Flow Like Water

We’ve all been there before: you have a vision of something you want to accomplish. Maybe it’s planning a family reunion, or a new workflow. It could be a new performance piece or art project, or whatever else it is that inspires you. You start working towards it: scheduling the time, building your team, making checklists and accomplishing them. Things are going smoothly, and then there’s a stick in the mud: someone or something is in the way.

What happens next is what we’ve all experienced before.

  • First we try to force things.
  • When that doesn’t work, we try to convince or persuade.
  • When that doesn’t work, we try to negotiate.
  • When that doesn’t work, we beg and plead.
  • When none of this works, we give up and go home.

This definitely happens to me, and is easiest to illustrate in terms of my taichi push hands practice.
(I first mentioned push hands in a previous blog here: [https://coachsteveyang.com/appropriateness-the-optimal-use-of-energy/])

Basically, push hands is an applied taichi practice where the goal is to imbalance your opponent. I will repeat that:

The goal is to imbalance your opponent.

When trying to imbalance someone, oftentimes they will present resistance: their arm will stiffen, their stance will square up, their energy will be in direct opposition to yours. How you respond determines whether or not you’re successful.

The instinct we all have is to push against their stiff arm, square up your stance with theirs, and put more energy to counteract theirs. What happens in this situation is, to use a technical term, “distinctly not-taichi.” It becomes a wrestling match, both of your bodies become tense, and you’re trying to win through brute force. It’s difficult. It’s tiring. The chance of injury is high.

In the best case, after a few seconds of this your opponent will tire and you will win by pushing him over, only for you to be completely spent and gasping for breath. In the worst case, you’ll end up pulling a muscle, being pushed down and further injured, and then need to stop altogether for a few weeks until you heal.

I’m here to tell you that there is another way.

The thing is, we tend to be so preoccupied with what’s in our way, so consumed by the resistance right in front of us, that we forget what the goal is in the first place. The goal was never to push their arm, or to see who is stronger, or who can push longer. The goal is to imbalance them.

My push hands instructor said, “Water is always clear on which way it wants to go. It always chooses the path of least resistance, always flows downward.”

With that, he demonstrated that his goal is not to push my arm, it is to push me, push my center. Whenever I tried to resist, he went around the resistance to strike my center. My stiffened arm didn’t stop him. My squared stance was never met with direct opposition. There’s a reason taichi is nicknamed “shadowboxing:” the experience is like he isn’t even there. I’m fighting against myself.

On top of how effective this strategy was, he never tired and never really had to exert himself. He was relaxed through it all and could keep practicing for hours on end.

What does this mean in your life?

The resistance can most easily be seen when it comes from other people. When someone else stands in our way, we can get swept up in trying to oppose them. We spend our energy thinking about why they’re wrong, how to convince them, or how to humiliate them. And if none of this works, we just want to give up.

The resistance can also come from ourselves. It sounds like a voice in our heads telling us we’re not worthy, or this task is impossible, or it’s just not worth it. We spend our time preoccupied with trying to change the voice, change what it’s saying, that we forget what we were out to accomplish in the first place.

You don’t have to push against the people that resist you. You don’t have to change the voice in your head in order to accomplish what you want. That’s wrestling with the resistance: you’re preoccupied with the distraction, and you’ve forgotten the goal.

Here’s what to do:

  • Remind yourself of your goal.
  • If you meet resistance, relax.
  • Don’t push, go around.
  • It’s ok that you don’t know exactly how you’ll get to your goal, just keep your goal in mind and seek out the path of least resistance.
  • This may require time, and definitely requires an open mind.
  • If your mind is relaxed and open, an opportunity will present itself. Move quickly and decisively when it shows up.
  • Corollary: A frustrated mind will not be able to detect the opportunity, and a tense body will not be able to move quickly enough to act on it.

Reader Reflection:

  • Is there something in your life that you want to accomplish, that you’re experiencing resistance to?
  • Do you find yourself wrestling with the resistance and forgot your goal in the first place?
  • What difference would it make if you stop wrestling with the resistance?
  • What does it mean in your situation to “flow like water” and find the path of least resistance?

Please tell me, I’d love to know!
You can email me: Steve@CoachSteveYang.com

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