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Struggling Gracefully

Struggling Gracefully

We all struggle, every day is a struggle to pay the bills, fulfill our obligations and responsibilities and to just keep our heads above the water line of life.  Struggling is how we grow and evolve. From the time we are born, we learn how to struggle with our very first breath. The struggle continues as we learn how to roll over and sit up in our cribs and then stand and look at the horizon beyond our immediate world. 

Learning how to walk is a struggle. Watch a child as he or she stands, falls down, stands and wobbles then takes a step or two and falls down again. Day after day, until the legs develop enough strength to maintain balance and carry our body through space. Life goes on and so does the struggle.  

Some people seem to struggle well and others do not. The ones that struggle well seem to realize that life IS struggle and embrace the task with a sense of joy and challenge. These people seem to succeed in the game of life and learn how to create the life they dream of.  Then there is the person who shies away from the struggle and never learns how to assert themselves or develop the endurance it takes to transcend their known limits, or to take their creativity to the realm of making it reality. 

I think of struggling as a form of exercise. I use it to develop strength, endurance and power. Over the span of my fifty some years I have learned how to struggle well, to turn the awkward task into effortless art. In short, I have learned how to struggle gracefully. This has made a great difference in my life of constant struggle. Struggling gracefully has enabled and empowered me, where struggling awkwardly used to weaken and defeat me. I did not learn how to struggle gracefully overnight, although once I realized that I could, it seemed to happen immediately. 

 I first became aware of the possibility of living gracefully by watching one of my early martial art teachers, a man who was then in his early sixties. He was a high school art teacher and a third degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, and the most graceful man I had ever encountered. He moved effortlessly whether he was sparing in the dojo, walking down the hall of my high school or sitting still in meditation.  He was an enigma to me, a young teenager filled with anxiety and tension. He seemed magical and ethereal, yet solid and grounded. The image and feeling of his presence has stayed with me for over thirty-five years and I still see his silken gate as he glided through the halls. Zen Buddhists refer to this as teaching with ONES BACK.  In tai chi it is called direct transmission, the transfer of knowing and experience from one being to another.  It wasn’t until I started learning tai chi that I began to understand the concept of effortless being, and how to struggle gracefully.

Through the process of learning tai chi I learned how to see myself and my thought process.  I became aware of my constant tension and my belief that I had to work hard at everything, all the time.  I worked hard, played hard, struggled hard and would not let myself relax for fear of failure and vulnerability.  Tai chi was difficult for me for some time. My teacher would constantly admonish me to open and receive, to allow tai chi to happen through me. This was an idea both foreign and frightening to me. How could I just let something happen? 

It took some time and much repetition of the form to find a place of letting go, to gradually soften my effort and to allow.  It started with observing my physical effort and using less. As I became more adept at using less effort and doing less physically, I became aware of my concentration. I could feel when I was concentrating too hard, and would soften my focus with an inner smile. Soften, smile breathe and allow.  My tai chi form and the experience of tai chi itself began to transform with this new awareness. I felt freer  and less anxious, more fluid and oddly more connected and grounded. This was a paradox, the less I did the more I experienced. What I ultimately became aware of was the intention within my form and how the intention to be soft and effortless made it so. Tai chi became effortless and graceful and so did other parts of my life. 

I started to live tai chi instead of just practicing it for an hour or two each day.  I applied the principle and the intention to BE graceful in all things.  I found that I was no longer trying to play a role or prove myself in my relationships, I was just being present.  I was no longer putting so much energy and effort into worrying about things I had no power over, I was simply allowing and responding as needed.  One day as I was walking down the street I became aware of how much effort I was using to simply walk, and I decided to let go of my guarded determination. I found my pace slowing and my tension receding and I suddenly saw myself moving gracefully through space like my old teacher from Tang Soo Do.  

Anyone can struggle gracefully. It's a wonderful feeling to be effortless instead of effortful. It's a powerful sensation to open and receive as you work, to use just what is needed for the task at hand.  This takes a degree of sensitivity and trust. To trust yourself enough to allow, and to not push quite so hard at everything. Play with this intention and see how it feels. Play with it constantly and watch your life change from heavy and hard to soft and light.