March 18th, 2006

tai chi

I had the unexpected experience of learning a bit about tai chi yesterday. I was called in to substitute as I do on very rare occassions, only to arrive at the school to discover I really had no classes to teach--it was "arts day" at the school. Different professional artists were assigned to different rooms to demonstrate their artform (from pottery to choreography to costume design to puppetry), and all I had to do was make sure the kids behaved in my assigned room, which happened to be the tai chi room.

I was completely skeptical that I would be able to feel this chi, or life force, in the exercises this guy, Matt, was having us do, but completely to my surprise, I did feel a tingly ball of energy so to speak when I participated. I flunked the other exercise, though, which was to try to sense which side of your partner's body a plastic bag was on with your eyes shut and your hands slowly going back and forth, hovering over top of the person. I did get it on the third try, but missed the first two times. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Matt was my partner and I was supposed to be demonstrating for the class, so I guess I was sorta nervous. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that Matt was distractingly cute and I couldn't concentrate (even with my eyes shut ;)). Or maybe I need more practice. Or maybe it's just not reasonable to think we could sense such things.

I don't know--the whole experience got me thinking, though--just what would this chi be? My Star Wars obsessed side would love to believe that it's just like some Jedi power, but rationally, I don't see how it could be. Is it some sort of electromagnetic radiation? After all, human bodies do eminate radiation in the infrared. Is it some biochemical reactions related to muscle movement and breating? I wish I could understand it more specifically...

Matt and I also had a nice conversation about fate and determinism. He made a point about how once you decide that something's going to happen, it does. But I'm not sure I ascribe as much meaning to this phenonmenon as he does. He was saying how the universe will make things fall into place so that what you determine to do occurs, and he gave an example of how he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail and he was thinking about how a gas refridgerator works and he kept asking people he met on the trail about it and it wasn't too long before someone he met knew. He thought it profound that he was in the wilderness and was able to find the answer to his question merely by deciding he had to find the answer, and he saw that as the universe making it so that he would cross paths with the person who could answer his question. I guess I see it more like *he* was determined to find an answer and, through *his* actions (asking everyone he encountered about it), he was able to make his desire to find an answer come true.

It's much like how *I* decided I wanted to be an astrophysicist and through *my* determination and actions, I am now on that path. Or like how the first time I decided to try climbing that wall at REI, I decided I was going to go all the way to the top, and through my efforts, I accomplished that task.

I guess I see nothing wrong with attaching more spiritual meaning to it, if that's how you like to describe it. I just describe the same phenomenon in a different way. I mean, what is "spiritual" anyway? If you're talking about your psychological and emotional well-being, then I suppose I think your spiritual realm is highly important. But if you are talking about supernaturalness, I just prefer to describe things in a natural, rather than supernatural way, because the latter requires faith in an unknown and untestable assertion, but the former does not.

And maybe that's all it is with chi. Maybe the biochemical/physical processes that create tingly sensations and tone muscles and all that are perfectly natural explanations of something that others prefer to describe more esoterically. It is interesting stuff, though, and I'd like to learn more about it...