Tai Chi in Life: Learning to Retreat in an Advancing World
In the ancient practice of Tai Chi, one learns to recognize the subtle energy of the universe and to move within its natural flow to develop both defensive capability and extraordinary health.
Through training, one harmonizes the movements of the body and mind with the complimentary rhythms of the universe, honoring the cyclical nature of the cosmos, complementing one action with its precise counterpart. Combining offense and defense in a single gesture. In this, the body learns to equally emphasize both advance and retreat to maintain center of gravity, while the mind learns to unify these the seemingly diametric actions into a single intention.
This principle of advancing and retreating, extending and withdrawing, is critical to maintaining balance in Tai Chi, and thus critical to overcoming an opponent and surviving an attack. When one is over extended in advance the balance is agitated, sacrificing the effectiveness of an attack while derailing any possible defense. Nor can one be over withdrawn, but, from a reserved position one is more ready to defend effectively, using the opponent’s own momentum as the most destructive weapon.
Acting from a stable center, the seemingly most frail of a person can parry and vanquish the heaviest and most forceful of foes. To maintain this center one must develop appreciation for both the forward flow of motion and its inverse, digression.
As with many of the physical and spiritual practices of antiquity, like Tai Chi or Yoga, through dedicated practice one discovers that the principles governing the physical movements of the practice tend to reveal, over time, clues for living a more proper, holistic life. The philosophy of the physical art ultimately transcends the body to affect the behavior, disposition and actions of the total person.
And so in our modern world we see how the principle of advantageous retreat relates to the behavior of mankind.
We live in a culture that has habituated itself to be in a state of perpetual advance, forever fore-going reflection, bypassing awareness, and ignoring imbalance. While we certainly are blessed to live in a time of convenience and progress, the demands of living in a society that is forever on the attack have taken a serious toll on our health, happiness and environment.
We have become addicted to the idea that endless growth and advance is virtuous, while coming to regard retreat, pause and renewal as characterizations of weakness. The idea of reservation and withdrawal is seen as a roadblock to progress, while unquestioning advance in perpetuity is revered as a most admirable quality.
Yet, we are now at the point where our systems of governance, economics, energy and health are failing. We are indeed already over extended, over exposed, and well off balance. In Tai Chi, this position precedes failure.
If you hope to expand,
you should first contract.
If you hope to become strong,
You should first weaken yourself.
– Tao Te Ching #36
Applying the principal of advance and retreat to life in these bizarre times offers valuable insight into how we may position ourselves individually and socially to parry collapse and regain balance. At times it is necessary to withdraw to regain beneficial footing and power for a future advance. Harvesting energy, cultivating clarity, and allowing the opposing energy to run its course from a position of neutral strength
After all, to become debt free, spending must retract. To improve a relationship separation may be requisite. To overcome poor health, the body must lay in recovery.
Learning to recognize where we are over extended and beyond capacity can uncover some surprisingly simple solutions to some of our seemingly most complex problems. When something seems out of balance in life, take pause to consider how a simple retreat from the normal flow of advance can work to resolve even heaviest of circumstances.
With this Tai Chi principle as an ally, actionable solutions are available in any situation.
Read more articles by Dylan Charles.
About the Author
Dylan Charles is the editor of Waking Times and co-host of Redesigning Reality, both dedicated to ideas of personal transformation, societal awakening, and planetary renewal. His personal journey is deeply inspired by shamanic plant medicines and the arts of Kung Fu, Qi Gong and Yoga. After seven years of living in Costa Rica, he now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and enjoys spending time with family. He has written hundreds of articles, reaching and inspiring millions of people around the world.
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