Tai Chi Lesson for Rosh HaShana

by Sifu David Goldstein

 

One of the principle themes in Tai Chi exercises is full concentration and awareness. We strive to be aware of our body positioning (posture) of our stance, structure, of the feeling of our feet on the floor, the relaxation in our muscles, and the coordination of our movement. Through careful and constant examination we regulate our bodies, our breath, and our mind. We perfect our alignment, we deepen our relaxation and release all tension. We control our movement with ever improving balance and timing.

We calm our minds, clearing our thoughts from worry, anxiety, and fear. Clearing away these energy-sapping thoughts allow us to pay even better attention to our body, breath, mind which all helps us to heighten our awareness of our body, breath, and mind which allows us to have heightened awareness of our surroundings, of the people, things, and energies around us. With a clear mind and accurate sense of what is happening around us, we can better evaluate situations decide what must be done, and direct our minds to appropriate targets.

In push-hands practice, we cultivate a modality of being fully aware of our own stance and our partner’s. This allows us to move our center safely away from our partner’s attack while simultaneously finding his center. Once found, we track the movement of his center and can guide it wherever we want.

It is this constant, gentle concentration on the sensory information from our peripheral nerves, the positioning of our bodies, our breath, on our environment (e.g., our push-hands partner’s center or our bosses panicked need for the quarterly report, or our spouse’s frustration from a difficult day) that allows us to best navigate this world successfully.

If we get lazy and loose the sense of where we are and where we are moving then situations can get out of hand. We get thrown to the ground in push-hands practice, or we fail to meet our boss’s expectations, or we disappoint our spouse when a thoughtful shoulder was not provided.

Before every New Year we resolve to make improvements; abandoning bad habits and develop good ones. But do we succeed?

In D’varim chapter 11, verse 12 it states: “אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ תָּמִיד עֵינֵי ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בָּהּ מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה”

To paraphrase: G-d keeps an eye on Israel from the beginning of the year until year’s end. Notice that in talking about the beginning of the year the verse uses the definite article; ‘the beginning of the year”, whereas in talking about the end of the year, the definite article is missing: “the end of year”. Although an English translation might be as we wrote, “from the beginning of the year until year’s end” and the missing definite article is hardly noticed, in the Hebrew it is very noticeable.

 

A Hasidic interpretation[1] of the verse explains that it is speaking in human terms. At the beginning of the New Year we are clearly aware of and connected to our resolutions; we say “this will be the year”; the year for advancement, improvement, accomplishment. But as the year wears on, we lose the excitement, the drive and the motivation to keep our goals in mind and on target. The year just becomes “a” year - another year like the last and the one before that.

In the Kedusha we say “הֵן גָּאַלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם אַחֲרִית כְּרֵאשִׁית”, that is, we will be redeemed when our end is like our beginning. We will be successful in our endeavors if we maintain the attention and motivation of the beginning of the year throughout the entirety of the year. If, like in our Tai Chi practice, we maintain our concentrated, unrelenting awareness on what we are doing, where we want to go, and how we are getting there, then we will reach our goal.

Otherwise, we might end up losing our way, and then what Loa Tzu said will be sadly appropriate:

“If you do not change direction”, he said, “you may end up where you are heading.”

 

[1] Based on the writings of the Satmar Rebbe.

 

​© 2018 by Sifu David Goldstein