I did my taiji this morning on the front lawn, right next to a major road. I’m house sitting for a friend today, and there’s not a great space indoors to do the work. Plus, let’s face it, it’s too hot and sticky and muggy inside. It’s going to be a warm summer, and doing “triple warmer” exercise inside late in the day won’t be a lot of fun.
So… Front lawn it is, then. As I worked, I was exceedingly self-conscious. Cars were driving by at 35 miles an hour, slowing to 25. We’re right in an urban area, so the cars should be slowing down anyway… But it was stressful, nonetheless: are they gawking at me? Am I on view? Do I look ridiculous?
These kinds of questions are the sorts of questions that run through the minds of fat people who want to make a change and be less fat. It’s easy for some people to let go of these inhibitions, but it’s not as easy for others. They’ve been charged with being fat, or being ridiculous or disturbing looking all their lives. Putting themselves on display to be stared at is …
Shameful. I think that’s at least one huge part of the reason I don’t do taiji in public: shame. What will people think of me? How will they react? Plato used the metaphor of the charioteer and horses to describe most human beings: the human charioteer is the rational mind, but the horses are the irrational bits of the human mind — a black horse representing the appetites of the body, or desires like food and sex; but the white horse is the thumnos, the “part of the soul that refers to praise or blame.”
I don’t want to be blamed or shamed for doing taiji. The verbal words are no less of an attack than the fist, the disapproving stares (real or imagined) from passing cars just as powerful as a kick — to the untrained mind, the praise or blame of other humans is every bit as serious as a physical attack, because it cannot be defended against.
But oh! The feel of fresh cut grass underfoot when one is doing the form! When an older man in a yellow t-shirt walks past, I can hardly get upset. The damp pricking of the grass underfoot is almost enough to soothe the unspoken question in his eyes, “I get that it’s exercise, but what the heck are you doing, son?”
I think this is why silence is so critical in magical work, of course. Not that secrecy isn’t a powerful way of being mysterious and strong, of course. But more than that: silence is a way of not having to explain yourself, of not having to answer for your actions. Even though it takes 28 days to form a new habit, as the thought goes, I have three times that now under my belt — but it’s taiji in private. It’s going to take … Guess what… Another month of performing in public before I feel ok with ignoring the passerby.