One winter, Master Liang was contracted by a group of 28 Catholic nuns in Little Falls, MN, to teach them Taiji at their convent. This was part of their alternative medicine program, but it meant we would have to drive up to their convent one evening every week, and the drive would take about 45 minutes.
On one of these evenings, it was snowing, visibility was low, and the roads were slippery. As we drove along the highway, Master Liang, as I assumed, was asleep in the passenger seat, and he was slumped forward with his head lowered. The drive was tense considering the weather conditions and my needed focus on the road ahead.
After a short while, I heard Master Liang say in a mumbled and sleepy voice, “I don’t want to die.” Now, my first thought was that there was something wrong with him and I needed to get him to a hospital. So I asked him, “Sir, is everything all right? Do you need to go to the hospital?”
Without moving out of his slumped positioned or even turning his head towards me, he again reiterated, “No hospital, but please I don’t want to die.” I again asked him in a very concerned yet somewhat panicked tone, “But, sir, why do you think you might die?”
Again, without moving out of his slumped position or turning his head to speak to me, he said, “Look at your hands, young man. They are so tense. If an emergency comes you’ll be unable to react properly and we will crash. So please relax your hands. If we crash because of your tense hands then I will die.”
First, I had no idea he even turned to look at my hands and, secondly, since he never drove a car before how could he possibly know I was tense and that my grip on the steering wheel was too tight? Arguably everything he said was true, I was too tense and I indeed understood that if I needed to react quickly to some unexpected situation I would not have been able to. Nonetheless, I just couldn’t figure out how he knew of my tension, as I thought I had hid it well.
Later when we were driving back home I asked him about how he knew earlier I was gripping the steering wheel too hard? He answered me first by saying, “When you were in school and had to write with a pencil, more often then not you broke the lead of the pencil. This was not due to the pencil being defective, but due to the fact that you put too much tension into your hand and so pressed the pencil too hard into the paper. Of course the pencil lead will break and of course, you would blame the pencil for being too cheap and inferior. Truth is, the pencil lead broke because of your tension. Now, when you are driving the same thing can happen. I saw your hands other times when we drive and they were tense. With the bad weather you naturally tensed up, and if I did not bring it to your attention then you would have broken the car, with me in it!”
This lesson I learned later to apply to the practices of Sensing Hands and Dispersing Hands, as it was the tension in my hands that caused my defeat. We must learn to hold things like a baby, gripping and holding without tension. It was a wonderful lesson.
© 2019 by Stuart Alve Olson