It’s hard to have a forceful, full day of tai chi one day, and then another day that good yet that forceful, right in a row. Such was yesterday: A day when I went through the routines very carefully. Thus, today is considerably more… how you say? relaxed? The body reacts to a hard day by wanting an easy day. The body reacts to too many easy days in a row by wanting a hard day. There’s thus a constant tension between easy and hard, between making progress and resting on one’s laurels.
The challenge is not to have too many of the laurel-resting days in a row. And that means making sure that tomorrow’s routine, or the next day’s, is careful and deliberate, and raises a sweat, and all that good stuff.
But the truth is that a laurel-resting day like today is still not as easy or a lackadaisical as, say, day 15. There’s dampness in my armpits from tai chi this morning, and as I did the Downward Punches there were cracking sounds from within my arms, as tendons extended and muscles worked. No, one does not reset all the way back in time to the beginning of one’s practice. Certain habits of practice get ingrained by the days when you really pushed yourself, and by the days when you took it easy. You’re building a framework of excellence, a little bit at a time. Take day 147, for instance: I was noticing, 150 days into my process, that I was getting muscular in some places. Those muscles are still there; they’re still getting worked, they’re still getting stronger. They get stronger regardless of how hard I do the form.
At the same time, there are intellectual discoveries and accidental lessons along the way, like day 201. Gradually, even on easy days, these little routines get incorporated into our work, and we learn to work with them most of them, even when we’re not pushing ourselves as hard as we could. A practitioner taking an easy day three-fourths of a year into practice, is not taking the same kind of easy day as one who just started.
We do not unlearn the insights of our earlier practice; we may forget them temporarily, but with continued practice, they are habits of mind that cannot be unlearned; they are wholly owned, and become part of us forever.