Had anyone been eavesdropping on the training during our recent Retreat /AGM weekend they would have heard some unusual words & phrases flying around as we grappled to describe the subtle processes we experienced. We came up with metaphors for Tai Chi, Wu Chi, Yin & Yang and the three Dan Tiens. For those of you who weren’t there, any guesses what was being referred to as an ‘old fashioned three-tiered cake stand’, ‘jelly fish’ and ‘fruit cake’? And for those of you who were there – what metaphors have I missed out and forgotten?
It was also a special weekend as it was a celebration of the 25 years that the organisation has existed. Liz and John made a fabulous vegan carrot cake with sparklers in the form of the numbers ‘2’ and ‘5’.
The themes were stillness & silence. The retreat began as, one by one, we realised that others had begun a slow, silent walking meditation; and one by one, we all joined in: a wonderfully gentle way to letting go of the busyness of our lives and settling into the moment. Throughout the retreat, we gradually began to pay more attention to the subtle transitions between the in breath and the out breath; to observe how we moved our attention from the qualities of yin to those of yang including our awareness of the elements (earth, water, fire air) during the sequences; to tune more into our heart and belly centres rather than just staying in our heads; to become more aware of these three centres of intelligence & consciousness & how they work together to take us into deeper states of inner activity. And what is consciousness? For me, it became a weekend of connection and reconnection with both the practice & the group, as I have recently taken some significant time out to adjust to big changes in my personal life.
As we journeyed further into the territory our wonderfully relaxed teachers, Caroline & Jos, cracked jokes, made playful puns & dripped more subtleties into our responses such as noting the differences between listening & hearing / seeing & looking / intention & action. They asked us to consider how we worked with the wu – the moment of stillness, pause, potential, positioning & self-awareness? It was different for all of us, I guess. We shared a lot of laughter, lightness & poetic metaphors & similes. We practiced ‘The Ancient Section’ – a fragment of the short & long forms, considered to be the oldest bit – which most of us agreed, with some amusement, appropriately described our own increasing ages with all their creaks and wobbles!
Letting Go: Jos and Caroline demonstrating the Seaweed Exercise
On reflection, as I journeyed home on the train through the Hampshire countryside that Sunday afternoon, I remembered how we were asked to pay minute attention to the microsecond of a movement as it changed into the next. It reminded me of a friend who was learning to drive. She had panicked every time she came to a roundabout until I pointed out that perhaps she should relax a bit & just take a mini moment before deciding what to do next? Jos made us pause to think about those options at any given point in the sequence. That crucial pause has so much potential and possibility. It also reminded me of when, a long time ago my sister’s cat gave birth while we were out for Sunday lunch. We returned to find the living room chaotically scattered with limp kittens everywhere. My family, without pausing, decided it was a catastrophe & a tragic outcome for the kittens. However, some of us paused realising they were weak but not lifeless, so we put them on a soft cloth on a warm hot water bottle & massaged them gently back to life.
Both these incidents happened in the early days when I had just started practising within the ESTCC Metta-Tai Chi network. I was on a self-development timeline about giving myself more time to consider options in high pressure situations; of resisting the temptation to jump to conclusions without scrutinising the evidence thereby missing opportunities which might be more creative or productive; of making assumptions based on incomplete information.
Can we make the Wu become more of an intention? That is – can we go into a situation with a more open mind; with no expectations; and allow more space for potential or diversity to arise?
It all made me think more about my own approaches to teaching, psychotherapy, mentoring & co-consultancy all of which are basically structured conversations around a series of ideas in a context of confidentiality, creativity & openness. My training in this field has instilled in me the importance of ‘holding the silence’ which some people find uncomfortable, even distressing.
I worked with a client once where these silences would always be pregnant with tears and sometimes would erupt into uncontrollable sobbing. As time went on, & our exploration progressed, the silences evolved into a beautiful self-understanding & our work moved into a new stage of self-empowerment & clarity for both of us.
Another time in my life I had to bear estrangement, a different kind of silence. It took a long time to work through requiring trust, patience & tolerance. But ultimately a negotiated reconciliation was possible.
All the above for me are complex examples of the Wu in action. But over time, the effect of slow reflective stillness & silence, is a strengthening & an empowering process that has made me more confident & centred.
All these memories have emerged while reflecting on the weekend and making connections with my life journey and trying to integrate these lessons in a practical way.
I am looking forward to this continuing awareness as I weave the threads into the fabric of my everyday life & use them both consciously & unconsciously in everyday actions.