My oldest niece turns 50 today. How did that happen?! Of course, it only takes one look in a mirror to know the answer. My beard is completely white, and has been for years. But still, it’s breathtaking amid the ebb and flow of daily living to suddenly be reminded of the passage of time. It’s a bit like when, completely immersed in a book or project, we lose all track of time and hours go by without our noticing.
Life can do that too.
It reminds me of an attitude and aesthetic cultivated in taijiquan, an art whose foundational principle is being present: Cherish Completely, Relinquish Unconditionally.
It’s embodied in the slow-motion taiji forms themselves. Once begun, the movement never stops until the end is reached, each individual action sustained fully to its completion where it dissolves into the next. The aim is to never break the flow or rush ahead of it, but to stay fully present within it.
Part of this comes from its roots as a martial art. In self defense, the goal is to never be caught unaware. This is only possible with full presence.
But this is where Cherish Completely, Relinquish Unconditionally becomes challenging. The directive to be present is stunningly simple but shockingly difficult to maintain. And when we are able to remain mostly present, we usually become attached to our surroundings. The people, places, activities, and accoutrements that fill our days become dear to us. The last thing we want to do is let them go. Relinquishing unconditionally seems out of the question.
This is where the fact that taiji is also a healing art comes into play. By sustaining every movement to its full measure and then allowing it to dissolve into the next movement, over and over and over again, the player learns and begins to practice compassion and respect, humility and resiliency. All these attributes are intrinsic to healing, and none are possible unless we are present.
But learning these lessons within the context of the taiji forms is itself just a beginning. The real test is “out there.” We don’t live in slow motion. The Earth rotates on its axis at 1,000 mph. It revolves around the sun at 67,000 mph. We’re doing pretty well just to keep up and not be flung off. We can’t just stop.
But we can, in a way.
We can pause for a moment and recalibrate. We can find the point of stillness inside the dancing moment in which we find ourselves. We can breathe, and remember that breath is, itself, a kind of cherishing and relinquishing.
Holding on is like holding our breath—it’s not sustainable, however attached to any particular, life-bringing in-breath we might be. It only works when the two halves work as a single whole, each one sustained to its full measure, then allowed to dissolve without resistance into the other, over and over and over.
Life sometimes catches us by surprise. It may even take our breath away. But if we remember to breathe, we can also see that breath not as an isolated gift to be given and then lost, but as a continuous strand of pearls stretching unbroken from the distant past through the present moment into the beckoning future.
It’s a beautiful sight.
Happy Birthday Lisa!