Wednesday, August 20, 2014

If It Don't Fit...

Don’t Force It

T’ai-Chi to me means essentially “Unforced Balance”. The idea in Taoist philosophy is that there is an unforced balance underlying everything. This is represented by the yin/yang T’ai-Chi symbol.

The idea is that everything is in perfect balance already and if you want to experience a bit of it, a good way to start is to notice what you are forcing in life and see if you can let go of doing that. You can also notice which actions spring more effortlessly from your inner being and give more energy to those.

Unforced action or wu-wei is a core principle of Taoism, at least it sure is in my version of it. I would say it’s the guiding principle of my life. It doesn’t mean no-effort, it means no, or at least less, forced effort. And of course it is an ideal. We humans, Taoists or not, use too much force and effort all the time, almost constantly.

My approach to T’ai-Chi, or Taoism, or Chi Kung has more to do with what I’m aiming for than with whether or how often I hit my target. It’s much more about orientation than execution.

I find that with a consistent unforced orientation towards a given state, goal, or skill level and a patient attitude, the results that come to me will be the kind that are the easiest to integrate into the rest of my life.

The key words here are “unforced” and “patient”. It’s pretty easy to get unforced and forced actions mixed up in the subjective soup of consciousness in the body. This is why patience is important, at least why it has been for me. Often what I think of as being relatively unforced is actually more forced than I think it is. This will be revealed to me over time as I orient towards unforced balance and listen, in my life and body, for things I might be forcing or holding too tightly. As I get better at finding and letting go of forcing things, I see where I was fooling myself earlier. This in turn makes me more wary of accepting my current level of unforced-ness as anything special, because so far there seems to be no end to the levels of letting go of using force.

So again, rather than focusing on whether or not I’m hitting my target, I focus on orienting towards it and letting the hits and misses come as they will. And besides, since this is an unforced ideal, an ideal that I do not need to force myself to orient toward, it is simply a pleasure to go in that direction. So yeah, I use force all the time, I waste a ton of energy daily, but my orientation is towards using less and less force and finding more and more unforced balance in my life. And that has indeed been happening.

So, in life, what does T’ai-Chi or Unforced Balance look like? I would say that there has to be both firmness and softness evident. The more they are both present in roughly equal measure the more expressive of T’ai-Chi it would be. This principle can be applied to any area of human endeavor. Singing, speaking, dancing, practicing a T’ai-Chi form, walking working, relationship, anything can express T’ai-Chi.

I’m not saying that force is bad, just that using too much of it takes you farther away from the experience of T’ai-Chi, Unforced Balance, and the sense that you are moving with the Universe.

I aim to express this balance of softness and firmness in my T’ai-Chi forms and teaching, in my singing and songwriting, in my marriage, in how I live and move, in every area of life. It’s not the target I hit very often, but it is what I’m aiming for, and I aim to aim with as little force as possible too. 

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