Monday, July 26, 2010

A Contribution from Sigmund

During the practice of Tai Chi, one maintains an 'unfocused mind' i.e. thoughts arise, but the practitioner does not fixate and follow the sequential logic of what arises..

So, the conceptualizing mind continues to operate, but the consciousness does not seize upon the thoughts and 'reel them in' or out. However, monkey mind does not stop, and in fact, can operate very creatively on its own. So we breathe, we dwell in the Yi (creative mind) and tune in to our practice. Later, after ceasing practice, interesting reflections may be accessed.

During a recent practice session, I mentioned to the group, that the lower body, legs and waist, are like the bass notes in a piece of music, the upper body, moved by the waist, is like the melody. All must harmonize in order for the practice to be correct: the hollow, empty, relaxed upper body with the lower stable. flexible body.....balance.

After that session, Sigmund passed on to me this reflection/recollection that came up for him:

Listen to the left hand and dance

Rain pounded on the deck and gurgled in the scuppers. The boat surged against the dock lines and shook with the windblasts. Outside the harbor, waves overtopped the 10 meter high seawall, protecting Neah Bay, Washington . Winter came early, that year to the Pacific Northwest Coast . Weather was deteriorating and weather windows were narrowing rapidly. We had been hard at it, for a week, trying to get around Cape Flattery . We still had 650 nautical miles to go, south, to San Francisco . Along that whole coast all the harbors have bars, that are passable only in good weather. If you are caught out by bad weather, you are stuck outside, off a dangerous coast. There are no places to safely seek refuge. We needed 72 hours; travel time, between refuges while the cold fronts and gales were now only 48 hours apart. We were becoming trapped by the deteriorating weather. I did not trust the boat and I did not trust the owner/skipper. The boat had a maintenance deficit so I had spent days making repairs instead of resting and preparing for the passage. The owner/skipper showed lapses in judgment that meant I would have to tacitly and discreetly monitor every decision without causing conflict. This was not a trip I would like to make under the best of circumstances. If it were an easy trip, I would not have been hired. The tension had been building for a week or more.

For the moment, I am alone on board, sitting in the salon, anxious and depressed. I can see ahead, only danger and discomfort at best, disaster at worst. In all my years of living with depression, I have never used music to elevate mood. If there was ever a time to try this was it. I flipped through stacks of CDs, looking for something to pull me out of this hole. I could not do it alone. There, at last, at the bottom of the last stack was Christopher Parkening, playing Bach.

I listened to the familiar music, intently, hearing and anticipating every note. I was completely absorbed in the technical brilliance of the music and musician. I dug deeper and deeper into the music, discovering new patterns, superimposed patterns, creating new and endlessly more complex patterns. It was a completely absorbing and wonderfully rewarding intellectual exercise.

A part of me stands above and outside myself, observing the strange disconnect between mind, body and emotion. Advice given, but not understood, months before, at an Artist’s Way, creativity workshop, popped into my head. That was: “Listen to the left hand.”

I had no idea what that meant but this was the time to try it. I dismissed the right hand parts, the melody line, and listened carefully to beat. To concentrate better, I started to move my head in time to the music. I was only a slight nod, barely perceptible, at first. Then my head began to move on its own, more and more. After a bit, my neck, shoulders were moving.

My breathing changed. Soon, my shoulders, chest and whole body were swaying. I was dancing. Even though I was sitting firmly on the cabin sole I was none the less, dancing.

Then it happened. Suddenly I burst into tears, with great gasping wracking sobs. It was totally surprising, an emotional dam burst. I was swept upward and carried away by the music. I had never before been transported so. This was uncharted territory. I didn’t know where this was leading. I was at once joyous and frightened, being off the chart in unexplored seas. Where was I going? Would I become lost? How would this end? I retreated, shaken and then tried again and again. Could I control this? It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to control it, only ride it like a great wave. The rest of the afternoon I spent indulging, exploring, soaring, plunging, allowing myself to be washed over and riding great waves of music.

I have no idea how long that went on. Eventually the rain stopped long enough to go ashore and buy a bus ticket home. With a bus ticket in hand, I was able to calmly and precisely spell out what conditions would have to be met, for me to stay onboard and continue with the voyage. With the required repairs completed and spares on board we continued, down the coast, slowly and carefully, without any regard for schedule or time. We used a whole month to complete a blessedly uneventful passage from Seattle to San Francisco , thanks in large part to Johan Sebastian Bach.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Maintaining and Creating Chi

Seated meditation, standing contemplation, or moving the body with mindfulness - in order to participate fully in life, to build quality into the time that one has here in this precious existence, then choose one or all of the three and be regular.

Be aware of your vital energy (Chi) and direct it with the light of your awareness (Yi) throughout
and beyond the body.

Chi is always flowing, however, through being conscious of the energy, imaging it, directing it with the Mind and through the breath (Yi leads Chi), that is the path of restoration and replenishment. Otherwise the Natal Chi wil be expended sooner than otherwise.

One asks, if Chi is ever-flowing why is this necessary ?

We love another person. At the beginning, this feeling of love is omnipresent. Later, this love exists, but not always uppermost in one's consciousness, perhaps only in the presence of the other person, or of course, when one thinks about the other. The feeling exists whether consciously or not but If we neglect this love feeling, then it may be that the relationship suffers.

The same is true of our relationship with our vital energy. Shining the light of awareness during meditation, whether seated, standing or moving, is the catalyst to the restoration, revivification and growth of our Chi, and indeed even to its conversion into higher energy.

So during our Tai Chi practice it is vital that one visualizes the three energies: combines them above the Tan Tien, and then circulates them using the Yi and the breath.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pushing Hands (and Hearts)

Most of the mentors that I have had, did not emphasize the practice of Push Hands.
Most of the books that one reads on Ta Chi do just the opposite, even going so far as to
posit that without doing the Push Hands practice, that the art is incomplete.

It is hard, because in my experience, Push Hands almost always buys in to the ego.
Like the childhood game of "Indian Wrestling", it becomes a contest between two people
rather than an extension of learning learning Tai Chi Power (as opposed to force).

Perhaps that is the real heart of the matter, that the Practitioner is really engaged in overcoming
the ego impulse. The books say, Push hands is essential to really knowing, feeling, interpreting the energy of another person, and of course this is usually linked to the martial aspect of the Art.

Again, doesn't have to be, just usually is.

Master H.H. Lui put it differently. He likened the practice of Push Hands to the Taoist symbol
and that it was "like two fish learning to swim together".

He would say it was like learning to 'yield in love' as in, 'can you yield and yield in love, until you find the strength in yielding'. This, he would say, is the true Tai Chi.

In other words, we are engaged in more than a physical practice. We must link
this physical to our inner life, our personal development.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

River and Valley

We live just abutting the Central Valley, on the edge of the river.
It's been seven years now. This year, the cold, thin, wonderful valley fog
has invaded our rivertown more often than any year since we arrived.

The Tai Chi practitioners put on gloves, but beyond that, continue to practice regardless
of the cold. The air fully moisturized and pungent

During the rain we use the overhang of the main library building, safe from the wind.

The bank of the river is now a cement promenade, rails and benches, people and dogs,
a ferry building for coffee and warmth.

The island lies some 200 yards west, all built over with dry docks, giant cranes, warehouses.

Like the dinosaurs they resemble, the cranes and all the accompanying buildings and docks,
they are all idle, now that the Navy has pulled out: nuclear submarines built elsewhere;
the flat boats that trained our people for duty in Viet Nam, all gone; the commissary, barracks, and officer's clubs, all deserted or turned to civilian purposes.

The tidal push of the Bay, makes it difficult to determine the flow of the rive: sometimes the current seems like it is going uphill, back to the source, sometimes clearly heading into the Bay.

On the promenade, every 200 feet or so, there are ladders leading into the water. Stainless steel, there are five rungs at each place, and the tide sometimes covers two of the five, and sometimes none of them, and during storms the river's water covers all of them, even quietly or not so quietly sheeting over the top.

Every day it is different, even when it is the same

We practice and practice our Tai Chi routine, and every day
it is different even when it is the same..........this mirrors the flow of our living.

We rise to the day, the same, but different. Breathe, and begin to practice how to live
in the light of awareness - or not. This is our choice. But once one has glimpsed even a small crack of the door into awareness, there is no going back.

Buddhists argue the 'sudden enlightenment' school of practice and the 'gradual dawning' school.

What is the difference ? Standing on the side of the river looking, looking.....
one either sees or does not. Come. Wake up. Any other option is not living.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Contemplating how to make this an interesting task for the potential reader and for myself also, otherwise, what is the point ?

While doing that, here is some Tai chi news from the Mayo Clinic

Thursday, January 28, 2010


First in starting out on this journey in the ethernet

This poem came to mind for Thinking Tai Chi - there is the physical component which is so profound, and yet, without developing the component expressed here by Gensei, one has not
used the entire possibility offered by the practice of this art.

Gensei (1623-1668)
from "The Enlightened Heart" ed Stephen Mitchell

Poem Without a Category

Trailing my stick I go down to the garden-edge,
call to a monk to go out the pine gate.
A cup of tea with my mother,
looking at each other, enjoying our tea together.
In the deep lanes, a few people in sight;
the dog barks when anyone comes or goes.
Fall floods have washed away the planks of the bridge;
shouldering our sandals, we wade the narrow stream.
Bu the roadside, a small pavilion
where there used to be a little hill:
it helps out our hermit mood;
country poems pile one sheet on another.
I dabble in the flow; delighted by the shallowness of the stream,
gaze at the flagging, admiring how firm the stones are.
The point in life is to know what's enough-
why envy those otherworld immortals ?
With the happiness held in one inch-square heart
you can fill the whole space between heaven and earth.

In our practice of Tai Chi, we must not limit ourselves
to the time of formal practice only...the breathing, the awareness, the
quieting of conceptualized thinking, all must imbue our life - moment
by moment