Tai Chi and Apocalypse

Turning on the news, I learn that history begins at breakfast. Four horsemen trumpet apocalypse: conquest, war, famine and death. Yesterday’s news has been eclipsed. “Life is changing fast,” I murmur. “Can’t keep up.”

The Four Horsemen: conquest, war, famine, and death.

“Four Horsemen of Apocalypse by the Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov (1887)

At a vista in Canyonlands National Park, I see that history began long before the slow changes that sculpted this wilderness of pinnacles, canyons and rivers. The rocks I stand on were once ocean. The four horsemen from the last book of the New Testament hadn’t been created.

In this scale, whatever legacies that ancient races left behind are lost in the detritus of petroglyphs and ruins—symbols of greatness and transience. I feel myself disappearing into the breath of the wind.

To steady myself, I start the slow movements of tai chi. The roots of the juniper and pinon coil downwards, forging pathways into sandstone. In the chalky dirt, I move carefully around the petrified logs of a pine forest that existed some 200 million years ago. The cataclysm that buried it happened quickly; yet the processes that mineralized the wood occurred particularly slowly.

Petrified wood

Petrified wood and juniper trees are sometimes found together in Canyonlands National Park. Photo by Hanna Flagg.

Tai chi slows down my internal rhythms and grounds me into this present moment. The twin forests of death and rebirth at my feet remind me about the yin and yang cycles of change and the rhythms of fast and slow time. These will continue beyond any future I can project.

Although change is scarcely in my control, my response to it shapes the person I am.

If this wilderness, in its pristine and natural disarray, had not been preserved so that I could visit and quiet myself down, it would be more difficult not to give in to primal bewilderment.

History would always begin at breakfast. Visits of the four horsemen would fill me with dread. I would hoard my treasures, arm myself with guns, and guard my larders full of food and water. Greed and loneliness would become constant companions.

Instead, I return home purged of meanness. My enthusiasm and curiosity are restored. I have recovered equilibrium.

I continue teaching tai chi to family and friends to help them stay healthy and quell anxiety. I advise them to consume less; conserve more; seek the wild lands; and shun companies that sell death.

I write what I care about. My heart follows a path of peace.

It’s what I can do.

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