Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The yield of Thanksgiving

In the states we're getting ready to gather together for Thanksgiving. As a kid and young adult, I always looked forward to the holidays with family. Every year, in my little fantasy world, I imagined family gatherings with laughing, great conversation, sharing, deepening connections.

You know, fantasy.

Because the reality of it is this: there are some family members I've just handed the steering wheel to and allowed them to drive me nuts. I have a really hard time with: racists, elitists, manipulators, semantic nit-pickers, viciously sarcastic, materialistic, neglectful, and self-centered. Ironically enough, they all exist in this lovely extended family with whom I spend the holidays.

(Private conversation with universe:
Me, with sarcasm: "Thank you so much, universe, for always thinking of my personal growth!"
Universe: well, the universe never responds verbally, does it? It just kind of lets you know subtlety. )

And if I were really honest, (which I'm not going to be because I'm not ready. Although if you just read this entry the answers float pretty quickly to the top) some of those personality issues probably reside in me as well. Someone, somewhere, at some point said something like this, but don't quote me on it: "What frustrates you in someone else is the same thing that frustrates you about yourself."

So, when someone would hit me with, let's say, a racist comment, my initial response had always been to hit back: hard and fast. That was how we were raised in our family. Immediately shut down someone who was WRONG. (And, of course, we inherently knew what wrong was, being the elitists we were!) Then, between the two of us, whoever had the stronger words, the pithier statement, won.

It's very similar to a physical fight. Whoever is stronger, wins.

And what was the result? The racist's ostracized fear deepened. My elitism strengthened.

Hmmm...not exactly the true outcome I wanted.

When I started practicing taiji, I learned a concept called "yielding." Yielding, in taiji, is the ability to allow your opponent's strike to come in. As you yield to that strike, (by deflection or rotation) you are able to move with it so that you aren't absorbing the hit, you are one with it. When you yield, you don't get hurt. Sometimes the opponent wonders, "What happened? I threw a punch, but my opponent disappeared!" Sometimes the opponent hurts himself because he's thrown a punch so forcefully and you yielded so gently that he falls forward and ends up on the ground.

When you don't yield, painful things can happen. You don't move with the strike, you absorb it and you get hurt.

The same is true with a verbal toss. The racist makes a comment and when I absorb it as a strike, I feel pain. When I choose to return the strike, the fight doesn't end. We take our scars and our deepened fears and elitism and move on to the next battle.

But when I yield to a racist comment, I can hear the truth of the statement: deep, ostracized fear. When I yield and connect, the racist comment dissolves, the frightened human stands. And there is where true communication can exist. Even if the person leaves with racist ideas intact, they have not left the conversation unchanged. They were connected to with compassion for what their racism really is: deep ostracized fear. And it didn't deepen.

And my elitism didn't either.

And that is something to be truly thankful for.

Here's what the Tao Te Ching has to say about it...although, you know...I'm not sure Lao Tzu was actually thinking about Thanksgiving and holiday gatherings with family...but you know what I mean:

Tao Te Ching - trans. Stephen Mitchell

The generals have a saying:
'Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.'

This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one who knows how to yield.

When I was younger, I never saw the beauty in yielding. But this is another Thanksgiving where I am moving into the holiday season with love and compassion...and hoping that others will help me dissolve my elitism.

Whew. There. I admitted it.

For those who are celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope you have a deeply thankful, connected, loving time...

I suppose I'd like that for everyone, actually.



  1. Wonderful post Lucy.

    I think its very easy, when we've been through so much and we're sure we're now on the 'best path' to assume that its much better than someone else's.

    Sure its when hard faced with racist people/comments... but it applies to all kinds of situations in our lives.

    What's important to understand and acknowledge day by day is... there are many paths. None are correct or incorrect.

    They just are.


  2. Yielding is often done wrong in Tai Chi. Most teachers teach a two-person saw kind of thing, where one moves back when the attack comes in. That would suck at a yield sign in a car. Too much reverse.

    In Taiji we should never move back (retreat is a different concept) always attack when attacked. In terms of yielding, yielding is a way of circumventing force, rolling around it, like a wave rolls up and over the beach. It doesn't move backward.

    It's a tedious subject, I suppose.

    Verbally, reflecting statements is a way of yielding. Particularly if you develop the finesse of describing emotional content...hmm...you sound angry when you say...blah blah...oh, you're not angry...well, your posture and jaw grip are physical signs...etc.

    Thanks for leaving room for comments; I hope your day is Turkey-rific.

  3. Interestingly, I've been preparing for a prolonged family battle at Thanksgiving for the past few weeks, only to get a phone call from my mom today to the effect that...apparently, the issue we were going to be fighting so damagingly about is no longer an issue.... The funny thing is that, much as I'd been dreading unpleasantness, now I can't help feeling a slight disappointment...I was just so looking forward to being right while others were wrong.... Clearly I've got work to do....