In the Jack Kornfield book “The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology”, Jack describes the below cartoon. I love Buddhist humor. Katie, my artistic wife, re-created it for this blog post.
In my Tai Chi classes, the people who have the hardest time learning the movements are those who first process the moves through their minds and then try to translate it to their bodies. As adults, we all have a tendency to do this, some more than others. Most of my students these days are older adults and this phenomenon seems to get worse with age. Younger people have less trouble watching and doing. Children very easily imitate what they see without having to think about it. “Monkey see, monkey do” is not difficult for them. With many older people it becomes “monkey see, monkey think about, monkey ask questions and then monkey get very frustrated and possibly quit”.
When a person sticks with practicing Tai Chi regularly, it gradually becomes easier for them to get out of their heads and simply reside in body awareness. Getting over the initial frustration that results from this tension between head and body is the hardest. Abandoning the “thinking step” to learning Tai Chi allows the person to more easily “go with the flow” as we boomers used to say.
The concept of consciousness being separate from our thoughts is not something most people understand. Buddhism teaches that thinking is the cause of suffering. More accurately, out of attachment to thinking arises suffering. When we are conscious of our thoughts, thoughts then become a tool of consciousness.
We tend to believe what we think about ourselves and the world around us. Our thoughts and beliefs are interpretations of reality, but not reality itself. Thoughts and beliefs give rise to emotions. The alternative to unconsciously riding the waves of thoughts, beliefs and emotions is awareness of an alive stillness within us. Only in the present moment do we find true freedom. Even when there is chaos all around, there is a space within that is calm and still, like the eye of a storm.
Almost everyone has at one time or another experienced a deep sense of peace and joy that arises from totally letting go and being present. Like after a hard days work, when you finally get a chance to sit down and relax.
Practicing Tai Chi is only one way of cultivating the ability to get out of our thoughts and rest in this deep sense of peace, There are many other ways: religious faith, meditation, yoga or just totally accepting one’s self and one’s life.