“Try to catch this pen,” Tyler says, cross-legged on the cliffside wooden deck. He tosses a pen toward me. I catch it.
“No. I said try to catch the pen.” He tosses it again. I try. I miss.
“Good. Now catch this pen.” He tosses. I catch.
“Now don’t catch this pen.” He tosses. I sit still as it falls to the floor.
“In Tai Chi, we don’t try. We do. Tai Chi means ‘Gentle Breath' and in this practice we focus on connecting with the breath. The breath is the force of life and is fluid, like water. Thus, as we connect with the breath we connect with water. Let’s begin.” He stands up and slowly raises his hands in a circle until they meet above his head, drawing a halo of clear, blue water from the ocean that is the backdrop to our training.
We in a beautiful retreat center on the north side of the St. Thomas island called Spirit on the Water. The lower deck we stand on creates a feeling of being suspended above the glittering Pacific as one sees only water and small islands all around. This is where have been called to listen to Water for the next three weeks. And we begin.
We follow Tyler’s lead in the integrated breath exercise by inhaling deeply and allowing our arms to rise in a moon-like fashion from our sides. As our hands meet above our heads, we exhale slowly, keeping our hands open to each other as our arms fall in a straight column down to our navel. We repeat. The exercise is intended to ground ourselves to the energy of the space.
After several integrated breaths we proceed to our first waterbending technique; push and pull, one of Aang’s first. Beginning with our hands at our sides we inhale deeply and bring our hands up in front of us, as if raising a column of water. After an exhale while holding our arms out in front around neck-height, we exhale softly then inhale again and pull our hands in horizontally toward our neck before exhaling and pushing our hands down to our waist, as if pushing the column of water down. We repeat.
Standing on the edge of the deck, surrounded on all sides by the vastness and depth of the ocean, we repeat. We pull. We hold. We push. And slowly it feels as though the energy of the ocean enters this cycle, raises to our hands as we pull, enters our body as we hold and passes through as we push. Slowly, it feels as though there is no separation between ourselves and the sea. Slowly, it feels as though we become the sea. We lose our separation.
And suddenly, I am not alone. All of the anxieties and fears and doubts I carry and hold within myself are offered up to the ocean like so much loose flotsam to be swept away. I offer myself up to the vast depth of the ocean’s embrace let it pass through me. I offer myself up to the sea and am cleaned anew.
Water, indeed, is the element of healing.