I’m not claiming to be wise, old or a T’ai Chi sage – but something in me yesterday changed… and I felt strangely wiser than I did the day before. I have put this down to consciously reaching out to my T’ai Chi principles in a period of general overwhelm. I quite simply took a proper step back from what I was doing.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve heard people advise that taking a step back helps you to see the fuller picture; it gives you fresh a perspective… but what’s been different for me this time is that I have done this from a T’ai Chi perspective. I’ll explain.
Taking a step back in T’ai Chi
Taking a step back in T’ai Chi (and indeed in other martial arts) is a great technique for throwing your opponent off-balance. By “opponent” I mean any kind of “aggressive force” – either from the people around me, or from Life’s little knocks. In T’ai Chi we don’t meet force with force – instead, we keep momentum, moving in a continuous circular motion, which helps to deflect the opponent’s strikes.
I have mentioned before in this blog the Monkey Steps movement. Low into the legs, the T’ai Chi practitioner makes small, wide backwards steps very slowly, whilst pressing one palm away in front of the chest, and simultaneously drawing the other upward-facing palm back in towards the body. There is a feeling of complete balance and total co-ordination as the body moves in symmetry. The main point to make about the Monkey Steps, is that – as you retreat from the opponent, you are remaining strong in yourself – true to your self, and confident from within. It’s like saying to the world – ok, you’re throwing all this at me; but I’m still strong in myself and can deflect these strikes with calm, smooth movement. Importantly, I’m not suggesting I fight back with force.
The monkey in Chinese philosophy
In Chinese philosophy, the monkey represents human nature. They talk of “monkey thoughts” cropping up which distract you from your focus. In T’ai Chi, we learn to calm the mind and to bring the mind into the present moment. As a thought comes into the mind, we learn to just acknowledge it – and then dismiss it for another time. It’s quite liberating to meditate this way.
Taking a step back from overwhelm and issues beyond your control
So, in taking a step back from my overwhelm (and a few tricky bits to boot!), I felt reconnected with the confident Me. I felt strong; I felt a real sense of clarity. I was able to simplify issues and readdress them with a remarkable calmness and steely inner-confidence. I felt a weight had been lifted and that made me feel happy. I was grounded. My afternoon ran particularly smoothly. I was in control of the things I was doing; I’d let go of the areas I had no control over. In those instances, worrying about it wasn’t going to change anything, so I might as well not worry about it.
I shared all of this with my T’ai Chi students last night. We had a really interesting discussion and I’m hopeful I’ve helped others set about trying this out on their work issues too. I asked them “After feeling so wise about all of this today – do you think I’ll still feel like this tomorrow?” I really wanted to bottle that feeling of being champion and yet so calm, confident and clear about what I was doing. It’s not quite 9am as I’m writing this, and I really think I’ve cracked it! On the surface, I guess we’ve heard a lot of this before – but for me (and in the words of one of my students last night) – knowing something and believing it are two different things. So my tip for this week is – Take a step back…take a big step back and really assess the essence of what you’re doing. And do this away from your daily task list. Reconnect to your “why” and it will give you greater clarity. Getting such fresh perspective is really powerful!
I would love to hear what results you achieve!