Copyright © 2004 New Moon
It's so humid has been for ten days and cloudy and rainy into the bargain that the stairs and the hall floor and bedroom floor creak as I proceed to bed.
Yesterday, Tuesday, was T'ai Chi night. I was watching David demonstrate and found myself smiling in enjoyment of the movement, but I couldn't help but deplore the ugliness of the outfit he was wearing: old teeshirt, sweatpants, and klunky running shoes that made his feet look disproportionately large. No, I thought, that outfit does not go with the grace and beauty of the movements.
As I was driving to work today I found myself remembering and wondering what he could have worn that would let him move, and yet look good at the same time. I came up with fitted jeans, white shirt, and bare feet... It surprises me that I never considered a traditional Chinese outfit. I wonder if David owns one.
A day of graces... one to remember...
Class tonight was... wonderful. Not that I was so good, but David knew from my emails that I'm trying very hard and he helped me I think we share a joy in the practice. And he had just come back from a conference and it was obvious that oh! and his teacher was visiting last week, too he had been sharpening up his skills. I might even say his chi seemed stronger. The lesson was very, very enjoyable.
After class, I found out that my cousin was stranded in the Library parking lot waiting for a ride. I went to keep her company, and ended up giving her a t'ai chi demonstration, and telling her that David said he'd be doing a demonstration over at the Assembly as soon as he gets permission. Neat.
On the way back to Ma's, I met Janice on the bridge. She asked for a t'ai chi demonstration, too. If I don't watch it, I may become a dead bore on the subject!
I saw a meteor on the way home from Ma's. Perseid shower this week.
I sent David information about renting the Grange and Scout Halls for lessons. Don't know if it will help, but I do want him to keep giving lessons. I told him to give Uncle Tommy a call and get a tour of the Grange. It's a neat building.
Power went out this morning and woke me up though, how can that be? Even so, I woke up just as the power went off.
I feel all off balance today.
T'ai Chi continues to be a joy to me. I've just come in from practicing in the moonlight
on the back porch. It's chilly tonight because it's so clear. I put my denim shirt on (the one with the "Will" patch sewn over the pocket), but my feet were bare. (I savor the feel of the wood beneath my feet.) The moonlight was white and bright, the sky awash; the neighbor's field below seemed to be filled with milk. Only one star burned. I practiced
the 24 forms through four times...
The moonlight seemed to make a glowing outline around my hands and every movement I made
with them as easy to follow, their exact positioning very clear. For the first time I could really see what I was doing, and
I know my form improved.
There are many different T'ai Chi "hands," you know. "Soft hands" is what I was trying for. David showed me again last night in class. Fingers straight, thumb in close, hand almost flat, but everything relaxed, soft he doesn't just tell you, though. He'll come by, checking your form, and grasp your hand lightly in his hands, and sort of stroke your hand into the correct position, and, for that moment, you know how it feels, and it feels just right... and for a little while, it isn't so difficult.
Last night's lesson was wonderful in spite of what seemed a bad start. Our lessons are held at the new pavilion at Spring Lake. Beautiful space. Wood floors, lots of windows looking out over the lake. But we arrived to find a spandex-clad blonde and a crew of similarly clad women sweatin' and stompin' to some obnoxiously loud music. Even though it was 30 minutes past the end of her scheduled class time, the blonde refused to cede the room to us. Words ensued. There was no moving her. Perhaps she felt a compulsive need to get as much exercise as she could possibly get, after all, it really isn't mete that the instructor should look as if she'd pulled her spandex leotard on over a couple of fanny packs. (And that's no word of a lie.) She wouldn't budge, and she cranked the music up louder.
In the end we had the best of the deal, though. We went out onto the beach for our lesson and practiced in the clean sand, while the evening glowed around us. You should've seen it! Gold and orange and blue... light in the sky, light in the water, changing every minute, each moment more gorgeous than the last... I watched it all even as I watched David leading us...
David has been my instructor since March. I've seen him almost every week. And I watch him like a hawk in class. But, a while ago, I was trying to call him to mind to describe him to somone else, and I couldn't for the life of me remember the color of his eyes. I'm usually very good about eyes. And I have excellent color memory. But I couldn't remember his. And I know that the next week I made an effort to notice, and I know I did take note, but again, in recall, the color of his eyes escaped me. But last night, as I watched him at the head of the class, against that changing evening light, with the light of the sky and the water behind him, I suddenly realized, that's the color of his eyes: the color of sky and water. And now when I call him to mind, I can see the color in his eyes. Now I know. Neat, huh?
When we got home from class, I asked Ma what she had thought of the sunset. She said she hadn't noticed. Sometimes I wonder about her.
Another bright, white moonlit night and I'm too tired to revel in it. I want to dance in the light, do t'ai chi but I'm tired and my heart feels heavy. Perhaps sleep is best...
For these many weeks, I have thought on and off about my journal. Today, a phrase from the Tao de Ching came to mind: "...Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?" I think I've been practicing that patience. My days have been full of work and doing, and I've been doing each thing that needs to be done mindfully, patiently, without resenting the things I'm not doing or can't do.
"... The Master doesn't seek fulfillment. Not seeking, not expecting, she is present, and can welcome all things."
I think there are entries to make in my online journal. I think there are things for me to say. But for now, sleep.
Today I practiced T'ai Chi in the stripe of sun on my back porch, the boards warm beneath my feet, the cool air playing around me. The porch faces south, and it was near noon, so the stripe ran evenly down the length of the porch about two and a half feet in from the edge. Shaded boards cool, sunlit boards warm. With your eyes closed, in bare feet, you could easily walk straight along that line of sunlight.
While I practiced, goldfinch were feeding in my overgrown back yard, clinging by their toes, sideways, as birds do, to the tall, upright grass stalks and weeds as they ate the seeds. They ate and talked amongst themselves, and paid me no mind. In the meadow, beneath the apple trees, two crows picked at the fallen apples, hopping about and squawking at each other like an old married couple doing their Saturday shopping.
The wind whispered in the grass and in the pines and in the maple tree.
Sometimes when I practice, I play T'ai Chi music. Today I didn't need it.
I could just scream. I'm having a grand mal depression, and, in trying to counteract that, I decided that I'd do something useful: a load of wash. I gathered up my stuff and headed down stairs. Last wash, when I was taking things out of the dryer, I discovered a nice purple splotch from a pen that had leaked in the pocket of one of my new shirts. I'd set it aside for next time, and, since this was the next time, I trekked back upstairs to get the acetone I use for doing my nails acetone and hairspray are for getting out ink, you know. I don't have any hairspray. Anyway, I poured the acetone on the pocket and proceded to rub vigorously, completely forgetting that I'd just this afternoon redone my nails. In "Craze Frost." Now there's green and purple all over the pocket, and about a pint of acetone in the wash water, and god only knows how it will come out.
Why am I depressed? T'ai Chi. I love T'ai Chi. I've been practicing faithfully, and I've been improving I can squat now and keep my heels flat on the floor and not fall over, you know and I've been feeling good about practicing the forms. And the balance and the "effortless effort" manifest from time to time. And I can feel my chi flowing, and I can feel the chi around me yeah, I know it sounds nuts, but it's true. So, tonight I go to my lesson feeling pretty good, and what happens? David, my instructor, ups the ante.
You have got to see this guy move. He's like friggin Gumby. Have you ever seen anyone who could turn his torso around 180 degrees, arms straight out to his sides, and look directly behind him? without straining? And I don't mean that he's got his head turned on his neck. I mean his neck isn't even twisted slightly, and his shoulders are facing the opposite direction from that towards which his toes are pointing, and there he is, arms out, just facing backwards. Geez. It looks very strange.
Now don't go thinking this is some kind of freaky, geeky, thing. I love watching David move. You have no idea. It's wonderful. Truly wonderful. He's graceful, and he moves seemingly effortlessly, always balanced in his motions it's like the way I imagine atomic particles interact, always moving, always in harmony, achieving stability through constantly flowing movement of universal chi
And I can do all the twenty-four forms and squat and keep my heels on the floor and not fall over. Mostly.
Watching David move so effortlessly and gracefully, I experience many mixed emotions. Part of me wants to try harder, practice more, learn more. I want to absorb it all, take it all inside take David inside me, too, somehow own it all, and make all that grace and beauty mine. But another part of me wants to give up entirely, walk away, hating that which I feel I can never own or achieve for myself.
Have you ever been on the line between kiss and kill? That's where I am tonight.
Because I'm afraid. If I love T'ai Chi, if I admit I love it, if I try to "make it mine," if I commit myself to it, I'm afraid I'll fail. Or it will be denied to me. Or it will be taken away from me.
And then, of course, my heart would break. Again.
Love is never easy.
But you've got to take the chance.
The Tao te Ching says, "Open yourself to the Tao, then trust your natural responses; and everything will fall into place." I hope that's so.
There's a zen teaching that has been niggling at me for weeks:
The zen student goes to the Master and says, "I have meditated, and practiced, and done all you required of me. Now what shall I do, Master?"
I remembered this teaching from the first time I read it. That's because it reminded me of all the times I'd say to Ma, "There's nothing to do," and she'd say something like, "Why don't you vacuum?" That always drove me nuts. I wanted something to do, for crying out soup. And all of my life since I've been wanting something to do, and I've been looking for that something for a very long time, in many different places, amongst many different disciplines, spiritual and practical, and I've been quite impatient-- not to mention frustrated-- with always being told, metaphorically, to "go vacuum."
"Have you eaten?" asked the Master.
"Yes," replied the student.
"Then wash your bowl."
But, just a little while ago, I was down in the basement folding clothes, and it came to me: Like Dorothy, I've been looking in the wrong places. It's not about lifting one's self above and beyond mundane life, it's about... it's about vacuuming. And folding clothes. And being here, and now, and joying in where I am and what I'm doing, and what I have to do. It's about digging in and loving the life I'm living. Not about escaping from boredom--
Geez. Who knew Ma was a Zen Master?
I felt stressed all day today, in spite of the t'ai chi or perhaps because of it. I know I'm trying too hard... I'm competing, trying to be better than all the other students, trying to be the star.
I thought I'd write a while before beginning practice. Yesterday, I couldn't focus properly, and it bothered me all day.
The shadows seem very long. And the sun hasn't found my porch yet or, rather, it must've been here earlier, but now it's hidden behind the pines...
I took a walk up Mowry Street this afternoon. There's a pond not too far up. Someone had posted "Ducks Crossing" signs. I stopped to look at the late summer water lillies and cat tails, and I saw the blue heron standing across the pond in the reeds. As I watched, he flew the length of the pond. So graceful like t'ai chi. On the way back I stopped to pick a sprig of mint to put in my hatband, and just as I was putting my hat back on, who should come by but my instructor, David, in his old Ford truck. I waved, but I don't think he saw me. I wonder if he knows there's a heron in the pond.
Today I found Summer: it has settled in the pond on Mowry Street. I stopped to look for the heron. I didn't see him, but I decided to wait. Standing by the side of the road beneath the trees, I could smell the smells of late summer: ragweed, and concord grapes. I stood, just breathing the fragrances... When I moved again, I startled the heron who had been standing in the reeds to my right. He flew to the far side of the pond, all grace and beauty. His feathers were the same color as the concord grapes above me, that dusty looking purple-blue. When he landed, he stood still for a few moments, then he began wading very slowly to the left keeping an eye on me, I think.
He moved very slowly. Slowly picking up one foot... and then oh so slowly placing it just so... then shifting his weight to that foot... then picking up the other foot ever so slowly... so slowly, so balanced, so graceful... just like t'ai chi.
Today, this morning, that's what I practiced. Footwork. I moved forwards and backwards, feeling for my balance, trying to keep to the form... I think the practice helped.
Getting my daily entries up and online is more difficult than I thought it would be. It's been a week since I've had time to turn on the computer here at home and make any attempt at transcription. Rats.
I know. You're thinking I have computer access at work, and I could steal a few minutes to make journal entries, but you're wrong. First of all, my conscience would bother me (because at work one is supposed to work); and second, there isn't any time at work when I don't have actual work that must be done except at the farm stand in the evenings. After I've swept the floor, and watered the plants, and culled the fruits and vegetables, and cleaned out the corn bin, there's plenty of time. But there isn't any computer. However, I do have time then to practice t'ai chi, and write in my paper journal in between waiting on customers and just shooting the breeze with folks. And that's what I've been doing. I do have journal entries that need transcription.
Today, I'm taking some time for this. I've set the timer for 35 minutes. When the timer goes off, I'll end this and go practice t'ai chi. It's important to me. More important that I thought it would be. I wish I knew why...
Maybe I just need something to feel passionately about no. This isn't a neurotic manifestation...
Now that I think about it, I believe it's the other way around. The t'ai chi is stirring up my passion, stirring me up so that I'm feeling again
Damn. There goes the timer. I've got to go practice. But I promise I'll tell you about the blueberries and about the heron, and a whole bunch of stuff as soon as I can make the time. And I will.
My amazement continues:
Tonight, in t'ai chi class, David was demonstrating "push hands." It's an exercise in balance. Partners push against each other, each exerting force, one of aggression, one of resistance. The interaction teaches you to find your balance. The trick seems to be to direct the chi (energy), one's own and one's opponent's, properly, letting it flow, either from or back into one's "roots," thus... thus strengthening one's... position in either resisting or overcoming one's opponent. Very interesting stuff.
When he demonstrated the technique with me, he found I was a pushover. That is to say, he could, quite easily, push me over. I couldn't keep my "roots" planted. Alas, I haven't found my balance yet. He also told me that I had a chi blockage in my shoulder, which I do, as a matter of fact and it's been bugging me for a week now. He's very good at reading chi a very good teacher.
But, what was really amazing to me came later when I got to watch him pushing against an opponent. I could see though I can't say that's the right word the chi, David's chi. It sounds like I'm getting weird, but I promise you I'm not. He was standing one foot in front of the other, leaning slightly forward, left hand relaxed at his side, right arm out in front also quite relaxed elbow bent, hand pushing against his "opponent." A classic stance. You've seen it a million times. But I bet you never saw the energy flowing. I did. I knew that if I put my hand out close to his body I'd feel the energy, just as if I put my hand up close to a TV screen. Chi.
When class was winding up and we were doing a bit of qi gong that's another kind of chi strengthening exercise he said that he felt the chi in the room was very strong. Personally, I thought it was his chi that was permeating the place, but later, at Ma's, I was talking this over with her and she knew exactly what I was talking about I brought my hands together to demonstrate something I was saying, and I could feel my own chi between my hands, strong and real...
I've found an excellent teacher, I think. I hope I get to keep him.
If I don't do something about the porch soon, I'm going to have to buy a hammer to keep out there to pound down nailheads though, this is the first day they've really bothered me during practice...
I can't concentrate today. Or yesterday, or the day before. And I can't believe how low my physical energy level is. Today. Yesterday. Tuesday before t'ai chi class on Tuesday, I thought I was going to fall asleep in my dinner plate! Strange. I only used to get like this when I was working through a particularly bad emotional problem...
I was fine up until about ten days ago. Back then, I was awakening early every morning after minimal sleep, energized and looking forward to the day. But now, I awaken reluctantly, and the first thing I can feel is that chi blockage in my left shoulder. That seems to be the manifestation of the problem. And t'ai chi practice only alleviates it temporarily. What's wrong with me? Hmmm...
I have to admit I've been flogging myself a bit with the t'ai chi practice. Though, except for that entry from the 23rd where I said I felt competitive, I can honestly say I haven't felt competitive with anyone but myself. And, as for being a star, well, I've been there and I don't like the pressure hell, I was made "corner" last Tuesday that means I'm the person everyone can see when the forms reverse and I didn't like that at all. Yeah, it's a complement, but, geez, is there any worse pressure than having the whole class and the instructor behind you watching you wobble?
The worry that the lessons are going to be snatched away is very real to me. That comes from having lost things I've loved deeply many times before. Like Touring Theatre and this is touring season in fact, tomorrow would be the first day of rehearsal... it doesn't hurt as much as it used to. But I still feel it.
The fall is a bad time. I've lost people and things I've loved in the fall found them, too, for that matter, but it's the hurts one remembers most vividly. And I've been feeling the fall in the air. The other day I visited the heron in the pond on on Mowry Street and as I stood in the shade breathing warm summer air, the intoxicating smells of concord grapes and ragweed and goldenrod nearly overwhelmed me with the melancholy knowledge that the summer is drawing to an end.