Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sewing Seeds in January

Whew. It was a whirlwind Sewing the Seeds retreat and practice with Sr. Antonia Thursday night through Sunday brunch. Here's my abbreviated report since I'm still circling with chi....

Friday, January 29, 2010

Today's session with Sr. Antonia in St. Paul, MN was wonderful; a long overdue opportunity to deepen my practice, refine my movements, and be in the moment and in my body.

Sister encouraged us to become aware of the ways Chi does not balance and circulate as well as it could as she broke movements down into segments; first, practicing our weight shift, then noticing how the t'an t'ien inspired the movement of arms, hands, legs, and feet.  She asked us to pay close attention to our bodies and ask ourselves: "How does it feel in my body when I do this? ... How does it feel in my body when I don't do this? ..." Practice, of course, offers a constant opportunity to adjust and refine our way of moving in order to experience the free flow of Chi.

Sr. Antonia quoted from Justin Stone's book, Spiritual Odyssey (p. 15) near the beginning of our practice when she encouraged and challenged us by reading:
Trying is not the Way.
Not trying is not the Way....
Our group practice came at about 4:00 pm when 29 of us stood in three circles within a circle: the inner circle contained Sr. Antonia and four teachers certified before 1995, the next circle contained the rest of the certified teachers, the outer circle held the 12 attending students.

We circled the Chi; the room circled with Chi. It was ... a wondrous experience.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Already these t'ai chi chih moments blur into a composite picture of Chi-practitioners-students-teachers-refinements-practice-shared meals-conversations-laughter-more conversation-Chinese brush painting and so much more.... I realize that I've had a headache since shortly after my arrival and that my life in the woods has slowed and quieted me to the point where I'm overstimulated by the abundance of information-conversation-practice with others.

I ask several teachers and students for help with my headache and receive pain relief in several forms: Ibuprofen and a qigong treatment. The spirit of generosity is overwhelming and in short order I'm feeling better (thank you Carol and Nan).

The theme of today's practice/refinement is "t'an t'ien, t'an t'ien, t'an t'ien." Sister asks, reminds, coaches, and expects of us that we will continually search for and discover the ways in which t'an t'ien inspires our movements and the flow of Chi through our bodies. By the end of the day when Sister inquires, "What allows our body to do this? or our hands to rise? or our heel to step out?" we reply in unison: "T'an t'ien."

Sunday, January 31, 2010:

Many highlights to our too-brief final day. After practicing Healing Sounds we share the Chi with each other by placing a circle of five chairs in the middle of the room. Group members take turns sitting as other practitioners perform the Healing Sounds in a circle surrounding them. I couldn't wait to sit in the center of our circle because I knew that the power of the Chi would have transformative effects. Sure enough, emotions surged through me as I sat and afterwards I returned to my room to lie on the floor and continue grounding the energy.

The room vibrates with Chi during our final full group practice. Afterward some group members attend mass in the small chapel across the hall while others re-watch the film On the Road Home: A Spiritual Journey Guided by Remarkable Women by Christina Lundberg. Sr. Antonia was one of the 12 remarkable women who appeared in the film. What a beautifully filmed, delightful exploration of the sacred feminine....

Soon our final shared meal is over and I'm on the road back to Bayfield, WI. I think of the words I copied down from the wall at St. Paul's Monastery because they reminded me of home:
          Safety in Trees
Climbing into Grandfather's arms,
I rest my cheek on his strong shoulder.
His clothing is rough and earthy smelling.
Pine needles tickle my nose. 
                      Author Unknown
I feel gratitude for the thriving t'ai chi chih community in Minneapolis/St. Paul that hosted this retreat, to Sr. Antonia who led it, and to my fellow retreatants and roommate who formed--and completed--the circle. The Chi is flowing still....

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Retreat into Silence

It snowed all day yesterday and will likely continue today. Our outside temperature gauge is stuck at 20+ degrees. I'm grateful. When I'm blissfully unaware of the actual below-zero temperatures outdoors, I'm not intimidated by the extreme cold. I take every necessary precaution and dress warmly when I go out and I tend to spend more time in this moment without anticipating the next--colder--one.

Two months ago today--Thansgiving Day 2009--I began this daily t'ai chi chih practice and blog. I realize now that combining my t'ai chi chih moving meditation with my writing gave me an unexpected gift: each day I'm inspired, energized, motivated. Calmer, quieter, happier, more peaceful. When I arise, I immerse myself in these wonderful moments of quiet contemplation. And I know that for this hour--maybe two--I am blessed.

I lit six tea candles on my mantle this morning before I began practice. What a wonderful, special, celebratory effect these flickering flames had on my mind/body! For the moment, at least, these were my practice partners. I thought of my students as I moved and how they, too, are like lighted candles who burn, glow, share their light, and sometimes, perhaps, hide it a bit too.... (Don't we all??)

I look forward to several continuing TCC classes which begin again next week. There is nothing better than the gift of silence and Chi shared among many. Sure, I have my own experience with Chi every day as I practice, but Chi shared is Chi multiplied. And, as Justin Stone reminds us, if we all do t'ai chi chih practice, we will have peace in the world....

In several hours I drive to the Benedictine Center in St. Paul for a t'ai chi chih practice and retreat with Sr. Antonia, t'ai chi chih guide. It's entitled Sewing the Seeds of T'ai Chi Chih: *Self Compassion *Loving Kindness *Grounding *Letting Go. I'll be back home on Sunday. Again, I'm unsure whether I'll have access to a computer at the monastery. If not, I'll write notes in my journal and record my Chi-full experiences of learning, sharing, moving, slowing, and quieting when I return. I'm off!! to fill myself with silence.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Praise flow and change...

Praise wet snow
     falling early....
god or the gods, the unknown
that which imagined us, ...
flow and change, night and
the pulse of day.
               Denise Levertov
               From: Earth Prayers, p. 222
It's another exceedingly quiet, grey-white day.... I'm low-energy, tired.

I look to this day with gratitude even as I know that, in the rock bottom depths of me, I long for more light. My health care provider told me last week that area residents' levels of Vitamin D are exceedingly low. I hunger for light even as I'm surrounded by the whitest of white ... snow upon snow upon snow.

During this practice I bring my attention back to my rear leg and knee. Observing. Wondering. How much does this leg straighten when I shift weight forward? How--and when--do I allow laziness or inattention to abbreviate my weight shift so that I don't really shift my weight fully forward?

I'm attending to these fundamentals, I suppose, in anticipation of the t'ai chi chih practice and retreat scheduled for this weekend in St. Paul. Sr. Antonia, Justin Stone's appointed t'ai chi chih guide, leads the retreat and I registered because I want to meet her as well as continue to improve my practice. I'll gladly apply conscious effort Friday through Sunday in order to learn how to become softer, lighter, and even more effortless in the coming days and years of my practice.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Crystal of New-Fallen Snow

Fresh snow drapes across the landscape in a beautiful display. One of my students told me over the telephone yesterday that she didn't understand why anyone would use the words beauty and snow in the same sentence. For me, beautiful isn't a big enough word to contain all the purity, fragility, and wonder of fresh-fallen snow.

We're covered in newness once again ... rebirthed. Snow rests atop and along tree branches and creates sparkling white-tinged sculptures throughout the forest.

It's a fresh start. And I think of my practice in a similar way while I move today ... as if it is all new. It may contain the same view, the same 20 movements, but it is reimagined each time we practice based on landscape, temperature, time of day and time of year, weather conditions, conditions of body and mind, mental attitude, inner stillness or lack thereof, intention, and expectations.

My little kitten goes back to bed and so, minus her revved up distraction, I watch the sky transform from silver to pink ... blue ... white. A blue sky appears and, eventually, the sun. I continue my movements--soft and slow--as a flock of bluejays arrives and, bird-by-bird, sinks softly into the snow beneath the feeder.

As I float down into Resting after standing quietly in Cosmic Consciousness Pose, I become as light as a snowflake, drifting down, down, down ... landing softly and weightlessly amid the snow around me. I come to Rest gently ... one more crystal of new-fallen snow.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Like an Ancient Gnarled Tree ...

This morning we're swathed in a thick layer of snow. All through the night our trees plopped their huge clods of moisture-drenched delight upon our roof. They landed with thunderous thumps then slid heavily--with equally loud thuds--to the ground. Since yesterday's snowshoe through heavily-laden trees, still-warmish temperatures and gusts of wind whisked away the artful loops, and curls, and draping coils of frozen white that snaked over thick branches and feathered along their thin branched fingerlings.

As I move I watch the high tops of trees move with me, their upper branches swaying and dancing as they engage in dangling conversations. My practice passes quickly; thick clots of clouds on the distant horizon form a heavily curtained backdrop to the dance of branches and treetops.
An ancient gnarled tree:
Too fibrous for a logger's saw,
Too twisted to fit a carpenter's square,
Outlasts the whole forest.
          From: 365 Tao, p. 25, 'Uselessness'
Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao's author, explains in his reading for January 25 that, just as strong, beautiful, and useful trees are cut down, useless ones survive. The same is true for people, he says, with those of us who are too plain to be noticed left undisturbed and unexploited.

Just because we are plain, writes Ming-Dao does not mean we are without value. For, if we are considered useless, we may live freely without interference and have the opportunity to express our own individuality.

And so I perform my daily practice in peace. No one expects too much of me since I am neither strong nor beautiful. Still, these daily t'ai chi chih moments add up to a greater whole over the long-term. Because of my flaws, my wounds, my imperfections, I do become stronger. The beauty within me grows.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

January Rainfall

Total darkness. Total silence ... but for the sound of rain falling, falling, falling into forever.

Rain? It's late January in northwestern Wisconsin. As usual, we're thoroughly covered and caked in snow and this rain--as soon as it freezes--will add a layer of icing that covers everything in its slippery smooth glaze. (Hmmm. I'm unsure how I'll get down--or up--my quarter-mile driveway once the temperature dips slightly....)
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet,
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
               Gerard Manley Hopkins
               From: Earth Prayers, p. 154
I play one of Marina Raye's CDs as I write my blog. I want to revisit the feel of the season: "Snow Falling on Silence," "Delicious Silence," and "Deep Peace" (the names for several of her selections on this compilation of native flute and Paraguayan harp). I have to admit, though, that rain sounding on our metal roof provides a wonderful tempo for this morning's practice. It soothes and slows me as I move gracefully from Rocking Motion to Bird and on.

Today I pay attention to how my back leg straightens as I shift weight forward. Then, again, to how and when my back knee softens, facilitating weight flow backward. I watch the reflection of my long underwear-covered leg as it straightens and bends, straightens and bends.

There's a certain comfort in this on-going examination of the form. It is never perfect. But it offers me opportunities to pay attention ... make improvements. It requires of me that I simply feel what my body feels as it shifts and moves, rocks and dips, rises and sinks....

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The River and its Waves are One....

My practice began in darkness today; the only rosy glow I saw was the pink-orange of my t-shirt reflected in the glass patio door. Bit-by-bit the day lightened and a pencil-thin line of scarlet ran along the horizon.

Today's practice was a going-through-the-motions' day. That is, until I got to Perpetual Motion Taffy. This movement felt so good that I added another set of repetitions and rested, simply, in its flow and comforting softness.

When I arrived at Passing Clouds--one of my favorite movements--I didn't feel the same soft flow that I felt with Perpetual Motion. Why is it, I wondered, that one TCC movement feels so scrumptious one day and an entirely different movement feels delicious the next?

Or ... why do I feel so engaged in--and embraced by--my practice one day and the next day I don't? It's a mystery....
The river and its waves are one surf:
     where is the difference between
     the river and its waves?
When the wave rises, it is the water;
     and when it falls,
     it is the same water again.
     Tell me, Sir, where is the distinction?
Because it has been named as wave,
     shall it no longer be considered as water?
               From: The Mystic Vision, January 15

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fire in the Sky!

By the time I begin my practice the horizon's scarlet neon has faded to a pale, fleshy pink. I continue to watch the day brighten as I pass through my movements. My body feels good, my mind relaxed. Grayness surrounds me--the usual these days--but the fact that today began with this wild burst of brightness is uplifting and somehow, energizing.

Chiripa, intrigued by my moving arms, climbs to the back of a chair and swipes at my hands as they pass her face. She's quickly mesmerized by the Chi, though, and dips her head, turns her back, and is away ... racing across the room like a comet.

Today: the Lights. While performing this movement I often repeat the Buddhist Loving Kindness meditation. As my hands open above my head, wrists cocked back, I say to myself: May I be at peace. When hands open a second time: May my heart remain open. A third time: May I know the beauty of my own true nature. While I mix the energy above my head: May I be healed.

After I've sent Loving Kindness to myself during the first set of repetitions I expand my meditation to include others during the next three sets: my partner, our animals, the forest, the wild creatures, our beautiful lake, the Bayfield Pennisula, people with whom I'm angry, our country, the world, the Universe ... whatever or whomever comes to mind. Lately, given the anger and frustration I've felt toward our town board I've sent Loving Kindness to its members.

Yesterday afternoon as my partner and I picked up our mail, the town chairman saw us, stopped his truck, and mentioned the most recent town meeting. I could feel that my anger had dissipated and he chatted with us amiably. Certainly I had benefitted from the Loving Kindness. Could he have too?
I am the one source of all: the
evolution of all comes from me.
     I am beginningless, unborn,
the Lord of the worlds.
I am the soul which dwells in the
heart of all things.
     I am the beginning, the middle
and the end of all that lives.
I am the seed of all things that are:
     and no being that moves or
moves not can ever be without me.
               Krishna, Bhagavad Gita
               From: The Mystic Vision, January 22

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pulling in Peace ... Soaking in Sun

Glorious sunshine!

I practiced today with Connie, Vic, Suni, and Rhonda. It's been six weeks since I moved through TCC with other people. Since I don't begin teaching for several more weeks it was time for some group energy. Out came Good Karma's DVD: T'ai Chi Chih! Joy Thru Movement and into the DVD player it went.

It's always fun to join other accredited t'ai chi chih teachers in a TCC practice session. Live teachers are preferable, of course, but virtual TCC players will do when you live in the middle of the woods on a tiny pennisula that juts up into Lake Superior.

I jiggled my timing a bit on Push Pull in order to "receive" peace (i.e., "pull") from these four practitioners as they "pushed" their energy toward me on the TV screen. Otherwise I followed Suni's lead and simply focused my attention on softening ... slowing ... relaxing....

I'm grateful that my mental attitude is improved from yesterday. It helped to sit quietly and simply breathe for about 15 minutes after yesterday's practice. And ... sunshine makes all the difference!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Today's practice in one word? Mishmash. It was a confused mixture of night becoming day, wild kitten energy slowing into sleep, and my feeling self sliding from gratitude for this practice into impatience with my body's discomfort and shakiness while I moved.

Daughter in the Valley felt good--so relaxed and soft--that I revisited it after Pulling in the Energy. I wanted to reexperience the softness, the effortlessness. No luck. As I performed 18 repetitions on the left, then right, I felt like I was simply going through the motions. The magic was lost. The smooth, soft flow had disappeared like water evaporating into air.

Suddenly I wanted my practice to be over. Finis. I pushed myself through the repetitions. Patiently I reminded myself that the practice was necessary--and helpful--even though it didn't feel that way in the moment.

Now as I sit before my computer I watch the tiniest sliver of sunrise outside my office window. This narrow band of pink-turning-gold-turning-white may well be the only sunlight I see the entire day. I search for some written words to comfort and inspire me. Then, I know, I need to sit quietly to allow mind and body to settle, deepen.... Ah, here they are:
Be like a tree in pursuit of your cause.
Stand firm, grip hard, thrust upward, bend to
the winds of heaven, and learn tranquility.
          Dedication to Richard St. Barbe Baker,
               Father of the Trees, Earth Prayers, p. 362

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Human Being vs. Human Doing

Greyness all around me. Icicles drip--frozen in motion--from the eaves. Wild kitten energy races around the room from chair to chair, plant to plant.

Early on in today's practice I realized that something felt different. Suddenly it hit me: I was pushing my weight forward rather than allowing it to flow softly. I was moving through the TCC movements rather than allowing TCC practice to move me.

I quickly reminded myself to soften my forward knee and gently let my weight glide to its fullest forward point. Then I softened my back knee and simply allowed my weight to glide--easily--backward. It felt much different .... effortless.

It's humbling to realize that, even after many years of practice, there are days when I slide back into old habits. Unexpectedly I'm a human doing instead of a human being. Of course this effortfulness began in my mind first. Caught up in worries about my health I anticipated a doctor's appointment scheduled for later in the afternoon.

If I just push myself through my practice, somehow things will be better. I guess that's what I was thinking. My actual thoughts--and body movements--happened at a subconscious level; I was unmindful of the physical effect created by my thoughts.

I appreciate this gift I receive from t'ai chi chih practice ... it makes me better aware of my thoughts, feelings, and actions. It raises my consciousness ... and brings me back--gently--to the Now.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Blessing the Day....

-Quiet. Dark grey trees stand silently before a curtain of light grey sky. A slash of blue pierces the grey ... a tender opening into distant cotton-wool clouds.

I began practice spontaneously today. Dog and cat were fed and dog released outside. I intended to start TCC immediately upon Namaste's return but I knew that I'd wait for a few minutes, maybe more. Rather than wait, I stood in front of the kitchen window and Rocked while Namaste sniffed the perimeter of the driveway.

I remembered a TCC student who said that she practices while her coffee is brewing. She steals brief moments in her morning routine to flow into peacefulness. I also thought of Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Anger.
He writes:
Many people like to read books about different spiritual traditions or to perform rituals but don't want to practice their teachings very much. The teachings can transform us no matter what religion or spiritual tradition we belong to, if we are only willing to practice. We will transform from a sea of fire into a refreshing lake. Then, not only do we stop suffering, but we also become a source of joy and happiness for many people around us.
Dog back inside, I moved to the living room to practice. Time flowed by. My mind wandered, looking for reminders of the day's agenda. I calmly called it back to grey cloud-filled sky, moved softly, and blessed the day with peace.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Day of Rest

Today was milk-white, 30-degrees. Snowmelt dripped from the eaves. Clods of snow cascaded down the metal roof and snow sparkles twinkled at me from deck railing.

I arose feeling too tired. Too tired to practice. Too tired to play with the kitten. Too tired to sit quietly in a chair and read. Too tired to concentrate.... I promised myself a late day practice.

Gradually energy returned and around noon I began TCC practice. My eyes focused on one tiny glimmer of snow shining in at me from the railing outside my office window. Normally I have "soft eyes" during practice with my vision lightly focused on some distant point. Not today. I was drawn to the sparkle like a moth to flame, my gaze intent, my attention shifting to that one single point.

Like seated meditation practice when focus is one-pointed--centering on breath or mantra--occasionally my attention drifted away to follow a running squirrel or to contemplate a partially-shaded mound of snow. Quickly, easily, I drew my attention back to that one pinpoint of light. It held me--softly--in the Now as I moved through practice.

At Light at the Top of the Head/Temples my heartbeat unexpectedly speeded up ... my stomach flip-flopped, my head grew light. I abandoned practice, put hands on chest, and directed Reiki energy to my racing heart. After lunch I fell into an hours-long afternoon nap and reawakened after darkness settled back into place. Now, rested and refreshed, I write.
At night make me one with the darkness
In the morning make me one with the light.
                  Wendell Berry, from Earth Prayers, p. 369

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mid-Winter Refresher

An awesome mid-winter day with temps in the 30s, blue, sunny skies, and a reminder--however faint--that spring will return soon enough. I spent the morning cooking then snowshoeing through our woods with Frances. The birds chirped and flew happily from tree to tree as we tromped through snow. We paused to scan the sky and examine tracks in the snow.

My late afternoon TCC practice fit in right before the arrival of a dinner guest. It was perfect timing as I felt tired from the busyness of my day and needed a refresher before company arrived.

When I sunk into Resting prior to beginning Rocking Motion, I felt like a candle melting into a warm, heavy lump of wax. Whew. I needed a Chi break more than I realized.

Out my office window I saw sunshine gild Lake Superior with a silvery shine. I rocked and I glided forward and back and ... I breathed deeply. I floated. I softened the muscles in my back. I exhaled. I Carried the Ball to the Side, pulled Taffies, Passed Clouds, on and on, then slowed to a stop.... Ahhh ... deep breath.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rose Red Sunrise into Shining Day

I awoke to a take-your-breath-away sunrise ... the kind that, once gone, is hard to reimagine. I rushed to find the right practice spot; a place where I could watch the rosy-red glow gradually fade to peach, pale pink, and white.

Chiripa--just out of bed herself--sped around the room. I could hear the sound of tiny claws climbing chairs, racing across carpet, and batting dangling strings. Near the end of practice she climbed the chair directly in front of me and eyed me closely.

I watched Chiripa carefully. I remembered that my previous cat, Hiziki, was well aware of energy and often positioned himself near my feet during practice and next to my body when I utilized the Chi machine. Chiripa responded too. She seemed to feel the power of Joyous Breath as she--literally--crouched beneath the downward push of my palms and the exhalations of my breath.

While I passed Clouds she looked as though she would catch my hands if she could, though not in an aggressive or hunterly way. During Healing Sounds, though, her behavior shifted into Resting. She seemed to catch the Chi from my palms, take it in, and relax. Her eyes blinked slowly and her demeanor changed from aggressive predator to sweet, tired little kitten. When I completed Cosmic Consciousness Pose, she was up and running again, dashing around the room at the speed of light-kitten.

Perhaps because of my playful, fast-moving kitten's antics in the background or the speed with which the beautiful red-rose sunrise shifted into day I felt that my practice moved quickly too. An after-practice check of the clock revealed otherwise. Now as I sit at the computer and reflect on a practice packed with so much energy and beauty Chiripa lies, sleeping, in my lap.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Rootedness ... Be Like a Tree

White-grey sky ... ground ... horizon. Naked trees and undergrowth swathed in deep snow allow me to easily detect movements in the distance ... a leaf trembling in the breeze, a squirrel dashing through the snow, a bird alighting on a tree branch, then flying higher and landing, steady.

Little Chiripa bats at my arms and hands as they rise, fall, and flap during Rocking Motion and Bird Flaps its Wings. She's in a chair to my side and it's a bit intimidating. If she were closer, would she be scratching my hands with her tiny, pinprick claws or delightedly chewing a finger? I bring my attention back down into the bottoms of my feet to stabilize and root myself. And, eventually she circles into a tiny ball and settles into a deep sleep.

Chiripa's actions remind me that, as beginning students, we tend to focus tremendous attention on how our hands look moving through the air. Do they rise high enough? Do they flap out far enough? Are the fingers, wrists, and arms relaxed? Do the shapes our hands make in the air coordinate with the shifting of our weight, forward and back?

I continually remind my students to focus attention, instead, on the bottoms of their feet or on their weight shift. Since humans are visually-oriented we tend to notice what moves in front of our eyes ... what's obvious. Waving arms, flapping hands, and circling palms fit that description.

When we keep our attention in our lower bodies, though, we begin to discover that--just like a tree--our root is what supports and balances us. It also feeds, nourishes, and inspires us in our movements. (And, ultimately, in the ways in which we blossom and leaf into the beauty of who we are.)

If we allow ourselves to fully relax and let the Chi flow through us like sap rising up the trunk of a tree, we'll no longer be concerned about our branches and leaves. We will trust that they'll move as they need to, supported by the air around them, and stirred into motion by the movement of the weight flowing softly forward and back....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mi Chiripa

Hazy sunshine warms the day from 8 to 15 degrees within an hour. Action everywhere. Eight bluejays inhabit the feeder--above and below--and a flurry of squirrels prances, leaps, and spurts through snow. Meanwhile little Chiripa (Spanish for "stroke of good luck"), our seven-week-old kitten, charges my feet as I begin practice.

Ironic isn't it? I wrote about a friend's cat, Henry, rubbing my legs during practice several weeks ago. Less than a week later my own little ball of chi energy arrived. Chiripa requires more of my attention and awareness than Henry did since she's oblivious to danger ... and she races across the room faster. Consequently I keep my heel- and toe-rises close to the ground until I'm sure she's moved farther away.

My first discovery during practice ... my neck and back are too tight; I need to lie on my Chi and Hot House machines to work out the kinks. The Chi machine helps my body straighten out as it rhythmically stirs me from side-to side. It's a great tune-up for a tight, sore body.

My partner, Frances, and dog, Namaste, arise and enter the room before I finish my practice. I'm close to completing the form and don't want to disrupt it to move to a quieter space. So ... I gently remind myself: Stillness in the midst of activity. Then I focus on peace and quietude as the world, inside and out, moves around me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Shining My Light

Two bluejays ate snow off the deck railing this morning as I prepared for practice. I felt shaky and unsteady when I started to move.... My emotional self still felt sensitive and vulnerable in anticipation of tonight's town board meeting.

Slowly, steadily the chi worked its magic and by practice end I did feel better ... freer ... more focused on the Now.

As I moved I positioned myself directly in the path of the sun's light. It rose quickly from cloud-filled horizon to cloud-shrouded sky but for one brief gap in the clouds--20 minutes of clear, bare sky--I focused on the sun's bright light and drew it into me, basking myself in its generous glow. I doubted there would be more minutes of sunshine today so I soaked in each light-infused moment.

Part of my t'ai chi chih journey involves me learning how to extend these moments of stillness, peace, and generosity into my life. I feel centered and complete while I'm doing my practice. I want to shine that light into and over myself and others as I move through my day. This is my start. Can I keep my light shining?

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Snowflake, My Self

I often use my TCC practice as a tool to achieve greater emotional peace. Consequently, today's practice was helpful in calming the flames of my anger.

I'm currently waging an internal battle regarding an upcoming town board agenda item. My anger and distrust are, naturally, making me miserable.

Why do I allow myself to get drawn into the fray? Habit patterns play a large part in how I act and react to the words and behaviors of others. When I choose to step out of my mental/emotional anguish--even if just for a 30-minute t'ai chi chih practice--I feel lighter, calmer, and more compassionate toward myself and others.

During today's practice I imagined becoming one with the snowflakes falling softly to the earth in front of me. Snowflakes, I thought, have no agenda or expectation about where they must land or the manner in which they fall to the ground. They're free. Free to float. Free to blow with the wind. Free to flit and flutter anywhere. Free to disappear into nothingness ... or merge into everything.

Since I'm a human being I often get stuck in my feelings instead of simply letting them flow. This t'ai chi chih experience is a wonderful gift; a discipline and practice that can transform habit patterns, release thoughts and emotions, and lift spirits. Today's practice reminded me to be grateful ... for the space and time I take to engage in a t'ai chi chih practice, for the breath and movements that lead me into a deeper place of peace and, of course, for the beauty of nature that soothes, nurtures, and inspires me.

And ... I'll continue to read Thich Nhat Hanh's book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames because there's always more than can be done....

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Grey Day Chi

Grey. Overcast. Quiet. It felt like a rainy afternoon but, when I looked out the window, snow fell in fits and starts. When I stepped into my practice, all I wanted to do was glide into a deeper place of peace.

Much of my day I've sat in front of the computer and worked on bills and paperwork. I seriously needed to move. I spontaneously started with Daughter on the Mountain Top. Now that I'm practicing regularly I feel no need to perform the movements in order though that's often what I do. More and more often I rely on my intuition to tell me where to begin and what movement to flow into next.

After I began shifting weight I realized that I wasn't wearing good practice shoes. Still, I didn't want to stop my practice to change shoes--when I'm in my t'ai chi chih space I want to stay in that space--so I continued on to movements that worked well with the soles I wore.

In Cosmic Consciousness Pose I rested in the quiet and breathed through my neck and shoulders. I focused on sending my breath down my spine, releasing any remaining tension into the earth. Sure enough, a cracking sound in my back ensured a deeper state of relaxation. And, yes ... now that I'm back to work I feel more energized.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sparkling Snow

Today diamond snow sparkled in front of me as I practiced in the warmth of my living room. Sunshine bathed my legs, warming me. And ... I thought about snow sparkles.

The glowing snow reminded me of a piece I wrote years ago--Sparkling Air, Flowing Water--which referenced my conversation with a bodyworker. "If we could see air," she told me, "I think it would sparkle."

Her comment planted a magical image in my mind. During our session she encouraged me to experience my breath, and particularly my sighs, with increased awareness. She reminded me that sighing filled the body with pure, life sustaining fuel and that each exhalation cleared the body of energy that was stale and depleted. 

Remembering that imagery and those long-ago suggestions I gladly bathed myself in the luminescence of sparkling snow and air. I moved with consciousness and thankfulness through an atmosphere of pure life force energy.

My TCC practice feels better--the energy stronger--when I envision myself as an integral player in the living energy force that flows from Heaven to Earth, Earth to Heaven. My body and pores soak in--and are nurtured by--the energy that surrounds me. My thoughts feed into that energy pattern, too, sometimes creating peace and harmony and other times, dissonance and distraction.

Clearly t'ai chi chih practice fills my spirit full when I focus on the natural world around me. When I ignore my surroundings or become entrapped in Monkey Mind's constant conversation, I become a t'ai chi chih player who simply goes through the motions. While I still receive benefits from my practice as my mind and body gradually slow into quietude it's important for me to remember my living connection with Earth and Sky ... and the part I play in the wholeness of All.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Tonight's practice consisted of six sets of Rocking Motion and six sets of Passing Clouds (i.e., 54 each). To tell the truth, I'm not sure why I chose to practice these two movements or, for that matter, why I decided to perform multiple repetitions of each.

I do know that litter box training a young kitten takes a lot of fortitude and perseverance. Possibly after three days of kitty potty training I realized that I could perform multiple repetitions of several t'ai chi chih movements with ease. And, perhaps, as my body-mind develops patience through these movement repetitions I will train myself to deal more easily with whatever project I undertake.

I truly enjoyed Rocking Motion. The longer I rocked, the more effortless it became. I often ask myself, "How is my center (dantienne) leading me through this movement?" When I focus on my center--and then my weight shift--I feel the easy rise and fall of my arms and hands.

Of course, I'm also aware that the Rocking Motion breathing pattern helps me to move forward and back, arms floating up and down as I move. Inhaling as I move forward creates a sense of buoyancy and lightness. Exhaling as I move backward slowly brings me back to earth and reestablishes my root connection. Heaven and Earth ... connected.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Listening Point

Today's practice time synched well with Wee One's morning nap. It was comforting for me to occasionally look toward the chair where she slept and see her lying with her face tucked into a corner. Total peace. Total quiet. Total stillness.

Memories of yesterday's sunlight rest forgotten beneath today's snow-filled clouds and skies. More than two inches of new snow deepen by the hour. It's +10 degrees and pin drop quiet.

This feeling of peace in the midst of wilderness reminds me of Sigurd Olson's writings. Olson (1899-1982) was one of the north woods'--both Minnesota and Wisconsin--greatest advocates. He spent much of his later life as a conservationist, author, and leader in wilderness preservation being convinced that "to countless thousands, wilderness has become a spiritual necessity." In Listening Point, one of Olson's many books, he writes:
Only when one comes to listen, only when one is aware and still, can things be seen and heard. Everyone has a listening-point somewhere ... some place of quiet where the universe can be contemplated with awe.
I think of my daily t'ai chi chih practice as a listening-point ... a moment in time where "things can be seen and heard" in the midst of silence. This sense of peace and inner fulfillment returns me to my practice time after time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mew, Mew

Today's TCC practice began long after evening's darkness had settled. It helps sometimes, I realized, to practice after I'm already tired. Monkey Mind no longer has endless energy to swing from branch to branch, tree to tree (i.e., thoughts, debates, contemplations). Consequently, I'm quieter, calmer.

It's been a busy day welcoming a new member to our family. Wee kitten came home with us--unexpectedly--from the vet's office yesterday afternoon. Talk about chi .... this little six-week bundle of life force bounces from one side of the room to the other. She leaps over barriers, scurries from one activity to the next, playfully bats at toys and dust bunnies, then clamors for food, gobbles it down, and collapses, exhausted, into my arms.

I realized during tonight's practice that each TCC practice is a gift I give myself. It's also a gift I give to others. When I recharge through my practice, I come back to my life and activities with renewed energy and greater calm and focus. I'm less likely to get frustrated or overwhelmed with wee one if I've taken my own version of a nap--t'ai chi chih practice--to balance my energies.

Our new little kitten naturally falls asleep when she's tired. Sometimes she's back up and running minutes later, other times she sleeps for several hours. But she's teaching me already. This little being knows what she needs to stay alive and lively: food, exercise, sleep, play, rest, relaxation, and love.

What I'm learning from watching her is that one of the best things I can do for myself and for those around me is to circulate the chi each day, perhaps multiple times per day. When I re-energize, take time and space, and balance and refresh myself through a full t'ai chi chih practice and/or a few repetitions of several movements, I'm truly caring for myself. It just goes to show that you don't have to be a college-educated human to be a teacher....

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Rushing into the Chi

Today: an abbreviated TCC practice and blog. I consciously set aside 15 minutes in the midst of several hours of rushing to perform half the movements in the form. Even though I zoom-zoom-zoomed both before and after my practice--due to an early morning appointment 45 minutes away--I did relax and recharge during my practice time.

This morning's sunny beginnings offered a blue horizon layered with pink and topped with dark blue sky. That scene quickly grew into a blue horizon supporting an enlarging layer of pink and an ever-expanding lightness above me.

It felt refreshing and rejuvenating to experience my short session of energy this morning. I was surprised by how easy it was to drop my busyness and settle into quiet and peace. May my day continue on blessed and inspired by these brief moments of Chi.

Monday, January 4, 2010

It's Delightful, It's Delicious, It's De-Lovely* ...

My late morning practice was filled with warmth (10 degrees plus!) and occasional sunshine. Several times sun shone through the patio door and I felt it on my fingertips ... my arms and chest ... my face. Such a blessing to be gifted with warm glowing light!

Today I practiced the form from end to beginning. On a whim I started with Passing Clouds and continued my practice backward from there. It required a bit more attention, thought, and focus than usual to transition from one movement to the next. My comfortable, established t'ai chi chih routine starting with Rocking Motion was suddenly turned upside down and inside-out.

At one point I found my body segueing into Push-Pull when I'd planned to move into Around the Platter. When I realized I'd slid into a movement later in the form--a movement I'd already done--I simply and easily transitioned to Platter the next time my body moved forward.

Interestingly, I also moved more slowly today. Did my intentional slower practice yesterday morning inspire more slowness today as well? It felt good! I have to say it's nice to practice a bit later in the day. Now I sit at my computer and blog with blue skies above and around me. It's de-light-ful!

*Lyrics from the musical Anything Goes ("It's De-Lovely")

Sunday, January 3, 2010


A fresh layer of white snow covers the ground and tree branches this morning. Since yesterday ... a heat wave. It is now zero degrees.

There's a flurry of activity around the bird feeders this morning. I watch the dash and flutter of squirrels and birds as I ready for my TCC practice and then I decide: I'll slow my own pace down.

Over many years as a t'ai chi practitioner--both t'ai chi ch'uan and t'ai chi chih--I've settled into a habitual practice speed. Today, inspired by the knowledge that this is the final day of our Solstice/Christmas/New Year holiday--knowing that tomorrow a faster pace will resume--I decelerate.

What can I say? It feels wonderful! I soften and relax into the slowness. I sense the energy more intensely. Yes, I also experience the muscles in my legs working harder than they usually do. I feel my knees as they bear my weight for a longer period of time. Yet I also notice my mind slowing down. Relaxing. Calming.

My practice time is stretched out--longer--today. By moving more slowly I've managed to slow down more than body alone. My mind idles.... My spirit breathes.... Ahhh ...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Movement = Warmth

I live in a winter wonderland. White snow layers the world around me, a silvery glow fills the sky. Morning temps are minus ten degrees. New snow is Spackled to tree trunks while still-falling snow shimmers in the air.

When it's this intensely cold, woodland creatures don't sit for long. The bluejays in tree branches fluff their feathers to trap air in their downy insulation. The grey squirrels curl tails up their backs and over their heads for an extra fur ruff. Birds and squirrels move in a constant dance. Movement = warmth.

When I begin my TCC practice, the only sound is the hum of the propane furnace. I've reset it to raise sleeping temperatures from 56 back up to near 70 degrees. It runs ... and runs ... and runs.

I'm tempted to abbreviate my morning practice. There's so much to do today just to keep warm. But my body urges me to finish. It tells me that it will miss the movements I skip ... I will feel incomplete. So I continue to move--it's only five minutes more--and I end standing tall and still like the trees outside my window.

Friday, January 1, 2010

No Words

My first TCC practice of the New Year is filled with woodland friends: huge grey squirrels, bluejays, woodpeckers, nuthatches. It's a breakfast free-for-all around the bird feeder as snow falls lightly and squirrels tumble, chase, burrow into snow, and rest--briefly--in nearby branches.

My sister said over the telephone last night that she thinks this daily TCC practice and blogging is good for me. She's right. I'm more energetic. Calmer. More relaxed. Peaceful. More tuned into the energy around me.

The fact is ... I can't fully express in words what it is that I gain from my practice. I simply know that something within me is changing. I feel different. Lighter.

Justin Stone encourages practitioners of t'ai chi chih moving meditation to practice daily because of the many benefits it offers. In our Western, science-based culture we typically need proof of those benefits. We want to make a list. Conduct a double-blind study. Submit a paper for peer review.

I'll tell you this: You can't receive any personal benefits from reading this blog about my t'ai chi chih moving meditation practice. You have to commit to a regular practice of your own. You need to slow down and move softly. You have to quiet your own mind. You must search for your own place of peace ... a place where no words are spoken. No words written. No words needed....