Friday, June 29, 2012

Blessings Abound

I feel exhausted today and, when tired, I'm more likely to succumb to anxieties and other unhelpful thoughts and feelings. When this morning's T'ai Chi Chih practice didn't raise my spirits to a more hopeful, helpful level, I followed the practice with some seated meditation. What a wonderful adjunct!

I wouldn't say that I'm flying high, but I've lifted off the ground. I can now move on with my day after a brief respite of human/dog/cat/goose T'ai Chi Chih practice that got me rolling down the runway and then a seated meditation that put some lift beneath my wings. Blessings abound!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Letting All Else Simply Fall Away....

Feedback is trickling in about the T'ai Chi Chih session I led at the Gildi conference on mental health last week. Yesterday's thank you note from CORE, the sponsoring organization, described the outdoor TCC session as "glorious." And it's true, the 25-30 attendees sank into a quiet presence during our final practice/review that was remarkable for first-timers.

I also spoke with a woman from the local women's shelter who attended the TCC session. She became aware of all the places in her body that felt tight, she said, and she realized that she needed to return to a T'ai Chi practice after many years away from it.

I thought of that phone conversation this morning during my own T'ai Chi Chih practice. I told the women's shelter employee that T'ai Chi Chih is the one health care tool that keeps me sane and balanced during the stress-filled time that Frances and I are wading through.

And so it was during this morning's practice. I relaxed. I breathed. I watched Lucy close her eyes and then realized that she has teeny tiny feathers on her eyelids. I noticed that one of the chipmunks stopped its busy gathering activities to sit atop the fence railing around our flower bed and watch me with an intense, direct, unwavering gaze. I stayed in the present and let all else simply fall away....

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Chi-Charge

Yes! I'm building up the miles on my bicycle. It's been a long time coming and, thankfully, that time has arrived.

I biked to Buffalo Bay gas station this morning (that's eight miles roundtrip) thinking that I may need to bike home after dropping our car off for repairs tomorrow. That may not seem far to you (and it wouldn't have seemed far to me back in the days when I biked regularly), but these days it's a bit of a hike. My goal: To bike to (and from?) work at the library while daylight hours are still long (that's about 16 miles roundtrip).

It's a warmer day today with a coolish breeze which allowed me to transition into my T'ai Chi Chih practice after I returned home from my bike ride. The dog and goose stayed close by. But today, instead of watching their comings and goings I took off my glasses and focused on my practice. In the distance I saw gleaming, glowing green where the sunlight shone on bushes, trees, and grasses. In the foreground I was surrounded by black, shadowy, cooling shade.

And, of course, I was well aware of the sound of buzzing flies and the feel of their teeny tiny footsteps as they walked all over my bare skin. I didn't need to see the buggers in order to sense their hovering presence.

After my wonderful Chi-charge a neighbor stopped in and I dived into my day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A True Blessing

I'm continually amazed by the way in which T'ai Chi Chih practice puts my life back on track. When I'm engaged in Joy Thru Movement, I'm no longer a wage earner, sister, aunt, life partner, or stressed-out American trying to survive the economic downturn. I'm simply me, and being me is simple.

I place my feet on the earth, hold my head up high, and breathe in the same air that all living creatures on this planet breathe. I feel my connection to the trees in the forest, the birds in the air, the great waves of Lake Superior, the racing, chirping chipmunk racing into its hole in the dirt. For these daily minutes of practice there is no good or bad, happy or sad, there is simply an All That Is.

What a relief to be out of the race to excel and into the pure, simple moment of Being. And that, my friends, is what this morning's practice was like. A true blessing....

Monday, June 25, 2012

Centering, Quieting, Slowing, Releasing

Again, as I do everyday, I took time out from the busyness to find some small, quiet place of peace and comfort. For me that meant going outside into the beautiful, cool, sunny day and finding a wide curtain of shade to do my T'ai Chi Chih practice while the dog and goose lounged around me.

Lucy was over by her swimming pool when I began but soon wandered over and positioned herself directly in front of me, about three feet away. Then she closed her eyes to sleep. She could hear my movements, though, and opened her eyes frequently to ensure that all was safe and secure.

Meanwhile Namaste lay in the dirt at my feet. Soon, however, he realized that Lucy got more of my attention simply due to the fact that she was directly in my line of vision. He simply had to get up and move between Lucy and me. His shift in position, of course, inspired Lucy to get up and leave.

Then I was back to where I began, all alone with my practice (which was fine with me!). The peace and quiet of my moving meditation practice is what keeps me sane these days, and I am deeply grateful....

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Only This Moment

Saturday, June 23 and Sunday, June 24, 2012:

Same scenario two days in a row. Frances and I are both stressed out. We have a conversation and come up with possible directions to pursue. Then I do a T'ai Chi Chih practice.... All is well.

It simply amazes me how much my daily TCC moving meditation brings sanity to my life. I'm still feeling depressed, discouraged, and fearful (even though I wish that after 16 years of TCC practice--and an additional six years of T'ai Chi Ch'uan practice--I'd have figured out how to remain totally calm in the midst of chaos. NOT.).

Last night both Frances and I had nightmares. Today was picture perfect, sunny, low humidity, breezy, and coolish. I still felt depressed, but TCC practice lifted my mood and some good old fashioned exercise (i.e., shoveling dirt on the driveway to repair the washouts from our on-going days of rain and a short walk on the beach), helped to make life right again.

More shoveling is planned for early tomorrow morning (and, most likely, for many days this week) but I feel more optimistic about our ability to fix the driveway and move forward to other priorities. Yes! For the moment, at least, and there is only this moment ... life is good.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Lightening Heart

The earth is beginning to dry and harden after our inch upon inch upon inch of rainfall several days ago. I talked to one of my TCC student's husbands today--he's a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farmer--who said that his farm received six inches of rainfall that flooded and destroyed the plants in one of his gardens. Still, our area survived better than the Twin Ports (Duluth/Superior) and other towns in Minnesota.

It was another beyond perfection day. I stayed home and harvested rhubarb and sugar snap peas from our gardens, followed up on TCC class prep for my summer and fall sessions, and helped Frances get organized for tomorrow's Farmers Market in Bayfield.

At lunchtime I joined the goose and dog for my T'ai Chi Chih practice which they both promptly slept through. During a phone conversation with a friend this morning I realized how depressed I felt about the overwhelming busyness of summer in Bayfield, a tourist destination that loses its unique and quiet character when out-of-towners arrive (i.e., so much to do, so little time). I was glad to follow my phone conversation with a TCC practice because I could feel my heart lighten a tiny bit as I breathed and moved.

Tomorrow morning Frances and I participate in our first-ever Farmers Market. We're expecting to learn lots from our new venture. Who knows? Maybe I can practice TCC while we wait for customers to arrive....

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Chi Works Its Magic

Happy Summer Solstice One and All! It's an absolutely gorgeous day following two days and nights of "The sky is falling, the sky is falling."

I spent the day at the Gildi Project Mental Health Conference at Legendary Waters Resort and Casino in Red Cliff. The theme of the conference was: "Building resiliency for healthy aging and caregiving" and I was asked to make a 75 minute presentation on T'ai Chi Chih during a morning break out session.

I spent a number of hours preparing for my presentation yesterday and, as the Chi would have it, I included little of that effort in today's session. I simply did what I do best: teach the T'ai Chi Chih movements, talk about the benefits of this form, and share the joy of a practice with my group of 25-30 attendees.

I often get nervous and anxious before these special presentations so I did a personal practice at home on the deck before I left for the conference. I also took a few drops of Rescue Remedy to help lower my anxiety levels. And, after the morning keynote speech by Dr. Henry Emmons, who spoke on many of the themes that I cover in my TCC classes, I felt comfortable sharing my own expertise and knowledge.

Of course, when I do a T'ai Chi Chih practice with others I'm always put at ease by the calming movements. And so, when several people told me after the session that I'm a good teacher and/or that they enjoyed the movements, I knew that the Chi had--once again--worked its magic. I am grateful. And, perhaps someday I'll learn to trust the process without slipping into a fight-or-flight response before my presentation begins....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Drifting, Floating, Paddling

It's been a night and day of on-again, off-again rain. Thundering. Pouring. Dripping. Silence. And then another deluge.

Duluth, MN received nine inches of rain (we don't have a rain gauge so I have no idea how much rain fell). The Duluth zoo was flooded. And, since Duluth is built on a hillside next to Lake Superior, I imagine there's much more damage.

Our driveway has huge caverns etched into its surface; in addition, sand washed down our drive and into the highway below. Frances spent much of the afternoon digging trenches to divert rainwater off the road and into the ditch. I  joined her in late afternoon to help hand fill in deep trenches.

In early evening we convinced Lucy to take a swim in a small pond near the house that overflowed with water. She looked so relaxed and peaceful that--I couldn't resist--I joined her moving meditation by starting my own.

While Lucy drifted, floated and paddled I rocked, flapped, and circled. The rain started to fall during my TCC practice but I was well-positioned under a leafy tree and barely felt the wetness. Shortly before I finished my practice Lucy abandoned her own and climbed up the bank and out of the water.

I'm back inside now to await the next round of pouring rain. I'm glad I found a small space of time to enjoy the wet green jungle formerly known as our woods. It felt wonderful to become part of its juicy, abundant wildness. (There'll be more work needed to repair our patchwork driveway in the days to come....)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Practicing Compassion

It'a yet another dark, rumbling day. I joined the dog and goose outside for my T'ai Chi Chih practice as water dripped from leaves, thunder grumbled in the distance, and a fleeting stream of light shone through a blue opening in a cloud-filled sky.

I woke with a slight sore throat today which may explain why I've felt low and depressed the past few days. I started the day with Reiki, then, in addition to my T'ai Chi Chih practice, did another 10-minutes of qigong to cleanse and recharge myself. I do feel better now.

My other goal: to allow myself to move slowly through this day instead of tackling every item that needs attention. It's hard. I have to convince my super-responsible self that it's okay to take care of me first.

I'm reminded of last Sunday's radio show, On Being. A man who researches meditation and its effects was the interview subject. The host asked him: Can you teach compassion? His response: The best way you can teach compassion is by being it.

It often seems easier to be compassionate towards others than toward myself. Today I have an opportunity to practice....

Monday, June 18, 2012

Every Little Bit Helps

It's another dark and rainy day.... During a few dripless moments I sat outside on the front step with Lucy and did my T'ai Chi Chih practice.

It felt good to notice the energy (Chi) in various parts of my body: my hands, feet, and chest. I felt as if I desperately needed an energy charge. I'm overwhelmed by life right now and it's difficult to keep pace with Frances and/or, for that matter, decide which path to follow (there are an overabundance of options!).

Lucy slept during the first half of my practice and then rose and stood directly in front of me. It was nice to have concentrated attention placed on me as I moved ... there was a definite connection between us (which, I hope, benefited us both).

Post-practice I feel calmer, but I realize that I have to slow and relax my bodymind even further since anxiety is nipping at my heels. (I can't run fast enough to evade it, and I might just as well stop and stare it straight in the face!) Before I leave for work I'll spend a few minutes giving myself Reiki and perhaps a few minutes of seated meditation as well. Every little bit helps....

Sunday, June 17, 2012

May the Chi be With Me

It's an absolutely fabulous post-rain day: sunny, breezy, and stunningly beautiful. I'm back to tackling my overabundance of paper and files today but, first, T'ai Chi Chih practice.

I stood for TCC today after many days (weeks?) of seated practice. It felt good to move, shifting weight forward and back on the bottoms of my feet rather than on my sitz bones (while seated). I added a 10-minute qigong practice too, with the hope that doubling the Chi would energize and motivate me to dive willingly into the messy piles of papers that currently cover the floors of two rooms.

My youngest brother just called and reminded me that today is the anniversary of our father's death. Thirteen years ago today. Interestingly, it's not a bad memory since the entire family was there with Dad to honor and support his passing. Still, I miss his presence in my life. Thank you, Dad, for being a teacher and guide, role model, and friend.

Well, I could keep trying to find ways to avoid the task that awaits me, but it seems that there's no time like the present. May the Chi be with me....

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Relaxing into my-Self

"I have often spoken of the 'Reciprocal Character of Mind and Chi' ('Prana' in Sanskrit). The character of the Chi greatly influences our State of Mind, and our State of Mind greatly influences 'our' Chi. How can we break into that circle to change influences for a more desirable effect? We do T'ai Chi Chih, circulating and balancing the Chi. As the Yin-Yang elements are brought into better balance, this not only balances the Chi but it also influences how we think. Ultimately we are what we think; this creates our Karma.

"...In this respect TCC has the same deep purpose as Yoga and Zen, but it is a much easier practice. Few are capable of following either Zen or Yogic life to its deepest levels, particularly in our busy society. But we can practice TCC and have the deepest Spiritual effect on ourselves."

          --Justin Stone
            Fall 1987, The Vital Force

Justin's quote (above), which Sr. Antonia included in her June 2012 Newsletter, bears repeating. If we think of TCC practice as simply moving our bodies and circulating the Vital Force energy, we are missing a huge aspect of what we gain from this practice.

Sister elaborates further in her newsletter:

"It is difficult to find the quality of integrity in modern-day culture when the focus of individuals can be reduced to greed and the drive to 'get ahead,' whether it is behind the wheel or climbing the corporate ladder. This focus can be driven by the false-self, often referred to as 'ego.'

"Integrity on the other hand, is a quality of the true-self, the transparent self, the ego-less part of our way of thinking, acting and being. It is a spiritual quality of the spiritual practice that has been given as a gift to us by Justin. Integrity is what brings us to regular T'ai Chi Chih practice, as well as being one of its spiritual benefits.

"It has been said that: 'Integrity is what you choose to do when no one is looking.'"

A lot of direct quotes, I know. Still, the spiritual benefits we derive from our practices may be subtle but they are also life-changing. I know that I am not the same person I was when I began studying T'ai Chi Ch'uan and then T'ai Chi Chih almost 25 years ago. Something in me has opened, softened, and become more trusting and more loving. These changes cannot be easily measured or articulated. They simply are. It's wonder-full.

Speaking of ... today's T'ai Chi Chih practice was a half-hour mental rehearsal while I lay on the Migun table and an additional 20 minute physical practice afterwards. Both practices helped relax me into myself or, should I say, into my-Self?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Where Will It Lead?

Sr. Antonia's words from her June 2012 Newsletter are still floating through my mind. She reminded us (T'ai Chi Chih teachers) that TCC is done "mainly with the wrists and waist (and primarily below the waist)."

With tan t'ien (two inches below the navel) leading each movement, I'm well aware of how my waist moves, especially in side-to-side movements. During front-to-back weight shifts, on the other hand, the movement of the waist seems more subtle (even though it is not) because its actions feel more like an opening and closing (remember my long-ago reference to a bellows?) rather than bending and twisting.

The wrists are another matter. There are several movements in the form where we specifically circle and/or open and close the wrists (i.e., Bird Flaps Its Wings, Wrist Circle Taffy, Light at the Top of the Head/Temples). Otherwise, we need to closely examine our postures to realize that the wrists should--and do--lead our hand/arm movements as they float forward and back, side-to-side.

Joyous Breath offered me a stumbling block and opportunity. I recall from Justin Stone's TCC DVD that Justin leads with his wrists as he exhales and presses down. Me? I typically keep my wrists locked to maintain the tension/force that's the key to this movement. Today, though, I had an aha moment. During this morning's practice I allowed my wrists to flex softly as I maintained my mental perception of force.

What did I discover? It felt good! Yes, I'll continue to practice ways in which to soften Joyous Breath even as I perpetuate a feeling of tension. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Disciplined Practice

Thursday, June 14, 2012:

It's a dark and stormy day. Lucky for me, the gardens outside the house are being watered by nature so I didn't need to add that task to my list of chores.

I joined Lucy on the front step for my mid-afternoon T'ai Chi Chih practice. Thunder rolled in the distance and trees swayed and danced (and cracked) in the tumultuous winds. Lucy kept her eye on me for the majority of my practice (a sign, I believe, that she felt uncomfortable with the rumbles and rustles of tree branches).

It felt exciting (and yes, a bit unnerving) to be practicing TCC in the anticipatory atmosphere of an approaching storm. Still, I made it through the entire form before the rain began to fall.

Now that I've completed my practice, I'm well aware of the stiff, sore shoulder muscles that still appear to be carrying buckets of water (based on my experience watering our large vegetable garden last night). Thank goodness my TCC practice made me aware of the tightness (which I can now stretch and loosen).

I finally read Sr. Antonia Cooper's June 2012 Newsletter today (she's the TCC Guide). There's a wonderful quote from Dogen included in its contents:

"There are thousands upon thousands of students who have practiced meditation and obtained its fruits.

"Do not doubt its possibilities because of the simplicity of the method.
"If you can not find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?"

Yes, where? Disciplined practice (that oft-repeated word) will guide the way....

Slowing Down (Literally and Figuratively)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012:

Okay, I admit that I've slowed my pace over the years. I can't move as fast as I did when Frances and I moved to the woods near Bayfield almost ten years ago. And so, consequently . . .

This morning I felt exhausted. Recent days have been characterized by constant movement from the moment I rise from bed until darkness fills the sky. How could I practice T'ai Chi Chih when I felt so overwhelmingly low energy?

First I tried one obvious solution: I did a mental TCC rehearsal (30 minutes) while I lay on the Migun table for a half-hour treatment. Soft and slow movements--all in my head--helped me relax into the treatment and gently allowed my body to loosen.

After I rose from the table I did a 20-minute seated TCC practice. Both practices worked their wonders. With renewed energy I leapt into the car for grocery shopping and errands.

My day was not complete without a trip to the library for an art opening by local self-taught artist, Eli Klinger (fabulously inspiring!). Then Frances and I drove to our garden space and spent 45 minutes watering our fledgling plants.

I made it through the day, and then some.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Monday, June 11, 2012:

The pace of summer has picked up tremendously; no doubt about it, we are in hyperdrive. I carved out 20 minutes for T'ai Chi Chih practice this morning before I left for work and felt immediate benefits from my practice. Yes, I still raced through the day, but I did so feeling centered and relatively relaxed during my library shift.

Today was perfectly beautiful. I feel so grateful for this practice that gets me outside on days when I would otherwise spend my entire day engaged in indoor projects and responsibilities. Lucy (the goose) is grateful, too, I believe, because she relies on me to perform guard duty while I practice and her eyelids shut when I circle the Chi.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012:

Oh ... I felt tension unwind in my neck and shoulders this morning during T'ai Chi Chih practice. What a gift! In the morning coolness (52 degrees) I slowed my bodymind and watched the natural world unfold before me.

Trees waved their branches (like clouds) in the refreshing breezes, two chipmunks raced in and out of a hole in front of our door (the most heavily traveled area around our house by both us and them!), and occasional clouds floated by overhead to the tune of rustling leaves.

I feel as though I've been reborn: relaxed, refeshed, and ready to jog through another day. Oh, to breathe deeply. . . .

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Heating Up

Saturday, June 9, 2012:

I spent the day cooking, cooking, cooking. I tried a new recipe for radish soup that Frances found on the internet in the hope that we could use radishes for our first farmers' market soup. (I didn't like it much, Frances did.)

In late afternoon I practiced T'ai Chi Chih. It's always relaxing and refreshing to take a break from the rushing around that tends to consume the major portion of my life this time of year in the Bayfield area.

It felt good to settle into a quiet, calm TCC practice. Oh, to come back to earth and be grounded. I certainly needed it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012:

It's hot-hot-hot. I scurried around earlier today washing clothes, cooking root vegetables, and preparing for an afternoon in the garden. Right now it's 90 degrees (which is exceedingly hot for this area), so I'm not excited about going to work in our sun-drenched garden.

One benefit: it's windy. In fact, it's breezy enough that I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice outside in late morning when it didn't feel so hot because of the rustle and bustle of the wind. (A side benefit: no bugs either!)

Lucy and Namaste rested nearby as I moved and soon I was quieter, calmer, and more relaxed.

Friday, June 8, 2012


Yesterday Frances and I worked in our garden for over six hours. As a result, today I planted myself in bed. I was so stiff, sore, and tired from an afternoon of carrying pails of compost and water and kneeling in the dirt to carefully place each individual plant that I could barely move. Of course, I also had three low blood sugar episodes yesterday afternoon despite the fact that I took great care to eat often. I guess it's not surprising that it took most of today for me to get myself back up and running. In early evening (after the heat and humidity lowered slightly) I went outside to join Lucy, Chiripa, and Namaste. I sat down in their midst for my TCC practice. About halfway through the mosquitoes and bugs were too much to bear and I retired inside for the remainder of practice. Now, after a day of naps and resting, and a half hour of TCC practice, I'm beginning to feel like myself again. I needed rest ... and now I've gotten it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Goose Extends Leg and Stretches Wing

My early morning T'ai Chi Chih practice was quiet and mostly-solo. With the goose  at my side and an occasional hummingbird visiting the feeder, I was sheltered in forest shade and a chorus of birdsong.

As I moved, Lucy extended a leg backward in a slow, casual, relaxed stretch. I've written about this habit of Lucy's before. Today, though, it occurred to me that perhaps that stretch was inspired by my T'ai Chi Chih practice (as she watched me move through my practice, it encouraged her to stretch and relax as well).

I also was reminded of the names of movements from my T'ai Chi Ch'uan practice many years ago: Wild Horse Flings Its Mane, Embrace Tiger and Return to Mountain, Wave Hands Like Clouds, Wind Blows through Lotus Leaf. Possibly, I speculated, I could incorporate a name for Lucy's movement into my own TCC practice ... Goose Extends Leg and Stretches Wing (ha!). Of course, T'ai Chi Chih already has a movement named after birds, Bird Flaps Its Wings, and none of the other movements in the form truly fit with Lucy's grace-filled stretch. It was fun, though, to dream....

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Good Tired

Oh, to feel the Chi energy. I certainly felt it during today's T'ai Chi Chih practice and I certainly needed it as well.

Today I was worn out from my previous four days of driving and work. And so I slowed down a bit, took a morning walk (wow, there were lots of bear prints on Emil Road), napped, then worked in the garden with Frances.

It felt good to get down on my hands and knees in the dirt. Brother Brett reminded me during an earlier phone call that it's good to get your hands in dirt, it releases endorphins. There is something childlike and elemental about planting (playing) in the dirt.

And now I feel tired in a good way!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Practice in Parts

This morning was so absolutely beautiful that Frances and I took time to oil our chains and put air in our bicycle tires in order to bike to the polls to vote in the Recall Walker (as governor) election. That was the start of an overly full day.

I did two partial T'ai Chi Chih practices today, both pre- and post-work. I'm glad when I divide my TCC practice into two (or more) parts because it often feels as though that unintentional split practice was meant to happen. Tonight I truly needed to feel the energy flow through my hands as I relaxed my bodymind.

It also helped that Frances was on the Migun massage table tonight while I practiced. She played a CD of slow, soft music that filtered into my practice space and I soaked in the warm, soothing sounds of flute music while I moved.  And now ... I rest.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Lighter Heart

June 1-4, 2012

I nominate myself as the poster adult for what happens when you (I) don't do your (my) daily T'ai Chi Chih practice. Like everyone else, I'll make excuses (it's part of our human nature, I think), but the fact of the matter is that I--and no one else--experience the consequences for my lack of action.

Frances and I have been under a lot of stress lately and this weekend was no exception. I worked all day Friday and then took a walk (and, amazingly, forgot to do my TCC practice). Saturday we both busily prepared for an across-Minnesota trip to drive home a borrowed pickup from Frances's brother. Saturday night and Sunday we drove and drove and drove (eight hours there and eight hours back).

I did a bit of a mental TCC rehearsal when I went to bed last night but, truth be told, this morning was the first time in three days that I did an actual (seated) practice.

I've always wondered why Lucy tends to groom herself while she stands nearby during my practice. Today I was enlightened. As I did my practice I felt the heavy weight of fear, frustration, anger, sadness, and disappointment simply slide right off of me. (Could Lucy be inspired by the Chi energy to cleanse herself too?) Don't get me wrong, there's more clearing and centering to come. But, thankfully, today I began to come back to center and my heart feels a few ounces lighter.