Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Tree

Frances and I watched The Tree of Life last night and I've been hashing it over in my mind ever since. This movie expects you to think and feel and tussle and struggle to be in the moment. Hmm. That reminds me of T'ai Chi Chih practice.

Tree is the next movie scheduled for our Cinema and Conversation on Saturday night. It's up for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography and, by all accounts, it's created controversy; some people are intrigued; some are bored; some have walked out on it; and others have booed (at the Cannes Film Festival). Obviously, it inspires strong reactions from its viewers and perhaps, that's the point.

My first efforts this morning were focused on researching Terrence Malick, the writer and director of this film. I admit; I was intrigued. It appears there may be autobiographical elements included in this film and there is plenty of space and time (especially at the beginning) to allow the lush visual imagery to impact the senses and invade the heart.

I remained aware of the film throughout my morning T'ai Chi Chih practice as I observed the natural world around me and allowed its beauty and peace inside. The quiet was nurturing (there was no one else awake) and I felt as if I was suspended in a special, untouchable moment of peace.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Settling Down

Today was so grey, overcast, and dark that it scarcely felt like daytime. On the other hand, we were gifted with a beautiful, soft snowfall and it was warmer than yesterday.

I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice this morning prior to leaving for work and, once again, it helped me get through yet another busy, tumultuous day. Hurrah! Now that I'm home I'll imbibe a few more minutes of TCC practice to help me settle down after the explosion of patron activity that continued until I locked the library doors.

A local business that specializes in body movement, mindfulness, yoga, and various forms of dance recently contacted me to ask whether I could sub for a T'ai Chi Ch'uan instructor who teaches there. It's a wonderful opportunity and I'm grateful for the experience. I do feel that the Universe is providing for me.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rest, Relax, and Heal

Today was a Sun-Day and a Day of Rest. I started the day by finishing a book I was reading. I ended the day by making strawberry jam and black beans.

It was a glorious sunshiney day. Colder, but quiet and wind free. I felt better today (a slight sore throat lingers). After darkness arrived I did a T'ai Chi Chih practice with some Seijaku thrown in for good measure.
It's true: I enjoy my practices more when I limit the amount of Seijaku I include (I'm still not expert enough in Seijaku to perform it with no effort).

After my relaxing weekend I'm hopeful that my immune system is tuned up and ready to meet and greet a new work week.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Right Medicine

Today I'm focusing on self-care (and I do feel a tiny bit better): good food, a nap, lots of water, and supplements. Before my nap I did ten minutes of Qigong for Cleansing and a full T'ai Chi Chih practice, including Seijaku.

We have friends coming over tonight for dinner and a movie. Before they arrive I plan to do another T'ai Chi Chih practice. And I'm hopeful that a healthy dinner, laughter, and time spent with friends will be just the medicine I need....

Friday, January 27, 2012

Energy Medicine

I subbed at the library today for my boss who's sick. I, too, feel a soreness in my throat and will consequently do everything in my power to avoid falling ill (there's a lot of stuff going around right now).

First strategy: take more zinc and vitamin C; then, spend more time in my T'ai Chi Chih practice as well as adding on the qigong cleansing routine; next, sleep and lots of it; and, finally, clean up my diet (purify, purify, purify). Today I had a brief TCC practice right before I headed out the door to work and a longer practice when I walked back in the door after work.

Before and after. Beginning of the day and end of the day. Tomorrow I plan to do two to three practices to boost my immune system. I'll see what happens....

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Traveling the Path

This morning's T'ai Chi Chih class was like a reunion; six of our seven class members (myself included) were in attendance. Many residents travel away from the Northland during the winter. Like birds migrating south, People of the Woods enjoy leaving our cold, snowy environment for a brief (or not so brief) respite.

One student just returned from a trip to Norway, Rome, and Naples. Another student is currently residing in Florida for six weeks; yet another leaves for Orlando, FL in February and then heads to Hong Kong with his new wife in early April. Two other students plan to visit their son and his family in Austin, TX in early February. There's only one student in the entire lot who hasn't mentioned a trip. And me? I've had a few winter escapes in the past but this year I'm rooted in place while others travel out of the area.

After our relaxing though not necessarily synchronized practice this morning, we discussed Buddha's Brain. We've made it to Chapter 12, "Blissful Concentration," and, since much of our topic now relates directly to our T'ai Chi Chih practices, we're intent on discussing each minute detail that the authors address. This morning's topic: 'Keeping attention on its object.'

Buddha's Brain's authors write: Imagine a little guardian who watches how well you are watching the breath and gives your attention a boost if it starts to flag. This guardian 'lives' mainly in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which compares actual performance with a goal.... (p. 194)

We spent our entire discussion on this one short passage from the book (and, I might add, had plenty to say about it). This in-depth discussion set me to wondering: What is your goal in your T'ai Chi Chih practice? Why do you do a practice? What do you hope to gain from it? Where and what do you focus on in the midst of your movements?

During our lifetimes we're all traveling a path of exploration, growth, and adventure. T'ai Chi Chih reminds us that no matter where we roam, the perfect place for us to be is right here in the present moment. Here. Now. When we're rooted in the present, we're nested in a space that's restful, rejuvenative, and ultimately perfect. Florida. Norway. Texas. Hong Kong. Or, even, snowy Wisconsin. We're home....

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Benefits Galore

Today was stressful, but the lumps and bumps smoothed out during my two evening T'ai Chi Chih classes (a total of two hours of movement). By the time I reached home my one and only goal was to head for bed (it's interesting to note how stress can lead to extreme tiredness, especially when the cause of the stress is alleviated).

I did a ten-minute qigong cleansing earlier in the afternoon that pointed me in the right direction (i.e., toward peacefulness and detachment). My two evening classes, however, were so relaxing that I'm currently on the verge of sleep even as I sit semi-upright in front of the computer screen.

I came. I taught. I relaxed. I returned home. I can only hope that my students experienced even a modicum of the benefits that I accumulated from tonight's practices. It's such a wonderful gift to be able to share this practice with others. And ... I am blessed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Short and Sweet

Monday, January 23, 2012:

Due to lack of time I did two T'ai Chi Chih practices today: an abbreviated ten minute AM round and another abbreviated ten minute PM round. Both practices were short and sweet (and helped to calm me). Unfortunately, by the time I finished my evening practice I was ready for bed and didn't have the patience to wait for my computer to restart (it was refusing to bring up any websites due to an Internet Explorer slow down).

Since both my computer and I were overloaded I headed to bed. (My computer, on the other hand, restarted and went to work under Frances's fingertips.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012:

Today was another day of short, abbreviated TCC practices. During my hectic morning routine I still took time to do a brief practice which, again, helped prepare me for a busy work-filled day.

Tonight, when I arrive home from work, I'll do another short practice to sweep off the days' excesses. There's nothing better than that....

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Sweeping the front porch every morning is an important cleansing ritual that prepares the ground for new energy. In some of our lives, sweeping has become an activity performed without much thought. In many cases, sweeping is a lost art, replaced by the noisy, efficient vacuum cleaner. But in several cultures and religions, sweeping the front and back porch every morning is regarded as an important cleansing ritual that prepares the ground for new energy on every level—physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.
          From: Daily OM (thank you David and Susan)
I received the above quote (the Daily OM) today from a long-time T'ai Chi Chih student who received it from his fiance. He mentioned that it reminded him of the sixth and final healing sound in T'ai Chi Chih practice: Chui (kidneys). As soon as I read his comment I thought: Yes! When we perform Chui (five repetitions), it does feel like we're sweeping, cleansing, and preparing the way for something new.

During this evening's T'ai Chi Chih practice I realized that the Healing Sounds (Chui) aren't the only place in the TCC form where we experience the sensation of sweeping. Take, for example, Perpetual Motion Taffy and Passing Clouds. Though there is more of a feeling of circularity and continuity in each of these movements as compared to the execution of Chui, I also experienced a definite sense of stirring, moving, and/or activating the energy.

Huh. Food for thought. During upcoming practices I know that I will experience each of these movements with a new awareness. And who knows where that openness and exploration will lead me?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Soup, Cinema, and T'ai Chi Chih

It's been a long busy day. Most of it was spent prepping for tonight's "Soup and Cinema." (Thank you for the title, David.)

Before I sped off to Wild by Nature where our event was held, I dropped out of the rush and flurry and practiced T'ai Chi Chih. That helped.

I think because I did my practice I was more able to be fully present for the people, the food, the conversation, and the film. And here I am: back home again, tired but happy.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Beauty Everywhere (even on the coldest of days)

The cold continued today under a bright blue sky. I occupied myself indoors until late afternoon when I ventured out to carry in firewood and sprinkle full cans of ashes onto the pure white snow. The temps hovered slightly above zero when I emerged into the stimulating clean, clear air. It was a refreshing interlude in my intensive-effort-to-keep-warm day.

I practiced T'ai Chi Chih with new music I received in today's mail delivery: Marina Raye's Beauty Everywhere. Raye plays native flutes to accompany the sound of ocean waves and the songs of Humpback Whales. It's a slow and delightfully relaxing CD.

I found my mind wandering throughout this afternoon's TCC practice. I think it's a case of too much to do, too little time.

Still, I listened to a public radio show (Science Friday) earlier in the day that highlighted the importance of mindfulness and its ability to improve focus and productivity. And so it goes.... I continue on with my practice day after day; some days I feel focused and others days I'm scattered. And there are other days when I'm simply swinging in the trees with all the other Monkey Minds.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I cancelled my morning T'ai Chi Chih class after two students called in sick (two others are currently out of town and the other two and myself would have driven in 25 degree below windchill to hold our class session).

Unfortunately, one of my students didn't get the cancellation message until he arrived at the class location. When he returned my calls, I asked him to come to my house for a joint T'ai Chi Chih practice. And so, a potentially disappointing outcome transformed into a wonderful combination practice/getting-to-know-you-better session.

The two of us practiced along with Justin Stone's DVD teacher practice and then sat for a conversation that lasted well over three hours (I had no idea!). What a delightful way to spend a too-cold day!

And now, it's time to focus on feeding two wood stoves in order to make it through a too-cold night....

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Qigong for Cleansing

Yes, temperatures are in the single digits and clouds drape the sky, but there are hints of blue peeping through clouds and vestiges of light along the horizon so the day feels bright. May this day be filled with light and lightness!

Tonight I teach two back-to-back T'ai Chi Chih classes. With that in mind, I did not do a morning TCC practice; instead, I practiced Qigong for Cleansing for ten minutes. Francesco and Daisy Lee Garripoli developed this qigong practice (exercises and breathing meant to stimulate and improve the qi/chi energy field). I taught myself the movements several years ago and then let the practice fade into the background of my life.

Recently I unearthed the DVD and decided that it was time to re-enter this routine and reinvigorate myself with its slow meditative stretches and breathing patterns. The film is inspiring as it's set in an alpine meadow in the Rocky Mountains. And the Garripolis are obviously masters of this form they've developed. Though the movements are relatively simple (as is T'ai Chi Chih), the anticipated effects are tremendous (as are the results of engaging in a TCC practice):
  • Circulate Qi (energy) to rejuvenate your entire body
  • Revitalize key organs (lung, heart, liver, stomach, intestines, kidneys and gall bladder) responsible for removing toxins
  • Soothe your nervous system so it releases feel-good chemicals instead of stress hormones
  • Restore mental clarity by harmonizing right and left brain
  • Eliminate anxiety and center yourself through an energy-balancing move you can use anytime, anywhere
          From: Qigong for Cleansing DVD case
The above list articulates the positive effects that can be gained from a multitude of qigong practices (T'ai Chi Chih, T'ai Chi Ch'uan, and any other Qigong form). Still, it's nice to occasionally practice a different form, especially since I'll submerge myself in teaching the T'ai Chi Chih form several times over this evening. I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Building the Energy

For the next few days we're headed toward the deep freeze with temps in the single digits and below zero. Then, by the weekend, it's predicted that we'll be back up to the low 30s. Needless to say, the current community conversation is that we'll have no ice road to Madeline Island this winter.

I had a slow start to the day. I missed last night's movie (American Outrage, 2008) but arrived in time for the Conversation Cafe that followed. It was a painful discussion since the documentary was about two aging Western Shoshone sisters who had their horses and cattle confiscated by federal marshals for the crime of grazing them on the open range outside their private ranch. One minor problem: that range is recognized by the U.S. as Western Shoshone land.

The real reason for the harrassment of the Dann sisters eventually emerged: the government wished to secure lands containing the second largest gold producing area in the world. As Eric Cheyfitz, director of the American Indian Program, Cornell University, states on the DVD case: This "eloquent testament to the courage of the Dann sisters" is "an important document for those who want to understand the ongoing resistance of Native peoples to U.S. colonialism in Indian country."

Through our movie and discussion nights we're discovering that it's important to share information, engage in conversation, and educate ourselves and each other about the ways in which the government supports the rights of corporations over the rights of its citizens. As our resources decline, this fact becomes more and more obvious. It's also obvious that it's important for all U.S. citizens to become more educated, active, and inclusive of others (especially those who have less of a voice in this culture).

So, it was a long day yesterday which led to my slow beginnings today. I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice late morning in order to energize and gear myself up for my afternoon at the library. I do feel better and more prepared for whatever comes during the remainder of this day. And so, I'm off....

Monday, January 16, 2012

All Good

Frances was stressed out this morning due to her planned soup-movie-discussion event scheduled for this evening at Wild by Nature in downtown Bayfield. Consequently, I was the one who did a T'ai Chi Chih practice. I'm highly sensitive to other people's emotions and energies and so, one way I've found to cope with that ultra-sensitivity is to use my TCC practice as a calming/centering tool for myself.

Yes, Frances would have likely benefited from a TCC practice herself, but she uses other ways to focus and center. And, in a situation like this morning, I've come to realize that high stress levels actually help to motivate and activate Frances's organize and do mode.

My practice was just what I needed to calm myself even though I realized that I was continuing to travel down a high-speed highway. Still, these minutes of practice will help to get me through my busy workday. And that's all good.

Going Off-Line

Saturday, January 14, 2012, 5:30 p.m.

Given the amount of energy--or lack thereof--that I woke up with this morning I determined that today would be a day of rest. And, other than my "chop wood, carry water" activities (carrying in firewood and feeding a woodstove throughout the day, washing dishes, and cooking), I napped, read, and enjoyed the quiet.

I even shortened my T'ai Chi Chih practice (20 minutes instead of 30). And, because I couldn't bear the idea of turning on the computer, I wrote down my blog in my journal. I believe that we all need breaks from technology (it keeps us sane and humane) and a half-hour daily T'ai Chi Chih practice just isn't enough time spent off the grid (of electricity, communication, and responsibilities).

It felt great to slow down today and I'm inclined to extend my day of rest into tomorrow. We'll see what the sunrise brings into my world in the morning....

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I spent another day in peaceful relaxation. My major accomplishments included cooking a double batch of quinoa stew, hauling in three sleds of firewood (and splitting said wood), and indulging myself in lengthy phone conversations with my sister and one brother.

My evening T'ai Chi Chih practice was obviously relaxing; I lay down on the bed after practice to meditate and woke almost four hours later. Now it's early the next day....

Friday, January 13, 2012

Trust What Needs to be Said and Done

I did another T'ai Chi Chih practice with Vic, Connie, Suni, and Rhonda early this morning. They're the four accredited TCC teachers who flow through the group practice at the end of Justin Stone's T'ai Chi Chih DVD. And it's such fun to join them when they're projected up on a five-by-seven foot screen.

It was a terrific way to start my day as I was feeling slightly anxious about a forthcoming phone call. And, sure enough, my TCC practice set the tone for a more relaxed, compassionate conversation.

Whenever I begin new classes (as I did this week), I always require extra time to prepare. I guess you could say that I'm writing my lesson plan even though it's not written down and, truth be told, it's not planned either since I rely on the Chi to guide me in my class format and instruction. Still, I review teaching materials, background information, and handouts to refresh my memory regarding particular elements of T'ai Chi Chih I'd like to mention. And then, when I'm in class teaching, I literally go with the flow when I move my body and when I move my mouth.

It's a liberating experience to trust that what needs to be said and done will present itself as needed. And, I might add, I wasn't capable of practicing this particular style of teaching when I first became a T'ai Chi Chih teacher some 15 years ago. What a gift to let go of perfectionism and expectations. Life is simpler ... and so much more enjoyable.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Into the Heart

The T'ai Chi Chih class sessions last night were wonderful. After our continuing class practice--the energy in the circle was absolutely fabulous--I asked our group of seven: Isn't it terrific that, even when we make mistakes in our practice, we do so with grace? (And I wasn't simply referring to physical grace; I was also thinking of the mental/emotional/spiritual balance we learn from our practices that helps us accept our mistakes and imperfections with 'grace' instead of self-blame or irritation.)

The beginning class was filled beyond its maximum capacity and enrolled students seemed to have more experience with, and interest in, meditation, chi flow, and the like. That makes teaching easier for me because students are open and responsive to the hidden (or not-so-hidden) potentials of activating, balancing, and circulating the Chi. To the beginners I said: I can't convince you of the healing powers and benefits of T'ai Chi Chih; you need to practice to experience the cumulative benefits of this moving meditation for yourself.

This morning's class practice began late due to the winter-like (shock!) weather conditions. I traveled 40 mph to class and the three students who arrived were 10 to 20 minutes late. It was tense driving and I could feel the tension during the first portion of our practice. Eventually it faded away as our minds and bodies relaxed and became more attuned to each other.

During our post-practice discussion of Buddha's Brain, Chapter 12, "Blissful Concentration," I asked students to articulate how T'ai Chi Chih practice helps us strengthen our attention when considering the five key factors that Buddhism teaches for steadying the mind (p. 193):
Applied attention--initial directing of attention to an object, such as the beginning of the breath

Sustained attention--staying focused on the object of attention, such as remaining aware of an entire inhalation from beginning to end

Rapture--intense interest in the object; sometimes experienced as a rush of blissful sensations

Joy--gladdening of the heart that includes happiness, contentment, and tranquility

Singleness of mind--unification of awareness in which everything is experienced as a whole; few thoughts; equanimity; a strong sense of being present
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation helps us to experience all of these aspects of mindfulness and, as the authors of Buddha's Brain assert, With practice, concentration naturally deepens for most people (Lutz, Slager, et al. 2008). (p. 193)

I was particularly struck by the fact that the fourth item mentioned in this list was "joy" since Justin Stone named this form: T'ai Chi Chih Joy Thru Movement. When I see the smiling faces of my students at the end of each practice, I know without a doubt that this moving meditation has traveled beyond the mind, through the body, and into the heart....

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

T'ai Chi Chih to the Rescue

Winter is settling in once again. As temperatures begin to fall, so does the snow. Rain dripped and dropped from the sky earlier in the day, then transitioned to sleet, and finally, snow. It's grey and overcast; the dog and cat--evidentally--have decided to spend the day napping. (Yes, it looks appealing.)

Tonight I teach two T'ai Chi Chih classes. It's been a year since I taught a beginning class and I feel a bit nervous. What to do? Practice T'ai Chi Chih. I did a ten minute practice before I left home to drive to class. I'll likely do another short practice before my first class begins at 5:30. All told, I'll be moving in slow-flow motion for at least one-and-a-half to two hours today.

It's all good.

I got lost in the woods this morning and felt grateful for my years of T'ai Chi Chih practice which kept me from going into total panic mode. It was interesting to observe myself and realize how quickly Monkey Mind convinced me that the next logical step was for me to hike further into the woods, go into a low blood sugar, and then wander aimlessly.

Instead, I slowed myself down, stopped, thought, asked for help, and, very soon, I heard the sound of a car driving by and was able to shift my direction slightly and head for the road. Indeed, I was in a low blood sugar by the time I made it back to the house, but I was safe and I had access to food to treat my insulin reaction. T'ai Chi Chih meditation to the rescue once again!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What's Wrong? What Can We Do?

Why is it that some days seem boring and other days are filled with thoughts, emotions, energy, and action?

Of course, any time I begin preparations for a new T'ai Chi Chih beginners' class I overflow with examples of what to do and what to say. There are so many ideas to express about this practice, so many benefits to share, that I sometimes feel as though I'm at a loss for words. Where do I begin?

I did this morning's T'ai Chi Chih practice with the teachers from Albuquerque, NM (at the end of Justin Stone's DVD). It's the first time I've practiced using our DVD player/projector/five-by-seven foot screen. It was fabulous! I didn't have to imagine that I was part of this group of four because the teachers were, quite literally, almost as tall as me.

It's been some time since I practiced with Stone's DVD and it's always good to return to it to clarify timing, movements, and other particulars of the practice. I realized, for instance, that I tend to move more slowly between movements to allow my students time to transition from Resting Position into whichever movement comes next. I'm guessing that the videotaped teachers move more slowly, too, when they teach a class.

Interestingly, Frances and I watched a new library DVD last night: I Am. It follows the journey of Hollywood director, Tom Shadyac (he directed Nutty Professor and Bruce Almighty, to name a few of his films). After Shadyac was in a bicycle accident and experienced a life threatening head injury, he began a journey of self-discovery that resulted in this film. He asked leading authors, scientists, religious leaders, teachers, and writers two questions: What's wrong with our world? and What can we do about it?

The discussions, explorations, and information that flowed from this movie are inspiring and thought-provoking. And much of what I saw and heard in I Am reminded me of what I and my students are striving to accomplish through our practice of T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation: to open our hearts to love, compassion, and acceptance. This movie shows that what we do makes a difference in our own lives and the lives of others; that is why I teach T'ai Chi Chih ... I want to be a part of a healthier, happier, more peaceful world.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Quiet Observations

Yes! The number of students enrolling in my beginning T'ai Chi Chih class set to start Wednesday continues to expand (which is great).

I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice after sunrise today; it was so cloudy that there was no explosion of color to watch on the horizon. Nevertheless, we've miraculously ended up with blue skies and full sun. Hurrah! I'm inspired to take a walk in the warmth and sunshine as soon as I write my blog.

During today's practice I watched a mouse rush across the ground outside the windows and hide itself at the base of a nearby tree. Typically I simply don't spend much time quietly observing my environment so it was a treat (I know, that sounds odd!) to see the little mouse.

Again today I practiced focusing on my heart center as I moved; per Joan Borysenko, I inhaled earth and sky energy into my heart and exhaled it out to the edges of the Universe. It's a helpful strategy to increase energy flow and build a sense of unity and oneness with all the life forms that surround me.

I am grateful for my life and for this practice....

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Power within Our Souls

Last night's potluck, movie, and (Conversation Cafe) discussion were wonderful. It was incredibly inspiring to watch a group of women in Liberia (Pray the Devil Back to Hell) transform their war-torn country into a place of peace and hope.

I was impressed with Leymah Gbowee, the unintended leader of this women' peace movement, whose willingness to follow a dream--literally--inspired others to follow their own dreams for peace and prosperity. The backstory of their success hinged on the fact that they started this movement in their churches first (Christian and Muslim) and strengthened their efforts with huge doses of outreach, strategy, and prayers. It was obvious that these women were willing to let go of their egos in order to achieve a common, heartfelt goal: PEACE.

A Desmond Tutu quote on the DVD case said of the film:
[It] Eloquently captures the power each of us innately has within our souls to make this world a far better, safer, more peaceful place.
Yes! And, naturally, this inner power is made manifest when we engage our body/minds in a daily practice of T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation. When we create peace within, that peacefulness can circulate out into the world beyond us.

This morning I practiced T'ai Chi Chih outside. It was 25 degrees and totally still; I couldn't resist the light, warmth (?), and peace that emanated from the woods. Lucy bathed as I moved through the form and I focused on practicing Joan Borysenko's Breath Bridging Earth and Sky. (I inhaled the earth and sky energies into my heart area and then exhaled the energy into the world around me ... it felt so good to engage my intention on creating a more peaceful self/world.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The World is a Reflection of Ourselves

It's movie night at the Winter-Johnson residence! Tonight's showing: Pray the Devil Back to Hell, an extraordinary documentary about ordinary Liberian women who worked for peace in their country while living in the midst of war.

Of course, on the day of each movie showing we busily clean, cook, and make room in our house for 12-15 people; today is no different. I was up at 5:30 a.m. and immediately launched into dishes and cat boxes. By late morning I was ready for T'ai Chi Chih, and I timed my practice to coincide with Frances's trip to the dump and the Bayfield Library. Ahh. It's quiet. No vacuum cleaner noise, no phone calls, no frantic rush to organize piles of papers (at least for the moment).

Yesterday's melt turned to ice overnight so I watched out the window as the chicken gingerly picked her way around the yard near the house. Lucy the goose already stood guard on the front step. Practice time flew by and it took some effort on my part to slow my body-mind after a morning of nonstop action.

Frances and I are both hopeful that tonight's movie will be an inspiration to all who see it, especially as our town gears up for its annual caucus this week. It's time for a change and we all need to be reminded that, by changing ourselves, we can effect change in others. 

The world is a reflection of ourselves. What we see without is an accurate measure of what we are within. If there is serenity inside, the outside world seems friendly. When we go to a strange place with our hands outstretched and open, willing to offer whatever we have to give, the reception is warm, we make new friends, and life is joyous. But if we grasp, if we manipulate and exploit, the result is different. Our vibration is changed, our appearance is uninviting, and we repel others.
          -- Justin Stone, Climb the Joyous Mountain: Living the Meditative Way
             From: Sr. Antonia's January 2012 Newsletter

Friday, January 6, 2012

Grace and Flow ... Where did you go?

Look in thy heart,
and Write.
So sayeth Sir Philip Sydney in this section of my journal where I've turned the page to write my blog. Frances is composing emails on the computer and, since I'm an "early is better" (a.k.a., "early to bed'er"), I'm handwriting my blog while thoughts are fresh and before I'm overcome by tiredness.

Today was overfull with phone calling, wood splitting and stacking, and editing. I spoke with several potential T'ai Chi Chih students and, by day's end, I received an email informing me that two of my three winter TCC classes are set to begin on Wednesday; one class still needs two registrations to qualify as a "go."

I worked really hard and spent hours on the phone and writing emails to recruit students and now ... "Whatever will be, will be...."

Today was yet another beautiful, warm, sunny day. Dark splotches of earth are emerging as the snow melts. I worked outside in shirt sleeves today--probably a first-ever experience for the month of January after having lived my entire life in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

I practiced TCC in front of a dark bedroom window tonight and looked--to my mind--a little wobbly. My back is sore after several days of hauling wood so that may account for the less than graceful movements.

It's time for me to practice with the Albuquerque teachers on Justin Stone's DVD just to get my body and head back on track (or in the flow). And then--then--I'll be ready to teach another beginning TCC class mid-week.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

This is the Best Season of Your Life

What a beautiful, sunshine-filled day! And warm.... I just finished a phone conversation with one of my brothers who lives near Rochester, MN; he said it was close to 60 degrees there. Here in the Bayfield area we're in the 30s and the snow resting on our metal roof is melting, softening, and sliding to the ground.

Unfortunately, I've been working indoors all day but plan to take a walk down the driveway before night falls. I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice earlier this morning but now, hours later, it feels as though a full day has passed.

I'm currently in the midst of passing the word about my upcoming T'ai Chi Chih classes scheduled to begin next week. With the changing economy I need to meet strict enrollment minimums or the classes will cancel and, at this point, I have one of three classes filled. I'm considering whether it's time for me to change up my teaching arrangements; perhaps I need to work closer to home and/or try to reach a different audience. I'll let these thoughts rest in my consciousness for a time and see whether a solution reveals itself....
Ten thousand flowers in spring
The moon in autumn,
A cool breeze in summer
Snow in winter.
If your mind isn't clouded by
unnecessary things,
This is the best season of your life.

          -- Wu-men
             From: Sr. Antonia's Jan. 2012 T'ai Chi Chih Newsletter

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Our Mission

The morning sky was glorious and sun-filled; but, all-too-quickly its beauty was smothered by clouds. Yes, it's warmer today but far more gray than yesterday. Still, I did my T'ai Chi Chih practice as the last of a lovely sunrise glimmered over the lake.

I had a relaxing, enjoyable practice. The dog observed me occasionally as he dozed on a chair nearby while the soon-to-disappear sun reflected in a window on the porch and warmed my inner self. I followed my moving meditation with a five minute seated meditation and soon felt deeply content.

I read Sr. Antonia's January 2012 Newsletter last night. She mentioned that the T'ai Chi Chih community now has a mission statement meant to reflect the values and focus of our organization. It reads:
The International T'ai Chi Chih Community of students and accredited teachers is dedicated to the personal practice of T'ai Chi Chih, and to sharing with the world this form of moving meditation and its benefits, affecting body, mind, and spirit.
Justin Stone, T'ai Chi Chih's creator, asked our guide, Sr. Antonia to "Unite the Teachers." This mission statement comes out of that request.

Sister invited teachers to dedicate our practices to Gratitude during the month of January and to focus our attention on the words and intent contained within our newly-minted mission statement. I was reminded of yesterday's blog in which I wrote about the 12 Insights of the Celestine Prophesy. It certainly seems that Sr. Antonia is tuned into those insights in her direct request to us to set our intention on co-creating a world in which we all wish to live.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Insights (Twelve)

The holidays are over and it's back to business as usual. Or is it?

Last night Frances and I watched the movie The Celestine Prophecy. Based on James Redfield's best-selling novel by the same name, it follows the path of an out-of-work teacher who begins to pursue the synchronicities in his life. His journey leads him to Peru in search of nine ancient scrolls containing key insights that predict a worldwide spiritual awakening. Though the story is fictionalized, the prophesies that Redfield outlines seem all too real.

I read this book shortly after it was published in 1993. It was fascinating. At that time I'd been practicing T'ai Chi Ch'uan for six years, had studied first degree Reiki, and was on the verge of another discovery: T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation. Watching this book set to film after so many years of my own continued exploration and spiritual searching was delightful. Now, as a 15-year teacher and practitioner of T'ai Chi Chih, I can more easily understand the insights that Redfield describes.

Redfield has since expanded the insights to 12. While all relate to the TCC practice we're doing and the people we're becoming as a result of our practices, there are three insights in particular that highlighted my experiences in the TCC classroom:
          Fifth Insight: Insecurity and violence ends when we experience an inner connection with divine energy within.... A sensation of lightness--buoyancy--along with the constant sensation of love are measures of this connection.
          Eighth Insight: We can increase the frequency of guiding coincidences by uplifting every person that comes into our lives....Uplifting others is especially effective in groups where each member can feel the energy of all the others.
          Eleventh Insight: We are finding that faith power, positive thinking, and the power of prayer build a field of intention which moves out from us and can be extended and strengthened, especially when we connect with others in a common vision [paraphrased].
          From: http://www.celestinevision.com/
Yes. Yes. And yes. Why do I continue my T'ai Chi Chih practice each day? In part, it's due to the "sensation of lightness--buoyancy--along with the constant sensation of love" that is a direct result of a TCC practice. My continuing students often comment on how much better they feel after a practice (Fifth Insight). When we practice TCC in unison and unity, we are--intentionally or not--uplifting ourselves and all members of the group as we feel the change in energy that every one of us experiences (Eighth Insight). Moving together with the intention to relax, slow, and bring ourselves into the present moment is a highly effective way to create and make manifest our common desire to treat ourselves and each other with loving kindness as we co-create a more compassionate and peaceful world (Eleventh Insight).

If we intend and attend to the vision that we are each in this world to create a more peaceful, happy, and healthy world, then T'ai Chi Chih practice is one tremendously helpful and healthful step in that direction. And, to that end, I did my TCC practice this morning as the colors of sunrise faded into the horizon, then quietly sat to absorb the energy of earth and sky. Ahhh. Such peace.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Each Day is a New Beginning

A fresh attitude starts to happen when we look to see that yesterday was yesterday, and now it is gone; today is today and now it is new. It is like that--every hour, every minute is changing. If we stop observing change, then we stop seeing everything as new.

          --Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
            From: The Places that Scare You, by Pema Chodron, p. 17
The above quote reminds me of a radio interview I heard last week. The interviewee stated that it wasn't important to her to celebrate New Year's Eve because people tend to overemphasize that one day of the year as they resolve to change or improve their lives. Each day, she reminded listeners, is a new beginning.

That's a wonderful way to think about time; it also offers us the opportunity to take personal responsibility for staying in the present moment. Of course, T'ai Chi Chih practice can be a tool for accomplishing that goal. Still, each practice is different. And, as I noticed during my practice this afternoon, some days it's easier to abide in the present and other days it's a challenge to keep the mind focused for one single endless minute.

With the onset of a new year the temperatures have dropped (tonight's low is predicted to be four degrees) and I spend a lot of my time and attention just trying to stay warm. Instead of chop wood, carry water, my daily activities are focused around carry wood, stack wood, and insert wood into stove. Over and over and over again. Some days there's a wonderful comfort that comes from that routine and, on others, it's simply a chore.

Naturally, it's important to treasure every moment although we tend to take too many hours of our lives for granted. During a conversation with a 93-year-old friend today I mentioned that my days pass more and more quickly and, as a result, the years do too. He readily agreed.

May the coming year be filled with precious moments, hours, days, weeks, and months for us all....

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Heaven on Earth

Saturday, December 31, 2011:

(For whatever reason, I can't get our computer online today, so I wrote this blog entry in my journal.)

I began this final day of 2011 with a sunrise T'ai Chi Chih practice. Of course, I didn't see the sun (too many clouds), but I was overcome by the startling colors. It was gorgeous and astounding. Who can feel mad/sad/bad when the heavens are aflame?

Later in the day I saw one of my T'ai Chi Chih students at the grocery store and I told her about my morning practice. She was inspired by the idea of moving to the morning colors and said, "We'll see what tomorrow morning brings."

I thought more today about Friday's radio conversation on willpower. The interviewee mentioned that energy definitely affects willpower which explains why people are more able to accomplish goals in the morning than later in the day when they're tired. I could certainly relate to that concept from my own personal experience. It is much easier for me to make healthy food choices and avoid snacking in the mornings; by evening, though, my energy's low and I don't have the same energy to resist temptation and/or not-so-healthy foods.

The same holds true for TCC practice, I'm sure. That's why Justin Stone suggests that we practice right after we rise in the mornings (that way, we'll be sure to get our practices done).

Right at the moment I'm struggling with my willpower. Frances and I are invited to a New Year's Eve potluck/party and, since I was up at 5:30 this morning, I'm ready to settle in for the night rather than venture out. Hmm. What will happen? I'm sure I won't be up too late so perhaps I can go to eat dinner at least....

Happy New Year--2012 is at the door!

Sunday, January 1, 2012:

Our new year begins with a fresh coat of snow; the woods is covered in a lovely draping of white. (High winds are predicted to begin later today.) I launched into my T'ai Chi Chih practice this morning while the snow was still newly fallen, the day just begun. There was so much energy in my hands, I could feel it as I moved and when I settled into Resting Position. Why, I asked myself yet again, do I always feel a flood of energy after a rainfall or snowfall? An idea popped into my head: Because the snow has brought with it some of the heavenly (yin) energy.

Sure, that's a possibility. Then again, perhaps I'm more open and aware of myself and my bodily sensations after a rain or snowstorm, when the barometric pressure shifts, or who knows what. The reason really doesn't matter one whit. What matters is that I can sense the energy, it feels good, and I enjoy practicing TCC when I'm so intimately connected to the Chi. (And, of course, I like the symbolism of yin energy coming to earth or, shall I say, Heaven on Earth.)

I had a wonderful time conversing with neighbors and community members last night. The feeling of community revived me until my energy abandoned me around 11:00 p.m. What a wonderful way to begin another new year ... surrounded by the warmth of neighbors, food, conversation, and a sense of belonging. Who could ask for more?