Last week, I asked you about stressful situations and many of you shared your responses to the Most Stressful Interaction of Your Week. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I hope the guided practice sessions I sent you in return helped bring some relaxation into your life.
This week, I want to dive into some of the themes of those interactions and show you how Tai Chi, specifically the two-person interactive practices called Push Hands, trains you to respond to them.
Now, as I was explaining this concept to a friend, I had to clarify, when your boss gets on your nerves this week, I’m not saying you need to do Tai Chi together.
But it is true that, when you train these interactive practices on a regular basis, the distinction between being present in a Tai Chi exercise and being present in any other interaction you have throughout your day starts to disappear.
An Alternative to Fight or Flight
Often, we grapple with our pre-conscious responses to external threats. Ironically, as Robert Sapolsky explains in detail in Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers, our mental projections of the severity of the threat cause the same physiological response as an actual physical threat, but often, it turns out that there really was no threat at all.
So, when you prepare for a big meeting and you feel like you are walking into a room full of people who don’t want to hear from you, you go through the same hormonal and chemical response internally as you would if those same people started hitting you with the chairs in the room. But you do it in anticipation of the threat.
Or if you get a letter from an ex, you put it aside until you have the time and energy to deal with it. The letter grows into a project and you have to get ready to open it with an elaborate ritual. But what if it turns out it’s only a bill that you deal with easily?
What you learn quickly in the interactive practices of Tai Chi is that how you respond to the threat is everything.
Do you tense up? Run away? Or is there another possibility?
Watch this example of how your response determines the outcome of the situation, regardless of what the other person is trying to do to you.
These same lessons apply to dealing with your fuming boss or a stubborn elderly relative: when there is force coming at you, don’t add more force to it, but don’t shrink from it.
Push Hands trains you to listen to the other person.
How Listening Leads to Resolution
You might think “listening” to another person means observing when they take a breath so you can start talking again.
And in an intense or stressful situation, the most important thing might seem to be to get your point across.
Unfortunately, if you just lob opinions back and forth, you’re diminishing the possibility of real resolution.
When you “listen” in Tai Chi, you’re setting the stage for actual energetic resolution, which means both physical and emotional.
In this video, you see the problem you run into if you or the other person simply insists on forcing things to be a certain way. Sooner or later a bigger, stronger force is going to come along and you won’t have your way afterall.
So when someone in your family announces major life changes or you and a colleague disagree about who was responsible for a piece of work, ask yourself how much you want to hold on and push for your agenda or whether there is a way to see the situation through, to a new kind of resolution where new possibilities will emerge.
Now, one important thing to note here is that this does not mean you cave in to every little bit of pressure around you. We saw that in the first video. That’s collapse and not the response we want to instill.
The challenge is, can you stay flexible and connected at the same time?
What you find out, the more Tai Chi that you do, is that there are some direct ways to train yourself to respond this way and you begin to feel the effects in all areas of your life.
So what was your most stressful interaction this week? And how will you use it to bring about resolution?