31.5.05

No time

Like the present.

Photo: Hamid Momtahan

27.5.05

             how
notes
for I was
where
the beginning is
what is essential
a synthesis of
figuration and
fireworks

Beginning Tai Chi

There are basically three types of TaiChi out there:
1. Health oriented. Usually taught by good-natured "beginners" i.e. people who have learnt a few basic Forms & have decided it would nice to teach.
2. Martial oriented. Generally taught by aggressive young men who have had little or no internal instruction. The last thing you'll learn in these classes is how to relax or open to others. The whole notion of self-defence is misgrounded since it is precisely self we try to conquer with TaiChi.
3. Spirit oriented. The most difficult to find. These classes are taught by people who have received a transmission of energy from well-qualified Masters from a recognised lineage. Their TaiChi will be a vehicle which allows you to subtly tackle the dominance of your ego and uncover all aspects of spirit.
Fumbling for the live nerve
under dead strata
If you find a local class the best thing is to go along and try it out (the teacher should allow you to sit in or watch).
If you like the feeling in the class (which should be welcoming, calming and meditative, but also lively and full of enthusiasm), and the teacher has qualities you admire then consider joining the class.
The students should be open, friendly and generous, with no competitive edge.
Also try to find a class that does the (non-aggresive) partner work - called Pushing Hands. In a way it is the partner work that is most important in TaiChi, and as long as it is done gently and cooperatively with spiritual companions then it will certainly help you become a better person.

To locate a TaiChi class in your area try the TaiChi Finder link on this site.
          but what
does not
shake us to
our
foundations
we
ourselves
the smallest part of us
must make itself known

26.5.05

Lifting the veil

Letter to a student

There is a beautiful poem by HD in which she says
...lift
the veil,
dividing me from me,
and heal the
scars
my searing helmet made,
and lure me forth
radiant,
unafraid
as the immortals...
Here she distinguishes three processes:
1. Lifting the veil
2. Healing the scars
3. Being lured forwards into the divine.
These three processes are all necessary for spiritual progress.

When you talk about your improved confidence (in relation to a higher education) or feelings of delight & revelation (in relation to the Sword Form) I think that you are talking about the first stage above - parts of yourself are being revealed to you - you feel more complete etc.
However, the other two processes must be engaged as well for there to be real progress.
Otherwise the confidence, delight & revelation themselves become veils.
The second stage would be the practice (doing one's Tai Chi daily under correct tutelage, for example).
The third stage is more mysterious & is a matter of leaping into the abysses that open up before you at certain times in your spiritual work.
This requires one not to take the easy step of either turning back (becoming a coward), or turning aside into certainty & opinion (becoming an expert - a fossil - what JK calls avoidance).
It requires Yielding.
It also requires qualified instruction.
         both
one
might say
the men are monks
cloisters
were
subordinated
start out by investigating
the naked

Spirit


Photo: Monica Blake

25.5.05

Some Quotations

Softness is a dream in every ache to become a better soul.
John Kells

The Natural Process is that which reveals itself when gazed at softly.
John Kells

There's something special too about what you pick up when you're moving fast, about the kind of attention that you can develop.
Clark Coolidge

And wonder is a twine of wands lodged
to spine of nothing I know at least to hold.
Clark Coolidge

you gotta believe in it or it wont work
Hannah Weiner

The worst form of laziness is to work very hard at the wrong thing.
Thomas Aquinas

Who has a fiercer struggle that she who strives to conquer herself? Yet this must be our chief concern - to conquer self, and by daily growing stronger than self, to advance in holiness.
Thomas a Kempis

Tension is the sign of an exhausting inner struggle.
Peter Finch to Audrey Hepburn in A Nun's Story

When the mind is in the head thinking is about reality.
When the mind is in the heart thinking becomes reality.

Full soon thy soul shall have her earthly freight,
And custom lie upon thee with a weight,
Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!
William Wordsworth

O God, living Truth, unite me to Yourself in everlasting love!
Thomas a Kempis

That Love is all there is, is all we know of Love; it is enough...
Emily Dickinson

The ink washes into a deeper language, and in the end the water runs clear.
Rosemarie Waldrop

Man is a neverending dynamic process of inclusion and refinement.
Buckminster Fuller

I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think
Jacques Lacan

The thought that came to me the other night was that fulfilling your destiny wasn't about finding a role, but about rediscovering your true self, which has been hidden by fears and misconceptions. Right action would follow from that.
Pat Francis

The value of unity is two.
Buckminster Fuller

Energy is Eternal Delight!
William Blake

One learns through the heart not the eyes or the intellect.
Mark Twain

Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.
W B Yeats

24.5.05

Destiny

Letter to a student

Destiny, if you like, is some special task that you have in this life.
It's what will make your life meaningful.
Real life.
But what are you?
Spirit & essence smothered in conditioning & fear (ego).
For destiny to be revealed you need to access your spirit & essence.
This is spiritual work.
Spiritual work is any endeavour that helps peel away the ego so that you can better join with the natural process.
Spirit & essence are then seen to be aspects of the divine.
Destiny is the divine expressing itself through you in a meaningfully unfolding life.

As an individual you shouldn't concern yourself with notions of destiny.
You simply need to engage in spiritual work (Tai Chi) with spiritual partners under the guidance of a spiritual teacher.
Destiny will unfold because of this (and maybe even despite it).

So far the most significant step you have taken along the path of your destiny is to start studying Tai Chi.
Is all you have to do now is continue.
This requires great courage & great sacrifice.
One of the realisations you need to come to in order to progress is that your teacher knows you better than you know yourself.
Your teacher can always pinpoint what you need to work on.
It is the teacher's job to gently edge you in the right direction.
If she is too firm or brutal you will run away & never come back.
And remember - the bird of freedom only flies past once: if you don't catch it, then your destiny is lost.

Spiritual progress can seem impossible, especially if it requires the tackling of your physical quirks.
How do you relax your tight & asthmatic chest which is so obviously blocking your ability to connect?
The only way is through persistent adherence to the principles of Tai Chi.
You can only persistently adhere if, deep down, you believe.
And I don't mean believing in something. I simply mean believing - to be in an actively unfolding process of ever deepening connection.
Only people with heart can do this.
(Surprisingly not everyone seems to have heart - or not enough to break through the hard shell of self. They are what the Tao Te Ching calls poor students.)
You have heart in abundance, which will be your saving grace.
The problem with an abundance of heart is that it will be easily distracted.
These distractions will continue until your chest relaxes and your energy sinks.
In the meantime my advice would be to establish a Rule for yourself, rather like a monastic Rule:

Diet - vegan, sugar free, plenty of fruit, plenty of protein (tofu etc).
Solo practice - morning & evening.
Meditation - a little every day.
Partner work - as often as possible.
Rest - sleep/rest at least 8 hours daily.
Drugs - none.
Sex - only as part of a loving relationship with someone you feel really comfortable with & who unconditionally supports (i.e. joins in with) your spiritual endeavours (if you find someone let me know if she has a sister).

Your speed of progress is a measure of your ability to apply yourself to the task at hand.
It is also somewhat irrelevant at this stage.
It's not until you reach an age between 36 & 40 that you realise your time is limited.
Then you may buckle down with a vengeance.
Until then just continue with your simple Rule (try to break it only once a week).
     born with only
one
angel’s wing
forever trying
to fly
I wished
to
capture
to keep its path

23.5.05

Reading

Letter to Ray Deady

When I shy away from reading the many interesting books out there on TaiChi & other worthy subjects it's only because I don't want that kind of distraction anymore.
Information doesn't really interest me as such because it doesn't help me go forward on the path I've chosen (or rather the path that's chosen me).
I have found from experience that the only information I can trust is that which comes from or through personal contacts, and not stuff gathered from reading.
The only truth is heart to heart
and we fight for what we love not are.
The problem for most of us (especially me) is to use the head less & the heart more.
In the context of the work this means connecting more & more deeply with the living internal aspect of the teaching which comes through my teacher.
I can only justify his belief in me if I ensure I am not cluttered with other teachings, however trivial.

The concept of a living internal teaching is something that is lost in our present culture.
Despite intellectually understanding the meaning of the phrase, it takes many years to fully understand & appreciate its importance & significance.
Without being connected to a living internal teaching one cannot be fully alive.
My teacher used to describe it as a river of knowledge.
He said that most people dip their toes into the river, and maybe a few even paddle & swim in it, but it is only those who completely immerse themselves forever that receive the true teaching.
Other teachings come from different rivers.
Different rivers definitely do not mix.

I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't read the books (or people) you come across.
By all means do.
But try to feel them in the context of our teaching, & keep your pulse on the stuff we do, which is all about interacting with other living entities, which is always a matter of heart & not head.

Remember that language is not a good model of reality.
Anything that is truly real cannot be described with words.

heartwork

                  this
can be
a connective
process
water comes from the sky
I guide my curve upwards
and complete the
circle in the clouds
help it to keep its path

22.5.05

Dr Chi Chiang-Tao


Photo: Barbara Richter, 1976

Some anecdotes/quotes from Dr Chi. If any of you can remember any others please add them to the comments.

JK: What should I practice when I return to London?
DrC: I suggest you practice spirit.

JK: What is the highest level of Tai Chi?
DrC: Nothing.

DrC: Back way bad way.

Dr Chi to a nervous student who had just shown the great man his Form "Have you ever heard of the principles of Tai Chi?"

Similarly "Your way 10 years, 20 years, 50 years - no progress"

JK: Did any one like Master Cheng (Man-Ching)?
DrC: I think maybe Mrs Cheng.

After watching JK doing his Form excruciatingly slowly Dr Chi commented "Like elephant!"

In relation to seated meditation: "Waste of golden time".

essence

     the work
is about perfection
as
we
being
perfect
are

The Internal

My basic interest is in the Internal.
It is also my conviction that everyone’s basic interest is in the Internal, it's just that most people don't realise it.
As a teacher it is my job to awaken this interest in the people who present themselves to me as students.
Eventually, if my energy becomes good enough, it will be my job to awaken this interest in whomever.

My love of poetry is akin to my ache for the Internal.
Poetry sets off a resonance or an echo of the Internal (trembling Emily Dickinson calls it).
The Internal is like an inner secret to things.
Keats calls it a Penetralium of Mystery.
In the Tao Te Ching it is usually translated as mystery.
Empty of desire, perceive mystery (the internal).
Filled with desire, perceive manifestations (outcomes).
Of course as soon as a mystery is perceived it becomes a manifestation to which one can become attached, blocking the perception of ensuing mysteries.
The flow of mystery is the natural process.
The work at hand is to develop the discipline and selfless compassion to connect with this flow without becoming attached to outcome.
Reality is the unknown, and vice versa.
What I crave on the journey I've undertaken is companionship.
Comradeship. Fellow-feeling.
People whose company simply says abide with me.
People with whom simple togetherness brings out the Internal.
This is the giving I talk about.
It has nothing to do with effort or exertion and has everything to do with Internal common ground.

Yielding

Hands


Photo: Monica Blake

If I have any force it is in mobility - Frank O'Hara

Belief

The wonder of life is that there is always a miracle wanting and waiting to happen.
The tragedy of life is that it rarely does.
Each miracle requires a LEAP OF FAITH - a little leap into the world of energetic connectedness.
When SENSITIVITY is married to SPIRIT rather than INTELLECT - that is, when it leaps out and gets involved rather than sucking in and processing, that is when those miracles can unfold.
Emotions and feelings have no relevance in this unfolding world - they are always after the event.
It is my sincere belief that it is the natural inclination of all entities to GIVE constantly and that they are most fulfilled when they are allowed to give.
What prevents or interrupts this giving is not tiredness or disinclination but disconnectedness coming from disbelief - the pulling in of those energetic threads - the thinking mind interposing between spirit and sensitivity - remembering self.

BELIEF comes from the HEART.
DISBELIEF comes from the HEAD.

essence

            exultation
the struggle of
the perfect state
not mine
I turn to
perfection
the work

Communication

The meaning of life can best be summed up in one word COMMUNICATION: that is, through interaction to give and receive fully and unselfishly (unconditionally).
If we manage this then we not only make the world a better place, but we also join with a wisdom inherent in natural processes, ensuring and encouraging the positive development of everything we are involved with.
At its deepest level, true communication is always from the heart and to the heart, and not through the senses, and certainly not a matter for the thinking mind.
True communication is always of our essential nature (essence) and not of our self-identity (ego).
True communication has always started (and often finished) before the techniques of interaction have engaged, for example, before words are exchanged.
True communication requires openness and vulnerability, yet is strangely healing and vulnerary.
True communication is out of time.

heartwork

      distinguish two
an absolute
things that
work
together
growth
the involuntary
machine: the heart
it takes time

TaiChi HeartWork

T’ai Chi (which literally means Supreme Ultimate) is the name of the famous Taoist yin/yang symbol showing the light and dark principles curling around each other within a circle, each containing a seed of the other. For the ancient Chinese sages this was the principle underlying all processes; wherever there is movement or change or life then there is a dynamic interaction of two seemingly opposing energies, each coiling and twining around the other in a delicate yet charged balance.

T’ai Chi Ch’uan is a Chinese martial art (ch’uan means fist or boxing) based on the Taoist principle of yin/yang. A Tai Chi master is highly skilled at changing his energy in order to keep the processes with which he is involved alive and in balance. So if attacked by hard, aggressive, linear energy he will use a soft, yielding and turning energy to meet and neutralise it and will thereby be in a position to apply his own attack without opposition. Such skill takes many years to develop – the body needs to strengthen and soften, but more importantly the mind needs to be cleared of negative conditioning so that it can actively listen to the many energies that impinge. The famous Taoist saying is "Forget self and become one with the Tao". This is the spiritual side of Tai Chi: the abandoning of the isolated self in order to join with higher processes. The Chinese approach is a "graduated path to enlightenment": the student starts at the bottom and gradually, with correct teaching, talent and intelligence, and with diligent and devoted practice, works her way up the ladder until eventually, some time in the distant future, possibly even in another lifetime yet to come, spiritual enlightenment is achieved and the student is liberated.
In this modern age not many of us have the patience or the funds for this hermetic or monastic life. Luckily it is not necessary as a different approach to the graduated path is possible. It is possible to touch perfection and achieve "mini-enlightenments" each time we interact with another if it is done correctly.

Heartwork is the name we give to such interactions. It is an ancient body of teaching from the West (Ireland in particular) which encourages a passionate and abandoned heart-to-heart interaction between entities, thereby bringing about transformation and a developing and deepening connectedness. It has roots going back to pre-Celtic times. It is all to do with communication and interaction and acknowledges that when two people (or entities) properly communicate there is an energy present that cannot be conjured up by a person on their own. This energy we call the third heart. The symbol that perfectly depicts a heartwork interaction is the Newgrange triple spiral – two interacting spirals overlooked and joined by a larger beneficient spiral that nestles into both entities.

Rita's garden - Sept 2004


Photo: Monica Blake

Destiny

Our spiritual goal is perfect union – oneness with God – connectedness.
To dissolve the boundaries separating us from other energies
the end of the world
is the borders
of my being
Essentially we are a bundle of potential – a ball of terrific energy bursting to get out there and make a difference.
But conditioning, genetic or learnt (is there really a difference?), instilled by others or by our own fears, puts up barriers, restrains and constrains this energy and prevents it fully or properly interacting.
Fulfilment comes from opening up, letting out this energy and allowing natural connections to take place and develop.
The outcome of these natural connections is always beyond our imagination – beyond our capacity to design.
Life unfolds.
All we need do is set up the process of eradicating fear and the barriers it sets up, and life will take care of itself – take us on a journey we can neither foresee nor refuse.

essence

    already familiar
I can see humility
and trust
a precious gift
infinitely light
we cannot
imagine how

Taoist

Tao is a Chinese word usually translated as the Way, or the Way of Nature, or the Natural Process. A Taoist is someone who follows the Tao. The key phrase for the Taoist is Forget self and become one with the Tao. So to follow the Tao we need to forget our selfishness, our self-interest, self-importance and self-image. We all forget self occasionally, for example when we become totally engrossed in something really interesting or enjoyable or dangerous. However, these occasions always end and are all too infrequent, especially as we get older. So how do we work on forgetting self? We need a method to practice which will gradually whittle away at self until it no longer has a strangle hold on our life and energy. An example of such a method would be Tai Chi, if it is correctly taught. However, almost any line of study would be valid if it is correctly taught (correct teaching is the most difficult thing of all to find). A teacher who teaches his method correctly we call a Master. The practice of a method under the tutelage of a Master we call the work. With patience and perseverance the work gradually enters our life, self-concerns slowly disappear and we begin to follow the Tao. As the years go by the work becomes so all consuming that the Tao begins to enter the student as the student enters the Tao – a joining and a becoming takes place. A person who has reached this stage would not really be called a Taoist – they cannot be labelled or described.

essence

         humble
I can see humility
and trust
a precious gift
infinitely light
and delicate
smiling, uninterrupted

Search for Connectedness

At the core of life is the search for connectedness. Spiritually this is the journey for all of us. Such a journey requires ever increasing resources of energy and understanding because the search for connectedness is never ending: it is a process – a going forward and deeper in a spiral of passion and fascination that burns away fear and mediocrity and all other impediments to the process. (Loving is simply being part of this process – believing whole-heartedly.) Some people have a natural taste for it (good students) and some have a natural aptitude for it (talented students). The lucky ones are those who find someone who can teach it. The path is fraught with pitfalls and dangers so a teacher or guide is vital for success. My teacher teaches the student to reconnect to what he calls the natural process. Ostensibly he teaches TaiChi, or rather he used to teach TaiChi, over time it has become something much more effective, something more like heart-to-heart interaction or heart work (the heart is the centre for connectedness). It involves entering a world of energy and encourages a soft, sidling, seeping, sinuous, sensuous connectedness to develop between oneself and the other. There are two sides to the work he teaches: private practice which co-ordinates, strengthens and refines one’s own energy, and partner work where the student develops his ability to interact with the energy of another person. The solo work connects you to yourself and the partner work connects you with another. Each practice stimulates, feeds and requires the other, and ideally an equal amount of time would be spent on each every day.

The world we live in is a world of relationships. Obviously some of the relationships we have are deeper and more important to us than others. The most important one is with your teacher because this is your lifeline. The next most important would be with your soul-mate (if you are lucky enough to have one) – that person with whom you have something essential and deep in common and whose company nourishes you as yours nourishes them – that person to whom you feel most connected. If you are devoted and committed to the search for connectedness then the chances are that those you feel closest to are going to be devoted and committed to the same thing. This doesn’t mean that they will necessarily study with the same teacher or even that they will acknowledge a spiritual dimension to their life. However, it will mean that they live for connectedness beyond all else, even if they are not aware of this. These people will be naturally open, passionate and unselfish. This last word is one my teacher uses a lot. Any selfishness, whether self-importance, self-centredness, indulgence of any sort, or just plain meanness of spirit, is the main impediment to our progress. A connection can be thought of as a conduit between you and the other. This connection only has meaning if you give into this conduit. Giving is what strengthens connectedness. So the search for connectedness, on one level anyway, is simply the struggle to give from the heart more and more (see note below). There should be an unconditional constancy to this giving connectedness. It involves giving energetically in a steady continuous way to the connections one has regardless of whether they are felt or not. It is not a conscious or a sensed process, it just is, and as such is mysterious and divine. It is what my teacher calls joining the human race.

The difficulty we all have is to become a good student, that is one that neither mocks nor vacillates, but instead perseveres with steadiness and purpose in their efforts to become better connected, ostensibly to the teaching, but, in truth, to everything – the natural process itself.

"The natural process is the process of continuous communication between the entities that make up our world" JRK

"The natural process is the way or manner things unfold, fold back on themselves, and seem to progress when gazed at softly." JRK

Two words spring to mind here: joining and becoming. Joining to what is there: the other person, or the situation, or the flow of directed energy we call destiny, or, indeed, the natural process, and then, through that joining, becoming something better than we usually are. This is called magic: in Tai Chi we call it yielding. To join properly we must listen. To listen properly we must be really interested otherwise the energy we are confronted by will not be stimulated enough to want to come in our direction and engage in the act of communication. That is, being passionately interested is the key to being attractive enough for the world to come to you and happen for you. The more you give the more you get back. Active listening – listening energy we call it in Tai Chi. As communication ensues we continue to listen as we give, and the two entities become joined and connected. This is called oneness and is a life transforming moment and process. This is the fruit of our labour – the fulfilment that comes from true oneness.

Lifting Hands


Photo: Monica Blake