Mental Taiji in the Everyday World

Ed. Note: This actually happened yesterday, but I didn’t finish writing it ¬†until late last night. I polished it up today before posting. Enjoy.

I did something stupid today. I went to fill up the gas tank at my local gas station. Like most people, I have a routine I follow when I do this. I put my keys in my purse, release the catch on the gas tank, pull out my credit card, then insert my card in the machine so I can fill my tank. I like that I can do everything outside and don’t have to go to the counter to pay. Simple, right? For some reason, though, I deviated from this routine. It started out the same. I put the keys in my purse and pulled out my credit card, but then I took the purse out with me and locked the doors (I usually leave them unlocked). I looked at my purse, wondering why I had taken it out, so I put it back in the car and shut the door. I filled the gas, and then–

I’m sure the astute among you can already foresee the problem. When I turned back to my car, I saw that my doors were locked. My purse was on the front seat–with the keys in it. And my cellphone. I realized that the only thing I could do was walk home which was a mile away, get my spare car key, and walk back. I have a lock box with a spare key in it on my front door, so that wasn’t an issue. Clutching my credit card in my hand, I started walking home, mentally kicking myself over my stupidity. How the hell could I do something that dumb? I fill the gas all the fucking time with no problem, so I have no idea why I fucked it up today. After two or three minutes¬†of yelling at myself (in my head), I turned my focus on solving the problem, rather than beating myself up over it. I told myself to think of it as mental taiji as I walked home.

Let me say that I am grateful it was a coolish day with a light sprinkle because I hate heat. Even so, I was aware that I was wearing my sandals which are supposed to be walking sandals, but really aren’t, and that I was sweating profusely. One reason I hate walking/running is because I sweat like a pig. By the time I got home, I was drenched. I had also encountered a gaggle of Canadian geese, and they hissed at me as I dared walk on THEIR sidewalk to get by them. I moved to the street because Canadian geese are assholes, and I made it home without further incident.

When I got home, I rummaged through the drawer where I keep the spare car key. It wasn’t there. I freaked out a bit as I tore through it again. It still wasn’t there. I opened the drawer next to it, and there was a key that looked like a car key, but it didn’t look like my actual car key which has a black rubber thing on its ‘head’. I called my brother to see if he had any advice, and he said to call the police to jimmy the door, but I didn’t want to bother them over something relatively trivial. He said I could call a locksmith, too, which I felt more comfortable with. I asked if he had a slim jim, which he did, but he was three hours away from me, so that wasn’t an option. He was pretty sure the key I had was a replica spare key, but I found the number of a locksmith to take with me on my walk back just in case.


I switched to my tennis shoes, grabbed a Coke Zero, picked up the key, the paper with the locksmith’s number, and my credit card, and walked back to the gas station, passing the same angry group of Canadian geese on the way back, and, yes, they hissed at me again because they’re fucking assholes. I moved to the street again because I wasn’t having any of their shit. Not today. On the way, i thought about the worst case scenarios and what I would do in each situation. They were:

  1. The gas station had my car towed away.
  2. The front window had been broken and my purse stolen.
  3. The key wasn’t the right one and didn’t work.*

Then, I thought about how I would deal with each one.

  1. I would find out where it was taken and catch a cab there.
  2. I would cancel my cards, put a stop on my bank account, and do whatever I needed to do with my phone. That’s really all that is important in my purse.
  3. I’d call the locksmith and have my window jimmied, and then, later, I’d have the key duplicated.

When I ran through that in my mind, I realized that as unpleasant as any of those situations would be, I could handle it.**

As I approached the gas station, I couldn’t see my car. That made me slightly nervous, but there were trees blocking my view, so I just waited until I was clear of the trees before freaking out. My car came into view, and I sighed in relief. I mentally crossed that problem off my list as I neared my car. I peered in the front window, and my purse was still there. Number two problem was gone! Taking a deep breath, I slid the key into the lock, and to my elation, it turned. I was almost giddy as I got into the car and drove off. I finished my errands and returned home, making sure to put the spare key back in the drawer. As I did, I suddenly remembered that one of the last times my mom had been back, she had lost the spare key and had a replica made. It didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it was nice to know how that change had happened.

“Minna,” I hear you saying. “That’s a nice story and all,*** but how is that taijji?” I’m glad you asked, and I’m more than happy to elaborate on it. Before I do, however, some backstory. Before I started studying taiji, this would have worked out very differently. Oh, not the end result, but my mentality during the whole ordeal. After I realized I locked my purse in my car, I spent a few minutes of beating myself up, but then I mentally moved on to figuring out what I was going to do about it. Even my mental castigation was relatively tame–mostly me wondering how I could be so stupid. In the past, I would have called myself a fucking idiot the entire walk home–actually, I would have wasted several minutes at the gas station panicking over the situation before even thinking about what to do. Once I actually got past the panic, I would have alternated between calling myself names and catastrophizing the situation on my stomp home. I also would have been freaked out by the Canadian geese, rather than be mildly irritated.

Once home, I would have called my brother, hoping that he would save me. That would have been my go-to solution rather than a back-up plan. After initially not being able to find the spare key, I would have completely lost my shit and/or sunk into a deep depression. Then, once I managed to deal with the situation, I would have continued to berate myself for being so stupid. I also would have forced myself to do my taiji routine because I have OCD tendencies, even though I would have felt physically drained by the time I got home. I would have done it partly because it would have been unthinkable for me not to do it, but also as a punishment for being so stupid. Today, I told myself that I wasn’t going to do my taiji routine when I got home because I was tired from dealing with the situation, and I was fine with it. I did do it later, but I didn’t feel I had to do it–I did it because I wanted to.

In addition, I didn’t force myself to stop being negative or try to talk myself out of it with positive thinking. I hate that bullshit in part because it feels so artificial to me. I know myself too well to fool myself into believing that shit, and it usually just makes me feel angrier and stupider than I did in the first place. This time, I moved on after a few minutes of calling myself names, and I attribute that directly to taiji. One of the main tenets of meditation is to simply note the thoughts flowing through your mind, not trying to block them or judging yourself for having them. As much as I hate meditation, I have tried to follow that advice, and it served me well here. Instead of getting wrapped up in calling myself names, I noted that I was feeling stupid and continued on my way. Thoughts need sustenance and air in order to live, so once I paid no attention to them, they had no power over me. I know that sounds frustratingly glib, but i really don’t mean it in that way. It was effortless today, but it’s taken me forty-plus years of my life to reach this point. This is indicative of how I make progress in general, by the way. Many years of what seems like no progress but really is incremental baby steps forward followed by a sudden leap that looks as if it came out of nowhere.

Back to how this is related to taiji. Julie (my teacher) often talks about how we can apply taiji to our daily life, but it’s hard for me to find ways to knowingly integrate it on a daily basis. However, there are ways it’s helped me without me even doing anything consciously. For example, I’m a klutz and am always running into things or tripping over my own feet. Since I started taiji, I still do this shit on a regular basis, but the difference is that I hurt myself much less. I’ve fallen off a ladder twice in the past few years, and I walked away with one bruise each time. As I was falling, I realized there was nothing I could do about it and relaxed as I hit the ground, thus avoiding breaking any bones. In the past, I wouldn’t have gotten off nearly as well.

Another way taiji has helped is with crowds. Which I hate. I still do, but now, I can find the gaps in crowds much more easily, which makes me feel less trapped when I am surrounded. Again, it sounds like a little thing, but it means a lot when you’re agoraphobic and claustrophobic as I am. So, today, my taiji practice made it possible for me to let the negative thoughts slide through my brain without much impact, which allowed me to not get stuck in a self-destructive loop. That meant I could actually deal with the situation without getting in my own way, which is a new experience for me. For people who don’t experience crippling depression, anxiety, and low-self esteem issues, it’s probably puzzling to read this post. I mean, what’s the big deal about dealing with the situation I described in the first paragraph? For those of you who do experience any or all of the above issues, I think you can probably understand how marvelous and freeing it was not to have to struggle with depression, anxiety, and self-hatred on top of dealing with the problem at hand.

Before taiji, I would have lost the whole day to this incident. I would have come home and sunk into depression over being so stupid. Today, I was over it by the time I walked into my home. Yes, it was not fun to deal with, and, yes, it added stress to my day, but in the end, I was able to resolve it fairly quickly and painlessly, then move on with my day. To me, this is evidence that taiji has had a positive effect on my life, even if i don’t necessarily see it on a day-to-day basis. Taiji is not a pill that has magically made the issues in my life disappear, but it’s given me the tools and mentality to deal with the issues in a much healthier way. Studying taiji has quietly given me confidence I never had before, and I can’t think of a better reason to keep practicing it.

 

 

*I didn’t think about the possibility that it might have been stolen until well after the fact because I live in a safe neighborhood, fortunately.

**I realize that I’m enormously privileged in that dealing with any of those would have been a pain in the ass, but it wouldn’t have put me in dire straits, financially or time-wise. I wouldn’t have to frantically call my boss, explaining why I couldn’t come into work or not eat for a week in order to pay the bill.

***It’s not really a nice story, but it could have been so much worse.

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