Happy and Happiness

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Ever ask yourself what makes you happy? What must happen before I feel happy, or at least I think I will be happy?

For some, having a million bucks in the bank will make them happy. Meanwhile, would they start feeling happy during the process of working towards the million-dollar mark? And would they only feel happy after they have the million dollars in the bank account?

What if I am more twisted, and hurting others makes me happy? I probably would think I am happy when I treat others like thrash, that I am happy when others are miserable because of my less than desirable ways.

We all have our “happy buttons”. Something must happen before we feel happy.

However does that mean we will have happiness when our happy buttons are pressed? Probably not.

Being happy does not necessarily mean we have happiness. I cannot imagine my happiness being built upon other people’s miseries. I do not think my happiness can be measured by the number of zeros in my bank account.

It is like the case of knowledge versus wisdom; we can have all the knowledge in the world but we may not be wise. Knowledge could have been outdated, but wisdom could possibly last forever.

Likewise, the state of feeling happy will subside sooner or later. For some, adding the final zero to reach the million-dollar bank account probably makes them happy at that instance. How ever long the happy state sustains probably depends on individuals.

The question I often ask myself: do I just want to learn the Taiji techniques, or do I want to understand the wisdom passed down by our Taiji masters, and incorporate them into my daily activities?

Letting go of Habits

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I was watching “The Dog Whisperer” the other day, where Cesar Millan mentioned something quite interesting. The dog, whose behavior Cesar Millan was changing, had this obsession with chasing after shiny reflections and light. The dog’s owners thought their beloved family dog had gone crazy.

 

 

The reason Cesar Millan gave for the dog’s behavior was that this dog was constantly seeking to be in the state of control, and somehow chasing after shiny reflections gave the dog the mental state of being in control. Thus whenever this dog was feeling nervous, it will habitually look out for shiny reflections and chase after them.

 

Or at least this is what I make it out to be from the show.

 

We tend to do things which give us the sense of satisfaction. We often fall back on certain habits and routines that reinforce a certain part of what we valued. It could be that we need to be constantly reassured of our own identity, values, beliefs or even the sense of being in the present.

 

As with all things, this could be helping us, or harming us.

 

There was a time I noticed a certain feeling, or sensation, when I practiced my Taiji routine. I associated that feeling with practicing the routine correctly. Thus for a period of time, my Taiji routine was skewed towards this certain direction. The initial result was that I made vast improvement in that particular aspect of Taiji, but towards the end I focused so much on getting the sensation that I lost touch with the other aspects of my Taiji practice. I lost my balance, and gave in to obsession. If I did not get enough of that sensation after my practice, I would felt that I did not practice correctly.

 

Perhaps that is why we often have to learn, unlearn and re-learn in our long Taiji journey. If we were to take a step back from our habits and routines, take a good look at ourselves from another angle, we could reassess ourselves better. Habits we picked up along the way could be good habits at that particular time, but at a different stage of our Taiji journey, they could actually be holding us back from progressing.

 

I have read of a Taiji teacher telling his students that we do not seek affirmation from our practice; we let the results come to us. This way we will be able to maintain our mental balance, which is important to our Taiji progress.

得意忘形

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This Chinese phrase, loosely translated, means to get carried away and forget about one self.

The origin of the phrase goes far back into Chinese history, to the days around the Three Kingdoms.

典故:《晋书·阮籍传》:“嗜酒能啸,善弹琴。当其得意,忽忘形骸。”

魏晋时期的文学家阮籍,因魏亡而隐居山林,与文人嵇康、山涛、向秀、阮咸、刘伶、王戎被称为“竹林七贤”,他狂荡无羁,别人形容他喝酒时爱吹口哨,高兴时好像忘记自己的存在

Though mainly used with a negative connotation, if we choose to go literal with these four Chinese characters, it is actually quite relevant to the practice of Taiji.

“得意” usually means being in a “pleased” state. Individually, “得” could mean “to obtain”, and “意” could mean “intention”. So recombining the two, they could mean “obtaining (understanding) the intention (essence)”. Or to put it simply, “to fully understand”.

“忘形” usually means to forget one self. Or we can take a literal meaning as “to forget (忘) the physical form (形)”.

Once we fully understand the essence, we have to let go of the physical form.

So how is that relevant to us?

I recalled a fellow senior telling me an example about traveling by boat. He asked me to imagine having to climb a mountain after crossing a river by boat.

“Would you carry the boat with you?” he asked.

“Of course not,” I said. “Once I have crossed the river, the boat has little use for me when I start climbing the mountain. In fact it will be holding me back in my next phase of the journey”

So in the same way, once we have learnt a certain aspect of Taiji, and fully understand the essence, we have to move on. We have to let go of the “boat”, or we will not be able to start the next phase of our journey.

Learning from “failure”

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“Failure is the mother of all successes”.

“Invest in failures”.

I believe nobody can doubt this piece of old wisdom.

However do we actually embrace this notion? Do we treat each mistake we made as failure, or do we tell ourselves we are one step closer to success?

We will always remember the most painful lessons we have learnt; painful, because they were learnt through making mistakes. Do we also remember the lessons we learnt through success, skills we have learnt without much difficulties?

Education is not just about teaching and learning academic subjects. It is not just about teaching and learning correct grammar and algebra. It is also about teaching the virtues of perseverance, hard work, resilience; it is about building character.

Likewise, in the life-long journey on the Taiji path, we will make countless mistakes, meeting countless bottlenecks, and get thrown out many times during tuishou. However these experiences will only serve to strengthen our will. If we were defeated both externally (physical) and internally (mental), then we have really lost.

Right and Wrong

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It has been said many times that Taiji is about “relative to”. Whether something is Yin or Yang depends on what it is compared against. A practitioner can appear very supple and relaxed when pushing hands with an opponent who is a beginner. The same practitioner may look stiff and tense when pushing hands with his teacher.

To an observer, the practitioner must have done something “right” when pushing hands with a beginner, and at the same time, when pushing hands with his teacher, he must have done something “wrong”. In actual fact, the practitioner did exactly the same thing in both instances. He did nothing “right” or “wrong”; he is just being himself.

When a beginner finds it difficult to relax his shoulders during his practice, do we conclude that this beginner is doing something “wrong”? More often than not, our ability to perform a certain task is learned, acquired through many setbacks in the form of mistakes and failures. Once we learned from our mistakes and failures, and finally acquired the ability to perform the task, we call this process “learning experience”. Once we have made enough mistakes and learned from these setbacks, we will emerge stronger and wiser. At the risk of sounding simplistic, when Yin reaches its extreme point, Yang emerges, and vice versa.

So does that mean that when we have been doing something “right” for too long, it will turn out to be a “wrong” sooner or later?