Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Observer Mode

Observing is one of the hardest things for me to do during an election year.

If anything gets me into my analytical, judgmental, critical, left-hemisphere mind, it's politics. I've decided I'm really not mature enough to watch debates.

Or newscasts.

Or commercials.

Or even yard signs, really.

During a previous election in my lifetime, candidates couldn't even get through a sentence without me shaking my fist at the television set and yelling about how just how wrong, wrong! WRONG!! they were. Of course, the only thing listening to me back then was my cat. And he just ran out of the room.

So, I have gotten better. Cause, isn't the first step to admit you have a problem?

So anyway, here's the taiji twist to all of this. When I started practicing taiji, I enjoyed the movements, was able to relax my body, felt good and energized afterward. But something was missing.

My mind (yi) really was still focusing on where my foot was being placed, what the application of the movement was, whether my posture was correct. I was working on becoming relaxed, but not collapsed - sung is the Chinese term for relaxed in the body and mind, with structure to the body. These are all fine focus points when learning the form and practicing. But, again, I got to a point where I really felt something was missing.

In fact, at the time, I thought to myself, is this it? Is this all I'm going to get out of taiji? I mean, it's nice and all, but so is knitting. (And really it is, especially with all those new funky yarns! Have you seen them? Well, that's another post...)

So I was doing some reading on the brain, and I realized that we have two lovely hemispheres that sit inside our heads. The left hemisphere, simplifying things, is our analytical hemisphere that gives structure to our lives. It helps us remember deadlines, appointments, that we shouldn't drink turpentine - you know, important stuff.

But we in the Western world have a love affair with the left hemisphere. We, in general, admire people who are researchers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, people who are seemingly - using our analytical left hemisphere - better than others. We idolize gifted people - even at an early age. We separate the gifted from the mainstream in classrooms. And we really don't have patience for those who are not "thinkers."

The right hemisphere, on the other hand, allows us to become observers of everything - without analyzing, without judging or criticizing, without saying something is better, worse, more, less, right, wrong. The right hemisphere allows us to observe that everything...just is. And that doesn't get you a high paying job in this country.

But after reading this it really hit me. My taiji practice was! I was so busy analyzing what I was doing correctly and incorrectly that I hadn't allowed myself to enter into my right hemisphere and just observe. Just feel, without analyzing!

For months and months, I practiced without thinking. When a thought would come in, I would acknowledge it and let it go. It was difficult to stop criticising my form - I was so used to analyzing everything! Just being in the form took practice. Lots of practice.

But I found that once I released critical thinking, and gave my right hemisphere equal time, my body really began to respond. Not only in a martial sense - I was much more relaxed and grounded, my stances were stronger, my ability to respond to an opponent was faster (because I didn't take time to think about it) and more accurate - but I tested my blood pressure, which lowered. I tested my pulse, which, over time, went from (at rest) 72 bpm to 53 bpm. My breathing was much slower and deeper.

I also know that when even one bodily process, like breathing, stabilizes, it allows other processes to shift as well. Digestion, cardiovascular, lymphatic, endocrine. This is the reason Taiji is not just a martial art. The whole body responds when we make these shifts.

But the most wonderful thing happened that I didn't expect. This whole right-brain thing filtered into the rest of my life. My need to point out wrongs, innacuracies, hypocracies - whether it was a politician's, my own, a family member's, or friends - became much less important. What grew in it's place was an observation: I can let

And when that happens, I feel much more at ease. And so do others around me.

So, no, I haven't gotten to the point where I can watch endless commercials about candidates. I still have a hard time watching debates.

Instead, I just get into that observer mode and play taiji.

And my cat lays on the floor and watches.

Tao Te Ching
Translated by Stephen Mitchell
When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore, {one} acts
without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

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