I practice tai chi in a class twice a week. Yesterday, my teacher told me I was resisting too much.

No resistance is a key principle of tai chi. Physically, as soon as you resist, there’s an area for your opponent to grasp, push against and exert force. The idea is not to resist, but to move with the incoming force, nullifying it.

I was told this while being herded across the class with a “go over there, come come”. I was physically resisting being pushed into the corner, but of course the principle is not just meant physically, but mentally as well. Most of the resistance, even in a physical encounter, is mental. Breaking things up into neat compartments, the body usually does just what the mind tells it to.

On the way home I was thinking about resistance in general. My work is sometimes a great training ground. I regularly encounter various malevolent forces, usually originating from some factory in Taiwan, or a murky office in Sweden, but sometimes also from clients or colleagues. Yesterday was a good example of facing a challenge at work. I usually enjoy challenges, there’s a rush of adrenalin, excitement, that goads me into action. If I’m having a lethargic day nothing like a database server blowing up, or a raging client or colleague to spur me into action.

Yesterday was once such day, and I thought my mental approach to dealing with it was reasonably successful. In the mental sphere, no resistance means understanding exactly where the force is coming from, and then moving with it and redirecting it where it does no harm. But tai chi is often a physical reflection of my mental state, and the class often show me some mental blockages. And so it was yesterday. I was more tense and resistant than I realised. I was resisting being herded in the class because of what I’d brought into the class, thinking I’d left it behind.

As an example, if someone calls you an idiot, you can respond with “you’re an idiot too”, which may be strictly speaking correct, but doesn’t help the situation. A better way is to realise why they said this, perhaps because you spilled your yoghurt down their shirt, and responding with “I’m sorry, let me get a cloth” may be more constructive. And even if it wasn’t you who spilled the yoghurt, but the red-faced colleague who’s slunk behind you, offering to get a cloth would still be more immediahelpful than trying to protect your ego with a “It wasn’t me, it was him, he’s the idiot”.

So next time I’ll just head over to the corner. Because there really was more space there.

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