Re-Learning to Walk

Yesterday, I learned the basics of the “Repulse Monkey” Tai Chi form. It is basically a way to gracefully retreat or walk backward, like a monkey would I suppose.

While I certainly did not perform the move gracefully (I bumped into my chair a few times), after a few attempts I did begin to feel coordinated and understand how the position of my arms and legs affected my balance. It was pretty cool!

After I finished, I began to think about how complex very natural movements are. For example, walking is a very natural and very easy movement. No training necessary. However, if you stop to think about the act of walking and consciously and mindfully walk, you might end up looking like this.

This begs the question, why pay attention at all to our natural movements? Shouldn’t we just do things without thinking or paying attention to them?

Let’s say there is a scenario in which you’d want to purposely examine your natural activities is when you suspect they are in fact unnatural. Let’s use a work example.

At work, after lunch you might think it’s natural to try to force yourself to do work, despite your desires to take a long nap under your desk. After all, everyone else is doing it, and your boss certainly would not be pleased if he caught you napping under your desk.

But, you begin to question whether or not it’s wise to ignore this incredible biological urge to nap. So, you do some “unnatural” experimentation. You make some up excuse about going to a meeting and you “repulse monkey” to your car to dose for a half hour. You’re nervous, so it’s not that restful, but you do this a few for more times and you feel a billion times better about working in the afternoon. Sometimes action is natural, sometimes non-action is natural.

After a few weeks of this, everyone just assumes its normal or “natural” for you to be gone in the afternoon and you benefit from feeling more rested and your company gets better work from you.

In this example, you’ve tested whether or not what you’re doing is the natural order of things, and made a startling discover: napping is excellent!

There are probably many activities and habits that feel natural, but are in fact, not natural, or at least, more nuanced than we initially thought. In our hypothetical examples (not so hypothetical for me), we found that trying to force yourself to work does not lead to more work. Rather, not working (napping) leads to better work.

Thus, it makes sense for to pay attention to both the natural and unnatural, and adjust accordingly.

I would like to leave you with a profound insight or some concrete lesson that is more than just “be natural,” but I think this passage from the Tao Te Ching does it much better than I can.

Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?

I do not believe it can be done. 

The universe is sacred.

You cannot improve it.

If you try to change it, you will ruin it.

If you try to hold it, you will lose it. 

So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind;

Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;

Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;

Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.

Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.

Chapter 29, Tao Te Ching