Caring for the Body and the Spirit

As many of you know, I teach at an acupuncture college where an eleven week 22 hour taijiquan class is a requirement. This last quarter I had an amazing student.

The administration called me to say there was a student coming to the first class who they had not yet let register because she had a disability. They felt she probably wouldn't be able to do the class but she wanted to try so they sent her to the first class to see if I thought she could do it.

She had been through some major injuries in the past 10 years and walked with a cane. One side of her body tends to tighten up so that one leg and one arm are often restricted. For instance she often has to use her able hand to manually open her disabled hand.

I asked her to stand without her cane and to shift her weight from one leg to the other. She could do it, but with difficulty. I said she could take the class. I advised her to practice everyday and not to worry, I would assess and teach her according to her ability.

While her injuries are severe, and perhaps some aspect of them can be considered permanent, there are clear signs that healing is still taking place.

There are optimists in the world, and there are pessimists, but it is truly unusual to meet someone who so clearly acknowledges hardship while meeting every new challenge with glowing optimism. And I do mean glowing. This woman beams.

Having worked with disabled people my whole adult life I've learned a few things to watch out for. Many people unconsciously treat disabled people like they are not very smart and need constant kindness. The constant sweetness of people around them sometimes causes one of two effects. The disable person is so used to having things done for them that they sometimes become personally so weak they don't stand up for themselves. On the opposite polar end, the disabled person can become mean, rude or objectionable, because people are too embarrassed to honestly tell them when it's time to shut up.

The student I had in my class this last quarter has neither of these traits. She has a sophisticated, charming, and positive outlook. She worked hard, she concentrated, and she brought warmth and sensitivity to her interactions with other students. She was a model for all of us. I have no doubt she will make a wonderful Chinese Medical doctor.

For the final exam, I have half the class do the form with their eyes closed while the other half watches, and then they switch. When she was doing the form, and she did do the entire form, It was obvious to me that she had learned more than many of the other students. Parts of the form looked difficult for her, but looking around the room, some students weren't even sure how a particular move was supposed to be executed. I wish every student had her stick-to-it-iveness. Heck, I wish I had her stick-to-it-iveness.

I think everyone's excuses for not having met their practice goals just fell away as they watched her do the form. Do what you can do right now. Is there anything more inspiring than that?

And all this was a great reminder that we aren't practicing for some future health, or some future fight. An accident can happen to anyone. It seems rather foolish to prepare for such a thing when all the benefits of practice are immediately available. It is only through the expensive maintenance of fantasies (about what we are, and what we can become) that we put off the fruition of our practice.

The reason we care for our bodies is not in the future-- if we do indeed care, we care right now.