Peace arises from within. Outside conditions may be chaotic and noisy. We can include the chaos in our practice. Or – we can try to push the chaos away. One action may be helpful, the other feed the chaos. We have a choice.
When we practice T’ai-Chi or meditate or any other technique that supposedly offers us peace, then we are disappointed when everything seems just as muddled as before, just as noisy either in the mind or externally. The promised peace eludes us. We get upset. We may even go nuts!
One of my teachers went on a solitary retreat. He chose to start this retreat in the mountains on the East side of the USA. He had lovely little home: it had electricity, a bathroom, a kitchen. It nestled in the middle of tress. He was alone with the only disturbances being the animals and elements. Everything was conducive to the deepening of his practice for the first couple of years. Then the community who owned the land decided to build a temple. His little home was torn off its foundations and put elsewhere. The electricity and water were disconnected. A multitude of builders and machinery moved onto the site. He was surrounded by noise. He contacted his retreat mentor telling him that he had to move somewhere else in order to carry on his solitary retreat. His teacher told him to stay where he was. The purpose of the building was pure, so his task was to learn to weave the noise into his meditation. He spent the next few years meditating in the middle of this noisy building site.
His brother was the Abbot of Samyé Ling Monastery in Scotland and encouraged him to move there, promising him a peaceful place to carry on his retreat. Off he went to Scotland. All was well and peaceful for a while. Then it was decided to build retreat houses for the men and women who wished to go into long-term retreat themselves. Once more our meditator found himself in the middle of a bulding site. For the next two years. Again the purpose of the bulding was for the good of others. Again Lama Yeshe wove this constant noise into his meditation.
Now when he teaches us to meditate he passes on this experience to us. We create the peace we wish from our own hearts, our own attitudes. There is never a perfect place to practice. I can remember once when teaching meditation a student complained "I could do this in the Himalayas" inferring that Isleworth was too noisy for meditation what with the traffic and the nearby busy, busy Heathrow airport with planes flying in low every ninety seconds. I have visited the Himalayas several times, conditions there are much harsher than those we meet in our church halls, dance studios or college classrooms. Our studios and classrooms have conditions far superior to any I have met in the Himalayas. Things like running water, regular electricity supplies, good transport systems, heating, cooling, bathrooms….. OK, and I agree that where most of us live and teach there aren’t the snow-capped mountains and the clear star-blazed skys, the clean air of the high Himalayas.
When we practice our T’ai-Chi or meditation it is helpful to begin by listening. Simply listen. Listen to the sounds in our heads, in the room, outside the room. They are ALL the music of life. Embrace these sounds, let them be a part of the practice, not an enemy. If they become our enemy we then spend all our time trying to repell this ‘disturbance’ and use our effort and energy in pushing stuff away and not in the development of our practice. Soften, relax, yield to the noises. Think what our lives would be without them: no airconditioning or heating? Would you be very stuffy or cold? No buses, cars, trains or planes? What would our lives be like without these machines? They are all there for our benefit. It is our attitude that turns them into demons.
So when a plane flies overhead as you try to explain a tricky point in the practice just look up, see the beings in the thin metal tube and welcome them heartily to your country, your town. Bring them into your practice. When noise leaks from the studio next door, rejoice in the celebration of life and return the peaceful quiet place in your own heart centre, and carry on the practice. If the teacher finds it in his or her heart a way to weave the sounds of life into the practice, then the students will do so too. With great ease and simplicity. Use the constant drone of fans sending clean air into the space as the drone in Indian music, the drone is the support of the melodies the musicians weave around it.
Most of all yield to the conditions. Accept that which you cannot change, change that which you can. It is so rare to find a perfect space in which to practice. And if we think about this, the reason for this becomes very clear. None of us is perfect, so expecting perfection from outside conditions is unreasonable. A deep part of the practice of T’ai-Chi is to be able to work with what we have and not with what we want: both physically and mentally.
And always return to the pith of T’ai-Chi: soften, yield, breathe, open the heart, feel the twinkle in the eyes, and trust the practice will always lead you to a peaceful place.