Using the principles of T’ai Chi can help us in a variety of ways during our daily life. One area of life that we can all use a little help with is self-confidence.
Some of us, unfortunately, seem to have no confidence;We’re wishy-washy and easily run over by pushy salespeople, aggressive authority figures (like parents, bosses, or teachers), and tend to fade away into the crowd rather than stand up and express ourselves confidently to the rest of the world.
Others, try to arm themselves with a sense of ‘False Confidence.’ They outwardly appear strong, brash, and sure of themselves to everyone outside, but in doing so become rigid in their convictions. They stand so hard on their beliefs that they fail to see the value of ideas different from their own. This puts them in constant conflict with those around them and leaves their ego hopelessly bruised when someone has a better idea or wins an argument.
In both cases, the result is the same. They eventually become frustrated and drained of energy.
If you lack confidence, you’ll become slowly frustrated at your inability to speak up for yourself and feel pushed around until the stress of not being able to stand up for yourself becomes too much and you finally explode in a fit of anger.
If you’ve built an inflated sense of False Confidence, you find yourself always arguing your point and in friction with anyone who doesn’t share your particular point of view. Again, this constant struggle eventually leads to frustration and most likely a bitter breaking point.
Either way, these poor confidence strategies leave the person exhausted and stressed out, which is not a very resourceful way to live.
Luckily, there is a fundamental T’ai Chi principle that provides true, authentic confidence and saves our mental energy, leaving us relaxed and stress free. It’s not a ‘Get Confident Quick’ scheme, like reciting positive affirmations into a mirror, but a real strategy that works even when life gets tough..
Think about how your body feels while going through your T’ai Chi form. Your stance is strong but relaxed with your weight shifting fully from one leg to the other. Your arms float effortlessly around you as you transition between movements. Yet, if pressed, the hand/elbow/shoulder connection to your center remains incredibly strong.This totally relaxed and soft, yet also strong and sturdy sensation reflects the T’ai Chi principle of ‘Iron wrapped in Silk”.
Imagine a hard, iron bar, wrapped in many yards of soft silk. The center is very strong and durable, while the outside is soft and mutable. Covered in silk, this bar can brush against delicate glass without breaking it, while the metal bar can withstand the force of a dropped boulder. The soft, gentle exterior hides the strength of the iron bar hidden underneath.
Like ‘Iron wrapped in Silk’, confidence must be both soft and strong at the same time. Too much ‘silk’ and our confidence becomes weak, like a strip of fabric floating away in the wind. Too much iron and confidence becomes a cold, empty shell for us to hide behind.
The soft side of our personality is what allows us to be loving and compassionate toward the world around us. The strong side helps us keep our convictions, to keep our moral convictions, and stay true to ourselves.
The principle of ‘Iron wrapped in Silk’ lets us stay open and vulnerable to those around us while keeping our own goals and aspirations awake and healthy. It helps us to stay happy and relaxed as we go about our day. Even more important, this strategy can help us when life itself starts to get tough.
What do you do when your teenage daughter tells you that she’d like to get a tattoo… on her neck?! The ‘Iron Bar” wants to scream “No way, Never… Over MY DEAD BODY!” However, the silk softness is at least willing to hear her out and discuss why she’s thinking of making such a permanent cosmetic decision. Is there something she’s trying to express about herself through the tattoo? Is she feeling heard or noticed? The soft side of T’ai Chi confidence allows us to be open to communication while still holding true to our convictions.
This principle can work the other way as well, when you need to express ‘Tough Love’ to someone who is reaching specifically for your compassion.
Imagine that a friend has been diagnosed with a particularly vicious form of cancer. The soft, yin side, of your confident personality is willing to listen to and support him in a gentle, soothing manner. However, you know that your friend also has some serious decisions to make concerning his treatment and the really harsh reality of his own mortality..
While you’re willing to offer your shoulder to cry upon, you also know that it’s important for your friend to face the reality of his situation. You firmly guide him to do what’s necessary to find and begin appropriate treatment while also confronting the personal and financial decisions he needs to make in order for his Family to stay secure in the possible event of his death.
While it’s nice for you to show your friend the ‘silky softness’ side of your personality, what he really needs at this time is your ‘Iron’ strength.
Life isn’t easy. And, staying confident during the twists and turns of our day to day lives isn’t easy either.
One thing the principle of ‘Iron wrapped in Silk’ offers us is a way to confidently face the world in a manner that allows us to be soft without becoming weak and to be strong without becoming hard or cold. It’s the path to true, authentic confidence.