Two Homers

I love Rob Brezny’s horoscopes, and this week, in his uncanny, timely way, he brought to my attention the words of two Homers: “the thoughtful wisdom of the ancient Greek poet Homer and the silly wisdom of the cartoon character Homer Simpson. First, the poet: “As we learn, we must daily unlearn something which it has cost us no small labor and anxiety to acquire.” Now here’s Homer Simpson: “Every time I learn something new, it pushes out something old.”

Amazing to me how accurately this describes the odyssey of learning taiji. First we struggle to memorize the positions, the sequence of movements, the proper alignment. But already we have to give up so much of what we thought we knew about how to stand, how to walk. So much tension to release. We go on to learn more about the inner structure, the 13 powers, yin and yang….the knowledge builds up, and still we peel away what we thought we knew. Paring down to the basics of authentic, conscious movement, we find our way back to ourselves.

Taiji is truly an odyssey of self-discovery.

A long, eventful journey

It’s been quite an odyssey, this taiji journey. From sea to sea, three continents so far, seven countries, an island, a mountain, sunrise to sunset, under the moonlight, morning, noon and night, this taiji form is some vehicle!

The slow-moving, 108 move, empty-hand, solo form is a vehicle for the study of taiji principles that are put into play in all aspects of the taiji curriculum and our lives. Alignment, breath, conscious movement, energy circulation, responsiveness and assertion are just some of the things the form helps me practice.

For something so slow, it sure can take one far! ca519be18bdea3f5928a05a190614f11

Balancing a busy life

So it turns out that the second week of the month is the busiest. And I am glad I noticed that.

A couple of years ago, I returned to the more traditional work of accounting with the new understanding that the art I would create would be the art of a life well-lived. Whatever that meant to me.

I was able to decide this because I learned in the Creating Solo Performance workshop I was taking at the time that limits actually help the art form.  In the class, we were tasked with creating a performance piece and certain limits or parameters were provided: three minutes, no speaking, use two everyday objects, etc. The limits gave form to the art we created.

Working 9 to 5 is one of my limits. And since I shifted from public accountant to co-op loan officer, working irregular hours has become a limit. I find I cannot commit to every Tuesday night for taiji class, as I am sometimes in a meeting that night. Weekends are not as predictably free as they once were. Indeed, it feels like the limits have become more fluid. Just as limiting, but ever changing. And I like it. It keeps me paying attention and staying creative in how I craft my days.

Embracing my limits, finding the power of those limits, getting comfortable within them, I find I can be most truly myself and gradually notice how those limits are not as fixed as they seemed at first.  It’s a good lesson in life and in taiji.


Change. It’s Inevitable.

I am starting a new job!

logoI will be joining an amazing team whose enthusiasm and dedication to building the cooperative sector of our economy is an inspiration. The Cooperative Fund of New England has been growing co-ops since 1975, and I will be the loan and outreach officer for western Massachusetts and eastern upstate New York. I can’t think of a better use for the finance, accounting and business advisory skills I have developed as a CPA.  And I am so excited to develop new skills engaging socially responsible investors, managing a loan portfolio, partnering with other lenders, and immersing myself in the cooperative movement. To my mind, cooperatives truly do provide for a more just and humane economy. I have heard it said that between the excesses of capitalist greed and the deprivations of socialist state-planning, there lies a middle path. A path of cooperation. I agree.

It seems only natural to me that my taiji studies would lead me back to a middle path!  It really does feel like coming home.

imgresMy taiji practice is changing, too. For now, I will no longer be offering regular weekly classes. Instead I will teach to support study groups like the Peng Posse in the Northeast Queendom, and the Easy Rider curriculum study group. If you want to start a group of your own (with or without an odd name), I can help you do that. I am also focusing on private and semi-private lessons, and making more time for my own studies.  I am open to new and creative ways of pursuing and studying this art, this art that moves, this art of change and connection.

Because change is inevitable, I want to study an art that teaches me how to stay present, connect, and transform. Right now, I think this is the most important life skill to have.

I know I am going to need it just now!

Til the next move,



TAIJIQIANG – Taiji Spear


 Tai Chi Spear Ode

If your spear pierces, my spear seizes.

If your spear pauses, my spear thrusts.

If your spear comes in like an arrow, my spear removes it like lightening.

If your spear acts like a Golden Rooster Recklessly Nodding His Head,

Then my spear removes it like Poking Grass to Search for a Snake.

And still this type of skill is not considered as expertise as Tai Chi Spear.

(attributed to Li Ying-Arng, by Stuart Alve Olson: The Wind Sweeps Away the Plum Blossoms, 1985)


You’ll Never Guess

Cause I couldn’t have imagined it myself.

Can you guess what I did last weekend in New York City?  No. Well, I’ll tell you.

Here in my 50th year, I took my first dance class. Yes.

Alvin Ailey Dancers
Alvin Ailey Dancers

I did. At the Alvin Ailey Dance Company School.

Hip Hop.

Really, I did. 5,..6,…7,…8…,

And this is why I love tai chi (taiji).

For 90 minutes, with 40-50 people who were half my age and were more than twice as interested in the material being taught, I knew exactly where my feet were. And I knew how to move them (as long as I followed the woman in front of me and never took my eyes off her!) I felt light of upper body, and strong in my legs.  I breathed, I laughed and I had fun.

Taiji gives me courage.  Courage to try, courage to mess up, courage to keep going. When I messed up or forgot the choreography that the teacher was rushing us through, I smiled and tried again. And I learned a few moves. ( None of which I can repeat at work.)

Anyway – it was a lot of fun, and another occasion for me to appreciate the joys and benefits of my taiji practice.

Why do you practice?

til the next move, enjoy your practice.


The Art of Connection

We all want to connect – to be loved, to belong – it is a human need.  But how do we do it?    How do we learn the skills of connection?  It can be especially hard, if we were raised in a culture or family that lacked these skills, didn’t value them, or otherwise failed to share and teach them.  Many of us were raised in a culture of shaming and blaming, and have struggled with the many self-destructive behaviors that follow – addiction, pleasing for approval, perfectionism, low self-worth, etc.   And nowadays, there are multiple ways to overcome these problems   – just look at the success of the self-help and psychology industries.

Well, to the list of practices that help to alleviate this epidemic, I add the practice of Taiji – the Art of Connection.

We have all heard that Taiji (Tai Chi) is for health and balance and is good for older people to practice.  When most people think of Taiji they think of the old folks in the park moving slowly in the solitary form.

So what does this have to do with connection?

One could look at it this way:  The solo form is preparation. It is preparing the self for connection with another.  In the solo form, one practices self-composure – breathing, calming, centering, rooting, feeling, following and directing the flow of energy within one’s own body, while moving in space. Pretty complicated stuff, really – but all things one needs in order to connect with another. In other words, I need to know myself to know another. 

So, in addition to the Taiji solo form that most of us are familiar with,  there are many partner exercises in the traditional Taiji curriculum

  • the 8 flat-disc method drills (1-8),
  • the four hands study of the square energies of peng, lu, ji, and an, and their various changes,
  • the moving step explorations,
  • the da lu study of the diagonal energies of cai, lie, zhou, and kao, and
  • the culmination of these exercises in the 88-move attack and defend form.

From here, the sky’s the limit, the variations of partner play are infinite. At both the foundation and at the pinnacle of these exercises are the sticking, listening, understanding, and receiving energies. In other words, to do these exercises well you need the energies, and most importantly by practicing these exercises, you develop these energies. It’s a virtuous circle!

It’s a practice of connection. For what is connection with another if not sticking with them, listening to one another, seeking understanding, and being willing to receive the love and friendship we each have to share? Is this not belonging?

Til the next move,

Enjoy your practice.

Harmonize Inner and Outer

Inner Outer Mutually Harmonize (nei wai xiang he)
Taijiquan trains the shen [spirit]. Therefore it is said, ” the shen is the commander and the body serves as the messenger.” If the shen cane be raised, one’s actions will naturally be light and agile. The outer frame is nothing more than: ’empty, full; open, close.’ What is called ‘opening’ refers not only to the opening of hands and feet; the xin yi (heart; mind, will; intent) simultaneously opens. What is called ‘closing’ means, not only the hands and feet close: the xin yi simultaneously closes. To be able to harmonize inner and outer, thus unifying the qi, this must happen perfectly without gaps.  [this is one of Yang Chengfu’s Ten Important Points for the Practice of Taijiquan with original commentary, translated and interpreted by Sam Masich].

Often in the more advanced class, I will invite students to name a focus for the evening’s practice. Tonight we heard breath, breath and movement, moving from post to post, and the one I chose for myself for tonight – Harmonize Inner and Outer.  After the practice, we reflected on what the form taught us; what we observed or learned from the focus we had chosen. When I ask my practice a question I usually get either a very straight-forward answer that illuminates a whole world, or I get more questions. Tonight, I got more questions.  Harmonize? What exactly is meant by this? Clearly it is different from one must follow the other –  inner doesn’t follow outer, or vice versa – as in a previous point about upper and lower. No, harmonize implies an equality of aspects. Inner and outer must get along, somehow – and perfectly without gaps, no less!

Perhaps to harmonize is to unify. Doug Wile’s translation in Tai Chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions is ” The Unity of Internal and External.” He translates the previous point not as Upper and Lower Mutually Follow, but as Unity of the Upper and Lower Body. His consistent use of ‘unity’ seems to slide over some important nuance in the different meanings. But, it is nonetheless helpful to me to consider the notion of unifying as part of understanding harmonizing. Like the yin/yang symbol – the ultimate symbol really of harmony of opposites -contained within a unifying circle. The harmony creates unity.

And that is what I am looking for……ultimately. Unity or harmony of head and heart, spirit and body. I’d like to feel that my insides match my outsides; that if I seem cool and collected, kind and thoughtful on the outside, that I truly feel those things on the inside. Similarly, that if I feel disturbed, or upset on the inside, that I can appropriately express those feelings on the outside.  Like everything in tai chi, it is more likely a matter of doing less, than doing anything new and special. Just tune in and stop hindering my expression, and also notice that when all is well ‘out there’ go ahead and just let myself enjoy a little easy all is well in here, too.

Til the next move,

Full Circle

Well, I’ve come full circle.

The middle of next month, I resume my career as a certified public accountant with a regional auditing and accounting firm.  I am pretty excited about this.

The thing about coming full circle is that sometimes it can feel like you are right back where you started.

And, well, you are.

And you aren’t.

Life’s journey is through time….so every circle we make is really a spiral.  Every circle around the sun makes me one year older, and if I am paying attention it may make me that much wiser, right? That’s why the true pilgrimage, begins when you arrive.

Same holds true for the Taiji curriculum  – every time you come back to something you have studied before, you’re actually bringing all your accumulated progress to the new study  – so you feel like you’ve come full circle, but you’ve really come full spiral!

And that’s me, today. I’ve come full spiral. Wondering what it will look like, feel like, be like, this time around.

Similar, but different, I bet!

Til, the next move


Comfort Zones

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.  – Neale Donald Walsch

I have this quote sitting in my office and it reminds me to enjoy life by doing things that are sometimes not so comfortable. Like zip-lining through the tree canopy in the Berkshire Hills, and floating on inner-tubes down the river just barely in front of an ominous thunderstorm.

In taiji push-hands free-play, when we are in a playful game of taking the other’s balance, knowing the boundaries of my comfort zone is very important. And even more important is knowing when what is comfortable, is actually not safe, even though it is comfortable.  For this is where trouble happens.

We tend to conflate the two feelings in our minds – comfort and safety. And while for a lot of life’s circumstances safety does feel comfortable – it doesn’t always.  (I am thinking of the harnesses we had to wear to safely fly through the trees last week.) And there are times when I may think I am safe, when really I am only comfortable. (As when I am comfortably at home relaxing, and the nuclear power plant 17 miles away begins it’s core meltdown, contaminating three states before anyone is notified).

Because we conflate the two feelings – we think when we are comfortable we are safe – we also lose something of the thrill of living. Don’t get me wrong, despite the past week’s daredevil activities, I am an accountant at heart – careful and cautious – not one to take unnecessary chances. But I am also a martial artist at heart – someone who likes to be in my body and enjoy the power of doing and moving.  For living is thrilling, isn’t it?

It is one grand adventure to inhabit these bodies for whatever time we do.  Paying attention to safety and comfort is part of the journey – distinguishing the two is part of the art of living.  How do you tell them apart?

Til the next move,