The River and the Moon

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There is no camera gear in the world that was up to the task of capturing the moon shimmering on the western water this morning, as we cruise eastward under cover of night toward Portland, OR. A little after 4:30 there was a knock at my door: dad, in his underwear, beckoning me from our cabin to the stern deck, there to see the setting Moon framed between mountains. A bend in the river took it behind those self-same mountains, a few minutes later.  But it was enough — the Moon is capable of shattering our unhappiness, our fear, our terror, especially if we encounter it in the right state, half-asleep yet startled from our beds.  We wake thoroughly to encounter the world in silence.

It was the same at Multnomah Falls. Despite the crowds, the rain, the place was tremendously green and lush. Despite the fact that we spent an hour round-trip on a bus that smelled of diesel to get there, and had maybe 30 minutes at the Falls, there was a serenity there, a joy. A bus load of kids from some school trudged up past us on their way to the upper bridge, looking lonely and wet in plastic ponchos. They came down the hill again cheerful, connected, peaceful. They were collecting high-fives from complete strangers on the way down. I myself got twenty-seven high-fives; it felt like a reunion with humanity.

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Water and the Moon both reconnect us to ourselves and to each other. They remind us of our humanity, our connection to each other.  And it’s often enough to wash away loneliness and fear. The Moon has a tendency to remind us that everything will be all right, eventually. Give it time. Give it another go-round. This too shall pass.

Tai Chi Y2D303: Slippage

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On the way downstairs to do tai chi this morning, I slipped on the stair treads and bounced down the last four stairs.  I kept upright, I didn’t bang my head on anything, and I had a hand on the stair rail the whole way down.  It was scary that I couldn’t get any traction or right myself.  But at the same time I had a sense that I wows going to reach the bottom of the stairs alive and unharmed.  It was frightening, but also joyful.  It made me feel alive.

There’s this appropriate balance between routine and surprise. We make discoveries when the routine breaks.  As Isaac Asimov observed, the most important words in science are not “Eureka!” (I have found it!), but “that’s funny…. what’s going on here?”  It’s the mystery, the enigma, the surprise, which catches our attention and brings us back into living awareness of the moment.

That little adventure on the stairs made my first movements — the druidic prayer, and the two qi gong forms — these elegant flows of routine, awakened to their real potential by that slip on the stairs.  The surprise and shock of that moment helped wake me up to the potential for life-changing routine.  During the first movement of Five Golden Coins, which is called Join Heaven and Earth, I found the raw moment of pause between the hand rising and the hand falling.  As my hands faced each other in front of my dan tien, I felt a sphere of chi form in the cup or empty sphere of my hands, and felt the potential of that force rising as I began to move it around, first up and then down.  The sensation faded before I even started the tai chi form, but it was awake and alive all through the two qi gong forms (and isn’t it about time to start learning a third, maybe Standing Bear or a staff form?)

I remember once, when I went to see my tai chi teacher after a long absence, he said, “We’ve been working on wrist locks lately, in conjunction with search center. Do you want to see?”  I consented, and we entered the competitive posture of Push Hands.   We went through the cycles of movement common to push-hands, and then boom.  He did his fancy thing with the wrist-lock and the search center, and I was flat on my back on the grass.  Boom.  I was so surprised, and delighted, that I started laughing.  Hard.  My tai chi teacher was not a little man, but he didn’t weigh as much as I did. And yet, in a moment, he’d completely overcome my connection with gravity.  He was able to knock me to the ground with a mild push and a wrist lock. And I kept laughing.

After a moment, bemused, my teacher helped me to my feet.  “The laugher is good,” he said, or words to that effect. “It’s hard to think about fighting you when you’re so amused.”  And so it was today.  When I didn’t kill myself on the stairs, I had a great tai chi experience — because the joy of surprise often wakes us to the genuine delights of what can often seem like ordinary routine.