Thursday, October 12, 2006

A New Skill
I started taking Tai Chi lessons six years ago for just one reason. I wanted to do something that I knew nothing at all about. I wanted to be a pure student again and learn something that would be useful to me but challenging enough that I would be stretched. Most of all, I wanted to go back to that place where one knows nothing at all about what is being taught. It had been far too long since I had felt that way.

The most basic principle of Tai Chi is relaxation. When I first started I thought that would be the easy part for me. I have been meditating for over 30 years and the very first thing one must do in mediation is to relax the body. I know how to breathe properly. I know how to go through my body and progressively relax all of the muscles. I know how to sit erect with no muscle tension at all and stay that way for some time with no stress. What I did not know was how to do all of this while moving. I thought it would be easy.

The funny thing here is that, even though my announced aim to myself was to do something that I knew nothing about, I still thought I knew something. I did not know the choreography of the Tai Chi form but I did know how to relax. I was quite proud of being the only one in my beginner's class that knew how to relax properly. Boy, was I wrong. From the very beginning I knew this would be the real struggle.

When we undertake something new we always bring our selves with us. We bring our pride. We bring our understanding of how things work. We bring our assumptions about all sorts of things. Most of all we bring our ideas of who we think we are. The tendency often is to assume that we are simply adding something to our repertoire. It is very rare for a person to approach something new simply as something new. We certainly do not approach whatever it is as something that is going to fundamentally change our idea of who we are.

The other night - at our weekly Tai Chi class - as our teacher was explaining a fine point of concentration, I was thinking about learning. When we are learning something technical, which could be almost anything at all that is part of our normal functioning society, we expect a linear progression. We know that it is subject to our intelligence, our ability to grasp facts, and general inclination, but we do expect that, within our limitations, to be able to understand something within a reasonable amount of time. Meditation and, I now know, martial arts, are not like that. There is progress of a sort but it is based on your willingness to unlearn.

In the case of Tai Chi you are unlearning your assumptions about how things should be, especially how your body should move. In order to progress in either venue one needs to let go of what one thinks is possible. For instance; a few blogs back I spoke about this sudden experience of having my arms rise totally by themselves while I was feeling the Chi (life force) move through me from my feet to my hands. It was a really strange feeling. Now I am getting used to it. So, now I am learning just how unbalanced and out of control I was and am slowly bringing my body under control. Before I thought I knew how to move, now I know I do not know how to move properly and am willing to wait for my body and mind to understand. They say it takes decades. I believe them.

Meditation it is very similar. Anyone can meditate or so we assume. What you learn, after a decade or two, is that it becomes more and more subtle. The whole world of spirituality is based on unlearning and, as Pir Vilayat often said, reprogramming the consciousness. This is exactly the same as Tai Chi. You unlearn how to move your body, which you have spent your life time learning how to move improperly it seems. It can be a struggle.

My point in all of this is recognition of the very pliable nature of our beings. We insist to ourselves that we are steady, firm, trained. This does not mean that we are satisfied with ourselves. We may be very steady in our unworthiness for instance. But none of it is true. If we can bring ourselves to find a place of unlearning then anything is possible.

Love & Blessings, Musawwir