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Once in a Blue Moon

Tao Moon in Blue

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T'ai Chi Classics

T’ai Chi Meditation

When I look back I’m a little amazed at how my taste in sports has changed over my lifetime. Until the age of 25, football was the great love of my life. Though my lack of speed and superior arm strength probably made me a natural quarterback, I wanted to be a lineman or linebacker. Most of all, I loved to hit people almost as much as I loved being hit. Unfortunately, I was 6 foot tall but only weighed 155 pounds in high school, which probably explains why my father refused to sign to allow me to play football, even though he had earned All-City honors at the same high school.

By 25, I decided I didn’t really enjoy being in pain every Sunday and had moved on to another sport, basketball, probably better suited for my height and weight. Though that sport was interrupted for three years by torn ligaments in my ankle which required major surgery, I played basketball once or twice a week until I retired at 57 years of age.

Though I never realized it until recently, the one constant in my life has been walking. In high school a neighbor and I would walk seven to ten miles every day, all the while philosophizing about life. Later in life, the best days with my children were spent out hiking. Much later, after I retired, a friend and I would walk up to 100 miles a week in the Columbia Gorge and in the Cascades, talking about Nature and God whenever we stopped to rest or eat.

As I noted before, I also practiced Yoga for years when I couldn’t be outside walking or hiking. I became as addicted to the meditative aspects of yoga as to the physical effort. I still rely on Aum when I need to rock a baby to sleep.

I might have continued yoga if I hadn’t herniated a lower disc, which made some of the earlier poses downright painful. Instead, I turned to T’ai Chi which offered some of the advantages of yoga. Though I originally joined for the physical benefits, I soon found that, like yoga, I was equally drawn to the meditative aspects of the form.

Though the meditative aspect of T’ai Chi is seldom mentioned in the classes I’ve taken, it’s hard to miss it when you practice by yourself. Waysun Liao describes this meditative aspect thusly:

Meditation

In T’ai Chi practice, meditation is the only way to become aware of one’s ch’i. After assuming either a simple sitting posture or an upright stance, the beginner can easily achieve success in T’ai Chi meditation by following these procedures:

1. Relax the entire body, as if you were asleep, making sure that there is no physical tension at all.

2. Calm your mind and concentrate on the total body, listening to its breath, sensing its pulse, and so on, until you can feel the body’s natural rhythm.

3. Bring up your spirit by pushing up your crown point. Imagine an invisible string pulling your crown point from above. Gradually apply deeper breathing and inhale directly into the tan t’ien (an area located approximately three inches below the navel and two and onehalf inches inward).

After weeks or months of practice, you may start to sense a feeling that flows with the rhythm of deep meditation breathing. This is ch’i, the internal energy. As you progress, this feeling grows stronger, and you can begin to sense and control the flow of this energy without the assistance of deep breathing. At this stage, you can use your mind to guide your chi’s path of travel inside your body.

Honestly, I’m still not sure that I can feel the Chi, perhaps because intellectually I question if it is even there. Perhaps the closest I’ve come to feeling it came about because I was using Resp@rate to try to lower my blood pressure. The device measures your breathing rate and tries to slow it down to what they consider an “ideal” rate. Strangely, after I had finished my 20 minutes breathing session and went to practice T’ai Chi I found that the movements and the breathing synched perfectly. For thirty some minutes I found myself in a “zone” that I can only occasionally reach while hiking.

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T'ai Chi Classics

T’ai Chi Classics translated by Waysun Liao

Although I’ve been taking Tai Chi classes for nearly four years now, I’ve never been particularly interested in actually reading anything about Tai Chi. All I know about Tai Chi has come from listening to comments by different teachers.

More than once, I’ve remarked to instructors that the principles of T’ai Chi seem remarkably similar to the principles of Taoism, but most of them seem unfamiliar with Taoism and the Tao Te Ching.

I’ll have to admit that I, too, tend to separate the two into entirely different categories: physical exercise and intellectual exercise. That said, I’ve been rather pleasantly surprised while reading T’ai Chi Classics Translated with Commentary by Waysun Liao for it’s nice to see these two aspects of my life joined together.

According to Waysun Liao

T’ai Chi means “the ultimate.” It means improving, and progressing toward the unlimited; it means the immense existence and the great eternal. All of the various directions in which T’ai Chi influence was felt were guided by the theory of opposites: the Yin and the Yang, the negative and the positive. This is sometimes called the original principle. It was also believed that all of the various influences of T’ai Chi point in one direction: toward the ultimate.

According to T’ai Chi theory, the abilities of the human body are capable of being developed beyond their commonly conceived potential. Civilization can be improved to the highest levels of achievement. Creativity has no boundaries whatsoever, and the human mind should have no restrictions or barriers placed upon its capabilities.

While this sounds rather New Ageish, the actual practice of T’ai Chi seems anything but. Learning T’ai Chi demands old-fashioned persistence and attention to detail.

Waysun Liao also confirmed my suspicians that T’ai Chi and Taoism were closely related:

For thousands of years, the system of political rule in China was based on brutality and corruption. Those who were dedicated to the truth called themselves Taoists or “mountain men,” and they lived a life similar to that of the monk. They carried on the spirit of T’ai Chi philosophy and in no way interfered with the ruling authorities. Since T’ai Chi formed its own independent system and had nothing to do with political structures, it was able to enjoy growth and freedom of development, even if only in small, isolated communities of dedicated men.

I suspect the very fact that Taoism wasn’t an “official” religion spared it much of the ceremony and ritual associated with most religions, making it seem more like a philosophy than a religion, certainly part of its appeal to me.

I’m also drawn to the Taoists’ idea of Yin and Yang, probably because I’ve always been drawn to Hegel’s dialectics, or, at least, my primitive understanding of those concepts

.

THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO, Chinese Taoists, whether from scientific observation, by mere hypothesis, or by obtaining information from sources unknown to us today, formulated the theory that there is an eternal power that moves the universe. They called this ultimate power ch’i. According to the legendary theory of Yin and Yang, ch’i exercises its powers ceaselessly, moving in a balanced manner between the positive (constructive) and negative (destructive) powers.

Because the Yin and Yang powers originate from the ultimate power, ch’i, they are able to move freely without any external limitation, immune from the restrictions of space, time, and even the material manifestations of existence. Because the two powers are always conflicting yet balancing each other, our universe is constantly and indefinitely changing. Everything, even unfilled space, derives its existence from the balanced interaction of these two contrasting forces. Since the powers of Yin and Yang are the origin of everything, they are the ultimate nature of every object in this universe.

I’ve always been a great believer in the idea of living your life according to the “golden mean,” which Confucius probably derived from these same principles, though I haven’t always managed to live up to those beliefs.

Even though I’m happy being an INTP, my first reaction after taking the test was that ideally I’d be dead even in every category, and I was happy to discover that in some tests I actually turned out to be an S rather than a T.

In other words, I suspect I was a Taoist long before I even knew that there were Taoists.

Before I began T’ai Chi, I practiced a version of physical and meditative yoga that I learned from books written in the 70’s long before it became “in” to take yoga at the local gym. The two really seem quite similar in many ways, perhaps because the underlying beliefs are similar.

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Blogging

The Price of Living on the Edge

I’d like to say that my upgrade to Apple’s Leopard went as smoothly as Dave’s but I’d be lying if I did.

No, I had a rather different experience, like 24 hours of frustration, and anger. Although I didn’t get the infamous blue screen of death, either, after installing Leopard Airport suddenly started dropping the connection every fifteen minutes or so without any apparent reason. Equally bad, the speed of my connection intermittently dropped well below dial-up-speed as indicated every time I tried to take a speed test, usually to have the connection dropped in the middle of the test.

At first I thought the problem might be coming from my ISP, but a quick check on the computer I hadn’t updated dispelled that notion. After checking with MacFixit, I decided to try a clean install on my external hard drive, and that did eliminate the dropped connection, though the download speed still seemed variable.

I thought I might just use the external drive as my startup disc, but then I couldn’t play most of my iTunes without authorizing another computer, and Photoshop, a program I use every day wouldn’t run until it had been deactived and then reactivated.

So, I decided to try a clean install on the original hard drive. But for some reason that clean install didn’t solve anything at all; it was just as buggy as the first OS I installed. I started searching for preference files to delete to see if that would solve the problem, but I couldn’t find one, or at least a PARTICULAR one that looked like the correct file.

After emailing my friend Bill and Shelley, they sent me a forum discussion indicating that I wasn’t the only one having the problem and no one seemed to have any better luck than I did in solving the problem on their own. It was only when Apple issued an update today that the problem seemed to disappear.

I wish I’d waited a few days to update and saved myself some grief, but I was anxious to see if Leopard would process photos from my Canon 40D and, sure enough, it seems to be working fine. I’ve started processing the photos I’ve taken in the last few weeks.

And, I’ll have to admit that I’m not entirely dissatisfied with several of the features in Leopard, though most of them seem more like Eye-Candy than must-have applications.

UPDATE: One of my very favorite new features is the ability to copy a part of a web page and post it as a widget. Cool, now I can just push F5 and see if frizzylogic has finally made her move on Scrabulous.