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Well, 2020… what a blast that was! I’m sure that I join many people around the world who have reflected on the bizarreness of our reality and reevaluated life to some extent. I personally had the busiest six months of work ever followed by the quietest six months, a couple of nasty injuries that took me to the A&E and the lockdown drama of when two of my closest family members contracted COVID, causing some damn stressful weeks until they recovered. Bring on 2021 and may it be chilled out but productive I say!

What prompted me to write this blog post however, is the article that I recently came across online, titled How COVID Exposed New Age Narcissism. It talks about how the pandemic has brought many things inside us to the surface and how this can manifest as so called spiritual narcissism. Things like being in the flow and following a bliss vibe, but not actually putting in the real effort to do inner work and for change to occur within. 

“It was all of the good stuff without any of the hard work, which was a shortcut for the self-absorbed who only care about feeling good over doing good.”

I’ve seen this sort of behaviour well before the pandemic, so I don’t fully agree on this type of behaviour being exposed all of a sudden because of what has been happening this year. What I do agree with is how spiritual narcissism can manifest as a lack of commitment, flakiness and discipline, which was possibly one of the reasons I wasn’t that interested in hanging out with the so called conscious ex pat community whilst living in Bali. There was often a lack of groundedness in many peoples’ presence, a self absorption that was evident as soon as they started talking about how they would love to collaborate on a project with you or just how they would steer a random conversation to themselves. To me it oozed of fakeness and self driven agendas and it was enough for me to not get involved. Thankfully, where I did find the real friendships and non-pretentiousness was with the locals.

“There were a lot of goddesses, warriors, priestesses, and shamans, yet not enough humanity. I saw people who had many spiritual acquaintances, social media friends, and event buddies, yet a disproportionate number of them who would actually be there for them when life gets hard and when things get real.”

What came to my mind instantly when reading the article is the metaphor of the lotus. When you think of a lotus you usually think of the beautiful flower that is visible on the surface of the pond. But in fact, most of the plant is actually underneath the surface, tangled in the mud with other plants. The beautiful and blissfull lotus flower can only bloom once the plant has spent a considerable time growing through muck – it is equivalent to the hard work required to get somewhere nice.

The Taoist concept of heaven, earth and humanity is also how I have viewed this in the past. It seems to me that many people are too focussed on the heavenly aspects of life, the things that stimulate and satisfy the mind but at the same time, they are not being rooted enough to the reality of the physical world and to the things within that require to be worked on before you can really access the so called heavenly. The practical vs the mystical, as my yoga partner Delamay Devi says. 

Tai Chi chuan has also taught me this through ‘eating bitter in order to taste sweetness’. There is no better reward than the reward achieved from hard work and this gives a good functional basis to dealing with the world. Yes, there are many far out things in this world, but right now, in this present moment, what are the things that I can personally deal with? What is realistic for me to change? What should I put my energy in? These are the things that my pragmatic self prefers to think about.

Easier said than done of course, because now we are talking about dealing with our old nemesis, the ego. Oh how easy it is to just satisfy the senses with worldly distractions instead of trying to transform those parts in ourselves that no longer serve us. As Master Zheng Manching put it:

“Practising taijiquan is difficult, and the difficulty is that we are blocked by our own consciousness. My inability to make progress is because I am blocked by my own ego-consciousness and thus cannot make a breakthrough. This truly is the most difficult problem in taijiquan.” 

But let us get back to where the article goes next, which is the wonderful world of conspiracy theories. Am I crazy to think that 5G and vaccines are the new way that ‘they’ will try to control us, or am I just a sheep who is asleep, not caring about what is really going on in the world? Well, I’d like to think that the answer is neither. I try to maintain the same attitude that I aspire towards when doing my tai chi – that of being open at all times, in my body, energy and mind. Specifically, being relaxed, ready and receptive to anything and everything but not passing any judgement on things at any point. Being present, but not stuck. Knowing that I don’t know. 

Just like the story of the old man with a horse, remember that one? Who is to say what is actually good luck or bad, what is true and what isn’t? I find that this is a very practical attitude to adopt in life, which is exactly where the article ends up in it’s conclusion – finding a middle way. As my teacher once told me, the things in the world that I cannot physically change are above my pay grade. So the best thing one can do is to focus on what can be changed, which is usually ourselves. This is how I live by and through teaching, I hope to inspire others so they can have some tools for inner transformation also.

Like I said earlier, easier said than done, but I do find it helpful to have some sort of life philosophy to abide by. Of course it’s a bonus that it’s fully compatible with the fighting aspects of tai chi chuan. But in reality, the fight is within, and the world is our stage. Every moment a possible match, another opportunity for a loss, a win and growth. Something that this year has reminded me over and over again. Cheers, 2020!