“Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
Dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.”
~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.
When I was learning Tai Chi years ago, the teacher demonstrated a deceptively simple move for us. You turn your left foot out, plant it firmly in the ground, turn your body to the left, drop your center of gravity down and lean over that foot, then slowly push against the ground, extend the right foot forward into a lunge, twist your body to face straight, unfurl your left arm forward, and snap your wrist so that your palm faces forward.
The logic of the moves in Tai Chai, the teacher explained, is to reduce the points of tension in your body and the friction in your movements so that you conduct the energy around and within you with minimal effort. And the most powerful energy reservoir around you is the ground. The strength of your movements comes through you, not from you.
The teacher proceeded to demonstrate said move to us. What we observed was impressive, but what we heard was shocking. It was not so much the speed and elegance with which he executed the move, but what I can only call its focused ferocity. When he finished, we heard not only the snap of his wrist, but the shockwave of air his hand had displaced, as though he had broken a kind of micro sound barrier. Those of you of a certain generation will recognize this for precisely what it was: the “ha-do-ken” fireball move from Street Fighter II.
I can still hear that sound. That sound, he told us, was just the ground. By making your body fluid and transparent to the energy around you, you give voice to what cannot speak for itself.
The same principle applies to the mind—and the mind-body connection. Whoever has a stiff and inflexible mind isn’t really thinking. A stiff mind will lead to a stiff body, and a stiff body will lead to a stiff mind. Odds are there is a place in your body right now that’s clenched. Stop reading, find it, listen to it, and let it lead you into your next move.
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