Always Beginning

Steph_2 copy (2)By Stephanie Stamm

I’ve posted elsewhere about my affair with the Marco Polo series on Netflix. Among the many things to enjoy about the series are the beautifully choreographed martial arts scenes—reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I have been practicing tai chi since September, and I can see similar moves in the fight scenes. They remind me that the peaceful tai chi I practice for health is a form of martial art. Watching the precisely executed moves of Hundred Eyes, the blind monk who is Marco’s instructor, or Jia Sidao, the Chancellor of the walled city of Xiangyang, I long for the skill acquired by long years of discipline and practice.

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This move is called Creeping Low Like a Snake. I can’t begin to get this low yet. Perhaps with time and practice…

Of course, I am but a beginner, and that too is teaching me. When learning something new, you have to approach it with what Zen Buddhism calls “beginner’s mind,” that is, with an attitude of openness and curiosity, a lack of preconceptions, and an eagerness to learn. (Read more about beginner’s mind here.) With beginner’s mind, you can appreciate where you are in the process. It’s not about being right or wrong but about learning.

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This move is called Single Whip. It’s repeated a lot in the series.

When we reached the first really complicated move in the tai chi series (there are 108 moves altogether, though some moves are repeated multiple times), I was bewildered. Class ended after the instructor’s demonstration and then our muddled attempt at the move. But the next week, I tried again, I asked questions, and by the end of class, I had grasped the basics, then after practicing at home, I could execute the move—in very beginner style. Now that move is one of my favorites. Still, I am only a beginner, so I know I have more to learn about it and its execution as my body becomes more adept at the practice of tai chi.

I have yet to learn the complete series, though I’ve made it to move 92. Within a week or two, I will have completed the beginning class and gotten through all 108 moves. Then I will continue to practice, moving to a continuing class, even perhaps returning to the beginning class. The moves are not something that are learned and done. Tai chi is a practice. There is no destination, just an ongoing journey.

Learning that in tai chi helps me apply it to my life.

So often we fear being beginners. We want to be experts, to be knowledgeable and accomplished. We attach our worth to our accomplishments, our work, our performance. But we never become accomplished at anything without first beginning—and then putting in many, many hours of practice. And we are not our accomplishments. We are the people who practice those things. Like tai chi or yoga, our work is always a kind of practice, one we stick with over time with discipline, so that we improve.

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The concept of beginner’s mind teaches us the importance of remaining a kind of beginner, even as we improve at our practice, so that we can be patient with ourselves when we don’t get something “right” and be open to new learning and improvement.

What new thing have you learned that has made you appreciate being a beginner?

 

Woman Doing Tai chi from http://trigomiro.net/corso-di-tai-chi/

The Tai chi master Yang Chengfu demonstrating the Single whip http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AYang-single_(restoration).jpg, via Wikimedia Commons

World Tai Chi Day by Brian Robinson, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dolfindans/137629783/ [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode)%5D, via Flickr

 

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I am the author of the New Adult/Young Adult urban fantasy series, The Light-Bringer:

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I have also contributed stories (one fictional and one true) to the following volumes:

Undead of Winter Front Only Into the Storm Cover

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17 Responses to Always Beginning

  1. This sounds interesting. Good luck.

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  2. Mike Staton says:

    I’m with Abbie. It indeed does sound fascinating, and I can see how it does teach patience. One can’t become an expert on the moves immediately. I have trouble being patient. One time when a kid playing Little League baseball, I missed a groundball at shortstop and let it go into the outfield; instead of chasing it down, I threw my glove down and had a temper tantrum. Yep, got to learn patience. I did learn patience for the rest of the game — on the bench; my dad was the manager of the team.

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  3. I know Tai Chi must take a lot of discipline, but there must be joy in learning and practicing the moves. I’m sure patience is learned through the process, but as I have never tried Tai Chi I am no expert. I do see a bit of a correlation in the meditating I have learned to do every day. It strengthens my mind while relaxing my body. It also teaches patience. Congrats to you for sticking with it and planning to go on! I’d never tried it before until my therapist suggested it and there was a bit of a learning curve (not allowing my own thoughts to take over) but now I welcome the peace it brings me. Great post Stephanie!

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    • sstamm625 says:

      Thanks, Linda. One of the things I like about tai chi is that it is like a moving meditation. For the most part when I’m doing it, I’m not thinking about anything else. And it’s really peaceful. It’s also beautiful to watch–if you’re watching someone who’s at least a little experienced with the moves. There’s a slow, deliberate intentionality in them. I love that. Good luck with your own meditation practice.

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  4. Doris says:

    I love beginnings, they lead to so many wonderful discoveries. My case in point, like you tai chi, the women doctors. When I realized what a large project it was, there was the chance to stop. I’m glad I didn’t. The martial arts are an ongoing discipline and one, like meditation, that can lead to so many things. Thank you Stephanie for a very inspiring post. Doris

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    • sstamm625 says:

      I’m glad you didn’t too, Doris. You clearly have a passion for the women doctors and their stories, and you were wise to follow that. I definitely want to stick with the tai chi. It speaks to me.

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  5. Nancy Jardine says:

    Brilliant progress at Tai Chi, Stephanie! Re the beginner thing – I wish I could say I’ve definitely learned how to format my novel ready for Amazon uploads but I’m clearly a beginner at that and not at all sure of my ‘moves’ yet. Like Linda points out the progress you’ve made at Tai Chi has taken a lot of patience and perseverance and that seems to be what’s needed as well as that posiitive attitude you mention. i’m off to find mine (positive attitude) since I seem to have misplaced it for a bit. ;-0

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    • sstamm625 says:

      Nancy, I hope you’ve rediscovered your positive attitude. 🙂 Formatting can get frustrating. But once you’ve done it, you’ll have learned a lot. I’m loving the tai chi, and part of that love is because it’s helping me release that “gotta get it right” mentality (not that I don’t want to do my best at whatever I do, but I do need to let go of the efforting toward “right”). What is right, anyway? The way one performs a move changes over time–and you simply are where you are. That’s such an important learning for me–well beyond tai chi.

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  6. Neva Bodin says:

    Lots of lessons there. I did an article for our newspaper on Tai Chai and Pickleball. Sat through a Tai Chai class. Many people said it improved their balance at doing other things, even playing Pickle Ball! I think as writers we are even more guilty of thinking our first writing should be perfect, and it’s hard to remember we are on a journey with that too!

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  7. I admire your perseverance, Stephanie. Like Mike, I’m not a patient person and I admit I give up easily. Yet, life itself takes perseverance, so I guess in that way, we’re all still beginners for life is also a learning process all together. Best to you in ALL your endeavors!

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  8. Wranglers says:

    Good for you. I am always doing things to improve my body like Yoga, multple exercises, belly dance, and Zumba. I tried to watch that show and I cant remember why I didn’t continue, probably too much strong language. I’m glad you found a show you can relate to. Our bodies are as important as our minds, but when we are learning new things we are stretching both. I’ve been at the beginning mind and attitude, many, many times. Cher’ley

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  9. Wranglers says:

    I love reading everyone’s responses and this post has some interesting ones.

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  10. S. J. Brown says:

    Good for you. I don’t think I would have the patience or follow through for something like Tai Chi

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  11. Pingback: Tai Chi & Writing Saturdays | Stephanie Stamm

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