Tai Chi Y3D226: Slowly

I don’t have much to say. Part of it is that I’ve had a lot to say in the last few days, about wood, about acknowledging the ancestors, about practice, about learning to slow down. What does one add to that? How does one add to that?

It’s the nature of this blog that every day, I try to figure out how to add to that. Some days that’s easier than others.

I made an effort this morning to breathe slowly and deeply, and to have four of these deep breaths on each movement. I didn’t succeed.  Somewhere around the first Snake Creeps DownI got lost, and sped up.  By the end, it was just one breath per movement.  Do I stop, and try again? Maybe.  But my practice is about completion, not perfection.  There’s always tomorrow. I can always return to that theme, and dedicate myself to that practice. But for now, that’s not my practice. My practice is to do my tai chi form every day, whether I need it or not, whether it’s completely right or not.  I note my errors, I acknowledge them, and I move on.

Kathleen Norris, in her book Accidie and Me, tells the story of a novice monk in a Benedictine monastery, who apparently put up for years with the behavior of the other monks — which wasn’t perfect, and wasn’t holy.  Finally, in a bit of fury, he departed the monastery saying, “You’re all a bunch of sinning hypocrites.”  The monk who recounted this story to Norris said, “And he was right, of course — but for the wrong reasons.  He had to go, of course.”

Carrying on a set of practices daily doesn’t make me better than you.  It makes me more capable in some ways, less capable in others. I’m sure of that.  And like the storytelling monk, I’m a sinning hypocrite, in the ancient sense of both words: my efforts are governed by Hamartia, the original concept of sin — the arrow falling short of the mark, the effort not quite good enough to reach the target.  And I’m constantly saying one thing about my practice, and doing another: “Hey, look at me, doing this practice every day! This is awesome!” Or I tell you, my readers — but in reality, many days it’s a wearying work, and it’s lonely and it’s boring.  And it’s frustrating, too, because I see that I could put in much more effort than I do, and yet I hold back from that higher-quality set of practices — of deliberately slowing down, of repeating the work again and again until it meets a certain standard, of doing tai chi for a set number of hours every day whether I need it or not…

So, let that go. Stand where you are on the mountain of light, and do your daily practice, whatever it is.  When you look down, see how far you’ve come. When you look up, see how your practice might change if you took this path or that path toward the summit, if you changed course, if you intensified your practice.

But also recognize, this is where you are. This is your practice for right now, today, here.   It doesn’t need to be better than this, and there’s no value in critiquing it so that you hold it (and yourself) as worse than you were yesterday or the day before.

Whatever you’re doing, chances are better than 50%-50% that you’re doing fine. Keep doing it.

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  1. Excellent! We are self-sculpted works of art, built up from the mixed media of the things we say and do — teaching, woodworking, martial arts, mathematics, writing, and so on — until at death our artwork is complete. All that matters is that we sculpt with sincerity in the spirit of true artistic expression. This class, this life, is not for credit.

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