Transformation is a big word that relates to big change. I feel like I’ve experienced it over the last few days. I’m not talking about my three years of post-surgery with the weight loss and regeneration of physical fitness. Here’s what took place.
After the great Taoist Tai Chi International Workshop I attended in Miami in February, I decided I wanted to do even more work toward improving my tai chi. So, I signed up for a weekend workshop on Women and the Taoist Tai Chi Arts, followed by part of a five day workshop. These workshops took place up on the west coast of Florida, led by top level people in the Taoist Tai Chi Society. Top level as in they studied with Master Moy, the man who created this style of Tai Chi and the other arts connected with it. Learning from the knowledge they shared, receiving corrections personally or observing them work with others was simply an amazing educational experience. I am internalizing what I learned, applying it to my practice and feeling myself improve.
But why do I think the experience was transformational? Was it really so remarkable that I feel like I was transformed? Yes, but not in one big, hit-by-a-lightning-bolt-from-the-blue. I can compare it to Tai Chi itself. We talk of doing a set which is a sequence of 108 moves arranged in a specific flowing order. When we first start taking classes, we learn the set move by move by move. Commencement of Tai Chi followed by left grasp bird’s tail, followed by grasp bird’s tail, followed by single whip and so forth.
Each move is important. Each has many elements. Even the simplest looking move incorporates complexities. When someone watches Tai Chi, it might look simple, but it isn’t. Trust me. After we learn the full sequence and practice awhile, eventually we stop thinking of the whole by listing the individual parts and, hopefully, finishing each and automatically flowing into the next and the next and the next after.
In the workshop we worked on key things that are important to the overall ways in which we do Tai Chi. We look for balance, alignment, stacking our bones, dropping down and rising up. Those are a few. Often, the instructor picks foundation exercises and has us work on them. Sometimes it seems like the practice is endless on one or two exercises done over and over and over again. They might follow that by selecting a move from the set that includes that exercise or exercises and then we do them over and over and over. While we do so, the instructors move around, offering corrections to individual students and sometimes stopping the entire class while something is demonstrated as an example that all of us can see.
I received some individual corrections over the four and a half days that might seem simple if described, but which created great improvement in all of my Tai Chi. The corrections might appear to be small, but oh the changes to which they can lead. I won’t describe the corrections. To do so would involve a lot of explanation that would easily be confusing to someone who doesn’t practice Tai Chi. So hopefully you’ll just trust me on this. Instead, I’d like to describe the experience of the results.
Monday night, after a 12 hour day of strenuous, repetitive practice, I returned to my hotel room and needed a warm bath, a couple of Ibuprofen and some Arnical gel on my joints. Even with that trio of treatments, I ached. My knees were tired, sore and, quite probably, inflammed. I had great difficulty even falling asleep!
When I woke up, I didn’t know how on earth I’d make it through another day of Tai Chi, but I soldiered on. That morning, we started out day by doing two complete sets from start to finish. I focused on all the adjustments I’d learned in the previous days and did my best to include them in the way that I did the moves.
I should point out that the instructors frequently remind us to smile when doing Tai Chi. Honestly, I think most of the time, we then rearrange our faces into grimace-like expressions meant to look like we’re smiling. We’re uncomfortable and think that we’re faking. Honestly, it’s not that we’re unhappy or suffering. Our tendency is to concentrate and focus, determined to “do it perfectly”. Conversely, the instructors want us to smile because smiling relaxes us.
During the second set that morning, the instructor again encouraged us to “let it go”, to “enjoy”, and, of course, “to smile”. Something in the way that she said “let it go”, translated itself to my body and how I was doing the set. I was using all that I’d learned in my set that morning. I was relaxed, moving with grace, finding my balance in difficult moves that I’d struggled with. It was amazing and all of a sudden, I felt better than I ever have when doing the set. I couldn’t contain my inner happiness, so it bubbled out of me into a broad smile.
No fake, grimace, but a true blue, genuine smile. I continued through to the end of the set with a big grin on my face and pure joy glowing inside. When we finished the set with a bow, I breathed my thanks to the instructors, to the man who developed this form, to all who practiced it in Florida and around the world. I thought to myself that I always wanted my Tai Chi to feel the way that it did in that moment. I felt forever changed. Transformed.
Suffice it to say, my Tai Chi probably won’t always go that great. I’ll fumble or need to check my balance with a prop foot, but it won’t matter. I know how it is supposed to feel, how great it can feel, and will be able to tap into that whenever I need to.
It’s a fine life-lesson, this. Transformation doesn’t need the magic, all-at-once event. It can be created by putting a series of small changes into place, refining the individual moments, and then opening ourselves up to the joy.