Friday, March 11, 2011

Tai Chi Chuan - Yielding Is So Very Hard To Do

Tai Chi Chuan – Yielding Is So Very Hard To Do

Ain’t it the truth?

I began a new beginning class under less than desirable conditions. The room was too small for the number of students. The mirror didn’t go all the way to the floor. The space itself was a rectangle, not a square, so one side or the other was having difficulty in watching me. Some students found this frustrating and disappointing.

A long term tai chi student would approach this situation differently. The shape of the room, the mirror and the crammed conditions were obstacles. While the long term student may not like the conditions, the first response would be to yield to the situation and merge within it. That is, the very obstacle would be the first thing to work with. A long term student would use the constraints to help them in their study and not let that be a hindrance.

This is similar to push hands where you constantly adjust to the outside circumstance. The force coming at you is the very clay of the art form. The circumstance itself tells you what you need to do. The practice is to adjust yourself to some external force that ordinarily you would not want in life. That is the challenge and the joy - learning how to manifest that. To get with. To find a way to let this work FOR you, not AGAINST you.

In tai chi, we learn to take what is and then find a way to use it to our advantage. There are lots of ways to work with a crowded oblong room. The first would be to let go of the mental irritation of having to deal with the room/crowd. Letting that go, you might see how you can merge with all these bodies energetically, find a way to fit in just so, so that everyone can fit in, and then see if there might be some way to find comfort in this. Perhaps all these students are giving you support and lifting up your energy and helping move you simply through your connection to them, like leaning on a good friend. You rest on them. Let them lighten the burden. Non-doing in a crowded subway!

Yielding is perhaps the most difficult lesson to learn in tai chi. Most of us are NOT raised to yield. We are raised to get what we want. But there are many ways to achieve this.

Can you yield in life too much? Doesn’t that set up a condition where you might become a doormat? If you yield yield yield are you allowing everyone else and their mothers to tromp over you so that they get what they want, leaving you behind in a dust cloud?

Tai chi has another quality, that of being “rooted” in the ground. The wind may blow, but the bamboo only bends. You don’t lose your bearing.

This is why the phrase, “yield and return” is so important in tai chi and in life. Within the yield there is a return. You bend to circumstances, but you also see – feel – experience - a larger picture. From that larger picture, there is a way to become stabile and centered. Careful adjustments take place so that you yield, but your root is not destroyed. You are not plowed over. And if you are really skillful, your yield gives you a tremendous advantage. It will hold the key to the return.

It always amused me that Professor Cheng recommended that males do tai chi push hands with females. The point is that the male aggressiveness might be softened by playing with a woman partner, and the woman might feel freer to be more bold and forthright in pushing with a male. Classic testosterone and estrogen balancing. We give to and balance with each other. The opposing tendencies in our hormonal worlds give each other something to learn from.

Our own sense of self encourages a non-yielding attitude of entitlement:

“I want it this way.”
“I’m the customer!”
“I’ve paid the price of admission!”
“You owe me.”
“This is what I need.”
“This way is the right way.”
“Look, here is my guarantee.”
“How dare you speak to me in that tone!”
“Go to hell!”

Contrast that attitude with taking life on ITS terms, not yours. This scares me. I bet it seems almost unreasonable to enter a situation from the perspective of the situation, and mesh into the situation, instead of dominating it. Or manipulating it. Or making it better so that you feel more comfortable. Yipes, haven’t we just entered the world of passivity and letting life dominate YOU?

Clearly there is a choice to be made when action, control, effort, and taking a stand are appropriate responses to the situation at hand. Your root (stability) has to be given voice, but you might yield in order to respond to that situation so that the situation is handled with greater ease. That is, you might want to correct something without creating a new problem in its place or hurting yourself in the process.

Another phrase in tai chi push hands is “invest in loss.” You refuse to resist the force, even if it means that you will be pushed out. By doing so, you end up learning how to truly connect with the situation. But it takes time and lots of “loss.” The benefit is an experiential understanding of how much “give” it takes to mesh with and ultimately conquer the situation. (That being stated, I have to admit that for most of us, this is not particularly fun!)

In tai chi, the question is not whether to yield or not to yield. The question is HOW MUCH and the proper timing of the response after you yield (the return.) When the activity is going well, we tend to laugh with each other and respond with curiosity. When it is going poorly, we tend to get mad and want to win or leave the game as soon as possible.

Either way, you are learning invaluable lessons. I can’t think of a better study than tai chi in order to learn this.

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