“Bend first, then straighten,” my tai chi instructor says as I stand with left leg forward (foot forward, knee bent) and right leg behind (foot turned out, knee straight). If I straighten my left knee first and then bend my right knee, my head would move up, back, and down, creating an arc. But if I bend my right knee first and allow that to pull and straighten my left leg, then I keep my head level as I move from front to back.
I translate “bend first, then straighten” to mean “accept first, then change.”
Like acceptance, “bending” first requires intention, discipline, and strength. Flexibility and receptivity are not for the faint of heart. But when I am willing to soften and slacken my tight, insistent grip on “how things should be” and accept “how things are,” I can move forward with a level head and take clean action.
“Straight” describes the clean, sure, balanced action that results when I bend first. When I don’t accept before I act, I move forward without benefit of a level head and clear mind, and the action I take is less focused, more suspect, and generally off-kilter.
I hope that as I mindfully do each repetition of “bend first, then straighten” in class, the lesson of acceptance before change moves so deeply into my muscle memory and bones that I can practice this no matter where I am or what is happening.