Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Spiritual Stretching

I was a karate Mom. For several years my young son studied karate. Several times a week during those years I sat through those classes -- children and adults of all ages learning the moves, the steps, the choreography. The movements were quick, strong, energetic, but also, graceful, even meditative. I appreciated how these students and instructors were using their bodies, but it never occurred to me to become a karate student myself. I would be too embarrassed. My body wouldn't work that way. I would need to lose x number of pounds first. But the images of those bodies, all shapes, all sizes, all ages, in rhythmic motion was filed away.
Several years later after moving to a different state, I was walking through our peaceful old neighborhood with its dignified homes and mature, even majestic trees, and I was surprised to see a group of 25-30 people in a park. They were moving gently in sync with each other. They massaged their foreheads, gently shook their legs, bent slowly and held animal-like poses. They were practicing T'ai Chi, and I was intrigued.
In my typical style I approached this glimmer of interest as an assignment and, in fact, decided to write about it in a column I wrote for a community magazine. I interviewed the instructor, observed classes, and talked with participants. The instructor invited me to try the moves myself, experience the class directly, but I was too inhibited and felt I needed to know more before trying it myself. I toyed with the idea of taking the class, but the schedule wasn't a good fit, so once again I filed the interest away.

And then I got a catalogue from a holistic center where T'ai Chi was being offered. The time was convenient, but did I dare? Could I really learn this? So much of my life in recent years had been about stretching, pushing through my tidy envelope, saying to God, "OK, I'm jumping." The move to Ohio was a stretch- a total trusting that this was the right decision. This would just be one more stretch, I thought, as I wrote a check for the class. That was September, 1996.

For many years I participated in that Friday morning circle. We practiced meditation in motion. I learned the moves, much to my amazement, but more than that I learned about how the body is connected to my mind and my spirit. How the body informs my spirit and how I can deepen my relationship with God through the use of my body. And one day I was asked to stretch even more and trade in my participant role for a teaching role. I went on to teach classes myself in a variety of places and with a variety of groups, including cancer patients and their loved ones . Such a privilege.

T'ai Chi became one of my key spiritual practices; a way of expressing, "Here I am God." My way of opening to the Holy. As I breathe out, I empty, release, surrender. As I breathe in, I receive the breath of God. I ask to be filled. T'ai Chi reminds me to dance, to play, to bounce, to follow the energy. To feel the spirit. Through T'ai Chi I express gratitude, joy, and love. T'ai Chi is a way for me to allow the body to move my soul toward God.

Recently, I learned about a T'ai Chi group who meets not too far from where I now live and who practice the style I learned. Once again I found myself hesitating as I had done all those years ago. I have not practiced T'ai Chi for quite sometime. Would I remember anything? Besides, the style has evolved and would I be able to learn the changes? Would they welcome a new member? I guess I have learned something, for I took a deep breath and stretched myself into this new challenge, this new opportunity. As I entered this new circle, I could feel one more piece of the puzzle in my life in this new place slipping into place. Ah, let the dance continue.
Photo credit: Joan Litzow, 2005

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