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Tai Chi, Qigong and the Question, 'Who Am I?'

"Who am I?" can be answered in so many ways from the profound to the mundane. While each is worth considering, many of us skip over paying attention to ourselves on even the simplest level. For instance, does this food agree with me? Do I need six hours of sleep or eight? Does it help to exercise?
12/28/2015 09:21am ET | Updated December 28, 2016
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My teacher, a Tai Chi Master and Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor, first introduced me to this question, "Who am I?" At first, when I began taking qigong classes I noticed he would also say, "I am air, I am water, I am light." He would sometimes ask the class this question, "Who am I?" Invariably someone would answer with those formulaic words, air, water, light. I didn't have a better answer, but I thought to myself that this couldn't be the answer he wants. What does he want us to grasp?

Dr. Wu teaches the way he practices. He shows you through postures, through movement. He doesn't try to tell you. He is playful but he says enigmatic things, if he says much at all. Become the white paper; do nothing; be empty; it is simple not easy. But what does it all mean? I have learned that I can't make sense out of this through thinking which is a real challenge to my Western mind. I had to begin to listen to my body and how I felt doing Tai Chi and Qigong, at peace and energized. Whenever I try to nail down an answer it sends me into my head and I can overthink masterfully. I feel better when I practice Tai Chi and Qigong. The answers had to come out of that truth.

I came to realize that "do nothing" wasn't really quite right. It is more accurate to say do what needs to be done, nothing more, and nothing less. The problem, obviously, is knowing what that is. This is where doing nothing comes in. In some ways, it is like the Hippocratic oath I took when I became a physician. Do no harm. Tai Chi teaches us to listen very carefully, to ourselves and to others. Make no mistake, it is easier to just do nothing or do something prematurely or impulsively but I think what tai chi teaches us is to be patient and to wait for the clear path.

"Who am I?" can be answered in so many ways from the profound to the mundane. While each is worth considering, many of us skip over paying attention to ourselves on even the simplest level. For instance, does this food agree with me? Do I need six hours of sleep or eight? Does it help to exercise?

I came to realize that this question, "Who am I?" was not "one and done." Even if we consider the question, it is not so easy to sort out the cacophony of answers clamoring for attention within our own head, let alone all the opinions and demands coming from outside. Which ones are wise and which ones are merely masquerading as wisdom? Sometimes the answer might be very different for two people and all each of us can ask is, "Who am I?" and really listen for the truth.

I realized after an accident while traveling recently that I had to make some difficult decisions and I knew then that I wanted to explore and write more about this very central question. Stay tuned.