When my internal monologue gets really belligerent on a topic, it’s generally because it’s trying to protect something that hurts, and either I can’t quite see it or don’t quite want to see it. When I easily fall into imagining angry conversations with people, defensive and strident conversations, then something underneath is definitely aching.

On the way home from taiji class last night, all my internal voices were mad, anticipating attack and rallying violent defense. Because taiji is not altogether a source of peace or strength right now, and that does hurt. Not all the time, but sometimes it catches me out.

My class has been working on an advanced form this year, a difficult form. I got through the beginning all right, but it gets harder as it goes and progress didn’t last. Moving into the harder second section coincided with the beginning of the summer’s terrible onslaught of anxiety issues, and for the first time since I started my practice taiji became a problem instead of a joy. I ground my way through classes, awkward and angry, sometimes determined to beat the damn thing out of spite and sometimes ready to throw up my hands and just walk away entirely. I stopped practicing outside of class, because I couldn’t make myself do it. I couldn’t face the extra reminders of how terrible I am and how hopeless it all was. I hated not keeping up, hated not practicing, hated the idea of practicing, hated that I wasn’t getting anywhere, hated that I couldn’t keep a lighter perspective and laugh off the awkwardness. Hated everything, and anticipated hating everything for the rest of the year, until Stupid Hard Form would finally go away in January and I could stop my slogging, demoralizing fight with it.

January is too far away. After a couple months of this I got mad enough to make an executive decision: Stupid Hard Form is fired. I’m not going to work on it. I’m not going to learn any more choreography for it, or have anything at all to do with it. I am so finished here. Because I realized that I still loved taiji and I missed it, and Stupid Hard Form was just getting in the way of getting back to a thing I loved and that used to help me. I couldn’t cope with flailing away at something extremely hard and having no perceptible progress, not when everything in my life felt extremely hard and was showing terribly little progress. This one thing, at least, I could opt out of. So I did.

It was the right choice. As soon as Stupid Hard Form was fired, my interest in working on everything else came back. I’ve got several short forms I can study, ones which still have lots to teach me. I’m considering entering the next round of belt testing, maybe even entering a small competition, when those were unthinkable before. I have no doubt that it was the right choice.

Except, Stupid Hard Form didn’t really go away. This dumb form pretty much is the bare-hand taiji program for this year. It’s what all the classes are working on. Except for me, because I fired it. So I find myself in a weird place. My program director is totally understanding, and has been very helpful in letting me absent myself from Stupid Hard Form, to go off on my own and work on something else while the rest of the class does whatever it does. But it’s not comfortable being on my own. It’s weird to find a corner of the room and try to ignore what else is going on, to choose what I want to do and try to learn something by myself. I’m separate now, and I don’t like it. I feel like a special case, a problem child, a “that student.”

There’s no truly comfortable ground here. My choice is either stay with everyone else and do something that has become a source of anxiety and pain, or segregate myself and feel the pinch of sticking out, of not fitting in. Even inside this truly understanding and accommodating environment, this place of good friends and real support, that still pinches me hard.

That not-fitting-in place is one of the hardest things for me, and I find myself uneasily confronting it more and more often — only inside the bounds of my own heart, because it’s too risky a thing to let out into the air. I find myself developing my own opinions and ideas, and then discover they separate me from the spoken opinions of my family, my closest friends and social groups, and I’m stuck. My own deep sense of truth won’t let me “just go along” with ideas I believe are wrong, but expressing what I believe is right will instantly separate me from people who are really important to me, and that’s emotionally treacherous ground. I can’t live alone. I can’t be separate, I won’t thrive on my own. But I won’t thrive unless I can find and speak my own truth, either.

I’m good at holding my tongue, and I give few people reason to suspect how contrary I can be. But taiji is pushing me right now to make my own right choice and live with the uncomfortable consequence of separation, of sticking out and not fitting in. Maybe this is a lesson I need right now, more than any refinement of physical movement. Maybe this is what Stupid Hard Form is going to teach me in the end: to get a little better at standing up inside my own truth, whatever the consequences may be.


1 comment so far

  1. Kim on

    “My own deep sense of truth won’t let me “just go along” with ideas I believe are wrong, but expressing what I believe is right will instantly separate me from people who are really important to me.”

    Oh, it will, will it? Really? You’re sure about that? Because I happen to think that this one statement of yours is fundamentally flawed.

    No, I don’t know all the important people in your life. But I do know, from my own life, that people that care about each other disagree sometimes – sometimes they disagree a lot – but that does not mean they cut each other out of their lives. For example, my father & I rarely saw eye-to-eye on pretty much any political, religious or social issue and this had been the case from my adolescence through my 40’s. We often had big disagreements on a whole lot of issues. He boycotted my first wedding. And yet, at no time during 30+ years of disagreeing, did I ever not know that (a) he loved me and (b) if I really needed him, he’d be there; and even though I often thought his “truths” were far from right, I still loved talking to him. (I, selfishly, loved it even more when time & life experience changed that “truth”, at least as it applied to his family.)

    I, personally, think that you need to have a little more faith in those people that are important to you. If you’re important to them, different points of view are not going to instantly separate you from them. It may get uncomfortable from time to time, but there is such a thing as “agreeing to disagree” and caring about someone entirely, including their “flaws”.

    Faith & courage, Kris. People will surprise you.

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