Greetings. Wow. We are in the middle of a major storm right now. Record rain and hurricane force winds. We are hunkered down, waiting it out. Less than a month left till we can all breathe naturally again and not be bombarded with all the negativity of the political process. No matter if you don’t like your choices, vote anyway. I wish you well.
Intention Focuses Attention
Tai Chi and Chi Kung are marvelous arts. There is nothing magical, super-natural, or mystical about them. There is no reason why any activity that requires focus and attention can’t accomplish the same goals as Tai Chi, that of self-realization – if that is your goal. Most people who attend Tai Chi class are looking for improvement in health, both physical and mental. If that is their intention, and they focus, they will attain.
I am the most fortunate person in the world to have met my now wife, Dana. I was 39 years old, had just moved to Port Townsend from Tucson, leaving behind a solid Tai Chi Studio practice. Within two months of meeting, Dana moved to Port Townsend and we have been together ever since. Nice story, but what does this have to do with Tai Chi?
The lesson for this posting is: Intention focuses attention. I have stressed over and over how important intention is. In our Tai Chi form, intention directs where your body is in space and how it moves from place to place. Take an example of one movement. Are you pushing or pulling? Each requires the body to have different internal patterns. From the outside, the movement might look the same, but inside, each needs different muscles to be activated in different sequences. For instance, put your right foot forward in a bow and sit stance posture. Sit on the back leg and make believe you are pushing a heavy weight. Which muscles are you using? Hopefully you will be using your rear leg, not your arms to do the main work. Notice how your center is behind the object. The front leg doesn’t get activated for quite a while, nearly at the end of the push.
Now, from the same position, imagine you are pulling something. Again, the rear leg starts the movement, but the front leg is activated much sooner. Also notice how the center is actually leading the movement forward. Subtle, but different.
The Tai Chi form is a pantomime of real physical actions. The more you imagine, the more real the outcome. So back to intention focuses attention. When you have strong intention, your energy is mobilized into a stronger attention. I remember a quarterback for a football team told how he would sometimes move into the zone where his focused mind slowed time almost to a stop. I once fell off a second story balcony, and my mind slowed the action so much that I was able to move my mind outside my body and watch the action from the outside. I had plenty of time to find the correct position for landing, and when I did, my mind snapped back into the body. It was all in slow motion, even though it happened in a split second. Gymnasts do this all the time.
Most people have some activity where they are so fully engaged that time slows, allowing correct action. The best race car drivers often, and very necessarily, use this zone technique. There are just too many things happening too quickly for the average mind to deal with.
All this requires training to get to the point where the intention is so focused that the attention is right where it should be. Sometimes when I practice the form, my mind will wander away some place, and I will lose my intention, and the form will become cracked, not focused. I then need to refocus on the intention and my attention returns.
Back to Dana. When I met her, she was a nurse. Nurse is a cover word for lots of different activities. Think about the word nurse. What comes to mind? Someone in a white uniform, maybe a cap on her (usually a female), head. Giving shots, taking temperatures, giving medication. My Dad was a doctor, and he had his ideas of what a nurse was. But Dana did none of these. She was a nurse administrator. She was director of nursing, and started a wellness program in Port Townsend, one of the first in the state. The point is, we have to so careful when using cover words, when discussing people, activities, actions.
Let me tell you Dana is the most focused person I know. She sets her mind, sets her intention, and all her attention is activated until the task is completed. I have had to train myself through various practices like Tai Chi, meditation, and yoga to arrive at a place that she assumes so naturally. I am constantly amazed by her. She and a friend, early on in our relationship, came to a Tai Chi class. It wasn’t her thing at all, and she was wise enough not to continue. We all have activities that we naturally do well and help us focus so easily. I have had thousands of students, and so enjoy watching the various levels in the ability to focus and retain attention throughout the form.
Push hands is a marvelous practice for learning and practicing attention training. Let your mind wander, and you immediately see and feel the results. So keep refining your intention. Learn what each move does in a physical sense, and a mental sense. Breathe according to what is natural. If you don’t know what that is, do the move with a weight or a partner and really focus on which muscles move in what order. Then see if you can do the move without the weight and see if you can direct the same muscles to act accordingly. It is fun and so beneficial. Practice make perfect and intention focuses attention.