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
2 days ago