A few weeks ago, I started practicing taiji (tai chi) at a different martial arts school. I’m not new to taiji, but I’m new to this school, so I am sort of a beginner and not a beginner at the same time. Some things are familiar to me, but every school, and even every teacher, has their own way of doing things, so there is always a steep learning curve at the outset.
The students begin class as a whole doing qigong or other warm up exercises, and then break into small groups according to their level. I thought I was moving through the preliminary stuff pretty quickly, and I was eager to get to the more advanced material. But after several classes, the teacher placed me in a beginner group with people who had not done any taiji at all, ever. The instruction was at the most basic introductory level.
It didn’t take me long to start feeling impatient, chafing at the slow pace, wishing to be in the group I could see in my peripheral vision that was working on material more suited to my level, at least in my not-so-humble opinion. I felt frustrated that the teacher couldn’t immediately see that a mistake had been made and didn’t move me to the other group.
Wow, I caught myself. What the heck is going on with me? My ego knickers were in a knot. I was violating every basic principle of taiji and everything I’ve learned from the Tao Te Ching. I was not being present. I was distracted and judgmental. I was wanting reality to be different and trying to make it conform to my desire. I was being disrespectful (at least in my thoughts) to the teacher. I was caught up in my mind’s narrative and missing the opportunity to practice in the situation I was in, which is really the only practice there is.
One of the slogans I’ve trained with for years is “Don’t insist. Don’t resist.” I was doing both, unlike my other beginning group mates who were fully engaged with what was happening in our group.
Hmm, so apparently the beginning group was right where I belonged. I clearly have a lot to learn. As I said to a friend after recounting my story, I might not learn a lot about taiji in this class, but I’m going to learn a lot about myself! And perhaps that is the same thing after all.
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. ~Shunryu Suzuki