Monday, December 15, 2008

Of Mice and Men

I try to practice taiji outside. For three reasons, mostly: I like it, there isn't enough room in my house, and my cat winds through my feet or continually plops down wherever I am stepping. It's good practice, actually, but sometimes I'd rather not have him around.

Several years ago I was practicing 'intention' which is one of the 10 Essentials of taiji practice. You can practice taiji with no intention, but it doesn't really count as taiji. It's really just moving around slowly. Which is fine, if you like to move around slowly with no intention. But don't try in any busy public place because people will intentionally push you over.

Okay, so back to my intention of writing about intention:

It was 4:30 in the morning. I couldn't find my shoes and didn't want to wake my husband rummaging around for them. Spiders walking in the basement wake him up. So I went out in bare feet to practice.

My intention most times is on my invisible taiji opponent. When she strikes, I block. When she kicks, I catch her kick and strike back by kicking at the knee of her standing leg. When she strikes to my jaw, I step out with my right foot, blocking upward with my arm and throw her over my leg.

Oh, please. Don't feel sorry for her, I wouldn't have to do these things if she wasn't able to keep coming back at me.

So this day I chose to practice taiji with the intention of bringing qi to my hands. It was a simple intention, and I was practicing keeping intention throughout the form. Could my simple brain stay focused on bringing intention to my hands throughout the 64 movements? Or would it get bored and start thinking about some miserable thing that happened 15 years ago; or worry about possible phone calls I was missing; or bug me about an email I had to return.

So, I began first with a few deep quiet breaths, feeling my hands. Just feeling them. I sensed the warmth and tingling there and felt it move up my arms. My intention was in my hands, but at the same time, when you practice taiji, you are aware of what is happening around you. Even though it's pitch black at 4:30 a.m. you still sense the bushes are where they are. You feel the dewy grass beneath your feet. You breathe in the air, are aware of your connection to the earth and the sky.

And I move. With my hands feeling full, I move. I breathe, folding into the qua, foot moving back slowly, arms are light, sense of self disappears, sense of duality disappears, I move with everything around me. I move. And my hands are very clear in the landscape I am part of. I sense them most. I feel them pulsing as a sense of peace and connection fosters itself inside me. I am moving as one, as a whole.

Until shearing pain cuts into the bottom of my foot. I disconnect. I am me entirely and not whole. My hands are lost.

I drop down and lift my foot, seeing a gray mouse hanging there whose last possible breath was made defending itself against my weight.

Now what? Do I save a dying mouse? Do I get a tetanus shot? Do I continue my form with a mouse stuck to my foot?

You know, a master would have felt the dying mouse's qi BEFORE he stepped down, crushing more of its tiny bones. You know nothing. Go inside and move around slowly without intention so you don't hurt anything.

It reminded me of another time I was practicing (again, in my backyard - this time with shoes on) and at the end, for some reason, I really felt a connection to the tulip tree in our back yard. I walked over to it. Looked up at it and it's beautiful green leaves and orangey tulip blooms. It was beautiful.

My instinct said: Hug it!
My brain said: Don't be ridiculous.
My instinct said: HUG it!
My brain said: Grow up.
My instinct said: HUG IT!!

So I was in my backyard and said pllltthhh to my brain and I slowly put my arms around the tree and gave it a great, big hug!

I pulled my arms off just as fast. I don't know what the hell was on that tree, but it must have been squirrel barf or something. It was all over my hands.


I don't know if I want to analyze why these things happen. But I'm looking at my cat right now weaving through my legs. Looking for a perfect place to plop down and get comfy.

I guess the "best laid plans of mice and men often go awry".


Sunday, December 7, 2008


It's there.

Relentless, unpredictable burning, pressured body pain. Shifting sears an invisible heated knife through her body so swiftly there isn't time to retract the movement. It shocks, paralyzes for moments.

I can hear it through the phone. Sometimes it speaks louder than she does. Sometimes I feel it before I hear her voice answer the phone.

It's a dead weight resting on her raw spine. Reaching out lazily, plucking at nerves. Confusing her immune system to attack healthy tissue. Commanding attention by acting out.

And all I can do is witness it.


Sometimes I feel her pain physically. Sometimes emotionally. Sometimes both. Sometimes I shut it down. I can't look at it. I can't read it. I can't hear it. I can't feel it. I can't.

And there are other times. Times when my shen (spirit-mind) can slip like satin into a place that supports me, weightless. From above I'm suspended. From below I'm grounded. There is no pain, there is no euphoria. There is only observation...this

I am part of something larger...just one small piece of something larger. Unending. Infinite. And I am tiny.

Throughout the day I practice being in this place...then I've realized I slipped away and I move back in...fluctuating between energies of blocked intense emotion to...flowing peace.

In your pained state, you need flowing peace. In your pained state, I do too. I practice observing from my tiny piece, my place in the whole. I practice being. I practice...not always open, flowing, peaceful part of the whole. I practice being responsible for the energy I bring with me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The yield of Thanksgiving

In the states we're getting ready to gather together for Thanksgiving. As a kid and young adult, I always looked forward to the holidays with family. Every year, in my little fantasy world, I imagined family gatherings with laughing, great conversation, sharing, deepening connections.

You know, fantasy.

Because the reality of it is this: there are some family members I've just handed the steering wheel to and allowed them to drive me nuts. I have a really hard time with: racists, elitists, manipulators, semantic nit-pickers, viciously sarcastic, materialistic, neglectful, and self-centered. Ironically enough, they all exist in this lovely extended family with whom I spend the holidays.

(Private conversation with universe:
Me, with sarcasm: "Thank you so much, universe, for always thinking of my personal growth!"
Universe: well, the universe never responds verbally, does it? It just kind of lets you know subtlety. )

And if I were really honest, (which I'm not going to be because I'm not ready. Although if you just read this entry the answers float pretty quickly to the top) some of those personality issues probably reside in me as well. Someone, somewhere, at some point said something like this, but don't quote me on it: "What frustrates you in someone else is the same thing that frustrates you about yourself."

So, when someone would hit me with, let's say, a racist comment, my initial response had always been to hit back: hard and fast. That was how we were raised in our family. Immediately shut down someone who was WRONG. (And, of course, we inherently knew what wrong was, being the elitists we were!) Then, between the two of us, whoever had the stronger words, the pithier statement, won.

It's very similar to a physical fight. Whoever is stronger, wins.

And what was the result? The racist's ostracized fear deepened. My elitism strengthened.

Hmmm...not exactly the true outcome I wanted.

When I started practicing taiji, I learned a concept called "yielding." Yielding, in taiji, is the ability to allow your opponent's strike to come in. As you yield to that strike, (by deflection or rotation) you are able to move with it so that you aren't absorbing the hit, you are one with it. When you yield, you don't get hurt. Sometimes the opponent wonders, "What happened? I threw a punch, but my opponent disappeared!" Sometimes the opponent hurts himself because he's thrown a punch so forcefully and you yielded so gently that he falls forward and ends up on the ground.

When you don't yield, painful things can happen. You don't move with the strike, you absorb it and you get hurt.

The same is true with a verbal toss. The racist makes a comment and when I absorb it as a strike, I feel pain. When I choose to return the strike, the fight doesn't end. We take our scars and our deepened fears and elitism and move on to the next battle.

But when I yield to a racist comment, I can hear the truth of the statement: deep, ostracized fear. When I yield and connect, the racist comment dissolves, the frightened human stands. And there is where true communication can exist. Even if the person leaves with racist ideas intact, they have not left the conversation unchanged. They were connected to with compassion for what their racism really is: deep ostracized fear. And it didn't deepen.

And my elitism didn't either.

And that is something to be truly thankful for.

Here's what the Tao Te Ching has to say about it...although, you know...I'm not sure Lao Tzu was actually thinking about Thanksgiving and holiday gatherings with family...but you know what I mean:

Tao Te Ching - trans. Stephen Mitchell

The generals have a saying:
'Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.'

This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one who knows how to yield.

When I was younger, I never saw the beauty in yielding. But this is another Thanksgiving where I am moving into the holiday season with love and compassion...and hoping that others will help me dissolve my elitism.

Whew. There. I admitted it.

For those who are celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope you have a deeply thankful, connected, loving time...

I suppose I'd like that for everyone, actually.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kidneys: The Root of Life?

Yep. That's what they've been called.

Well, not in the mid-west where I'm from.

We picture the kidneys as...well...big honkin' kidney beans that hang out inside of us somewhere. Who knows, maybe that's what's causing the intestinal gas.

The kidneys are each about the size of your fist. They are located near the middle of your back, just behind the lower ribcage. We are born with two of them - one on each side of the spine. (One is usually up a little higher than the other, if that helps the visual.)

They're important, very important. The poor things are constantly, constantly working to keep your blood composition in a healthy balance. They regulate the volume of water in your blood. They make sure important ions and other substances are at the right level and at the correct concentration in the blood stream. They remove yick from your body - yick is a personal technical term meaning: the junk you've put into your body in the form of polluted air, fast food, chemically-ridden city water, and stress. The somewhat real technical terms are: urea, toxic substances, ammonia, etc.

The kidneys even help regulate your blood pressure, help maintain calcium (very important for women in my age group) and they also stimulate the creation of red blood cells - the ones that carry oxygen everywhere in the body - i.e. really important for healing.

But in eastern medicine, the kidneys do this and more. The kidneys store what is called "Essence" or "Innate Jing", or if you will, hereditary energy you received from your parents. Kinda like other things you inherited: hair and eye color, skin coloring, and short stubby little brittle nails that never grow long enough to scratch an itch with. (Thanks a lot, Dad.)

This hereditary energy is expended throughout your life. When it's gone, you're gone.

So, it's important to maintain your Essence for as long as you would like to live. And you do that by not using it up eating poorly, breathing poor air, driving while talking on a cell phone, etc. You can't increase your Essence. It is what it is. You can, however, take hereditary energy supplements. But not from the local drug store.

These supplements come in the form of qi, life energy, and you get it from eating good foods, breathing clean air (sorry, I know most of us can't fully control our immediate environments), getting good amounts of exercise, and ridding yourself of stress.

So, how does one rid stress from their lives? Get a good teacher and practice tai chi. Or yoga. Or glass blowing. Or kite flying. It doesn't matter what it is as long as it: helps you breathe deeply and evenly, keeps your sitting heart rate low, maintains healthy blood pressure, and keeps your mind clear. Clear of thoughts that cause emotional stress - like constant ridicule, or judgemental thoughts (which come in many different forms including humor), anger or hostile thoughts, panicked thoughts of insecurity, and thoughts of inferiority.

There are a lot more, but you get the drift.

These kinds of intense emotions really rock the kidneys (never say 'stone' to a kidney).

They do it figuratively and physically.

The adrenal glands lay on top of each kidney. They kick into gear when we choose to feel stressed out. They start shootin' out hormones like an AK-47 on fire. When they start vibrating, the kidneys do too. That's why we always feel like we have to go to the bathroom when we're really nervous.

So here's a good starting exercise to bring health to the kidneys. This is one of many qigong (energy work) exercises from Master Yu-Cheng Huang:

Info you'll need to know for this exercise:
Laogong Point - the laogong is located on the palm of the hand. If you take your middle finger and touch your palm, you've found it!

It really helps, when doing the following exercise, to be as relaxed as your body can at this moment in time. The shoulders are in their natural position - not forced back, the feet are relaxed and not clenching the floor, breathwork is slow and even. The pelvis is slightly tilted forward to round out the lower back. The crown of the head is the tallest point of the body.

1. Bring your attention to the palm of your hands. Don't picture your hands in your head. Feel them. Concentrate on the laogong point. Imagine yourself bringing energy to this point. Now, place the palms of your hands or the laogong points on the back over the kidney area.

3. Take a nice breath in expanding the belly, not the chest. As you do this, imagine energy entering into the laogong. Exhale and imagine the energy releasing into the kidneys. While breathing, the hands move...rub...from the kidneys to the coccyx (tailbone). When inhaling, the hands move up, when exhaling, the hands move down. Repeat this exercise between 9 and 36 times.

4. When the hands are at the kidneys and you have inhaled, imagine that you have sealed the energy in the kidneys and count to 9. Imagine that energy now moving to the dantien while your hands move around the sides of the body and create an inverted triangle with the thumbs and index fingers on the dantien. Allow you mind to seal the energy in the dantien.

If anything, this exercise allows you to take a moment to breath - even if you can't imagine the energy, can't feel the palms of the hands, can't imagine sealing anything, anywhere. It's okay. It takes time to settle into new practices. Give it time.

So now let me ask you a question: When's the last time you had a glass of water?

Well, go get one. Hold it high and toast your kidneys. They've been working hard.

Don't forget to drink the water.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

stillness in movement

Where is your stillness?
When someone is talking to you. Do you stop typing and look them in the eye?

Where is your stillness?
Can you hear their words? Stripped of emotion or drama? Can you sit with them, look at them, for all of the moments they need, before you respond?

Where is your stillness?
Can you listen without working at forming a response, without finishing another's sentence, without thinking of what you were doing, without thinking what you would rather do?

Where is your stillness?
Can you only be still when the lights are low, when you're in the right space, when the nose can smell only just what it wants?

Where is your stillness?
Can you sit in your living room? Just sit for a moment? Can you be there without a laptop, without the television, without the radio, without the mp3? Can you feel the couch supporting you? Can you feel your feet on the floor? Just for that moment can you feel?

Where is your stillness?
Can you cook in the kitchen? Just cook? Nothing else? Can you touch the ingredients? Can you bring them to your nose? Can you smell them? Can you feel the working utensil in your hand? Is it firm, soft, strong? Can you smell the aromas again as they mix together?

Where is your stillness?
Can you drive? Just drive? Can you feel the steering wheel in your hands? Can you feel the immense weight of the vehicle? Can you sense the steel as it moves so close to other lives?

Where is your stillness?
Can you lay in bed? Just lay? Can you feel the mattress supporting your body? Can you feel the sheet? Can you feel lightness and cool underneath it? Can you feel a blanket? A quilt or comforter? Can you feel warmth? Can you feel the extra layers? Can you lay down? Just lay?

Where is your stillness?
Can you breathe? Just breathe? No thoughts? Can you feel your lungs expand? Can you feel the air coming in? Gently moving out? Feel it coming in again? Expanding? Slow or fast? Short or long? Can you feel it either way? Can you just feel?

In your life - your life - where do you create stillness?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pop Quiz!

Don't you love the tests the universe gives?

If you don't do worries!! The universe ALWAYS gives you another chance.

Even if you do well - you've aced that test - if the universe thinks that you might just need the test again...well, VOILA!!! The test presents itself!

Yet again.

And again.

Damned pop quizzes.

So the pop quiz for me came last night during my tai chi class.

A new person arrived to take the class, and it became clear to me that he was not there for tai chi. He showed no interest. He looked toward the ceiling in boredom when the class was working on fundamentals. He only made eye contact when smirking at others. He asked questions about my background, but interrupted the answers with his own.

After class I found out he studies with another teacher whom I don't know. He's here to...well, I still don't really know - and that really isn't the issue. The issue is that I wanted to punch him in the face.

In taiji, when an opponent's force comes in, you are relaxed, you yield and deflect. You shift to your opponent's incoming energy so that he/she can't connect to your root, control you, and knock you down. That's a tenet of internal martial arts like taiji.

It's very similar to not allowing yourself to get emotional over situations. If someone insults you, you yield and deflect the insult by being grounded in your being. You are. And nothing can shake that. You smile and are still at peace.

I was not so grounded in my being. I felt the need to defend my class, my self, my ego...for many minutes after class.

I finished tidying up the studio. Took a nice deep breath. I am. It is. Words dissolve. Emotions settle. I smile and feel at peace. And I laugh because I screwed up the test again.

But that's okay. I'm sure I'll get another chance.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Staying even

"A girl cries as she carries a sibling on a search for their parents in Kiwanja, Congo. Nearby U.N. peacekeepers were unable to protect the villagers, a rights group said."

Jerome Delay, Associated Press

This photograph shot into me yesterday. I couldn't stop looking at it. I cried. That tiny child, the pain, the fear. And the brave sister, such a young child herself, pain, fear, forced out of childhood.
I felt it. It just kept jabbing my insides and I just cried.

I'm still having a hard time looking at it without tearing up - and judging the pain I've been through. Judging that it hasn't been nearly as tough, nearly as painful, nearly as full of suffering.

I can't do it anymore. I walk away from the paper and sit down in another room. I flip through the Tao Te's the verse I turn to:

Verse 29

Do you want to improve the world?
I don't think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can't be improved.
If you tamper with it, you'll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you'll lose it.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the centre of the circle.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Happy again to say I'm from Ohio

I was woken up last night by a loud crash. Turned on the t.v. and found out the glass ceiling barring people of color to the presidency of this country lay sparkling on the floor.

There's some sweeping up to do, and through my tears of joy, I'm going to work.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Solid, Liquid, Gas

I'm downstairs in the basement waiting for the spin cycle to end when I notice a glass of water on a short, plastic shelving unit next to the washer. The shelf is where the detergent hangs out and other laundry things that I sweep out of the washer at the end of a cycle - like pebbles, coins, hair bands, an occasional dead beetle. I'm assuming it's from my kids' pockets, but I've never asked. Who knows, maybe my husband is a closet entomologist.

So, here I am, checking out the water in the cup. It's vibrating like mad, which is cool. But then I realize that the shelf is free standing, not touching the vibrating washer. So the water in the cup is responding to the vibration of the washer through the cement floor and up the plastic shelf. I touched the shelf to feel the vibration.


I couldn't feel anything at all. But the water - so sensitive - was really vibrating.

The cycle stopped and slowly the water became calm.

Watching this unfold immediately made me think of a couple of days ago when I got a phone call from someone I let shake me up. She called to question me about a blog entry I had written. She didn't understand why I was writing about something that I had experienced a few years ago and 'passing it off' as if it had happened recently.

It's clear, when you read the entire entry, that the experience did take place in the past. But she hadn't read the entire entry.

I was ticked off. And I was short with her on the phone. And I took that short, ticked-off feeling and lovingly spread it to everyone I had contact with for the next half hour. Nice, huh?

Rather than seeing her questioning just as it was - questioning - I also added the baggage of our relationship to it, thinking "Here we go again, she's got to start off the conversation by criticizing me." "She hasn't even read the entire entry and she's complaining about it!" "Once again she's just trying to undermine something that I'm enjoying." Blah Blah Blah.

So, washer, cup of water, phone call, pissy mood. How do these possibly link up?

The caller was the washer, creating vibrations. I was the glass, allowing her vibrations to literally move me, shake me and control my flow. And each one of my negative mental responses were adding more vibration to the cup. I wasn't physically attached to the person talking to me, but I was moving to every word that was said. Just like the cup wasn't touching the washer, but it was totally reacting to it.

I realize all of this was brought forth in a weak attempt to protect my ego from shots that only exist because I have an ego! If I didn't have an ego, I probably wouldn't have even felt the vibrations, let alone reacted to them.

So, the imagery of this leads me to the stages of water - liquid, solid, gas. Liquid feels good to me - flow, allowing yourself to mold into any shape at any time. Steam - the ability to expand and connect. Steam can reach all places, it's big, expansive and connects. And ice - solid, stable, rooted.

You notice that all of these qualities are needed in taiji practice? Ice- you have to have a solid, strong foundation to your stances, a solid structure to you posture, to your intention. Liquid - you have to be relaxed and flexible to move flawlessly through postures, to allow energy to come in and to be released. Steam - to be present, expansive, connected to your opponent.

And all of the qualities are needed in life relationships too. What a great relationship if you were solid in your being, relaxed and flexible enough to accept others as they are, present and connected to those around you?

That would rock.

So thank you, caller, for giving me insight into my ego driven slosh. And I'm sorry for the short, ticked off conversation we had. I have some work to do.

And thank you washer, for reminding me that I don't always have to be water, reacting to everything.

And for clean clothes.

***Hey, if you haven't gotten the phone call yet: today is Election Day.***

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Observer Mode

Observing is one of the hardest things for me to do during an election year.

If anything gets me into my analytical, judgmental, critical, left-hemisphere mind, it's politics. I've decided I'm really not mature enough to watch debates.

Or newscasts.

Or commercials.

Or even yard signs, really.

During a previous election in my lifetime, candidates couldn't even get through a sentence without me shaking my fist at the television set and yelling about how just how wrong, wrong! WRONG!! they were. Of course, the only thing listening to me back then was my cat. And he just ran out of the room.

So, I have gotten better. Cause, isn't the first step to admit you have a problem?

So anyway, here's the taiji twist to all of this. When I started practicing taiji, I enjoyed the movements, was able to relax my body, felt good and energized afterward. But something was missing.

My mind (yi) really was still focusing on where my foot was being placed, what the application of the movement was, whether my posture was correct. I was working on becoming relaxed, but not collapsed - sung is the Chinese term for relaxed in the body and mind, with structure to the body. These are all fine focus points when learning the form and practicing. But, again, I got to a point where I really felt something was missing.

In fact, at the time, I thought to myself, is this it? Is this all I'm going to get out of taiji? I mean, it's nice and all, but so is knitting. (And really it is, especially with all those new funky yarns! Have you seen them? Well, that's another post...)

So I was doing some reading on the brain, and I realized that we have two lovely hemispheres that sit inside our heads. The left hemisphere, simplifying things, is our analytical hemisphere that gives structure to our lives. It helps us remember deadlines, appointments, that we shouldn't drink turpentine - you know, important stuff.

But we in the Western world have a love affair with the left hemisphere. We, in general, admire people who are researchers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, people who are seemingly - using our analytical left hemisphere - better than others. We idolize gifted people - even at an early age. We separate the gifted from the mainstream in classrooms. And we really don't have patience for those who are not "thinkers."

The right hemisphere, on the other hand, allows us to become observers of everything - without analyzing, without judging or criticizing, without saying something is better, worse, more, less, right, wrong. The right hemisphere allows us to observe that everything...just is. And that doesn't get you a high paying job in this country.

But after reading this it really hit me. My taiji practice was! I was so busy analyzing what I was doing correctly and incorrectly that I hadn't allowed myself to enter into my right hemisphere and just observe. Just feel, without analyzing!

For months and months, I practiced without thinking. When a thought would come in, I would acknowledge it and let it go. It was difficult to stop criticising my form - I was so used to analyzing everything! Just being in the form took practice. Lots of practice.

But I found that once I released critical thinking, and gave my right hemisphere equal time, my body really began to respond. Not only in a martial sense - I was much more relaxed and grounded, my stances were stronger, my ability to respond to an opponent was faster (because I didn't take time to think about it) and more accurate - but I tested my blood pressure, which lowered. I tested my pulse, which, over time, went from (at rest) 72 bpm to 53 bpm. My breathing was much slower and deeper.

I also know that when even one bodily process, like breathing, stabilizes, it allows other processes to shift as well. Digestion, cardiovascular, lymphatic, endocrine. This is the reason Taiji is not just a martial art. The whole body responds when we make these shifts.

But the most wonderful thing happened that I didn't expect. This whole right-brain thing filtered into the rest of my life. My need to point out wrongs, innacuracies, hypocracies - whether it was a politician's, my own, a family member's, or friends - became much less important. What grew in it's place was an observation: I can let

And when that happens, I feel much more at ease. And so do others around me.

So, no, I haven't gotten to the point where I can watch endless commercials about candidates. I still have a hard time watching debates.

Instead, I just get into that observer mode and play taiji.

And my cat lays on the floor and watches.

Tao Te Ching
Translated by Stephen Mitchell
When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore, {one} acts
without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


The symbol of Tai Ji (you can see the image to the left, under the poem by Ts'ai-ken T'an) is a symbol almost everyone knows, but most just call it the "Yin Yang" symbol. And that is what it represents. Yin and Yang.

What is so cool about this theory is how it really represents a duality in life. Both yin and yang exist. In everything. At all times. Kind of like electron particles behaving like waves. Duality.

Which totally makes sense to me, because I've never truly felt black and white about anything. (Which is probably why my gall bladder keeps acting up. It's supposed to the the main organ involved in decision making. Sigh.)

So you may know that Yang represents the sun, heaven, active, bright. Yin represents the moon, earth, rest, shade. And when I ask anyone around here to quantify those qualities - ask them which are good qualities, which would they have in their lives - they all point to the yang qualities. (Except for moms with newborns. They're always lured by the word "rest.")

So I'm not sure what this means. Is it because our culture (I'm speaking of American culture) that we vibrate to yang qualities? Remember when people used to say "active"? It's not good enough for us, we have to be "pro-active." We've got to be plugged in to something - computer, music, cell phone, gameboys, television, i-whatevers, cube-thingies, x-baggies. Our kids are even trained at a young, young age to think fast, move (in their games, anyway) fast, eat fast.

I read an article by a Buddhist monk who reminisced about a bell that rang three times a day in his village. Every time the bell rang, everyone in the village stopped. They just stopped and became aware.

For several minutes they held that space, filling it with compassion and love. And soon, grounded again, they resumed their day.

Wow. What an incredible thing that must have been. A whole village stopping to just be. Can you imagine the power of that? That would just be the coolest thing.

So, tonight I'm going to try it with my family and then I'm off to teach class and I'm going to try it there, too.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Hey! You try it too. Freak people out at work or in a classroom or in a grocery store: bring in a bell, ring it and then just stand there smiling, appreciating life.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What's the point?

Sometimes life becomes so routine that it seems pointless. We wake up in the morning and do precisely what we did yesterday morning with just a few variations on the theme - like making a turkey sandwich for lunch instead of marinated, grilled tofu on Italian bread (along with some grilled veggies - it really does make a good sandwich). We do our morning thing and for many of us it's off to whatever work we do to pay for our shelter, food and clothing. We come home and do the same thing we did the previous Tuesday evening. Or Wednesday evening, which ever you happened to be living at the time you are reading this.

Why, for instance, do I create designs? (I'm a graphic designer by trade) I know what the end purpose is going to be. The bottom line is that my design should entice someone, somewhere to spend money.

That's it.

"Really? That's it?" I ask myself.

"Pretty much," comes the answer.

And then I feel this chasm deep, deep within open up...somewhere inside. I feel a strange sensation for just a moment.

My soul has left.

"Really?" I ask again a little more quietly.

No answer.

So when I'm feeling as though nothing I am doing really is beneficial to anything or anyone I tend to feel separate. Alone. Unconnected to anything or anyone in many ways.

And what I have to get back is connection.

That's where my taiji practice comes in. It reminds me that even though I'm judging my life to be worthless, I may not be privy to the bigger picture.

And today a friend emailed a quote to me that reminded me that I do not have the power to see everything:

Take care of yourself — you never know when the world will need you.
-Rabbi Hillel

One of the first practices I do when I'm feeling disconnected is an exercise from Rick Barrett's "Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate". If you don't have it and you're a taiji player, get it. It's good.

"1. The exercise is best done while standing with your feet at hip-width, knees unlocked, body relaxed and arms hanging at the side. Notice how your hands feel. Take your time. This establishes a benchmark.
2. Now bring your awareness to the fingers of one hand for thirty to sixty seconds. You want to actually feel your fingers, not just think about them. Sometimes it helps to move the fingers of one hand slightly. Notice the sensations in the fingers of this hand. Expand your awareness to the space around your hands."

Barrett goes on to say that focusing your conciousness leads your qi, and qi leads blood flow and circulation. You may feel sensations in your palms when you do this practice - tingling, fullness, pulsing - one of my students described it as humming.

Whenever I practice this exercise, I become aware of the "Qi Network". Qi is part of everything. Qi is energy and if something absorbs and emits energy - whether it's a rock sitting in the sun or me standing feeling my palms - it's got qi.

As soon as I connect in, I know I'm not alone. I know that my purpose may not be defined in the job that I do currently. I become aware that I am part of a network that depends on my stability and strength because my connection to the network allows others to connect. My breaking the connection doesn't just affect me.

In other words, my choosing to feel worthless in my life will directly affect the relationship I have with husband, my children and other people who have to deal with me.

Who knows, maybe a change in jobs is what I need. But I won't be able to make any coherent changes if I'm disconnected and depressed.

I was participating in a conference workshop led by Rick Barrett and Nina (Sugawara) Deerfield a few years ago that really put everything into perspective. The workshop led us through exercises that allowed us to enter into what they labeled "energetic coherence". One of the things it did was it allowed me to let go of my ego-based, critical, judgmental left brain hemisphere, and enter into my observer, peaceful, utopian right brain. Doing this allowed me to feel (not think) and sense people around me. So instead of Mary, (she has blond hair and an obnoxious voice) and Tony (he's so much better than I am at jump kicks) the people around me just were. Nothing more. Nothing less.

There were about 20 or so people. I felt each and every one of them. I didn't think about them. I felt them. Their presence, their energy. And all of a sudden an image came to my mind. It was fabric just billowing. It looked similar to the way a large body of water does when wind blows over it. And the fabric was all of us connected. The amazing thing was that there were areas in the fabric that were frayed, fraying, or mighty thin. While other areas were thick, strong, supportive. And I knew that because we were all connected, the fraying would affect us all. And because we were all connected, the supportive areas would help hold us all.

I want to be that strong, supportive area.

Even when the job I do every day may not seem important -even to me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sung: It's not just for former singers

Hmmm...think about how many times you've been looking forward to just collapsing on the couch with a good movie and a glass of your favorite sippin' juice.

Body is nice and comfy laying there. Sippin' juice is cool - or warm, you know, depending on what you like. Muscles finally able to relax after a long week of working or studying...ahhh...

But what's this?? What do my spidey senses pick up? Outwardly the body isn't doing anything, it's true, but something on the radar is being picked up. An unholy buzz. We look deeper to find it...

A lot of times, even though we think we're relaxed on the couch, our brain continues to analyze... produce thoughts, ideas and opinions. It continues to think critically, pass judgment. The brain is not disconnected from the rest of the body. When the brain is working on all of these ideas, it's also sending out messages for the body to respond. So when something you are watching on television invites you to become involved emotionally, your whole body gets involved.

And it's anything BUT relaxed. The brain sends a message to the adrenals to move out some epinephrine into the system to take care of the incoming stress that is being perceived. The heart rate also increases along with blood pressure. Your organs also respond by slowing down to conserve energy for fighting the perceived stress. Which, in turn, causes gas, diarrhea, or possibly constipation. Maybe a hemorrhoid or two?

Never realized how dangerous laying on a couch could be, huh?

It'll kill you.

Okay, maybe not. What will kill you over time, or at least play a negative role on your longterm health, is stress. And we have to understand the real definition of relaxation.

It isn't collapsing on a couch for an evening, trails of the weeks antics leading your around and around in your mind.

In taiji the word is "sung" (also "song") and it means relaxed, but in a much deeper sense that we in the western world have misplaced somewhere. Sung is a relaxed body, but a body that also has structure. Sung is a relaxed spirit open to its surroundings, but not relying on them. The spirit is even: not overjoyed, not depressed. Sung is a relaxed mind: clear of thoughts that create drama - like a political election or a topic like abortion. When you are sung, these things just are. Not right or wrong. Not good or bad. Not evil or saintly. They just are.

In a sung place it is quiet. It is even. It just is.

And you create sung - whether it starts in a dim room by yourself for three minutes every day, just allowing your mind, body and spirit to be; or when it is during a heated confrontation with a co-worker who you struggle to understand.

With your mind, spirit and body not reacting - it learns to respond...from a place of compassion, love and connection.

Next time you feel exhausted and want to lie on the couch - go ahead. But remember the exhaustion extends to your spirit, your mind and your body. Give them all a break. Breathe in. Breathe out. Follow your breath as it expands and releases your belly. Let your thoughts dissolve and keep following your breath with your mind. Allow yourself to release your anxious spirit and tense body.

Become sung.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I'll never forget the first tai chi class I checked out. We had just moved to Columbus, Ohio and my husband was kinda getting on me for not finding a local sensei to keep up with my karate.

I was also pregnant with my first child.

And emotional.

And not always patient.

Or nice.

Which is why my husband wanted me to leave and go to karate class.

His eyes pleaded with me: "A little break from your mood swings...please?" they pined, hoping that I was going to drop the newspaper I was currently looking at and check out the yellow pages for local dojos.

I couldn't really picture myself doing a round house kick with mother earth sticking out of my uniform. It also didn't seem natural for me to spar with a young fetus growing inside me. It just felt...wrong somehow. Like when I go into a girls clothing store and see skimpy, low cut tops for 8-year-olds. It just feels...wrong.

So, karate...didn't feel natural.

I sat there with the newspaper, avoiding my husband's longing stare when a little article grabbed my attention. It was just a simple listing for a tai chi class. I tore it out and showed it to my husband.

He sighed in relief.

In retrospect, I think at that point, he would have sighed in relief if I had shown him an ad for wrestling boar goats.

Anyway, I don't actually remember the class. I just remember the feeling I had afterward: I was home.

Just watching tai chi dissolved my tension. It created space where I didn't see any before. There was more of an area to breathe into. I was mesmerized by the class as they flowed in and out of one movement to the next. I didn't know where one posture began or ended and I liked that. That felt right. There was no beginning or end. There just...was.

And I was home.

And my husband was happy, too.