Greetings. The wettest winter in history here in Port Townsend. Also quite mild. Spring officially starts on Sunday. I hope yours is pleasant. I also hope this weeks tip will stimulate some new ideas or confirmation that you are on the right path for yourself.
Some years ago, I met Dr. Bernard Haldane, the founder and director of what was then the world’s largest career counseling service, with offices worldwide. He and his wife lived in Seattle, near our home in Port Townsend. It was actually my wife Dana who met him first. They were both teaching career/life planning for the United States Forest Service in their employee development program. Dana was a nurse administrator, and running a wellness program at our local hospital.
Dr. Haldane was suffering from some physical issues due to an automobile accident, and Dana recommended he make an appointment with me, as I was doing Psychophysical Integration (a massage like therapy) at the time. I took my table to his house, and worked with him. He found a great deal of relief, and we hit it off right away.
Bernard developed a program to help returning military personnel from World War Two, find a job that would not only earn them money, but also bring them life satisfaction. He called it Dependable Strengths. I suggest you Google it to find out more about this important philosophy. It really resonated with me, as I had set up a non profit educational institute called The Alternative Vocations Institute, with the idea of helping people get trained in specific occupations without having to go through a lot of needless courses that really didn’t improve their skills in their area of interest. So Bernard and I were on the same track, though he was way ahead of me in implementing his ideas. He was even an advisor to Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy in the area of labor.
The reason I am sharing all this with you is that one’s Tai Chi practice is, and should be, based on the idea of dependable strengths. Each one of us is born unique, with unique, physical, emotional, and mental abilities. When we use these skills, we feel happy and our bodies radiate health. When we are forced to work at something that doesn’t use these skills, illness, frustration, anger will surely follow.
One of the beauties, as well as problem areas, in having several Tai Chi instructors teaching the same students, at the same place, is dependable strengths. At the moment at The Gilman Studio we have four active teachers and several teachers in training. Even though we all teach the same form, we all have different bodies and minds. As the chief instructor, I have passed what I know onto these people, and they in turn pass it to their students. I am big and strong, and find my greatest skill lies in the physical realm. Stephanie has a strong interest in the classics and philosophy. John, who started teaching when he was 80 years old, has a very great interest in working with the senior population, and is very heart centered. Susan has skills in art and her form and teaching reflect this exactness and attention to detail. This is not to imply that each of us is not well rounded, but each has an area where we really excel without trying.
This is the wonderful part. In our studio, students, no matter what their level, can attend all classes. So someone can attend John’s senior class, Stephanie’s and Susan’s Long Form Classes, my advanced classes, all for the same fee. They get a chance to experience Tai Chi filtered through these various instructors. It would be a problem if one of us started to get the idea that what he or she is doing is the best or correct way. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened.
I try and convey the idea that the movements are only an expression of what one thinks and feels at a given moment. The other instructors don’t, and shouldn’t, do the moves exactly like me. No one should do the moves the same way every time they practice. We change at every moment, and we should allow and encourage this change. The Tai Chi journey is one of discovery of who we really are at this moment, not who we think we are. How am I moving today as compared to yesterday? Is my mind active or quiet? One needs to practice enough so the moves become second nature, and then the real journey to monitoring one’s health and well being will shine forth.
We had a wonderful discussion this morning at practice about internal and external martial arts. I came to the conclusion that, at a certain point, there is no such thing as a hard martial art or a soft martial art. There is nothing different between inner directed and outer directed. Every thing is relative. There is no absolute yin or yang, only things relative to something else. Where does the external stop and the internal start? When does someone achieve relaxation? We in Tai Chi talk so much about internal energy. Please explain to me the difference between internal and external. Is the body composed of one or the other, or a combination, or as I believe, everything is composed of the same stuff, only in different concentrations and combinations. The earth and I are one, just as the cosmos and I are one. Everything is ultimately the same. We fail when we differentiate and try to separate. Them and us. Up and down, in and out, good and bad. The only way you can get pushed over is when you make a stand and claim a place, idea, philosophy, and do not budge from this place.
So, for me, Tai Chi is about staying healthy, strong, clear of mind, non discriminating, accepting, in the moment, and sharing my dependable strengths with others.