Tuesday, April 30, 2013

None of My Business

There is an old saying that goes: Tend to your own knitting. This means that you need to take an interest in your own affairs and not be so keen to work on other people. When I first started learning Tai Chi and Qigong I was out to save the world with this powerful new set of tools that would revolutionize the way I experienced life. I was zealously working to spread the Tai Chi gospel of good health, long life, and strange nigh mystical powers to the whole wide world. In other words I had become an insufferable boor. 

The hard truth to accept is that many people do not want to hear about Tai Chi. They are comfortable with other forms of exercise or they have a paradigm that includes a different treatment protocol than what someone who embraces qigong and Chinese medicine would use. It took me many years to realize that this is ok.

There are in fact many cases where people like their illnesses and are defined by them. If those illnesses are taken away then a large portion of their personality is stripped away from them. I suppose the Buddhists were say that it is their Karma to experience such illness. The hardest thing in the world is to simply allow people to be and to accept them for who they are without judgement. I have been working with this concept a lot lately. 

When I teach martial arts one big thing that I often stress is you cannot control what your opponent does. You can however control your response to the attack. You have to accept the attack as it is. You do not fight against it. You have to flow with it or apply force at a point of your choosing. Never let your opponent dictate your actions and do not rely on your opponent reacting a certain way. In short you need to be open to what is actually happening and not thinking about your martial art, your plans, your ideas, your wishes about what the opponent is going to do.

There is a Daoist saying that says one should be like water. Beneficial but not pushy. Water sits in a pool or in a fountain and does not run and leap into a thirsty person's mouth. Water is passive but ever so powerful and beneficial. When we accept that there is only our life and our bodies and minds that we can control then we are in a place of power to be useful to the world just like water. When someone wants or needs help you provide it without being pushy. Otherwise it's none of your business...

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Courage of Early Morning

Napoleon supposedly said that the courage of early morning is the rarest courage of all. This is an interesting sentiment. I have always been a morning person. I enjoy waking up and working out. However there have always been people in my life for whom waking up seemed almost painful. Like some shocking dump into a nightmare world from the safety of dreams. Why is this?

I have several pet theories on this subject. One of which is that sleep is an escape from a life that one is unhappy with. We are all in prisons that we have created. Bad relationships, fears, phobias, illnesses and our response is to run away from these things. We have become very adroit escape artists each and every one of us. We fear a thousand million things we hide ourselves in the cloak of our anxieties. This is one of the supreme benefits of Tai Chi practice. 

Tai Chi forces us to be present. To be aware, to sit in the mind and the body observing what is happening. It forces us to feel and to be authentic and in the moment if it is real Tai Chi. It could just be a slow motion dance and that is cool too if you enjoy it but I think it is a nobler thing to pursue the warrior path in Tai Chi training. That we work to understand ourselves and the world around us and to blend harmoniously with that world in a spirit of loving cooperation rather than a controlling desire to manipulate outcomes. 

Alan Watts once said that the essence of power is trust. In order to be truly powerful we drop our carefully honed defenses and allow ourselves to trust. Trusting is a hard thing to do but if you drive a car then you do it all the time. You trust other drivers to know the rules and obey them in at least some half assed way. You trust that the little lines on the road are effective barriers to enforce safe traffic behavior. So if you can trust yourself and others to the point that you move around on freeways in large metal containers going roughly one mile per minute then why not trust yourself in other things? Look at the world not as you would like it to be but as it is currently. Only when you know exactly what is there can you decide what you want to do with it. Try this exercise. Observe your life for one week without judging any of it. Nothing is good or bad it simply is. Write this stuff down. There are no mistakes or wrong answers. No punishments need be levied nor rewards doled out. Try to change nothing. Just observe it. 

After your week of observation then you know exactly where you are. Now you can effectively look at changing the situation if that is what you would like.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Tai Chi Game

Tai Chi is an exercise, yes. Tai Chi has many benefits, yes. Tai Chi is much more important than these two things however. Tai Chi is a game. It is the game of getting to know your mind and body and relaxing into who and what you are. In Tai Chi we first learn drills and movements and those are good useful things but we go beyond those things after a bit and begin using the mind to influence the physical attributes and perceptions of the body.

This is where the cool stuff starts to happen. How can you receive a larger person's full bodyweight and not be knocked over? How can you explode energy outward and throw someone with extremely little effort? How can you learn to meet an attack whether emotional, mental, or physical with total relaxation and security in the fact that you will be safe? How can you learn to trust your body to do what needs to be done at the appropriate time without micromanagement?

The answer to all of these questions lies in learning genuine Tai Chi from a good teacher. There is nothing mystical about these skills. They are a part of every single human being. We don't need to fight but we do need to learn the martial tricks of Tai Chi in order to foster a better relationship with our minds and bodies. Meditation and yoga are fine tools for this purpose as well but because I am often quite skeptical Tai Chi worked better for me because there is an automatic feedback device. Need to know if a posture is correct? Have a partner push on you. Are you really relaxed? Play some push hands. These things provide reality checks beyond just our internal feelings and they are also a tremendous part of the game. So come on let's play.