On Keeping Up and Falling Behind: Ideas to Consider Letting Go of

Margaret Catherine Bateson writes in her book Peripheral Visions:
. . .Planning for the classroom, we sometimes present learning in linear sequences, which may be part of what makes classroom learning onerous: this concept must precede that, must be fully grasped before the next is presented.
Learning outside the classroom is not like that. Lessons too complex to grasp in a single occurrence spiral past again and again, small examples gradually revealing greater and greater implications.  Peripheral Visions, p. 30

To my mind, Bateson’s perspective is very helpful for those of us trying to learn T’ai Chi Ch’uan. It is far “too complex to grasp” in a single term, year, decade, or perhaps even lifetime. It’s cyclical, spirallic. Everything comes around and around, again and again, and yet is somehow different each time. Gradually, gradually, gradually, our understanding deepens, ripens, sweetens.

The process is far from linear.

At first blush, memorizing the form seems like the central thing to learn. Anyone who has it memorized, however, will tell you that achieving this goal merely marks another new beginning. More important than any form, we soon discover, are the principles of the practice, handed down teacher to student and codified in the T’ai Chi classic writings. More important still is our practice: the time we put in, our continual engagement with those principles.

Our foundational principle is to cultivate relaxation. And, as difficult as it is to relax when you’re trying to memorize something, it’s nearly impossible to relax if you’re worrying about “keeping up” or “falling behind.” Everyone gets this thing in layers and pieces and in their own way and time. There is no one to “keep up” with!

A comfortable, joyful child who has never heard of T’ai Chi “has it” far better than any anxious adult who grasps at memorizing every precise detail, no matter how accomplished at this they become.

Better to let the grasping go. When you get the chance to, jump into the form and swim around in it. Follow it; allow it to come in. Eventually, it will just be there inside you, flowing out.

When we begin to find ourselves mired in some struggle, such as memorizing a sequence or trying to figure out how to soften or open a particular part of the body,  it may help to take a step back, relax, and remind ourselves that the path itself is the goal.

©Susan Lowell 2013