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

 

Connect with me:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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

Marco Polo – Political Intrigue and Inspiration

Steph_2 copy (2)By Stephanie Stamm

After a couple of experiences of post-binge mental hangovers, I don’t so much binge-watch Netflix these days as engage in serial monogamy. On any given day, I usually watch only one episode—occasionally two—of my current amour, but I watch only that series until I’ve seen every episode.

My most recent Netflix affair has been the Netflix original series Marco Polo (find out more on Netflix or IMDB). Over a period of a week to 10 days, I consumed the first season’s 10 episodes, enthralled by the show’s visual, emotional, and intellectual impact. Set in the time of Kublai Khan’s conquest of southern China, the show is gorgeously presented. The costumes, sets, scenery, cinematography, writing, and acting are all top-notch. And the plot contains so much political and personal intrigue that I could use a second watch to tease out all the tangled threads.

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Portrait of Kublai Khan

Watching Marco Polo made me wonder about the difficulty of living in a world where every action is about obtaining or maintaining power—or, alternatively, trying to keep from losing your life. I suppose in some ways we are all involved in power struggles on one or more levels—whether we are trying to gain more control over ourselves or our work, or to rise in our careers. But this political arena, where conquest rules, and everyone looks for weaknesses to use against everyone else, is not the world I inhabit. And a good thing too—I wouldn’t fare well there.

Which is why I sometimes wonder what possessed me to build a certain level of political intrigue into my Light-Bringer series. Perhaps it was a desire to stretch those mental and emotional muscles and then give them a workout. The more relationship-based, emotional scenes come more easily for me. I have to work harder to enter the minds and hearts and motivations of those manipulating the people around them for political gain or power. Marco Polo gives me a window into how others have done it—how the writers took those characters and their history and gave them heart and motivation, and how the cast made those characters live.

As I work on the third volume of my trilogy, I need to delve more deeply into the politics of my world and tease out the longstanding power plays that have shaped it. Like those in Marco Polo, some of my characters have been playing the long game. Now I have to figure out how to call their shots.

What aspects of your work do you struggle with most? What other works/media do you turn to for help or inspiration?

 

Connect with me:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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

wings_promo

shadows_promo

 

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

Undead of Winter Front Only Into the Storm Cover