Yesterday my father and I took a tour of a cocoa factory that processes chocolate from bean to bar. It was a pretty cool experience: we put on white anti-contamination suits and hair nets, and walked through the plant. The process is similar to making coffee beans, but involves a lot more steps, really: I don’t think I’d realized how labor-intensive it can be. That said, though, I found in the experience yesterday a helpful reminder of the tai chi experience.
Chocolate and martial arts are not normally connected. You may think I’m crazy. But hear me out: the whole thing in chocolate is to gradually reduce the size of the particles of cocoa bean until they’re smaller than 15 microns. That’s what makes chocolate taste smooth on the tongue, and gives it that liquid feel. But chocolate never stops being a particle. More, when you add sugar or other ingredients, you’re changing the nature of the final crystal (did you know that chocolate is a crystal, like amethyst or citrine or diamond? A vegetable rather than a mineral crystal, but a crystal nonetheless).
Anyway, tai chi. It occurred to me that this is what we do in tai chi —we human beings are, like chocolate, polymorphic. We can crystallize in several different states. Some of those states are useful: flexible, mindful, aware, focused, genial, prepared. Some are less useful: inflexible, unaware, frail, brittle, angry, emotional. The goal of tai chi is to temper us toward one of the useful states — perhaps so that we have a number of useful qualities! — while also grinding down our impurities so that we become fluid crystals, or crystalline fluidities.
Given the combination of altitude and breathlessness, the strange (but delicious!) food, and the difficulties of doing tai chi on a polished stone floor, I feel more like a sack of raw cocoa pods than a polished, tempered truffle filled with creamy ganache. But good chocolate, like good tai chi, takes time, heat, flexibility, strength, and mindfulness to small changes.
I’ll get there.