Archives for category: Colorado floods

In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, “I have attained something.” — Shunryu Suzuki

In Taoism, there is also the idea, “to gain something, you must lose… to lose something, you must gain.” It is the way of the natural world, and indeed of all of us.

Natural disasters like we have recently seen in Colorado and in the Philippines illustrate this principle very well. People worked for decades — centuries perhaps – and it is all wiped away. Entire lifetimes are wiped away. In such extremes we see how flexible we must be, how willing to begin again with little warning. And, as life flows again, houses are rebuilt, roads rebuilt, water and electricity return. People rebuild their lives anew. And more than they realize, they return to the beginning.

During the week of the floods, I began my tai chi class. Some of you may recall that I was soaked to the skin when I arrived. As it happens, the students of that class are about to graduate. They have attained some minimal knowledge of the forms. On the evening he announced people would be graduating, my teacher idly mentioned to me almost as an afterthought, “You can always take the beginner’s class again.”

This was quite upsetting to me. Had I not practiced, learned, applied myself? My endurance, flexibility, all those things were so much better than 12 weeks earlier! I have attained something! My brain really circled and tightened around the idea that I was a failure or was lacking something. It continued circling for several days after. Peace? Well, not right then, for sure.

At roughly the same time, at the place where I work hard to bring cookies home to Chi, I was struggling to learn a new skill. I had to learn a new way of thinking about the work I had done and was about to do. It has been very difficult to retrain my brain. I was frustrated.

Last Saturday morning, I was getting my weekly massage and regaling my patient masseur with all of this. I wound up for the big finish with the tai chi instructor thinking I should stay behind and take another beginner class. I was indignant by that time, and not relaxing very much on the massage table. I beat my hand on the table and talked about failure, what was the point, was I really that bad? At one point, the massage therapist broke his silence and gently mentioned that it might not be because I was a failure. He was almost giggling by the time he pointed out that repeating the beginner sequence of movements will make them more ingrained and lead to a better practice. My brain hated that, insisting it knew enough already. I told my massage therapist that I would consider what he had said out of politeness more than conviction.

By the time I got back to tai chi class last week, I had decided I would follow my teacher’s advice. As I told him I’d stick around, the teacher looked genuinely pleased. It was only then that he conspiratorially whispered that he himself had taken the beginner’s class twice… in combination with the continuing class. You deepen your practice, he explained, and get into the continuing discipline as you go. Explained that way, it made sense. It was not a failure at all. Western mind likes to make us think if we don’t hurry through and be perfect at every endeavor, then we must be failures. This is a lie.

At the-place-where-I-earn-Chi’s-cookies, there also I got to return to the beginning, discussing ideas from the beginning and slowing down to reach true understanding.

All of this seeming setback had shown the possibility inherent in starting something new, and staying in an open, receptive, beginner’s mind throughout life.

For Chi’s part, he doesn’t have to actually catch the squirrel in the back yard. He chases it every day, trying to learn HOW to catch it. It’s not really about the outcome.

I look for places now to practice beginner’s mind. I am grateful I was allowed to see and experience it when so many rush around unseeing, consuming, accumulating, rushing. There IS another way.

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Be water, my friend. Water can crash, or it can flow. – Bruce Lee 

In Colorado, we have been rewarded with a glorious clear sky to view the entire full moon process since Wednesday night. It feels like the most bounteous gift.

I have been experiencing this moon at a very deep, primeval level due to the floods so near to me. The full moon indicates so very much when it comes to water and tides. While I was idly contemplating the things I have been birthing in my life, I was all too aware of the waters rushing down the South Platte, demolishing other plans for other people as the tide crested.

A few months ago, I wrote about the Taoist idea of staying low, being like water. At that time, I visualized a peaceful stream meandering around the countryside; or a river rapid, cutting and crashing to a waterfall. After the storms, I now see the destructive side of water much differently. Water in a reservoir can look peaceful and calm. When the reservoir is topped or compromised, that water, formerly held back and tamed, transforms into a driving wall that flattens and destroys. It is patient, but when it is time, it is anything but. This was also seen with the films of the tidal wave in Japan a few years ago. Nothing is spared.

This particular storm taught me about water in a couple of different ways. The night it began, I was attending my first tai’chi class. I had to catch a bus or two to get there, and walk a fair distance. It began to rain almost as soon as I left work. I discovered to my displeasure that I had forgotten my umbrella. I dodged the raindrops during the first part of the trip, but by the second transfer, the rain was coming down in torrents. Running 50 feet to hide under a tree left me drenched from head to toe.

At that time, I amused myself with the thought that I was learning a water discipline, after all. Tai’chi is known as a water form in the martial arts, along with wushu. It seemed somehow appropriate that the gods were soaking me through as some sort of bizarre hazing ritual.

By the third transfer, I discovered that it was rather fun being all wet. I tried to remember the last time I was wet from head to toe. I’m pretty sure I was 10 years old or younger. It was cleansing too – starting fresh.

When I finally opened the door of the Tai’chi center, I was practically giggling. An auspicious beginning, to be sure.

The following afternoon, I was bailing water out of my back yard. I was not enjoying the storm as much by then. And it was about this time that creeks and streams overflowed and took out hunks of road. Drainage systems clogged, and water began to overwhelm everything. Large reservoirs broke down; major highways collapsed… All from water.

Water is far more than bucolic babbling brooks. It will wear down anything in its path, given enough time. The Grand Canyon was made in exactly that way. Most of us don’t have an inkling of that kind of power. To witness it in action is humbling and terrifying.

The moon bears witness, aids and abets that power. Rolling water to shore with a churning surf, or pushing water down a hill or gradient, it controls the cycles of life we all know but seldom take the time to observe.

On this particular full moon, the harvest seems close… but for now, all we witness is the force of water.

It will be up to us to harvest what we can by the next full moon.

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