As every part of my body should be scrutinized for chronic tension, so every part of my being, my life. This means, ultimately, my beliefs – those hidden axioms that compel me to repeat mistakes, without which life would definitely be more painful and dangerous but also more lively and exciting – more worth living.
It is obviously important for me to be aware of this room, or any other box I find myself in, but I would be a fool to rely upon it. Not because it is in any way unreliable, but because when I rely upon something, part of my energy is with that thing in the wrong way – in a way that weakens me. The sadness that goes with any real spiritual work is simply the realisation that ultimately you are alone, and it is you your energy should coil around, not anything external to you. Eventually, once those coils have really tightened, this sadness becomes the warrior's joy.
A ruthless compassion that assists the other engage meaningfully with their suffering and learn the lessons it has to teach. In no way does this involve explanation – you are not comforting them with your wisdom or language (always deceiving) – you are helping them to be strong and rise to the challenge.
Relaxed shoulders rely upon a strong spine and core, especially the lower back and belly. Mentally it requires a mastery of central equilibrium – the simultaneous inward and outward flows of energy. To let go of the arms (which is effectively what relaxing the shoulders does) and flow outward requires me to also flow into my core – to gather myself into a discrete, well-centred and ruthless bundle of potential and patience – power. This will only happen when I give up my often unconscious reliance upon social and cultural support systems (ideas – which includes the ego), and when I have finally forgiven my past – that pettiest but also most tyrannical of petty tyrants – for giving me the problems I find myself with (when I have put my demons to rest); that is, when I understand and accept what I truly am – warts and all. Clearly a very long term project, hence the taiji apothegm: Measure your progress in decades.
The arms join the body at the shoulder, obviously. This is the highest point of the arm, and means that gravity is always extending the arm down its length towards the hand. Tense shoulders represent our fearful attempt to hold onto our arms and keep control of our hands. If we really relax the shoulders then we have to use the turning waist to direct the hands, turns which either throw the hands out from the body, or fold them in from the elbow. Taiji, to start with anyway, is simply the study and practice of directing relaxed arms with the waist; an operation that requires a root otherwise the waist has no power.
"It appears that life evolved from animal forms whose soft parts were inside, covered by a hard external casing, into other forms, such as ours, in which everything hard is interiorized as bone, cartilage, skeleton, while the soft is expressed as flesh, mucous membranes and skin. Those who love to fight are unevolved leftovers from a very ancient past, from the dark time when we were armoured. The newcomers amongst us become gentle, wrinkle-bearing: we bear imprints. We are clothed in soft, warm wax, we are tarnished mirrors, a warped, scratched, blotched, diverse surface in which the universe is reflected a little."