I'm scooping up the sea. That's one of the Tai Chi movements in the sequence I'm doing each morning. It consists of bending low, one foot behind the other, and with crossed hands, scooping and bringing the sea up high until it merges with the air above.
At high tide, with pohutukawa leaves drifting in the water, I enter a dream space.
I'm scooping up my dreams, that drift like brilliant leaves on the surface of the sea.
I'm scooping up waves of tenderness, as I remember talking with little Mira (3 years old) on Skype from China, where she is on a six week visit with her mother.
I'm scooping up surges of satisfaction from completing my tax return yesterday while the rain poured down.
And I'm scooping up gratitude, for this beautiful place where I live beside the sea: gratitude for peace, safety, and the spaciousness of summer.
The tide is as full as it gets. As I do my Tai Chi, I hear the water sloshing up over the nearby boat ramp.
Despite the clouds, and heavy rain forecasts for the south island, the sky still has plenty of blue. The pohutukawa, long past flowering, watches over me from the cliff above,
together with banana palm and the ti - cabbage tree, with its distinctive spiky leaves.
Mother shag, the full-tide visitor, is here once more. She sits patiently, doing her own sequence, which consists of a neck turn to the right,
followed by a neck turn to the left. Then back to the right again. This is her Tai Chi, and we move in unison it seems.
Then she settles down, sitting like a hen, just watching the sea. I don't think she's looking for fish, because she has an alert standing pose for that. I imagine she has a full belly, and is enjoying the peace of the morning.
She reminds me that sometimes enough is enough. I've had a few busy days, tackling income tax, dealing with a computer breakdown just as I had almost finished, attending meetings, and running around town. Yesterday Inland Revenue sent me a letter to say I had a reprieve for another month.
Enough is enough. This is a day to enjoy, for me and mother shag.
I couldn't believe it! As I walked down to the jetty this morning, the sun was shining and the sea was blue.
A cold wind blew in from the south, but as I descended to the sea, all was calm. I stood in a patch of morning sun, my gaze drifting out across the blue, as I began my Tai Chi. The tide was in again, and I could hear the lapping of the sea against the shore. As I did 'Opening Arms, expanding chest,' I felt as if the sea was flowing inside me and my lungs were full of blue sky. How different this was from my Tai Chi in the rain, only a day ago!
Different sea birds arrived this morning. No more herons or waders — they are low tide birds. The high tide birds are the shags. The first one arrived and perched on the nearby boat ramp, watching for fish.
The water was so clear. A second shag arrived, and spent a long time drying out her wings, spreading them right out. I too was moving into 'spreading my wings' — well, that's not exactly what it was called, but as I do Tai Chi with the natural world, I find myself giving some of the movements new names.
I didn't photograph the two shags together, because I was in the flow of the movements by then. But at the end I was just in time to catch the second shag, spreading her wings once more, but this time as a prelude to flight.
What variety and change I'm discovering, simply by doing the same practice each morning in the same spot.
PS I took a walk later, and bought fish for my dinner. This felt perfect, after moving in unison to the fish-eaters this morning. I hope the shags had a good feed too.
PPS Some people have had trouble recently, posting comments on blogspot sites. I've removed the word verification, hoping to make it easier for you all. Do let me know if you are still there!
'Be not deterred,' says Dr. Baolin Wu of the Nine Palaces tradition from the White Cloud Monastery of China. 'Always practise your Tai Chi outside, in nature.'
Not only was it raining this morning, but it was also rather cool. But, remembering Dr Wu's words, I resolutely put on a hat and jacket and made my way to the jetty.
There was a certain beauty in the soft mistiness that shrouded the cliffs opposite. Doing the sequence 'Playing with clouds' took on a new meaning. I could feel energy flowing into me as I did my Tai Chi in the rain.
The rain increased, and I moved to this little platform under a spreading pohutukawa tree. This photo was taken on another day, when the tide was in. The tide was well out today, and the sea's colour had drained away. But the platform gave me a little shelter.
Underfoot, little squelches as my bare feet rolled over rain-soaked pohutukawa seeds. On my head, pitter patter of the rain. "The more you focus your attention on your inner warmth, the less you will notice the weather,' says Dr Wu.
It was true. My inner warmth was fueled by the sense of this great tree sheltering me like a mother, giving me her refreshing green energy. I was glad I'd ventured out.
'Being outside in the open air, around trees and plants, will surround you with fresh, lively Qi that can be used to nourish the body,' says Dr Wu.
I'm feeling it. Every day my sense of well-being increases, and doing my Tai Chi through the changes of tide and weather keeps me on my toes, aware of the constant flux and flow in this wonderful environment where I live.
The tide is further out each morning now, as I do my Tai Chi by the sea. Rock pools have formed everywhere, as the sea's edge recedes.
A black oyster catcher stalks the edge, watched by a lone gull.
'Stagnant water no good for Tai Chi,' says Dr Wu of the Nine Palaces tradition.
'Does this count as stagnant?' I ask, and hear him say, 'Tide OK. Tide moving all the time, even though appears still.'
Ah- that's good.
Certainly the seabirds are gathering now that the water has drawn back. I can hear molluscs popping and imagine a wealth of tasty morsels just beneath the surface.
Prince Heron hears them too. He stalks elegantly across the rocks to a large pool, claiming it for himself. There he begins a graceful dance: one leg forward, stirring the mud;
second leg forward, stirring a little more,
then spearing downwards to retrieve his trophy.
I'm moving into 'Twisting waist and swing arms' as he does 'Lifting legs and stir mud', and it seems we are doing our Tai Chi together.
Then, who should appear from the right, but Princess Heron, proceeding with perfect deportment to her own pool. There she begins her own, 'Lifting legs, stir mud',
followed by 'Darting beak, find fish'.
Together the three of us do our movements, each in our own little pool of water or light. I am carried into timelessness, and the sky becomes extra wide.
'Flowing water cleanses and brings good fortune and opportunities to those who are nearby,' says Dr. Wu. I am reminded that receding tides expose new choices. Sometimes I complain when I'm not feeling at full surge, or when my writing process reveals snags, flotsam and jetsam, but just look at what is revealed when the flow pulls back.
The herons are harvesting their good fortune, and I am about to harvest mine, with a morning of creative work which, I am confident, will turn dissatisfaction into delight.
Shall I reveal what I discovered, or leave it as a mystery?
I can't resist telling you.
Yesterday I was helping with a Retreat Day, called Setting the Compass (for the new year). It was held in a beautifully renovated church hall, and I had been invited to create a ritual as part of the day. As I wandered around outside, getting the feel of the garden and how it might be used, what should I find but another beautiful 'boat', undulating like a little wave, there on the path. And just like the ones I found when I did my Tai Chi by the sea, it had captured some little shafts that I realised were stamens.
'I wonder where this one has come from?', and then I looked up and saw this beauty: a frosted flower with a vibrant curl of luscious petal, about to fall. 'It's a palm tree!'
But not just any palm tree. I looked up further, and look at this: several rows of cheeky little green bananas, perkily lifting to the sky above, seeking out the sun.
I did rather like to think of the fronds as little boats, that had mysteriously sailed in on the wind and rain. But the truth has equal charm: the flower petals of the banana palm, flying freely down to earth: banana boats, perhaps?
As I contemplated setting my compass for 2012, sailing lightly and imaginatively somehow became part of it.
After enjoying my Tai Chi by the sea, I noticed something on the ground. It looked like a sculpture, a wave of the sea.
Then I found this little vessel, like a tiny raft to sail the waves in.
And another one. Such beautiful gifts from the sea - peelings from some unknown plant, perhaps a leaf frond or a petal, who knows? - and containing these bleached leaves. This is exactly as I found them: a blessing from nature, a perfect discovery after my first Tai Chi by the sea.
Such wonder is always there in the natural world, but sometimes we huddle inside and forget to venture out. When I do, even if the weather is wild and windy, I always find something. I'm always glad.
Tai Chi is best done outside. The whole point of this practice, according to Chinese teachers, is to unite with nature. Dr. Wu, of the Nine Palaces tradition, says that morning is a good time.
At the bach, I had found a good spot, where I felt close to the trees, and yet was sheltered from the wind. As I did my Tai Chi, a tui would come and perch on a nearby branch, or keruru would fly overhead.
Now I'm in town, I needed to find a new spot. And so this morning, the first day without rain this year, I ventured down to the jetty.
Would it be too windy? Dr. Wu says 'A gentle breeze is good, but too much wind will disrupt the chi.' I found a spot that seemed sheltered enough.
The tide was full, and the wind was washing the waves in to shore. 'Keep away from still water,' says Dr Wu. 'Flowing water is good.'
This water was flowing all right. The sound of sloshing waves entered my body as I moved into 'Scooping up the sea', and 'Playing with waves'.
The expanse of sky entered my lungs as I continued with 'Playing with clouds', and 'Spreading one's wings'. I felt I was moving high and free as I did 'Flying like a goose', and I imagined night had fallen as I found myself 'Carrying the Moon.'
By the time I had finished, and gathered all this inspiration into my belly, I felt that the elements had taken residence inside me, giving me all I needed for the day ahead.
I'm still learning this practice, with the help of the video on the website www.taichi18.com. And I'm loving it. My new year resolution is to practice outside as much as I can, and in this way to allow the inspiration of the seasons to flow freely within my body.