The persuasive power of harmonious living
The two tigers and the strawberry have taught me well about learning to find powerfully persuasive calmness in the eye of the storm. Eliminating fear, and being powerfully and persuasively fulfilled and joyful, calls for summoning, keeping and tempering the fearlessness of one’s child within, filled with wonder and living in the moment, as detailed in the Zen story of the man and the two tigers: A man is chased in the wilderness by two tigers, only to be forced off a cliff, hanging for life from a vine. One tiger waits above and the other below for a human meal. Two field mice gnaw away at the vine. The man sees a wild strawberry growing from the side of a cliff, reaches for it, tastes it, and — with his life hanging in the balance — thinks of how delicious the strawberry tastes.
The external challenges to reaching internal balance are countless. For me, they include law enforcement interrupting me (more than once) out of not understanding t’ai chi; being rear-ended last week upon leaving a courthouse parking lot (fortunately resulting in continued harmony, and nothing harmed but my bumper and a temporary shaken-up feeling); and government officials and bureaucrats who urinate on the Constitution and justice without recognizing or else not caring that they are doing so. The very fact that it took me some time to assemble the foregoing list suggests that I am reaching greater internal harmony that is unshakeable by external events.
Even in law school and beyond, too often I saw the bottle of justice as half empty rather than as half full. I was dissatisfied that only Justices Brennan and Marshall found the death penalty unconstitutional always, rather than grateful that at least two justices were there to persuade the other justices and the world against capital punishment. I was incredulous with the Maryland District Court judges who made (and too often still make) life-changing decisions over criminal defendants appearing by video screen from the jail (and thus seeming less real by their not being present in the flesh) by deciding their pretrial bail status in less than two minutes per defendant, with no representation from public defender lawyers in too many counties. I saw a world with too few people ready to stick out their necks for what is right, rather than praising those who stick out their necks. I wondered if too many hippies had really turned their back on reversing over-complacency, too much pressure to conform, and ongoing injustice.
Along the path, I met fellow trial lawyer Vic Crawford, soon after becoming a public defender lawyer. The late Vic Crawford was brash, apparently fully ensconced in Maryland’s political establishment, and a practitioner of t’ai chi ch’uan. Three years after meeting him, feeling still too imbalanced in my life and too dissatisfied with the injustice inflicted by others, I called Vic and asked for recommendations for a t’ai chi teacher. Fortunately, his recommendations led me to Ellen and Leonard Kennedy, whose teachers Robert Smith and Ben Lo studied with the incomparable Cheng Man Ch’ing.
I never asked Vic what led him to t’ai chi. I suppose that his surviving friends and family will know. Perhaps it started with the convenience of Bob Smith’s generously teaching t’ai chi every week at the Bethesda YMCA parking lot when Bob was not working weekdays with the CIA.
I took to t’ai chi very much, but along the path let days slip past without practicing, when it is critical to practice daily, similarly to the many reasons for missing any kind of daily exercise, with all the other competing daily tasks. Somewhere in the back of my mind was a nagging doubt about whether all these slow movements were all they were cracked up to be. By now, I know that there is no more an excuse for me to miss practicing daily t’ai chi than there is to miss brushing my teeth or bathing daily.
In 2009, I found a group of taijiquan practitioners, led by Julian Chu — thanks to the referrals from Matt Stampe and David Walls Kaufman to Julian’s Sunday summer practices in Carderock Park — who confirmed to me that taijiquan is just what I continue to need in finding powerful and persuasive calmness in the eye of the storm. Julian and his best students have at once — primarily through pushing/sensing hands practice — underlined to me the deadly and essential power of taijiquan when practiced correctly, consistently, and with the necessary practice time; the critical role of softness in neutralizing attacks and in sensing the opponent’s intentions and actions; and the necessity and irreplaceability of daily and correct taijiquan practice, morning and night.
Taijiquan is an internal martial art, which looks not to our external strength and not to the strength of our muscles and bones, but to our internal energy that translates into physical strength and using the opponent’s energy. In t’ai chi sparring, the point is to give in to the opponent’s attack to a point, and to uproot and discharge the opponent as if the fighter were a tidal wave or balloon expanding irresistibly.
By now, I have learned that focusing on internal strength, internal well being, and internal energy is the only way to find consistently true satisfaction and power in life. External factors constantly tempt us to feel disappointed, including natural disasters, killing tigers, and vicious-acting and heartless-seeming people. Desperately searching a better life through external factors — including seeking more and better friends, better places to go for weekends and vacations, and better films and books — emphasizes the illusion that true contentment can only be achieves in the future rather than right now.
Perfectionism is weakness. Inability to truly relax when getting ready to sleep, doing t’ai chi or meditating, or doing work because we did not get around to removing the unhealthful dustballs from under our bed, is debilitating. New dustballs will always form. The key is to be mindful and joyful in our every actions, including when cleaning the dustballs. Such mindfulness will reduce procrastination and ineffectiveness to clean our lives’ real and proverbial dustballs all the more.
To sum it up, harmonious living and internal well-being is key for the path to physical, psychological and spiritual health; success in life; and persuasion when persuasion is needed, which is alway needed in my line of work.
When I talk about internal development and harmony, I am not talking about complacency. Complacency is intertwined with limpness and collapse. Dissatisfaction is intertwined with brittleness, bitterness and stiffness. Internal harmony and satisfaction is about being here now, fully engaged while non-attached and not getting sucked in, cleared and at zero limits, fearless even about death (and even if death seems coming in the next few seconds or minutes), in the moment without being upset nor fearful about any bows or arrows, being no more angry at the car driver who almost kills by weaving across three lanes of crowded highway traffic than we would be at a deadly tornado, and realizing that everyone and everything ultimately is related and connected.
Bring on the storm.