We meet regularly in a local park for an hour’s tai chi lesson. Usually there are anywhere from about six to a dozen people participating. I’m happy to blend in with the group because it’s less likely my conflicted feelings about whether I want to continue participating will show. Having to remember complicated sequences of physical moves irritates and frustrates me, yet it’s a centuries old technique and part of me appreciates the ages-old activity and tradition.
One morning, when I arrived for the class, the teacher was going through one of the sequences. I followed his motions, waiting for people to show up. After a while, the teacher stopped what he was doing. No one else had appeared. He did not look happy. I offered to leave. He nodded. I put my sweater back on, picked up my bag, and started walking away, feeling like I didn’t matter.
I was just about to my car when I heard him yell, “Nancy, wait up.” I turned around. He was waving at me to come back. I didn’t much feel like it but I walked toward him, wary. He met me half way. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You came. We should have a class.”
“Are you sure?” We paid by the session so having only one student meant he was teaching for a lot less than usual. I didn’t offer to pay for a private class.
“I’m sure,” he said, walking toward where his things were. I put my stuff down and waited. He began to move and I followed, so intensely focused on him that after a while it felt like there was no space between us even though I was more than five feet away. I had no thoughts, no worries about whether I was doing it right. I was pure movement.
When he stopped, I stopped, still feeling connected. He broke the silence by saying, “Thank you.” I had no idea what he was thanking me for but I thanked him for doing the session. We stood quietly, looking at each other.
I had no reason to stay. I just sensed it was wrong to leave. My teacher made no move to pack up his things. When he spoke, his voice was soft, filled with emotion. He told me about a time when he worked with a Shaman who spoke no English, yet somehow managed to convey important principles. “After the group session was over, when I started to leave; the Shaman told me to stay. When the others had gone, the Shaman began to chant and move in unfamiliar ways, nonverbally inviting me to join him. I chanted and moved with him—just the two of us, with no explanation. I always felt he’d given me a gift, but it took today for me to realize the power of his choosing to teach just me. When you were the only one, I thought there was no point teaching a class for only one person. Then I remembered the Shaman’s words at the end of our session: ‘Para ti.’” (For you.)
Simultaneously he and I bowed to each other. It was the right time to leave.
Has there ever been a time when staying turned out to be an unexpectedly rich experience?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.