I’ve started doing Tai Chi lately, and there is nothing more graceful than a master completely absorbed in Tai Chi. Just witnessing them practice has a calming effect on you. Watching the flowing movements and effortless poise with which an advanced practitioner moves through the sequences is quite an experience.
When you are practicing yourself and you start to really feel the flow a profound sense of peace and liberation comes over you. It is also a very powerful feeling, which is quite a juxtaposition when you think of it, to feel both peaceful and powerful at the same time. This is probably why martial arts have been so popular throughout the ages, for they teach both a physical method of self defence and a mental approach to achieving peace of mind and general wellbeing.
Some time ago, while going through a particularly difficult time in life, my coach advised me to ‘cultivate dignity and grace.’ I wasn’t sleeping well as a result of an accident I had had, and was awake for about 19 hours a day. I was training the house down, trying to get sponsorship to compete in The Death Race in Vermont, USA, starting a new career and helping out at home with a newborn child and toddler in the house.
My coaches advice was – and I still have the piece of paper with this written on it – ‘to resist the impulse to act, to speak and to run. And to cultivate dignity and grace.’
I love that phrase, ‘cultivate dignity and grace.’ It is something we could all aspire to do. If we did the world would be a better place.
The imagery itself is nice. That your life is a rich field, upon which you can sow and cultivate important values such as dignity and grace. That each day is full of loamy soil, rich with the nutrients and minerals required to grow those things which are important, even essential, to living a good life.
When I observe the old people practicing Tai Chi with me, I see a lot of dignity and grace. They laugh easily, are comfortable in each others’ company, and take an innocent joy in the weekly classes. Most of them speak no English, so I can’t communicate with them much, but they seem to me to be people who lead good lives.
The classes are free. They are held in a community centre, no one seems to be overtly wealthy, outgoing, ‘successful’ – by conventional means – or particularly blessed, though I think this adds to the sense of peace and togetherness we feel.
I know them so little that they could well be all of those things, but even if they are, it isn’t on display, nor is it important. To themselves or to anyone else.
We are who we are, a group of people gathering to practice Tai Chi.
Even though I am this big, tall, young westerner among a group of short, old Chinese people, I am welcomed warmly and made to feel at home.
There is an 82 year old woman who moves better than I do, and she is more than double my age. I watched her practice with fans along with the other women recently. It is quite a fast, almost aggressive form of Tai Chi. Impressed is an understatement of how I felt. I certainly wouldn’t mess with her, or any of the other ladies.
There is one gentleman who is so relaxed while he practices that you can see his hands shaking with the Chi that is flowing between them. I feel as though I can almost see a pulsing ball of luminescent energy between his hands.
I’ve had a few shaky conversations with them around class times, and when I complimented this man on how I feel I can almost see the Chi between his hands, he just laughed politely.
Whenever I have thanked the master for her lessons, she is always very obliging and pleased I am enjoying them. Recently she said I was either ‘very calm’ or ‘welcome’ but she definitely said I was ‘very good’, which is encouraging for a new comer.
I find myself really looking forward to the classes, and even desirous of more than one class a week. Perhaps it is due to the fact that, while practicing, I am physically and actually cultivating the dignity and grace I’ve been wanting to for some years now.
Whatever the case, I definitely want more of it. I want to be more like those in my class. To spend more time with them. To get to know them better. To learn from them. To absorb some of their own share of dignity and grace.