– interviewed by Instructor Lis (March 2007)
In January 2001, Aileen aged 46, picked up a Tai Chi Academy flyer at her hairdresser's. She looked at it and thought, “This is something I’ll do when I’m older.” But when she showed the pamphlet to her family, they said, “No, go now.” So she did.
Chinese culture and philosophy had always interested her. While Aileen was in China in 1980, she stayed at the well-known, old European style Peace Hotel in Shanghai. From her window, she had seen people practising Tai Chi on the Bund and had been fascinated. When she came along to her first class, twenty years later, this long term but vague interest merged with curiosity. She feels fortunate to have found a good school and teacher immediately. A mismatch can be off-putting. Many years before, she had gone along to a yoga class. She was very disappointed in the instructor and so didn’t continue.
The flexibility in class times was appealing as was the range of ages and skill levels. She liked the feeling that anybody could come at any age and any level and not feel part of a competition.
As manager of a large organisation, Aileen enjoys the lack of responsibility in class. “I liked coming in as a novice, starting as a raw beginner. It made me reflect on learning — approaching something new with an open mind. The struggle with co-ordination at the start was hard, but there was a great sense of achievement and satisfaction in working through that stage and mastering the movements. You have to stick at it.”
A sense of peace is very important to Aileen. “I feel very strongly that ‘peace’ is crucial in today’s world. A question I like to ask is ‘Can you sit still and do nothing?’ Finding stillness is something we seem to have lost. We were promised that we’d have more leisure time as technologies improved and computers took over the workload. The opposite has happened. People rush through their lives, losing any sense of balance between work and home. It’s a giddy roundabout. When people ask me how I am, I try not to say ‘I’m so busy.’ In the main, there’s always a choice and we need to recognise that. I try to have a balance in my life.”
Tai Chi is a framework for remembering the importance of quietness and stillness. In her managerial role, she encourages her staff to keep a balance between home and work in their lives. When she began Tai Chi, her organisation was undergoing several changes. Her increasing knowledge gave her a set of skills to draw upon when tensions increased. Like many office workers, Aileen experiences occasional headaches and neck and shoulder stiffness. Now she knows how to loosen the stiff muscles with the warm-up and Silk Reeling exercises and how Qigong practise can calm a busy mind.
Her organisation experiences a lot of change. When I suggested this may be stressful, Aileen replied in true Tai Chi fashion that changes are good in a way because they prevent a group from becoming stuck. She sees that change enables people to rethink and improve things, to find another way.
Aileen feels that an important aspect of Tai Chi in her life is "My Time", the notion of doing something without interruptions. “It’s a couple of hours in the week when I can turn off the phone, not think about work or home and be instructed by someone else.” She has never allowed missed classes to worry her. “I knew I could pick those lessons up later. I am in this for the long term. There is no hurry. If I worry about missing a class or not practising enough, I’m defeating the purpose. I do what I can do.” Aileen is a working woman in a position of great responsibility with a husband and children and a house to run. She recognises the importance of time to nourish and nurture her inner self. By doing this, she improves the quality of not just her own life but also the lives of her family and her staff.
“Society needs to recognise this growing problem of overwork. Depression is fast outstripping heart trouble and cancer as a major illness. We need to relearn how to be still. There is a lovely phrase in Italian — La dolce Fa Niente. It means the sweetness of doing nothing.”
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)