I went to a two day International Workshop for Taoist Tai Chi this weekend. The instructor trained with the master that originated the set that we do in this form and has practiced it for more than 30 years. He says he’s close to 60. If that’s the case, then he is a walking advertisement for the health benefits of practicing this soft martial art. Not only does he not appear to have any of the aches, pains or normal things that affect us when we get older, but he also doesn’t look older than 35.
I derived a number of benefits from this weekend. We had three sessions on Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m. and ending around 10 p.m. with lengthy breaks for lunch and dinner. On Sunday we returned for another 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. session. It’s a lot of Tai Chi for sure, but if you were there watching you could be excused for being bored watching 100 people do the same few things over and over and over and over and over and . . . you get the idea.
This was my first time attending an International Workshop and it wasn’t quite what I expected. On Saturday, it seemed like the instructor did more talking than showing – which isn’t what we’re used to in our regular classes where there is comparatively little chatter and explanation but repeated demonstration of the moves.
Honestly, I started to get really impatient by lunch time. Internally, I felt myself getting out of sorts and borderline annoyed. It was ironic to me that we were spending so much time talking about the importance of being balanced in our movements when the program appeared to be so out of balance between actually doing Tai Chi and yacking about it.
Just the fact that I characterized it in my head as “yacking” shows that I was feeling sort of pissy and diminished what was being said. Had I kept on with that attitude, I would have been in for a miserable weekend.
At some point, I moved from annoyance to acceptance. The workshop would be what it would be, I decided, and told myself to get what I could from it when I could. I turned off my internal bitching and opened myself up to whatever teaching was offered.
I’m so glad that I did. When I got out of my own head and stayed in the moment, I found wisdom and insight all around. As Saturday progressed, I saw that while we weren’t overall as actively engaged in doing moves from the set, we did plenty and what we did advanced our understanding and improved how we physically performed the moves. Maybe we focused mostly on two foundation moves but the instructor showed us again how those two moves are part of almost every move in the entire set. If we didn’t see it for ourselves right off, we sure did when we did an entire set with the instructor constantly pointing it out to us as we did our moves.
One thing we talked a lot about was expansion and contraction. While the instructor wanted us to remember to expand and contract physically, I realized that my understanding had also expanded. The awareness was so strong that it infused every movement. When we did the set for a second time, with the focus on expanding and contracting and finishing each move before flowing into the next, time wise we slowed down, but the benefits were ever present. I felt the good cardio effects as if I’d been taking a very brisk walk. My entire body felt oxygenated in a way that I’d not experienced before with Tai Chi. This was simply amazing.
From that point on, after experiencing that and the realization, all of my annoyance and impatience evaporated. I truly was open to whatever happened. I stopped gnawing on things mentally and just opened myself to it all.
In so doing, I kept learning. We must have done a few hundred Wave Hands Like Clouds, but I was never bored. I remained intently focused on the elliptical up and down, the weight shifts, and the timing of the steps. It was great, just working it all into that one move.
At the end of the first long day when I got back to my hotel room, I was mentally and physically exhausted, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what I learned. I took so much away from the process, realizing that I need to be willing to give up the upset when something isn’t what I expected or plans don’t unfold the way that I wanted. There are whole other ways that life events can occur, ways over which I have no control, but they aren’t bad. They just are — and when I open to them, great personal growth can occur. Living in that kind of acceptance doesn’t mean lying down while someone flattens you with a heaving roller. It means expanding from within to make room for whatever experience life offers.
It also reduces stress, discontent, annoyance, impatience and, did I mention, s-t-r-e-s-s?
I know that acceptance is often the answer, but knowing and putting it into practice are often at two equal and opposite ends. It’s really good when the knowing and praticing come together.