creativity meditation T'ai chi trees wisdom Zen philosophy

life is an event

the bird of November 12 2017the bird on periphery of sight nov 12

The neighbors may wonder why a small figure stands in the window of my house each morning. She can be seen in different windows depending on the day. Just standing there, she looks out. Sometimes she bobs up and down, stretches side to side, or reaches up with arms outstretched. Sometimes she’s still as a reed on a deep-summer day.

Why do I do it? Because I listened to Master Peng.

But first of all, I observed Master Peng.

I observed him over time and with deepening wonder at what I saw. Every time he arrived for our weekly class, he glowed. He said with a smile, “I feel great!” One day, he explained why. He told us that he was in the habit of getting up at 3am every morning and standing in a meditation with his heels touching, and feet at a 90-degree angle. For three hours!  He stood like that daily from 3am to 6am. (One assumes this was possible because he was on sabbatical leave during the year spent at Notre Dame, but maybe not?!)

This habit of standing meditation is not unusual in Peng’s hometown, it seems. He told us that a man from his village learned he had lung cancer one day. Since he was already in his 60s, the prospects looked dire. So the man withdrew from the world and stood meditating, with heels touching and his feet at a 90-degree angle, for three months. At the end of the three months, he re-emerged and resumed life as usual. He is now in his 80s and feels great!

Well, you can think what you want about the tall tales told by t’ai chi teachers. But no one will ever convince me that Master Peng felt anything but good during the months I spent studying him and his supple movements in class.

And that is why I do the standing meditation for 30 minutes, with my feet at a 90-degree angle, each morning. My hip joints do feel different as does my spirit–more expansive and elastic. My hips move more smoothly now and I have no fears about arthritis. I feel strong and supple.

This comes back to the point about life being an event.

This morning while standing in the sunroom window, I gazed at a bird in a nearby tree. You can see it in the top photo. Meanwhile, downstairs, I could hear the front door open and close, and footsteps moving around as Rich and Honey Girl came back early from their walk. I wondered why. Then I heard something, saw some drips of water, and understood. After opening the window to let in the gentle sound of rain, it was easier to still the Mind. I became silent and waited. I let my vision blur so that the bird was in the periphery of my sight. (As in photo no. 2, you’ll see he’s still there. My Mind kept wanting to check on him!) I tried keeping the focus acute yet blurry, so that despite my earthbound state, I might experience the sky like a bird.

If you ever doubt that your life is part of a larger event, just look out the window or go outside. In the little universe outside my window, a flock of three crows flew in, one by one, and perched on a tree. The little bird turned and hopped a step or two. Then it turned and faced away from the ruckus, looking off through the misty air and seeing who knows what event coming along next.

What comes along next?

That is up to you.

For me, weekends are for creativity: a world beyond anything but the simplest words. Yet my imagination runs wild with textures and colors, stitching and molding fabric into designs. Yesterday I made a pillow for the grad seminar I’m teaching–ROFR 63490/40453: my creative project for class  honors the sensuous fabrics described by Zola in Au Bonheur des dames (The Ladies’ Paradise, the department store novel). I used the wonderful vintage satin that I inherited from a friend’s grandma, and stitched a variety of hues into a hoop-skirt design, added onto a woman’s silhouette, on a black-and-white flannel of fashion plates from the 50s.  Later on, I began piecing together the beginnings of the SPARK quilt, too…

The morning meditation serves as a grounding mechanism. It helps still the Mind. It reminds us that we participate in the seasons. Like the trees, we are always breathing and always in flux—today, the boughs moved only slightly, less than yesterday. One yellow leaf fell to ground.

During the school week, I treasure these 30 minutes as a vacation from work and the busy-ness and complexity of that ever-thinking Mind.  It is a little present of peacefulness, given to me from me.


Alan Watts explains the difference nicely between considering life as linear sequence of things or chores to “get done” (the Western mindset), and life as organic event unfolding as it will (the Zen mindset).  He reminds us how Western parts of speech do not account for change with the example of the word “fist.”  How can a fist [noun] suddenly disappear when a person opens his hand? Where does it go?

As Watts writes, “The object miraculously vanishes because an action was disguised by a part of speech usually assigned to a thing! In English the differences between things and actions are clearly, if not always logically, distinguished, but a great number of Chinese words do duty for both nouns and verbs—so that one who thinks in Chinese has little difficulty in seeing that objects are also events, that our world is a collection of processes rather than entities.”*

To shift into creative mode, remember it is work too, even if it is more gratifying for the spirit. As Twyla Tharp says: “It is developed through exercise, through repetition, through a blend of learning and reflection that’s both painstaking and rewarding.”**

Walk on!


*Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, 1st ed. 1957 (New York: Vintage, 1999) 5.

**Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2003), 9.

T'ai chi

about Master Zhanguo Peng, the source of t’ai chi awareness in South Bend, IN

Last year, the University of Notre Dame was fortunate to host visiting scholar and T’ai chi master Dr. Zhanguo Peng, an associate professor from the Institute of Chinese Philosophy at Lanzhou University, China. As the 7th generation of descendant of Yang style Tai Chi Chuan, he has practiced Tai Chi for over 20 years and is especially skilled in Pushing Hands. In 2007, he won the championship of Pushing Hands Competition in Gansu province, China. He was awarded Band Six of Chinese Martial Arts and is currently the judge and the guide for the Chinese Martial Arts Association.

I joined in March 2017 and never looked back. He taught in silence and poetic language, and we learned to watch carefully and let the Body-Mind lead the way.  After practicing T’ai chi with the Body-Mind in charge and emerging refreshed, one realizes that the Body-Mind wields an immense power for feeling good, and so life changes its course! Like a mountain stream tumbling through the rocks and roots of a forest, life regains momentum and integrity.

If you, like me, do not have a teacher in person, perhaps you might benefit from the video like I do, every morning. The link to Master Peng’s class at Notre Dame is here:  Master Peng’s T’ai chi class at Notre Dame

This blog is inspired by him and his teachings.