Becoming What We Do

in Nicholas Mann's updates

I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with one of my students on the way to practice Tai Chi in Mississauga last week.  The topic came up about how we humans are biological mechanisms and that we have the capacity to create ourselves in what every fashion we choose. This was an exciting topic for the both of us as and the examples that we came up with were varied across many aspects of human experience; physical, emotional, mental, intellectual.

Physically we have the option to practice whatever type of exercise we choose. We can choose to practice something such as Tai Chi or something such as kickboxing, something such as jogging or something such as weightlifting, something such as yoga or something such as rock climbing.  The difference between these forms of exercise may seem minor at first glance; they are all activities someone would choose to become healthier and more active.  However if we think for a second about the psychological effects of our training on our mind set, we may find that these activities can create in ourselves a certain personality that often comes with the clique we follow.

My friend used the example of aggressive martial arts training and how it had them on edge during the day time.  The rigorous training sessions at night left an imprint on their psyche that was often still there in the following days. After months and years of this type of training the mindset of an aggressive martial artist is formed and one becomes what they have trained.  They can often be on edge and develop a no-nonsense attitude towards others.

A jogger is in a similar boat. I considered myself a runner at one time but have to say that I never got as far as to fall into the clique.   Some of my friends have run for many years and the more I think about it the more I see them developing similar mindsets. Always wanting to push themselves to run a little further and a little faster during their evenings has developed in them an attitude of always striving to push themselves and progress in other things in their lives.

I have a good friend who is a competitive power lifter.  I have known him for quite a few years and seem to notice little difference in his aggressive behaviour. Spending an afternoon with him and his power lifting friends however was quite an eye opener. I was invited to a BBQ over the summer and have to be honest in telling you that I didn’t stay long. The competitive power struggle that was going on amongst these “friends” had me expecting to see a fight between them that night.   Again I say that over the years, the evening and weekend practice of these guys had started playing itself out in their attitudes towards life and their roles in it.

Tai Chi is an internal/soft form of martial art. It is practiced mainly without partner involvement in the early stages. A person learns to stay balanced during their movements. They learn to develop the ability to adjust with expected oncoming force and to change directions when needed.  Once the partner training starts, the practitioner can expect their partner to help them improve their ability to go with the force and redirect it.  This is why Tai Chi was described to me by my teacher as ‘the art of redirection”. Over months and years of practice, this constant following the force and redirecting it enables one to better adjust to the pushes and pulls of life. The psychological effects of Tai Chi on the participant are similar to the physical effects trained during practice.  A Tai Chi practitioner should become more balanced and better able to adjust to forces that cause them stress in their lives.

This is not to say that these effects will happen after one class. Just as the aggressive martial artist, jogger, and power lifter didn’t start to change after a week of training.  Over the course of a few years the effects will become more and more noticeable and we can start thinking now about the changes that are happening in our psyches because of our training.  If we are thinking long term we can think about how we would like to be in the future as a result of our physical training, then we can make our decisions not only on how we would like to develop physically but how we would like to develop mentally.

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