Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Theory into Practice

In Tai Chi we do a bunch of warm-up exercises before we do the actual 108-move set itself. Some of these moves have names, and some do not. There are several purposes for these foundation exercises, one of which is to practice certain moves that are embedded in each one of the 108 forms. We do the foundation exercises repeatedly, and our instructor gives us corrections to ensure that we are getting the moves right so that we can do them properly during the set itself. The goal is to incorporate the teachings about the foundation exercises into the set to get the most health benefits out of the exercise. In short, to put theory into practice.

This turns out to be more difficult than one might think. It is one thing to do the same thing over and over again in the same place, and quite another to incorporate the motion into a dynamic set of 108 moves, while trying to maintain one's balance, remember what comes next and move at the same speed as everyone else.

I am finding the same thing happening as I learn and read more about Taoist and Buddhist ideas. I love to sit and read books by Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, or lose myself in the latest issue of Shambala Sun magazine. My most recent discovery is the work of Noah Levine, a buddhist who spent some time in jail as a youth. I sit, comfy with some tea, reading the works of these authors. I might nod and smile, agreeing with what's being said, thinking what a good and noble idea it is, and how the world would be a better place if we all put these ideas into action.

After that is where I fall a bit short. It is one thing to feel all warm and fuzzy inside, imagining a world of compassion and caring. It's another to actually behave in a compassionate way when, for example, something very annoying happens at work, or (hypothetically speaking of course!) a politician enacts a policy that you find completely wrong-headed, or a driver cuts you off in traffic. I want to rant and rave, and I often do -- sometimes here, sometimes in the moment itself. And I think unkind thoughts and say unkind words. I am getting a little better at refraining from that, and actually feeling compassion and acting kindly towards others in trying situations, but it is mostly hit-and-miss at this point, depending on what kind of day I'm having.

So it comes back to practice and more practice, decreasing the separation between what I think and say when I'm reading or meditating, and what I actually do when I'm out there, in the world, with its dynamic changes and challenges.

Picture courtesy Western Region Taoist Tai Chi Society


Heather @ SGF said...

Nicely said and a great reminder! Practice is definitely the hard part, but therein lies the reward (a peaceful heart). It definitely pays off to do the hard work!

Theresa said...

Heather, yes, I agree completely! Some days the old habits seem to hold sway, but then other days the newly practiced stuff breaks through, and it's great!

G. Harrison said...

Hi Theresa,

Excellent post. Putting theory into practice will be the constant challenge of our lives. Keeps us young!

Thanks for your comment back at It Strikes. I agree... repent is a loaded word, but in the context of the article, perfect. Very clever too, I might add.

Keep well,


Anonymous said...

I saw Fierce Love this weekend.
Lots of inspired action. But of course I too still have to remember to act...

Anonymous said...

Sorry- the blog is Fierce Love, the movie Fierce Light!

Apple Jack Creek said...

Oh dear, yes, Theresa, others struggle in the same fashion. :)

I'm a Quaker, and oh boy, do I have work to do. The Quakers use a series of 'Queries', questions we ask ourselves, to help us focus on our spiritual growth. The ones that your post made me think of are related to the Peace Testimony:

Do you endeavor to live "in virtue of that life and power which takes away the occasion of all wars"? Do you weigh your day-to-day activities for their effect on peace-keeping, conflict resolution and the elimination of violence? Are you working toward eliminating aggression at all levels, from the personal to the international?

It's at the personal level that it can get so hard for me. I have a hot, quick temper, and keeping it from bubbling over is an ongoing challenge. I have discovered that the key is not in controlling my temper, but in changing how I see the situation - I can't stop "mad" once it starts, I need to stop it *before* it starts by realizing that the other person is human too, maybe just having a bad day, like me, or ... whatever. But boy, is it a lot of work.

I hope some day it becomes a habit, but I expect God has a lot of work to do with me on this yet.

Theresa said...

EJ - the website says that film is just starting to make the film festival rounds - is that where you saw it? It sounds fascinating!

AJC - those are some serious queries - wow. I don't have a quick temper, but it can be an irrational one, coming out at the strangest times for the smallest 'reasons.' That is what I need to do too: remember that others fear and suffer and worry just like me, and that putting anger 'out there' doesn't help any of us interconnected beings. Lots of work to be done, indeed! Thanks for sharing this - it really touched me and is yet more evidence that we are all connected, all striving to cease suffering and usher in peace.

Apple Jack Creek said...

Theresa, something I learned somewhere along the way was to come up with three reasons why a person might've done whatever they just did that has upset you. Say someone was rude ... okay, maybe they are just a rude person, but maybe they just got laid off from their job, or maybe they didn't hear you correctly when you spoke and so reacted inappropriately. When you purposely try to come up with three reasons (usually I end up with more than three once I get going), you tend to stumble on a bunch of possible explanations that *don't* require an angry response from you, but rather encourage compassion.

In a hot quick moment, it won't help much ... but if you can give yourself the chance to ask the question before you react 'out loud' it can really make a big difference.

Something to try, anyway. :)

Theresa said...

Definitely a good idea - thanks!

Heather @ SGF said...

Apple Jack Creek's theory works. I do it all the time and it always keeps me from getting upset. It takes a little practice at first, but it's worth it!

Theresa said...

I will try it!