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After years of toying around with various martial arts, I started Tai Chi in 1992 with a great teacher in Chicago. I worked with him three years then moved. I couldn’t find a teacher where I was after that, so I kept doing what I had learned and then offered to share it with others. I made sure they knew I was not a teacher but a fellow student. That went on another decade plus. It’s been off and on since moving to Las Cruces.
I’ve made a new commitment. The discipline taught me so much I owed it to myself to return to it. There are life lessons learned through Tai Chi that are of great importance. We know these lessons over time intellectually, but we need a way to learn them inwardly.
That’s the primary lesson Tai Chi taught me. In Tai Chi, we learn a set of movements and postures. But if they don’t become internalized, they are not our form. They are not conformed to our body and our needs. They remain somebody else’s.
If learnings remain “head-knowledge” and do not become “heart-knowledge,” they’re not authentic. We can’t live on borrowed knowledge. It’s like living on borrowed faith. Knowledge must be experiential. We can only be responsible for our own art; we take ownership, or we are doing somebody else’s art. Tai Chi can teach us if we’re willing to learn.
The second lesson is we have only the moment in which we are living, so we must be awake and aware and open to things as they are, not as we imagine or hope them to be. Most of us live alongside our lives, so to speak; we are not fully present at any given moment to the options we have. We may be doing one thing and thinking about something completely different. We live in distractions, particularly in this frenzied culture of 21st century America. We keep thinking there’s something more or other than the moment in which we find ourselves. There isn’t.
The immediacy of Tai Chi can teach us that. We have only the moment in which to act. There is no other moment available.
The third lesson is that we can be simultaneously relaxed and aware. This lesson is hard to learn because it represents a paradox. The secret is that relaxation is not physical flabbiness or loss of concentration. The Chinese term is wu-wei. Wu-wei does not mean non-action so much as it means action which is so natural as to be harmonious with our being, and thus appears effortless. For this to happen we must be aware and present in the moment, yet so relaxed as to be supple and available.
Tai Chi is not something alongside the rest of life. It is not a game for leisure time. It is a discipline that offers lessons for daily, ordinary life. After I had been working with my teacher in Chicago for several years, I was out to lunch with a friend who asked, “What is it you do in Tai Chi?” I said, “Let’s go down to the point on the lake and I’ll show you.”
I went through the form as I knew it. My friend pondered a moment and said, “Tai Chi is all about receiving and letting go. It’s the dance of life.”
I am by no means complete; I’m still learning the dance of life. It’s a long-term calling. If you learn these lessons through other means, and you can, blessings upon you.