Copyright © 2004 New Moon
Beautiful warm day today; mild night. I've left the back door open. There won't be many more nights I can do so this year.
I guess Halloween was a success. David seems less afraid of me now that he's "bitten through" his fear of speaking to me though he did seem to be assiduously avoiding looking at me during the first half-hour of class the other night.
Ma says I'm earning his trust, that he's learning to trust that I'm not going to undermine or embarass him. I hope he is getting that message, but heaven only knows what he is thinking. Mostly, I still doubt he'll ever really talk to me.
Tonight I went walking in the rain. The wind is out of the north, and cold, but I keep a brisk pace, and I was quite warm. The field boots are bothering my heels a bit, but my feet will soon grow reaccustomed.
I've been thinking lately about meditation. I'm in amongst folk who meditate again, and it's something I don't do. I've tried it. I've done it. But, like yoga, it just doesn't do much for me. I used to feel bad about that, in part because I was being looked down upon for my "failure," and so I just went my own way and kept out of theirs. But, lately, I've had to think about it again. Because people are again asking me if I meditate— and some of them ask as if it were some form of personal hygeine in which I might be remiss (a sin almost as bad as eating Twinkies, drinking ale, or enjoying sex).
Well, I've come to realize something: I do meditate. But I don't sit like a lump by the clock to do it. I meditate on the move.
Meditation, for me, is tied inextricably to physical movement. I meditate walking. I meditate doing t'ai chi. I meditate playing the piano. I meditate while writing. I meditate doing needlepoint, while repairing a door, while drawing, while doing calligraphy, while giving a massage. All these acitivites engage my mind thoroughly through the physical movements of doing them. No other thoughts intrude but those few required for the task at hand. It's very relaxing. My breathing slows, my heart rate drops, my head clears. And, whenever I feel the need, I choose one of these methods of meditation and have at. It's the way I am.
So. Look down your noses at me if you must, o empty-minded, clock-bound, disciplined, sitting meditators; but, meditate on this: as Rudyard Kipling observed, "There are nine and sixty ways of constucting tribal lays, and every single one of them is right."
(Of course, maybe I just don't "get it." That's possible. I'm not so cock sure of myself that I belive I know all the answers. But, honestly, do you know anyone who does? (If you do, how do you know he's right?))
(And now you know why I don't get upset when told to "take a hike.")
I'm off to bed. Good night.
I ought to be doing t'ai chi, but I've got to work though a few things first. Things about my teacher.
Yesterday, David slapped me metaphorically. Hard. It was done by email, and he may not have intended it, but I can't dismiss the impression of... rage/anger that I felt reading these lines: "Hello. It is my policy not to give out personal information about my students. I will reiterate this to the class. Thank you. David."
Now, he was standing right there in the parking lot last Tuesday night, conversing with both me and Cheryl when she gave me her phone number so that I could call her to make plans to get together and practice (because there isn't a lesson this week because of election day). He heard us, and saw me write her number down. So, why would he be so snippy with me just because I called and left a message telling him I'd misplaced her number and asking if he could please give it to me so I could call her?
I suppose it's possible that he completely forgot about the conversation, and I know it's hard to tell from email what a person's emotions are, but... "I will reiterate it to the class." Really! And, even so, why didn't he ask if he could pass my message along to her to let her know I was trying to get in touch?
Denny says David has a lot of anger. I've thought that, too, from time to time. But that's only one part of a whole human being, and maybe not the most important part. We all have our demons pursuing us. Maybe I've misunderstood.
Cheryl and I got together to practice at the library last night. After all that mishigoss, I opened the phone book up and even though I couldn't remember the spelling of her last name, her's was the first number I chose to try!
On my way back from my walk today, I passed David on his way home. He waved; I waved. At this rate, he'll be speaking to me outside of class in another eighteen months.
I saw David's house today for the first time: now that the leaves are off the trees his house is clearly visible. A little cape; a separate big, ugly garage building. The house is closer to the road than I imagined...
The house faces the road, and to the left there is a small open porch with an American flag flying from up near the peak of the roof. There are mounds covered by tarps, orange and blue, near the house. No front yard, just "parking lot."
David remains a puzzle. But it looks like he is in the same place I am with my house, which is to say, not getting much done, nor quickly.
Madwoman's Journal entry of November 12.
There's nothing more annoying than feeling compelled to make some meaningful entry in my journal. What is meaningful? The three rainbow rings that appeared around the moon while I did t'ai chi in Eccleston Field? The habits of the neighborhood skunk whom I meet in the neighbor's yard on my way back from Ma's most nights?
I picked up another book at the library: Push Hands, The Handbook for Non-Competitive T'ai Chi Practice with a Partner by Herman Kauz. Very interesting.
"... a person who sees the world differently [and here he means someone whose vision has been changed by the study of t'ai chi] usually possesses a mind that is open enough to entertain more than one way of dealing with a problem."
Mark Twain stated it thus: "There's more than one way to skin a cat." So very true.
Mr. Kauz also makes reference to a book Language, Thought, & Reality by Benjamin Lee Whorf, who states:
"...the language that we speak channels our thought processes in such a way that we see the world differently from people who speak a different language."
True again. Language is a product of the way we see and experience the world. And so, in learning a new language, in becoming proficient in understanding the culture underlying the language, we are changed by language, we learn to express everything we think and feel in a new and different way. And then act of expressing ourselves thus changes the way we think and feel.
I had an interesting discussion about this the other day with Jim and Van down at the John Carter Brown Library. They agree wholeheartedly, citing the impossibility of communicating clearly with academics in the disciplines of engineering and mathematics and business because of the lack of common ground for understanding- well, it sounds like scholarly bickering to be sure, but I believe it's true.
I have learned to speak "computerese," and it has changed me and my thinking irrevocably. Now I am learning to speak taijiquan, and again, I am changing. The process is very, very interesting. But it is very difficult, if not sometimes completely impossible, to discuss any of these things with people who haven't studied these things too.
I couldn't sleep last night. I thought it was because I was worrying about David, but, now that I think about it, the restlessness was from the excess chi energy generated when he was mirroring me doing Heaven's Breath. It's just like cranking up a dynamo between us...
Here's a hard question: Do I just quit t'ai chi class?
At the end of class Tuesday night, after we finished our cool-down qigong, David suddenly looked straight at me. I could feel his anger. And I knew what was coming. He told the class he had an announcement. He then proceded to tell the class about his policy of giving out student information. I walked away to get changed. Everyone else in the circle was completely puzzled as to why he should make such an announcement. I never told Cheryl or anyone but Denny what had happened.
And what was even worse, after his little announcement, he told me to shut the windows. No please about it. I shut the windows and didn't say anything to him. Maybe I should have. I don't know...
Later I went for a walk and told him off at least twice. I was particularly eloquent. I told him that though his body was "soong" his heart and his head were as stiff and dry as... grass dead grass, like the Tao te Ching says though, Egyptian mummies is more colorful and I meant it to sting! Ha! And I thought I had problems being "soong."
I probably won't quit. I like tai chi too much. And I like David, too. Pain in the keester that he is lately. What the devil has gotten into him?
Madwoman's Journal entry of November 16.
You have no idea how many people own wind chimes until you go for a walk late of a windy night. The folks at the corner of Maple Street have the best one. The pipes are thick and long, producing a mellow alto tone, and the pipes are also "tuned," so the chimes always play a melody. It reminds me of happy Chinese music. I gotta get me one of those chimes.
Tonight, I treated myself: I bought books- and a sumi brush. Well, actually, it's just a round brush that I'm going to practice some kanji calligraphy with, but it's pretty much the right kind of brush for calligging (I know that's not a real word, but I hate always saying "doing calligraphy," so, long ago, I coined the verb.) kanji. I was inspired by one of the books I found tonight: Sword and Brush: The Spirit of the Martial Arts by Dave Lowry. "Forty-two examples of calligraphy, accompanied by essays, show how the way of the brush reflects the strategic principles of the way of the sword What becomes clear is that these two disciplines partake of the same profound elemental spirit." I've been practicing calligraphy since I was thirteen. I didn't think his calligraphy was particularly good, but what do I know? I still couldn't resist.
Nor could I resist the other books:
- The Essence of T'ai Chi by Waysun Liao
- 108 Insights into Tai Chi Chuan: A String of Pearls by Gilman
- 101 Reflections on Tai Chi Chuan by Gilman
- Martial Arts Teaching Tales by Fauliot
- Ultimate Guide to Tai Chi, Little & Wong, editors
These aren't the nuts-and-bolts books by any means except the Essence one, of course, but they're what I need. I've always approached learning backwards. I begin with intuition and proceed back through philosophy, and thence back to the mechanics. To work the other way always confuses me and makes me grumpy. I've never been any good at learning from textbooks. Ask my teachers. But, once I know something of the subject, books is where I go to refine my understanding.
The book of teaching tales is an excellent find. I think I may be able to use some of them for my storytelling. And they also may give me some ideas for writing my own teaching tales. I'm really looking forward to exploring the possibilities.
And then, of course, I picked up a copy of T'ai Chi Magazine. I enjoy the magazine immensely, the articles are quite helpful and interesting, if sometimes strangely translated but I've got to tell you the ads give me the pip. There are an awful lot of frootloops out there trying to make a buck! (Good thing for the magazine, though.)
I'm glad I decided to go to the bookstore tonight. It was while I was thumbing through the books, reading passages here and there that my thinking finally cleared. Like the tumblers of a combination lock falling into place, suddenly everything lined up perfectly and the lock opened and it's a good feeling. The surprising thing was this, though: it was my Western way of thinking that was getting me into trouble. Remember what I was saying about changing when you learn a new language? Well, my study of t'ai chi and qigong and Reiki have been changing me and the way I see and experience the world. And that was coming into conflict with my old ways of thinking. Once I figured that out, I felt much better, and the anger and frustration dissipated to be replaced by a deep feeling of confidence that my path is correct for me and that everything is going just as it should.
Unfortunately, the epiphany didn't touch on whatever it is that's making my left shoulder ache. Whatever it is, it's stopping my chi dead in its tracks. And even Jo's magic fingers haven't been able to get it moving freely.
My left shoulder aches something terrible. Even Jo's magic fingers and the tiger balm haven't been able to get the chi moving freely through that spot for more than a few minutes. Unfortunately, though the epiphany in the bookstore cleared up the hurt in my gut, it didn't touch on whatever it is that's stopping my chi dead in its tracks, messing up my qigong practice, and giving me a headache to boot.
It must be something I just don't want to admit to myself. The pain in my shoulder, I mean. It's got to be emotional in origin. Probably something I can't do anything about, even if I admit it's bugging me...
I've been reading a lot about chi and t'ai chi and chi kung. And I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the information. But mostly I'm getting depressed because I don't think I'll ever live long enough to learn all I want to learn...
Reading T'ai Chi Magazine today, I discovered where David is getting all the stuff he's been talking about in class. (I haven't quit yet!) And he's been reading "inspirational" books, too. The same ones I bought.
David is really into chi/qi, and so am I. I bought books that discuss it. I understand what they're saying, too, but just now, it all seems beyond reach. My head knows it isn't, but
I went down to see Jo today. She and I are in much the same place, and it's nice to know I've got company. We're both learning to be patient; and it isn't easy for either of us. So Jo and I talked and told each other about our frustrations and laughed about being human, and about Coyote's tricks...
One of the good things about Jo is that she knows about chi and I can talk with her about it. I don't think she's as good with it as David, but at least I can talk to her.
Jo gave my shoulder a massage, and that helped some, but it still aches. I think the tenseness has to do with my troubles with David. He's quite literally turning into something of a headache, and I can't imagine how all this will work out. Maybe Coyote sent David to me.
Rats. I'm going to bed.
Wish there was someone up there waiting to give me a massage.
Sumi brush practice.
Ma did ask David about the aura. He believer her, I guess or maybe he thinks she's batty and he's humoring her; I don't know because I didn't hear what either of them said. Whatever, either he didn't know what it meant, or he's not telling Ma.
Never ask a centipede how it walks.
Class was very interesting last night. We started with some Qigong. "Standing Post" or "Hugging the Tree" this particular exercise is called. You stand, feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, arms out in front heart high, as if you've got them wrapped around a big ol' tree, middle fingertips just barely touching. It's a very powerful stance. Generates a lot of chi. I haven't been able to do it for more than two minutes since weeks ago when my shoulder started bothering me again.
But, last night, standing in that circle with everyone else, I could do it. And David held us to it for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes! I wouldn't've believed it possible. I thought as we began that I would be the first to drop out; but, though I could sense that my shoulder still wasn't quite right, I found I could hold the stance. All my concentration focused down to my breathing (from my tantien), and to the music, and then to one small point in a field of white...
A couple of times I caught myself feeling as if I was falling asleep, but I'd blink and I'd be back, and then I'd concentrate on the breathing and sink into the concentration again...
Towards the end I could feel some shaking in my arms and legs— it wasn't easy to hold that posture after a while. And I remember thinking I would try to hold it as long as I could, just to see if I could, and I'd only stop if my shoulder started up...
All I can figure is that everyone else's chi was bolstering me up. When we were done and David said we should move around— slowly!— I felt as if my feet had been glued to the floor, and I had to make an effort to unstick them.
When we broke the circle, I heard Ma asking David, "Were you pushing at me?" as if he'd been doing something overt. And I heard him telling her that it was the chi of the circle that she felt. Ma's a pip. Always has had strong chi, I guess. We just didn't know what to call it.
The rest of the class went well. I felt good. But after class I had to walk all over town to dissipate the excess energy. It wasn't the usual feel-good high. This was different...
In spite of having been so wound up, I slept well. My shoulder isn't bothering me as it usually does. But I haven't been able to concentrate. Not on anything practical. There's still a lot of excess energy. I tried taking it out on the piano (polkas and other lively pieces), but... I'll have to rewrite all of this, too...
I don't know. It didn't worry me at the time, but now I keep thinking that much energy, that kind of energy, well, it should be getting managed or channeled or— or something.
I think I should mention all this to David...
This and a hundred other questions...
But I don't think I can.
I'll just have to be more careful.
I put some Tiger Balm on my left knee. It'd probably be oaky without, but the smell and the warmth are comforting...
I was playing soccer with Sarah and Lauren today. I must say the t'ai chi has done wonders for my footwork and my balance not to mention my circulation: I don't get so cold as I used to.
The heron's pond is frozen. There were kids playing on the ice. Of course, the pond is very shallow, and the kids were little ones of about half my weight, but it's frozen nonetheless. Perhaps tomorrow's expected "heat wave" will bring a thaw. I hope so. Brrrr!
I'm still in the process of cleaning things out. It's mostly aggravating (so much old junk!), but I have run across some interesting things that I had completely forgotten. Like yesterday morning, Thanksgiving Day, I was shifting stuff in the book room and I found an old list. It must be fifteen years old. It came out of one of my Zen books, I'm sure:
Shoyoku: Desire Little. People who always want something will always suffer. Limit your own desires and do not strive after illusions, or you will never be content.
Chisoku: It Is Enough. With what you have, with what you are given, try to be satisfied. Strive only to get the least you truly need, and when you are given something, let it be enough.
Gyo: Be Unattached. Everything changes, everything is impermanent. Do not attach yourself to people or to things or to ideas. Delight in each person or thing or idea by accepting each as it is at the moment, and when it changes, accept the change or let it go, but do not pine for what was.
Shojin: Continuing & Continuous Effort. Continue to practice every day. Do not hurry, do not force. Be like flowing water wearing away the rock.
Fumonen: Seek the Truth. Do not deceive yourself; do not allow others to deceive you. Even the greatest Masters are only human and capable of error.
Shu Zenjo: Find the Balance. Learn to control your self so that you can remain calm and balanced in the face of chaos and disorder, and so that you can always bring yourself back into balance with nature.
Jo Riki: Nurture Your Chi. By developing and nurturing your ch'i, your internal energy, you bring yourself into harmony with all nature.
Fukero: Let Go. Let go of all your ideas about what is and what is not, of what is right and what is wrong. Making labels and holding to beliefs will limit your thinking and blind you to the truth. Accept the fact that the cosmos is too large and too complex for human understanding. Let go of the need to define the universe in human terms. Life is impermanent. The world is impermanent. The cosmos is impermanent. No one can understand God.
___________: Embrace Your Humanness. Among people, there is no such thing as "less than human;" no such thing as "more than human." There is only a possibility of being the best human you can be. Learn your own heart. Accept yourself. Learn to understand the hearts of others. Accept them. And do not seek to be something other than completely human.
___________: Live. When you have done all these things and know what is right for you to do, do it with your whole heart and do not hold back. Choose your path, and follow it. And do not worry that you have made a mistake, or that there are other paths. All paths are correct paths, and all lead to the same place. Live fully, embracing life with with your whole body, heart, and spirit, and be joyful in the living.
Sounds like a Plan to me. Think I'll hang it on the 'fridge.
Madwoman's Journal entry of November 25.
Ma's seeing auras. Psychic ones. "What's it mean," she says to me out of the blue after supper, "when you see an amber light that goes from here to here?"
"What— ? Who— ? Huh?"
"An amber light. That goes from the second shirt button to the fourth." (Ma doesn't know from chakras. That'd be between the third and fourth: heart and solar plexus.) "I've been thinking about it. I didn't imagine it. It was an amber light. What's it mean?"
Turns out she's been thinking about this since Tuesday when we did the QiGong in class. Ma was standing opposite David in the QiGong circle, and while we were standing there, Ma saw an amber light on David's chest, and she'd been wondering ever since whether she imagined it. Now that she'd decided that she didn't imagine it, she was asking me, the Oracle of Delphi, what it meant.
Well, it's flattering that she thinks I'd know, but she had me there. Even after all these years, sometimes Ma still brings me up short. "Ma... I believe you, but I haven't the foggiest." I know something about chakras, but I haven't thought about auras in twenty years. "Maybe you should ask David."
There's a movie, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" that I want to see. It's directed by Ang Lee. And I'd like to get hold of the one called "Pushing Hands," too. That one is about a widowed t'ai chi master who move to New York from Beijing. It's a comedy.
The thing that gripes me the most is that, some days, you look around and it seems that your life just plain sucks. You can do t'ai chi, you can meditate, you can tell your beads— rosary or dharma— you can smudge the whole house with sage smoke, you can practice any comforting ritual you've learned until you turn purple— you can even put on your lucky socks—
My lucky socks are a pair of tube socks with green stripes around the tops. They wore out long ago. They became my lucky socks when once, just once, something lucky happened while I was wearing them. After that, whenever I felt I needed some good luck, I wore the socks. I wore them a lot. Sometimes I felt that bad things would happen if I didn't have them on— and sometimes it did, but I believe that was because of having had my underwear inside out. Anyway, I don't remember that the socks ever seemed to work as good luck charms after that one instance. But, as the wags are bound to point out, how do I know they didn't? Things might have been much worse if I hadn't been wearing them. I still have them in my slip drawer—
Today, I practiced t'ai chi— mindfully, in proper spirit— for over an hour. It felt good— heck, I might even have been doing it right— and it was wonderful to be outdoors again in the fresh air...
I took a long hot shower...
I did the laundry (I was out of socks), cleaned up the kitchen sink...
I went for a walk in the rain— The ice at the the edges of the heron's pond was gone, but ice remained in the center and fog formed there, making it look like a smoking caldera. Everywhere, the tree branches and dried stalks and pine needles were sparkling with water diamonds...
I did my errands, helped Peter close up...
I practiced my Chinese calligraphy...
Ma gave me dinner and rubbed my shoulder for a while and told me that everything would "work out right." We watched Shanghai Noon. It was funny, very entertaining...
I checked my underwear. It's right side out. My life still sucks.
Really, there ought to be something, something foolproof and sure-fire, that one can do to put one's life back on track. Really there ought.
I was sailing along in class, feeling pretty good about things, practicing the new permutation of Parting Horse's Mane, following the line of tiles on the floor, when suddenly David was in front of me asking, "Where are you going?"
Rats! Another of those unexpected questions. Not my week. I looked down at my feet; I looked ahead— I looked at my feet again... I looked confused.
"That's six o'clock, that's three o'clock, and that's nine o'clock," he said, indicating left, right, and forward quadrants of the room. "Where are you going?" I looked at him. He didn't have his hands on his hips, but he sounded just like my first grade teacher, Miss Randall, when she'd already told you something sixteen times and really didn't want to have to go over it for the seventeenth.
I had thought I was going forward, but I didn't get to say so because the next moment he was sticking his foot between mine and telling me that my stance was too wide and my feet were only supposed to be one foot-width apart— "See? One foot-width."— and I was taking too big a step, and then he was demonstrating and I was following along and—
I adjusted my stance, I adjusted my stride... But now nothing felt right. And he was eyeing me, like Miss Randall used to after that seventeenth explanation, and I kept on, and finally— satisfied or disgusted?— David left me to it...
It never fails. You think you're finally getting something right, and bam! it's back to square one. I hate t'ai chi.
Tonight, Ma did tell David what she saw. He believed her, too. At least that's what she said. Told her some people see auras. But either he didn't know what it meant, or she ain't telling. I don't know. Of course, he doesn't know Ma. He could just think she's batty... I know I do—
But I know Ma. If she says she saw an aura, she saw one. And if she'd practice regularly, they'd probably make her High Lama— heck, maybe she already is High Lama. How would I know? I can only wonder what else she sees that she doesn't think worth mentioning.
Never ask centipede how it walks.
I'm damned if I'll practice. $#@&*^! t'ai chi.
Ma and I watched the video Power Tai Chi with Dr. Jerry Alan Johnson. Nothing like what we're used to, but... interesting.
I'm damned if I'll practice.
I found the website for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It opens in the US December 8th. Ebert gave it a good review. I wonder if I can find anyone to go with me to see it— someone who'll appreciate it, I mean.
In The Essence of Tai Chi, a pocket version of the Tai Chi Classics, there's a very good section on what they term shoong. Sung, shoong. It's very important. I am getting better at it, but there's still a long, long way to go.