Years ago — too many years — my friend Mike showed me a T’ai Chi practice called Push Hands. It’s a mix of dance, practice, and sparring. You and your opponent (or partner) face each other with one foot forward, your front feet touching.
You put your hands up, palms open, pressed against those of your opponent, and without striking you seek to shift your opponent such that they lose their balance and lose their footing. What follows turns into a sort of dance with circular motions, swaying back-and-forth, pushing, yielding, redirecting. It’s much less about strength and more about balance, anticipation, reading, and flexibility.
I don’t remember where we were, but I know it was a warm and sunny afternoon somewhere in suburban Wisconsin. I felt lucky to have a friend like Mike, an accomplished martial artist, who could casually offer me a glimpse into his learnings from years of study and practice.
Of course he could beat me pretty handily. It was no contest. But it was fun.
He told me to drop my center of gravity. I bent my knees and waist a bit more, dropping my center of gravity. I had studied physics in college. I understood the concepts of leverage and center of gravity well. This immediately helped me to better hold my footing. I understood this intellectually and it made perfect sense.
Then he told me to drop my center of gravity even further — to drop it “into the earth.” Find a point twenty feet below us, fixed in granite, and fasten myself to it.
I imagined that point. And I imagined some filament, some unbreakable cable, fixing me to it. I imagined the strength of it, the solidity.
We sparred again. And the difference was palpable. The strength and stability I drew from rooting myself into the earth helped me to hold my ground.
This didn’t make sense on an intellectual basis. Of course my center of gravity wasn’t really deep underground. But my belief — my willingness to be open — had an undeniable effect.
You can call this whatever you want. A placebo effect. The power of positive thinking. Self-delusion. It doesn’t matter to me and it won’t change my experience.
I felt myself tapping into something greater, whether it was within myself or without. I don’t feel the need to define it.
Today we are feeling off-kilter. We are getting pushed around by social media, by our politics, by our biases, our outrage. Many people are losing jobs. We are losing loved ones.
The future is uncertain in a way that I have never experienced in my lifetime. I don’t know what will happen a week from now. I don’t know what the world will look like a year from now.
In order to hold our footing, we must learn to respond to the forces around us. We must learn to yield and bend. Push where we can, but not too hard, lest we lose our balance and overstep. Take the forces against us and redirect them.
But we are not just our response to the chaos around us. That is not our identity and that is not our strength. Yes, we must be aware. But we must not invest too deeply in the forces pushing us or our response to them, or we may lose our footing.
We draw our strength from our very core, connected to something deeper — more solid. Whatever that is for you. Find your center and drive it into the earth. Make that your identity, that unbreakable connection to something greater.
This is a difficult time for so many people. I don’t know when, but this too shall pass.