Relaxing with High Spirit

Relaxing with High Spirit

We are practicing “sensing/pushing hands” in Tai Chi class. This exercise involves recognizing through the slightest energy movements of one’s partner just what move that partner is about to make, and then redirecting it away from one’s center of balance (root).  Each partner is trying to sense and redirect the other, simultaneously.   The exercise sounds simple, but it is not very easy.

“Relax,” says our instructor.  One cannot do the sensing from a state of tension.  “Keep your spirit high,” we are urged.  When the spirit is high, one is alert, aware.  We keep trying to find an optimal balance.

Trouble is, most of us are wired to tense up when we perceive a challenge, either a contest or a threat.  We get ready to fight or flee.  We are highly alert, and definitely not relaxed.  On the other hand, most of us tend to lose alertness as we grow more and more relaxed.  We space out or even drift into light sleep.  We are very relaxed, and not very aware.  Sensing hands requires us to be both at the same time.

Tai Chi teaches to not resist a challenge or attack.  Instead, we yield and redirect the energy away from us.  We don’t force it away; we simply move in such a way that the force of the presumed attack cannot reach our center of balance or harm us.  It is non-resistance on steroids.

As we practice, we also notice that in order to do even moderately well at the exercise, we must clear our minds of as much thought as possible.  Obviously, we cannot be thinking about a problem at work or what we are going to have for dinner tonight.   We must also not be thinking about what our partner is going to do, not anticipating.  We must not be reasoning out a response to the anticipation.  That is harder.   Non-resistance and sensing are done in the moment, laser-focused in the present.

The exercise is a routine part of Tai Chi training.   It is also, as is so much of Tai Chi, a lesson in how to approach life.    We tend to tense when we sense a challenge, focusing intently on the problem.  We also tend to distract our awareness with memories and rehashing of the past or with worry and efforts to anticipate the future.

When we resist another person or circumstance in life, we become open to being thrown off our center, emotionally and situationally.  To resist what we do not like gives attention to that circumstance, involves us in an energy-sapping struggle, and increases the strength of that which we are trying to resist, change or avoid.  When I resist a situation I do not like, whatever that may be, I actually stick myself more firmly in that situation than if I were able to let it go, to relax, to not focus my energy on how much I do not like that situation and how much I would like things to be otherwise.   Not resisting what I do not like does not come easily, just as the practice of sensing hands is not mastered overnight.  To yield to what I do not like feels like passively allowing myself to be battered.  Non-resistance, however, does not mean allowing oneself to be taken advantage of.  As in Tai Chi, the trick is to act, relaxed, just enough to redirect the energy so that one is not thrown off balance.   One must relax and keep the spirit high.   Both are done with mind focused on the present moment.

“How?” is a good question.  There is no step by step answer.  “Just do it,” is a frustrating response.  Continued practice, over and over, is the path to mastery – or even partial mastery.  It also helps to put oneself in the company of those who have mastered the art of non-resistance.  The energy of the adept surrounding one makes practice easier.

May we, as beginners, forgive ourselves for not yet being masters.  May we be willing to practice, and may we find those with whom we can advance our level of adeptness.  May we be open to the concepts of relaxing in response to challenge, of high spirit and of remaining in the present moment.  May we become skilled navigators of our lives. 

Peace, Diane

Pausing to Be

A few weeks ago, I took a week off, which is unusual for me.  I took a road trip to visit family, renew a nurturing connection, and enjoy a much-needed change of pace.  That week of almost no digital connection, sufficient sleep, spontaneous activity and conversation, and time alone listening to birds in the trees or reading, among other things, was a most welcome time of renewal.  Some might call it doing nothing, though the time certainly did not seem empty.

Doing nothing …is a feeling of presence and truly enjoying the moment as it is. It is simple and pure….

It serves an important purpose as well, probably unwittingly to most, in that it provides a sense of connection, not only to each other but with yourself. As a result, you end up gaining greater clarity about what is important to you at your core. This is a stimulating, always on-the-go society and it has become the default form of living, especially in the West. There is so much pressure to perform and meet expectations, creating a treadmill of stressful activity day after day….

Somewhere along the way society gave up on notions such as relaxation, idleness, and living in the moment as an important part of daily life. Having periods of time with little activity has always been a part of life (until, perhaps, the rising energy of the past few decades).

The quote is from an email communication by the Deepak Chopra Center.  It caught my attention because I, like others, experience the fast-paced chaos of modern times.  Chopra is correct.  However, slowing down to find enjoyment is often easier said than done.

Few among us have not experienced the rising pace of life and the ensuing rush to accomplish ever more in a dwindling time frame.  The most fortunate among us have managed to carve out moments of stillness within the frenzy.  The truth is that we all need those moments of stillness; we need them more frequently than most of us realize.

Some may object that doing nothing is not possible, because even if very still, one is still existing.  That is something.   OK, got it, but that is not what is meant by doing nothing.  If one is doing nothing, one is engaged in whatever degree of stillness for no ostensive purpose other than the act or process with which one is engaged.  This is key to understanding nothing.  One is in the moment, and not out to achieve or accomplish.  For example, if one is sitting on a cliff, wind blowing on the face, watching the distant sunset, one might say that is nothing.  If one is sitting on that cliff with the purpose of generating relaxation, or recording/remebering the details of the sunset, or even drying damp clothes in the wind, that person is not doing nothing.  If all there is is in the moment, and is simply the experience of what is happening, without purpose or a sense of having accomplished a challenge, then that is doing nothing.  It is being, not doing.

Being is not necessarily the absence of activity, but the attitude in which any activity is occurring.  It is centered in feeling and intuition, rather than in thinking, planning and accomplishing.  It has no purpose, in the sense in which most people understand purpose.   It is easy to dismiss, yet is a prize of great value, value which goes often unrecognized.  Peace, growth, health, relationships have their roots in non-doing.  Being has no counting or comparing.  In the moments of being, time does not exist, just as it does not exist in the far reaches of infinity.  We cannot DO outside of time; we can BE in those moments in which we can relax and devote attention solely to the present, without judgment.

People try to do this in meditation, but this is not the only way to experience moments of being.   Listening to inspiring music, without analyzing, judging or looking at the clock, simply to experience the music is being.   Coloring a mandala, walking in nature, soaking in a tub, staring into the fire, even the act of caring for a pet or another are entrances into being when they are done without exterior purpose to do them, without needing to accomplish them, without expecting result of them or analyzing them.  They are entrances when they are simply the experience of the moment, when we are experiencing the present in a focused way.

If being is simply experiencing the present moment, whatever it is, then it follows that in order to be, we must let go of what we normally cling to – our expectations, judgments, desires, or thinking about what is going on  Not thinking does not make us dummies.  The mind is always thinking; it does not seem to be able to turn itself off.   To be, we need for a moment to cease to identify with the mind, to simply let it do its thing, knowing it cannot define us if we refuse to be defined thereby.  Inspiration is rarely a result of thinking about things; it comes instead after moments of releasing thought to simply be.  Technology is much like the mind.  When we use it, we are normally thinking, doing something that the technology helps us to do.   For me, the break from even the limited technology I use helped me for a few moments to simply be.  It helps me to write, but it does not help me to be.

It is so simple, yet being (in the moment) is surprisingly difficult for most to do.  One cannot try to be, because trying is doing.  One cannot be angry with oneself for not being, because the anger is judging and doing. It is worth it, though, to set aside times to practice relaxing and releasing, simply experiencing what is.  I do think that practice helps.

I wish us all experiences of being.

Peace, Diane