December 17th, 2013
I teach sitting zookinesis exercises to a group of Alzheimer’s residents in a nursing home. Yesterday the television behind them had been left on and was showing a scene from an old black and white movie. Two clowns were dancing with each other in exaggerated movements. The sound was off so I couldn’t tell what was going on.
As I sat facing the residents it was hard not to be distracted by the dancing clowns. The residents were trying to participate in the exercises as best as they could and certainly some were trying to figure out what this guy was doing moving around in strange ways.
I realized that this was a great metaphore for how I see the world. Our minds struggle to figure out what is going on in the world and how to participate in it. Our Body-Minds (the natural consciousness of the body) understands that the world we humans live in is, to a large extent, just a bunch of dancing clowns, moving about in exaggerated ways.
Suddenly the movie scene changed to a man and woman interacting in a very serious way until they finally embraced and kissed. In the midst of this confusing, clownish world, the thing we depend on most is the love for each other.
December 16th, 2013
When I do push hands with new people I often find that the fear of losing causes them to tense their muscles and lock their joints in an effort to present a strong, solid front. They lose their ability to move and connect. It becomes all about muscle.
To be able to let go of the tension and joint locking allows you to connect with the push hands partner so that you can interact in a deeper way. This two-person exercise teaches you that your well-being depends on becoming part of the interaction rather than resisting the interaction. It teaches you that paying attention to what is going on and adapting to it is more powerful than isolating yourself from what is going on and paying attention only to your resistance.
At first the student fears that if he puts down the armor of tension he will lose the push hands volley and get pushed. He will remain loose only up to the point where his partner has him at a disadvantage and then will tense every muscle in his body to avoid getting pushed. That of course, doesn’t make mechanical sense. If you are tense, you are more likely to get pushed because you can’t react properly. But tensing is a habitual reaction.
To be able to remain loose, connected to the ground (“root”) and to flow exactly with the partner’s movements requires years of practice. It requires that you are aware of the activity of every muscle and joint in the body, your balance and alignment and the way your fears interfere with your proper mechanics – both within your own body and that of the partner.
If you were to use tensing and locking as your main mechanics (as in “competition push hands”) you would never be able to achieve the awareness described above. And so a student has to decide if he is practicing push hands to improve his life, health and awareness or to better be able to push people off balance. If it is the former, then you have to sacrifice your tension and your fear. Making that sacrifice is very difficult for most people yet it allows you to change to such an extent that the world around you seems to change as well.
There is a Taoist saying that “the inside and outside reflect each other”. When you change the world inside of you, the reactions of other people to you change as well. Your mind is clear enough to see new opportunities. You feel more enthusiastic about your life, have more energy and participate more in the world around you. You are happier.
It is typical of Tai-chi that the greatest changes in your life result from the simplest acts. Nothing could be simpler than relaxing, yet it is so hard to relax. So much of our behavior and attitudes are tied to tensing. One act of relaxing begins the path of profound change to a healthier and more powerful life. This is why we say that “relaxation is power”.