After our first day of training here I read an email from a man who had tried our one month pass for new students. He was very appreciative and complementary of the experience but also said it was not for him at this time of his life. “Its too ambitious for me.” Of course that is fine and exactly why I offer this one month trial pass. What we offer and how we offer it is not for everyone. I only want people on the floor who actually make up their minds there is something of value for them there. At the same time I thought about that feedback off an on during training and wandering. It was the word “ambitious” that caught my attention. It’s not the first time of late I have heard this from a new person trying our program.
To be honest I never looked at our school and what I offer as ambitious. There is a part of me that feels a bit bad that this perception exists at all. I have gone out of my way during my career to offer a program in a way that is accessible across the board to as many people as possible, be they 8 or 80, be they the highest end athlete or those working with life altering illnesses. For the most part I feel I have successfully figured out how to do just this because what drives me is not money but my love of service and my chosen Way. The thought that it all may have alienated someone was jarring.
At the same time over the past couple of years I know my intention for my work has clarified and narrowed. As I age I have to make my own choices about how I train and teach and they are different choices than the ones I made 10 or 20 years ago. I do recognize what drives me more and more is not what I might offer others but how I intentionally nurture myself. If I don’t have a nurtured self, then I have nothing to offer. It has been a hard shift to make because I have such a powerful urge to serve. I had to accept however that serving can put a person in a vulnerable place too, as I began to learn with my own aging process and health. Letting go of my studio last year was a threshold that was brutal to cross but now that I have, I have more time to reconfigure my training and work life to provide me with more energy. One would think one in my position might have less ambition than more.
There is a woman here in the Village who is in her 80s. She had learned some Taiji before and three years ago came to Chenjiagou to check it out. She is retired, her husband is dead. Davidine said she came for the healing this place offers. She never left. During our break a few of us watched one of the much younger teachers instruct her in Mace, a double stick weapon. He taught her just like he taught anyone. With detail, corrections and repetition. Her practice was just great and the interaction between her and her teacher was sparky and loving. After our session she was still practicing on her own, this time with a different weapon. She moved precisely, with attention to both detail and flow. Watching her learn and practice was beautiful, powerful and inspirational.
I thought to myself, perhaps I am ambitious. I am ambitious to be the woman in her 80s who is learning new forms, moving fluidly, and laughing with my much younger teachers. Perhaps I am utterly driven to quench the thirst for experiences and perspectives of an art I love and life itself. Quite possibly I am the person who chooses to be fundamentally with people whose ambition is also exactly this: to not be defined by age either by society or by one’s own mind but to be defined by learning and improving day by day, moment by moment.
The training experience here and that email invite me to come to terms with myself on a deeper level. Long ago I made my mind up to stay alive and the rest of my life unfolded from that one choice. It has been ambitious. I have come to appreciate that part of me very much and all it as allowed me to participate in. How I direct that ambition is changing, it is more for me now. Who I am, what I offer and how i offer it won’t be for everyone. Perhaps as time goes on, less and less. But if this path gets me anywhere close to this woman’s spark and beauty, I’m all in. If my walk on it inspires just one person, I have done my job.
The roosters have been crowing for hours now. Spring is coming.