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.
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.
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.
I 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.
My 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.
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.
I did. At the Alvin Ailey Dance Company School.
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.
I attended my first “Taste of China” in 1999. I had not yet begun my Taiji journey in earnest, but I attended for a couple of reasons. The event was held in the small rural town in Virginia where I was born, and Janice and I were visiting my Mom, 15 miles away in Strasburg. Janice had been studying Taiji for a few years and was very interested. Since I was a martial artist who figured one day that I would learn taiji, why not spend some time at the conference and make the family visit easier, too? Turns out, that would be the last time I saw my Mom before she died.
I remember Janice learned a fan form, I think from Madame Wang JuRong and Master Helen Wu. I took a push hands workshop with Chris Luth and Elaine Waters. But what I remember most was the Saturday night Friendship Demonstration at the local high school – especially William C.C. Chen and the physical flexibility of his son, Max, pushing hands and bending backwards, and the way Nick Gracenin astonished me with his chain whip form ( really? tai chi? wow? ). The funny thing to me today, is that I don’t remember seeing Sam Masich at all ( though I know now that he was not only in the demo, but the emcee too!)
This Year’s Theme: Transformation
Fast forward 13 years, and more than a few taiji lessons later, and wow……what an amazing weekend I just had at the Grand Finale event. After 30 years, Pat Rice is retiring the event. Read more about this year’s event on Sam’s home page) In this final year, many of the great masters attended, and the turnout of participants was more than twice what was expected. My teacher Sam Masich, and two of Sam’s teachers Master Liang, Shou-yu, and Dr. Yang, Jwing Ming, were there.
Also, Master Wei-lun Huang, Master Helen Wu, Nick Gracenin, Jose Johnson, Kathleen Cusick, Jay Dunbar, Yang Yang Ph.D., were there. I enjoyed many great workshops – beginning the weekend with Taiji for Transformation with Jose Johnson, on to Wuji and Daoist Qigong with Master Liang, and Martial Grand Circulation and Taiji for Health with Dr. Yang, and the Five Animal Frolics with Kathleen Cusick, and of course, workshops with Sam Masich – his newfangled PengLuJiAn method -for partner and solo practice.
But the best parts for me were the demonstrations and discussions both nights. I learned so much about the breadth of internal arts and I loved hearing the personal stories of these dedicated and top-level masters of these arts. The other really wonderful part of the weekend was seeing so many of my taiji friends and making new ones. And of course, I definitely have a recollection of seeing Sam this time!
I only wish I could attend again next year…….alas, I must say Happy Retirement!