Socrates said, “A unexamined life is not worth living.” Introspection is key to living a fulfilled and satisfying life. Having a daily practice of tai chi, meditation, self-reflection and inquiry is, in my opinion, a great way to attain a life worth living. Tai chi, meditation, and push hands are wonderful tools, but can be hijacked by the ego without the added ingredients of self-reflection and inquiry.
I was recently reading a blog sent to me online in which a tai chi practitioner posed the question to a teacher, “Is the tai chi form enough or do we need to learn push hands?” The answer given was that if one wants the benefits gained from push hands that can’t be attained through the form alone, then yes, one needs to learn push hands. The author went on to give some of the benefits gained by practicing push hands. First, he stated that push hands gives a “softness check.” Practicing push hands helps with understanding and developing a sense of softness that if one were moving slowly and ran into a small tree sapling one would learn to melt around it rather than push it out of the way. Secondly, he stated that push hands practice helps give a sense of how good one’s root and balance, (both developed in the form), are by playing push hands. Thirdly, he stated, playing push hands is good place to test out one’s “calm,” which one is working to attain by practicing the form.
I agree with the author that push hands is beneficial in many ways including the three he stated. It’s also an opportunity to tune into another and experience intimacy. It requires undivided attention and absolute presence, which are wonderful qualities to cultivate and can be avoided by practicing only the tai chi form.
Tai chi and push hands are powerful techniques to help cultivate harmony and balance in all areas of life, a sense of flow, presence, concentration, attention, flexibility, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. They provide a wonderful way to cultivate a sense of peace and a softening into reality as it is, while it is, until it changes. Rather than opposing, pushing or pulling, we learn to “melt around,” to accept what we can’t change with grace and wisdom, knowing that all is temporary and will change in time. Tai chi and push hands are physical metaphoric practices of staying centered throughout the constant play of opposites, the movement from yin into yang and back into yin.
The real test to see if your tai chi form or your push hands practice is delivering is to look at your life. One doesn’t have to look very deeply to see if the techniques are being properly employed and integrated into the fabric of everyday life. How harmonious are your relationships with your loved ones, your friends and your family? Do you “melt around” perceived obstacles or push and pull to get your way? Does your life feel as if you are in flow, effortlessly attaining what you feel you need or are you struggling? Are you focused on what makes you joyful or do you find yourself complaining in a victim stance? Are you angry and resistant or are you soft and allowing with what you disagree? Do you dislike people who don’t see life as you do? Are you healthy? Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you patient? Are you grateful? Are you balanced emotionally and know that life is only as you see it? Can you see that all pain is self-inflicted, that there is in fact no other, that we are, in TRUTH, all one?
These are quick tests to see how effective your practice is. If practicing is not delivering the positive qualities in your life, the form is probably not the problem. The problem is within. These wonderful techniques must be approached with a proper attitude and sincere effort must be made to truly live the principles. It’s not what we do, but how we do anything that makes the difference in our lives. As the saying goes, Attitude is everything.
Jarl Forsman 5/29/08