Although I didn’t really convey how intense yesterday’s tai chi session was, it was quite hefty, given what I was doing. I mean, it sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Move slowly through this routine, and you’ll get a great workout, but you’ll look totally silly doing it. But when the awareness that one needs to slow down one’s practice intrudes onto the daily grind, and then you follow through, well… It takes the stuffing out of you for a bit. Moving slow is no picnic: on the mental level, one has to remember where one is going, and what one is doing. On the physical level, one has to exert enough control that the muscles don’t move when they’re not supposed to, and move only the little bit that they’re supposed to rather than the lots and lots that they want to.
And yet, after that kind of intense workout, where various muscles and joints are popping, and slight movements of toe or finger create a radically different experience, it’s hard to do it again the next day. It’s like, in rock climbing, when one does a particularly hard maneuver sideways across a break in the cliff wall, with one’s legs dangling out over the abyss (and even if there’s a safety line to catch you), and every muscle tenses with the strain of that effort… the natural impulse is to look for a few easy handholds to stabilize what you’ve already done, and maybe find a shortcut to the next stage.
Good luck with that, in rock climbing at least. In tai chi, it’s a lot easier to take a short cut. Just don’t push yourself quite as hard today. Except, of course, that I reached a new ledge yesterday — it’s not quite a new plateau, a place where things get easy for a while. But it was a ramping-up of my capacities, and a glimpse at where I could be going.
“The perfect customer is dissatisfied but hopeful, uninterested in serious personal development, highly habituated to the television, working full-time, earning a fair amount, indulging during their free time, and somehow just getting by.” (He’s quoting this blog, Raptitude, which looks pretty good.)
But in order to take the lessons of yesterday and climb higher in my tai chi practice, I have to invest more time in it. I have to admit to myself, “OK, Andrew, your morning tai chi routine isn’t going to take 20-30 minutes. It’s going to take an hour, maybe gradually ramp up to an hour and a half. Not because you’re doing more of it, but because you’re doing it more slowly. You’ll get a better workout, but it will have significant repercussions in how you live and what you do with your time.”
And there’s a totally natural shrinking-back from that commitment. I get that. All the same, today’s workout took 40 minutes, not 20. It wasn’t yesterday’s hour… but neither was it the typical rush job either. It was a pulling-back from yesterday’s total commitment; but it wasn’t a complete retreat to the work of days past.