It was an interesting lesson the day that Ruby asked us how cats walk. It was interesting because we came up with all these descriptors of how a cat walks: graceful, agile, fluid, etc., but when pressed we couldn’t tell him, mechanically, how a cat walks. Some of us even had cats, myself included, but we couldn’t drill down into the specifics.
The point that Ruby was making here was that we needed to open our eyes, that there were so many things in the world that we had never seen, even though we had looked at them a thousand times. There is a difference between looking and seeing. We may walk by an painting hanging in our office a hundred times, but it’s simply part of the background noise of our lives. When we actually see it, though, we’re paying attention. We might be able to see the brush strokes in the work, appreciate the texture that the paint leaves on the canvas, or see a score of small details that we wouldn’t otherwise because we had never taken the time to actually see it, as opposed to simply looking.
And we are guilty of this, aren’t we? We walk through our days, largely on auto-pilot. A million thoughts distracting us – thoughts of what we have to accomplish that day, or some bit of music or a movie stuck in our head, or a pleasant daydream pulling us away from the here and now. We are quite the experts at being somewhere else, of not paying our full attention to what is in front of us at the moment.
Practices like Tai Chi and meditation are good antidotes to this schizophrenic type of being. They help us to focus our minds, to learn to pay attention – for a while, at least – to what is going on around us. I think this has always been part of the draw of these practices for me. The fundamental nature of the universe is chaos, the physicists say. But practices such as these give us a moment to step away from the chaos, into a space of focus and quiet.
After this class, I went home and watched my cat walk….