Memory vs observation and your tai chi practice

We rely on memory to get by, but as we age our memory gets a little slack. This is normal, they say. But the suggestions people make to help you manage forgetfulness as we grow older seem ineffective. My thinking is you have to figure something else out. Luckily, there is something.

We can train ourselves to be more observant. My reasoning for this refers back to a behavioral commonality among us. We do things without thinking. We don’t think ahead, nor do we look ahead. For example, I might have forgotten where I placed my reading glasses and often I can’t find them when I look for them. Since I don’t remember where I put them, I have to search around for where I think they might be. Then after an hour or so and a few attacks of frustration, I finally find them where I had already looked—right where I had left them. Often, they are right in the first place I looked, but I somehow didn’t see them. Why is that? Impatience? Sluggish mental prowess?

Probably. But my powers of observation were lacking, too. If I had looked more closely, I would have found them much more quickly. If I had taken the time and broken the tendency to rush the outcome could very well have been different.

We do this sort of thing all day long. I need to blow my nose because I just ate some spicy Cajun food. I get up to grab a tissue but I can’t find the box of tissues, because I moved them from my desk to the coffee table in the living room or to the bedroom nightstand. I walked right by them on the way to my desk. If I had been more observant, I could have saved myself a trip.

That’s what I mean by being more observant. We live our lives thinking our memory will serve us always. We expect to find what we believe we’ll find. That just doesn’t happen as much as we think. We go for a walk and spot something that looks like a broken piece of glass, but it turns out to be a fallen leaf lying in the dirt. We assume it’s a piece of glass before we actually know what it really is. We walk out the house expecting to find our car, our lawn chair, our lawn. Or a view of the ocean, or the mountains and forests, of the skyline of our city. But we seldom really look at them. We just expect them to be there and once we verify they are, we’re done. Move on.

Tai chi and qigong help me to cultivate my powers of observation. I still catch myself reverting back to old habits, but gradually, I’m changing. Some might say they already have a handle on it. That’s fine. They’ll find out if they can hold on to it as they age.

I return to this issue every time I stand in wuji and begin a practice session of tai chi and qigong. Because they are expressly an exercise in being observant. They help to cultivate awareness, concentration, and sensitivity to changes in the self and the environment. It’s good for memory and it’s good for aging.

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