I like this idiom, or saying, “rewiring the brain.” Ok, I know, in a strict physiopsychological meaning, we are rewiring our brains all of the time. I do it now when I am writing this, you do it now when you are reading this.
From an article in Psychology Today:
“What does it mean to rewire your brain? In one sense, it’s trivial: it means that connections between neurons in your brain are changing. Everything we learn is stored in the brain, and the brain can’t store information if it doesn’t physically change in some (usually routine) way. In this sense, your brain is constantly being rewired, even right now.”
But I like this quote better from Quora, it’s more about what we are dealing with here:
“What this means is that the ultimate criterion for significant ‘rewiring’ is success in achieving the desired behavioral, cognitive or emotional goal.
How long this takes really depends on the field, in addition to your own motivation, skill set, training time, and so on. But in general becoming an expert requires years.”
So in general, you rewire your brain constantly. But you need to rewire your brain a lot to become an expert on something. When it comes to something more difficult, many years.
But wait a minute, how come people have such a hard time to get what Tai Chi is all about? Now I am not talking about becoming an expert, but juts to get a general understanding about the art. You don’t need to become an expert to understand how Tai Chi Chuan works, but still it seems like it takes five, ten or fifteen years for many people to even reach a basic understanding of how Tai Chi works.
And even if they understand what Tai Chi is and how it works, they still struggle to make it work. Is Tai Chi Chuan really that difficult?
I read what people write as comments after they have watched videos. In videos, I see how practitioners participate on seminars and summer camps and how they react on the demonstrations. Practitioners still act, behave and seem to think like beginners. Have they really not rewired their brains? Not even a little? How come so many students stay, as one of my teachers expressed it, as perpetual beginners?
In an earlier post I write about learning by doing. But just doing seems to be not enough. I believe that you need to be actually aware about that you need to rewire your brain to be able to do it. You need to take responsibility for your own progress and actively want to change yourself, want to change your thinking, want to change how you experience yourself and the world around you.
This “want” is in my own experience a very important key. You cannot change yourself if you don’t want to. And if you don’t want to practice on how change yourself, and learn how to get better to change yourself, you just won’t progress.
So if this is true, where should you start? One way to start to gain a better understanding, I believe, is to study to be critical about what you learn, search and research. First you need to have a very clear picture about what you want to achieve. Then, when you take responsibility for what you want to achieve, you will have a direction to walk and a goal to aim at.
The second part is about how to practice. One clue I believe is in what the classics and what Tai Chi teachers speak about all of the time, but something few really understand what it means. I am thinking about “xin” or “Mind” in Tai Chi, about practicing by using “Xin”.
As I wrote in the linked post above, the character “Xin”, or 心, means “heart”. Xin often translates into “heart-mind”. It’s often characterised as the motional mind. What “use mind” to practice Tai Chi means that you need to practice with awareness and focus. You cannot practice Tai chi as routine, only going through movements every day as a routine. Your mind and heart must be there, you need to practice with all of you, including yourself, your own “I”, being constantly aware about what you do. And this is just as important when you practice push hands, applications or study the weapons.
You need to practice with all of you and not only your body. You need to practice with your awareness, thinking, thoughts, emotional focus, with everything of you. And at the same time, you need to keep your goal and direction of your practice alive and fresh in your mind as an idea of your purpose with your Tai Chi and what you want to achieve.
Passion is another good word. You need to have passion about your art, your practice, and practice with passion. If you practiced half-committed with your mind wandering and don’t care about your practice, you just won’t get any big rewards or benefits from your practice. If you don’t want to practice your art and experience what you do with the whole of your own being, maybe Tai Chi Chuan is not for you. Maybe you would be happier if you found something else, something you love. Again, if you don’t love your arts and practice your art with passion, you won’t achieve very much.
Tai Chi is a very complicated art, especially if we speak about rewiring the brain. You need to use your whole body and your whole mind to practice. It’s not like learning how to eat with chopsticks, you don’t need to do big changes in the nervous patterns in your brain to achieve this little skill. Even if you compare Tai Chi with a more complex hobby than playing the piano or learning how to ride a unicycle, tai chi is much more complex. Tai Chi is about whole body balance, about integrating breath and mind in physical movement. Unifying everything together, both in movement and in stillness.