The other night I walked up to the nearby community center and joined a group of people for tai chi. There were eight of us new to the exercise and as with any novelty, I felt some anxiety about being there dressed in all white as instructed and not knowing what to expect. The others were dressed in white too, well, at least their shirts were white—their pants were black. “No problem,” I was told, but this didn’t ease my nervousness.

We were instructed in Mandarin to get in lines facing the front. I just followed what everyone else was doing and this got me by—for the moment. We warmed up with some stretches that my current exercise routine didn’t include and I was beginning to think that this idea of learning a meditative exercise that focused on being present was not going to happen for me again in the future.

I felt that not all of the sweat I was experiencing came from the heat of being at the outdoor basketball court on a typical Singapore evening. Thoughts of slipping out the back gate and never returning entered my mind. It was time to rally.

Years ago when preparing for another season of coaching I was reviewing softball DVDs. While listening to Mike Candrea, the University of Arizona coach, I caught a line that stuck with me ever since. “I tell my players that when they come to the field, they control two things—their effort and their attitude.” Since then, I’ve used this line with my players, with other students I work with, and now, on this humid night, with myself. 

I told myself that tai chi is important to learn. It works all muscle groups, demands attention as hands move in opposite directions of the feet, and being present is essential to ones well being. I’ve admired watching this for quite some time. I just need to concentrate, observe others, listen to the instructor who is trying to help me, and then think, “I may be struggling now, but this is the first time and I know if I work on my tai chi, I’ll get it.”

For the remainder of the ninety minutes, it was necessary to rally several more times. Mainly because trying to recall the moves and the order of the moves was more than challenging. Others helped with their encouragement, and my own reminder, “I control my effort and attitude,” brought me to the end of the session. I can’t say I was successful in remembering all of the steps, but being present as much as I could and not allowing my thinking to take me into the darkness was what helped me. I now know that I’ll return for the next lesson.

For just about all I do, I control my effort and attitude.

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