“The best leader remains obscure, leading but drawing no personal attention. As long as the collective has direction, the leader is satisfied. Credit is not to be taken, it will be awarded when the people realize that it was the subtle influence of the leader that brought them success.”
— Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Daily Meditations
The subject of power is a huge one, worth looking at both within and outside the context of Tai Chi and Taoism. It is vitally important for parents to understand power, because the way we use or misuse it in our own lives is the way we teach our children about their power, our power, and other people’s power and that is probably the most significant lesson we teach. The right use of power results in self-respect, respect for others, confidence, fearlessness, and balance.
The Tao or the Way is where all true power resides. In Tai Chi, the exercises learned with the body teach you something about chi or the life force, the power of the Tao that comes through the individual. In the Indian system of yoga, issues of power reside in the second and third chakras, located roughly in the navel area. In Tai Chi, our center of power is called the tan t’ien (in Chinese) or hara (in Japanese), and is located in essentially the same place. It is from there we get and transfer power, which is rooted in the earth, and comes up through the feet and legs.
What is the “Opponent?”
Tai Chi is a martial art as well as a spiritual practice — and certainly raising your child should not involve fighting or power struggles, and it should definitely not require hitting or striking of any kind. When we look at Tai Chi practices, it is within the metaphoric context of using our power correctly, knowing how to change the energy in a situation of potential frustration, angers, or power struggle, and knowing how to help our children learn to get in touch with and utilize their own internal power.
When I speak of your “opponent” in this context, I don’t mean your child should be perceived as an enemy, to be overpowered or controlled. Again, it is a metaphor: the “opponent” is any energy that is causing disempowerment, separation, or frustration between you and your child. Combative situations will always arise, either in your personal life that spill over into your parenting, or in your relationship with your child. As Tai Chi teacher Ron Sieh says, “To be calm in the midst of chaos cannot be accomplished by avoiding chaos. I have a choice concerning aggression and combat and I can choose from my heart, not out of fear.”
In Tai Chi, one of the first exercises practiced with an opponent is called “attaching steps.” The student paces the partner, trying to perfectly match her moves and intentions, as if he is attached to her. This requires learning how to get inside the other person’s shoes, so to speak, to be so at one with her or attuned to her that one automatically moves with the other, not a moment after. Try this with your child — mirror her moves to understand her energy.
With the aid of breathing and meditation practice, the student can then move on to what is called “listening power” — building a connection and communication with the “opponent” (in this case, your child who is in opposition) so you can then precisely detect the opponent’s level of strength, center of gravity, motivation, speed, and so on. This gives you tremendous power, as you can then anticipate an opponent’s moves and use the opponent’s own force to defeat the aggressive energy coming from her.
Another important practice for parents is called “sinking power.” The student learns to “sink,” through his chi, and use his connection with the earth in response to his partner’s attempt to uproot him. Before you respond to a child in opposition, use sinking power. Ground yourself in just a few minutes:
- Stand still, upright
- Take a deep full breath in, and a slow full breath out
- Press your feet into the floor, standing equally on the soles of your feet
- Make your thighs firm, as if the muscles are hugging the bones
- Relax your shoulders, pull in the belly
- Imagine there is a pillar of light from above, through your body, into the earth through your feet
- If possible, close your eyes. Breathe deeply and find that “still place” within
Now respond to your child, mirroring her movements and speaking what you perceive as her feelings.
“You don’t want to stop playing and come to dinner. . .”
“I see that you’re really upset. . .”
“You don’t want me to hold the baby right now. . .”
Continue to mirror, to listen, to allow your child to clarify.
To “empower,” in Tai Chi, involves a technique called “transferring power.” It can be used for harm, that is, to transfer your power through a slap, a spank or kick. It can also be used for good by helping your child become aware of his or her own power, without giving or loaning them yours.
Principle Three, empowerment, is linked intrinsically to Principle Seven, flow and let go. We will see how as we go along. The t’ui who circle exercise represents the Tao in that it seems empty and transparent. But when you utilize its power, you find it is inexhaustible. As the Taoist sage Lao Tau said, “When you follow Tao it will round off the sharp edges, untangle confusing threads, dim all glaring light. It molds and smooths the dust.”
The kind of power we seek to cultivate as parents is the power of the Tao. Like water, it is smooth, flowing, yielding, penetrable, yet strong enough to “round off the sharp edge” of things.
Won Chung-Ya, an ancient Taoist master, emphasized the importance of avoiding “double weightedness” — that is, reacting the same way every time, getting stuck on one way of responding, being always on one side of the yin/yang balance.
He had his students practice constantly moving so when they were up, they became aware of down; when they were right, they were aware of left. They learned that not responding to the “opponent” appropriately for that specific moment and that specific person and that specific interaction results in difficulty and awkwardness, which leads to defeat.
We are so accustomed to “taking a stand” that we forget the universe is constantly moving, shifting, and changing — even rock changes, over a period of time. So in our approach to our children in this ever-changing phenomenon we call the world, we must be flexible enough to remember that each child, each situation, each time, each incident, and each interaction is different from any other. Though we connect ourselves to principles that don’t change, such as unconditional love, respect, empowerment, the way we respond within those principles must be flexible according to time, place, and person.
© 2015 Vimala McClure