Some birthday thoughts from me from exactly two years ago, appropriate now, too.
Here we are, a few weeks later than I’d hoped, some notes from a wonderful conversation with everyone around the table last Aberdeenshire teaching trip, and also the bones of what I taught, beyond the physical T’ai Chi, last time. This is not a serious essay, nor a prescription to set the world to rights, but it may help if you are down, in the way chocolate, a beautiful sunset, or finding a fiver in your pocket also helps.
Winter comes, to the higher latitudes, and sometimes the spirit sinks.
This is entirely normal, and a certain slowing down must occur, if we are in any way in sync with the natural world. But the mood and can drop, the heart grow a little cold, and the spirit can be dampened. This is not so good. I could say: ‘Just do daily T’ai Chi practice’. Aha, good idea, you answer, but it ain’t gonna happen as I am already stuck on the sofa. So, what are the things that have been dampening our spirit? Looking at both traditional Taoist sources, and modern experience of life, here’s a little list.
Taking oneself too seriously
Pain (physical or mental)
External influences (almost anything that is ‘not self’: culture, events, climate, disaster, war, constant bad news, politics, neighbours… life)
Too much or too little sleep
Grief and loss
Too much, too little, or the wrong food
Too much or too little company or solitude.
You could probably add a million more, but these were the main ones we discussed. External influences are all lumped together for good reason, they’ll be different for everyone, in every context, so can’t be enumerated. For instance, one could list ‘patriarchy’, ”colonialism’, ‘mass extinction’ or ‘poverty’, and these would all fit nicely, you get the idea. By the way, these are sometimes denied by the just ‘think positive’ brigade. Great! How’s thinking positive making all of these real things any less oppressive for those on the actual sharp end of them? Not encouraging negative thoughts is indeed good mental hygiene. But saying everything is a mental creation is a delusion. Awful things do actually happen, in the real world, and sometimes correct anger at these things can lead us to right action, rather than wishful thinking, and the habit of always looking away from what we find difficult or distasteful.
There is a way through, to raise the spirit and to regain one’s centre-line. Here are some enliveners:
Freedom from all of the above listed items!
Stretching or challenging oneself a bit, in activity, not too much, but significantly
The right company
Reaching beyond oneself, helping out, being charitable, volunteering
Time in nature
T’ai Chi and Chi Kung
Physical activity: singing, dancing, walking, intimacy, etc
Being around beloved creatures, whether pets or wild beings
Conviviality and connection
Learning a new skill or developing an old one
Not dwelling on oneself
Noticing the good
Again, everyone will have their own list, but these came up with the group. Why do I have ‘taking oneself too seriously’ and ‘humour’ as top of their respective lists? I have noticed, after many years of teaching, that the very first sign of the blues, and a depressed spirit, is how very SERIOUS and IMPORTANT all one’s thoughts are. There are many cures for this: having a laugh, especially at oneself, reading or watching something that always makes you chuckle, deliberately courting foolishness, taking the mick out of oneself, asking for a very big hug from a friend, time with swans / cygnets / kittens / puppies (delete as appropriate), playing games, yes actual board / card / or social games, singing loudly along with favourite music while dancing, even. All this will feel like pulling teeth to the serious person who is down because the world is so awful, and surely no one has any right to ever feel ok again… ‘It’s black, it’s black, you throw me in the pit and feed me scraps…’
So the Fast Show used to sort me out, and the RAF airmen speaking modern slang from Armstrong and Miller. Or very good Sci Fi TV. Or writing to friends and sending little gifts. And have I mentioned swans?
Or going to T’ai Chi class.
Thanks to Davina for the prompt to get this written. I am off to drink a glass of cava. Have a good evening.
These cheeky faces always lift my spirit. The local swans and cygnets.