31.7.05

The proposition is a simple one: energy is larger than man, but therefore, if he taps it as it is in himself, his uses of himself are EXTENSIBLE in human directions & degree not recently granted. Quickly, therefore, the EXCEPTIONAL man, the “hero”, loses his description as “genius” – his “birth” is mere instrumentation for application to the energy he did not create – and becomes, instead, IMAGE of possibilities implicit in the energy, given the METHODOLOGY of its use by men from the man who is capable precisely of this, and only this kind of intent & attention.
Charles Olson, 1951

Paradox of Yielding


Assi Ben-Porat

The point I'm trying to make about listening, softness, yielding, whatever you want to call it, is that it is all these things but is in no way passive. It gives way and receives but comes forwards at the same time. This is the paradox we need to struggle with. My dictionary defines soft as "presenting a yielding surface". How do we present? Dr Chi, in his struggle to explain softness to John on one occassion prodded his handkerchief which was lying crumpled on the arm of his chair. The handkerchief, being limp and light, gave way instantly, "This not yielding". Then he prodded the arm of the chair. The soft, foam-filled plastic gave way and allowed his finger to sink down, then, as he withdrew, the plastic of the chair stuck to and followed his retreating finger because the foam inside was springy. "This is yielding". Yielding has an elastic, consuming quality which, as it advances, accommodates oncoming energies, storing the energy of the impact or allowing that energy to stimulate a transformation. The chair is ready to "yield" all the time, it is only ever that chair, with the same unvarying properties and intention. To learn to yield or listen we must be similarly just one thing. My teacher used to say, "If you're cut, even your blood should yield". This is why we practice the Form day in, day out. It slowly anneals and tempers your energy, unifying your different aspects (mind, body, spirit). Body as one unit. However, this will only be healthy if the Form is allowed to develop with your developing energy. So often I come across Tai Chi practitioners of 20 years standing still doing their Form in the mechanical way they were taught it. Students have to realise that teaching and explaining a Form piecemeal ("...turn the waist to the right, transfering the weight to the left foot and holding a ball, now transfer to the right, turning to the left and step forwards...") gives only an approximation to the Form. These movements have to be strung together with energy through correct practice. Correct practice should be investigative rather than habitual. Like the Classics say, when doing the Form you should appear like a soft, beautiful woman, but inside you should be like a tiger ready to pounce. One sure way of stringing everything together is to practice with speed. Yang Cheng Fu used to do 30 Long Forms a day, each one taking no more than 12 minutes, which is double the speed we were taught. As I said before, Dr Chi recommended doing the Form three times per practice session (practising twice daily), firstly at a moderate speed, to relax and warm up. The second Form should be slow and sunk, making every effort to keep to correct form; by the time you finish this one your legs should be screaming in agony. The third Form is fast for spirit - light and playful. You should be able to instantly spring from slow/sunk to fast/light and back again. Remember that practising precisely what you are least inclined to want to practice will do you most good.

Two other things to remember. Firstly, Dr Chi once told my teacher that the Tai Chi we have now is only 2% of what the Chen family originally possessed. Secondly, the Yang Style Forms we have are the ones the Yang family felt happy to share with the world. There were also other Forms (fast, explosive Forms) which they never let out, presumably because they were too valuable and effective to share. So, in a sense, we only have half of the picture. Without learning to attack (to let your energy out) your yielding surfaces will not have the vibrant spring necessary to complete the conversation.

30.7.05


Kenneth Patchen
Love, work, and knowledge are the wellsprings of our lives; they should also govern it.

Wilhelm Reich

Listening

Listening has nothing to do with the ears or the mind.
It is a matter of being present, being relaxed, being soft, being interested, being willing, being inviting, being lively.
I think John once used the words dwelling & lingering.
The feeling is as though you want each moment to last forever because it has so much detail and texture and beauty that it would take an eternity to do it justice.
Each moment is a deep pool that you fall into.
You practice listening in pushing-hands.
Feel the other: their presence, their warmth, their humanity, their suffering, where they're coming from and where they're going.
A sure sign of not listening is when the pushing-hands tends to speed up and gather momentum. This is a sign that you're 'getting off' on the energy of the interaction but have no real interest or compassion for the person in front of you.
Listening is not about riding the energy (any fool can do that) but about connecting, which involves letting your tentacles (your sensuality) explore and delve the moment - opening into the moment.
Everything touches. Listening is the investigation of this.
A listening person will have a soft light touch that insinuates and dwells with you. A feminine touch.
They forget themselves to be completely with the other.
They become the other, if only for a moment.
Yet with true listening each moment echoes through time and through your life, informing and enriching all other moments.
Life then is not "moving from one sensation to the next" but a heart directed richness with so much detail, texture and beauty that it would take an eternity to do it justice.
In fact it is an eternity.

29.7.05

The metallurgical analysis of the stone that was my heart shows
an alarming percentage of silicon.
Silicon, as George would be the first to tell you, is not a metal.
It is present in glass, glue and since glue is made from horses
- living substance.
I love you. But as the iron clangs, the glass, the glue, the living
substance (which, God knows, has been to as many glue
factories as it can remember) muffles what the rest of the
heart says.
I see you cowering in the corner and the metal in my heart
bangs. Too personal
The glass and glue in my heart reply. And they are living
substance.
You cannot bake glass in a pie or fry glue in an omelette
"If I speak in the tongue of men and angels..."
The sounding brass of my heart says
"Love."
Jack Spicer, 1965

The Teaching



The teaching is a living entity and like all living entities it requires and thrives on interaction, nourishment and challenge (stress). In a sense it resides within the teacher but it is also constantly at work beyond the teacher's realm, drawing in students, raw material (inspiration) so to speak ("the end of the world / is the borders of my being"). The difficulty for the teacher is to distinguish between his own energy and that of the teaching. Eventually it is all the teaching for which he is just the paltry conduit. This is why in a teaching situation the teacher learns as much as the students, if not more. He is more surprised than any at what comes out of his own mouth, his own movements and the comments and interactions from the class, all of which are expressions of the teaching. The charged teaching situation is an ideal arena for generating new material to keep the work fresh and exciting. So many times have I heard my teacher say, "This stuff would never have happened if I'd been working on my own". This is why the partner work is so important, even for relative beginners who only possess a little teaching, it allows that teaching to exercise itself in a larger and more healthy environment. The teaching is all about connexion, communication and interaction so it seems reasonable that it should be happiest when these are happening.

The teacher is at his purest and most impressive when he allows the teaching to express itself, rather than when he tries to express the teaching. There is nothing quite so off-putting and repugnant as pontificating and sermonizing. They are a sure sign of a lack of true teaching.

(This post was stimulated by an exchange below.)

28.7.05

I saw no way - the Heavens were stitched -
I felt the Columns close -
The Earth reversed her Hemispheres -
I touched the Universe -

And back it slid - and I alone -
A speck opon a Ball -
Went out opon Circumference -
Beyond the Dip of Bell -

Emily Dickinson, 1863

Getting older


Internal lessons can only be learnt at a certain age.

At 28/29 a person finds themselves at a spiritual juncture in their life. For me it was the time I started to live alone in order to concentrate fully on the Tai Chi.
It is well known in spiritual traditions that maturity comes at 36/37. At this age you make a connection to the internal that you could not before.
There is a saying - "A man of forty is not diverted". Nothing like realising you're half way through to focus your attentions. Before 40 a student's hardwork and intensity tends to be an exercise in willpower ("You must tenderise your will"). At 40 years of age something settles and your energy can go about the work more softly and effectively.
The age of 42 is also significant, but in a different way. An important change will often happen in your life.
There is another Taoist saying, "Life starts at 50". And another, "Life starts at 70" (TT Liang's - he may have made that one up), so I guess these must also be significant turning points.
Another one is meant to be around 60. My teacher certainly went through quite a change then - retirement from public teaching and a much deepened concentration on his own researches.
My teacher's father had his major spiritual breakthrough at 84 and he's still going strong at 87. He's a remarkable man. In his early 20's he had TB and wasn't expected to live long (he was a doctor so had no illusions). One day, during the war, he decided to go for a walk and after a few hours found himself on Hampstead Heath, praying to God to give him enough time and energy to see his children through their early years. In 1993, whilst recuperating from a heart bypass operation, he walked back to the same place and thanked God.

The Taoists consider the greatest misfortune to be an early death - not having the chance to learn life's lessons. Part of our tradition then is taking great care to stay alive long enough for the teaching to come to fruition within you. In the 80's my teacher once said to me, "Prepare yourself for a long life". I also remember him once holding up a hand to me in which his thumb and forefinger were held a few inches apart. He said, "For the rest of your life you'll be working hours each day on your Tai Chi and by the time you die you'll have changed this much", he emphasised the short distance between finger and thumb and I felt my heart dropping. He added, "Just hope it's enough".

27.7.05


Naum Gabo, Linear Construction #2.
Gabo also designed the fountain outside St Thomas's Hospital in London.

Energy & perception

About 30 years ago I read of a tribe of African pygmies who believed that as objects move away from you they actually shrink in size. At the time I laughed and scoffed (being a budding scientist for whom space and time were absolutely linear), but now I'm delighted by such a world view. It implies a rich interdependence where significance depends upon proximity, where space is distorted by the objects within it, and where the world of objects and the world of relationships are intimately bound up.

We have already established that perception depends upon posture: when you are correctly aligned you connect better: you feel things more acutely and your presence is more immediate in the sense that your energy is more readily available. This is clear in martial interactions: correct posture improves your performance, otherwise we wouldn't bother with it.

Perception also depends upon energy. As your energy improves with the work we do your perceptive powers deepen. So does your understanding. For this reason arguing with your teacher, or doubting them, is ridiculous. They will always see and feel more deeply than you: they are better connected. If you ever overtake them then the teaching was not a living internal one and you've been wasting your time.

It is very important to look after your energy. The biggest drain is bad company. Unfortunately this often means family and friends: people who are in the habit of regarding you in a certain way. The Tibetans say that the biggest hindrance to spiritual progress is your family. As you progress in your Tai Chi your energy will improve and you will start to change as a person. It is vital that those closest to you recognize, approve and admire this otherwise you will have a needless and draining battle on your hands (one reason teaching others is so good for you - your students and spiritual companions naturally regard you correctly). The best way for them to show their admiration and appreciation is to join you in the journey and take up Tai Chi or something similar themselves. If they don't then I'd either move on or be very careful about the time and energy I put into the relationship because it wont be long before you either leave them behind or start to be held back by them. My sister once said to me, "It is so much better to be on your own than with the wrong person". To behave this ruthlessly you must believe that this work is your life and is vital not just for your own salvation, but for everything you are connected to (which ultimately is everything). Such changes will happen naturally if you do what you do openly and freely and don't repress and don't hold back. As they say, "Follow your heart".

26.7.05

Webs beyond the reach of shallow

Reality is the vast web of connectedness.
Each entity vibrates, breathes, and communicates.
Space and time between entities does not really exist: communication is out of time.
True communication is always before: this is destiny.
The only way to change the world is to change yourself.
Vibrate, breathe and communicate more fully.
Vibrate at a higher frequency (more energy), breathe at a lower frequency (more deeply), and move forwards to connect more completely.
Become more extreme: increase your range of influence.
These changes must be internal: of the spirit and energy.
External change induces tension.
Internal change requires relaxation.
And permeates reality.
Such is softness.

These sleepy notes are typed in a room thick with the dreaming of two sleeping children.

25.7.05

Transmission of Energy



Replying to a comment yesterday made me appreciate just how powerful a living energetic teaching is. And how dangerous if abused. My teacher always talked of a transmission of energy. When he gives instruction there is an energy given, round about the same time that the words are voiced, which is the true instruction. It is this transmission of energy that enables the student to correctly interpret the verbals. The words are very crude and blunt compared to the energy which is finely nuanced (although at the time the student may feel it as a brutal blast). Without the energy the words may as well have come from a book. The teacher chooses his time carefully since the student must be caught at just the right time otherwise the teaching will not penetrate. The teacher feels an opportunity for some aspect of the teaching to express itself in the student's presence, always due to the student's energy having opened up in some way, and will quickly apply the gentle pressure the teaching is. The student must make sure she stays open for the duration of the transmission (usually very short), and must then go away and start the arduous struggle of retrieving and working with the energy she has been gifted. The transmission is like a seed and the student's work and respect and whole-heartedness is the nourishment the seed needs to grow. You can see now that teaching energy is a delicate business and requires the presence of the Master. Without it the student's energy may well improve and strengthen, but it wont belong, and wont bear the rich fruits of the lineage.
                                                    the Heart is a clock
around which clusters
or which draws to itself
all which is the same
as itself in anything
or anyone else the
power of itself lies
all about itself in
a mathematic of feeling
which we call love
but who
love itself is the container
of all feelings otherwise than love
as well
as the Heart equally
holds all else there is anywhere
in Creation, when it is
full

Charles Olson 1968
I’d want her eyes to fill with wonder
I’d want her lips to open just a little
I’d want her breasts to lift at my touch

And O I’d tell her that I loved her
I’d say that the world began and ended where she was
O I’d swear that the Beautiful wept to see her naked loveliness

I’d want her thighs to put birds in my fingers
I’d want her belly to be as soft and warm as a sleeping kitten’s
I’d want her sex to meet mine as flames kissing in a dream forest

And O I’d tell her that I loved her
I’d say that all the noblest things of earth and heaven
Were made more noble because she lived
And O I’d know that the prettiest angels knelt there
As she lay asleep in my arms

Kenneth Patchen 1946

24.7.05

Peace of Mind

Did any of you see the series called Tribe on BBC2 a while back. The series that gave Bruce Perry the chance to try out some exotic natural narcotics. My favourite from the series was the Mongolian one where Perry lived for a month with a nomad family, 'helping' them relocate to winter pastures. At one point Perry asks the father and head of the family, a magnificent, handsome man in his late twenties or early thirties, what the most important thing in his life was. He answered without hesitation, "My peace of mind and my work". When his wife, the mother of his children, was asked a similar question she said, "The family". Both of them explained that if they lived in the city their life would be easier but not as free. Their lack of material attachments, whilst making their day to day existence more precarious, gave them more peace of mind and settled their soul. In a sense, peace of mind and none attachment amount to the same thing. The Tibetans say that your problems are as big as your possessions. When my son Max was born in 1992, my teacher's advice was, "Love him with all your heart but don't get attached". Peace of mind only comes when you have ruthlessly thrown off everything sucking at your energy. Dr Chi once said, "If you stick to someone, they stick to you too." Attachment works the same way, it is always two-way. So how does one not get attached? How do you not allow things to stick to you? Attachment and sticking both imply that some steady state has been reached, that there is some stability (continuity) to the sticking interface: two items joined together at some point. If your energy is vorticular then this will never happen, everything in your environment will be in a process of being consumed by you, either taken in, or expelled. There is no such thing as steady state or stability and so there is no attachment or sticking, not for more than an instant anyway. In the vorticular world reality is non-continuous. It is a plethora of instants - instantaneous explosions - from all times and places. In such a world there is no past, present and future because the timeline is as fractured as every other aspect.

Try this exercise. Sticking.
Two people together. Both standing, one in front of the other. One (the sticker) is relaxed and limp. The other (the stickee) slips the back of her left hand under the right hand of the sticker and lifts it up. The sticker's arm should remain as limp as possible so that the stickee feels the dead-weight of the sticker's arm as the hand is lifted. The stickee then moves around the room taking the sticker with her. The idea is to maintain contact through the hands at all times. OK, pretty boring eh? Now if the sticker starts to bring some life and spirit into their hand then the touch will lighten. Keep on bringing more and more life and spirit into the situation and you will both feel that the area of contact wants to shift and roll, to breathe. The spirit should gently insinuate through the contact into the other person. There should come a point in this increasing intensity between you when the physical contact becomes an irrelevance. Both of you should be swarming all over and through the other. The only way to survive the others consuming intensity is your own consuming intensity. You will see that this world of spirit is not a stable world. It requires almost instant resolution (in a self-defence situation this would be the defeat or death of one of the parties). However, if both of you cooperate and work to the same end then that vibrating and dangerous world can be touched safely. This is Heartwork. You come away unharmed but changed forever. With practice all your interactions are heartfelt and heart-driven and every moment is a transforming one. As I said before, the wonder of life is that there is always a miracle wanting to happen.

23.7.05

Vortex of Heartwork


Hugh Kenner's vortex quote from yesterday is really quite profound:
the vortex is not the water but a patterned energy made visible by the water
It indicates how your energy should be used in Heartwork. It should effectively create an energised environment (vortex) through which your immediate world is consumed and transformed. If you manage this then your immediate world also becomes a vortex through which you are consumed and transformed. Heartwork is different from Tai Chi in this respect. In Tai Chi we strive for balance. So if one person attacks then the other yields so that the interaction is balanced (the Tai Chi yin/yang symbol). However, heartwork is about transformation. You use your heart in such a way that you transform yourself (become a vortex) and you transform your environment into an image of yourself (another vortex). This is a fractal reality. A reality full of self-similar generation. So in a Heartwork Intensive we gradually, over the space of 5 hours, build up a complicated and elaborate posture from a simple figure of eight unit. When this posture is done quickly and with spirit it comes alive - becomes a vortex - and the more you repeat the posture the more like the posture your energy becomes. You become the posture. You become the vortex. When we then try the posture out on each other we find that when you attack into one of these vortexes that you become a similar vortex. The Intensive is then a collection of madly flailing, writhing, gyrating vortices, and the class itself becomes another vortex. When the students go home they take this vorticular energy away with them and through their commitment and practice they transform their own lives and environments. The Community of Heartwork (I love this phrase of Fionnan's) becomes another vortex.

Athletes generally have little understanding of this use of energy. They will strive to become a human machine, an object that uses fuel to generate energy which does work to complete a specific task (Lance Armstrong would be the epitome of this). This has nothing to do with connectedness or transformation and consequently the athletic pursuit does not improve the person. However, it is obvious that a few of the top athletes have realised that if they reach out with their heart to the spectators (and God) then a two-way transformation is achieved which gives the athlete enough extra energy to excel himself. Haile Gebrselassie immediately comes to mind. If you watch him run you can see that it is all heart. The fact that he is a beautiful human being who does much charity work is no surprise.


Diet

Someone kindly left a comment on the Fear & Diet post below. It is an argument I've come across before and needs attention so I'll answer it here. The comment:
I'd go with the meat comment. It definitely has a negative effect on my emotions, usually the following day. However, a few years back when I was extremely run down meat was the only food that enabled me to rebuild my strength. Some people thrive on a vegetarian diet, some people seem to need some meat. Evolution. We have been eating meat for millenia and can't be expected (as a species) to change overnight.
My reply:
I'm not sure I buy these arguments. I'm sure if you'd spent more time & intelligence rebuilding your strength on a vegan diet your energy would have benefitted. I have a lot of experience of students going vegetarian or vegan and then complaining to me that they feel weak or rundown. I'm usually standing in front of them listening to this and marvelling at the same time how much freer and stronger and more refined and lighter their energy feels. My teacher always says that the way you feel is only an opinion of the way you are. The image he used to use was that of ships bobbing up and down on the ocean. The movements of the boats are your feelings. The ocean however is your energy. One is not necessarily an accurate image of the other. If you were a habitual smoker and gave up overnight you'd feel bad for weeks. Maybe it's the same when giving up unhealthy anything, including food or bad company. No one needs meat. Some people may need more protein than others. This can always come from a vegan source. It just takes time for the body to adjust. A vegan or vegetarian diet also needs more care and attention that a meat diet. The food resides within you for a much shorter time (reducing chances of cancers and other ailments of the alimentary canal) but also making you feel hungry more regularly. A good diet must be planned and balanced carefully. Like I said before, it depends how far you're prepared to go.

22.7.05


River Rocks and Smoke #8 4/10/90 John Cage
"To make the smoke prints, we rolled up newspaper and built a fire right on the press, Then we placed dampened paper over the fire, which of course put out the fire and produced smoke. Then we rolled the paper through the press, leaving the imprint of the smoke on the paper."

The Flower

I think I grow tensions
like flowers
in a wood where
nobody goes.

Each wound is perfect,
encloses itself in a tiny
imperceptible blossom,
making pain.

Pain is a flower like that one,
like this one,
like that one,
like this one.

Robert Creeley

Vortex


Chambers Dictionary on vortex: a whirling motion of a liquid, gas or fire forming a cavity in the centre, a whirlpool, an eddy, a whirlwind; a pursuit, way of life, situation, etc, that engulfs one irresistibly or remorselessly, taking up all one’s attention or energies.

Ezra Pound on the poetic image: a radiant node or cluster; a VORTEX, from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing.

Hugh Kenner on vortex: the vortex is not the water but a patterned energy made visible by the water.

21.7.05

Breakthrough



Talking about breakthroughs the other day, it occured to me that almost all the hardworking students I have known who have given up Tai Chi have done so just at the point they were about to make a major breakthrough. The dam was about to burst and the pressure was too much for them. Once you've gone through the process of banging your head against a seeming brickwall for months and then suddenly broken through to wonder what all the fuss was about, you have experience of the process of progress. The brick wall is just the resistance you are putting up to change. Some people don't resist: they progress gradually and evenly; they're blessed. Stubbornness is what makes you resist. The task at hand is to change the stubbornness to a resoluteness by removing the obstinacy through yielding. An obstinate student allows his ego to stand in the way of the teaching - he is convinced his way is better than the teacher's. He may pick on flaws in the teacher's character or cling to other extraneous teachings from foreign sources (books - heaven forbid!) in a desperate attempt to protect some petty aspect of his ego he'd be better rid of. Understanding that this is what is going on is a great help as it allows you to see things in perspective, and override your natural inclination to resist. After all, what do you have to loose? Stubbornness is just a manifestation of the fear of change. We all have this fear in one way or another. Abandonment is the quality that allows you to throw off this fear and leap into the unknown. To be truly abandoned you must have faith that your own natural energy and connectedness will magnificently and admirably manage the situation. Abandonment allows you to change to meet any situation the Tao throws at you, but only if you are not clinging to the safety of self. This is what John means by "Beyond the imagination". With humour you make light of things.

Connectedness

Is everything.

John Kells

20.7.05

Fear & Diet

Forget self and become one with the Tao. We all know this Taoist dictum by heart, and we all know that when we forget self we connect better, with others and with all the energies impinging upon us all the time. That which prevents us forgetting self is generally called fear. Irrational fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of ourselves - fear of being something other than what we think we are. My teacher used to say that everybody thinks they are special, and that this need to be unique and significant is precisely what prevents people from fully realising their potential. He also used to say that most people are special, but never in the way they think they are. He used to have a favourite phrase, "Beyond the imagination". You are far fuller and more real than you could ever imagine. The imagination is very limited, despite what creative people think, and to indulge it will hold you back. Far better to immerse yourself fully into the Natural Process and allow yourself to be an object of creation, than use the mind to order, control and mould your life and environment.

Given that as Tai Chi students we are struggling to confront and eradicate our fears in order to better connect, my teacher argues that it is total foolishness to then take into your body the flesh of animals that have been killed in fear. Also, Charles, who is a vet, has pointed out that when an animal is terrified (which it will be in the abattoir) many hormones are pumped into its blood (on top of the growth hormones and megadoses of anitbiotics injected into the animals by the farmers), none of which are healthy for us, and all of which will work against our efforts to become softer and lighter. In a way, your diet is the easiest thing in your life to change and to tell the truth I don't really understand why people don't. I guess it's just a matter of how far people are prepared to go. Unfortunately, to continually progress at Tai Chi a deepening commitment is required. This deepening must express itself in every aspect of your life and being. This is what internal means. Totality. Becoming. Transformation.
Her dance
enabled her to
advance upon the
not quite solved.

And suddenly
we permit ourselves to ride
our previously earned knowledges
where the dead spots in all those small places.

Her hair disappears as a factor:
warriors should tie their hair out of the way.
Her neck is liberated
in the direction of the true function.

19.7.05

Softness

John once said to me, "Progress at Tai Chi is a series of going-back-to-square-ones". This is because progress in Tai Chi is not really an accumulative thing, not in the sense of accumulating postures or techniques anyway. It is instead a series of major shifts in your energy and openings in your heart - breakthroughs - brought about by pressure applied by your teacher and your daily practice. Like a series of dams bursting. Wash-outs of old strength. When you break through there can be a feeling of relief, but often there are feelings of unease and discomfort as well, like you're in a strange place, or you don't quite know yourself anymore. One thing is for sure though, after each breakthrough you will be softer than before. Back in Wimpole Street days my teacher often used to point students out to me in a class and say, "That person's Tai Chi has improved". If ever I asked what he meant by that he always said, "They're softer". Softness, if you like, is a measure of your ability to be with others, to abide in peace. Real softness, to me anyway, is the most beautiful and seductive of qualities. It yields and surrounds at the same time. It gives way and seeps and penetrates. It attracts, lingers, enjoys, transforms and consumes. It is a feminine quality and is the dominant feeling in the universe. As human beings we have had to struggle very hard to create masculine environments devoid of it. Women flourish and blossom in its presence - it is in their nature. Men are nourished and nurtured by it and at the same time are put on their mettle by it - there is danger in the air - if they're not careful they will be drawn in too deep and be lost. Softness stimulates a man to be at his best. Soft, light and round - the three most important qualities in Tai Chi.

The tragedy of modern society is that it fails to value qualities such as softness. Most of the truly soft people I have known (less than a handful) have felt their softness to be a curse because it is often accompanied by unbearable sensitivity and victimization. The softest student I ever taught, a beautiful Polish girl of 21, killed herself because it was all just too much. It is so important for soft people to find something like the work we do, something that values their quality above all others, and something that will help them become strong without becoming hard. It is also the greatest asset for a Tai Chi student to find a soft person with whom to push-hands. They will acquire softness through osmosis.

18.7.05

the imitation of nature in her manner of operation
John Cage

Koichi Tohei



Ten Rules For Daily Life:

  1. Have Universal Mind
  2. Love all creation
  3. Be grateful
  4. Do good in secret
  5. Have merciful eyes and a gentle body
  6. Be forgiving and big hearted
  7. Think deep and judge well
  8. Be calm and determined
  9. Be positive and vigorous
  10. Persevere

Beginner's Mind

"Keep to a beginner's mind", is recommended in most martial arts, especially those with an internal aspect. My friend, the Tai Chi Master Christian Birch considers it the most important principle of Tai Chi. What does it really mean and how do we keep to it? Well beginners have a freshness, an openness, a willingness, an enthusiasm, a lack of pretentiousness & expertise, that makes them naturally connected & open to the learning process. All natural processes are similar, especially in their internal workings, so being immersed in the learning process is not too dissimilar to being immersed in the great river of Tai Chi, or, indeed, the Natural Process (the Tao) itself. So, how do we experienced Tai Chi adepts keep to this beginner's mind? I think the secret is not to get bored. Novelty in our culture has connotations of superficiality; however, I think it is very important because it keeps things new and fresh. You must constantly search for ways of keeping your practice fresh; that feeling that you're finding things out for the first time rather than grinding through the same old stuff. An element of play. Like kittens. They learn by playing together. This is why companionship is so important on this path of ours. The injection of a little energy from a different source to your own can really enliven your spirit and the work you do. The difficulty is not to get distracted. The good student naturally understands the importance of beginner's mind and has tentacles reaching out into many nourishing areas. However, these tentacles always bring energy back into the central core of an internally driven and directed life. Liang called this: "Enlightened self-interest".

For the Tai Chi student the best way to maintain a beginner's mind is to keep regular contact with the teacher. She will always make you feel a complete beginner, without being too discouraging. For the Tai Chi teacher it is the students that inspire their beginner's mind: the teaching keeps it all fresh.

They say that when a good Tai Chi master puts their hands on you you should feel lost and not be able to move (not without falling over anyway). This is usually interpretted as superior sticking: the Master sticks to you, feels your root, and pins you into it so that your movements are restricted. I have felt this many times and I can say that it is not that interesting. It is simply one person dominating another with superior skill. However, in the presence of a great Master you feel lost and undermined because this is exactly how they feel all the time and their energy and openness are forcing you to empathize. This is real beginner's mind, a mind free of any clinging landmarks enabling an open emanating heart that seeps and surrounds everything. This we call saintliness. Dr Chi possessed this in abundance. You can see it in his face. The rapture of loss.

17.7.05

I think therefore I am
self-conscious.

Robert Creeley
Love is a single soul inhabiting two bodies.
Aristotle

Mark Raudva


Mark performing the difficult Garrotte the Bell posture.
Mark teaches Tai Chi in South London (more pictures). He started studying with John Kells pretty much the same time as me. He has a series of Beginner's Classes starting in September. His good student Caroline Ross teaches in Scotland.

Swimming In Air

Cheng Man-Ching used this phrase to describe a way of doing one's Form. The body should be relaxed, sunk but light. One way to encourage this lightness is to imagine the air thick and heavy so that it feels more like a liquid (the amniotic fluid?). Your waist must then work quite hard to move you through its viscous resistance. Many of the martial arts imagine a resistance to movement to stimulate more effort from the muscles and more determination from the mind. I don't think this was what Cheng Man-Ching was after. He had great contempt for too much physical effort ("smothering the mind with sweat", was his famous phrase). I think he was trying to get across a less blockish notion of body-as-one-unit; one in which all the body parts are loosely coordinated rather than rigidly in unison. There should be a natural, subtle lag between the waist (which moves first), the torso (each vertebra in fact), the arms, the hands, the fingers. So, for example, the waist moves forwards in Press posture and then withdraws to separate the hands ready for Push, which involves another moving forwards. If you watch Cheng Man-Ching in the videos you will see that his waist is ahead of his arms: his body starts to withdraw before his Press has finished pressing forwards, and then his body starts to move forwards into Push whilst his arms are still moving back to separate. Working in this way will encourage energy to flow elastically through your body, like a whip. Remember that whenever you work on energy rather than technique you should make sure your eyes don't attach you to the objects in your environment: don't look at things. Dr Chi used to recommend hooding the eyes. John recommends concentrating on the peripheral vision. The Swimming In Air image can be extended so that you try to feel the swirling currents your movements set up in the air reaching out into your environment. When working on visualizations remember that it is the feeling that counts. If you work properly (not too rigid, not too visual) you will quickly get beyond its literal interpretation and begin to touch its internal aspect. The downside to technique is a loss of spontenaity. Humour retrieves it.

John once said, "When doing the Form imagine it is raining". The idea here is that the falling water, the image of gravity, pulls down on your body, encouraging a relaxed sinking. In aikido they talk about "weight on underside". So when in Ward-Off the arm should feel so relaxed that the weight of the arm feels concentrated on its underside (almost like the flesh is beginning to drip off the bones).
        our small physical
size
limitation
should not deter
the
watery
cosmic space
as every swimmer
knows

16.7.05

Dr Chi Chiang-Tao


Photo: Barbara Richter, 1976

Natural way best way.

Nitsan Michaeli


Photo: Prema

Nitsan's 1991 visit to the British Tai Chi Chuan Association in Wimpole Street London started the whole Heartwork journey. He showed us a Chen Style pushing hands that contained explicit entering. It was the stimulus we needed (my teacher had been bored rigid by Yang style for quite some time). Here he is with son Jonathan on his olive and avocado farm in Israel.

What Thinks Me Now

I want to re-enchant and remythologize.
I want to drill a hole deep-down in art to discover the mythic infrastructure.
(I am less interested in the form art takes than the meaning an image evokes.)
(I am interested in art as a way of knowing.)
I want to express myself in archetypal imagery.
I want to stand at the edge rather than the center.
I want to recall what I always knew. (I am interested in what thinks me.)
(I would rather discover the memory of the soul than to be correct in thought.)
I want to move away from racial amnesia.
I want to produce images that startle one into recollection.
I want to think of history so that it is not a record of events but a method of release.
I want to see the world as something else than serial progression.
I want to know the matrix of events in history.
(What appears to be trivial in a fairy tale, etc. could be the lingering remnant of the memory of the soul.)
I want to engage in the spiritualization of matter and the materialization of the spirit.
I want to think of time as synchronic.
I want to see all variants of a myth in a single imaginary space without regard to historical context.
I want to sift information from noise.
I want to avoid the tedium of sectarian dogma.
I want to consider language as an articulation of the limited to express the unlimited.
I want to be at home with the paradoxical, the ambiguous, and the random.
I want to eroticize time, consciousness, and human culture.
I want to blur the boundaries between truth and fiction.

John Baldessari

Shapeless Movement



Early in the first term of the Short Form my teacher would introduce the concept of shapeless movement. The image he used was that of the baby in the womb gently swaying to and fro in the amniotic fluid. The foetus has no idea of self and no separation from that to which it is naturally connected, so its movements express its connectedness (it moves with the mother) rather than its feelings of self importance or uniqueness. My teacher used to show us that if we remove all localized movement from the body and get everything from the waist then we touch something very like the shapeless movements we would have made before we were born. He would add that the feelings associated with shapeless movement should be like a home-coming: we enter a state closer to the perfection that we once possessed before the stranglehold of ego throttled our awareness of natural connections. It is essential that these memories start to be rekindled, otherwise your progress will be erratic and off the mark. What drives the passion of your practice should be a yearning for the perfect connectedness you once knew. If this is your beacon then, as long as you are honest with yourself, you will naturally know when things are right and wrong: a natural ethical sense develops within you. The seat of this is, of course, the heart.

This evening, working with John, he made a point by quoting Shakespeare:
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste
Imagining the tragedy of such a possibilty should be enough to make us redouble our efforts.
He plodded away through drifts of i

ce

away into inapprehensible Peace

A portable altar strapped on his back

pure and severe

A portable altar strapped on his back

pure and severe

In the forests of Germany he will feed

on aromatic grass and browse in leaves

Susan Howe

15.7.05

TT Liang



My teacher's first Chinese master. Liang took up Tai Chi at 50, having recovered from a life threatening illness. He moved to New York in the 60's with Cheng Man-Ching, acting as the great man's interpreter (Liang had worked as a customs official in Shanghai and had close to perfect English). After falling out with Master Cheng (when my teacher asked Liang what Cheng Man-Ching was like, Liang thought for a while and then said, "Like Hitler"), he started teaching Tai Chi in Boston and never looked back. He died three years ago at 102. Apparently a wonderful man with a wicked sense of humour.

Good Student

light open raw passionate spontaneous fine true honest intelligent soft faithful sincere courageous curious sober awake developing believing being integrated coordinated malleable excited decisive choiceless laughing respectful elemental luminous clear fluent upright uplifted upstanding outstanding understanding standing undertaking composed conjuring seemly gracious wholesome alert quick knowing skilful silent directed unified mobile fertile female philosophical better compact condensed concentrated undiverted unshakable unstoppable sustained persevering long-lived keen glad broad heedful entering trusting sympathetic persistent confident considerate considerable favourable unblaming rooted sensible communicative continual trustworthy genuine receptive dutiful audacious robust friendly steady loyal modest constant reasonable spiritual spirited spiritful spirituous yielding pliable reciprocating decorous beneath beholden behoveful grave kindly manly monkish monastic stimulated stimulating irresistible civil civilized cultured consummate consumed consuming unveiled unimpaired uncompromising commanding compelling compassionate contained containing discerning welcoming greeting animated leading growing captivated learned approving educated educating shrewd supple swift helpful initiated instructed instructive inventive investigative active ambiguous abandoned careful attentive extensive lucid transparent still delicate fleet sensitive filigree strong virile cogent timely correct upbeat playful relaxed gallant compliant gathering sharing joining becoming overcoming overawed overjoyed mighty ridiculous coherent introspective interweaving irrepressible admirable responsive responsible liable lithe lissom grounded ancestral genetic inside composed consolidated clement unlimited unbounded diverse emphatic encouraging universal beforehand prior antecedent studious purposeful lustrous mysterious ultimate acute zealous pervious expanding soluble rarefied liquid inflammable influential influenced inexhaustible inescapable inexpugnable inextricable indecipherable incessant infinite unremittent uncomplaining strengthening pervading abounding attaining flowering excelling excellent replete secure settled secretive tacit different inward outward onward forward aroused special sempiternal evocative impassioned busy gentle releasing observant determined perfect carefree courteous winsome limber forthright aflame inflamed ignited kindled enkindling encompassing leaping vaulting obliging revealing resolved concealed congenial commendable recommendable kindred motile enmeshed engulfed escapeless seductive fresh spritely resourceful optimistic economical capacious reactive polite serving accomplished puissant rational moderate accurate ample innocent pervasive embroiled emancipated elusive immortal principled pristine prevalent hospitable immediate undeviating unwavering changing challenging carrying deserving remembering beguiling melting tending efficient efficacious essential eloquent elegant felicitous feline equable buoyant proper coiled nimble humble inspired inspiring entire durable sinuous tender intimate unassuming holding hearkening seeking realising urgent ecstatic prodigious prospective multiple ambitionless magnetic electrical hypnotic phenomenal concerned resonant esteemed subsisting piercing radiant clean meticulous thorough tolerant stoical exhaustive tireless substantial sudden previous abundant copious punctual regnant seeping sweeping permeating delivering fighting contesting prevailing borrowing burrowing uncovering recovering bringing relinquishing rewarding tingling tinged suffused phosphorescent vaporous vatic prophetic providential expedite atoned expiated propitiative sanative astute acuminous adept discerning transmitting anticipant guiding guided charged proffering private prudent pre-emptive predestined predilected precognizant precise present prescient presageful prognosticative arcane brilliant foresightful forethoughtful foreseeing forechosen foreknowing forebearing forewarned revelatory anagogic assured established sensory hermetic gnostic sublime discreet sagacious knowledgeable acknowledging proficient judicious cultivated befitting benefiting decent clever driven important flexible positive marvellous spellbound ritualistic supernatural incantatory invocatory innovative strenuous promethean probing questing penetrating struggling annealing apprehending lasting pellucid colourful beautiful demonstrative transmundane transmuting transporting transubstantial comprehensive unbiased provocative methodical penetralian unique virtuous various perfectible impressive intoxicated empathic emollient native nascent renewing incipient insistent inherent inevitable invincible evincible evident enhanced heightened raised resilient interlaced unraveling earthy chthonic extreme fiery full fulgent effulgent effusive violent apt neat well empty redemptive plain blithe strategic possessed astonished thunderstruck rectifying correcting adjusting redressing recrudescent conciliatory reconciling receiving accepting acceptable distilled educated eidetic cogitative cognative cognizant conative refreshing exercised rejuvenescent relevant pertinent benevolent doughty hefty gifted wrought exertive enlivened extroversive productive impartial fair equitable placid amiable amicable pursuing quivering unfliching sound close sheer esteemed exploratory searching scrutinizing scrutinous scrupulous elaborate enriched necessary plenary weightless unclad denuded cleansing shedding moulting casting reforming refulgent redolent imbued intense alive warm sexual touching trustful pensive whole attractive ardent blissful seraphic vehement multitudinous multifaceted multifarious multiform various entwining fibred fibrous nourishing nurturing heuristic mere merging meritorious creditable raptured reliable characterful thoughtful straightforward unobstructed congruous consistent crafty amorous amatory impalpable impelled sharp utter pure vegan healthy continent vivacious chivalrous romantic pleasant agreeable inoffensive affable good-humoured good-natured goodwilled merry pleasing enjoyable jocular cordial sterling suspended suspenseful cerebral exhilarated absolute absolved absorbent instinctive visceral tactic tactile tactual tactical tactful talented telepathic vigilant prompt hardy hearty heartfelt heartening heartsome heart-easing heart-searching heart-struck heart-to-heart heartwarming heart-and-souled holistic fluid impassioned abstemious abstinent profound prolific propagative unpretentious unspoilt diverse spinal bold stable able-bodied light-footed light-hearted steely stringent guarding worshiping embodying inculcating incubating prayerful pragmatic transforming metamorphosing metaphoric wily artful ceaseless proactive teachable inquisitive iconoclastic unorthodox unusual crazy foolhardy earnest serious good moral ethical mild mild-mannered mild-spoken companionable capable quiet potent promising propitious progressive doubtless fulfilled reflective contemplative lambent naughty mischievous devilish impish gleeful gleaning gleaming shimmering sparkling coruscating exuberant ebullient effervescent ineffable ineluctable venturesome veritable lifelike lifelong life-saving life-giving invigorating lucky colossal magnificent magnanimous mature scrupulous impeccable unprejudiced rectitudinous regenerative beyond tidy trim fortunate cheerful comical exalted proceeding continuing advancing elastic organic biodynamic dynamic prepared trained watchful advantageous availing enveloping succeeding cherishing convinced uncluttered reformed useful youthful intuitive unsentimental blessed toiling slippery sticky centred central wise tranquil winning evincing striving swarming swirling smouldering vibrating articulated articulate accrescent accretive vertical sacral latent beginning according doing imperturbable serene unruffled steadfast enduring endued interested rested restless affirmative synergetic syncretic synaptic fortitudinous hopeful significant ethereal eternal ceaseless muscular tendinous abstract metaphysical ontological hypothalmic atavistic cosmic real agile athletic ancient analeptic angelic unrestricted guiltless guileful unerring unencumbered engrossed enthralled enthusiastic vigorous diligent adequate competent suitable scrupulous managing behaving concordant concrescent concrete condoning conducive conducted conscientious consolidating constructive contributing conveying charitable deliberate veracious content restrained temperate valuable adaptable refined willing willful voluntary volitive volitional volatile volant ruthless round complete complex soulful soul-searching soul-stirring fast auspicious alone yearning longing belonging finding inviting suffering unfailing chuckling abiding dwelling celebrating endless worthy protective perceptive appreciative apprentice supportive superior humorous appropriate giving living affecting affectionate affinitive energetic committed persuasive powerful focused creative evolving connected ingenuous just total noble roused ready energized truthful grateful embedded natural naked spiral spiroid spirated helical engaged saturated sane sapient timeless ageless simultaneous liberal liberated egalitarian allied level level-headed even-handed even-minded even-tempered even pacific pacifist appeasing peacemaking unrestrained unconstrained unconcealing discovering expansive listening gratified tenacious resolute controlled percipient vivid vivific vivifying vital daring aware patient increasing sufficient decreasing selfless self-aware self-confident self-reliant self-sacrificing self-disciplined self-forgetful self-knowing reassuring practised practical compatible insightful merciful enlightened epiphanic destined longeval fearless humane recondite devoted devotional divine holy saintly saintlike godly pious sanctified enrapt endowed bestowed bestirred resonating resounding relieving relishing regulated seamless together sensual trembling flowing overflowing surging plunging throbbing thrusting moist fervent torsive rhythmic seminal genial tentacled coalescent one free delightful illuminating illustrious aflame immaculate immanent balanced reputable principal mindful physical mindless generative generous reverent sacred sacerdotal sacrosanct sacrificing edifying manifold manifest possible venerable venerating incorporeal intangible inculpable independent indescribable indefatigable indestructible indeterminable indispensible indivisible individual indubitable industrious unflagging poised graceful meaningful downright delving dexterous ambidextrous obsessive ameliorative amenable amendable idealistic realistic improving improvising simple lively witty rudimentary primitive primeval fundamental original proprioceptive exceptional confluent veridical smitten heroic adroit subtle moving breathing long-breathed venturing dancing cunning rendering surrendering engendering savant textural cohesive mirthful mirific mad wondrous wonderful wonder-struck wonder-working poetic internal innermost deft sweet equanimous enfolded enfolding unfolding prosilient apposite satisfied burning invisible solitary salutary salutiferous salubrious magical mythical mystical lyrical miscible austere alchemical charming seeing hearing feeling adoring miraculous thaumaturgic honourable harmonious deep basic strange joyous joyful happy adventurous enterprising remarkable embracing effective energic endearing endeavouring aching vulnerable vulnerary healing anointing salving soothing demulcent smooth inviolable infrangible incorruptible intrepid undaunted dauntless brave breathtaking disciplined forgiving forging flourishing achieving inducing thriving prosperous provident potential between misty underlying sinking rising glistening glimpsing learning plentiful plenitudinous replenished resplendent splendid actual redoubtable formidable fierce ferocious wild warrior-like valiant comradely rude gutsy spunky tough sturdy stalwart stout stout-hearted kind-hearted soft-hearted tender-hearted wise-hearted large-hearted plain-hearted whole-hearted open-hearted open-armed open-handed open-door open-ended open-minded broad-minded large-minded noble-minded single-minded well-timed well-taught well-knit well-advised well-balanced well-built well-chosen well-disposed well-founded well-grounded well-intentioned well-tempered well-thought-of well-wrought mutual benefic beneficient beneficial beneficiating servicable intricate supreme transcendent transcendental sequestered eminent supereminent empirical experimental motivated beatific calm worthwhile authentic authoritative irresistible meditative entranced awe-struck awesome awe-inspiring exquisite involved heavenly masterful fascinated ingenious bright spirited zestful deepmost deepfelt deep-rooted deep-seated peaceful golden limpid indwelling smiling loving hard-working relentless surviving

14.7.05

Poetry

Poetry is the conversation words are having with each other.
No one knows you're eavesdropping.

Rae Armantrout

Ip Man

Diet

The air you breathe.
The water you drink.
The food you eat.
The thoughts you entertain.
The company you keep.
The energy you give.

13.7.05

Mallow, County Cork, Sunday 10 July, 1-8pm


Photo by Michael O'Callaghan

The Intensives went really well and everyone attending excelled themselves. The 7 hours flew by.
When my teacher started doing Intensives in the late 70's they were all weekend, 9am-9pm both Saturday and Sunday. We'll gradually work towards this.


Photo by Corinna Mohrlen

Ward-Off



Cheng Man-Ching's Yang (pronounced Yeung or Young, never with a short a) Style Tai Chi is famous for its relaxation and softness. Unfortunately this often borders on weakness, indicating a misunderstanding of these two basic qualities. A weak form is usually expressed in a lack of sinking and an absence of ward-off. The idea in Tai Chi is that relaxed sinking beckons the energy of the ground up into your ward-off which swells into a contained roundness, chest hollowing and shoulders rounding and sinking into the arms which apply an outward isotropic pressure.
billow & extend - homothetically
The advice in the Tai Chi Classics is that ward-off should be round but should want to straighten. This indicates a dynamic equilibrium between containment and expansion (explosion). Ward-off is physically contained but should feel expansive. As you do your Form you should feel as though your energy is getting to all corners of the room - energetically, at least, you should bristle and crackle as your Form takes you through its motions, each new posture expanding into a ward-off which embraces and contains more and more of the world around you. Ward-off doesn't just contain you, it contains everything you are connected to, especially the imaginary (in the Form) or real (in Pushing-hands) opponent. The large generous quality of your ward-off should be a reflection of your large heart, not an indication of an imagined invulnerability. The better your ward-off and Tai Chi become the more vulnerable you become because you are more open and more connected. What enables you to flourish in this state of vulnerability is your faith in your own natural energy and your growing connexion with what my teacher calls the Natural Process. As this connexion develops, so much of your energy is ahead of you, preparing the ground, that you really are a master of your own destiny, and your actions, and the things that happen to you (is there a difference?), take on real power.

In pushing hands this expansive embracing quality is practised as you round into ward-off after your push. Imagine the elbow swelling around or over your partner to contain them before you turn to yield. This means turning a little more to the left (if yielding with the right arm) before you turn to the right to give way. Remember that the important parts in pushing hands are the two junctures between yield and attack. These are the two points where spirit floods in - as you change the direction of your turning. The change from attack to yield should start with a burst of entering (attack) and the change from yield to attack should start with a sudden give-way (yield - almost to the point of becoming unstuck). When put to martial use the yields and attacks in Tai Chi are very short so that the yield-attack and attack-yield junctures become more frequent and prominent. In fact, so much so that your whole being vibrates with them and with the spirit they accompany.

12.7.05

Ecology

A sense of humour allows us to handle the contradictions and paradoxes of life. When students complain to my teacher that all his instructors do their Tai Chi very differently from each other he replies that a sense of humour is required to learn Tai Chi, as it is to teach it. Seeing many different interpretations allows the intelligent student to better locate the unchanging principles at the foundation of the original art. However, the principles only have power when put into use. When practised the principles make you change and grow (this is their function), and your relationship with the principles (as well as everything else) naturally changes; effectively the principles change. This is progress. So, for example, in the first lesson of Tai Chi we are told that the most important principle is that the turning of the waist directs all our movements. A teacher demonstrates this by allowing her own left, right, left, right turnings throw her relaxed arm into a rotating circle so that the students can grasp that the waist is indeed the motor that drives the loosely articulated limbs, and that by so doing the upper body (at least) can stay relaxed. This gives the student a simple place to start from. If he practices he will become more relaxed and develop more supportive legs. The teacher will then introduce the concept of turning the waist in both directions at once to generate power. Then the idea of a figure of eight in the waist to soften the mind and keep the turnings continuous. Then the wobbling waist to bring back a more lively approach to friction and power. Then the fractured or discontinuous waist to show how spirit lightly inserts into things. Then the frenzied waist to remove everything but spirit. And so forth. Being part of this learning process the student begins to realise that it is her relationship with the principle that is important, and like any relationship, it breathes, develops and grows. The principles are not absolute immutables but entities we have relationships with - "intimate unto the inanimate / tossed world". The concept of the unmoving mover is only useful at the beginning stage of anything - just to get you started. There is no such thing as a closed system anymore. Everything informs everything else. Everything touches, as my teacher beautifully puts it. "What does not change / is the will to change". Things are constantly slipping in and out of focus. The ecology of Tai Chi. In such a world the thinking mind is an impediment.

Fruit


Who was it who originally said "You are what you eat"? Whoever it was it certainly is true. So if you want to develop lightness then eat plenty of fresh fruit.
Time to eat:
strawberries and tofu.

11.7.05

One Day

One day after another -
perfect.
They all fit.

Robert Creeley 21v26-30iii05

I still can't believe he's dead.

9.7.05

Humour - notes from Ireland

Humour & touch - the foundations of every interaction.
Not taking self too seriously.
Getting self out by putting humour in.
Wind & laughter dispel the ashes & the loneliness.
Humour encourages others to join in – inclusive – involvement and contribution.
Eternal optimism.
Good humour allows you to shrug off disappointments, or, indeed, any attack.
Optimism bounces back – gives a spring to your step and an elasticity to your soul.
It is the act of giving something back – being a part of the miracle of creation.
You become one with the body of humanity – love’s body - community; no longer alone.
Communion & communication become one.
Feel it in every breath you take and every beat of your heart.
“Any piece of counterpoint includes a silent part for the rhythmic movements of heart and lungs”.
When humour is absent you are taking things, especially yourself, far too seriously.
This is always counter-productive.
Humour is like a wide-reaching web or net.
“Webs beyond the reach of shallow”.
When humour is bubbling all your dimensions foreground, especially the ones “beyond the precisions of the intellect”.
Humour allows the picture to complete itself.
Good humour gives, bad humour takes (black hole).
Humour always transforms.
In a bad humour you are a limb of Satan.
Discover what improves your humour and use it ruthlessly.
“Quiet and freedom are the greatest possessions”.
Good company.
“Whoever loves becomes humble”.

“Men have found cells sensitive to light in the hearts of snails”.

Morihei Ueshiba


"In your training, do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung. Never think of yourself as an all-knowing, perfected master; you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Art of Peace."

8.7.05

Mammoth


Do we really possess a superior sensibility to the Pleistocene hand that created this? Where has our humanity taken us?
Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.
Albert Einstein

Entering

In pushing-hands we have a scenario in which one person attacks and the other yields. Roles are then reversed, and so forth. Yielding is usually described as the action of sticking, turning, sinking and retreating which neutralises the oncoming attack, putting you in an advantageous position. This is all well and good but it omits the most important part of correct yielding which is the initial leap towards the oncoming energy - what we call the entering. This leap happens in the heart which opens compassionately to embrace and welcome the attack. This needn't be lovey-dovey. In fact it shouldn't have any passive element at all. If the energy coming towards you is aggressive then your entering is likely to be equally so. On one level at least you must match the passion of the attack. The image I used to find useful is that of an angry toddler about to strike you with a harmless weapon of some sort. You wouldn't yield and then attack - it wouldn't be appropriate. You would see the attack coming and then quickly leap forward to remove the weapon from the child's hand as he draws it back to launch it at you. It is exactly the same in Tai Chi. Before the oncoming energy has started to come forwards you should have leapt into it and embraced it. Then the situation will often diffuse before there is any explicit confrontation since you have sensitively and compassionately taken the wind out of their sails so to speak. To manage entering you must be joined to the situation: your heart must have openly embraced the situation before you enter it. So where does it all begin? It begins with that invisible aspect of your awareness which you can only trust to be working for you. It cannot be "turned on" but it can be developed through compassion, through putting the other first. This is difficult in pushing-hands because the exercise is continuous. We find it more useful to practice discrete attack/yield passages - one person attacking and the other entering and yielding. The slightest indication of an attack should trigger your openning and entering. Practising this way you will learn to stick with your heart. The best example I know of apart from my teacher is Dr Chi. If any of you are lucky enough to own the video of him doing the Forms then watch carefully. You will see that each posture is preceded by a leap of energy and spirit towards the imagined oncoming energy. It is this leap of lightness that yields, not the subsequent turn of the waist. John noticed this in Dr Chi's pushing-hands as well. Before he turned to yield he would perform an almost involuntary tiny turn in the other direction to throw his hand and spirit forwards into the oncoming push. This action was so slight it was almost not there but it made all the difference. Speak to anyone who worked with Dr Chi and they all say the same - when you pushed him he wasn't there but at the same time he was all over you - he did not retreat, his heart would not allow it. This is a high level and has nothing to do with trickery or technique or taking advantage. It is no longer a matter of me and you because the heart of the yielder has openned and entered to consume the whole situation. The yielder is at once all around the attacker. This can be practised in any situation. It is simply a matter of embracing connexions as they happen, or rather, as they are about to happen. An aspect of your entering sensitivity feels things in embryo and is able to transform them before they fructify, so, on one level anyway, you create your own good fortune, but only if you practice entering. Good luck.

7.7.05

Listening



I don't know if any of you saw the Alan Yentob programme on TV last night about concert pianists. There was an interesting bit when Stephen Hough was talking about the Rachmaninoff Second whilst seated at the piano. He demonstrated some point he was making verbally with a few seconds of piano playing, and as he finished there was a split second when he was divided between the piano and interview. At that point the piano really resounded like it hadn't whilst he'd been fully intent on what he was playing. The point I'm making is that there is nothing rarefied or precious about spirit, it is there all the time if only we wouldn't smother it with self. It reminds me of when I lived for a short while in Stoke Newington (summer 1988). I used to get up early (5am) and practice my Tai Chi in Clissold Park. I had to climb over the fence because it wasn't opened till later. I would do my practice by the animal enclosure. As I got into the Forms the deer would come and watch and the rabbits that had escaped from the enclosure (there were many) would scamper around my feet, treating me as though I were just another harmless bit of Nature (in actual fact it felt as if they appreciated the company). When the park finally openned and other people started passing through, the animals would disappear, especially if the person was walking a dog. There is something about Tai Chi which naturally looks at things softly and aslant, without imposing or forcing any issue at all. Communion. I would call that a potentially deeper level than the communicative efforts of the concert pianists who all looked terribly tense. They could all have done with a good dose of Tai Chi. Having said that, I must admit that I often listen to Maria Joao Pires.
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -

A Geological Compassion



Having written yesterdays post I was curious as to my present weight. I remembered weighing about 175lb when we moved down to the monastery in the Forest. Later on in the day I weighed myself on John's scales and found I was 204lb. This increase is solely from the Heartwork interactions we put ourselves through (the intensity of which would terrify most of you - they terrify me). The physical pounding we give our bodies and the explosive spirited exchanges increase bone density and muscle mass without the appearance of excessive bulk (being a target is never a good idea). Add to this an improved relaxation due to the quiet, undistracted, rural life, plus working more with energy in my solo practice and less with physical effort, and you have my present magnificence. I remember at the height of our weight-training excesses in 1994 John took me aside and explained that the training was developing explosive spirit, but that there was another side to spirit, a more feminine side, which is like a steady presence or continuum through one's day and life and if I could connect with that my Tai Chi would improve enormously because it would finally be energy based and destiny directed. It took me until 2001 before I at last clicked into this way of being (and it took a brutal ultimatum from John to make it happen). It feels like being part of a vast, slowly moving river passing through the mists of time (to use a meaningful cliche). A part of our humanity deeper than being human. What I have called elsewhere a geological compassion.

6.7.05

Physical Strength



The importance of strength in any pursuit cannot be overemphasized, especially in physical endeavours such as Tai Chi or Heartwork. A good solid musculature is a necessity. How to achieve it? I'm afraid I know of no other way quite so effective as pumping iron. Back in 1990 my teacher, finally sick to death of my feeble 120lb excuse for a body, told me I had to put on 40lb. Always one for a challenge I then proceeded to eat like there was no tomorrow and within a year I was over 200lb. He then took me aside and gently suggested that I now convert all that fat to muscle. This changed my life. I dug into weight-training with a vengeance, assisted by the similar efforts of Paddy Gallagher, Heron Beecham and Charles Bell. By the end of 1993 we were all squatting well over our own body weights (no mean feat), my chest had increased from 38" to 45" and my thighs were larger than my girlfriends waist. And, more importantly, my teacher told me that my energy had improved ten-fold. John had said to me at the beginning that there is something inherently honest about iron. "That 10 kilo plate will always weigh 10 kilos no matter how you feel", he would say. Doing Tai Chi it is always possible to fake it - not to sink quite as much, to ease up when the pain becomes too great. However, with weights there is no faking it, or rather, there is no escaping the fact that you are faking it (we fake everything really). A body-builder knows as a cold fact that when completing a set of repetitions with a bar loaded with iron, it is only that repetition which brings him to failure, and then the next one, that will stimulate growth, the earlier repetitions have simply been getting to that point. So his composure and mental strength have to increase as the set progresses. He has to sink into the pain, dig deep and somehow find the strength to lift more than he has before. Progressive resistance training. I know of no better way of training the spirit than heavy weight-training (body-building). Each time a body-builder trains he is asking a miracle of himself - to lift more than last time - and miracles are achieved with spirit. Meet a good body-builder and once you've got over the strangeness of the bulk and the narcissism, you'll be overwhelmed by the warmth of the good energy exuding from them - they really are larger than life. This comes from using their spirit to enter the unknown on a regular basis. Using weights to merely keep up your fitness will not develop spirit - it wont improve your ability to explode. Growth not fitness. I would recommend weights over any other strengthening regime, including sunk tai chi and all chi kung. I have met advanced chi kung practitioners and they just don't have the open-hearted, joyous and honest demeanour of a practising body-builder. Similar to John's experience with the Tibetan Buddhists (with whom he studied for years), "I actually far preferred the Jesuits, they were more honest, stronger and real warriors - soldiers of Christ". The problems with body-building is that much of your strength stays locked in your muscles, and it tends to develop a feeling of power which often just isn't there. There's a famous story of Bruce Lee walking on the beach in California with Dan Inosanto. They pass a bulky body-builder, well bronzed, pumped and stripped to his trunks (as always). Dan Inosanto gasped in awe and said, "Wow, he's strong!". To which Bruce replied, "Yes, but no power". Meaning, I think, that the man didn't possess the ability to harness that strength and direct it into physical interactions with others. Having said that, body-building will improve your performance in many fields. Tim Henman's failure at the highest levels of tennis can be put down to a lack of physical and mental bulk. Many musicians, especially classical ones, would be well advised into weights regimes: as well as advancing their instrumental facility, it would improve their ability to project and give substance to what they say. If you feel better about and in yourself, and have more energy, then as a communicating entity you are going to have more to give. It is what you give to the world that defines you, not how you feel or what you do. And because heavy weight-training opens up your skeletal structure (as well as adding muscle to that structure), your heart frees up and is much more "out there" - not just on your sleeve but everywhere. Watch a good body-builder perform (go through his poses) and you'll be overwhelmed by the heart that fills the auditorium. I went to see Dorian Yates, the greatest of his generation, perform in a converted aircraft hanger. When he snapped into his lat-spread you really felt that he was wider than the hanger. I was speechless whilst Pip Pennington and Victoria Bridges at my sides were squealing and screaming their appreciation. Next to John, I have never met anyone with anywhere near the sobriety and heart as that man. I found out afterwards that he meditated for two hours before each training session - "To prepare myself for the visceral agonies to come". A directed life with not an ounce of compromise. For many years he was my hero.

5.7.05

The True War



Each time I work with a group of people I am always struck by the simple fact that everything we do relies on the sacrum in. Without it there is no connexion, either with the ground through the legs and coccyx, or with each other through hands, eyes and heart. And it is the sacrum and not the tan tien. If this sacred aspect properly engages then everything you do has significance and potency. To get it to properly engage you must struggle some part of your mind out of your head and down there. I don't mean your thinking mind, but rather some awareness or natural intelligence. It is almost as though there is a small animal living in your sacral area, ready to come out of hibernation given the right conditions. Don't yoga adepts talk about the kundalini snake in the base of the spine? When it finally rises the feeling is as though all your cares and woes and the petty concerns that stunt your effectiveness as a human being are shrugged off and you suddenly enter a world of POWER, a world where the slightest action or intention on your behalf creates ripples and consequences you'd usually be far too polite and considerate to countenance. Power is very different from strength. Strength is the ability to do things. The more strength you have the more you can do and the more effortlessly you can do it. However power is different. It is more like a world where transformations and exchanges take place - a battlefield if you like. It is something you can tap but which doesn't belong to you. It is the stuff of real connectedness. It requires connexion. Connexion is the price of admission. It is a place of wonder and horror and absolute thrilling danger. It is what a true warrior lives for and dies for. Valhalla. The place where life and death have no consequence. I suspect that if you were thrown into this world then your sacrum would naturally slot into its correct position and your body and spirit would coordinate as they are meant to. Sometimes a teacher will do this for you - her energy will bully you into that leap of faith. The struggle for all of us is to gain admittance at will, and to eventually reside there all the time. This will come about by developing strength (of body and character) and posture through solo practice and by working with others in such a way that you enter the fray together (courage in numbers). Obviously this will not happen by practising pushing hands (although I dare say this would be good preparation - do I sound convinced?), or by engaging in any competitive exchange where the emphasis is on winning (where either party is reluctant to let out their energy for fear of losing). It happens when you both throw all you've got into the cauldron together, one attacking and the other yielding. There is not a great deal of difference between the two when they are done correctly. This is a martial art not so you can learn to win (all victories are cheap) but because the image of the fight is the best one to hold onto to gain entry into this world of spirit, power and real transformative connexion. Welcome to the real world.
in a state of grace
& with a sense of wonder
naked
trembling
i feel the edge
is torn
and shudder
with the pain
of fulfilment

4.7.05

Death


Ian Waller (b.12v45), a good student of John's who died of a heart attack (18vii88) on his way to his Tai Chi class (whilst munching a raw carrot), has been on my mind lately. I was trying to remember the 12 of us from Tai Chi who went to the funeral: Colin Stanton, Jenny Bewley, Eamonn Young, Belinda Bailey, Penelope Woolf, Christian Wilton, Leon Bryce, Lyndy Stout, Katkin Mayne, Me, Irenie Fawkes, Heron Beecham. I remember how important it was that we were there, representing the TaiChi side of Wal's life, 12 of us amongst over 300 or so rock stars (Wal was the bass player with Herman & the Hermits and co-ran a business called Electric Wood making high quality electric bass guitars (Wal Basses) for those who could afford them). It felt important that all the human threads in his life were there to send him on his way, onto the next leg of his journey, especially since he was on the verge of giving up his career to devote himself to Tai Chi full-time. I regret now not having attended the funerals of other Tai Chi colleagues - Larry Koenig, KitLean Chung & Natasha Duerden. They are all still strongly with me but especially Wal - he had the best heart - and in a sense that part of him is as alive now as it was when he was physically with us, and by remembering him I keep that thread of connexion alive - his heart to my heart. Gregory Bateson once said, "There are no objects, only relationships", and death certainly brings the truth of this home. Reality is the vast web of connectedness, not the material objects that litter our lives. If you honour those connexions and keep them alive and breathing then your life has meaning beyond the mundane and beyond death.

2.7.05

Negative Capability



Great little book this. The following extract is so outrageously audacious it still takes my breath away. All about spirit of course. Where there are no rules.
BEING right is based upon knowledge & experience & is often provable.

Knowledge comes from the past so it's safe. It is also out of date. It's the opposite of originality.

Experience is built from solutions to old situations & problems. The old situations are probably different from the present ones, so that old solutions will have to be bent to fit new problems (& possibly fit badly). Also the likelihood is that, if you've got the experience, you'll probably use it.

This is lazy.

Experience is the opposite of being creative.

If you can prove you're right, you're set in concrete. You cannot move with the times or with other people.

Being right is also being boring. Your mind is closed. You are not open to new ideas. You are rooted in your own rightness, which is arrogant. Arrogance is a valuable tool, but only if used very sparingly.

Worst of all, being right has a tone of morality about it. To be anything else sounds weak or fallible, & people who are right would hate to be thought fallible.

So: it's wrong to be right, because people who are right are rooted in the past, rigid-minded, dull & smug.

There's no talking to them.

1.7.05

Pushing Hands


Ignorance can be thought of as a sort of amorphousness: a lack of shape, or order, or definition, or refinement. Your energy system can be thought of as a bundle of filaments or tentacles or dimensions. An ignorant state is one in which these tentacles are dull and massed together: agglutinated. Through correct practice each tentacle should unravel from the mass and start to shine with spirit. This requires what we call single-weighted practice - practising one thing at a time - working on each tentacle individually. So, when practising the Form, we usually have one principle strongly in mind: we will concentrate on sinking, or keeping the sacrum in, or turning the waist, or rounding out at the beginning of each posture, or having our energy focused and directed at the end of each posture, etc. Flitting around from one thing to another is generally regarded as a lack of discipline, and will not develop strength of character.
However, when practising with another person interactively, this one-dimensional aspect of your practice has to be abandoned so that the spirit can rise and start coordinating all these different facets that you've worked hard to develop independently. When this happens the tentacles start working together, stimulated by the immediacy and reality of the other person's presence. It is very important to appreciate that the reality you enter with another person is very different from the one you inhabit on your own, and that pushing-hands should never be another version of solo practice. When confronted by what my teacher calls "the miracle of the other" it is crucial that your humanity and compassion are stimulated to make a real heartfelt connexion otherwise that miracle is rejected and the real energy of the situation - the between-energy - doesn't take pride of place. This between-energy encourages the situation to manifest its uniqueness and teach the two of you its secrets. This will only happen when you abandon your expertise for the sake of heightened togetherness. If your tentacles have become beautifully bright and unraveled through your own hard work and dedication, then you must be prepared to give up that state so that entanglement with the other's energy can take place. It's these entanglements that will enrich and deepen your humanity, not your solo practice. This is why the partner work in TaiChi and Heartwork is so important, without it, no matter how hard you try, you're still just practising another aspect of self.
As a teacher of TaiChi I can honestly say that it is only those students who quickly develop a passion for the partner work that interest me. They are the ones with heart, and, so often, they are also the ones who have suffered.