My relationship with tai chi began in college. I was taking modern dance at the same time and integrated tai chi’s slow, graceful flow into my choreography. I then dove into the practice deeply at Naropa University. The rejuvenating, grounding, and calming movements were of great benefit during my often hectic academic pursuits. Being mindful of my movements helped me remember my body and connect with the earth.

A foundational principle and inherent experience in the practice of tai chi is stillness within motion; the two are inseparable. Although we are often caught up in or distracted by the busyness and confusion of movement, both physical and mental, there is always an element of stillness to connect with.

This can also be seen in the relationship between the Buddhist concepts of samsara (suffering) and nirvana (peace). Samsara is characterized by universal suffering (duḥkha in Sanskrit), which can be compared to the feeling of anxiety and dis-ease created by a misaligned axle constantly bumping as one travels in a cart. When the axle is correctly aligned and running smoothly (or when it is still), that can be likened to sukha (relaxation, bliss), also known as nirvana

Samsara is often portrayed as a spinning wheel of cyclic existence, whereas nirvana is taught to be complete relaxation and peace, similar to the unmoving space that is the hole in the hub of a wheel. Ultimately, it is the union of the axle and the gap of the hub that allows the cart to function properly. Likewise, the Middle Way exemplifies the nonduality of suffering and peace, samsara and nirvana. In reality, it is not one versus the other. The nature of motion is stillness. Like space, stillness is omnipresent no matter what seems to be occurring.

We can apply this principle to our activities in our Buddhist sangha or community. For example, our meditation hall inevitably needs to be cleaned. Dusting, sweeping, and vacuuming keep the space healthy and uplifted. The invitation here is to bring our mindfulness of movement and the relaxation we discover in the stillness of our meditation practice to our everyday physical behavior. 

We can engage our somatic awareness through the opportunity of cleaning our meditation hall or our home. We can apply stillness to any activity, even office work and administration. We can bring our curiosity and observation, our heart of dharma, to our relationship with our environment and our interactions with members of our community. What does writing a mindful email feel like? We can share beneficial activities and also experience unmoving calm, love, and awareness together.

Contemplation

Begin a meditation session with a positive intention and sit in shamatha for a few minutes. Notice the felt sense of your body. Get up and do walking meditation around the room, and be aware of those feelings. Sit again for a few more minutes. Then engage in a simple activity, like folding clothes. Remain curious and open to your experience.

 Nick Vail
Nick Vail

Nick Vail is a Karunika (teacher) for Nalandabodhi who lives in Maine.
A single parent, he enjoys quality time with his son, being in nature, playing the guitar, singing, dancing, and meditation.

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