Reproduced with permission fromhttp://www.taichiproductions.com/newsletter/indexpc_0706.php#2, with some paragraphs omitted.
I received an email request from a Tai Chi for Arthritis instructor asking for my thoughts about what should we, as instructors, consider when we lose some of our tai chi students, due to illness, and end of life issues, or they tell us the tai chi class is too much for them. The question was further framed with a request for some discussion for healthy boundaries for instructors, and how to adapt tai chi classes for individuals whose capabilities decline.
In some ways I may not be the best one to discuss boundaries, for I see no separation between those facing end of life and myself.
While safety and professional ethics are of primary importance, the last thing someone with a terminal illness or declining physical capacity needs is to run into a wall of protocol.
What they want is the Truth, Understanding and some Good Advice. The Truth, is the day we are born, we begin to age. With aging comes illness, suffering and we all will experience death. Understanding, is as much about our intentions as much as understanding is about the resultant factors of our experiences. What do I mean by this? Our intentions produce results, the tones of our experiences.
Some of us practice tai chi because we want to learn, and as we become knowledgeable we have a great desire to help others, by sharing our understanding, so we become teachers. So when a tai chi student comments that due to health, or end of life, they need to stop their tai chi practice, I say,
"Please forgive me, for I have failed you". I have failed you because while you were strong, I did not teach you how to be soft. I have failed you because I did not inspire you to use your will, not your force. To raise up your spirit to subdue your mind and then how to use your qi to command the movements of your body. I have failed you because I did not teach you the Fundamental Principles of Tai Chi - practice, practice, practice all to prepare for this moment, our most important performance of our life…
By teaching the Fundamental Principles, our intention is to experience the results, the Joy of Serenity, returning to the Source of our being and non-being. As our wise Master Trainer Shelia Ray said so well:
"Because there comes a point in our practice where we must learn to let go of the form, the perfectionism, and of the ego. As we begin tai chi, the ego is good because it helps us to see what we can achieve. It's powerful, fun and exciting. But like anything we practice to learn, e.g., piano, dance, even cooking, there comes a time when we must let go of trying to follow the prescribed pattern and let the art move through our souls. It's at this point by letting go of the form we can realize the true meaning for our study. It is to integrate the tai chi principles into our daily lives."
And I would add, to better understand how the principles apply to the end of our lives. In Buddhism, we practice the Paramettas, the first is Dana Parametta – the practice of relinquishment. The relinquishment of the dualism of opposites, which includes all ideas of being and non-being; love and hate; pure and impure; concentration and distraction. To truly relinquish, means giving. To give means you have to let go.
In tai chi, to move and to enter the flow, body and mind fall away, age and sickness are forgotten, pain and stiffness; right and wrong; and even time can have no meaning. It is at this point we come face to face with the Truth of our Nature, the Truth of our Spirit.
When the wind blows, the grass bends down. When the water runs, streams form. In tai chi we distinguish substantial and insubstantial; what is hard and what is effortless; what is important and what is not. Each moment as it arises, you come to trust yourself. Knowing in each moment you will know what to do, in the right way, at the right time.
I say to you, before you go, Remember. To practice the Fundamental of Tai Chi is to return to the Source. To return to the Source is to experience Serenity. The Wisdom That has No Teacher.