Empty Step

Where is it written that on those rare occasions when you find that moment of perfect sleep someone or something is going to manage to wake you up?  Maybe an all-powerful being has decided that true appreciation is only discovered through the act of longing.

Qiang’s eyes were stuck firmly together unwilling to accept the constant nagging of his ears and the arrival of a new dawn delivered by a somewhat irritating, if not completely tone deaf, cockerel.  The high-pitched sound ricocheted off the bars of his denial only to return with the frightening reinforcement of his Nai Nai (grandmother).

“Qiang, get up.  Qiang, get up!” an angry voice shouted.

“Coming Nai Nai, coming,” he reluctantly but respectfully replied.

He rubbed his eyes vigorously with one volunteering finger from each hand and dislodged the now redundant sleepy dust allowing those first few stray rays of light to enter.  Disapproving eyelids lifted his lashes to wide open albeit leaving his sight slightly glazed.  His day was to start as it had always done with some necessary but tedious chores; preparing the fire and fetching water from a small stream which ran about 20 uninviting yards from his home.  He stepped outside with the feeling of unwelcome encouragement still ringing in his ears; hopping on one foot and then the other whilst putting on some tired old straw sandals and showing very little ability for balance.  The fine young hairs sitting on the edge of his nostrils stiffened against the sharpness of the cold air and then they were caressed by a gentle soothing as the smell of new blossoms gave a fragrant promise of warmer times to come.  Forced steps were soon to be accompanied by a rumbling tummy which was to be noticed and considered if not fulfilled.  His only reward was to find himself standing at the edge of a blatantly unrepentant mocking stream; for he did believe he could hear it laughing hilariously to itself as he struggled to find his footing on some large, wet slippery stones.  Then all at once his attention was drawn in one direction and one direction only, towards an Odorrana frog sitting on a large lotus leaf floating gently on top of the water.  Qiang slowly lowered himself onto his haunches and continued to watch curiously, forgetting the constant demands of his stomach and the need for fresh water.  The frog would take a slight movement then it would stand tall before being totally still.  This seemed to have no purpose in itself although a second action was soon to follow in the form of a daring jump onto another leaf; its eyes bulging with concentration and an unwillingness to be distracted by anything, only determined to be mindful and in doing so perfectly lost in the moment.  This hypnotising routine was repeated several times over and always ended on the same note, that unpredictable leap of faith.

“Even the frog takes an empty step!” an old but recognisable voice said behind him.

“Ye Ye,” (Grandfather) said Qiang turning around abruptly.

HOLD IT THERE, what the hell is this, a blog or not, you’re asking yourself?


In literary terms what you have just read was an empty step of a sort, me taking a moment to observe my thoughts and feelings from a distance within a world of words.  I am by nature a writer and like all writers I find clarity and security rummaging through the pages of my mind.  Also, in truth, I do not always have the gift of patience so I use this process as a symbolic brake.  Let me explain and hopefully by the end of this blog the connection between the first part and the second part will not seem quite so random.

I have been doing Tai Chi for around eight months now.  Yes only eight months and before you decide to read no further because what enlightenment could I possibly offer after such a short period of time, I would ask you to consider your response and take your own empty step to pause awhile.

“What the hell is this guy talking about,” is the mutter now prising a number of your lips slightly apart.

I can almost hear your minds ticking over as they attempt to unscramble what appears to be some self-indulgent words upon a page so let me try to make it a little clearer for you.  An empty step is a term used in Tai Chi and so this undoubtedly raises the next inspired question for the still bewildered of you ‘What does it mean?’ I have already placed a small seed of my interpretation but for those of you who were not mindful I will now try to  encourage some growth via a verbal watering.  Remember, I am early in my journey so bear with me.  For myself it’s a moment of pause to focus on the present, a chance to find balance in both body and mind within a set.  So now back to the rambling, all I wish to do is share my own observations and maybe in doing so turn on a small light of reflection for you.  We all experience good and bad in our lives whether it’s illness or good health, heartache or true love, wealth or just misfortune.  The question is do we allow those moments to define us or do we allow each moment to be our first untainted taste not affected by the past or allowed to carry a fearful promise of the future to come?  A big ask I know but how amazing would that be to have the open mind of a young child, the willingness to be at one with ourselves, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and an abandonment of paralysing limitations.  So now to the point, you cannot truly master Tai Chi for it changes as you change and that is what makes it so exciting for it takes you on a never ending journey of self discovery, helping you to evolve into someone who is more in tune with themselves, both physically and mentally.  Life itself is not dissimilar when given the chance, it cannot be controlled or predicted only experienced, like the frog through each moment and breath.  Failure to do so denies you the joys of living and leaves you with an empty feeling and that bitter aftertaste of just existing.  If I make the wrong decision or get utterly lost in the middle of a Tai Chi set, should that be seen as a failure or if I am aware of the experience is it just a lesson learned?

I said to a good friend at my class,

“You must first experience confusion to recognise enlightenment when it comes!”

His reply was, “Who said that?”

I answered “Me!” and we both laughed a little.

Maybe there’s a tiny bit of Confucius in all of us and maybe, just maybe, there should be a tiny bit of the frog too, for its ability to live in the moment can only be envied and strived for.  So take a deep breath, taste life and savour it, not because I told you to but because you can!

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