How vs How Far

Pamela Hultgren 2020.4/

We all start learning in basically the same way–we see, we copy, we follow the instructor. After we learn and understand the basics of the outside of a form, we begin to learn the principles behind the exercise or form. Our task is to begin to use those principles.

One of the very first exercises we learn is Bear Sway. We shift and we turn, perhaps first without arms and then adding the arms. As layers of instruction fill our minds, we begin to internalize those instructions all the while watching our instructors. What we see is years and years of Bear Sway practice as they shift and turn. Then, despite all the instructions and all of the principles, we turn, contort, and twist our bodies to match what we see. We want to do what we see. This is not Bear Sway. Our T’ai Chi journeys include multiple layers of information, a life-long supply and levels of information. We learn and we unlearn and we get stuck with a mental image, with a “Yeah, but” comment in our heads, “Yeah, but that’s what I see.”

I have never minded Overcoming Your Distractions and begin most of my solo practices with it. When I first learned this exercise the first part was to draw the hands and wrists toward our chests with the middle fingers pointing to the neck and the thumbs drawn slightly toward the heart. That was the goal. Once one understood the basics the only challenge was standing in that wide stance and quieting one’s mind and breath. But then we were introduced to Overcoming Your Distractions 2.0, an updated way to rotate the hands, rotating them by relaxing not by forcing or “physically” rotating the hands and wrists. I suppose that was always the How of the rotation but I didn’t get that. I had been working toward the goal of rotation not relaxation.

So, practice for me started over and I got stuck. Stuck in my head. Now my hands were not in the correct position and all I could feel was tension in my hands and my head, “Yeah, but my fingers should point to my neck, my thumb to my heart.” Correcting meant I had to be okay limiting How Far I rotated the hands/wrists and just feel, just be aware. But what about that previous image of that I had for so many years? What about the “goal” of getting the fingers pointing to the neck/heart? I had to let go of that. My new expectation was that it is okay to have the fingers pointing to the sky while I relaxed. It’s a starting point but again I got stuck with my comfortable stance and hand position. But that’s not Overcoming my Distractions. So, I start again with the How of OYD. Starting over has enlivened the practice for me again. It has turned into a very gentle game of observation and understanding, understanding that through the How, I can relax the tension.

For me that is a bigger lesson, that what I observe and feel can be released, slowly, gently, eventually in any of the Forms. The tension is there and it can be relaxed, whether the tension is in the hands, wrists, arms, back, leg, ankles, feet, or my mind, wherever, it can be relaxed but not until I recognize that there is tension.

If we don’t allow ourselves the time and space to discover the tension, we can easily miss the point. We can get stuck in our success! Eventually, as one student put it, we “have to be honest with ourselves” and understand that getting the hands to a certain place is not the point. It’s not about How Far our waist, hands, wrist turn, it’s about How they turn. Are we following the principle or are we following a picture in our heads?

刊登於 2020 年《原幾》雜誌第四期


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