The Taoist philosophy is the guiding principle behind T'ai Chi—indeed, T'ai Chi was created by observing Nature in action. Remember the story about the snake and the crane fighting? The observation and subsequent reflection on that fight was what created T'ai Chi: an attempt to imitate the movements and strategies of animals.
Performed properly, T'ai Chi is a beautiful, nonstressful series of movements that flow into each other and seem never-ending. So, too, is Nature—she's beautiful (until we deviate from the Tao, or path, and pollute her); she is relaxing (spend a day walking in the woods or at the shore—relaxing, isn't it?); she ebbs and flows with the changing of the seasons and the constant cycle of day and night. So T'ai Chi in one sense can be said to be an attempt to mirror Nature by imitating her ways. I bet you never thought you were being a philosopher when you practiced Plate of Spaghetti!
So besides the constant change and motion of Nature being reflected in the smooth movements of T'ai Chi, what are some other parallels? Not to expend effort in doing things. Nature seems to accomplish her miracles with no effort: poof, a beautiful sunset; voilà, a flock of birds all turn at the same time. There is no force used in making these miracles occur, nor is there any great mental preparation or anxiety. It just happens spontaneously. So, too, should your T'ai Chi—the movements should reflect a certain ease of manner, gracefulness, and surety of action. When you practice your Cat Stepping, be as lithe and nimble as a cat. When you root yourself down in Marching in Place, be a mountain, strong and immovable. Flow like water whatever you are doing, and you will be one step closer to being in tune with your world.
Have you ever tried to do something that just didn't seem to want to get done? I have. What is your first reaction when you try and try and try, but it won't work? Frustrating, isn't it? It's like trying to pound a nail into an old, solid piece of oak. You bang and sweat and cuss, but the nail keeps bending or skipping away. You hit your thumb with the hammer and let loose with a stream of invectives. But the wood just sits there. You get a bigger hammer—no good. A bigger nail—still no good. The oak stands strong before your onslaught.
But what's this? A drill? With a tungsten carbide drill bit? Let's see...gee, that went into the wood like a hot knife into butter. Let's try that nail again—wow, that was easy!
What just happened? You tried and tried, but failed miserably. You took another course of action, and everything fell into place with hardly any effort. Did the wood change? Does Nature? Does your world? Yes, little things change, but their nature remains solid. This is an example of the soft overcoming the hard, as when water wears down a huge boulder in the stream over decades of rapid movement. You used a hard approach at first ("I'm going to drive this nail into the wood if it kills me!"). When that didn't work, you took a break and tried a soft way (using a drill is actually using mechanical advantage, another link with T'ai Chi's principles). Success! So the T'ai Chi principles Soft Overcomes Hard and Meet Advancement With Retreat illustrate the Taoist yin-yang principle of everything needing a complementary partner, and of learning to "go with the flow" in order to achieve success in life.
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