Watching my teacher move is sheer poetry.
It’s been a year since I began my journey into Tai Chi and, although I love it, I’m not great at it. Of course, no one is after just one year. Some are getting good, some are really moving along, and some actually practice every day and are getting downright amazing, but we all are students. And that truth is obvious.
My teacher will say that he is also a student, just one who got started a little ahead of the rest of us. Here’s another obvious truth – “a little ahead of the rest of us” is an understatement.
When he demonstrates a move for us, shows us the transition from one move to another, or shows us how they link together in one continuous flow, I understand the phrase “sheer poetry.”
I have an instructional DVD with Master Yang – we are learning Yang style Tai Chi, and Master Yang is the 6th generation of the family that invented this style. Watching Master Yang demonstrate the form is like this: if my teacher is sheer poetry, Master Yang is a symphony. Absolutely beautiful.
(As opposed to faltering student me, who looks more like a baby giraffe sliding down a muddy slope while being assailed by penguins bearing Nerf bats. Sheer slapstick.)
So how does one get from fumbling sub-part-time student to the Master Yang symphony? Simple – one step at a time. Add countless hours of practice, season with years of study and pursuit, and serve something that looks effortless and is beautiful to behold.
As I’m re-learning life, in my second year after being reborn, I’m trying to figure out how things move forward. I’m getting the basics down, turning the necessary little things that I have to do for the rest of my life into habits. My weight seems to have settled, and I really like where I’m perched, at least for now.
My wife thinks I’m cute. And some days, very quietly, I’m inclined to agree with her. I actually allowed myself the rather non-modest thought that I’m kind of… sort of…maybe… possibly (a little bit)…
I guess wearing a beret can do that to you.
So now what? How do I expand my horizons? How do I increase my world to match how I feel inside? How and when do I transition from “waiting and learning” mode into “mindful and active” mode?
How? One step at a time.
When? When God says to.
So I’m learning the grace of moving step to step. I’ll admit – it’s a slow, frustrating road that I simply don’t get sometimes. I see things coming so fast all around me, I hear the cries of the urgent yelling for my attention, I feel the pressure of the immediate and all those demands push and pull me.
But to go any faster than step to step is to lose my balance. To ignore the graceful way of slow movement is to forget my path. Interestingly, in the last day or so, I’ve begun to wonder if what I see as being stuck, being shelved or cast aside might be something else altogether:
Being intentionally set aside, carefully nurtured and tended, and prepared for a specific purpose – one whose time has not yet arrived.
I’ve noticed that the faster I move, the less mindfully I move. Slower means I take more notice and more time with things… always better. How I think of this, the language I frame it in, can totally change how I live and how I view life. A conscious step away from impatience, frustration, and feeling useless, and a step toward patience, understanding, and anticipation of when the waiting is over and my time arrives. It’s all a matter of perspective…
One of my all-time favorite books is “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster. I totally identify with Milo, the main character, who is surrounded with things to do and see, but is usually bored. All too often, I miss the wonder and the opportunities all around me and stare at my shoes. Yeah, way too often I relate to Milo.
But I think my favorite character in the book is Alec Bings, who sees through things. In the Forest of Sight, Milo meets Alec – he stands about three feet in the air, which puts his feet right about Milo’s eye level. In Alec’s family, everyone is born with their heads at the height they’ll be when they grow up, and their feet grow down toward the ground. So their point of view stays the same regardless of their age.
Alas, not so for me.
My point of view, my perspective, changes almost daily. Sometimes it changes by itself, adjusting to new input. But a lot of the time, it has to be changed from the inside out. I have to mindfully, actively change how I perceive something, change how I think of it or how I see it, and work to make that change stick.
Changing your perspective can be tough, requiring time and attention, making the subtle and not-so-subtle turns to keep your sight toward a new direction. Perspective wants to snap back to the rut it was used to running in – it likes the path of least (or less) resistance. It really likes auto-pilot and prefers not to have its little world rocked. Perspective, or point of view, is fond of the big comfy chair and snacks. Getting up, moving, changing the furniture around, eating carrots instead of popcorn – these are things that perspective does not love. Being reborn does not a happy perspective make.
Well, it does – eventually.
Eventually comes in the grace of moving step to step. The slow, mindful learning and repetition that results in a symphony or poetry. And in that slow graceful progression, perspective shifts and point of view moves.
And, at any age, when our perspective shifts, we all grow up a bit.
So, for the record:
I’m not stuck – there is a purpose, but it hasn’t arrived yet in my slow, mindful journey.
I haven’t been shelved, forgotten or “Plutoed” – the One who in His grace brought about my rebirth is the One who will move me into place at exactly the right time.
I hear the loud cries of the urgent all around me but, with focus and concentration, I choose to listen to a calm Voice, guiding me in graceful movement.
There are things to be done, responsibilities to fulfill, obligations to keep, and I can and will do all of them – but I have to do them in the grace of moving step to step. To try and move any other way is to lose my balance.
And get hit by penguins with Nerf bats. Nobody wants that.
Alec tells Milo, “Once in a while, someone is born upside-down, with their head toward the ground and their feet pointing up. But we try to discourage that sort of thing.”
“What happens to them?” Milo asks.
And Alec replies, “They grow to be giants, and walk among the stars.”