If you wake up particularly early and mosey down to your favourite park, you may notice a sea of small brown bumps on the lawn. Molehills, you might think, but no. You put on your spectacles, and moles come into focus; moles bent over double and wagging their tails. Maybe, as you wipe the early morning mist from your lenses, you see one bump that is rather less brown the others, rather more grey. That mole is me. This is a Qi Gong class.
Yesterday, we added an exercise to our repertoire: balancing teacups. Perhaps you know it? You hold a paw in front of you as if the answers to a tricky question were inscribed on its palm; but in fact you are imagining a teacup balancing in it. You then spiral the paw inwards towards your body and under your armpit and over your head until it is returned to its original position.
I got myself into a terrible pickle, and would have had a sodden, tea-stained pelt had the cup and the tea truly been there. And this is only stage one.
This feeling of bewilderment stirred a memory, not a distant one either, although it began some time ago. It was as if my mind was somehow not being able to curl itself around an idea or something seen, and then translate it into a physical movement.
Handling a bell is one thing: learning its weight, its behaviour, how to raise it onto the balance, and lower it safely, how to control the strokes into a steady rhythm. It took me long enough but I never felt I wouldn’t get there providing I persevered. But then came the counting, remembering what place I was in and, layered onto that, memorising the method – a graph of the pattern the bell is following. I can almost feel the lights go off in one part of the brain when I am required to illuminate another, as if my circuitry will only allow for one light at a time.
Countless young moles have joined the band since I began. Fearlessly, they go for the ropes and overtake me within months. They race through the learning stage, heaping complexity on complexity with their zippy neural pathways.
I have to confess that for a long time I felt my poor old moleheart sink. And I still harbour a faint candlepower hope that one day it will all fall into place.
On the other hand, perhaps not.
But although my cerebral flexibility may have gone, my curiosity hasn’t. Nor has the joy of the whole extraordinary evolution of ringing, or my awe of the enormous bells, or the company of the band.
As for Qi Gong, there are layers and layers of delicious meanings that are accessible to a curious and determined mind. And maybe one day I will be able to spiral my tea cup, or even two – brimful with hot tea.