Spring is the season of new beginnings! The Equinox marks the time when day and night are of equal length. The balance is about to tip to the yang after the winter season of yin. In the spring, we can tap into the natural energy of re-birth and emergence, perhaps a particularly strong energy in this Chinese Year of the Rooster.
According to Wikipedia, the celestial location of the vernal equinox is the First Point of Aries. “It is one of the two points on the celestial sphere at which the celestial equator meets the ecliptic plane, the other being the First Point of Libra, located exactly 180° from it.”
The University of Southern Maine Planetarium site states “The Sun used to be “in” the constellation Aries on the first day of Spring, otherwise known as the vernal equinox. We should explain that as Earth revolves around the Sun, the latter will appear to travel through thirteen constellations comprising the “zodiac.” Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Nicea (190-120 BCE) introduced the term “First Point of Aries” (or “Cusp of Aries.”) when he observed that the Sun was within the constellation Aries during the vernal equinox. However, the Sun’s apparent vernal equinox position has continuously shifted along the ecliptic by about 1 degree every 73 years due to precessional wobbling. The wobbling, caused primarily by interactions with the Sun and Moon, causes our planet’s pole to describe a 47 degree circle through the sky every 26,000 years. Consequently, the thirteen zodiac constellations will all “host” the vernal equinox point during this 26,000 year cycle. According to astronomer Jean Meeus, the vernal equinox point crossed the Aries-Pisces border in 68 BCE. Ironically, this shift occurred less than a century after Hipparchus’ death. The vernal equinox point has been moving westward through Pisces ever since. In AD 2597, the vernal equinox will move into Aquarius the Water Bearer. Or, to be more specific, it will cross into the rectilinear region that the International Astronomical Union has designated as the Aquarius “region.” Perhaps even then, astronomers will continue to refer to the vernal equinox as the “First Point of Aries.”
illustration copied from https://usm.maine.edu/planet
Happy New Year! According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar of the Yellow Emporer, we are entering the year 4752 – the Year of the Purple Fire Phoenix (or Rooster.) The Rooster is known for announcing the start of each new day. The Phoenix is legendary for its ability to be born anew from the ashes of its own self-destruction. Harnessing these celestial energies makes it a great year to achieve big resolutions, or revisions to the reality we are creating anew each day.
Self-revision is one of the gifts of practicing Taijiquan – or Tai Chi as we call it. The various postures allow us to safely discover the body’s potential for going up and down, side to side, forward and back. The slow, exquisite movements encourage us to explore the nature of constant of change as we move from Yin to Yang: from empty to full, from giving to receiving, from knowing to not-knowing. Making friends with not-knowing allows us to consider all possibilities. In Tai Chi, we learn to observe, adjust, and adapt without stress. We learn how to utilize the energy of change rather than fighting it. Resolutions become considered revisions.
The great paradoxes of Tai Chi include the idea that by going very slow, we develop great speed; that by being very soft, we accumulate superior strength. By understanding transition, we may experience transcendence. Be alert as a Rooster, tireless as a Phoenix in this coming year. I am wishing you well!
In our hemisphere, the season of winter is the darkest, most yin, most mysterious time of year. But in the Tao, and in its marvelous symbol, the Tai Chi, the zenith of yin is pierced by a pin-prick of yang. So into this season of short days and long nights a light is born.
According to Taoist principles, winter is the season when seeds rest and acquire the energy that will fuel their future growth. Winter is a time for deep meditation and dreaming, and in the Christian tradition, for gathering with loved ones, giving and celebrating the birth of the light of the world.
Today was one of those glad-to-be-alive days. As I walked in the cool autumn air under a brilliant blue sky, I felt so grateful to be ambulatory – just to be moving freely, surrounded by beautiful sights, intriguing fragrances, and the sounds of birds and my busy community. Filled with gratitude, I thought of the teachers that have guided and inspired me on the path of well-being.
Nineteen years ago, Master Song Tso “Charlie” Chen introduced me to the art and mystery of Tai Chi. Ten years ago, Jeff Primack blew the lid off my practice and reignited my passion for Qigong. Eight years ago, John Wolcott the Cloudwalker connected me to the elements and the environment, adding a profound dimension to my practice. Four years ago, I met Dr. Roger Jahnke, and embarked on a journey deeper into the mystery of life and the magnificence of being human. Roger once described Qigong “as a way to investigate your ultimate nature that yields great physical benefit” and also as “a physical pathway that opens the portal to your ultimate nature.” He noted that “the bottom up approach is the same as the top down approach.”
That’s a Tai Chi.
Last month, hungry for a local teacher, I discovered Sifu Dimitri Mougdis at the Internal Arts Institute in Stuart, Florida. Dimitri’s knowledge and skill are matched only by his kindness and benevolence. I am grateful to have found another teacher and a group of students with whom to share this wondrous journey.
The 2016 Fall Equinox is September 22. On the Equinox, day and night will be of equal lengths. There is a place on the Tai Chi where rising Yin and descending Yang are of equal fullness. The transition of energy will now move toward the Yin, as we move toward winter in the Northern hemisphere.
It is said that during the two weeks surrounding the Equinox, the veil between the two worlds is thinner. It is considered an auspicious time for practicing awareness exercises like Tai Chi Chu’an and Qigong. What are the “two worlds”, and of what are we trying to become aware?
One concept of two worlds is duality and reality. Duality is the “dueling” of opposites which happens as we classify and define things as particle or wave (physics), point or plane (geometry), good or bad (sensations), right or wrong (beliefs). Reality transcends all that. It just is.
Our perception of reality is filtered through the veil of duality. Modern quantum physics states that the observer affects the observed. Therefore, how we perceive and filter what we observe can define our reality. Can we be both the observer and the observed? Can we just “be” for a few moments, and free ourselves of the dueling? Can we become aware of the duality we have formed for ourselves, and step through it, stepping like a stalking cat with unwavering attention? Can we slip through the veil, and then, step back again?
As we enter the season of Autumn, we complete the Harvest of Summer’s labors. How was the Harvest for you this year? We can assess our successes and our failures, storing the good and releasing the bad. Feed the rotten apples to the hogs. Keep the good ones to nourish yourself, your family and community. Autumn is associated with reward and integrity, but also with loss and grief. At Northern latitudes, the trees will be losing their leaves gracefully and gloriously, with no grief. Autumn is the time for letting go. Let go of passing concerns and considerations, step through the veil of duality, and experience the reality of the ever-changing universe.
During five weeks camping in six states, teaching Tai Chi and Qigong at four different locations, and meeting over 100 wonderful souls on the journey, I met no one who was completely without some kind of pain or sorrow. And yet, this was a happy journey, and the souls I met were vital, engaged, and enjoying their practice. Their challenges were revealed in gentle ways.
While assisting my teacher, Roger Jahnke, at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, participants shared some of their challenges as we guided them into the gentle movements. “Two left feet,” no previous experience, zero body awareness, balance issues, neurological disorders, past broken bones, medications, surgeries, arthritis, immune disorders, physical and emotional wounds did not stop these souls from progressing on their journey, and graduating the 25-hour Tai Chi Easy Practice Leader Training.
While leading Five Element Qigong workshops in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, shared slices of life included horrendous accidents and hospitalizations, end-of-life issues with family, financial hardships induced by medical costs, and yet here too, the souls were smiling, laughing, planning picnics, trips to the lakes, and finding serenity in their practice.
Finally, three days before my first presentation at the National Qigong Association Conference in New Jersey, I began to experience strange and painful symptoms myself. Increased Qigong practice, intense self-observation and a serendipitous public service announcement on the radio made me realize I had probably contracted Lyme Disease while reveling in the wilderness preserves and campgrounds of the Northeast. A trip to the Geisinger Clinic confirmed it. With early detection, three weeks of antibiotics, and assisting my immune system with consistent Qigong, the microbe will likely be fully eradicated from my system. I decided to incorporate my Qigong method for dealing with the pain and annoying symptoms into my NQA presentation, and conversations with colleagues at the Conference. An astonishingly large number of souls also have or had Lyme disease, and some have had it more than once. It was only by revealing my own challenge that others were compelled to share theirs. Because otherwise, they were busy learning new healing methods, sharing their own Qigong wisdom, and generally having a wonderful time.
“Into each life some rain must fall” say the lyrics of an old Ink Spots song. Gardeners know rain as a necessary thing. My fellow travelers on the healing path showed me that even destructive storms can be met with no resistance, but objective observation, wise preparation, gentle persistence and a whole-soul openness to the infinite possibilities of well-being.
Rev. Janice organized a Soul Retreat at Unity Church yesterday. Fifteen souls in silence for seven hours, using meditation, metta-meditation, mandalas, chanting, dance, Qigong, Tai Chi and tea to reconnect and nourish the soul with the Source of all souls.
Afterwards, several participants said Tai Chi walking set the tone for the day. They had never moved so slowly and it launched them into greater awareness. We did five of the Seven Precious Gestures, in silence as part of our silent day . The energy was palpable. Several participants commented on the Qi rush they experienced as heat or lightness.
Before the retreat, we each shared our name and our intention. Many simply desired to slow down, to clear their mind, to give themselves a day of rest. My intention was to share and serve by helping Janice, to give the gift of Tai Chi and Qigong, and thereby to receive by consciously communing with the other souls as we shared the day’s journey. Afterwards, all of the souls shared feeling the fulfillment of our intentions. Breathe….and inspire…!