01/03/2013 04:46 pm ET Updated Mar 05, 2013

Human Being or Human Doing: You Get to Choose!

Have you ever watched people who are masters at their sport? Three times a week, now, as I fumble with the third sequence in my tai chi class, I have the opportunity to witness a room full of individuals (who have been practicing tai chi for many years) practice the full sequence. And every time, I am struck by how beautiful the long sequence is, and how much I want to be in that group -- the group who has "made it."

When I'm in class, I don't want to chitchat. I want to learn, to relax, to release stress, and to master the sequences. All of them. If you haven't guessed, my usual way of approaching things is to go at them directly. I don't mind repetition, I want to do it and do it right.

However, this is not what this particular martial art is about. It is about being present, doing the sequences and moving precisely. It is about breathing in a way that releases stress. It is not necessarily about completing the sequences, although that is one of the results of concerted practice.

So I started thinking about this during the last class: All my life, I have been goal-oriented. Except, the more I thought about this martial art, and watched the people in my class, the less I think that "getting there" is what this class is about.


The more I experience it, the more I wonder whether this practice is actually about the actual practice? And that the goal is the ability to be in the present moment, with excellence? I know that for the five seconds at a time I'm able to be present with the movements, it is incredibly peaceful.

The people in the expert group in my class don't get a star or a medal when they complete the long sequence. Nobody even claps! Often, they just start over again!

Watching this has been a tremendously valuable lesson for me because for the first time in my life, the practice itself is the goal. Sound strange? I think so, too! But this class and the practice of the sequences is a beautiful metaphor. We are all busy, working, running around and being stressed about making sure we get everything done.

However, at the end of the day the "doing-ness" of life is not where the richness lies. It lies in the moments that we are able to be present and pay attention to what is going on around us.

The Mayans ended their calendar recently. The Gregorian calendar restarted all over again on January 1. This is, perhaps, an ideal time to evaluate those things in our lives that would be improved by our attending to them. But not in order to "get" there. It's in order to "be" there.

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