June 19, 2007

Yin and Yang in Relationships and Recreation

My divorce becomes official in a couple of days. I was going to wait till then to give you a report, but why wait? I feel thoughts bubbling up right now, and in a couple of days I might have more observations.

It’s my policy not to say anything specific here about the situation, out of respect for others’ privacy, and I’m just going to bend that policy to the extent to telling you that it’s hard to imagine a divorce going any better than this one. We’ve negotiated a fair settlement, we’re amicable as can be, the kids are thriving (largely as a result of their own inner development, I think, as well as seeing that their parents’ breakup hasn’t created enmity), and we all eat dinner together once a week.

In short, things may be better now than before, and that’s the goal of a breakup.

I’m still feeling ridiculously upbeat, and thinking of Katie’s adage, “When you things can’t possibly get any better, they have to.” At the same time I’m tempering my mood by reminding myself that the wheel keeps turning and downturns are inevitable. I’ve lived through a great many of those in my time. This time, though, there feels like a difference in the texture of my anticipation: I’m telling myself that if I fall into pessimism, that’s just the night coming on and night is the time for growth and dreams, for the ascent of intuition, for unseen preparations. (“Telling myself?” What’s the good of that, you ask? In fact one of my recent pleasant surprises is how much change can be accomplished through self-talk. This is in line with the ideas of cognitive therapy, rational emotive therapy, and The Work.)

Another reason I’m feeling good is that this past weekend I attended a great 16-hour workshop in Chen style tai chi, taught by Cheng Jin-Cai (pronounced Chung Jin-Tsai), a great master who grew up next to the ancestral Chen village. He has studied for 47 years (he’s my age), and is the 19th generation successor of the originator of this style. Previously I’ve studied Yang style, which is the most popular in the US and I think in China too. Chen, the original tai chi style, is much more physically demanding and more martial in its approach. To see Grandmaster Cheng at work, to feel him throw you with absolutely no use of force – just a tiny shrug as you try to push him and then fly off his body – and to hear corroborated stories of his healing abilities -- is to believe that chi, the Chinese version of the life force, may really exist, whether it’s hormonal or neurological or something else. He’s also a fine teacher despite limited English. Like a Western teacher and unlike a Chinese teacher, he doesn’t withhold selected parts of his knowledge from you, and he patiently pays attention to each individual student.

If you’re anywhere near Houston and are interested in this kind of practice, I recommend looking him up. My teacher, who’s a sixth-degree black belt, regularly travels 3 hours into Houston to take private lessons from him. Cheng brought along an assistant, an Asian-American who owns his own tai chi school and has been practicing for “only” 27 years, who regularly drives seven hours from New Orleans to Houston for that purpose. This assistant has studied with prominent masters in China, Taiwan, and elsewhere, and says he had never found a true teacher until Cheng Jin-Cai.

The experience has renewed my enthusiasm for tai chi, which had waned over the past couple of years because I’d found Chen style bewilderingly difficult. I’m practicing again, and it feels good.

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