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The unforced life

Peace of mind does not exist in my world. In my experience, minds are not peaceful. I have experienced that it's possible to become more peaceful of mind, I am relatively sure of that. But I've never experienced, nor have I felt that anyone else was experiencing pure peace of mind.

Only two things have actually brought some measure of peace to my life. One has been accepting that parts of me are not peaceful, never have been, and probably never will be. The other has been doing what feels most deeply right to me.

By admitting to myself that in addition to their opposites, I am also competitive, aggressive, lustful, angry, scared, selfish, greedy, violent, and warlike, I invite these parts of myself to be full-fledged members of my internal family or parliament. They don't have to become outlaws and demons to be fought with. When I accept and allow them to have some expression, these so-called "darker" parts of myself begin to relax. I don't fight them, I just temper them. They don't fight me, they just make themselves known. Rather than fighting to be "good," I focus on unforced balance and accepting myself as I am. And less fighting in my mind means more peace in my mind.

I find this to be true again and again. I have more peace in my mind when I accept the war in my mind. Certainly more than I do when I try to be peaceful. Trying to be peaceful seems like a contradiction in terms to me, like being determined to relax, or trying to lift a chair I'm sitting in.

I call myself a "freestyle" Taoist because rather than the 1,200-plus volumes that comprise the orthodox Taoist canon, I focus instead on four words: Flow more — force less. This is the heart of my life, both as tai chi teacher and singer/songwriter. I've spent more than 25 years studying how to "flow more — force less" in countless training exercises within the tai chi system. I've spent even longer working on reducing excess effort as a singer, writer, and performer. And yet I still force things all the time.

What's important to me in life is not so much what I hit as what I aim for. My target is what I call "the unforced life," the life that I don't have to force myself to live, where each action is done with just the right amount of energy needed to achieve its ends. I've studied this on a daily basis for decades and still, what progress I've made has been slow, with many small steps.

Living in the dynamic tension between my various opposites has not been easy, but I vastly prefer it to trying to banish or eliminate parts of myself that seem hard-wired into me by nature. When I accept myself as I am, my shoulders relax and sink, martial techniques become more effective, my hands find the right sound on my guitar, my voice opens a bit, I find the words I'm looking for, I connect better with my friends, I breathe easier, and once again, a small measure of peace emerges.

My unforced life comes gradually, by accepting whatever is happening inside of me. Not liking it, necessarily, but accepting it — accepting that it's happening. Things are always changing and conflict seems inevitable but when I accept what's going on in me, I'm less conflicted.

With less preoccupying conflict in my life, it's easier to identify what feels most deeply right to me and easier to act on it. I've learned to trust this "most deeply right" feeling completely. I trust that it will lead me, directly or indirectly, to the right life, the unforced life that includes both the "light" and "dark" aspects of my nature. As I get better at identifying and acting on this inner "right" feeling, my lessons are not as painful, I flow more and force less, I have more satisfying and enjoyable experiences of myself and the world around me, and yes, even a bit more peace of mind.

Gene Burnett is a tai chi teacher and singer/songwriter living and working in Ashland. www.GeneBurnett.com; 541-488-1926. Submit 600 to 700 word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at innerpeaceforyou@live.com