The Internal, in taiji, only opens up, usefully, when my circles – my circularity – contain it, like a precious orb, swathed by the infinite caresses of my turning, my returning.
The mediocre student is one who blows hot then cold. One with a taste for the Internal but still largely in the grip of fear and illusion. One who shows real progress and then falters through fear of what needs to be done and what needs to be abandoned. Basically a coward. And on some level we are all mediocre students. The secret is to search out and confront that level rather than living a life devoted to avoiding it.
There is a enormous amount of modern commentary on taiji, either by, or demanded by, Westerners. From what I have read it attempts to demystify taiji and explain every aspect of it in reasonable terms – it turns this beautiful internal art into another external system of exercise. The basic difference between a person devoted to the Internal and one driven by the External is that the first impulse of the former is to give, unconditionally, whereas the first impulse of the latter is to take, or at least worry about what they will be receiving. The student of the internal gets out of bed in the morning because taiji (or whatever it is that they love) calls to their heart and draws them into another day of devotion. Ultimately I suspect that we are all devotees of the Internal, it's just that many of us forget that first impulse and get distracted or caught up by externals.
When confronted by novelty – by the new – which, let's face it, is all the time, whether it be new situations, new people, new ideas, concepts, thoughts, then we have a choice: we can either adapt to that novelty – listen and allow it to change us – wrench us out of habit, if only for a moment, or we can appropriate it – twist it to suit ourselves – turn it with our habits into a version of something we already know. Adapting is the course taken by those who have no choice, no place, no wealth, which is why, for me, the most interesting people in a society – the ones with the tremble of vulnerability which we call energy – are the immigrants, especially the illegal ones, those at once in and outside that society. Those who appropriate are, in effect, constantly adding to a store house of force, which, for them, replaces energy and spirit – a silo of ordure.
The first stage of each practice session – the Standing to Attention posture at the beginning of the Form – is simply being quiet and still enough to feel yourself being drawn into taiji. Without this your practice will defeat its purpose of reducing self. The beautifully endless flow of taiji is here/there all the time, just waiting for me/you to step on board. This is why, for me, surfing is such an apt image.