Something Different

Something Different

Postby Louis Swaim » Sat May 23, 2009 5:58 pm

Greetings,

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry of late, and I love how it puts me in an observational mode—how it makes me notice the stories and textures and moods around me. So I thought I would post a couple of poems that kind of dovetail with taijiquan practice. The first is Allen Ginsberg’s “In my kitchen in New York,” which I remember spurring some good discussions on taiji forums long past. To me, it brings back memories of times when the only place I had to practice was my living room/kitchen in a little house in Arcata, CA while attending Humboldt State, where I would have to move furniture & roll up the rug, so that the room preparation almost became a ritual part of my practice.

In my kitchen in New York
by Allen Ginsberg
(for Bataan Faigao)

Bend knees, shift weight
Picasso's blue deathhead self portrait
tacked on refrigerator door

This is the only space in the apartment
big enough to do t'ai chi

Straighten right foot & rise--I wonder
if I should have set aside that garbage
pail

Raise up my hands & bring them back to
shoulders--The towels and pyjama
laundry's hanging on a rope in the hall

Push down & grasp the sparrow's tail
Those paper boxes of grocery bags are
blocking the closed door

Turn north--I should hang up all
those pots on the stovetop
Am I holding the world right? That
Hopi picture on the wall shows
rain & lightning bolt

Turn right again--thru the door, God
my office space is a mess of
pictures & unanswered letters

Left on my hips--Thank God Arthur Rimbaud's
watching me from over the sink

Single whip--piano's in the room, well
Steven & Maria finally'll move to their
own apartment next week! His pants're
still here & Julius in his bed

This gesture's the opposite of St. Francis
in Ecstasy by Bellini--hands
down for me

I better concentrate on what I'm doing
weight in belly, move by hips
No, that was the single whip--that apron's
hanging on the North wall a year
I haven't used it once
Except to wipe my hands--the Crane
spreads its wings have I paid
the electric bill?

Playing the guitar do I have enough $
to leave the rent paid while I'm
in China?

Brush knee--that was good
halavah, pounded sesame seed,
in the icebox a week

Withdraw & push--I should
get a loft or giant living room
The land speculators bought up all
the sqaure feet in Manhattan,
beginning with the Indians

Cross hands--I should write
a letter to the Times saying
it's unethical

Come to rest hands down knees
straight--I wonder how
my liver's doing. O.K. I guess
tonite, I quit smoking last
week. I wonder if they'll blow
up an H Bomb? Probably not.

-Manhattan Midnite, September 5, 1984

The second poem is by one of my favorite contemporary poets, Billy Collins, who is often warmly funny in his writing, in a sort of Zhuangzi-like way. The poem has nothing directly to do with taijiquan, I’m certain, but for me it captures some of the physical majesty that I sometimes feel in my practice, where I feel like I’m taking the earth out for a spin.

Center

At the first chink of sunrise,
the windows on one side of the house
are frosted with stark orange light,

and in every pale blue window
on the other side
a full moon hangs, a round, white blaze.

I look out one side, then the other,
moving from room to room
as if between countries or parts of my life.

Then I stop and stand in the middle,
extend both arms
like Leonardo’s man, naked in a perfect circle.

And when I begin to turn slowly
I can feel the whole house turning with me,
rotating free of the earth.

The sun and moon in all the windows
move, too, with the tips of my fingers,
the solar system turning by degrees

with me, morning’s egomaniac,
turning on the hallway carpet in my slippers,
taking the cold orange, blue, and white

for a quiet, unhurried spin,
all wheel and compass, axis and reel,
as wide awake as I will ever be.

—Billy Collins, in Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems, Random House, 2001, p. 72.

Enjoy,
Louis
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Wed May 27, 2009 8:07 pm

Louis,
Poem the first describes my first form of the day most of the time. Well, except I'm in my living room and I'm looking at a TV, a computer and sometimes out the picture window...
Poem the second goes more to second or maybe even third rep (when I actually get to that third rep).

Fun stuff.

Bob
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Postby Louis Swaim » Wed May 27, 2009 9:59 pm

Hi Bob,

“Fun stuff.” Exactly! I’ve noticed a change in my practice mode lately—less serious and earnest, and more just a state of enjoyment. Taijiquan practice is, after all, enjoyable. I think Wen Zee, in his book on Wu style, said that the slow movements of taiji “help you enjoy the inner feelings,” and he compared it to eating slowly so that you can appreciate each bite. (The Chinese expression most comparable to ‘bon appétit’ is man man chi—“eat slowly,” i.e., enjoy it.)

The amusing thing in Ginsberg’s poem is how much internal chatter is going on—not the most ideal state of mind for taijiquan. However, it’s natural that extraneous thoughts come up in practice. The best thing to do, rather than try to suppress them, is just to observe the thought, let it go, and return to focusing on the fundamentals. I don’t know if this has ever happened with you, but there have been times when I’ve been struggling with some nagging problem that seems impossible to resolve. Then I decide to go out to my back yard and do a round of taijiquan. By the time I’m done, not only do I feel better, but sometimes a resolution to the problem has occurred to me!

What I like about the Billy Collins poem is that, in contrast to Ginsberg’s, there is no internal dialogue; it’s almost pure observation—“as wide awake as I will ever be.” As your comments suggest, that seems reflective of a really good round of form practice. When I’m in that mode, I’m concentrating on the fundamentals, but at the same time, I’m fully appreciative of the cool breeze, the birdsong around me, the play of light and shadow, the aroma of jasmine or wisteria in the garden. Why not enjoy it?


Take care,
Louis
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Fri May 29, 2009 3:56 pm

Yes, enjoying our practice is something that sometimes gets forgotten.
At least I do, sometimes.
I just finished reading Dr. Yang Yang's book whose title I simply cannot recall right now...
Nope, it's just not in my head.
Anyway, he gives the strange advice to smile whenever you are practicing. It hit me like a club when I read that.
Really, it did.
I thought to myself, "Wow! What fantastic advice."
And I've been doing so ever since.
I hope I've picked up more things from his book than that, but I have to say that is the one that is thing I took away from it that I hope I never forget.
I immediately thought of all the photos I've ever seen of Yang Zhen Duo doing form work. In the vast majority, if not all, of the photos he has a very large smile going on.
Apparently I did not pick that up in my training because I've certainly not been doing that.
Since I began to smile during my practice I have found a new level of enjoyment that I was completely missing.
Something as simple as smiling while doing your practice will really raise your spirit and make you feel much better when you are done.

I'm also re-reading "The Essence and Applications". In fact, I came on here to look up an old thread on weighted pivots vs. non-weighted so I could refamiliarize myself with some of that discussion.
I caught a reference to a weighted pivot that YCF used in a place where the current form "gives back weight" and it made me think of that thread.
In the time since that debate raged on this thread I have realized something that should have been blatantly obvious, but was not until now.
They're the same thing.
One is a very small application of the method, one is a very large application of the method.

Sometimes the obvious is not very obvious....
At least not to me!

I'm also liking the expression "extend the waist" that you translated from YCF's explanations.
Audi tried to get me to undertand that at a seminar a number of years ago, but I was not ready to hear it.
I can feel it now, so it makes sense to me. But it took me long enough to do that!

Back to your translations! I hear something different every time I re-read it.
Bob Ashmore
 
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Location: Frankfort, KY, USA

Postby taiji-jim » Fri May 29, 2009 9:24 pm

Love both poems. I'll have to read some of Collins' work now. Ginberg reminds us of the fact that the principles of Taiji spill over into all other aspects of our life, though maybe not exactly as his obstacle course. :^) Ah, well. I need to read through the thread now. Thanks for both poems.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Louis Swaim:
<B>Greetings,

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry of late, and I love how it puts me in an observational mode—how it makes me notice the stories and textures and moods around me. So I thought I would post a couple of poems that kind of dovetail with taijiquan practice. The first is Allen Ginsberg’s “In my kitchen in New York,” which I remember spurring some good discussions on taiji forums long past. To me, it brings back memories of times when the only place I had to practice was my living room/kitchen in a little house in Arcata, CA while attending Humboldt State, where I would have to move furniture & roll up the rug, so that the room preparation almost became a ritual part of my practice.

In my kitchen in New York
by Allen Ginsberg
(for Bataan Faigao)

Bend knees, shift weight
Picasso's blue deathhead self portrait
tacked on refrigerator door

This is the only space in the apartment
big enough to do t'ai chi

Straighten right foot & rise--I wonder
if I should have set aside that garbage
pail

Raise up my hands & bring them back to
shoulders--The towels and pyjama
laundry's hanging on a rope in the hall

Push down & grasp the sparrow's tail
Those paper boxes of grocery bags are
blocking the closed door

Turn north--I should hang up all
those pots on the stovetop
Am I holding the world right? That
Hopi picture on the wall shows
rain & lightning bolt

Turn right again--thru the door, God
my office space is a mess of
pictures & unanswered letters

Left on my hips--Thank God Arthur Rimbaud's
watching me from over the sink

Single whip--piano's in the room, well
Steven & Maria finally'll move to their
own apartment next week! His pants're
still here & Julius in his bed

This gesture's the opposite of St. Francis
in Ecstasy by Bellini--hands
down for me

I better concentrate on what I'm doing
weight in belly, move by hips
No, that was the single whip--that apron's
hanging on the North wall a year
I haven't used it once
Except to wipe my hands--the Crane
spreads its wings have I paid
the electric bill?

Playing the guitar do I have enough $
to leave the rent paid while I'm
in China?

Brush knee--that was good
halavah, pounded sesame seed,
in the icebox a week

Withdraw & push--I should
get a loft or giant living room
The land speculators bought up all
the sqaure feet in Manhattan,
beginning with the Indians

Cross hands--I should write
a letter to the Times saying
it's unethical

Come to rest hands down knees
straight--I wonder how
my liver's doing. O.K. I guess
tonite, I quit smoking last
week. I wonder if they'll blow
up an H Bomb? Probably not.

-Manhattan Midnite, September 5, 1984

The second poem is by one of my favorite contemporary poets, Billy Collins, who is often warmly funny in his writing, in a sort of Zhuangzi-like way. The poem has nothing directly to do with taijiquan, I’m certain, but for me it captures some of the physical majesty that I sometimes feel in my practice, where I feel like I’m taking the earth out for a spin.

Center

At the first chink of sunrise,
the windows on one side of the house
are frosted with stark orange light,

and in every pale blue window
on the other side
a full moon hangs, a round, white blaze.

I look out one side, then the other,
moving from room to room
as if between countries or parts of my life.

Then I stop and stand in the middle,
extend both arms
like Leonardo’s man, naked in a perfect circle.

And when I begin to turn slowly
I can feel the whole house turning with me,
rotating free of the earth.

The sun and moon in all the windows
move, too, with the tips of my fingers,
the solar system turning by degrees

with me, morning’s egomaniac,
turning on the hallway carpet in my slippers,
taking the cold orange, blue, and white

for a quiet, unhurried spin,
all wheel and compass, axis and reel,
as wide awake as I will ever be.

—Billy Collins, in Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems, Random House, 2001, p. 72.

Enjoy,
Louis

</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
taiji-jim
 
Posts: 18
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Location: Lexington, KY USA

Postby Audi » Mon Jun 15, 2009 11:54 pm

Hi everyone,

Louis, thanks for the two poems. They both are very interesting.

The first poem reminds me of the "monkey mind" that Bob seems to allude to. The second seems to be aptly described by your phrase "taking the earth out for a spin."

I must admit that the form has taken an increasingly inward focus for me. As a result, I am usually not as distracted mb external phenomena as by internal phenomena. I tend either to fall in love or to get stuck in frustration with some aspect of the form. I find that there is so much to think about and to balance that I have little room left to worry about the world.

In general my experience with the form and Tai Chi has been like an accordion. At first everything expands. There is so much to think about and so much to do that it seems that I cannot contain it all. Then I squeeze it together into something compact. Everything seems simple and a variation on the same theme. Then the cycle repeats on a new note. Everything seems vaster and even more full than before. In and out, simple and complex, easy and difficult.

I once read in one of the Association journals of someone (I forget who) who had a schedule according to which he or she would focus on one of the Ten Essentials for a period of days and would cycle through them during the better part of a year. At times, I have wished I had the discipline to do this; however, I seem to get so much by making spontaneous connections between the principles that I find it hard to give up a more serendipitous approach. At present, I think my progress comes mostly by accident; but hard work seems to have the capacity to make me more "accident prone" (if I can plagiarize this metaphor).

I have done the form in a few wonderful settings; however, I must say that my best memories of the form do not really match up with them. When I do the form in my basement or on my deck, I feel that, rather than "taking the world for a spin," I am taking a spin through the world.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Louis Swaim » Fri Jun 19, 2009 5:49 pm

Hi Audi,

I get your accordion analogy. I go through these phases as well. I think what I’m proposing is to try for a softening of the inner/outer demarcation. Does one’s skin mark the boundaries of one’s self-body? Does the inside terminate just beneath my skin and the outside commence on its surface? Skin is interactive, as are eyes, ears, senses. The senses reach across borders. So the skin is not a border or a boundary; it is where I interface with and engage my environment. This makes me wonder where to find a distinction between “taking the world for a spin,” and “taking a spin through the world.” There is another perspective where there is just moving—me with the world. One can’t exclude one from the other.

Take care,
Louis
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Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2001 7:01 am
Location: Oakland, CA

Postby taiji-jim » Sun Jun 21, 2009 3:52 pm

Before I jump off a very high cliff, let me repeat that I enjoyed both poems, and bought Billy Collins' "Ballistics" yesterday.

Like Audi, I smile a bit when doing the form, though maybe not quite so broadly, and no laughter as yet. Often I just let my form do itself, or maybe let the mind do it for me. This first started 10 or so years ago when I was teaching some of my students to do Zhang Zhuang. Without trying or thinking about it my body would do Grasp the Bird's Tail. Recently, it seems to just take over the form. It doesn't last through the ENTIRE form yet; but I'll keep watching it happen and see where it leads me.

According to several traditions (Taoism, etc.) the separation you're making between you & the world would be considered illusory. It's basically because the world's relevance to you, and your relevance to the world, are in the interactions between you.

Anybody know how I can turn off this "UBB Code" and just use regular HTML protocol? I'll see if I can locate "preferences" somewhere.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Louis Swaim:
<B>Hi Audi,

I get your accordion analogy. I go through these phases as well. I think what I’m proposing is to try for a softening of the inner/outer demarcation. Does one’s skin mark the boundaries of one’s self-body? Does the inside terminate just beneath my skin and the outside commence on its surface? Skin is interactive, as are eyes, ears, senses. The senses reach across borders. So the skin is not a border or a boundary; it is where I interface with and engage my environment. This makes me wonder where to find a distinction between “taking the world for a spin,” and “taking a spin through the world.” There is another perspective where there is just moving—me with the world. One can’t exclude one from the other.

Take care,
Louis</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
taiji-jim
 
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Tue Jun 23, 2009 8:18 pm

Hmmmmm.......
I'll have to watch Jim and see if he's in there at our practice tonight.
I'll knock on his noggin' and see if he answers!
;-)

If he does, I'll let you all know.

I find lately that I'm following the energy in my form work. It doesn't always take me where I SHOULD be, but it sure leads me to places I like to go.
I will often find myself off on a tangent someplace, just doing whatever feels good at the moment. I look around and suddenly realize that I have NO idea where I'm supposed to be in the traditional form but it felt really good.
I don't know if this is "monkey mind" or not. I'm not thinking of anything really (not an unusual state for me) I just find myself following along behind the energy and I end up where it lead me.
It's quite enjoyable, really, but annoying at the same time because I'm supposed to be practicing the long form.
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Postby taiji-jim » Mon Sep 28, 2009 10:51 pm

Sometimes you should let the energy just take you wherever it wants to. But not all the time. Usually I would say on your final repetition of the form in your practice session - assuming you don't have students watching. ;o)
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