By Tom Cushing
In my 20-plus years of practicing t’ai chi and martial arts, the single and most deciding beneficial principle I have learned is that of Xiu Lian (pronounced “shoo lee-en”) which, in simplest terms, translates to an overarching generosity of spirit.
Admittedly, I was first drawn to the art of t’ai chi (or taiji) by its fluid movement and the power it brought to my other martial arts self-defense techniques. But as I delved deeper into the whole practice of taiji, the beauty of the art revealed itself, and continues to do so. The taiji form is often referred to as a “moving meditation,” and it is this meditative, mindful practice of awareness that brings about the physical, mental and emotional benefits taiji practitioners enjoy.
Countless studies of taiji practice offer evidence of the benefits of practicing taiji. They are too numerous to list here but include physical benefits that are relatively easy to measure such as balance, flexibility, muscle-strength, and joint health. They also include other equally important benefits of practice that have been proven in evidence-based research, such as improved sleep, relief from joint pain, reduced anxiety and dealing more effectively with everyday stress. All are the fruits of a regular and well-balanced taiji routine.
Among the more elusive and hard-to-measure aspects of taiji is this quality of Xiu Lian. Traditional Chinese teaching tells us that the highest levels of achievement in taiji (or any endeavor) are unattainable without Xiu Lian.
Xiu Lian is my go-to whenever I encounter a difficult situation. In my practice it serves as a meditative mantra. Like everyone, I struggle with maintaining a continuous generosity of spirit, but I am at least more and more aware of the times when it is absent or not up front in my demeanor. In everyday, real-life practice it simply means giving everyone a break, and assuming the best about another’s intentions when you feel offended.
To do this, I need to let go of ego and the need to be right, and to go with flow. I sometimes even need to take a step back and assess if I really need to be heard right now. The simple act of acknowledging that I don’t have to react or respond right now goes a long way in reducing stress, and regrets — just some of the rewards of cultivating Xiu Lian in my taiji practice and everyday life.