Sunday, July 31, 2011

Primed with Inner Stillness

It's another beauteous summer day. Breakfast on the deck with two friends. Insightful conversation. And now the heat and humidity begin to rise....

The day began with T'ai Chi Chih practice. I hit the deck before the full complement of guests and partner were up and moving. It was quiet, calm, green, and utterly peaceful. I knew intuitively that I needed all the centering and relaxation that I could muster and so I focused my intent on slowing, breathing, being.

Now as I go about my day with guests in my house (including a dog that inadvertently intimidates our cat and all the winged ones) I'll be primed with inner stillness and tranquility. I can't ask for more than that.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fed by Healthy Food & an Uplifting Practice

Last night's dinner/movie party was a success. Ten guests joined us for brats, calico beans, and potato salad and supplied their own wonderful additions of fresh garden greens, just-picked sour cherries, garlic scape pesto, beet salad, and fruit salad.

After dinner and conversation we adjourned to the living room to watch "Gasland." Filmmaker Josh Fox's documentary explores the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that's sweeping the country.

Halliburton developed this method of drilling for natural gas which has since expanded to 34 states. Many of his interview subjects live in homes close to wells that have (apparently) polluted their air and water. Despite a lack of regulation by the EPA these people describe undrinkable tap water, failing health, and, in some cases, chemically poluted tap water that they can literally set on fire.

It gives one pause.

One of our guests mentioned at the farmers' market this morning that the magnitude of fracking was so shocking to her she woke at 3:30 a.m., got out of bed, and began to cook food to share at her market stand. The first solution that came to mind was for her to serve people nutritious, vitamin-rich foods. (A creative and hopeful response.)

Frances and I rose early. I was on the deck--well-sprayed with bug dope--by 8:00 a.m. While Frances watered our flower and vegetable gardens I moved through my T'ai Chi Chih practice. After the previous evening's movie it was helpful to engage myself in a positive, uplifting practice.

Overnight weekend guests to arrive soon and we have wonderful, homegrown farmers' market beets, chard, and herb bread to serve and enjoy.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Not-So-Hidden Treasure

Oh, it's a busy day. Guests for dinner and a movie tonight, overnight guests arrive tomorrow, AND two new chickens arrived yesterday. That's a lot of getting to know you.

I leapt at the opportunity to practice T'ai Chi Chih early this morning before the heat descended upon our woodland home. Meanwhile Frances served as referee while the three chickens met, interacted, and worked out their pecking order (literally!).

What can I say? I live in a beautiful part of the Universe.

I soaked in the surrounding beauty as I moved through practice today. (It helped, of course, to have a pungent and floriferous lily right beneath the deck at my feet.) Consequently, I feel very calm and relaxed despite the fact that we have a houseful of neighbors scheduled to arrive for dinner in seven hours and there's a load of cooking and cleaning to finish.

As I write a moth flutters up and down the outside of my window. Leaves rise and fall, float and flutter in the slight breeze as the sun shines and shines and shines. It's an absolutely perfect day and I intend to treasure each smell, each sound, each movement, and every glimpse of the plants and animals around me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beginning to Re-Member

Today's weather: low 70s and humid when we started T'ai Chi Chih class practice. We formed a circle in the shade of a huge tree and, midway through practice, repositioned the entire group in order to follow the shifting, breezy shade as it sheltered us from the sun's hot progress across the morning sky.

It was a busy summer morning: walkers passed, men conversed on the other side of a border of trees, and people came and went from the building where our class is normally held. The earth beneath our feet, though, was soft and wet and it felt wonderfully satisfying to move in quiet unison.

By practice end I was glad to retreat to a cooler spot indoors for tea time and discussion. Our topic today: "Two Wolves in the Heart," Chapter 8 from Buddha's Brain. We eagerly launched into a conversation based upon the brief story author Rick Hanson led off with at the top of this chapter. It told of a Native American elder who was asked how she had become so wise, happy, and respected. She answered: In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day. (p. 121)

As Hanson affirms, it's a humbling story. Why? Because it's far too easy to fall into an us vs. them mentality, to forget our oneness with all life, and to selfishly look out for our own best interests. But Hanson also assures us that we each have the ability--grounded in daily actions--to encourage and strengthen empathy, compassion, and kindness while also restraining and reducing ill will, disdain, and aggression.

How do we do this? One simple, direct, and obvious way is to engage ourselves in a daily T'ai Chi Chih practice (or yoga, or Centering Prayer, or?). Day after day, week after week, year after year.

It's not always easy. It may occasionally seem dull, redundant, and useless. But a regular practice has a powerful, positive, cumulative effect. Gradually you realize that you're different from the person you used to be. All it takes is regular, consistent, disciplined practice. These quiet, soft, flowing, peaceful movements will lead you out of an old way of being into something new, something quieter, softer, more flowing and incredibly peaceful. Is it really a new you? Or are you just beginning to re-member who you truly are?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Restless Mind

Today rain came, and left, and came, and left, and came again. Now it's still and overcast; the rain, it seems, is waiting off-stage for another appearance.

In late afternoon I practiced T'ai Chi Chih on the porch since I assumed it was too wet and mosquitoey (yes, a made up word) outside. Halfway through I noticed Lucy watching me from the front step and I decided to join her for the remainder of the practice. Big mistake. I'd been right ... mosquitoes swarmed me and I retreated back to the porch.

As you might expect, the first half of my practice was more focused and calm than the last half. Regardless, it felt good to move and my hands and fingers trembled with an overflow of energy.

Our friends didn't drive up today due to an extremely ill cat, Madeline. So, in true T'ai Chi Chih fashion we went with the flow. If not today, perhaps they'll make it later this week. If not this week, then another time. We've plenty to do to prepare for a dinner and film we're hosting at our house on Friday night (and another friend's visit on Saturday).

Through all the visits, and guests, and comings and goings, I'll continue with my practice. That, I know, slows me down and helps to soothe my restless mind.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Where the Universe Dwells

It's a morning that deserves a "Golden Globe" award (or at the very least a "Green Forest" award). Picture perfect. Perfectly picturesque.

Monkey Mind was quieter during this morning's T'ai Chi Chih practice. I'd already spent several hours on chores, walked down the driveway, and prepped for Thursday morning's TCC class. So, yes, I'd taken a load off my mind.

On the other hand, who can resist a mid-60s, calm, quiet, sunny, woodsy, breezy morning? Not me. I relished my time in the yard surrounded by my animal family. Lucy napped quietly in front of me, Chickie pecked in the corn pan, Namaste played his role as protector dog, and Chiripa roamed through weeds and grasses stalking an unknown prey.

I felt incredibly honored to be the hub of a wheel with animals circulating around me. Chiripa was feisty, as usual. At one point she positioned herself in front of Namaste and swiped at his nose with her paw as she pranced in front of him. He was oblivious. Next she fell to the ground, belly up. Still oblivious.

Eventually Chiripa stood, arched her back, shifted sideways, and danced before the dog. Namaste finally looked at her then took off at a run, Chiripa dashing happily behind. I couldn't help myself. I simply had to laugh. Such playfulness. Such joy. Such good role models.

At practice end I bowed and said namaste to each of my animal companions. In truth, they are my reminders that the Universe dwells within us all....

Monday, July 25, 2011


All was busyness in my mind today. It's the beginning of a new work week, friends are due to arrive on Wednesday for an overnight visit, and another friend will be in the area over the weekend.

My mind leapt and jumped like a frog in a pond during T'ai Chi Chih practice. Repeatedly I reminded myself to slow down, soften my knees, and simply allow my weight to flow softly forward and back. Many times I found that advisory easier (nonverbally) said than done. As soon as my mind accelerated my body followed in its wake.

Now, though, as I sit at the computer writing this blog I can feel that my body is more at ease, my shoulders more relaxed. Hopefully, my mental/emotional state is in a more neutral state as well which, I know, will facilitate my helpfulness with patrons at work this afternoon.

After a few days of sweatshirt weather we're back to summer. Summer squash, green beans, and tomatoes are lengthening, widening, and becoming. Frances mentioned that she saw her first grasshopper several days ago and so, a poem:
Grasshopper, your tiny song
And my poem alike belong
To the dark and silent earth,
From which all poetry has birth,
All we say and all we sing
Is but as the murmuring
Of that drowsy heart of hers
When from her deep dream she stirs
If we sorrow, or rejoice
You and I are but her voice....

If you would know what earth is, scan
The intricate, proud heart of man,
Which is the earth articulate,
And learn how holy and how great,
How limitless, and how profound,
Is the nature of the ground--
How, without question or demur,
We may entrust ourselves to her
When we are wearied out and lay
Our bodies in the common clay....
          --John Hall Wheelock
            From: Earth Prayers, pp. 396-99

Sunday, July 24, 2011

All that matters....

Another day is almost done. What happened to the time? (As I write this I think of my mother and how often she said these words.)

The evidence of my activities circulates around me: a bouquet of black-eyed Susans brightens the living room, a just-made batch of pesto freezes in an ice cube tray, the delicious aroma of plain rice pilaf lingers in the air, and a half flat of fresh-picked raspberries cools in the refrigerator.

Of course many less notable but equally important activities filled my day: breakfast on the deck, a nap, animal care, a bit of time with my nose in the pages of The Hypnotist, a phone conversation with a friend, and, of course, my T'ai Chi Chih practice and blog.

I'm in awe of how quickly each day cycles from dawn to dusk. One of the few times in the day when time slows and almost stops is during my TCC practice. Or, perhaps, my concern about the passing of time is forgotten while I devote myself fully to the practice.

It's incredibly relaxing to be held in the endless presence of NOW. When I become frustrated or disappointed by my unfinished list of chores, it's wise for me to remember that this moment is where I am and all that matters.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Half and Half

Whoops. I woke this morning and remembered I agreed to work a half shift at the library today. That was a surprise (especially since I'd already booked my day with a variety of projects).

Consequently, my TCC practice was split in two: one-half before I headed to work (it rained heavily) and the other half after I returned home (while the wind shifted through the trees). It was ideal. After my morning practice I was relaxed and ready for a steady stream of patrons at the library. Then I returned myself to rest and relaxation after I made it home from my constant motion workday.

I'm absolutely sure that I handled the first hour and a half rush at work with a steadier, calmer mind because of my practice. And I'm equally sure that I'm in a better, more relaxed state now because of my post-work practice.

It's a win-win situation. And I still have a full evening ahead of me....

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Blessed Reprieve

Yes, I had a productive day: laundry, dishes, meal prep. We postponed visiting an orchard to pick raspberries because it was too hot. Now, at 9:00 p.m., a breeze shivers through the leaves as darkness politely dispatches the heat of the day.

We sleep with the windows open at night (just started this practice a week or two ago because 'til then it was too cold). I often wake at dawn as birds begin their Hallelujah Chorus. It's a glorious start to the day. I was reminded of this while reading Earth Prayers this evening:
You are singing, little dove,
on the branches of the silk-cotton tree.
And there also is the cuckoo,
and many other little birds.
All are rejoicing,
the songbirds of our god, our Lord.
And our goddess
has her little birds,
the turtledove, the redbird,
the black and yellow songbirds, and
     the hummingbird.
These are the birds of the beautiful
     goddess, our Lady.
If there is such happiness
among the creatures,
why do our hearts not also rejoice?
At daybreak all is jubilant.
Let only joy, only songs,
enter our thoughts!
          Song of Dzitbalche
          From: Earth Prayers, p. 256
It felt great to stay home today to work on chores instead of running around the neighborhood. In the midst of nonstop busyness I paused in the basement (deliciously cool!) to begin my T'ai Chi Chih practice. Practice No. 2 (second half of the form) took place on the deck as heat faded and a slight breeze ruffled the laundry on the clothesline.

It's interesting to note that some days--like today!--I almost forget to do my TCC practice. When I remember, though, it is always a blessed reprieve from the too-muchness of the day.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

No Need to React

Whew! Temps fell at least 24 degrees overnight. Thankfully the temperature gauge read 72 degrees en route to my AM T'ai Chi Chih class and, for the first time in five weeks, we practiced outdoors.

It was fabulous! A wonderful cooling breeze blew over us (and occasionally almost blew us over) as we moved through our practice. A student from the Twin Cities who joins us during the summer session admitted afterwards that it's an entirely different experience practicing in-person with a group of classmates rather than relying on the teachers' practice at the end of Justin Stone's TCC DVD. Yep. No doubt about it. The energy is different. In a word: Powerful.

Following practice we discussed Chapter 7 of Buddha's Brain, "Equanimity." I thought this would be an easy topic for us to consider since our T'ai Chi Chih practice is a premier example of equanimity in action (literally). As we flow through our movements we enter into silence and an energy of pure awareness. We let go and release ourselves into peace, love, and compassion (for others and most especially, for ourselves).

When we practice outside, as we did today, we cope easily with uneven ground beneath our feet. We notice the sounds and sights around us but we allow it all to remain on the periphery of our awareness. We feel insects as they flutter by, alight on us, or nip at our ankles, and we easily ignore them or brush them away. (That's the ideal at least, and some days during some practices I'm more easily able to maintain my equanimity.)

Buddha's Brain tells us that "Equanimity means not reacting to your reactions, whatever they are.... Equanimity is not coldness, indifference, or apathy. You are present in the world but not upset by it." (p. 117)

When I Googled equanimity on the internet, here's what I read at
     You hear some bad news. Immediately your heart pounds, your breath tightens, your face frowns. You hear some good news. Your heart jumps, your face smiles. In both cases, your thoughts swirl and you lose your center. You see something disgusting, you feel pain, you notice a horrible thought, or you see your favority, delectable treat, and you lose your center, inwardly rushing toward or fleeing from what you have encountered. All this describes our ordinary mode of pre-programmed, automated, conditioned, and contingent living....

     To work toward equanimity, we let go of attachments and accept ourselves, our situation, and our world. In this we distinguish the normalcy of caring and loving from the slavery of being bound and chained by identification and clinging.
Are you filled with equanimity one day (or during one TCC practice) and searching for it aimlessly another day? I would guess that that's more often the rule than the exception.. All that we can do is continue to practice. And remember ... you don't need to react to your reactions, whatever they are.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

(Im)patience Rewarded

It's 94 degrees. The hygenist at my dental clinic told me this afternoon that Wisconsin has warmer temperatures than Florida or Jamaica. The humidity's the killer so I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice inside the comfort of my air-conditioned house.

Even so, when I began to move I felt out of kilter, unbalanced, and jerky. What's a girl to do? I increased the repetitions of Rocking Motion from nine to 18. By the time I finished I felt like I moved with more smoothness and grace.

Nevertheless I was impatient during my practice. I enjoyed it while engaged in the movements but I also wished for practice to be over. I've felt impatient during my practice alot lately and I'm not sure whether that relates to the heat and humidity, my body, my life or ???

Now that practice is over, of course, I feel better. That's a direct reiteration of Justin's mandate: Do your TCC practice whether you feel like it or not. It always has beneficial effects....

So now I'm sitting at the computer writing my blog when I notice something dark moving at the edge of the driveway outside the window. I immediately focus on the movement. Frances saw a raccoon near the south gardens several days ago and we're on alert to protect our vegetables and animals.

When I found the right position I saw a fawn with spots on its back grazing along the edge of the drive. I ran to another room for a closer view. From that window I spotted Lucy, head turned, eye trained on the young invader.

I raced into the living room and instructed Frances to look outside too. By the time I returned to my original post I saw not one but two fawns dashing down the drive--twins!--with no mama in sight. In a flash the two youngsters were gone.

I sent a blessing to the critters of the forest at the end of today's T'ai Chi Chih practice. What a miracle to see two young 'uns just minutes later. Okay, okay. Life is good!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hangin' Out

Well, I beat the heat today (somewhat!). I practiced TCC on the deck under a cloudy sky as a breeze whispered by. A good sign: There IS a breeze this morning.

My headache, which began yesterday, is in full force. I know research shows that Buddhist meditation practitioners can relieve pain during meditation. I, however, couldn't concentrate during my practice. Which means, of course, that I need to practice more.

Once I began the T'ai Chi Chih movements I placed my intention on flowing softly forward and back with no effort. Then I simply moved.

Following my practice I hung from the trim above the front door in the hope that, if my head isn't on straight, my body weight may be able to readjust my neck vertebra (which is often the cause of my headaches). I'll spend time on the Chi and Hot House machines next. Then who knows? More hanging from the door trim? More repetitions of Light at the Top of the Head/Temples? More meditation?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fading ... Faded

It's hot. I'm tired. The afternoon is fading.

I practiced TCC after work tonight. I was still in the rush-around mode so it took awhile to slow down. I've had a headache all day which inspired me to do two rounds of Light at the Top of the Head/Light at the Temples. I didn't experience instant relief of either my headache or my tiredness.

But now I do, indeed, feel quieted down and calmer so I'll go with that. Tomorrow, tomorrow, there's always tomorrow....

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Helter Swelter

Sweltering. I think that's a fairly good word of the day.

I launched myself from bed and moved from task to task in hopes that I could complete a number of chores before the heat and humidity rose so high (predicted heat index of 100 to 110 degrees) that I could no longer move. Frances and I decided to wash the car so the weather was bearable when I donned my swimming suit and accidentally sprayed myself with cold water now and again.

Suddenly it was late afternoon and thunder rumbled through the woods. I exited the sauna (i.e., outdoors) and moved inside for T'ai Chi Chih practice. (Yes, in order to keep my sanity I turned on the air conditioning.)

It was fun to practice TCC while thunder echoed through the trees. I anticipated rain at any moment but by practice end all was silent. My stomach felt much better today so I let it (t'an t'ien) lead me into inner stillness. It took time but eventually (by Push Pull) I rode a wave of peace and tranquility. (Ah, yes, the cool air helped too.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What I Can Do....

Whew! High humidity and low productivity.

It's just one of those days. If I manage to get my T'ai Chi Chih practice and blog and a few other chores completed, I've done very, very well.

There was absolutely no way I could or would practice TCC outdoors today. Even though it looked beautiful--sunny, shady, and still--I knew better ... it was intensely humid and hot. And so I chose a spot in my cooler, dryer house and flowed through my practice.

It felt good to move as I'd spent most of this day feeling funky and therefore, I mostly rested and napped. My practice intention was to move slowly and thoughtfully. If possible, I hoped to activate and circulate the flow of healing energy since it certainly seemed that I needed it.

As I moved, I occasionally lost my attention and intention as my body tired and Monkey Mind interceded in my practice. When I found myself rushing through a movement or taking a shortcut, I simply brought myself back to slowness, back to attentiveness, and back to the moment. And then I carried on. This is what I can do: practice, practice, practice, practice....

Friday, July 15, 2011

Do all that you can ...

It was absolutely clear this morning that rain was imminent. I rushed outside to hang hummingbird feeders, release and feed the goose and chicken, harvest kale from our garden, and measure the height of the newly installed mailbox (its distance from the ground was 38 inches; the post office requires a height of 45 inches).

By the time I made it onto the deck for TCC practice I heard rain advancing through the woods. A whoosh of raindrops beat against the canopy of trees as it moved closer. No matter, I thought, I can still practice beneath the narrow roof sheltering the patio door. But, suddenly, rain pounded the deck and pelted my extended arms.

I escaped inside as quickly as I'd moved outside. Now on the porch I found myself moving before the watchful eye of Lucy. She seemed disappointed that I abandoned her because of a little rain falling from the sky--she, of course, was in goose heaven--but I intended to experience a T'ai Chi Chih practice free from a full body soaking. And so I moved easily through the movements, Lucy's surveillance nothwithstanding.

We talked about "Strong Intentions" (Ch. 6) in yesterday's class discussion about Buddha's Brain. During that conversation I mentioned that it's important to be mindful of what we hope to accomplish when we engage in a T'ai Chi Chih practice.

Am I practicing TCC simply to tick another "to do" item off my list? (I acknowledge that I'm guilty of this unwillingness to dwell in the present  moment on certain days.) Or do I truly desire to experience balance and harmony?

Of course, there are many other options as well. Do I want to enhance the circulation of Chi? Exercise my muscles? Feel the energy? Slow or still Monkey Mind? Improve my health? Calm my tumultuous emotions? Employ T'ai Chi Chih as one of my spiritual practices? Becoming clear about your intentions for your TCC practice is just one more way to bring conscious awareness to your practice for it affects the manner in which you move and the results you achieve. This quote from Buddha's Brain (p. 97) is helpful in this regard:
Do all that you can, with all that you have, in the time that you have, in the place where you are.
--Nkosi Johnson

Thursday, July 14, 2011

One Marshmallow or Two?

Today marked the halfway point for my summer T'ai Chi Chih class. Unfortunately, instead of an outdoor practice, this was the fourth consecutive session held inside. And, if the weather follows predictions, there's more rain to come.

A quick glance at weather on the web this morning showed seven continuous days of thunderstorms starting tomorrow. And today we're already hunkered down under scattered showers.

Still, 10 students showed up this morning (the largest class thus far despite students' overbusy summertime schedules) and it felt wonderful to move together in a large circle of harmonious energy. Our post-practice discussion of Buddha's Brain was feisty and animated.

Chapter 6, "Strong Intentions," highlighted the brain's evolution and discussed the manner in which the brain's neuroaxis sends signals up and down between the emotion-based amygdala and the deliberate, highly-reasoned cortex (metaphorically the head and the heart). The authors' final key point asserted (p. 108):
Inner strength comes in many forms, including quiet perseverance. Get familiar with what strength feels like in your body so you can call it up again. Deliberately stimulate feelings of strength to deepen their neural pathways.
Today's conversation was inspired by a study I described to the class at the beginning of our discussion: In the late 1960s Walter Mischel of Stanford University took children between 4 and 6 years old and put them in a room with a marshmallow. He then told each child that they could eat the marshmallow or wait until he returned when they would get another marshmallow.

About a third of the kids resisted eating the marshmallow until Mischel returned 15 minutes later which led Mischel to conclude that age does affect our ability to delay gratification. But the really interesting results came in followup studies that continue to this day. Ten years later Mischel found that the students who waited for the second marshmallow out-performed those who didn't by more than 200 points on their SAT scores.

Further studies found even more benefits for those with the ability to hold out: these kids were more likely to attend college and get good grades; they also had a lower body mass index, a clean criminal record, and a higher annual income. What does this suggest to the rest of us? That the most important quality for determining success isn't intelligence or talent but ... the ability to delay gratification.

As college student Andrew Shockey wrote about these discoveries (at, "The kids who waited didn't do it because their brain told them they didn't want to eat the marshmallow. Every child was tormented by the treat--some were just better able to resist its allure. Everyone has this ability to some extent, but the key is practicing it (emphasis mine)."

Once again, we're back to what Justin Stone and our teachers told us when we initially studied T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation: Practice. Practice. Practice. How do we become expert? Practice. How do we gain benefits? Practice. How do we resist the marshmallow (pie? cake? new car? etc.)? Practice.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Hope and Prayer

The head and heart are amazing collaborators. This afternoon I discovered--yet again!--how effective they are at holding grudges when confronted with perceived hurts and resentments.

The set up: Frances accused me of convincing her to give away her fishing net when she couldn't find it in the basement since that's "what I always do." I felt hurt. Frances is a collector and accumulates possessions to the point that it's hard to find what she wants when she wants it.

I decided to engage myself in a T'ai Chi Chih practice when it became clear that this disagreement wouldn't easily resolve. What I discovered during my practice was that I didn't want to let go of my frustration and resentment. The beauty of my surroundings, the sweetness of the breeze, and the softness of the movements didn't matter, I felt falsely accused--damn it!--and I simply had to prove my innocence.

With that attitude in my heart and mind I couldn't relax, release, and let go. Near the end of TCC practice I realized how sad (and angry) I felt. I decided to segue immediately into seated meditation and during that practice a few tears finally began to flow. And now ... now I feel a bit better (and lighter).

Still, I'm dumbfounded by how quickly and effectively the body and psyche's defense mechanisms come to the fore. Thank goodness I have a daily practice that helps me to realize (and sometimes reframe) the automatic responses of my mindbody. It's my hope that with practice, practice, and more practice I'll become a more effective advocate for love and acceptance over anger and defensiveness.

That is my hope and my prayer....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


It's another stupendous morning in the north woods of Wisconsin! Frances left before 7:00 to pick strawberries. She met another strawberry picker at the end of the drive ... a huge black bear occupied a small clearing filled with tiny wild strawberries.

When I rose, I found Frances's note explaining that she'd turned around and put the goose and chicken back into their barn before she departed for a second time. I re-released the birds from their pen and stayed outside with the family (birds plus cat and dog) to ensure that I'd be ready if the bear ventured further up the drive. (Ready for what, I wasn't quite sure.)

Although Namaste's nose tipped up into the air a number of times as he sniffed deeply of its contents, no huge black furry creature showed its face. Instead, I practiced T'ai Chi Chih in the driveway while Namaste ate grass and Lucy dug roots.

My practice was pleasant. The cool air refreshed and invigorated me. And sometime during the middle of my moving meditation I realized that there was a distinct difference between the times when I hurried myself through the movements and when I allowed myself to flow softly. (Perhaps being aware of the bear's presence had put me on guard more than I thought.)

After I experienced those few moments of slow softness, though, I reminded myself to relax into the moment and not anticipate what might happen next. I sunk myself into an abundance of green, breathed in the freshness of tree-oxygenated air, and graciously thanked the family of creatures all around me. Yes, I am blessed.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Collecting Energy

It's a Heaven on Earth morning. Bird song and sunshine.

I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice on the ground next to our two birds: Lucy and Chickie. Why? Because the constant sound of army worm droppings hitting the deck from the treetops above was too disturbing. I also wanted space from my deck-dwelling friends and partner (Frances, Namaste, and Chiripa all occupied chairs on the deck).

The goose and chicken seemed happy to have me. Chickie balanced on one leg next to a maple tree trunk. And groomed. Lucy lay in the grass napping. Occasionally she opened her eyes to observe me or to take a quick nip of grass. All in all, it was a peaceable kingdom.

Practice passed quickly perhaps partially due to the fact that mosquitoes and flies hovered, buzzed, and bit me throughout the session. Partway through practice I decided that I'd commit to a second short practice session later in the day (most likely indoors where I won't have to deal with biting insects).

At the moment it's nap time. I'm collecting energy to take me through the day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cool-Warm Comfort

It's a hot, muggy summer's day. I'm not complaining.

I practiced T'ai Chi Chih this morning before the sun spread its rays across every available speck of sky. While I moved under a scattering of clouds I felt as if I floated on the humidity in the air. With that thought foremost in mind I enjoyed my practice because I felt supported by the humidity instead of weighed down by it. Post-practice, I ventured into the dry coolness of the house.

I cooked all morning in anticipation of dinner guests. It truly did feel wonderful to start my day with TCC practice. In part, because I eluded some of the heat and in larger part because I centered myself in a calm, cool, collected frame of mind. Now, hours later, I continue to feel cool, calm, and collected.

I'm enjoying my day off from everything. Taking it slow. Immersed in the quiet. Happy to be surrounded by the cool-warm comforts of home.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


It's another split practice day: pre-errand T'ai Chi Chih practice and post-errand TCC practice.

When I started moving this morning, I felt wonderfully relaxed. In addition, I was filled with tremendous energy. I could easily have carried on. But Frances and I had agreed to make it to the farmers' market this morning in addition to running through a long list of errands so we hit the road.

Many miles and much money later we returned home to our quiet, wet yard. First we let the animals out and put groceries away. Then Frances retired for a nap and I returned to the porch for my second half-session of TCC practice.

It's interesting how much one practice can vary from the next. This afternoon's practice was less energy-filled. It also felt less relaxed. It's true that I was tired, the day had darkened considerably, and the air was filled with humidity. Perhaps after running all day it was time to take a break. Literally. And so, TCC practice and blog completed, I head for my favorite comfy chair, book in hand.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cooked to Perfection

Today I inserted my T'ai Chi Chih practice into the space of time between taking a pan of lasagna out of the oven and pulling out the next baked item ... a vegetable stuffed turkey loaf. Everything--practice included!--turned out perfectly.

It was another glorious summer day, warmish with a cool breeze. The first part of my practice took place on the porch in order for me to hear the timer and remove the lasagna. Then I adjourned to the deck and enveloped myself in the sounds of wind passing through a forest of leaves. The sound--and the fact that I was alone on the deck--lulled me into a persistent meditative state.

I suppose since I cooked most of the day I felt grateful to take a break from standing in place. Plus I enjoyed the change in scenery and was happy to leap outside into the sunshiny, wind-blown day.

In late afternoon we stopped at a neighbor's house to see their four day old goat. One thing led to another and soon we were visiting with their chickens, ducks, and other goats, then touring through their garden, looking at their cistern, and finally, engaging in a long conversation about spirituality and (imagine this!) love.

Needless to say, I had a full day. I'm thankful for neighbors, animals, friends, and meaningful conversation. And for a daily TCC practice that brings me back to the Oneness of all.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Quick Coherence

No sooner did I arrive home from this morning's T'ai Chi Chih class than I was offered the opportunity to practice what I'd taught earlier. Suddenly Frances and I were caught up in a tussle that blew in on us from out of nowhere.

In class I'd talked about HeartMath Institute and its philosophy that your heart has the ability to balance thoughts and emotions. HeartMath offers a Quick Coherence technique that you can use to achieve energy, improve mental clarity, and feel better fast when you take a minute (literally!) to use it. This technique works especially well when you feel a draining emotion such as frustration, irritation, anxiety or anger.

As Frances's and my discussion rapidly escalated, it seemed that the time was right for an intervention. I sat quietly in the bathroom, focused on my heart area, and breathed into and out of my heart. Then I visualized/felt the positive, loving feelings that I have for my dog and cat. As my heart rate slowed and my body relaxed, I realized that just as we can entrain the heart, breath, and body to slow down, we can also entrain it in the opposite direction (per Frances's and my earlier interaction).

Finding a feeling of ease and inner harmony that was reflected in more balanced heart rhythms and a lighter, more relaxed and accepting frame of mine was a great boon to my mental/emotiona/physical health as well as the health of my relationship with Frances. Thank goodness that I'm teaching what I need to learn!

HeartMath Institute suggests that you apply this one-minute technique first thing in the morning, before or during phone calls or meetings, in the middle of a difficult conversation, when you feel overwhelmed or pressed for time, or anytime you simply want to practice increasing your coherence. You can also use Quick Coherence whenever you need more coordination, speed and fluidity in your reactions.

Simply because I'd done a 40 minute TCC practice with my class, led a Quick Coherence Technique and a guided imagery session earlier this morning did not ensure that all was well for the rest of my day. I do believe, though, that because I engaged in these practices earlier it allowed me to recapture my feelings of peace and tranquility more quickly than not.

Any and all of these techniques help the heart and mind learn and remember that they can choose to 'rest and digest' rather than 'fight or flight' (parasympathetic rather than sympathetic nervous system activation). All that's needed: Practice. Practice. Practice.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Instant Relaxation

It's a perfectly perfect summer day. And right in the middle of its white-hot perfection I practiced T'ai Chi Chih.

In Bayfield. Outside. In the small yard/garden next to the library building. With flowering chives and tomato plants before me, a reflective basement library window beside me, an empty parking lot behind me, and the good sweet earth beneath my feet.

The sun was hot on my back and neck. Since I'd spent the previous three hours learning how to catalog books, it felt wonderful to relieve the tension by moving--slowly--cycling energy and releasing hours of attention I'd placed into my training.

I practiced TCC while waiting for Frances to pick me up from work. It's amazing how easy it is to find bits of time for practice when I may have previously twiddled my thumbs or anxiously awaited my ride. Now I know that I always have something to occupy my time when I'm between projects or floating in a sea of uncertainty. All I need do is find a small open spot, focus, center, and move. Ta da. Instant relaxation....

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Then, There, or Elsewhere...

A mid-night storm blew the heat out of the oven and returned us to slightly lower temps this morning. Clouds come and go and I'm curious whether our prediction for more rain will be accurate.

I'm back to work today (like many others) after the July 4th weekend. Shortly after I jumped out of bed--I feel much better this morning!--I headed to the deck for T'ai Chi Chih practice. I could feel the heat building and I wanted to be done and off the deck before temps rose too high.

Meanwhile Lucy honked and honked, wondering where I'd gone. Soon she rounded the corner of the house and joined me, grazing her way from west to east. The cat settled nearby and a hummingbird visited and revisited foxglove blossoms in the south flower bed. Even Frances and Namaste (after they got out of bed) joined in morning rounds by checking the gardens, bird feeders, and insect and animal activity.

Lately I feel like I'm turning in circles, not sure which direction to head. There is so much unheaval in the world: political, economic, environmental, and climatological. Many people are investing most if not all of their energy in pure, unadulterated survival. My current life seems fine but both Frances and I anticipate that major change is in the works. What? We don't know.

For the time being I continue my daily TCC practice with additional seated meditation practice and focus on the present moment. It's more helpful for me to be here than it is to be then, there, or elsewhere....

Monday, July 4, 2011

Rest & Recover; Divert & Relax

I'm moving through one of those "don't feel good" days. Head is aching; stomach tossing and turning.

I spent this 4th of July holiday on the phone with several friends. I also read, napped, and rested. T'ai Chi Chih practice was another diversion. I could--for half an hour--leave my aches and pains on the periphery of my consciousness.

Frances and I attended a Count Your Blessings party last night. It was hosted by one of my coworkers from the library and consisted of food and drink, conversation, live music and dancing. Every invitee brought food to share and I question whether I ate the wrong luscious dish. But, if I remember correctly, I didn't feel very well last night either.

Regardless. Today I'm in the mode of relax, rest, and heal. That's a good place to be as long as I allow myself to linger here without guilt. T'ai Chi Chih teaches me to let go of the expectations of others (myself included!) and simply be. On this 4th of July holiday I'm perfecting my technique: human being instead of human doing.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

No Words

Today words cannot describe the feeling of peace, relaxation, and silence that filters through the woods....

I'll abandon language and simply note that I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice on the deck in early afternoon. It was warm. Sunny. Wonderfully quiet.

Mmmm.... Inhale. Ahhh....

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Circling through Infinity

It's a holiday weekend and I'm holidaying. Girls just wanna have fun and all that....

A synopsis of today's T'ai Chi Chih practice:

Blue lake shimmers,
A distant dream
Skimmed by bright white sails
That pierce a sun-drenched horizon.
Forest insects float & flutter
In its incandescence.

Sunlight fixes me in place,
While shadows breathe cool
And dark.
I slide gently through
And grateful breezes

Before I stop, finished.
No place to go.
Only light and shadow
Alternating in the late afternoon.
Here. Now.
Circling through infinity....

Friday, July 1, 2011

Holiday Heat

The holiday weekend has begun! Today five friends/relatives came for brunch. Most of the day Frances and I prepared, shared, and cleaned up from our lavish feast.

Of course, before our friends left we went through the required photo session. Steph and Frances holding the chicken and dog. Steph and Frances standing by the goose. Et cetera.

Today's weather is still and hot, hot and still. This is the type of day that is hard on my body/mind. I'm adverse to heat and humidity which is why I live close enough to Lake Superior to experience the moderating effects of a huge body of cold water.

I practiced T'ai Chi Chih after our guests departed for Duluth. Though I began practice on the deck, about 15 minutes in I tired of the pesky mosquitoes and relocated to the porch. It was simply too darn hot so I focused my mind on the beautiful flowers and lush green of the forest. There is something to be said for distraction....

After practice I meditated for 5-10 minutes and now I feel deeply relaxed (though still hot). This is a fine beginning to a 4th of July weekend.