Gail Minter
RDTC Bristol

What inspired me to learn Tai Chi?
What gives life to the Tai Chi I teach?

What inspired me to learn Tai Chi
Unexpectedly staying overnight at a medieval fair in South Devon in 1978, I woke early and coming out of the marquee I had been sleeping in I saw a small group of people performing these slow and graceful movements in the soft morning light. I did not know what it was but something inside knew I definitely wanted to learn this - rare for me to feel certainty that clearly in those days!

Returning to Bristol I went into an alternative bookshop not far from where I worked and found a book with the same patterns of movement - it was Tai Chi Chuan that I had seen. Then began the search for a class which took over a year. I stumbled on the advert in the same bookshop, just before the classes were due to start. And so began my Tai Chi journey in complete ignorance and not knowing why I was learning - but with a conviction it was right for me to pursue this art. Over the years the reasons I gave myself as to why I practiced kept changing - for health, relaxation, to slow me down, understanding myself, learning not to be separate etc etc.

What gives life to the Tai Chi I teach?
What illumines the Tai Chi that I teach? Tao Te Ching : Lao-tzu translated by Stephen Mitchell, Verse 30:

Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn't try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counterforce.
Violence even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon oneself.

The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn't try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn't need others approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

I am aware of how much many of us struggle through life. We want the traffic to go faster; we want our colleagues to do things our way rather than their own; we use force to undo stubborn nuts and bolts and shear the heads off or strip the threads on screws; we pull the string and tighten the knot instead of patiently teasing the threads out.

Noticing that we are using force and how that affects the outcome both in the external world and in how comfortable we feel inside is the first phase. Then we have a choice to respect ourselves and relax, let go and find an easier way of working or to continue and add to the tension in our bodies and minds. As an old experienced beekeeper said to me "Watch what the bees are doing and help them to do it in a way that suits you - you cannot make them do it when they are not ready or inclined to naturally ."

This principle of not using force extends to letting go of harsh criticisms and self-judgements and accepting myself as I am. At the beginning of learning something new it is fine not to know and to learn through making mistakes. However many of us have been taught that is not so and carry artificially high expectations - to be closely followed by disappointment with ourselves! How much easier if we could let go of the judgements and the criticisms and to receive the world and its inhabitants with the impartial view of a camera.

It is all "interesting" and using discrimination we discover through exploration what works well for us and what does not. As a student of mine once said Eddison learnt a thousand ways NOT to make a light bulb before he hit on the right way. All those ways it did not work informed him and lead him to discover the way that worked, they were not failures or mistakes. (Thank you , Paul!) We can congratulate ourselves for noticing what does not work as well as what does. With awareness, relaxation, acceptance and self-congratulation Tai Chi and life become more enjoyable and richer experiences.

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