When I heard the story of The Tortoise And The Hare in Tai Chi class, I understood immediately.
The lesson was to do all things slow. Slow is better than fast. That is why the movements in Tai Chi are slow.
Tai Chi is done slowly so that we can develop mind and body coordination. Mind and body coordination is important to have if we want to perform efficiently. This coordination ensures that we waste no energy. Therefore, when we do things slowly we are able to maintain our energy levels throughout the course of the day.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Before we get any further, let’s go over the story again from the beginning. Here’s my version of it.
One day, the Hare bragged to all the animals about how fast he could run. The Tortoise was not impressed by the Hare’s arrogant behavior. Seeing that the Tortoise’s head was moving back into the shell, the Hare makes fun of the Tortoise for being so slow.
The Hare’s life is fast and therefore good after all.
Tired of the taunting, the Tortoise’s head came forward and she challenges the Hare to a race.
All the forest animals gathered around curious to see how this race would play out.
The Hare jumped out of the starting line and soon left the Tortoise far behind. The Hare was so happy. Proud of his speed, he hopped off course to explore the bushes and trees.
The Hare bounced to a pleasant patch of grass and decided to take a nap there. More than half way there, the Hare was confident he could take a break and still win.
The Tortoise on the other hand continued its race, putting one foot in front of the other. “Steady as she goes,” the animals looked at each other. The Tortoise saw the napping Hare and did not look back, eyes fixed towards the finish line in the distance.
Moments away from arriving at the finish line, the animals started to cheer. The Hare was startled awake by the noise, quickly jumped to his feet. It was too late.
As they were watching the Tortoise cross the finish line, the animals spoke about what just happened.
The Fox stated, “Slow and steady wins the race.” The others couldn’t accept Fox’s explanation. They believed that quick and steady would have beaten the Tortoise for sure.
“Napping during a race will cause you to lose it,” said the Deer. They all agreed that it was the Hare that acted like a fool during the race.
“Never underestimate your opponent or you will be doomed to failure,” the Bear said. A true lesson indeed if you find yourself in competition.
“Arrogance is a dangerous thing,” said the Skunk. The Hare was blinded by too much of it.
The Hare walked over to the animals with his head down.
“Always compete with honor,” said the Goose at the poor Hare. Every animal indeed respected what the Tortoise accomplished that day.
“Going too fast will cause you to need rest, and you will be slower in the long run,” said the Rooster who knows so well how to start and finish a day. They all nodded.
These are all life lessons to be learned from this race, they all thought. But, there is more.
“Thinking long-term and acting on principle is necessary to success,” observed the Owl.
“Success depends on using your talents, not just having them,” continued the Owl.
All the animals came together. The Hare’s head came up, his eyes widened.
It is one of the greatest lessons I learned through my training days for competition.
Talent is cheap. It’s not enough to rely just on your talent. Hard work and persistence can beat talent, when talent is neglected. This is what the Hare finally realized.
Now let’s get back to Tai Chi to further understand why this story is important.
So we do Tai Chi to develop mind and body coordination as the main goal. To do this, you must let go. To do that, you have to get to a relaxed state of mind.
Tai Chi is a sequence of slow movements to help you get to that place where you have balance between mind and body. It is done slowly to connect your mind with every motion of your body.
Tai Chi is a tool to help us slow down. It is done so for the purpose of becoming more aware of every second of your life. Those seconds can even be broken down into frames. Each frame captures a moment in time of who you truly are inside.
You can start by scanning your body.
Sense the ground supporting it. Notice how your weight is distributed between the two legs. Feel the difference in your feet.
If you are sitting, notice how your body is falling into the chair.
Notice how you are holding your body. If you feel that you are holding something, let it go.
Notice what moves when you breathe. Feel the energy rise up as you take a breath. Feel it falling down into your root when you exhale.
Notice the energy flow up and down within you.
Feel your skin in contact with the air. If there is any movement in the air where you are, feel how it affects your body, then your mind.
Work your way underneath your skin. Feel your muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and tissues. Work your way in deeper and deeper.
Stay focused on the internal.
In your own race, don’t be distracted by the chatter that is around you.
On the train.
In the office.
At your desk.
Stay in touch with your inner nature in each frame of every second of your life. You can get to a relaxed state of mind that way. Because you can see what’s there and what lies ahead.
What if we live our life like the Tortoise?
The Tortoise lives its life by slowing down. Taking one step at a time.
Her heart rate is slow. Her thoughts are clear. She is focused and does not get off the path that is well thought through.
She knows what she wants and knows to work towards that every day. Looking forward.
It is a wonder to observe that a tortoise’s life is so long… and a hare’s life is not.
Some tortoises have lifespans longer than 150 years. They are considered to have one of the longest lifespans of any animal. They are revered in China and other cultures.
Hares can live up to 12 years.
I invite you to be like the Tortoise – and live well.