A Weekend with Napoleon Xifaras
Our 2019 Spring Retreat was held over the weekend of 23/24 February in Lyndhurst Community Centre, New Forest. This proved to be an excellent venue, comfortably accommodating the large number (some forty) participants.
We were blessed with bright, sunny weather, so we worked outside for much of Sunday. The retreat was led by Napoleon Xifaras who helped us explore the nature of fear and how we feel it in our bodies. Drawing on the principles and practice of Tai Chi and the Tien Xiou form, Napoleon took us through the stages of (i) recognising when we are experiencing fear, (ii) using this to focus our attention on understanding the nature of that which caused the fear, and (iii) choosing how to respond most appropriately. The second stage is key, but can often be left out as we may find ourselves lurching straight from the experience of fear to a reaction which seeks to ameliorate that experience: not always a good idea!
Much of the work was done in pairs with Napoleon calling out, “find a partner to work with …”. And probably many of us felt a little tingle of fear as a range of thoughts flooded through our minds about choosing a partner! The partner work used in relation to (ii) above involved one of the pair pushing against the other. Rather than pushing back, the challenge facing the second person initially was to ‘absorb’ the push, ‘folding’ his/her body around it, and only then turning the body so that it was no longer in the trajectory of the push. This led to a different connection between the two people – a connection allowing the second person a range of options by which to respond to the initial push.
What a wonderful physical metaphor for how we can address fear in our lives. Thank you Napoleon; and thank you Tracey for organising such an excellent event.
How can we live a life without fear? If we are threatened with danger then fear is an instinctive survival response, protecting us by our immediate and practical action. But fear comes in many other forms such as anxiety, nervousness, stress, tension, dread and so on. It’s a general irrational sense that something is going to go wrong, an impending doom around every corner that we can’t control. It’s not fear of something that is happening now but a fear of something that might happen in the future. Our minds become trapped in a set pattern and we ﬁnd ourselves in a world where everything is risk and even without realising it we inhabit this state ‘fluctuating between anxiety and dread at one end of the scale and a vague unease and distant sense of threat at the other’ (from the Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle)
How then can we live without fear? For if we continue to identify with the tricks our mind plays on us then we will live constantly in fear. The answer is clear: we need to be in the now, in the present moment. But this is not easy – our mind constantly drags us back and over and over again we lose the clarity of the moment.
We can start by working with the body which gives us a ground, a framework. The practice of t’ai chi and qi kong, and particularly the martial aspect, gives us many tools to work with. Choosing and facing a partner at the start of a martial or fighting exercise immediately gives us an opportunity to be aware of anxiety, to deﬁne it so we know what we are looking for. As we start the exercise we begin to feel the fear in the body. What does it feel like? Tension in the shoulders, a vibration, a knot in the stomach, a restriction in the throat? We don’t need to fix it, or run away from it because where our chi goes our energy goes. We can stand our ground and face the fear. Through ﬁghting tai chi we learn how to receive and give a punch or a kick, how to attack and how to defend ourselves, how to fight with no desire to win or lose. We inhabit our bodies entirely, we become one with the dance and one with our partner in a dynamic interchange.
By being in the now we lose our fear and we achieve that by reconciling the way we treat ourselves and others without even realising we have done it. We release the pressure by being completely in the moment and by understanding that everything in the moment is ﬁne. Like a wave of chi that ﬂows around and within us, a wave of well being and fearlessness, a healing energy that heals the head, the heart and all the nerve endings that gather in the stomach.
With thanks to all my t’ai chi partners who help me ﬁnd space and challenge my fears. Most of all thanks to Napoleon for guiding me, in his gentle and inimitable way, to heal and move towards a deeper awakened stillness and silence.