– interviewed by Instructor Lis
Balance is one of the basic concepts of Tai Chi — not only the ability to stand on one leg without falling over but also achieving equilibrium in life, both physically and emotionally.
David enjoys his life. “I have a nice balance. I have my family, voluntary commitments, community activities and my Tai Chi class.”
Reaching this happy state hasn’t been all plain sailing. He suffers from a muscular disease. Back in the early 1990s, David was working in Queensland for the Customs Department. The Staff Psychologist at his place of employment suggested Chinese herbal medicine as a possible treatment. Although he pursued that course for some time, his condition had progressed past the point where Chinese herbs could help. However, one of his colleagues recommended meditation as a way of reducing the tension and fatigue which triggered episodes. She gave him a treatise on Zen meditation as therapy which he read and began practising.
On his return to Canberra sometime later, David carpooled with a colleague who attended the Customs Department lunchtime Tai Chi class. (The Academy ran this class for many years.) “He tried to convince me to go, but I wasn’t having a bar of it.” Then, after stopping full-time paid work in 1994, David spotted an advertisement for the Academy’s Tai Chi classes.
“It featured a manual. I was interested in the meditation component because of the Zen article and also in the breathing exercises which I knew helped relax the body. In my younger days, I had done public speaking and some theatre work. We were taught breathing and relaxation techniques to help vocal delivery and cope with nerves. I wanted to develop this further as an aid in managing my disease. I am a ‘Catholic by trade’, as I call it, and became interested in Christian meditation at around the same time.
I rang the Academy and said I wanted to buy the manual. Fontane was not going to let me get away with a book and some fancy version of self-tuition. She firmly suggested I would do better if I came to a class and tried the whole thing. I went along and haven’t stopped. That would have been in the middle of 1995.
Tai Chi suits my physical condition perfectly. I walk a lot, but some other physical activities can trigger a flare-up of the disease. With 70 being a distant memory, I feel I’m flexible for my age (although not nearly as flexible as Fontane would like!). I’ve learnt to unlock my joints more and the Silk Reeling was enormously helpful for that, as has been the Bang (Stick). My body feels good.”
David had to deal with the emotional trauma of a death in the family earlier this year. The bereavement involved overseas travel and organising all the funeral details. Although unable to practise the form, David discovered his Qigong training was a valuable tool in maintaining his well-being throughout that difficult and tiring time.
“I’m more aware now of tensions in my mind and body and have a strategy for dealing with them. For example, when I have an episode of pain in bed, I can relax quite significantly which helps; I relax more driving the car, using my hands, not my shoulders, to drive; I find that I now use my legs, not my upper body, in doing many of the simple manual tasks of everyday life.”
Tai Chi has become an integral part of David’s life. He particularly enjoys the friendship and camaraderie of his classmates, despite not knowing most of their names. “There’s a comfortable, kindly feeling in class which I like. We encourage each other and both Brett and Fontane offer help to individual students in a constructive, positive way.”
Would he be doing Tai Chi if his physical condition did not dictate attendance at class?
“Oh yes; it’s part of what I do. It helps maintain the balance. I consider it a kind of companion ‘quietness’; the class can be a meditation in itself.”
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)