“Remain calm but hold your head high and let your strong spirit show through your eyes.” We were in Tai Chi class, learning some of the principles that underlie that discipline. The instructor demonstrated for us. An absolutely perfect form, with head held only slightly low, and no energy shining from the eyes looked a bit like a zombie performing. There was quite a difference between a perfect form enacted calmly but without spirit, and a perfect form enacted calmly with spirit. That lesson can carry over into life. To do whatever action we are called to do with confidence (head high) and spirit (alive and aware) greatly enhances the chances of success and contributes generally to our well-being.
For example, it is important to prepare for a job interview. Yet, no matter how much one may have prepared, engaging in the interview in a diffident manner, not making confident eye contact with the interviewer, hesitating while giving answers – even good answers – drastically reduces the chances of being offered the job. Engaging with confidence and spirit enhances one’s chances. Or, a parent who is finding it difficult to control a demanding or rambunctious child can find his or her calm slipping away, resulting in an angry outburst. When the calm has gone, it is useless to try to control the child except through fear and violence, which is only the semblance of control. Most of us have experienced this at least once, especially when exhausted. The principle of calm, with held high and spirit showing has broad applications.
“How can I hold my head high and show confidence when I am weighed down by responsibilities and feel I am not able to meet the demands required of me?” one might ask. “It is easy to do this in a Tai Chi class, where I am not the responsible party and Tai Chi is all there is to accomplish there.” The answer lies in the secret which an artist might call negative spaces. In art, the image is created by the negative spaces around it. When the form is provided, the essence fills it. Even if one does not feel confident, the straightening of posture, the raising of the head and looking out upon the world as if one were its friend and equal evoke a confident feeling to fill the space those actions create. At first, it may seem like playacting. But practicing the playacting over time will build the feelings and attitudes one is trying to establish.
We live in a world that can be difficult and chaotic. Stress, anxiety and depression are increasingly noted across all categories of people. Sometimes it seems difficult to continue in an unfamiliar world or an unfamiliar situation. We do not have to succumb to these things. Again, the discipline of calm mind, head high and strong spirit oppose anxiety and depression and maintain balance in chaos. We can choose to stay centered, wherever we are. Yes, it takes practice, but so does any worthy endeavor. Calm mind, head high and strong spirit are available to all.
It seems to me that the practice is worth it. It is worth it in Tai Chi class, and it is worth it as I try to negotiate my life. It is worth it for feeling better and accomplishing more of what I want to do. No, I am not a master of the discipline. But it is worth it to keep on trying.
I wish us all the balance and centeredness, the calm and confidence, strength and insight that we need. The world is growing, and we are growing with it. The combined direction of our becoming will influence the nature of the changes in our world. May those changes be ones that facilitate the life and well-being of ourselves and of the creatures, plant and animal, with which we share our planet.