Today I did the three forms in order in the back yard. The sun was rising through the hemlocks and the river at the back of the property was burbling. Perfect time for tai chi.
I positioned myself in a suitable place — grass all around me, behind me, to either side. The dew hadn’t evaporated yet, so I had bare feet in the grass. A grasshopper of some kind landed on my big toe. I started off with five golden coins. It may be an “elderly routine” but it still gets me warmed up. There’s a couple of lovely/nasty crackles in my elbows as I do bend the bow.
I continue into eight pieces of silk, and I notice that the Sun is more fully shining in the yard now. the light is hitting the house at my back, and illuminating the three windows there. The storm windows are slightly curved or bent somehow, and they’re reflecting roundish, 4-pointed stars into the yard. Today, I decide to do eight repetitions of the silks on each side, so 16 total movements of each posture. I get pretty warm.
The sun continues to climb the sky. The angle between the windows and the Sun continues to change. I look down at the grass in front of me, and suddenly I see my shadow — me, in good posture, doing the strike with angry fists pose on each side. The Sun is in front of me, remember. My shadow should be invisible. But there’s light reflecting off the windows on the house behind me, and so there’s a shadow.
Only, this shadow is wearing a triangle or pyramid of light around the head and upper shoulders. I’ve got a crown of light on, apparently. It’s so startling, actually, that I move on after only seven postures in the eight pieces of silk.
Now I do the form. The form takes me wandering all over the yard. First to my left is stand like tree and grab the needle; soon I’m heading backwards with snake creeps down and high kick and bounce baby on the knee and double punch. It’s then off to the right with fair lady works shuttles and elbow twist. And then it’s back to center with false close, and ride the tiger and windmill kick. And then it’s close.
It’s not really possible. But as Pratchett’s Law observes, the million-to-one odds of the scientists happen nine or ten times a day to the magician. I’m standing in the right spot again so I can see my shadow — Sun still in front of me, house behind me, the river burbling away about forty feet ahead of me, beyond the line of hemlocks — it’s perfect.
On the ground at my feet, clear as a shadow in the desert or a beach at sunset, is my own precise shadow. It’s etched on the grass as if it were a laser cut-out from a machine, laid on the grass at my feet. Around it, equally precise and equally clear, is the egg-shaped nimbus of light that Western magicians call the Sphere of Sensation, or the aura…
Or the halo.
The alarm on my phone in my pocket beeps. Time to move the car so the neighbors can move out. Time to get errands done. Time to get moving. Time to get to work.
As the Zen koan would have it: “before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment… chop wood, carry water.”
Back to life.