By Emily B. Smith, T’ai Chi Instructor
T’ai Chi Ch’uan is an age-old martial arts practice that has many obvious benefits, but I would like to speak of a very subtle change that occurs when one is diligent about daily practice and is unafraid to look deeply within. We have so many gifts to discover: gifts that are innate, or already within us. T’ai Chi Ch’uan is a gentle martial art that can create a very new and different way of looking at the world around us. By learning to stay in our “center,” or Tan Tien, as we go through the movements, we realize there is absolutely nothing external that can disturb our equilibrium (at least while we are practicing). We learn to focus on that internal energy, not the external distractions and for those brief ten or twenty minutes a day, we can find a peace and sense of immovable presence that we soon realize was there all along.
We must cultivate and nourish this internal presence. Buddhists call it the “Buddha within.” In a martial arts context, this presence is related to our intrinsic “vital life force” or “chi” energy. It is a loving presence, a huge fountain of compassion. The best word I can think of that translates this internal force into exterior action is “EQUANIMITY: Evenness of mind, especially under stress; a habit of mind that is only rarely disturbed under great strain.”
By cultivating this habit of looking at the world around us, with equanimity, we will broaden our circles of sight: instead of looking at events through a critical magnifying glass, we will take many steps backward and see everything in loving context. A wonderful practice is to place the Yin/Yang symbol over your viewfinder: know that nothing is permanent and that petty annoyances or even major problems you are experiencing will soon move from foreground to background and be gone.
I think the practice of equanimity is crucial to our relationships with those around us. Once we learn to cultivate whole-body breathing in stressful situations, we can move from our “emotional mind” to our “wisdom mind” and free ourselves from automatic, knee-jerk emotional reactions to events that rattle our precious egos. A person who practices equanimity is able to transcend ego bruising on a regular basis and, instead, project compassion in action. The word “equanimity” is defined as a noun: I believe we must use it as an action verb.
“My personal journey with T’ai Chi Ch’uan has kept me centered and strong through several major life losses over the last 20 years. There was always a place I could go inside myself, while performing this art form that was safe, nurturing and empowering. I have also overcome chronic back pain, two whiplash injuries and rotator cuff injuries through this wonderful discipline. I recommend it to people of all ages and walks of life. It will change you forever! “