My t’ai chi teacher, Martin Inn, used to describe a teacher of his who claimed to have no attachments to the past or the future. He seemed to embody the Taoist roots of t’ai chi, removing all intention, all ego, all attachment to outcome and previous experience so that all of his attention was focused on the present, opening his ability to respond to his environment effortlessly. He would say, “I forget all.”†
When I studied t’ai chi, we meditated in order to empty our minds because,
It is the emptiness of a vessel that makes it useful.
- —Lao Tzu (paraphrased)
This article is about something else.
Ego is handy. It attaches you to your past and future, and it gets you out of bed and on with your day. Consider this for a second: What if you woke up in a different home with different possessions, nothing was where you might expect it to be? What if you forgot your desire to do your job or how to make breakfast or your attachment to home and family? What that if happened every day?
What if you had no habits?
The role of the autopilot.
We use our intentions and goals to motivate us. We also have moments of releasing our intentions and connecting to the the sublime, enlightenment, Flow, God, other gods, Dharma, the tao— that thing that’s bigger than us. And then we look for parking.
This site is dedicated to helping you develop your Pilot by using your ego to steer your life intentionally, and to also tap moments of enlightenment and find Flow, but there is a very important role that does most of the other work. That’s the Autopilot, the executor of your habits, the one who puts your keys in the same place every day and cranks through mundane tasks with efficiency so you can get on with more important stuff. The Autopilot also skips sniffing the proverbial roses on the way to work and gets you in the same trouble over and over again.
Big change affords reinventing habits.
I just separated from my wife and moved, so many of my habits don’t work any more. As inconvenient as that can be, I’m also eager to retrain the Autopilot. There are new systems and habits to create and old ones to improve. I know it sounds mechanical, and to some extent it is, but changing habits is so fundamental it’s likely to bring up strong emotions. Bravery is required, and the payoff is tremendous.
Changing our habits is the work that makes the biggest difference in our lives.
My suggestion: Do a little every week. Do it this week. Look at your habits and make sure they work for you. If you spot a little one that can be tweaked, make a plan to change it now. Get help with the big ones. It’s the most important work you will do.
In t’ai chi, at least as I understand it, the only habit you need is t’ai chi, that is, listening carefully and responding in Flow. I pull that off sometimes. Other times I use my intentions to focus on the things I planned to do. The Autopilot takes care of everything else— which is, as far as I can tell, almost everything entirely.
† It was suspected by many of his students that the teacher’s ability to detach from the future and the past was partially due to mild dementia.