Thursday, June 30, 2011

Daily Practice

Isn't synchronicity an interesting phenomenon? It's often helpful when we're reinforced from several different directions in order for us to integrate the significance of a particular concept, idea, or principle.

I received that reinforcement this week from two different sources: first, when I listened to Sunday's NPR interview with neuroscientist Richard Davidson regarding his research on the brains of meditating Buddhist monks and, second, when I read Chapter 5 of Buddha's Brain.

Distilled down to their essence, both sources encouraged listeners/readers to consider the importance of a regular daily meditation practice as a way to rewire the brain and build a happier, healthier mind. Which, of course, leads to a healthier, more functional body.

In his interview Dr. Davidson described why it's important to engage in a daily meditation practice in order to effect lasting, positive change. He explained,
The classical model of Western psychotherapy which is, you know, a client coming to a therapist for an hour a week for a 50-minute session without doing daily practice in between just flies in the face of everything we know about the brain and plasticity.... So if we want to make real change, that's not a good prescription for doing it.... more systematic practice is necessary, in my view. This is something that comes directly from neuroscience.....
I think that most people still don't think of qualities like happiness as being a skill ... But if you think about it more as a skill, then it's something that can be enhanced through training. Fundamentally, I think that the kind of mental exercise that we're talking about is no different than physical exercise. People understand that they can't just do two weeks of physical exercise and then expect the benefits to remain for the rest of their lives. And the same thing with mental exercise.
In this same vein, Chapter 5 of Buddha's Brain, "Cooling the Fires," focuses on specific relaxation techniques useful for activating the parasympathetic ("rest and digest" or "pause") nervous system. The authors discuss diaphragmic breathing, progressive relation, mindfulness, imagery, meditation and the like as various ways to interrupt or intercede in the sympathic nervous system's "fight or flight" (or "simmer")response.

They also stress the importance of regular practice: The key to reaping the rewards of meditation is to develop a regular, daily practice, no matter how brief. How about making a personal commitment never to go to sleep without having meditated that day, even if for just one minute? (p. 86)

T'ai Chi Chih's creator, Justin Stone, repeatedly emphasizes the importance and necessity of regular practice. He believes that our 35 minute form can make a positive difference in our lives even when practiced for as little as 10 minutes a day.

In this morning's T'ai Chi Chih class one student diagnosed with Ataxia (damage to the cerebellum, the portion of the brain responsible for regulating movement) mentioned that he can spend as little as one minute practicing Daughter on the Mountain Top. This mini-practice allows him to walk across the yard when he's done mowing without depending upon his wife for assistance.

Here in the Western world it seems that we've only just begun to realize the benefits of regular meditation practice. It's my hope that someday soon the Hundredth Monkey phenomenon will take effect and all human 'monkeys' will engage in a daily meditation practice because, unexplainably, we'll synchronistically realize its mental and physical benefits....

Lights Out! ... Inner Light On! ...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011:

Perfection. That's the word for this day. Low humidity, light breeze, and sunny effervescence.

I spent most of the afternoon scooting from errand to errand; to Bayfield, Washburn, and back again. By the time I returned home late in the day I walked into the house and--snap!--the lights went out and the appliances shut down. We'd lost our electrical power.

Four or five phone calls later I'd reached no one at the electric company. I was quickly losing patience and getting grumpy. A few more calls to adjoining neighbors confirmed that the lights out situation was our problem alone.

What better time for a T'ai Chi Chih practice than NOW? True enough. The break from frustrated thoughts and feelings was the perfect solution. Now I'm relaxed and unconcerned about whether our lights and electricity are restored this evening or tomorrow....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In Love with Life

An inch of rain flowed from heaven to earth last night; consequently Emil Road was a blank page this morning. The only words written on its surface were those contributed by various "authors" who passed across it this morning: a smallish bear, one wolf or coyote, three or four deer who walked straight across and several who weaved back and forth in a semi-circular pattern, ... me.

Oh, it's another glorious day. Rain washed, bright, and shiny. I ate my breakfast on the deck. Afterwards I spontaneously stood and quietly whispered my gratitude to the Universe for the beauty and abundance of the plants and animals, flowers, trees, grasses, earth, and sky that shelter and nurture me.

During T'ai Chi Chih practice Lucy walked around the house from north to south to be present with me as I moved. Frances deposited Chickie by the deck and she immediately cocked her feathered face in my direction, one dark eye watching me.

I sat on a stool for my practice. My focus today? To observe how my t'an t'ien moves, forward and back, up and down, like a bellows pushing in and out. When I paused between movements (Resting Position), I imagined roots extending down from the bottoms of my feet into the earth and next, a golden cord extending up from the top of my head into the sky.

After I felt directly connected from above and below, I brought my attention back to my body. Now I focused my intention on becoming a human bridge between earth and sky. And then ... I relaxed into the feeling of energy flowing through my body. Delightful!

I feel better today. Lighter. More hopeful. More in love with life....

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Investigating Healthy Minds"

After a brief respite we're back to dark, cloudy skies and rain. I wish that I could say I'm unaffected by the weather but that's not true. Today I feel tired and a wee bit down. Self-care is priority number one.

With that goal in mind I spent time on the chi and hot house machines this morning and then slid into a hot relaxing bath. And, of course, good healthy food, a walk down the driveway, and--you guessed it!--my daily T'ai Chi Chih practice.

I chose to practice TCC while seated since my back hurt, my knee hurt, the bottoms of both feet hurt, and I needed to give my body a break. The rain fell, almost invisibly, outside the window in front of me as I followed the lead of t'an tien. I wish I could say that my mood improved dramatically but ... it didn't.

I continue to think about yesterday's radio show (On Being with researcher Richard Davidson). Late in the interview host Krista Tippett said: Matthieu Ricard (one of Davidson's Buddhist monk study subjects) ... talks about happiness in fact as a mental state that can precisely take in all emotions and experiences including negative experiences.

Davidson responded, I think that that's a very different conception of happiness, one that is more enduring and I think more genuine in the sense that it's a kind of happiness that is not dependent on external circumstances.

And I'm thinking to myself: External circumstances as in, for instance, dark skies and rain? Hmmm. I guess I'll have to invest a few more decades in my TCC practice (and seated meditation).

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mental Exercise is No Different than Physical Exercise

Fabulous day! I doused myself with non-toxic insect spray and headed off for a walk before the day heated up. Back home I reapplied bug dope and hit the deck for my T'ai Chi Chih practice.

During practice I focused my intent on moving with total relaxation and no effort. Meanwhile I watched yellow buttercups sway in the slight breeze and white thimbleberry blossoms peek at me from their hiding place in dense undergrowth.

After TCC practice I remained on the deck in seated meditation for an additional 10 minutes. I felt my body as it rested against the chair, noticed the bottoms of my feet where they met the deck flooring, and breathed in peace. Ahhh....

When I sat before the computer to begin my blog, I spontaneously turned on the radio. Synchronistically, On Being host Krista Tippett was mid-interview with Richard Davidson, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who conducts brain research on Tibetan-Buddhist monks. He's a pioneer in the field of contemplative neuroscience.

Much of Davidson's interview reiterated material from Buddha's Brain, the book my T'ai Chi Chih students and I are currently reading and discussing. At times, though, his research discoveries were like little nuggets of gold emerging from a hidden stream. I include several tidbits here:
*Our brains are always either wittingly or unwittingly being shaped.
*Which influences are we going to choose for our brain?
*Going to a weekly psychotherapy session without doing a daily practice flies in the face of what Davidson is discovering in his research.
*We need to do a daily practice in order to reinforce positive change. The field of psychology/psychotherapy is beginning to recognize the significance of this finding. 
*Practice is about cultivating positive qualities (happiness is a skill that can be enhanced through training).
Davidson--like the authors of Buddha's Brain--believes that we can use contemplative methods (there are literally hundreds of meditation practices) to change the mind and consequently change the brain in ways that are beneficial. He repeatedly reminded listeners of the importance of practice: Mental exercise is no different than physical exercise.

Davidson's research team hopes to use some of their methods preventively. With that goal in mind, they've begun to train four- and five-year-olds to cultivate kindness and mindfulness in order to develop a toolbox to cope with adversity. Can these strategies in early life make a difference? Conclusive data has yet to be gathered though he's gratified to see how these tools are working.

One example Davidson cited was the feedback he received from a parent of one of the kids in his study. The parent thanked Davidson, noted the positive changes they'd observed in their child, and then asked where they could learn these methods to help themselves.

As T'ai Chi Chih practitioners we have studied, learned, and integrated a tremendous moving meditation tool into our lives. All we need do is PRACTICE. Try it. And simply notice what changes occur....

Saturday, June 25, 2011

In Train-ing

T'ai Chi Chih practice occurred long, long ago (about 12 hours). By the time evening arrived I almost forgot that I did my practice today!

It was early (and quiet). The only sounds I heard were the buzzing of insects. The only motions I sensed were insects hovering around my head. The only touch I felt were flies and mosquitoes landing on my skin and biting me. (At the moment I have two beautiful matching swollen spots on each side of my forehead at eyebrow level.)

I admit. It was hard to keep my attention focused and centered unless you call swatting and waving away biting insects the ultimate proof of me being present in the moment....

The sunshine disappeared for large portions of the day though the temperature remained fairly warm. I spent the afternoon cooking after I purchased a variety of items at the farmer's market this morning.

And now the day slows and quiets itself once again. Chug-chug-chug. Chug. Chug. Chug. Whoo. Whoo. I'm pulling into the station and my travels are done for another day.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Giving Thanks Again ... and Again

Sunshine! Clear skies! Warmer temps! It feels like summer has returned? arrived? begun?

The soft earth beneath our feet yielded fabulous footprints during today's walk: wolf (on our driveway!), fawn, and mama deer. Today I observed Chickie as she tried to produce an egg. This would be her first egg since she joined our family several months ago. No results as of yet.

The hummingbirds disappeared during the past week. Are they busy attending to their young? Have they found other sources of nourishment? Did we inadvertently chase them away? Amazingly, after Frances put out their feeders today we caught a few glimpses and heard a few familiar buzzes.

I practiced T'ai Chi Chih on the deck in the afternoon's receding sunlight. It felt infinitely relaxing: no where to go, no thing to do, no one to be.

I am deeply grateful that I have time to experience, relish, and immerse myself in the quiet harmony of this wooded land I call home. T'ai Chi Chih practice helps me to notice, appreciate, and express gratitude for the blessings all around me. And ... I give thanks. Again. And again.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Peace that Passeth Understanding....

My outdoor T'ai Chi Chih summer session began this morning. No outdoors. No summer. But, yes, we did a full T'ai Chi Chih practice. And that's what counts....

Rain falls daily and moreso over the past few nights and days. Our propane furnace has operated all week and today was no exception as I set out for my class at 8:45 a.m. with temps in the high 40s.

Shall I say that TCC practice was a bright spot in a dull, dark day? It seemed to be so. It felt wonderful to reconvene class members, some of whom only return to the area during the warm inviting flush of summertime.

And now we have once again come together, shared a special bond of energy through the familiar repetitive pattern of T'ai Chi Chih movements, and reestablished a connection that will last through eight weeks of class.

Each T'ai Chi Chih session is different and special due to the collection of individuals who choose to participate. Each class contains its own character, its own temperament, its own gifts.

I am grateful for each opportunity to share this moving meditation with others. For every minute that passes in a unified flow of movement. And, most of all, for the opportunity to share with one another a resonance of our inner essence with the harmony and peace of the cosmic energy ("the peace that passeth all understanding," Philippians 4:7).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Deep, Soggy Peace

A steady, soothing rain lulled me into a deep sleep until after 8:00 this morning. Now heavy fog settles onto the earth as water slowly drips from rain soaked leaves.

Frances and I made lunch for our niece and her new husband today before they ended their honeymoon in the Bayfield area and headed for home. The four of us shared scrumptious food and good conversation as we reviewed their weekend wedding ceremony and celebration.

After they left I segued into my T'ai Chi Chih practice as I positioned myself in the porch facing south. There I immersed myself in the colors of summer blooms, bright against their well-watered green foliage: yellow swamp buttercups, blue iris, blue and pink lupine, white ox-eye daisies, and deep pink rhododendron. My feast for the eyes was delicious!

This afternoon feels like a holiday after recent weeks filled with work, visitors, travel, parties, and overnight guests. I'm grateful for this quiet time at home with my animals, my partner, and our beautiful, lush vegetation. TCC practice allowed me to soak myself in gratitude. And now ... here I sit drenched in deep, soggy peace....

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


My personal copy of Justin Stone's T'ai Chi Chih! Joy thru Movement returned to me in the mail today. I loaned it to a student during spring class sessions to help her become more familiar with the form and to aid in her practice. When class concluded, she couldn't locate the DVD.

During a phone conversation my student mentioned to me that she never lost things. In fact, she said, she typically found lost items for other people. I immediately thought: There's a reason this DVD was misplaced. She'll order a new copy of Stone's instructional video and then find my loaner copy.

Sure enough. My copy of the DVD was enclosed in the envelope along with a brief note which confirmed that once she ordered the replacement DVD she found the original.

The Universe works in interesting ways....

I split my practice in two today. Ten minutes of practice before work and twenty minutes after work. It was appropriate. Just enough practice pre-work to settle me into a quiet, relaxed state. By the time I returned to my practice this evening the rain tumbled from the sky and a flood of energy circulated through my palms as I moved.

My boss, who recently returned from a 10-day Centering Prayer retreat, told me today that she spends at least half an hour each day immersed in her Centering Prayer practice. Wow, she exclaimed, just think how different the world would be if every person spent 30 minutes a day in prayer or meditation.

I know, I thought, Justin Stone has counseled his teachers and students about the transformational power of a 30-minute-a-day T'ai Chi Chih practice for years. The world, he tells us, would be a peaceful place. I'm positive that my boss would agree.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Frances and I drove to an out of town wedding and returned again with little warning to my readers and no direct warning of my scarce presence in the blogosphere. Well, here I am.... And here are my catch-up blogs from Friday, June 17 through Monday, June 20 in chronological order:

Friday, June 17, 2011, 11:00 am

I'm sitting in a parking lot in Duluth, MN while Frances picks up a new pair of glasses she ordered. It's heavily fogged over and 50 degrees. I won't get any sunburn in this town!

I finished today's TCC practice by 7:20 am before the house was aflurry with activity. It felt wonderful to begin this quiet day with a peaceful practice (especially after yesterday's hustle and bustle of party prep and dinner with 10 guests).

I'm beginning to realize that the older I grow the more difficult it is for me to live with activity, noise, and hubbub in my home/private retreat center. So it was a welcome relief when Frances and I took off for the wedding in the small space of our car, just the two of us engaged in quiet one-on-one conversation.

Perhaps when house guests are present it's best to do several TCC practices each day. That way I can enter silence, return to silence, and be rejuvenated by silence in the midst of noise, activity, people, and personalities. That's my plan for this weekend and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I practiced T'ai Chi Chih this morning on the shores of Woman Lake in northcentral Minnesota. The weather was heavily overcast and a few boats quietly floated far from shore.

Three sets of goose mamas with babies, aged newly birthed to pre-teen swam past me and watched me move. A solitary loon floated and dived closer and closer, then further and further away.

I felt woven into the web of peace and silence that floated on the lake's surface along with the ducks, seagulls, and loons. And I was swept into the constant soft rhythm of water meeting shore. A light mist blessed the lake, her feathered friends, and me, the lone human rocking and floating with the waves as they swept to shore.

Ahh. What peace ...

Sunday, June 19, 2011, 6:00 pm

We missed the pouring rain that fell overnight but we returned to a pool of water collected at the end of our driveway and green wetness surrounding the house. Because of swirls of activity in the house and yard after we unloaded our gear and greeted and chatted with our house guests/animal sitters and our critters, I chose to practice T'ai Chi Chih outside on the damp, cool deck. It was 40 degrees.

It felt great to be back in our beautiful home and woodland yard. And, even though it felt cold, I breathed in the energy of woods and wet grass, and treasured the silence.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I rose from bed and practiced T'ai Chi Chih before leaving the bedroom. Today is departure day for our friends and I wished to feel rested and centered before I descended into the packing and loading activity that swirled beneath me. Plus I needed time to wake up and start my engines.

Sunshine skimmed the woods as I practiced, a clue that this day would be different from the past week, notable for its cool wetness. I focused my attention on tall, strong trunks and large green leaves as they rode the waves of breeze that circulated through the forest. And I relaxed into my practice before I entered the fray that surged below. Ready ... set ... go....

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Monkey Mind at Rest

I woke today with a headache lodged in my forehead and crown. First Frances did some massage on my neck and jaw. Some improvement. Then I drank coffee in hopes the caffeine could help. Next I practiced T'ai Chi Chih. I know from experience that Light at the Top of the Head/Light at the Temples can heal headaches. No luck.

I had a strong feeling that I needed to take a walk. Before heading out the door, though, one of our visitors offered me some energy work. Her diagnosis? There was too much energy in my head. It was just too darn busy up there. She suggested I work on grounding and rooting myself. A slow, meditative walk would be just the thing.

I left my partner and house guests behind and headed off down the drive. The walk was magical. And I realized that my sensitive introverted self really needed time and space to myself. I've been too busy, too overscheduled, and too overpeopled. I simply needed some Me time.

On my walk I spotted tiny fawn footprints in the dirt roadway. I watched two butterflies resting and fluttering and overlapping wings on the ground at my feet. I sniffed the sweet nectar of two pink-white clover blossoms. And I picked gorgeous dandelion seed heads that I brought home to create a bouquet. I know. It sounds weird. But, in combination with seed heads from the pasque flower, the centerpiece looks gorgeous.

We have a small gathering scheduled for this afternoon/evening to introduce our out-of-town friends to some of the locals. So my TCC practice, walk, energy work, massage, and time in nature were collaborative efforts to heal me of my busyness and bring me into the moment.

Sometimes it requires a range of modalities to attract peace and quiet into my life. For the moment, anyway, Monkey Mind is taking a rest.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The beauty and abundance of each day....

I let the goose and chicken out of their barn and the dog, cat, and myself out of the house by 7:00 this morning. It felt great to be released into the woods. Everyone scrambled for food, water, and exercise (myself included).

While I practiced T'ai Chi Chih on the deck the chicken grazed through the tall weeds and grasses in the south ravine, the cat hunted beneath the deck, the dog barked (his morning notice to all wild creatures to keep their distance), and the goose hunkered down and honked by the northeast corner of the house.

Meanwhile, of course, the birds sang gloriously. In the morning coolness (50 degrees) I peered into the dark woods (I can't see very far into the woods anymore because of all the leafyness), felt occasional rain drops on my skin, drank in the beauty of the blossoms on the dogwood tree, and slid lightly through my movements.

Yes, morning is a wonderful time to practice TCC. It's a great beginning to the day and I can now move gracefully into the beauty and abundance of my day....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Background Noise

My evening T'ai Chi Chih movements were practiced to the accompaniment of Namaste as he barked without ceasing outside the front door. In his regular nightly warning to all wild creatures moving through the woods he announced, and I paraphrase: This is my property! No one allowed on these premises! No exceptions!

Of course it didn't take me long to relegate his nonstop barking to background noise as I moved quietly through my practice. My movements were practiced to the tune of this refrain: Relax. Release. Slow down. And, by practice end, I did succeed with this prescription.

As I sat before my computer to write my blog Namaste came huffing into the room with a loud, exaggerated, and self-satisfied tone to his exhalations. He, too, achieved his evening's goal.

Now as I type, he's stretched out on the floor in a deep, restful sleep. It's inspiring. And soon, very soon, I'll join him in this ultimate state of relaxation....

Monday, June 13, 2011

One Constant

My sore throat comes and goes. My energy rises and fades. My work schedule flips and flops. One constant is my T'ai Chi Chih practice (I have yet to fully convert to a morning practice).

I opened the library this morning and was immediately inundated with patrons. The entire day I was in constant motion. It felt good to come home and slow into my TCC practice. I moved on the deck as I enjoyed the brightly colored blooms of orange poppy and blue irises (and the purple rake handle stuck in the dirt behind them). Eventually the mosquitoes drove me into the house.

It was bug free inside but I missed the beautiful chorus of birdsong, the cool breaths of air, and the fluorescent greenery. The TCC practice definitely slowed down my mind and body after a too busy day. And now I perfectly prepared for a quiet, relaxing evening....

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Colorful Afternoon

The beauty of this day is simply profound. I could merely relax and enjoy the beauty but, I admit, I'm engaged in the busyness that comes prior to the arrival of overnight guests, a party we host Thursday night, and our own out-of-town trip next weekend.

Today is laundry day. And, as I practiced T'ai Chi Chih on the deck, I enjoyed looking into the woods at the colorful clothes that hung on a line. Oranges, maroons, purples, and deep pinks ran down the line in a gorgeous stream of color that was perfectly complemented by woodland greens. Hey, even wet clothes can be beautiful.

A poppy blossomed bright orange today and our purple irises are opening too. As our blue forget-me-nots go to seed yellow buttercups sprinkle themselves generously amid tall grasses and weeds.

I sprayed myself liberally with natural bug spray in order to practice outside. Then I took to the deck. After some initial "day of rest" sounds (Frances running the chainsaw and a neighbor backing up a beeping vehicle) I settled into a deeply calm and quiet practice.

These daily doses of silence, along with my own disinterest in radio programs and movies, are filling my spirit with just what it craves: deep peace. I am grateful.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's Loverly....

Though the day started out cool--oh, let's get real ... freezing!--it's now splendid. The leaves have grown to their mature size. I can tell because we now live in the midst of a well-shaded plot of land. The sun shines brightly but its sunbeams barely touch the earth because of our abundant tree cover.

I practiced T'ai Chi Chih in mid-afternoon after the temperatures climbed over 60. It was absolutely beautiful to move within the shelter of this sun-dappled universe. Midway through practice I noticed a dragonfly landing on the tip of a bright pink lupine that grew on the edge of our garden. It sat, then flew away, returned, and sat again. Over and over.

Once my practice was done I walked over to the lupine to determine what its particular appeal was for that dragonfly. I couldn't figure it out. Still, I don't blame that dragonfly for wanting to be as close as possible to the vibrant beauty of this northwoods wildflower.

I'm busy cooking and cleaning today as we have guests arriving midweek. We leave on Friday for a weekend wedding. And next Wednesday we'll prepare brunch for the newlyweds who happen to be honeymooning on the Bayfield pennisula. The summer tourist season--for our location and others in the northland--has arrived!

After TCC practice I walked around the house looking for Chickie. She wasn't in any of her usual roosting spots. As I turned the corner to the north end of the house I spotted her sitting within 25 feet of Lucy. She could have settled anywhere but she chose to sit near the goose; obviously both of our feathered friends appreciate companionship.

Tonight's movie night with two friends. We plan to watch Pray the Devil Back to Hell, a documentary about women in Liberia--Muslim and Christian, rich and poor, urban and rural--who worked to bring peace to their war-torn country. I'm looking for inspiration in my life and it sounds like this movie is just the thing! Summer solstice arrives in less than two weeks!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Life's Simplest Pleasures

I've been grumpy the last several days. Why? I'm tired. It's obvious that I've pushed myself too hard. How do I know? I become impatient, critical, and short-tempered.

Today was my final day of extra work hours (I've covered hours for two co-workers over the past three weeks). To celebrate, when I returned home, I took a nap. Then I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice. Guess what? I felt better.

I started my TCC practice inside the house because I've been C-O-L-D over the past several days. (Example: today's high was predicted for 50 degrees.) Then I heard Ms. Lucy honking. I decided to move onto the deck to keep her company. The poor goose still goes through days when she misses Ander and she lets us know by honking repeatedly.

It was cool outside--45 degrees--but I focused on the scenery, on Lucy, and on relaxing into my practice. Soon I wasn't even aware of the chill. Lucy watched me practice for a time and then started to groom. At one point she extended a leg backward and opened her wing into a beautiful fan. That was a beautiful moment.

During my movements I enjoyed my comradeship with Lucy, the quiet, and the abundant greenery. My mind emptied. My heart filled. And my practice ended.

Afterward Frances took me on a walk through our gardens and showed me the planting she's done while I've been working. As we walked further into the woods I found a stand of horsetail and picked a bunch for Lucy. I fed it to her as Frances and I watched her eat.

What a joy to observe our goose happily crunching away at her pile of greens! And how wonderful it feels to be thoroughly entertained by life's simplest pleasures....

Thursday, June 9, 2011


I'm tired. The brain just doesn't want to work anymore this afternoon so you, my readers, will suffer the consequences....

As Frances prepares dinner (frying up oyster mushrooms she found on a downed poplar tree) I write my blog. And I'm ready to call the day done.

Our TCC gathering this morning drew a select few. I soon realized that I--and I assume all of us--come to depend upon the established regimen and setting where we normally meet and practice T'ai Chi Chih. As soon as we add different people or a new location there are adjustments to make.

That's all good. In fact, that's part of the purpose of T'ai Chi Chih practice: to learn how to go with the flow and easily adapt to whatever happens in any particular moment.

So it goes. In two weeks our summer session begins and we'll have a whole new configuration of students (some seasonal residents who live here during warmer months only). Plus we'll practice outside--weather permitting--and outdoor practices typically require flexibility and adaptability to cope with weather, noise, and uneven terrain underfoot.

Summer is almost here (today, though, I wore multiple layers of clothes to accommodate temps in the high 40s/low 50s)! I received news that my friend and fellow TCC teacher, Anna, is healing. She's already engaged in TCC practice (seated/standing) and that, I'm sure, will speed her recovery. Tired or not, all is well with the world....

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Left-Handed Toothbrushing then TCC Practice?

I purposefully chose to practice T'ai Chi Chih before I went to work at the library today with good reason: Wednesday mornings are crazily busy due to a kids' story hour, delivery of off-site interlibrary loan materials, and kids and moms returning--and then checking out--stacks of books.

My moving meditation practice helped. I stayed calmer than I usually do in the midst of so much chaos. And ... I reminded myself that it was okay to move slowly and deliberately (my patrons may not appreciate the fact that I took my time but I certainly felt better!).

I had a wonderful early morning TCC practice on the deck. Sunshine. Light breeze. Few bugs. Lucy watching from her roost at the northeast corner of the house. Total calm and silence. The peacefulness inspired me to return to an early morning practice. If I start my day with moving meditation practice before the phone starts to ring and tasks start to mount, I'll likely find it easier to get into the flow and stay out of the Monkey Mindedness that accumulates as the day progresses.

I'm in the midst of an experiment based on a course description I read last week entitled, "Discover the Neuroscience of Your Everyday Life." The professor, Sam Wang, offered this tip to help you stick to a health regiment: brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand for two weeks. Wang noted that this tunes your brain and leads to a measurable increase in your willpower capacity. People who do this are then able to follow a diet or exercise program better.

That last sentence is signficant. I already see improvements in my walking regimen. So now's the time to take another positive step. Tomorrow I'll have the aid of my TCC class as we meet for a between-session morning TCC practice and potluck. And then ... ?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Power of Less

It's another beautiful day after a night of rain, thunder, lightning, and hail. Temps here are in the 60s; in River Falls, WI it's 102. I like where I live.

Today I started reading The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential ... in Business and in Life by Leo Babauta. I constantly search for more information and encouragement when it comes to simplifying. Of course, T'ai Chi Chih practice and The Tao remind us that less is more or, at least, enough.

Babauta encourages readers to simplify their lives by taking two ultra-simple steps: first, identify the essential and second, eliminate the rest (p. ix). Since we live in a culture where the prevailing attitude is "more is better," those of us who choose to live simply often find ourselves swimming against the mainstream current.

Frances and I recently watched A Crude Awakening (about peak oil). If the experts consulted in that documentary are correct, humans living around our entire planet will soon have to change their lifestyles in order to live without the wealth of natural resources--specifically fossil fuels--that we've come to rely upon. Those who've practiced and refined the art of living simply are ahead of the curve ball that's headed our way....

Today I practiced my simple moving meditation before I went to work. It was crazy-busy when I arrived at the library. I have no doubt that my pre-work practice helped me float calmly through the midst of the chaos. And that is a very good thing....

Monday, June 6, 2011

Family Chi

And, YES, yet another fabulous day in the Northland. Green. Yellow. Blue. Green. Green. And more green.

T'ai Chi Chih practice outside before work ... and only one huge swollen spot on my neck to show for it! I started out on the deck until black flies and mosquitoes drove me to the northwest end of the house. There I moved through the remainder of the form as I watched Lucy nap.

By practice end I turned to find Chiripa and Namaste lined up behind me. Yes, T'ai Chi Chih practice is a grand time for family members to gather for their daily dose of Chi.

Even though tourist season is on the upswing the woods are still deeply peaceful. My practice was wonderfully silent and restful. Afterward I drove to work and zipped through a speedy and productive day.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Filled Up

We've just experienced two days of perfection! Beauty, flowers, sunshine, light breezes ...

Today I practiced T'ai Chi Chih outside until the bugs got bad. It was time to leave for a friend's house anyway. So off we went ... to a wonderful dinner and discussion about our friend's recent experience at a 10-day Centering Prayer retreat.

It was inspiring to hear our friend talk about how the silent retreat affected her inner self. She came back home with specific changes she wants to make in her habits and daily activities. And she's motivated to continue her Centering Prayer each day as well.

Her description of how she felt inside as she slowed and quieted herself into the present reminded me of T'ai Chi Chih practice. For me, I get a daily half-hour dose of centering meditation when I engage in my TCC practice. It may not be as life-changing as a 10-day retreat but both efforts take discipline and commitment. And, as my friend remarked, if you want to have a spiritual life, you need to make a choice to engage in a regular spiritual practice.

After dinner I came home and finished my T'ai Chi Chih practice indoors. I felt energy moving through my body and slowness filtering through my muscles. And I felt deeply grateful for the opportunity to share in my friend's retreat experience. What a gift to be filled with the fullness of the present moment!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Straight Line or Sphere?

Distance in a straight line has no mystery.
     The mystery is in the sphere.
          --Thomas Mann, Joseph and His Brothers
          From: The Lake of Dreams, Kim Edwards
To me, this quote describes T'ai Chi Chih practice. We carry balls of energy throughout our T'ai Chi Chih practice. We move in a circular fashion as we shift weight forward and back, side to side. We set our hands and arms into motion before us, beside us, and around us, all movements based upon a sphere.

Do we understand why we move in this fashion? Not necessarily. What we do know is that this pattern of movement relaxes and calms us and quiets and unifies us with All That Is....

How was it possible, after one heavy rainfall yesterday, for our forest to pop to life? Vegetation, leaves, plants and flowers are suddenly abundant. Ferns next to the house grew a foot taller overnight. How could this happen? It's a mystery.

Chickie's feathers returned on her neck and rear where they were pulled out by her sister hens and the rooster. One day she was virtually bald. Today she is close to her perfect state of chickenhood. I barely noticed it occurring. Why? Because it's a mystery.

During today's T'ai Chi Chih practice the cat, Chiripa, walked up behind me, sat down, and stayed. Why? I don't have a clue. Also, the bugs were worse on one side of the house than on another (I moved my practice). Is there a reason? Probably. Do I need to know it? No.

How does our T'ai Chi Chih practice make us feel better, calmer, more at peace? What is the chi, really? To describe it, to put our experience into words relegates it to a smaller, less significant place in our lives. Which, I believe is a mistake.

Can I trust in the mystery and simply believe that everything is as it is meant to be?

That is the question: Straight line or sphere? How do you choose to move through your life?

Friday, June 3, 2011

This Breath

My morning T'ai Chi Chih practice began inside, moved outside, then returned inside. I started in the house because I assumed a multitude of biting insects were circulating in the greater outdoors. Then ... it looked so beautiful outside I couldn't contain myself. Halfway through Bass Drum, I moved outdoors to become one with the beauty of the woods (and to join my nearby goose and chicken companions).

Almost immediately my feathered friends moved elsewhere. And soon I was surrounded by mosquitoes and black flies who exhibited absolutely no shyness about landing and biting. I changed my mind again.

Back inside I had a bug-free practice but I missed the sunshine and animals, birds and plants. After practice I ventured into the yard to pick flowers: bleeding hearts, lungwort, and narcissus created a fabulous pink and white bouquet. Ahhh. Beauty outside and in.

In recent weeks I find myself struggling with how to center into my TCC practice. It feels like my life moves too fast. A day passes so quickly that I'm barely out of bed before I'm back in again. I assume that I'm experiencing the aging process. If that's true, it's essential that I become present to each moment rather than allowing myself to be distracted by the day-to-day busyness/business.

What really matters? I ask myself. Now. Today. This moment. This beauty. This peace. This breath.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Part of All

It's a fabulous day! Clear skies, low humidity, sunshine.

I practiced T'ai Chi Chih on the deck before tiny black flies (that leave huge welts on your skin) drove me inside. During the outdoor segment of my practice I was in sunshine heaven, soaking in warmth.

The goose took a swim in our newly-filled pond (thanks to recent rainstorms). While I moved Frances sat on the side of the pond to watch Lucy, the chicken grazed nearby, and the dog hovered close too. The family had gathered.

By late afternoon the clouds returned and come nightfall it's overcast once again. Still, it was wonderful to practice in the sunshine while it lasted. After I moved inside I felt that I was missing something. Hmmm. What could that be? Color, activity, animals, birds, and the lushness of approaching summer.

Being out in nature adds so much to T'ai Chi Chih practice. I truly feel that I'm a part of all of creation. What a blessed experience!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ah, peace....

The wind finally died down late this afternoon. In the meantime, branches and power lines and who knows what else fell to earth over the past few days. One of my co-workers mentioned that she and a daughter saw a sparkling tree last night. When the daughter stopped later to take a photo, she realized that a downed power line caused the tree to spark.

It's a relief to be wind-free. Tonight I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice on the porch in perfect quiet. Total stillness. I looked out into the woods and saw every shade of brilliant green looking back at me. It was heavenly.

While I was at work my back and legs ached. As soon as I arrived home I lay down on the Chi and Hot House machines. I immediately felt better. The T'ai Chi Chih practice added to my feelings of relaxation and comfort.

And now I'm in for a quiet night of peacefulness (i.e., no wind, no thunder, no lightning, and no pouring rain). Ah, peace....