in the space between
in the space between
A robin hops around the lawn
scooping up insects disturbed by
the recent passing of a lawnmower.
Not wanting to interrupt his feast
with tai chi,
I sit on a nearby bench
My practise becomes
scold the approaching darkness.
Getting close to nature.
Evening tai chi practice
interrupted by a hedgehog.
A rushing kind of a day
Deep within the demands of work
So I concentrate
Get things done
And forget myself
Now it’s evening and
I peel myself away from the TV
Put on some music
Slow down into
An hour later
Reawoken to the truth
That if I slow down
Underneath the rush
Below the fear, the fuss, the resistance
Peace is always waiting
said the monkey mind
‘that I think too much’.
And she scampers off busily
up thought trees tangled
Narratives twisting towards the light
thrusting up strange blooms,
every shade of the emotional rainbow.
Curious to know more,
the monkey scampers on.
the voice chattering away
in the jungle of my mind.
Does that monkey ever sleep?
Can you find the stillness in movement?
Not by searching, but by the experience
of becoming aware of your body
as you move through this world.
Not by trying, but by doing.
At home within yourself,
not striving, not searching,
not analysing, not judging,
until you sense the stillness within.
Tension is who you think you should be,
Relaxation is who you are.
So they say, and I would agree
And I have practiced being relaxed, and gone deep in that practice.
Despite knowing, in my body, in my mind
How good relaxation feels,
In my daily life tension still wins.
At work, behind a computer,
Trying to get things done, getting irritated by the little things,
Or worrying, or wondering why it’s just not all done better, or quicker.
My muscles tighten as my mind tightens.
This is the real me in so many moments of my life,
The me with tension.
And to relax requires an effort of will, a decision, a choice.
It’s a choice I fail to make, over and over again.
I’ve just come back from tai chi class
And I feel great
The feeling will carry over into tomorrow
Then it will gradually dissolve back into tension and forgetfulness
Using too much effort, and trying too hard.
One of these days I’ll make a different choice.
Until then, tension is who I am, relaxation is who I am not allowing myself to be.
Sometimes I wonder, as I practice tai chi,
Just why I keep going,
What I’m achieving
It is me, coming back to the choice between tension and relaxation.
Learning to choose relaxation in each moment,
So that one day I will truly be able to say
That relaxation is who I am.
Doing tai chi while imagining the air is like water, as if you are doing tai chi under water, is a way of deepening relaxation.
Imagining, as I move, that the air feels like water.
My arms float,
My body is supported.
If I concentrate, I can feel the air like water against my back.
My legs; heavy.
Movement becomes more deliberate,
The sense of the air like water surrounding me
Filling in behind me as I move forward.
I become aware of all of the surfaces of my arm as it moves into posture,
The movement of my arm through space.
I try to expand my awareness to my whole body,
To feel the air like water touching every part of me,
Don’t quite get there,
Still sensing my body as individual parts; hand, arm, leg, back.
This is my practice today;
Air like water.
This year, I want to spend more time in my body
And less time in my head.
Listening, relaxing, softening
Being here now,
In this present moment,
Breaking the habit of a lifetime.
Happy New Year.
‘First you must learn the principle, then cultivate it. Become soft and you will be less fearful, which will make you softer still, and then fearless. This is real, a person can achieve this’. Professor Cheng Man-ching
I am not a natural at tai chi.
Tai chi is all about being relaxed, soft, centred, body aligned, energy flowing freely.
When I started tai chi, relaxation definitely wasn’t my way of being. I was an anxious child, an introvert who found the world could be a daunting place. By my early twenties, I appeared to be functioning OK on the outside, but I’d stopped being aware of my body, tension was my habitual way of being. Eventually my body rebelled against the straightjacket it was in, and I started having panic attacks. Desperate for some relief, I decided to try out a tai chi class.
At the time, I was fairly sceptical about it all. A friend who had been to a few classes told me that she could feel a force between her hands – ‘chi’. I wasn’t convinced. But I was interested in martial arts, having done a couple of years of tae kwon do, and I’d been reading about zen buddhism and meditation, tried sitting meditation once or twice but my mind raced and I just felt more anxious. I’d been to a yoga class but that wasn’t for me. And I had to do something to help me relax.
So, at that first tai chi class, the teacher walked round the class and stopped behind me and said ‘relax your shoulders. Let them drop.’ I, having tuned out from my body, had no idea that my shoulders were perpetually raised and hunched. I let them drop. What a relief! I also remember having to stand for a while in the ‘bear’ posture, with my arms held out at shoulder height as if they were around a barrel. Focusing on the tension in my arms, shoulders and belly, and letting it go. Wonderful. And chi gung, moving my arms in time with my breath, breathing from the belly. My mind quietened down, distracted by the movements I was performing. In that first class, I certainly didn’t feel any force between my hands, but I did feel so much better afterwards.
The relaxation didn’t last long, the old tensions and habitual way of holding myself returned almost immediately. But now I knew there was a way out. I was hooked.
I went to those classes for about 6 months, and during that time I noticed that whenever I had a panic attack, my stomach muscles were completely tense, and I was not breathing from my belly. They were so tense that I couldn’t get them to relax. During the day they’d been getting tenser and tenser and then seemingly from nowhere, a panic attack.
At this time I moved to another part of the country to try and find a job, did voluntary work for a while. Then I did get the job that I wanted. The panic attacks continued, still horrible to experience but I was better at calming myself down, thanks to those tai chi lessons. I didn’t find another class for several years. But from time to time I’d do the exercises, particularly when I was feeling stressed.
And then I started regular classes again, and over the years I became aware of more and more bits of my body that were tense, uncoordinated, unaligned, disconnected. I still didn’t feel any magical chi between my hands, but after every class, every session of practice on my own, I felt so much better.
I’ve been practicing, on and off, for nearly 25 years. Yet still I discover tension in my body, like the layers of an onion, one layer of tension peels away only to discover another underneath. I’ve still not quite got the postures right, as occasional sore knees reveal. I can’t visualise the top of my head, hanging from a thread suspended from heaven, an idea that helps with the correct, upright posture. I can still feel uncoordinated, I still bump into things, I still get tense. I don’t have panic attacks any more though.
I sometimes feel a force (the chi?) between my hands. I sometimes feel it in my belly. I usually feel warm, and heavy and content when I practise tai chi. Although also I get annoyed and irritated that I still can’t do it right. And I keep going. Because always after I practise, I feel so much better.