Transforming Conflict with Tai Chi

photo by Orange SteelerAt the center of Tai Chi practice, you cultivate your ability to listen — to your own internal state, to the energy of other people, and to the world around you.

When it comes to interaction, and intense interaction like conflict, your internal state matters.

The very first lesson you learn in Tai Chi Push Hands is that the outcome of an interaction is determined by your reaction, your internal state — whether you manifest tension or relaxation.

In this episode of Qigong Radio, we explore the different dimensions of this “law of interaction.”

Taking responsibility for the outcome of a situation by owning how you respond is a challenging idea, but the payoff is huge and maybe even transformational.


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Comments

  1. Dan,
    conflict resolution and responding instead of reacting is a great topic. You mention, “…build(ing) a general sense of well-being and deepen(ing) your reserve of energy…” That practice of cultivating my qi, conserving jin energies, and prompting shen to my head top comes out of my various self-motivated nei jia regimes of taiji, xingyi, and baguaquan. For if I’m not self-motivated and nurturing my well-being first, I can end up feeling that I’m at the mercy of other people’s urging to do this or be that way. Your comment that we, ” …train specific ways to deflect, neutralize, or otherwise transform tense interpersonal encounters….” This still puts the onus on me for my self-development. One of the things that holds young practitioners back in their development and their ability to put up with conflict is the delusion that, “you made me …mad, upset, …do what I did…” I often comment to my students that, “anything that teaches you about yourself is a form of self-defense.” And, relating to pressures from petty tyrants in our lives are a perfect training grounds for developing the ability to respond rather than react to people. Oddly, enough, words and ideas arise to address a conflict that may not even feel like your own words, but that resonate with tyrants, if you stay connected, pivot, and exchange in the receiving and returning practices akin to push hands “play”. You better have a sense of humor, too.

  2. Mark,

    Thanks for weighing in. This is great:

    “anything that teaches you about yourself is a form of self-defense.” And, relating to pressures from petty tyrants in our lives are a perfect training grounds for developing the ability to respond rather than react to people. Oddly, enough, words and ideas arise to address a conflict that may not even feel like your own words, but that resonate with tyrants, if you stay connected, pivot, and exchange in the receiving and returning practices akin to push hands “play”. You better have a sense of humor, too.

    I’m very interested in the responses that arise when we stay connected internally. That’s what the arts aim at, right?

  3. Very interesting. I often feel others initiating conflict that seem to come from their immaturity. When I feel this I usually decide lightning fast whether or not the situation has any hope of a new possibility. Often it does not and that is when I try and dig extra deep for the response that will prove myself wrong. I think these practices help me take myself less seriously and often help me feel proud at the end of the day at how I handled the conflicts. Also though it is a pretty chaotic world and one never knows what will happen next. I guess.

  4. These are great concepts to play with.

    Zen monk Dogen (1200-1253) approaches the problem a little differently.

    His way is a mind-bender.
    Yes, your internal state matters.
    What is the relationship between your internal state and outside conflict?
    Here’s his twist:
    To bring the internal state forward to resolve the outside conflict is delusion.
    On the other hand, letting those outside conflicts come forth and illuminate the internal self is enlightenment.

    Applied to push-hands and your ability to listen, it seems like a balance of non-effort and effort.
    Non-effort is receiving those outside conflicts, listening to the energies of them, letting the energies involved re-bound and achieving internal balance–effortlessly.

    When we do the opposite with effort, by trying to apply our internal concepts to the outside conflict, we stray from internal balance.

    Hey, all this is philosophy–I have no idea if this will meet the acid-test of push-hands.

    In this I am like a double-agent.
    The Soviet KGB spy/agent is trying to steal secrets from the U.S. by becoming a U.S. CIA spy/agent pretending to spy on the Russians.
    Whose side am I on anyway?

  5. I am just writing to say how perfectly timed this blog was. I have just started a counselling course at college. there are 18 students in my class and i am the only man. I am coming under a fair ammount of flak for this. Anyway, today was one of my days off and i was doing my 15 minuites of sitting to relax before i did my standing. My mind was continually being drawn to a “prod” i had received from someone when i was last at college and i tried (largely unsucessesfully) to drop it and return my awareness to my body. I finished my sitting and was about to start my 30 mins standing, aware that i was not as relaxed as i would hope to be!
    At that point i recieved a notification email on my phone about your blog. I just read the title which was enough to help me to renew my efforts to drop my thoughts and internal dialogue regarding the prod. My standing went much better….. Perfect timing Dan and very,very valuable post 🙂

    Jem

  6. Andy, I think one of the big promises of this method is that it actually doesn’t end up mattering where they are coming from. You just craft your response…and at the highest level, maybe they learn something from the encounter.

  7. But Bob, when you get into the practice of “testing” your internal state against the external conflict, don’t you want to seek out more and more conflict? I feel like that might be the twist you’re pointing to…you start to WANT to try to bring resolution to bear on outside forces. Is that what you mean?

  8. Hey Jem,

    Nice timing!

    I’m working on a post to expand what you’re talking about here. When I started meditating, I did it as a way to run away from conflict. I’m trying to “desire” it now, because I’ve seen the way the being in it can have a powerful transformative effect.

    More soon,
    Dan

  9. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for the response.
    I kind of expected to be misunderstood with such an enigmatic viewpoint.
    No, I want to avoid trying to bring resolution to bear on outside forces.
    Actually, your response to Jem’s comment was closer to Dogen’s view of the delusion/enlightenment dichotomy. Enlightenment is not to run away from conflict, or to transform it.
    Trying to “desire” it NOW comes closer.

    To date, my “testing” of this phenomena has been the practice of the New Hun Yuan Golden Ruler drill and form, as taught by Chen Xiang.
    As taught, the purpose of the drills and form is to use the Ruler as a tool to exercise the internal energies.
    The Ruler is supposed to be moved by the internal energies in the area of the dan tien,
    not by external muscle power.

    Lately, I’ve been aware of the wind while doing the drills and form.
    With a very light touch on the Ruler and with a focus on the dantien, I’ve been actually able to feel the wind moving the Ruler.
    Yes, an external force other than body-mind-heart moving the Ruler.
    I’m not trying to transform the wind or to resolve any pressure that it may be creating
    (you know, the wind can sometimes be mighty strong.)
    But I am interested in its effect on my internal energies.
    And just let the wind be the wind.
    Desiring to be at one with the Wind NOW, in the right-now.
    Before and after it blows, it does not exist.

    Could I topple a push-hands partner with a puff of wind?
    How can this be so?

  10. Post-partum
    (I always pull the “Post Comment” trigger and then wonder why I sounded so crazy).

    It does sound crazy to have the “Wind” move you.
    But, after all, taiji is an INTERNAL martial art where it is the internal energy that is supposed to do the work.
    And then again, we talk about bouncing energy and borrowing the energy of the earth as re-bound energy to allow the opponent to self-destruct.
    So what’s so crazy about allowing the wind to move you–to touch your heart-mind?
    Probably in the end it is another case of false distinctions between self and others, internal and external, conflict and resolution, delusion and enlightenment.

  11. I prefer to think about this sort of topic practically though esotericly it makes a lot of sense to know the cause of how internal resolution of tension can be applied by non doing. The whole dicotimy of before and after, now and then, ect. can make me appreciate self cultivating practices but I appreciate how this thread has developed in a thoughtful manner. It also transforms some of my earlier views.

  12. As someone who has been known to have an explosive temper and to hold grudges, tai chi practice has helped me find and release internal stressors that I chose to carry. It took me a long time to realize that I could not affect external stresses and crisis until I could alter my own internal and physical responses to stress. I don’t claim to be 100% effective, but I have choices now either to deflect conflict or accept it and transform it through my verbal and or physical responses. The real benefit for me is that each opportunity to deal with crisis helps me find and release tension that I am holding and the result is a larger repertoire and better crafted responses.

  13. Thanks, Chuck. I especially like this: ” It took me a long time to realize that I could not affect external stresses and crisis until I could alter my own internal and physical responses to stress.”
    That’s definitely the kind of practical application that Andrew is talking about. And you’re talking about turning it into a practice by itself, which is huge.

  14. Christine Radant says:

    Your audio on conflict resolution came at a perfect time for me. I’m tracking trigger responses in my life now and the fact that the origins of these triggers doesn’t exist anymore. Struggling with how it’s possible to forgive the original actions and reactions and responding to the trigger in a detached, understanding way that does not involve the response to the original insult. I’ve tried several approaches and have been befuddled about how to approach this. Listening to the push hands example and what to pay attention to has reminded me that this is directly related to ying/yang, no resistance, the focus of meditation when intruding thoughts mosey by, swing steps and other things I’ve learned in class. I’m off in that direction and am very grateful for my training at Brookline Tai Chi.