Tai Chi for the Modern Mind
You are a busy, important person. You have a job that is demanding and stressful. You have a family that requires your loving attention. You have bills to pay and forms to file. You have events to plan and people to please. You have a schedule that must be followed, and rigidly, lest all falls into chaos.
You have no time for new things. You have all the friends you need, no room and no time for any others. Every day seems to get shorter and shorter, and you seem to be able to get less done. Every day that passes is a shade less satisfying than the previous one. You’re falling behind and don’t know if you’ll ever be able to catch up. So how could you possibly fit in something new?
Am I right? How am I doing so far?
If you are anything like the modern American adult, this description should at least seem familiar, if it doesn’t downright suit you to a T. The pursuit of more and more, as things go by ever faster. The pace of society ramps up while we physically and mentally slow down. It doesn’t seem fair. We seem to always be fighting to catch our breath, constantly running after what we see in front of us, but that which always seems to be just out of reach.
What if I told you that you were doing it wrong?
It’s not the cramming of more and more things in our pockets and events on our calendar that add up to happiness and fulfillment. It’s not speeding up to the break-neck pace of the modern world and staying ahead of the curve that really matters. Life is all about quality, not quantity. A few good years instead of a lifetime of a grueling rat race. Small moments that mean so much stand out against the smear of another year gone way too fast.
This is why you need Tai Chi. Not to speed up, but to slow down. To learn to enjoy the extended breath between moments.
When practicing Tai Chi, time almost seems to stop. Your mind focuses inward and gradually loses the small concerns of daily life. You set your stance and shift your weight. You breathe in and out rhythmically and deep. You move gently through the postures and feel the pull of your body’s energy as it learns to express itself without words.
You begin to have wordless thoughts like: Where is my center of gravity? How can I step and keep smooth balance? What does my internal energy feel like?
Your mind becomes focused on these small matters of form and movement, and forgets its cares of the outside world. Your problems are still there, you are just not attached to them in this moment. Your love and ambition and responsibilities still exist and flourish, but here as you practice, deep inside your head you feel a dark center of dead calm spreading as your inner voice goes silent and effectually learns to un-speak.
You may lose time. You may have many inward thoughts that are unexplainable and come without words. All of it is good. Nothing is bad. Peace comes from knowing that at that time, in that place, you don’t have to be anywhere else, doing anything else. You are practicing letting go. You are practicing oblivion, even if you’re unaware of it.
Tai Chi is a practice of spending time in the NOW. As you move through the postures and feel the energy flowing in your body, there is no room left for the PAST or the FUTURE. The eternal oneness of the present moment begins to sparkle and you feel yourself pressing against the very fabric of the universe. This is how time is written. This is how anything is experienced. It happens NOW, not THEN and certainly not LATER.
As you move through the form, your mental focus follows your movement so that you are always present with what you are doing, while you are doing it. Go slow. Slower than you think you can. Then go slower than that. Move so slowly that you forget what you are doing. That’s perfect. Now you can really be there. Now you can be PRESENT.
Breathe deep and feel light. Forget your body. Forget you are even there. Focus on the feeling of each movement, how it makes you feel inside. As you inhale, imagine that feeling expanding and growing until it takes you over, becomes all that you can feel. You are not IN the movement, you ARE the movement. It’s a subtle shift in perspective, but it makes all the difference.
A wave in the ocean is made up of a volume of water. Who can say where a wave truly begins and ends? The water is not merely part of the wave, but it truly is the wave. It is a medium that transmits the energy created however far away, and for that brief moment that the energy is present, the wave and the energy are one.
This is how you must practice your Tai Chi. You must practice slowly and often, until you can feel the internal presence. You must focus and move in such a way to transmit energy as efficiently as possible through the movements. And you must constantly be aware of how such movements make you feel. This is what will create instinct and muscle memory. The pattern will be present underneath active thought and your mind will be focused and clear like glass.
It does not matter if you are a busy and important person. It does not matter if you feel overwhelmed and feel like you’re drowning in a sea of missed deadlines and personal failures. There is always room to insert a little nothingness into your life. Always time for no time. Drop in deep between the seconds rolling by, and squeeze out a little bit of time for your peace of mind.
Ask yourself: Can you afford to keep going at this pace forever? Wouldn’t you like a little time to breathe and feel empty for once?
Maybe if you caught your breath and cleared your mind, things wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe you would gain the energy and clarity to catch yourself up and do the things you want to do. Maybe a little peace inside your head would make you a better person to those that you care about.
It is often thought that to achieve peace we must let go of everything external. This causes many people to fear they will have nothing left, nothing to hold onto. But wouldn’t that be freeing, just for once? To have no thoughts and fears and wants and expectations? To just feel and be, without judgement?
It is not so much a process of cutting ties as it is one of understanding. We cannot cut our fears and anxieties loose, for they will just return. It’s not about letting go forever. What we need to learn is the process of letting go, for this is a continual endeavor.
And it starts anew each time we bow and begin.
Michael Sandham is the owner of Shaolin Martial Arts in Lakeway, TX where he teaches Kung Fu and Tai Chi to all kinds of people. Secretly, he wishes he was a superhero.
Find him at:
2009 Ranch Rd 620 N Ste 740
Austin, TX 78734