I’ve spent a fair bit of time on my geometry book over the last few days. I’m at my parents’ house, and my mother has been very encouraging of my work as an artist. She works on her art, and I work on mine. Thanks to some new tools (namely a transparent plastic ruler with lines running parallel to the straight edge), I’ve been able to shorten the amount of time it takes to make one page, from about two hours to about half-an-hour. I’ve produced ten pages in the amount of time it used to take me to do four.
Today, as I did tai chi, I was reflecting on this combination of challenges. Some work we want to do fast, like completing an art project such as this book of geometry that I’ve been working on for months (I’m three pages away from finishing side one, and maybe 15 hours from finishing side two… although side two has a lot more complicated geometry, so maybe it will take longer).
Some work, like tai chi, we want to do more slowly. I get that.
The trick is in not mistaking fast work for slow work, and vice versa. My father, tender loving guy that he is, told me today how proud he is of the work I’m doing, and how proud he is of me, and of the way that so many aspects of my life are in my command and under my control. And yet, as he pointed out (because with Dad, there’s always a yet), I don’t have mastery of my weight. I’m not sure, after two years and a third of tai chi, that it’s actually shifting my weight at all. I mean, I probably have denser bones and stronger ligaments, but the push-ups have done more to bulk up my musculature than the tai chi has. And, further, I haven’t really changed weight at all — I’m still a pretty solid 300# even after two years. Maybe I’ve shifted some weight from my gut to my bones, or from my gut to my biceps… but I don’t think so.
My doc says my cholesterol is up. My good cholesterol is rock-solid good; my bad cholesterol is up more than it should be. This could be diet, this could be genetics, this could be the beginning of health issues. Every body is an experiment, as one of my doctors used to say.
Maybe it should say that Every life is an experiment.
Today is my birthday. Happy birthday, me. I’ve begun to change my diet (again). I’ve begun to be an artist (again). I’ve begun to reconnect with old friends (again). I’ve begun again so many times, that the experiment feels new and different every time. Now we begin again, again.
But there’s an underlying order to the work. In tai chi, as in geometry, each line and each angle and each ligament and each muscle has a sense of what it wants to be, and what it wants to do. When joints creak in pain, we listen to them. When we over-extend a line or an arc, we listen to them. When we discover truths about ourselves that others have made before us, we listen to them. When we find a movement with power and grace, we listen to that. These are the building-blocks of our reality.
Today’s tai chi was much like yesterday’s tai chi; and tomorrow’s presumably will be similar to today’s. We build successes and power a little bit at a time, by slow degrees and by slight changes — and eventually we come to a place where further changes are both commanded and needed. We master the basics so that we can move on to the advanced work. We return to the basics when the advanced work becomes too hard. We re-discover how advanced the basics are when return to them.
May the year ahead be full of wonder.