Except as noted, this is an original article by John Loupos, M.S., H.S.E.
This article will share thoughts on both spectrums – approaches for personalized individual direction, and for social strategies, i.e. codes of conduct if you will. Hopefully, you may find something here worthy of your review and consideration.
One deceptively simple intra-personal strategy that I believe offers worthy advice is comprised of four parts, as follows: Show Up, Pay Attention, Tell the Truth, and Don't be Overly Attached to the Results.
This means you need to live your life by first being present to yourself, and then being present to whatever you apply yourself to. Instead of your life being just something that "happens to you" adopt a proactive approach to life that stems from a clear intention on your part and a commitment to participate. Being "along for the ride" is fine when you're out with friends, but you need to really "show up" to make the most of your life and claim it as your own.
Paying attention implies making your best and most honest effort to be and become a responsible human being. Everything in life has its consequences. Paying attention increases your likelihood of not incurring unanticipated and unintended consequences. Paying attention also serves as a means by which you can learn from your experiences to become a better you—even better than you already are. Paying attention is the best way to avoid being unpleasantly surprised by your own instant karma.
Tell the Truth
This implies holding yourself accountable to a standard of integrity and honesty—first and foremost to yourself. Honesty can be quite a bit more complex than simply not telling a lie. Genuine honesty requires that you know yourself and act accordingly. Only when you're honest, even (and especially) if that means being brutally honest with yourself, can you be fully honest with others. The greatest beneficiary of you telling the truth is you. Whatever truth you settle on make sure it's a truth you can live with.
Don't be Overly Attached to the Results
Understand and accept that life doesn't owe you a thing. There is no "fair" in the universe, only yin and yang. We are born, we live our lives, and then we die. The only result that's really important is that you can look back at the end of your life and know that you led a meaningful existence and that you left our planet a better place for your visit. (Feel free to tweak this a bit if you happen to believe in reincarnation.) Otherwise, don't let yourself get stuck. Stuckness is dying qi, and dying qi leads to dead qi. Keep your qi robust by not getting stuck on past stuff you can't change anyway. Some traditions regard attachment, or at least the wrong kind of attachment, as a source of suffering. Misplaced attachment can also serve as an impediment to change and growth. Accept what is and carry on.
On close examination, it appears that each component of the four-part strategy outlined above is in keeping with the precepts of Tai Chi. In order to learn and master Tai Chi you must first show up. Paying attention is the means by which you can implement personal change and improve both your skill level and your mindset. Telling the truth, so speak, enables you to view yourself dispassionately without allowing your ego to get in your way. And not being unduly attached to the results keeps you engaged in your own improvement and growth as an ongoing process despite the occasional setbacks that inevitably occur as part of any learning process.
Next I offer you a simple formula for inter-personal (social) accord.
Do all you have agreed to do and do not encroach on other persons or their property.
These seventeen words are derived from old English law and serve to encapsulate a very practical and effective formula for social order and the rule of law.
The first part, "Do all you have agreed to do" serves as a basis for tort law, i.e. civil law and contracts, which is in turn a hallmark of civilized society. Your initial reaction at the very thought of law and contracts, etc. may be to cringe (what's this got to do with Tai Chi!?). Yet contract law is what allows civil society to be civil. Countries lacking such a code of conduct are chaotic versus predictable, and cannot prosper due to the absence of safeguards to guarantee basic transactional ethics. Think of all the rights and privileges you enjoy by virtue of contract, formal or implied. You're able to read this article now because you have a contract with your internet provider. You're able to drive your car because you have a driver's license, which is a contract with the state. You have utilities for your home and a credit card for paying expenses and a bank account for your savings, all of which entail a contract between you and another party. If you pay for classes at your Tai Chi training facility you have entered into at least a tacit fee-for-services contract. You wake up every morning with the reasonable expectation that these various perks of modern life are still there waiting for you to enjoy only because contract law compels the involved parties to do what they have agreed to do. Imagine what your life would be like were it not for the laws supporting the ethic of doing what one has agreed to do.
The letter of the law aside, the spirit of the law begs a degree of voluntary integrity on your part. Your honesty in dealing with friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and anyone else serves to establish your reputation and provides a basis for how people deal with you in return. Holding yourself to this standard of integrity is in keeping with Tai Chi's precept of creating harmony in one's universe. "Doing what you have agreed to do" contributes to the collective good.
The second part, "Do not encroach on other persons or their property" serves as a basis for criminal law. Criminal law is what determines that the other guy's right to throw a punch stops where your nose starts. Encroachment occurs when that punch doesn't stop, i.e. when one person or entity intrudes on another person or entity's territory or rights.
Our world today is marred by conflict, intolerance, and violence. Actually, there's nothing new about that. Mankind's entire history has been marred by conflict, intolerance, and violence. Less sentient species and life forms from bacteria to insects and on up the chain have aggression, violence, and conflict hardwired into their survival genes. We human beings regard ourselves as a superior species. Yet our propensity for solving problems in an uncivil fashion is undeniable and, to my point, hardly representative of what we might hope for and expect from a more "highly evolved" species such as we regard ourselves. Fair and reasonable criminal law, as the agent of these nine words, serves as a deterrent to theft of your property or damage to your person by threat of consequence for such encroachments.
While our human propensity for conflict may not be a simple matter to fully analyze, it's probably safe to say that a great deal of human-to-human conflict is driven by misplaced self-interest and stems from an inability or unwillingness to hear and consider the needs of others from their perspective. As with the earlier four guidelines, the spirit of the law would ideally have us respect the sanctity of life and the property of others. Tai Chi offers an opportunity to comport ourselves in a manner more in keeping with this ideal, and with the ideal of actually behaving like members of a higher and more evolved species.
Tai Chi, in its social context, asks us to consider the other person's perspective and space. This starts when you are practicing as part of a group and you must take care to be mindful of other persons around you, to not step on your classmates' toes, so to speak. Group practice teaches us to be constantly aware of our surroundings. Pushing hands hones our "listening" skills, aka ting jin, ostensibly for martial purposes, but also to improve our overall sensitivity to the effects of our actions on others, and of theirs on us. This provides a basis and a model for promoting harmony in our interactions.
Certainly, you don't need Tai Chi in order to live your life in accordance with the principles spelled out above. But if you can live your life more in line with these or similar principles while also striving to improve your Tai Chi you'll find you have a greater likelihood of a congruent existence. Tai Chi, as your own personal living philosophy can thus serve to foster both an internal (intra-personal) and social (inter-personal) milieu for personal development and social accord. You will do well to keep in mind as you practice your Tai Chi how your individual practice may be contributing to a more evolved you, and in turn to a more evolved human species.