While preparing for a recent Tai Chi class, I was struck by the importance of space in generating power in Yang-style Tai Chi. This led me to think about how critical space can be in generating powerful results in anyone's life.
Many principles are in play while doing Tai Chi, including relaxation, focus, balance and space. But without the proper amount of space between the arms and the body (as well as between the legs), properly executing the other principles is not enough to create a structure that can overcome an outside force stressing it. The space creates room that allows chi, or life force energy, to flow in a way that is not possible if the structure is constricted or overextended.
In a nutshell, without the right amount of empty space in the structure -- or room for nothing -- the structure does not function properly. Or to put it another way, space is not really nothing; it is something of vital importance in and of itself.
How does this Tai Chi principle translate into something useful for your life?
Doing "nothing" is not usually associated with power. But relaxed downtime with no agenda creates a structure that allows energy to flow in a way that is not possible when life is filled to the brim with activity. Constant activity, whether in the world or in one's head, leads to depletion and exhaustion. Creating space in our lives gives us room to regenerate and for energy and thought to flow in a healthy way.
Remember the famous "Eureka!" moment? Supposedly the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes shouted it when he stepped into a bath and in a flash understood the solution to a previously intractable problem. He wasn't in his study slaving away when the insight flashed into his mind; he was in a relaxed state with nothing going on other than the desire to take a bath.
There are many stories of people having breakthrough insights while seemingly doing nothing. Perhaps you have had one yourself. What makes these moments possible is creating space for important insights to blossom.
Leaving room for empty space provides another function: It can be thought of as a container patiently waiting to be filled. But rather than being filled with empty space, it is an environment that is brimming with energetic potential for giving birth to new life and new ideas. In this context, it balances the drive toward forward movement.
Our out-of-balance world is filled with excessive energy pushing us forward without the benefit of some force putting the breaks on it to see if there is a wiser way to progress. As the Yin/Yang symbol illustrates, life as we know it is made up of a complimentary balance of opposite forces. Activity is balanced by inactivity or space, and creating space is fundamental to a healthy, harmonious, flowing life.
The next time you think about stopping what you are doing to do "nothing" and then reject the idea as a waste of time, think again. Creating space in your life just might be the best thing you can do. In the moments of quiet and renewal, a surprising sense of power can emerge. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences on this neglected source of strength and energy.
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