Training For Pleasure
“With all this work we do to improve, do you think there’s a time that we’ll start getting worse?”
We welcomed the break in between Tai Chi classes, apart from the physical break, it gave us the chance to discuss anything from the latest kung fu movies to the deepest Buddhist philosophy with Sifu.
Teresa had a stressful job in accounting, worked long hours and would come into class looking tired, sigh with effort at the beginning and end of the class but the years would slip away as she appeared get younger and always seemed to lose her ‘mojo’ whilst training.
“Why do you ask that?” queried Sifu.
“I was just wondering what it was all about, we come along here twice a week, work and study really hard to improve our technique, train every day at home and chances are that we will eventually get worse over a period of time as we age and then die….. is it all worth the effort?”
“Aren’t we the cheerful one!” laughed Joseph.
“It’s alright for you”, moaned Teresa, “but I’m nearer the ‘getting worse’ part than you!”
“Do you think it’s a case of ‘good and bad’ then?” asked Sifu.
“Of course it is” answered Teresa, “the purpose of training is to get better, otherwise there’s no point.”
“That’s not why I train”, said Sifu.
“Then why are you always correcting our technique?” asked Joseph.
“To help you enjoy your training more” answered Sifu.
“But that means that you’re just putting us under more pressure to get better” complained Teresa.
“I’m not putting you under any pressure”, said Sifu, “the only person that can put you under pressure, is you!”
“But when you’re correcting me I can’t help but feel pressured and when I’m doing my own training I feel pressured to improve to please you.”
“And whose fault is that?” asked Sifu.
“I don’t know now!” bleated Teresa….
“I train because I enjoy it” said Sifu, “the pleasure of getting up in the morning and looking forward to the meditation, the qigong and the Tai Chi form training. The sheer sensual pleasure of clearing the mind, making it more aware and focused, stretching the muscles and fascia and moving the body through our animalistic routines…… I love it!”
“But you must train to improve as well” asked Teresa.
“The better I get at it, the more I enjoy it” answered Sifu. “The point is that it enhances my pleasure, it’s not WHY I train! You are treating the learning process as a burden, if you’re not improving fast enough you feel guilty, you’re training to please me….. how daft is that?
Tai Chi is learned by osmosis, the knowledge gradually soaks in; the paradox is that the harder you try, the worse it gets. You have to let the information hang in your mind so that the body can absorb it in it’s own time. We learn the language of our body, we encourage it to function better. The learning process is a part of the whole sensory experience, as it improves it becomes more pleasurable.
The point of Tai Chi is that you learn to de-stress, not put more pressure on to an already stressed mind and body. Tai Chi is MY time. I don’t do anything until I’m ready, I meditate, when I feel ready, I do my qigong, when my mind and body are ready, the form does me…. It’s said that Tai Chi is like a great river, when you are prepared; it sweeps you up and carries you along on the experience.
If you have the ambition to ‘improve’ – you won’t. The ‘grand ultimate’ (the translation of the term ‘Tai Chi’) is lost at that point. You are exhausting yourself further by pressurizing yourself instead of allowing your practice to nourish you.”
“But isn’t the purpose of life to become the best you can” asked Teresa?
“The purpose of life is to engage as fully as you can in every moment, the paradox is that more you can do this, the better you get at everything because you are fully engaged with whatever you are doing. There is a difference between ‘wanting’ to be the best and actually ‘being’ the best. Remember you are a human ‘being’ – the word ‘being’ is often forgotten!
Only you can make yourself happy, only you can make yourself unhappy, only you can put yourself under pressure, you don’t need to do this. Tai Chi gives you a route out by a process of direct experience and learning by the most advanced process. A happy person learns and experiences best, this is a simple decision that you can make and then form it into a daily habit. Training and learning then becomes a pleasure and a part of the daily routine to look forward to.”
“But then what happens when my body starts to deteriorate and my training is not so easy?”
“It’s still enjoyable because improvement was not why you trained….”
“I think the penny has just dropped” smiled Teresa, “I’ve just been punishing myself with the tool for making myself happy…”
“Exactly..” said Sifu returning a big smile…