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Five Steps Toward Clarity:
Taijiquan as a Model for Decision-making

Volume 5 Number 4
Fall 2004

By Al McEnroe

How can taijiquan be used as a model for the non-martial arts mode of everyday decision-making? Since taijiquan is useful for getting physically unstuck, can those lessons be utilized elsewhere to help get one's life moving in other ways?

Yes, absolutely, and here's an example. "Mike" and his wife "Patty" have a big decision ahead of them. Mike is ready for retirement, Patty has a few years left. Mike wants to move to New Mexico and become a painter. He has an opportunity for free studio space, and realistically feels he can make a go of it. Patty feels they should stay put, pay off the mortgage, be around the grandkids, and she should keep working to further build their nest egg, "just in case." The two of them have been happily married for thirty years, but both feel stuck. How can they apply taijiquan notions to help them solve their problem?

1. The first step is to realize where you're stuck. When you start studying taijiquan, you don't even know that you're tense and stuck. By practicing, you peel away layers of tension that often hide other problems. In Mike and Patty's situation, there are several layers of stuckness. One is that they have different goals at present. They could spend some time talking about their short- and long-range goals. In talking, Mike realizes he's feeling stuck in part because he's not working, so he doesn't know what to do with his time. Patty is working, so she's on a schedule and is feeling productive. But she doesn't like her job, so she feels stuck.

2. Work backwards until you find the source of the problem. When you find yourself off-balance in doing your taiji, the problem is not that moment, but usually something earlier that led you to being off balance. Just as in music, hitting the wrong note is in large part due to taking the incorrect path to getting there. The wrong note is a symptom, then, not an isolated event. Mike and Patty have been happily married for a long time. That alone tells us that they must have a solid foundation from which they lead their lives together as a couple and as individuals. They could trace the current tension back to a time before it manifested and make sure their foundation is still in good shape, then work forwards to see where the tension crops up again.

3. Relax and be patient. Mike has just gone through some big changes. Perhaps he needs to sit with them for a while and not jump at making even more changes. He is off balance and wanting to leap ahead--partly with the illusion that the next situation would be a dream one. Also, like someone who gets the seven-year itch, he doesn't realize that he'll take his current problems with him no matter where he goes.

4. Test the waters. Why not try out some smaller changes first? Keep the risk low. Mike and Patty could go for a couple of weeks and try it out instead of the major change of moving.

5. Keep a sense of proportion. In Mike and Patty's example, a case of marital problems, I cannot help but note that the word "marital" typed incorrectly becomes "martial." Marriage is a team effort, and taiji practice can help enrich it. Likewise, every time you partner up with someone to practice push hands, you are engaged in a "mini-relationship." Use these small, short-term, and ideally friendly encounters as a testing ground for your bigger-ticket relationships.

Al McEnroe is a social worker in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has practiced taiji for nine years, and has been married for eighteen.

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Taijiquan Journal (T'ai Chi Ch'uan Journal)