deep into the earth as it extends its head toward the sky. We are--all of us--T'ai Chi Chih players as we circulate the Chi through our living, breathing, growing bodies....

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Today's surprise? Frances found a blossom on one of my cactus plants. What's surprising is that the plant is at least 55 or 60 years old and was originally given to me by my mother and to my mother by her mother. I have never seen this cactus bloom before! It will not die!

This evening's weather is 20 degrees cooler than yesterday ... and foggy. So foggy, in fact, that I can't see the lake.

I started my T'ai Chi Chih practice inside on the porch and soon felt too hot. I then moved my practice to the deck outside and was grateful for my surroundings. The bird songs were tremendous, the air was damp and invigorating, and the silence was palpable.

My body felt better today but I noticed that my mind did not easily center on my practice. When I specifically focused my attention on softening and relaxing my muscles and my movements, I had some success but it felt hard won.

This past week I've felt in a bit of a funk but who knows what's budding inside me. When the weather and atmosphere are just right, I may start blooming....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spring is Sprung

Each day of spring offers new beginnings and new discoveries. Today we saw our first indigo bunting. Both Frances and I were thinking about these beautiful blue birds and wondering when they might arrive. Sure enough, while we sat on the deck this afternoon an indigo bunting appeared on the ground beneath the feeder.

The bird chorus was loud--forte--this evening; happy songs emanated from every direction. Shortly after dinner the birds quieted and spring peepers took center stage. Our beautiful, warm, sunshiny day is now covered with clouds and turning greyer by the minute.

I watched the lake across the distance while I practiced T'ai Chi Chih this evening. My feet and legs were tired from a day of chores and constant movement; it took attention and fortitude to glide through my practice. I admit, I struggled to get into the mood/mode for practice. Eventually I simply focused on slowing myself down.

Now I feel so slowed down and relaxed that I'm ready to declare the day over. Finis. The end. And with that thought in mind, I'll end this blog....

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Taking in the Good

Today's T'ai Chi Chih class held its finale followed by a potluck. Unlike last night's class which now begins a five month break, this morning's class will start an outdoor summer session in a month.

Both class sessions were a bit anticlimatic due to low attendance (four of seven students attended class last night and three of seven this morning). Interestingly, once the norm is set with a certain number of students, personalities, and energies, it feels different when class members are missing. Despite what we may think, we do indeed make a difference in each others' lives and in the group dynamics to which we contribute.

I felt tired today. I spent all day yesterday with a headache and today felt a bit of a sore throat. Consequently our group practice was slow and quiet. Post-practice we discussed Chapter 4, "Taking in the Good," from Buddha's Brain.

It's fascinating to realize that in order to bring happiness, love, and wisdom into our brains--and our lives!--it is our responsibility to foster positive experiences. The authors make three suggestions for internalizing the positive. First, turn positive facts into positive experiences (p. 68). In other words, actively look for good news, particularly the little stuff, and bring a mindful awareness to each positive, uplifting tidbit you discover.

This suggestion reminded me of an action I took a year or two ago when I realized that I felt inundated by the daily doses of bad news served up by the media. I decided to subscribe to http://www.goodnews.org/ in order to receive regular reminders (news articles culled from a variety of sources) that good people and good news abound in this world.

Second, savor the experience (p. 69). Buddha's Brain authors suggest that you stay with a positive experience for 5, 10, or 20 seconds while you focus on your emotions and bodily sensations.When you focus on good feelings and let them flood your body, your brain releases dopamine and strengthens its neural associations in memory. I often savor beautiful scenes (especially during my daily T'ai Chi Chih practices) or memorable experiences (i.e., holding the hummingbird in my hands yesterday). But there are innumerable opportunities for such mindful awareness while receiving a hug from someone you love or after completing a demanding project that challenged you.

And, finally, per the authors, imagine or feel that the experience is entering deeply into your mind and body, like the sun's warmth into a T-shirt or water into a sponge (p. 70). It is helpful to keep relaxing your body as you absorb the emotions, sensations, and thoughts that come from your experience.

I practiced these techniques en route to class today as I marveled at the bright yellow marsh marigolds in the ditches along the roadway and, later, the baby calves that suckled their mothers or lay napping in the bright sunlight. And I particularly enjoyed refining this experience while I meditated to the sound of a singing bowl. When I invite the bowl's tone and vibrations into every cell of my body as I listen to it reverberate into nothingness, I experience magical moments of connection and continuity.

T'ai Chi Chih practice is a tool to enhance and deepen mindfulness. Not only that, it enriches our relationships and daily experiences as we learn to focus our attention and expand our appreciation for All That Is.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Miniature Miracle

Today I held a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. What an awesome experience!

First, the back story. I was in the kitchen when I heard a loud thump against one of the house windows. Before I made it to the patio door I overheard Frances, "No, Chiripa. No-no-no-no. Let it go." Eventually the cat did release a hummingbird that had just flown--hard--into a south-facing window.

The bird was disoriented and Frances asked me to give it some Reiki as she slipped its body into my hands. While I directed energy I surveyed the sweet little bird that lay before me. The feathers on its back were a luminescent green and its breast looked like it was covered with row upon row of shining red sequins. Its tongue, a tiny tube ideal for sucking nectar, extended from its beak.

The bird rested as light as a feather in my palms with eyes closed. Occasionally it stirred, shifted position, or spread its wings. When it was time for me to leave for my evening TCC class, it still couldn't fly. I handed the hummer back to Frances and departed. After I returned home Frances told me that when she reached up to itch her nose, the bird flitted away. Hurrah!

My final T'ai Chi Chih class practice was on the roof balcony in 50-something degree temps. The practice went well and sped by. By its end I realized that our next class session is not scheduled to begin until October, almost five months from now. It will be a long but necessary break as the tourist season commences and summer picks up speed.

I'll miss my class practice circle and the tremendous group energy that circles around and through us. At the same time I'm ready to take a break from teaching responsibilities. Who knows what the summer--and then the fall--will bring?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

As It Should Be

It was another fabulous spring day of which we've experienced too few this year. Clearly I deserved a treat after working away the afternoon inside the library so post-work Frances, Namaste, and I walked along the lakeshore at Little Sand Bay.

The 50-degree temperature and evening sunshine felt soul warming and the soft swish of waves hitting shore comforted and relaxed me. After our walk Frances toured me around our newly planted flowers and then--worn and weary--I practiced T'ai Chi Chih, back to front (with several odd detours along the way).

There was no question that I needed to practice. Because I was t-i-r-e-d, though, I made a deal with myself to shorten practice time slightly in order to arrive at a resting state more quickly. And relatively soon I made it to the end (err, beginning) of my practice time.

Since I don't give myself an out when it comes to my T'ai Chi Chih practice it's a huge motivator and guarantee that I'll do a daily practice regardless of how I feel. I'm grateful for that bottom line. It keeps me moving and grooving. And in spite of how tired or clueless I may feel, I'm Activating, Balancing, and Circulating the Chi. That is as it should be....

Monday, May 16, 2011

Swimming on the Surface

Now that hundreds (thousands?) of daffodils are in full bloom around Bayfield tulips have joined the parade of color. Small clumps of blue forget-me-nots are in blossom too.

Today was more spring-like than not though still terribly cool. Frances walked around the yard this evening and placed plastic containers over newly planted annuals just in case our area is one of those predicted to receive a freeze tonight.

My morning T'ai Chi Chih practice was a short and sweet respite that I dipped my toes into before I headed to work. This evening's post-work practice was more of a swim, quiet but not very calm. It felt hard to settle my mind so I swam through the movements in an orderly fashion then retreated inside to a warmer, more comfortable environment.

Even though I enjoyed the bird songs surrounding me during practice it felt as if I was just "swimming on the surface" (per singer/songwriter Ruth McKenzie). And, I guess, for tonight that is simply fine....

Leafing Out Day

Today is leaf day. Wind day. Sun day. The trees have indeed leafed out, buds metamorphosing into miniature green patterns of what's to come with additional time, sun, and rain.

I practiced T'ai Chi Chih out on the deck prior to the arrival of evening dinner and movie guests. The brisk, cold wind from earlier in the day abated. Goose and chicken roosted on the south side of the house as I moved through my practice. And it was time to be-be-be. Be.

I was tired, having spent three nights and two-and-a-half days with guests. And, in anticipation of more company, it seemed appropriate to engage in moving meditation in order to regain some balance and quietude.

It was a rejuvenescent practice because I was up until after midnight watching two wonderful movies with our friends: Being Caribou and Garbage Warrior. Talk about inspirational!

Being Caribou tracked a young Canadian couple as they followed caribou on their annual migration through Canada to their calving grounds in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Garbage Warrior told the story of eco architect, Michael Reynolds, who developed self-sustainable housing and communities using bottles, cans, and automobile tires.

I'm thankful for people who are willing to live outside of mainstream culture in order to follow their bliss and make a positive difference in the world. And might I be so bold as to say that T'ai Chi Chih practitioners fit into that category?....

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Off and Running

Since I was the first one out of bed this morning I launched into my T'ai Chi Chih practice. The peace didn't last for long....

Soon the cat was racing around the kitchen in pursuit of what? A twist tie? A rubber band? A mouse?

Then the dog galloped downstairs and began to vocalize (bark-bark-bark, etc., etc.). That segued into the cat and dog chasing each other around the living room. Loudly. We still had two guests asleep (or so we hoped).

Frances appeared shortly thereafter and closed the dog and cat in the porch where I was practicing. No denying it ... the day had begun.

In spite of all the noise and action I followed my practice to its completion largely oblivious to the surround-sound. And then, following the lead of my animals, I was off and running....

Friday, May 13, 2011

We know the truth....

I had a wonderful day visiting with the in-laws, attending the live broadcast of Wisconsin Public Radio's Garden Show, and stopping and shopping around Bayfield. A late afternoon T'ai Chi Chih practice gave me space and quiet for myself before our evening meal and, I'm sure, more conversation.

If it ever seems difficult to pull myself away from overnight guests and visitors, T'ai Chi Chih practice is always a worthwhile break. It offers rest and relaxation, quiet, peace, and regeneration. And, best of all, plain old me time. Now I'm ready to return to meal preparation and group conversation.

I received an email today from my Twin Cities' T'ai Chi Chih compatriots. It forwarded a short piece that one of the Twin Cities' teachers wrote for the Minnesota T'ai Chi Chih Accreditation class on May 12.

I share it here because with very few words it manages to express volumes about the spiritual benefits of TCC practice. It begins, too, to express how I feel when I practice T'ai Chi Chih with my students and with other teachers. It can be--and IS--transformative. What a gift!
We know the truth about you since we have done T'ai Chi Chih with you. That is the only truth we need to know.

We know that in your heart you have received forgiveness for all perceived mistakes. In T'ai Chi Chih there is no perfect practice. In T'ai Chi Chih every practice is perfect. May you feel the healing of T'ai Chi Chih.

We know that you are loved since we have practiced T'ai Chi Chih with you. For you, may you know joy and gratitude through moving in T'ai Chi Chih.

          Nancy Werner-Azarski
Thank you, Nancy....

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Conscious Competence

Yesterday we sighted our first two hummingbirds. I should say, we heard a familiar buzzing sound then saw a tiny body flit around the corner of the house. Right on schedule! Years ago someone told us that hummers typically return to this area around Mother's Day until Labor Day.

As if on cue we immediately jumped out of our chairs, made nectar, and found, filled, and hung feeders. Just one more sign of spring.

Today Frances and I prepared our home for a visit from her brother and sister-in-law. It was excellent timing to have a T'ai Chi Chih class practice this morning. It placed me in a relaxed and receptive frame of mind. I don't stress out as much as I used to when I'm preparing for guests. Frances and I finish what we finish prior to the arrival of our guests and trust that the rest of the preparations were unnecessary or will happen later. That's a very good attitude to have!

During this morning's TCC class I noticed that latecomers to the class were still in high speed mode as they joined our circle. Predictably, some of us who began the practice on time were drawn into the faster pace.

After practice I suggested that it would be helpful for those who arrive late to spend a few minutes quieting their minds and bodies before joining our circle (either by settling themselves in the hallway before entering the room or by taking a few minutes in the circle to breathe and focus their attention, feel the energy in the room, and try to match the level of quiet relaxation before joining in our practice). Also, I asked class members already in the practice circle to maintain their slow, calm, quiet movements in spite of the heightened energy around them.

As we all know, it is difficult to keep a slower pace when others are rushing (just think about what happens when you drive on the freeway). Still, it's a valuable exercise in mindfulness to focus awareness on the pace of your practice when you practice alone as well as when you practice in a group. So often the speed of your practice is affected by the thoughts in your mind. When we practice in a group, however, the speed of our practice can also be affected by the thoughts that are in others' minds.

How do we maintain our focus and equanimity? How do we coordinate our movements with the movements of others in our practice circle? How do we learn to recognize the occasions when we are spun up and take responsibility for slowing ourselves--body and mind--down? It's a worthwhile challenge and pursuit.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Room to Grow

It all started with a small green "weed" growing in a crack on the rooftop balcony where we held tonight's T'ai Chi Chih class. We practiced outside on the balcony to take advantage of the warmer weather (54 degrees). After we finished I asked students: What about that plant reminds you of our T'ai Chi Chih practice?

I was aware of the fact that, despite cement, roof shingles, and tiles something living could still express its vital force energy through a crack in the flooring. I also speculated that if Chi can move through a crack, just think what it can do when we open our bodies, allow our tension to dissipate, and release blockages to permit energy to flow through our meridians as we practice.

One of my students answered my question with a rapid reply: Well, there's root and suspension there as the plant roots toward the earth and reaches for the sky. And, of course, this conversation was just the beginning of a longer discussion about Chi.

Back inside I asked students to think about what they carry when they Carry the Ball. Instead of imagining it as a ball, I suggested, what would happen if you thought of it as a possibility? Hold it lightly. Don't squeeze. Gently allow yourself to feel the force of energy that lies between your palms. Soften your palms. Relax your effort. And just feel the potential of the energy that you carry inside at the same time that you carry/move it between your palms.

As that plant proved to us all tonight ... there's room to grow anywhere.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Settling into the Present

Today I practiced TCC twice: 10 minutes before work and 20 minutes after I returned home from work. It felt wonderful to take the time to Be Here Now. In the moment. Listening. Watching. Settling myself into the present.

Earlier in the day I looked out the window and noticed Lucy resting on top of the dirt in the raised bed garden. When I moved my gaze slightly to the right there, too, was our new chicken, I-Hop. They looked like companionable feathered friends as they each rested in the moment.

My evening T'ai Chi Chih practice on the deck was surrounded with sounds. First, coyotes howled. Then their howls merged with the howl of nearby emergency vehicle sirens. When all the fuss settled, I heard spring peepers singing through the woods. (Their song is reminiscent of crickets.)

It took time to sort through all the obvious overwhelming noises to reach the underlying essential notes of spring. And me? I was glad that I took time to listen as I moved quietly through Taffies and Clouds and Healing Sounds.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Soaking Up ... Soaking In

Today my mind simply didn't want me to practice T'ai Chi Chih. Rather than let my mind control me, though, I chose to read and relax. After an hour or so I told myself that it was time for my TCC practice. And with that mental instruction I stood and began to move.

Today was an on-again off-again rain day. By the time I launched into my practice session the rain no longer fell and I was aware of a unique stillness all around me. I felt as if I were the only source of movement in the entire landscape. The trees were quiet. The bushes. The sky.... It felt as if all of life was engaged in soaking up moisture.

And so I joined in nature's directive too. I quieted myself and focused on feeling the Chi energy. And, when I felt it, I concentrated on soaking it in deeply. Suddenly what I had so wanted to avoid became a satisfying and special experience. The scenery and I became one...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

'The' Moment

Saturday, May 7, 2011:

The day sped by. Before I knew it friends were cruising up our driveway to eat Curried Potato Kale soup and to join us for movie night. After dinner we watched Fair Game (based on the true experiences of CIA agent, Valerie Plame whose undercover identity was leaked by the White House after her husband wrote an article challenging the government's basis for the U.S. war on Iraq).

It wasn't until after our friends' late night departure that I realized I hadn't yet done my Saturday T'ai Chi Chih practice. And, yes, despite the lateness of the hour I launched right in. By the time I finished--around 11:00 p.m.--I was too tired to put my experience into words.

Let's just say one day after the fact that I felt good and tired (interpret that phrase however you like).

Sunday, May 8, 2011 (Mothers' Day):

Mothers are the theme of the day and even though my own mother died six years ago I still think about her. Often. Particularly today since this day more than any other of the year is specifically about mothers. I listened to an interview with Sylvia Boorstein on the radio program "On Being" this morning. Boorstein founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA and spoke as a mother, grandmother, psychotherapist, and Jewish-Buddhist teacher on the topic, "What We Nurture."

Many of Boorstein's words were appropriate for the journey my T'ai Chi Chih class is taking through Buddha's Brain but several comments in the interview spoke directly to me. In one instance Boorstein mentioned the importance of paying attention: "... when we are really paying attention which is what mindfulness is, we really connect with other people."

Krista Tippett, the host for the show, mentioned that it would help to focus on positive items and peoples' beautiful lives in the news as she commented, "It's the stuff of moments, but it can be absolutely transformative in moments and these beautiful lives are transformative in moments. But we have to train ourselves to look for them."

That's what T'ai Chi Chih practice does ... it trains us to look for the moments and to find meaning in them. That is why I pay attention to the natural world that surrounds me while I practice TCC. It soothes and comforts me, yes. It also feeds my spirit and brings me more deeply into the moment.

Today I practiced T'ai Chi Chih on the deck. The chicken perched under a rhododendron bush on the south side of the house while the goose pecked at the dirt on the east side. Meanwhile I happily glided through my practice enamored by the silence of a semi-sunny mothers' day in the middle of the forest.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Today I-Hop joined our family. I-Hop is a black chicken with an ailing foot (leg?). She navigates around by hopping on one foot, thus the name. 

Poor chicken. She's been harassed by the other 10 chickens in her flock for months: picked on, pecked on, bloodied, and de-feathered. Our hope? That she'll improve after being removed from her stressful environment AND that she'll serve as a feathered companion for our still-lonely goose, Lucy. So far, so good.

Frances is a chicken lover extraordinaire. Her first action was to cuddle I-Hop in her arms while she stroked and crooned to her. Next step is to give her a new name and, hopefully, a happier, healthier life.

We spent the afternoon with our friends who gave us I-Hop. The four of us observed the goose and chicken while we sat on the deck, soaked in sunshine, conversed, ate lunch, relaxed, and enjoyed this beautiful spring day.

After our friends left I began my T'ai Chi Chih practice indoors. The temperatures had already dropped from 60ish to less than 40 so I wasn't inclined to return outside. Still, midway through practice I stepped out the front door and finished my practice. I'm glad I did. The spring peepers trilled their froggy sounds in the distance while I enjoyed the cool, bug-free stillness of the darkening spring evening.

It's rather amazing to discover how much enjoyment one small, fragile black chicken can bring to our animal kingdom. I hope that our patience and loving kindness will help mend the spirit of this fine feathered friend.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

T'ai Chi Chih Philosophy 101

How do I experience T'ai Chi Chih as effortless movement? By moving slowly.

How do I move slowly? By softening the forward knee and--instead of pushing myself from behind (i.e., doing something)--simply allowing the weight to flow softly and evenly forward, then back. No effort. No need to create movement. No desire to be somewhere (forward? back?) within a particular span of time.

It's taken me approximately 14 years to realize this simple but highly sophisticated fact. And, though I've repeated the concept of NO EFFORT to my students for as long as I've taught, it seems that I've only truly embodied that principle in the past several years.

To be, or not to be, that is the question....

Though Hamlet spoke those words in Shakespeare's play in 1602, this phrase seems equally appropriate to consider when we engage in T'ai Chi Chih practice in 2011. Are we being or doing? Are we letting go into peace and relaxation or are we holding tension in our bodies and minds in order to feel that we have some thing to do?

Perhaps our tense bodies are an automatic response to the dramatic, often traumatic world in which we live. How, then, can we simply be human beings when we've been trained to believe that our value and worth (our humanity) is evaluated by what we do not by who we are?

These questions arose in my mind after today's T'ai Chi Chih class. I have no answers.

I recognize that the thoughts we hold in our minds and the tensions we carry in our muscles are reflected in our T'ai Chi Chih practices. When we move faster than the rest of the group, are we being chased by our thoughts? Avoiding pain in our bodies? Opening ourselves up to our practice or pushing ourselves through it?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Chi-Full Brew

Today was absolutely lovely. So lovely, in fact, that traffic at the library was low to middling. Why go inside when you could be outside in the midst of all this loveliness?

The forecast shows today as the only full sun day for the next week or so with rain and clouds likely. Anyone with sense and/or any smidgen of time spent part (or all) of the day outside.

After a full day of work at the library I headed off to T'ai Chi Chih class in Washburn. What a wonderful way to end a busy day ... stirred into a cup of chi-full brew.

When one student thanked me for offering this weekly 45 minute practice of peacefulness, I responded that I receive benefits from this group practice too. It's a lot more fun than practicing with deer, dogs, cats, and geese, I said. And I meant that with all my heart.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sunny Chi

Whew! We're back to sunshine and spring-like weather. Which meant, of course, that I did my TCC practice outside this morning.

After a short walk I stopped at a flat open area near the end of our driveway and launched into T'ai Chi Chih. No goose. No dog. No cat. No Frances. Oh, it was quiet. Immensely.

Occasionally I heard the sound of a passing car. More often I sensed a whiff of breeze as it waggled a leaf or softly brushed through tree branches.

It was wonderfully rejuvenating. (And, yes, the sunshine also lent me some of its fabulous energy.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Calm Equilibrium

The weather continues its gloomy cold spell (20-something), today is the sixth anniversary of my mother's death, and I admit it, I'm low energy and missing my mother.

My knees and hips ache so I relegated myself to the T'ai Chi Chih practice stool today. As I sat through practice I watched tiny bits of frozen moisture (sneet?) float earthward. No, it wasn't snow. It wasn't rain. And it didn't accumulate on the ground. Even so, it looked cold and that was enough to keep me inside until it was time to leave for work.

So, with my practice done I'll greet my workday with calm equilibrium. (At least that's my hope). I'm open to whatever the day may bring....

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Greater Relaxation....

It's another winter-like day: cold and grey. I kept myself occupied throughout the day with household chores. By the time I practiced T'ai Chi Chih I was greatly in need of an energy boost.

To tell the truth, I don't know how much more energetic I feel. I do feel a greater sense of relaxation and calm. And, on a day like today, that's a very good thing....