Dude, this is artisanal health…

painting_teniers_alchemist3Since industrialization cut us off from the process of producing the necessities of life, the fogies, luddites and philosophical types among us have bemoaned the resulting culture of instant gratification. At last, the gears of change are engaging. Easy to make fun of, the spontaneous sprouting of artisanal movements — and their accompanying beards — through the over-developed world speaks to the hidden need for seeing things through from beginning to end.

The benefits of taiji are not instant, nor are they tangible, at least not to start with. In addition to training yourself away from convenience and instant gratification, if you study taiji, you will also encounter the voices that demand you to produce something tangible, but there will be no instant abs, no visible reduction of wrinkles, no world-winning confidence and good looking friends, unless you already have them.

Ernest Becker, the cultural anthropologist and philosopher said that the entirety of human culture is based on the inability to look directly at death. The cost of this inability leads more often than not to frenetic busy-ness, or depression, or escape into other harmful habits, where the price is ironically, either a curt and untimely demise, or a long drawn out one, where the body and / or mind fails piece by piece causing untold suffering and cost. If I had to point to one moment where my motivation to practice became more than a nameless affinity for the art, it was when one of my classmates articulated the following thought, I don’t want to die bit by bit, but all at once, when I am ready to go.

So the benefits are not instant, nor are they obviously tangible, but they are long lasting. If the graft takes, the practice begins to occupy one’s life in a way that leaves no room for unproductive beliefs and behaviors; they fall away like old scales sloughing off of a snake. It will not change who you are… well, it will, in the sense that who you think you are becomes secondary to what you do. If you come to the practice as a busy person you will continue to be busy, just as if you come to it with a dreamy constitution you will continue to dream, albeit perhaps in a more harmonious way.  Bruce Frantzis, a well renowned teacher of the taoist arts, said that tai chi “is not some magic elixir… well, it is, but one you must create yourself.”

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