by Alan Cormack
A hot summer's evening. Even the open double doors at the rear of the Friends' Meeting House don't bring enough air into it. After the first class Gail suggests moving into the garden, it's green and airy, with grass, an old, gnarled apple tree and flower beds full of summer flowers. Kahlil and I look at each other. We've been sitting in a square of straight chairs, on the brown polished floor, in the tidy, alternative church atmosphere, feeling the in and out breath, stilling the mind, moving into "spacious awareness", before beginning the Long Form. Now we're ready to do a few more exercises.
"Try and keep in the same space. Feel where your mind is. Does it reach down with the hands as you do? Or does it manage to stay in the centre?"
The grass is springy underneath my feet. The mauve daisies, smiling from the flower bed, give an irresistible urge to put an extra twiddle into the exercise, rolling my arms at the top of the in-breath, to feel a spontaneous flow of energy.
"Try and keep it nice and even. Move together with the arms and waist. Don't let the breath become forced. Try and let it flow naturally."
My mind tightens at the string of instructions. Perhaps it's all a kind of subtle practice at keeping relaxed when the mad axe-man is rushing you. Perhaps if you practise grasping things often enough your mind becomes so tired that you can't do it any longer. Thankfully I stop swinging my waist in time to my breathing, allowing my hands to slide down my legs towards the daisies. Relentlessly Gail begins another exercise.
"Oh look! Look!"
Out of the corner of my eye I see him, all young fox, lean and rangy, clean russet brown, not like his elders who have spent a lifetime living out of dustbins. Everybody freezes. Our eyes move with him, as slowly, casually, he saunters round the garden, his nose to the ground, sniffing delicately. As slowly as we can, we twist and turn our bodies, to follow his progress, as he slides into the flower bed, picking up some long forgotten morsel of bonemeal. The open meeting-room doors attract him. Slowly he sticks his nose into them, torn between wild caution and youthful curiosity. But he is so young the curiosity overwhelms him. He sidles in a few paces and picks up one of Kahlil's trainers. The shoe is too heavy for him and drops with a clatter on the wooden floor. Like a spring he jumps back into the open spaces. Then his young mind frees up and he tiptoes back in again.
Hidden behind a trellis in the next door garden, a dog lets out a deep throated bark. The fox is back out in an instant and stands, bat-ears pricking. Silence. Kahlil lowers himself, squatting, so that the fox can come forward and sniff him. But it's not that young and naive. It chooses to turn and sit upright under the apple tree, looking like an ancient picture of an Egyptian greyhound, translated into fox, its ears alert, facing the next door garden. Once again we begin our exercises.
"Rover! What's the matter with you? Your bone's still under the tree!" A woman begins shouting.
Leisurely, with a hint of urgency, not wanting to be seen in a panic, the fox heads for the far side of the garden, pauses, looking back, not at us, but at his enemy.
"Shows you how good Tai Chi is" Roy says quietly.
The Fox smiles and hurries away through a hole in the fence, Gail's fingers flicker a farewell to him.