I spent the first week of July in Amherst, Massachusetts at Long River Tai Chi Circle’s annual workshop. I began studying tai chi with Wolfe Lowenthal and his students in 2004, and I now teach a beginner’s tai chi class through UF Health’s Integrative Medicine program. As each year passes, my practice grows in significance to me. So does my regard for my teacher and fellow students around the world.
We live in an increasingly face-paced society that encourages overexertion for dubious outcomes. Many of us suffer poor health as a result. Wolfe’s teacher, Professor Cheng Man-Ching taught a different approach to life, one based on patience and compassion.
Wolfe begins his first book There Are No Secrets reflecting on the central principle of Professor Cheng’s tai chi–relaxation. He describes an experience early in his study. After suffering an “emotional blow” when the film production company he was working for in Rome went bankrupt, Wolfe returned to New York and consulted with Professor:
I crawled back from Rome and collapsed into a chair next to Professor and told him the terribly depressing story. My dreams had died.
“Relax,” he said. “Just relax.”
He said more but it’s lost to memory. I was dumbfounded by his basic advice.
“Relax?” I thought as I walked away. “What garbage. My life is in shambles and he’s telling me to relax.”
Years have passed. Emotional blows have come and gone, and I have begun to understand a key to living in balance: we are responsible for our response to the flow of events.
Professor used to say, “As you grow more relaxed, you become less afraid. As you become less afraid, you grow more relaxed.” This is the nature of Progress.
Any event in the world will produce suffering if one reacts to it fearfully, but if one relaxes and dissolves the fear reaction, one can meet even great catastrophes with equanimity.
I recently expressed this idea to a friend suffering through a horrendous series of family tragedies. “I can’t accept that,” she said.
Austin Kleon is known for inspiring thousands of people to be creative. His best-selling book, Steal Like an Artist, demystifies the creative process, making it accessible to anyone. Show Your Work is Kleon’s most recent book. It’s the answer to all of those hoping to “make it” or “get known” as a result of their creative efforts.
Kleon isn’t just talking to writers and artists. His book features owners of a bar-b-que restaurant. I also heard him say in an interview that he would be happy to know that a plumber learned something by picking up his book. We live in an era in which we make and maintain connections largely through digital interfaces. Kleon’s book offers the creative professional a way to be a contributing member of the contemporary commons, not just a taker.
Teach what you know.
Don’t just share your products, share your process.
Being good at things is the only way to get connections.
What are you building that’s going to last?
My friends and colleagues, Ricky Kendall and Michael Claytor play music for people at UF Health Shands Hospital. They are part of a current study looking at the impact of music on the wellbeing of patients, families and staff in emergency rooms. Does music improve patient satisfaction and reduce caregiver stress? This short video describes the research project and includes interviews with the musicians, as well as Jill Sonke, Director of UF Center for Arts in Medicine and Dr. Adrian Tyndall, Chair of Emergency Medicine.