A Million Dead End Streets: Bowie, Tai Chi and the Arthritic Dog

“I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence.”

Bowie’s lyrics to “Changes” seem to capture the great dilemma of our super-productive digital age: though we speak of changing our lives, our habits, our hairstyles or our socks, the resolve fades quickly – like the momentary excitement of finding old school friends on Facebook. One day we notice that those fine ideas are still parked on the sidewalk of neglect, gathering dust in the corner of a neglected Dropbox account.

Nature has warned us too: What doesn’t adapt, rots, yet we still find it difficult to convert an item on a to-do list into an accomplished action, a good principle into a good practice. Why is this?

Well, in 2016 I thought I’d try and find out and to help me, I would employ this handy mOnk’s cut-out-and-keep five point plan for embracing change.

A mOnk’s Five Point Plan

1: Stop Doing Stuff All the Time

Art has something to do with achievement of stillnessWell, actually it’s okay to do a lot of stuff, just make sure it’s feeding back into the well. My wife and I have just given up our jobs in the town in which we live (small town, centre of Andalusia, Spain). Just cutting down hours was not going to to do it. It sucked up energy and time and spat us out the other end with little energy for anything else.

We have decided to move online with our respective businesses. My wife offers coaching support and I’ve decided to teach tai chi online. My aim is to produce and upload 15 videos, two podcasts and one ebook each month from all over Spain. Hectic and crazy, it may be, but at least they are my deadlines and it is my craziness. As for the different locations, well that’s what number two is all about.

2:  Move about quite a lot (But don’t focus on arriving)

If we don’t know what next to do, or where to go, just begin. Think first steps and 1000 mile journeys and all that jazz. We’ll never do it if we wait for the map to draw itself. Just begin. In Tai Chi we don’t sit and meditate looking at blank walls nor chant for an end to rising sea levels. We move. We engage. Movement is continual, subtle and forever flowing like our breath and energy. We just need to align ourselves to the same direction in which the water of life is travelling. To do this traditionally we would consult a Feng Shui specialist, now we can do it much cheaper with Google maps.

Trust only movement_teapotmOnk3: Leave the coastline behind

If we plan to discover new lands, it’s important to sail beyond sight of our present shoreline. “I still don’t know what I was waiting for, and my time was running wild…” With our 16-year-old arthritic mutt in tow (his legs no longer can get him up and down 5 flights of stairs), we have decided to wait no more. Time is running wild. We have packed our van with our digital devices, and are heading off in search of a stair-less home. If you want to taste another way of living, move beyond the next corner.

4: Practice something Physical

Change only seems to come about if a new idea is connected to a physical practice. It may sound impressive to say: “As of tomorrow I’m going to levitate to work”. But if the following day you can’t even haul yourself off the sofa, you may need to find another productivity app – or better still – a practice that links theory to action. Fortunately, behind every physical movement in Tai Chi, is an expression of the philosophy of Taoism: The Gentle Art of Change. Think of that for a moment, imagine Existentialism, Dualism or Utilitarianism having a set of accompanying stretches, breathing exercises or a series of self-defence applications. Ok, that’s enough to thinking for now.

Five: “Don’t think, feel”

Think Don't Feel_Teapot mOnkIn the classic Kung Fu flick Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee slaps his student around the head as he is pointing the way forward: “Don’t think, feel”, he says, for his student is focusing on the finger and not the way. We have a move in Tai Chi called “Step Back to Repulse the Monkey” that teaches us to turn off the thinking mind – the endless monkey chatter. It is a move that shows us the disadvantages of engaging with the monkey (getting too close). Stepping back and finding a little distance, enables us to assess the state of things before acting, and then, to step forward when the moment is right.

Check out this video for a visual idea

So, now we have our list, we can pin it to our fridge door, the back of our phablet or blu-tac it to the dog’s head. It may help to keep us from slowly sinking into the quagmire of slush that is excreted onto our digital laps every day. It may remind us to step back every now and then, to enjoy the passing of time, and to see with a little clarity all the stuff we have overlooked in our headlong rush to arrive. For arrivals, are rarely what they promise.

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This article is written by Paul Read on January 20th 2016.

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