Mountaintop Tai Chi on Ben Hope

I love sleeping high at this time of year. From the vantage point of a summit the pink glow of a midsummer sunset never quite disappears, it just slides along the horizon until the dregs of sunset become the first glimmers of the next day’s sunrise.

I took a trip up to the far north last week. In the afternoon I made a quick ascent of Ben Klibreck, then, after enjoying a meal of homemade dehydrated food at my car (the glamour!), shouldered my pack for an evening ascent of Ben Hope, the most northerly of Scotland’s Munros (a Munro is a peak over 3000 ft). I reached the top around 2030 hrs, pitched my tent just north of the summit and settled in for a memorable night.

Conditions were tremendous, with atmospheric shifting cloud giving way overnight to a bright and sunny morning. It can be tricky to do a tai chi form on the uneven ground of a mountain summit, but there is always space to do some standing exercises. I passed a pleasant morning in tai chi and meditation before the lack of water drove me back down off the hill.

During the descent I attempted to rationalise the tremendous feeling of wellbeing and connectedness engendered by my mountaintop tai chi session.

First of all let’s elaborate on the concept of chi. I’m a scientist, and early on my tai chi journey I had difficulty accepting my teacher’s statements about this amorphous, unmeasurable energy. But as my practise deepened I began to experience the feeling of chi flowing in my body.

I like this definition from Wolfe Lowenthal’s ‘There Are No Secrets’, in which chi is part metaphor, part physiological reality.

“In Tai Chi we try to relax in order to open up to the flow of the chi. Chi is transcendent energy, the life force…….. Chi relates to the circulation of the blood, but also to the energy of thought and spirit.”

Lowenthal goes on to quote Cheng Man-Ch’ing as saying

“The chi that flows in our bodies is the same chi that moves the stars in the heavens.”

This fits well with the eastern concept of the illusion of separateness, the idea that all things are connected. We are not distinct, independent entities navigating our way through an inert environment. In reality we are best understood as manifestations of the wonderful and mysterious unfolding universe of which we are part.  It is easy to ignore or deny this truth. But is much harder to do so when you are doing tai chi on the top of a mountain.

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