The morning I wrote this post, I took a Tai Chi class. I find this practice challenging in a different way than I’m used to with yoga. Every time I have taken a class – only a handful of times – I try my best to “get” the movement of the energy and enjoy it.
I’m not that great at it. My mind is too focused on getting it right and not allowing the flow to happen. I get glimpses, where I feel the energy and simply allow the movements, but most of the time I’m looking at the instructor in the mirror and wondering, should I have my elbow up higher? In Waving Hands Like Clouds, does my hand pass by my face or my throat? How far out should my foot be turned? Should I be inhaling or exhaling?
Intellectually, I know that the idea is really to feel the energy and move it around. And I can do that. But not usually at the same time that I am trying to learn a precise action. I get stuck between being in the flow, and being correct. This is a common problem with our minds.
There is value in learning precise action, too. I have deeply appreciated accuracy and one-pointed focus in the practice of yoga and martial arts. In the beginning, there’s a big learning curve when you are trying to get all the fundamental actions down, so that you can be in the flow. It’s just like learning a piece of music – you have to drill each measure over and over until it is natural and automatic. Then, you can gradually increase your speed and play with fluidity.
However, sometimes life is calling for us to be in the flow. We don’t have time to master the minutiae, when in this moment we are being asking to stop and be present. This is what I was faced with in Tai Chi class today. Given that I’m not going to get all the details down, and that trying to do so really distracts me from feeling everything, can I simply let go and feel the flow?
Not really. No, I just wasn’t going to give up on the hopeless task of trying to mimic the teacher precisely. My attachment to exacting detail stood firmly between me and just feeling the flow.
But the teacher gave us some time to let all that go. We stood with our hands together, and then played with the energy between our hands, pulling them out slowly, and moving them back in. That was something I could let go into. For a few minutes, I simply let myself be in the flow of that energy moving in and out, swirling around, my hands drawn towards each other like magnets and then pulling them away.
On the spiritual path, that’s the paradox – it is necessary both to discipline our mind, cultivating one-pointed attention, and simultaneously to let go and allow the process to happen. Paradoxes are particularly difficult to embrace. We want concrete answers, exact directions, and a clear path to our goal. But life, and awakening, doesn’t happen that way. We are asked to embrace Order and Chaos simultaneously – and ultimately to transcend them both in pure Consciousness.
Well, I don’t anticipate that I’ll be able to do that in Tai Chi for a while. But that’s OK. It is a good reminder for me in my meditations, on my yoga mat, and in my life that I need to stay grounded in the detail, while being in the flow of the mystery. And so can you.