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,


Training Partners

“I want you to teach this stuff, not cause you know anything, but because I want you to learn it.” My teacher lives 5000 miles away and I was blessed to be able to travel and study with her every other month for a few years. But she knew nothing lasts forever – so better make training partners in your hometown, and teach this stuff so you can learn it.

Well, I am happy to say, as I sit and reflect on where we are today, I realize I have indeed made some training partners. Where once there was not, today there is a group of keen taiji players, interested in the principled study of the full traditional Yang style curriculum willing and interested in playing with me. Together we are continuing to grow this art. ( and grateful, too,  for our teachers, Jan Parker and Sam Masich)

As Jan also has said, many times: “training partners are gold. ” And I am rich!

There is still much to learn, so I will continue to teach. But today I want to acknowledge: I have training partners in Western Massachusetts.

(Of course, I am always looking for and welcoming more!)


Jan Parker first told me that these are three of the most debilitating words to any practice. And she was right!

In seven years, I have learned the 108-move solo form three different times from my two taiji teachers.  This most recent time was an 8-day intensive with a focus on principles and applications.

Of course, the first time I learned the form, I knew I knew nothing, so I was a sponge. It took me nine months and much practice every day. Everything my teacher said was the first time I’d heard it, considered it, looked at it, or thought about it. Maybe it reminded me of other things I’d learned in other arts, but still it was new. That was great. I loved it. I couldn’t stop practicing, because there was so much new to experience and embody.

The second time I learned the form, three years later, I was, of course, not the same sponge. I was looking for new information, something to add to what I already now knew. (uh oh….there’s that idea that ‘ I know that’ feeling).  And what I found is that my teacher was right about “I know that’; there really is nothing like already knowing something to shut down the mind to the possibility of going deeper in one’s understanding of something, or even of really receiving correction.   I lost something real important in my practice, some enthusiasm or something. I kept it up, but I had a little too much of the “I know that” mind. This is why the zen masters talk so much about beginner’s mind.

Sam makes corrections on Single Whip

This third time learning the 108…..for whatever reason, I felt much more like a sponge again. And lucky me! I feel like I have a brand new form…from the inside out.  There are some moves I will do the same with a different understanding of what I am doing. And there are a few moves that I will practice quite differently from how I ever did before. And in one or two cases, I am correcting a misunderstanding that has actually kept me from moving forward in the practice of my art. So glad, I didn’t know that!

If you are one of my students reading this, I hope you are excited about the new aspects of the 108 practice that I will share with you. And I invite you to notice the power of believing “I know that” to close your mind to the possibility of what is still to discover in another person, in a field of study, or in an art, or even in a form you have learned.

And for me,…. I am inspired again and again to cultivate beginner’s mind every day. (Thanks for the lessons, Sam). Not only in seminar with my teachers, but in my practice, and in my teaching. And everyone else, beware of those three little words: I know that!

‘Til the next move

Enjoy your practice