Dear Tai Chi Friends
I’m sorry for the long delay in this newsletter. First it was summer, then it was autumn, and in between all these far too fast changes I totally lost track of when, what and why. So I guess that the content of this particular mail is directed at myself more than towards anyone else. Still, I hope you can benefit from it too.
Meditation and Crab Sandwiches
You might smile at the title, but coming to think of it, a crab sandwich, or, in fact, any sort of sandwich, of a higher or a lesser kind can present a real problem in our way to smooth and peaceful meditation.
Shall I explain?
A dear lady ( that some of us know) was relaxing/meditating with us at the end of a lesson. When asked how she got on with it, she replied that all went perfectly well with the meditation…until that moment when a desperate craving for a crab sandwich creeped into her mind. Needles to say that from that moment onwards the meditation didn’t stand a chance!
Well, a crab sandwich will not distract us all from meditating. In the case of a vegetarian such as myself, anything involving crabs, scallops or jelly fish has no chance of diverting my attention. In my case it is more likely to be a sudden craving for a particular elderflower cordial, or a bar of Lindt chocolate.(highly recommended!) For some it may be a craving for strawberry ice cream or a Vaneeta cupcake. Then again, it might have nothing to do with food. The crafty mind that tries to get in the way of keeping us calm has many forms of doing so. It can be a bothering thought of some sort such as ‘ I must remember to take the washing in before it rains’ or ‘ why didn’t I ask for a packet of ten blue pens when the boss asked me if there was anything I needed for the office’. Or it may be a regret of some kind- something that happened a while ago and we thought had long left behind, but, oooops, decided to pop its head up at this one moment when we were just getting so close to truly relaxing (although we may not be aware of it, this closeness to true relaxation is the very reason for many such thoughts to pop their head up).
How do we fight those obstacles? Or, even more to the point – should we fight them at all?
But before we get into the HOWs of meditation, let us have a look at the WHYs of it:
Take a moment and look at the pictures below-everything is in place, different components of the landscape (hills, lakes, trees, grass and sky) seem to flow into one another and emerge from one another in smooth and circular lines.
Can you see the influence of the natural world on the formation of Tai Chi as an art that embodies this free energy flow into one harmonious unity?
Do we humans live our lives in such a way? I suspect that If we took a picture of the inside of our minds it would most probably look like this: (well, more or less)
What does this state of mind do to our bodies, to our minds? And, what does it do to our souls? (well, one thing it does for sure-it stops us from writing a newsletter!)
Tai Chi is all about balance between YIN and YANG, BEING and DOING, REST and MOVEMENT. “Yin and Yang mutually aid and change each other” ‘The Essence of Tai CHi Chuan’ p. 38.
It is true that an active body will keep an active mind and vice verse. However, if we stick to the Doing only and forget about the Being, we will soon develop tension, stress and anxiety. The different parts that create that thing called human being stop existing in harmony and begin an internal ‘war’. An imbalance between Doing and Being doesn’t only exhaust our muscles, joints and bones, and all else which forms the physical body. The Taoist thinking does not separate the body-mind-spirit into unrelated systems, but sees them all as different aspects of one manifestation. Therefore, insufficient eating, breathing and sleeping patterns deplete the brain of blood and oxygen, affecting the thinking process and the ability to cope with emotions and process them.
Therefore, it is extremely important to know when to take a pause or stop, and preferably before we collapse. Collapsing is when either our body or our mind can’t take it anymore and is crying out for help, telling us it is too much. Remember, in Tai Chi we don’t believe in ‘No Pain No Gain’. Wouldn’t it be nice if I can treat my body-mind-spirit system in a kind and respectful way, provide ‘it’ (myself) with enough interest and excitement in the form of Doing, and at the same time make sure to balance it with rest, quiet contemplation and meditation, which will allow the interest and excitement to slowly sink in.
One of the ways to achieve this balance is through meditation.
There are many ways to meditate. You might like to take a quiet time-out while concentrating on movements, as in Tai Chi (which, indeed, is considered as a form of moving meditation). Or you might choose to lie down and focus on your breathing, or sit closed eyes and listen to a favourite piece of music. The important thing is to enable ourselves this time.
Once we have taken the time, the most important thing is to allow things to happen rather than force them to.
If a crab sandwich pops up, welcome it with a smile. You can turn it into this day’s mantra. Try sitting for 10-15 minutes and say to yourself ‘crabsandwichcrabsandwichcrabsandwich’. You will probably find out that after a while you forget all about the food and the sound of syllables rolling over and over in your mind is all thats’ left.
If bothering or unpleasant thoughts come up, allow them to be, don’t fight them. According to the philosophy of Tai Chi, with thoughts, as with people – when coming to ‘attack’ us, we want to imagine that they are ten times stronger than us. In this way we won’t be tempted to use our power forcefully, and will avoid a war situation, but will use instead softer and more yielding techniques. When meditating and an unsolicited thought tries to take over, the first stage is to recognise it. The next stage is to make it feel welcome, make way for it – by moving away. You say to it ”please, come in and make yourself comfortable, I’ll just go and put the kettle on”…and you leave out the back door. The way to symbolically leave out the back door is by focusing our attention on something else rather than the unwanted visitor, such as on our breathing, on a mantra, or – by inviting a pleasant thought in.
To all you polite English people: You don’t need to be polite with the uninvited or unwanted guests of your mind!
After all, it is all in the mind!
” It is said ‘First in the Hsin (mind), then in the body’. The abdomen relaxes, then the Chi (breath) sinks into the bones. The Shen (spirit) is relaxed and the body calm. It is always in the Hsin. Being able to breath (properly) leads to agility. The softest will then become the strongest. ” ‘ The Essence of Tai CHi Chuan ‘ p. 46