I met a woman this morning with whom I had a very long, interesting conversation – the kind that drifts in and around and through many subjects, has no boundaries regarding strict schedules and no need to rush off somewhere else and which leaves us with an internal sense of renewed creativity and curiosity about our own small worlds.  Such talks inspire our positive sense of light and excitement and an expanded state of possibilities.

This is why I don’t spend much time with busy, “heavily-scheduled” people.  Their busyness is, ultimately, a bore, engaged in by superficial boors.  I’d rather spend time with something and/or someone outside of time constraints, a bit nutty and allowing for things to naturally unfold, just like this woman and the man (the fabulous Jackie Chan, master of both the ridiculously slapstick and the beautiful martial artistry of life) here in the photo.  These are my people.

During our talk, this woman reminded me of two essential elements of the Tao, very differently articulated by her.

In the first, she said that she had visited my website, sistertongue.wordpress.com to get to know me a bit before our meeting.  She made a comment that, in several of my articles, I mention “stumbling” more than a few times and she thought to herself, “Gee, this woman seems to stumble a lot!”

I loved the observation for, in the Tao, there is a famous quote:  “If it’s not moving, it’s dead.”  We first care that movement is occurring, which indicates a life force at work in the subject, regardless of whether it is flora or fauna, human, tree or otherwise. It is only after the recognition of the alive fires of chi at play in the subject that we focus our attention on the quality of the movement and the more subtle quality of the chi energies at work.  What kind of movement is it?  Is it yang, is it yin?  Is it a more profound movement of both dancing in their eternal spiral?

Beginning students often lose their balance, stumble and have to regain themselves.  This is exactly as it should be.  Life is about being able to fall out of our center and to find it again, to regain our sense of equipoise and stability within the unbalanced movement itself.  In an authentic way, not in the superficial, inauthentic and polite way in which culture forces us to behave to hide our true selves. I often have to tell my students NOT to give up for at least a year, because they are learning to move in a three-dimensional framework – so unlike the aggressive, ambitious two-dimensional one (or its polar opposite – that floppy, unsubstantive yin so often engaged in by girls) so ingrained in us by our culture and educational system.  The search and engagement with authenticity is the gift of learning self-love through all of our mundane awkwardness and realizing that this is the stuff of which a rich and fulfilling life is made.  That is the Tao.

Those who stumble are those willing to take risks in life, to take on the warrior spirit of the adventurer, the explorer, the seeker – and who come up smiling over and over again after landing firmly on their arses.  This is why Taoists often appear, like our friend in the picture above, as drunk or aimless or stupid  or just plain crazy – because we know we all are and Taoists are just the ones willing to admit to it.  This is why the woman in the picture to the right is a Taoist Warrior – because she is willing to try and, ultimately, here in this small snapshot, to fail. Her heroism lies in her willingness to take the risk, no matter the outcome.  Bow.  Thank you very much.  Have a nice day.  I am on to the next adventure.

The Taoist martial arts are specifically designed to teach us that only in falling out of balance can we know our true center – and to settle back into it by sinking ourselves deep into the pelvis, deep into the grounding earth and following the breath into the very core of our being, whose only true master is the ineffable relationship with our private, individual and true Divine.  My own teacher must have said to me hundreds of times over many years, “Amelia, fall into your center, just fall into your center.  Trust it.”  All the while, I knew and he knew that he was giving me the gift of my true self, no matter how many times I had to fail and go back, over and over again, to find it.

This is why the dedication and training of so many of these arts takes a lifetime to master.  I am certainly not one, but I am getting the hang of it – starting to move from an “American Band Stand” way of being to a “Soul Train” one (yeah, I know, I’m dating myself – those of my generation will know what I’m talking about.  Those who are younger, google those shows on you tube – they will show you where the phrase “white boys can’t dance” came from).

The Tao is also ultimately designed to engage the student/practitioner in play and creativity.  One of my favorite pastimes for training (besides formal studio work) was, whenever I was riding the trains around Boston (not New York – too crowded), I would stand in the middle of the car, without holding onto any of the vertical bars or overhead railings, and try to stay balanced amidst the swayings, jerkings, accelerations and abrupt stoppings and turnings of the train.  One has to shift and move and develop the grounding “tiger toes” of the feet fully in contact with the surface upon which we stand in order to do it.  One must also develop soft knees and the lovely, round and full range of motion in the hips and waist to do it.

One eventually comes to understand the figure 8 – the sign of infinity – that dwells within the sacred bowl of the pelvis.  And, in order to find that, sure, there were many times where I would find myself thrown all askew onto the hard plastic seats in the train, caught off-guard by a sudden movement.  But, well, one just has to dust off the ego and rub one’s smarting bum and stand up and do it again.  With renewed zest and a smile.  I am sure other passengers thought I was a nutter – but Taoists care not a whit of what others think, so culturally bound and gagged are those thoughts.  Caught “Off Guard” is one of the ways we know we are in the midst of the perfect storm of growth.  Those unwilling to let their guard down are those who cling to external ideas of security and safety, much to the diminishment of their souls.  Anyhoo, the “train game” was my urban version of learning how to surf (all you surfers out there – you are natural-born Taoists!).

This is how we should find our Tao – in everything we do.  Why?  Because it is fun and challenging and expansive and very, very good physical training.  It’s just plain satisfying and spiritually enlightening, when we approach all of life with a sense of play.  We can find it at the check-out station at the grocery store, or rolling our cart through the parking lot, or washing the headlights of our car or shoveling snow.  “The Game,” if we are willing to engage in it as such, imparts excellent reflexes, a quick mind and body and, most importantly, adaptability to an ever-changing environment.  Go make up your own Tao games in keeping with where you are and your life circumstances.  She will rejoice in your renewed sense of play.

Once, in my forties, when I was living at a spiritual retreat center, I missed my footing on a step down a long flight of wooden stairs.  And I went down.  Completely.  Hard.  And balled myself into my center, tumbling with gravity, head over heels the whole way down, one bumpity step after the other and rolled out on concrete at the bottom into a standing position – and walked on.  A number of people witnessed this and, of course, were all worried and drama/trauma- tizing about whether I was okay.  “Yes, of course, I am fine,” I replied.  Our current collective environment will become more and more like that long staircase and it would behoove one and all to develop the ability to roll with it.  Otherwise, you’ll need a trip to the doctor to mend your broken bones and spirit.  No need to end out in the emergency room, people.  Dust yourselves off and move into the next, new moment.

As I’ve grown older (long after the shine of super-buffness has faded) my practice has moved more into one of moving stillness.  Now, one of my favorite Tao games is to see how close I can stand to my hummingbird feeders during summer and have the zooming, intensely responsive, little organic helicopters not even notice that I am there.  So far, I am at about 12 inches.  I’m hoping one day to achieve the ability to be so alively still that one of them lands on my head and poops in my hair.  Yeah, crazy, but fun.  Who would have thunk that some of my greatest teachers weigh between 2 and 20 grams?  Actually, a hummingbird’s brain takes up 4.2% of it’s body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.  They can see and hear far better than humans and perceive ultra-violet light (which our limited vision cannot), so, well, I think I’ve serendipitously chosen some great masters for learning here.  Poop from the butt of a hummingbird might be, in fact, more of a spiritual blessing than vibhuti from the hands of Sai Baba, folks or devi baba at the feet of Amma.  Oh, yes, and the spiritual lessons are born from the bounty of nature, free of charge, folks.   Think about that . . .

This is what the Tao has to offer us, if we are willing to take it’s lessons and integrate and align the body, mind and spirit with its principles.  Not our own, but hers – the very laws of nature, which abide within each of us at our cellular level, if we know how to reawaken her kinesthetic wisdoms.  Nature is the only true master of wisdom.  Always has been.  Always will be.  Our surrender to her rhythms is vital to our well-being.  Just go walk her forests and meadows and hills.

Okay, so, point number two made by the lovely woman I met just this morning.  I think I’ll leave that to the next post, which should follow shortly.  This is enough for now.  And speaks to the brilliant light of so many avenues of thought that her presence inspired in me.  That is our ultimate goal:  to inspire each other to ourselves.  That is the smile of the Tao.

The gist is that our spontaneous, serendipitous conversations and interactions with one another in natural settings can lead us so much more fully into the crazy wisdoms of the mysteries and satisfactions of life than the artificial contexts of what we call “civilization” can do.  Mortgages and investment portfolios and fragmented reports of “scientific” lab experiments and sitting in front of gurus under artificial lights are such yawners in a much larger context of the wonders of nature and her cosmic dance of holistic life.  Lao Tzu said this over and over again, but that’s another essay.

In the meantime, embrace the drunken master, the crazy hermit and the unbearable lightness of being that dwells within you.  Open your mouths in delight, jump up and down, clap and laugh out loud with open mouths.  Hopefully wearing outrageous headresses as you do so. You and you alone “own” that state of being in yourselves.

I wish for each and every one of you to Fall Down.  Right on your faces.  Let yourselves be caught continually of guard.  And smile.  And get back up and do it all over again.

Yes, over and over, throughout your brief and precious lives here.  The Divine has given you a delightful playground – don’t refuse the toys.

in light