There's a lot of pushing on this blog, as elsewhere on the Internet. People read something they don't like. They push back. The pushed take affront and return the favor.
And so it goes. That's life. It's natural to resist having our psychological space invaded. Nestled comfortably in the four walls of my beliefs, someone bursts in and starts sledge hammering.
Hey! Stop, you stupid fuckhead! Got to defend the territory.
Some recent Church of the Churchless comments have been directed at seemingly overly aggressive language by a blog visitor who would go unnamed if I didn't mention that his moniker is "Tao."
It's true that Tao isn't shy about blasting away with word-weapons. But here's a suggestion about how to handle pushiness, whether in cyberspace or physical space: relax. Accept the incoming with little tension, then redirect it without losing your own center.
This is Tai Chi 101. Also, I'd say, Handling Life's Irritants 101. When we tense up and try to muscle our way through a confrontation, whether mental or physical, we'll likely find ourselves being thrown off balance. I know this even though I'm just a couple of years into my Tai Chi practice, after a much longer stint with hard style martial arts.
"Push hands" is done with a partner, as contrasted with Tai Chi forms, which are played individually (Tai Chi practitioners typically say "play" instead of "perform," a reflection of the relaxed Taoist sensibility that pervades this art).
One of the first things I learned when pushing hands is that tensing up offers the other person a marvelous means of manipulating me. If I extend an arm and it's grabbed by my partner, he can use it to throw me every which way if I keep it rigidly connected to my body.
But if I relax and empty the muscular tension, there's little left that's substantial to grab onto any more. A skilled Tai Chi master seems to "disappear" when force is used against him. He knows how to blend with someone else's energy, using the principle of flexible power to dissipate a threat.
Until we're challenged by another person, it's difficult to know where our tension—physical or psychological—is being held. This is why pushing hands with a partner is an important Tai Chi practice. Playing a form on my own, it's easy for me to believe that I'm centered, balanced, grounded.
When I'm stumbling backward after a push hands drill has revealed the flaws in my Tai Chi ability, self-deception has no place to hide.
Likewise, engaging in vigorous philosophical or religious debate helps us better understand the strengths and weaknesses of our position. Teeth-gritting tension usually means that we're trying to hold on to a belief that isn't truly a part of us (if it was, we wouldn't be worried that someone else could take it away).
After Laurel and I were married sixteen years ago, we spent many hours discussing our spiritual beliefs. Laurel wasn't reluctant to challenge the Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) party line that I parroted back then.
I found that I could comfortably handle her skepticism about many RSSB articles of faith. But some of her questions struck a nerve. The ouch! I felt when she challenged certain tenets was, looking back from my current perspective, a symptom of my nascent churchlessness.
That is, my metaphysical tender spots were pointers to the beliefs that I had the least confidence in. Yet I defended them with remarkable vigor. I must have sensed that these were the weak spots in my fundamentalist armor.
You want to know why I believe that my guru is God in human form? You want evidence? Well, this isn't something that can be demonstrated rationally. It's a mystical thing. You understand it from within…Have I gotten such an understanding? No, I haven't. But other people have. How do I know that? Um, I just believe that they have, because I trust them…So you're saying that my RSSB faith is just like that of a Christian or Muslim, since I'm claiming that such and such is true without any evidence. Well, you're wrong! It's not….Stop asking me why. It just isn't! Let's stop talking and watch TV.
Thankfully, I'm not that rigid anymore. If anything, Laurel thinks that I've gone overboard in the other direction. I'm so flexible in my beliefs (or lack of them), I won't fight in the argument ring for hardly any spiritual position now. "Maybe," I'll say. "Or maybe not. Who knows? Certainly not me."
I'm pleased that much of the tension I used to feel is no longer there. But who knows? Maybe it was necessary for me to have my vulnerable belief areas exposed and become aware of how strongly I felt the need to defend them. This helped me realize that little was supporting the beliefs other than my hope that they were true.
So tension isn't always bad, if it leads to a letting go when the strain of maintaining an untenable position becomes too much to bear.
But usually it's better to relax when pushing hands, or minds. The Tao Te Ching shows the Way:
Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight;
Empty and be full;
Wear out and be new:
Have little and gain;
Have much and be confused.
Therefore wise men embrace the one
And set an example to all.
Not putting on a display,
They shine forth.
Not justifying themselves,
They are distinguished.
They receive recognition.
They never falter.
They do not quarrel.
So no one quarrels with them.
Therefore the ancients say, "Yield and overcome."
Is that an empty saying?
Be really whole,
And all things will come to you.