Jilly D.

Moving meditation in a hall of mirrors

In Health, Mourning on January 31, 2011 at 2:41 am

Yesterday I attended an Open House for the Ithaca Chapter of the International Taoist Tai Chi Society and today I took my first beginners lesson.

The open house provided welcome arms as I found old friends and new ones there. I saw Jane Edwards teach and Gundy Lee and Theresa Orzeck demonstrate some of the moves of Tai Chi. Hearing testimonials from members about building core strength, focus, and deep relaxation had me interested.

I watched my friends who were all mature women perform so gracefully and simply that I was amazed. Research shows fibromyalgia patients experience relief from many symptoms. Gave it a try this afternoon.

Such elegant gestures. Simple. Fluid. Tai Chi is described as moving meditation. It does help with the mind racing and shuts off the interior voices and noise.

It doesn’t help that I am a klutz and fell on the skating rink the beginning of this month. Just standing made me extremely aware of being out of alignment. Not just my knee, but my hip.

The Tai Chi studio has a wall of mirrors. You watch the instructor as she faces the mirrors and she performs the move three times. Then you do the moves together three times. The instructor then faces the beginning students as they make the move three times.

All this in front of mirrors.

I have always avoided mirrors. They make me extremely self conscious. I don’t wear makeup and you don’t really need to look at a mirror when you brush your teeth. Above the sink in the bathroom is the only place I’ve ever hung a mirror.

My reflection makes me uncomfortable in the same way as hearing your own recorded voice for the first time.

But now I look in the mirror and see someone I don’t recognize; middle aged with mostly a middle. That frown seems planted on my face almost like a sad clown. Frumpy frowner. Geesh; not a good reflection.

Reality check. Tai Chi is about humility and modesty and compassion.

I am humiliated by the reflection of my bodily image. Deeply humbled by its inadequacies. Not being my best but not being my worst either. The incredible struggle to follow the simply guided movement is painful in my knees and hips and I suddenly am in touch with my deep emotional suffering and begin to feel overwhelmed; the tears begin to well up and my neck and throat become tense.

Humiliation, pain, suffering. I brought them in the door with me and I need to leave them aside with my shoes.

Commencement is the first move. How fitting.

So much to pay attention to that I concentrate only on the teacher and her reflection in the wall of mirrors. I can ignore my own image yet still see it in the periphery of my vision as I mimic the moves. I can tell out of the corner of my eye that I am not in sync.

Do it again. Feet shoulder width apart. Raise both arms with palms up and then lower your elbows and turn your palms to your face. Take your right foot and turn right on the heel of your foot firmly planted on earth. Turn your torso to face your right foot and lean onto your right leg and take your right arm with hand at a ninety degree angle and push forward WHILE you swivel your left leg by standing on the ball of your left foot  so you are at a 45 degree angle from your right foot and your left arm pushes down alongside your left thigh. Okay, it’s hard to even describe in words much less do. And yet it looks so simple. 

I feel like my body should perform like it was a mechanical robot I can program to behave from my brain; I know this was one of my disco era dance moves if I can only get the steps and the hand movements to jive. Humility big time.

The next moves were called something like left bird feather and plucking the tail feather. I don’t know. I was so engaged in trying to follow the simple movements. Hands, arms, shoulders, feet, ankles, knees, hips, spine, head, neck and mind to control all in a focused movement.

These moves looked so simple and yet I found them so difficult I found myself getting frustrated. I knew the pain and physical discomfort in my knees and hips had to do with my discumbobulated efforts to make the move; but my execution was way off. I had to laugh for how hard it was for me to perform such simple gestures.

Tai Chi is so very graceful. I am not.

Neither were my compatriots. Both of them arrived late thinking the Open House was today not yesterday. Sam was a young white dude with dred locks and physically resembled a wrestler or weight lifter. Maybe he was a college student; I gave him brownie points for showing up, being interested and giving it his best. Tony arrived even later and had once been a practitioner in California and was thinking of joining after all these years. He stood over six feet tall and was ready to take a lesson.

We’d already started learning the first move when Tony arrived. So I was relieved when our instructor asked us to review. Review is good. Maybe I would improve and gain some muscle memory. Tony leaned back too far and Sam’s shoulders were too high. So my frumpy frown fit in just fine. None of us were immediately filled with grace this afternoon.

I did leave the Tai Chi studio and the sun was out and it was almost warm enough to reach the freezing point. I came home and walked the dogs. I found myself focused on completing the most important items on my very long to-do list.

Miracles don’t happen overnight. One day at a time. One step at a time. One movement at a time.

I didn’t join the Tai Chi Society today. Tomorrow my knees and hips will consult on the matter.

For now, I’m on the Tao.

The journey is the destination.

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  1. I love the way you write…and I relate to the body and mirrors thing.

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