Every so often, I start the tai chi on the wrong foot for the day, and I have to stop, and begin again. How important beginning again is! It is the case that the energies we work with in tai chi, and the work that we do, starts with the first step, and gradually builds along the lineage or the lines we’ve first laid down, and reaches its climax and denouement along the pattern of our first beginnings. As Chekov is alleged to have said, “if there is a gun on the mantlepiece at the start of the first act, it must have been fired by the end of the second act,” or words to that effect.
Today, as I began the tai chi form, I took a step to the left, and I made it too wide. I toppled a bit, and had to regain my balance almost immediately. That put my feet in the wrong position for the third movement to the next posture, and I was already overcompensating. Ooops. Too easy to get lost here. Stop. Return to center. Breathe. Start moving again. The result was a smoother practice, that took longer, and yet was more fluid as a result. This is the way tai chi is supposed to be — slowly moving, fluid, easy to move through, easy on the body, easy on the eyes, and so on. Let it be so.
I think the big challenge of the last few weeks has made itself quite clear, though. None of the individual movements hold any particular challenge for me, any more. I’ve mastered the big ones like Parting the Swallow’s Tail, the hard ones like Windmill Kick. Could I do them better? Yes, absolutely. But the overall challenge I’m facing now, at the end of my inaugural year of daily tai chi, appears to be one of integration. All of this daily tai chi has a purpose. The individual movements have an integration. It’s called a form. And the only way to get good at the form as a whole, is to do it daily, at a slow speed, so that it becomes functionally part of one’s nervous system in a structural way: so that the nervous system responds to each movement with the awareness of how it connects to the previous movement, and to the next one, and all the way back to the beginning and ending of the form. I think it’s cool that I can see that potential in the form now, as I near the end of this first year. At the same time, though, it’s daunting to see how much deeper the rabbit hole goes.