30.11.05

"It's the magic of risking everything for a dream nobody sees but you."
The circumference
to the circle
we are

we never
get to
see

John Phillips

Competition

At my son's birthday party on Saturday, attended by 10 burgeoning 12/13 year olds (all boys) I was struck by just how much a retreat from the world self-image is. Much of their energy now is going into the production of a personality (from Greek persona – mask) – a front with which to confront the world outside, and the more they thrust this forwards the more their true nature is able to retreat and slumber within it. In a way the ones having the best time of it (through oblivion as much as anything) were the ones able to glory in their own physicality – the ones who loved expending their energy in the rough and tumble of the football game, and then replenishing it with the burger, chips and cake afterwards – the coarse ones. The sensitive souls didn't get invited – unfortunately my son finds nothing of worth in such people (he's nothing if not masculine) – although this crowd had their sensitivities and vulnerabilities of course and it was alarming to watch these qualities being constantly battered by the egos around them. Cheap victories abound – bringing yourself up by putting another down – competition. It's all about not really letting your energy out, or letting some out and then withdrawing just as it's about to be accepted – baiting. Not wanting to lose. This all happens unconsciously as often as not, and often by accident – in a way not-listening works, it encourages the deceit of self to reinforce itself.

The Tai Chi class is a refuge from all this, a place where softness, sensitivity and listening are encouraged. This is why those that stay value their class so much – it is the only place where they can safely relax and be themselves. Doing the Form together you feel the group energy and begin to realize that there is not a great deal of difference between that and your own. The group energy wakens you to your own, which mingles and becomes, and you begin to feel not what's coming in to your receptors but what's out there. If there's anything amiss, a fellow student having a hard time, then your energy puts it right even before you have a chance to register it. In the pushing-hands, which is (or should be) too close for comfort, the only way you gain (improve) is to become the other and let your hardnesses (defences) dissolve. This happens by opening to the other's humanity – taking a real interest in who and how they are – rather than concentrating on what you're doing. If you chat it should be because you're naturally inquisitive about the person you're with – you want to know them better – and because somehow a little verbal exchange diffuses lingering tensions. The Tai Chi class should be the place you put things right. The place where your faith in the beauty of human nature and in connexion is replenished and reinforced.

29.11.05

Omnia Vincit Amor

My teacher once said to me that the fundamental principle on which to build all the others is Love Conquers All. It was years later that I came across the full quotation (from Virgil): Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori - Love conquers all so let us yield to love.

28.11.05


    our aloneness
who we are
that it is landscape

The Cage of Conditioning

Yesterday a comment appeared on the short dialogue quote from The Two Towers. The comment quoted Yevtushenko

A child of captivity is too weak for freedom.
He who's conceived in a cage will weep for a cage.

This is so true. The domestication of civilized humanity has come at a cost. My teacher often used to say to me, “People would rather die than change.” Such people are defined by the cage they happily exist within. Take away the cage and suddenly they have nothing. The Hollow Men. Kinship nowadays is just a common cage. Walking through the City of London this morning I was struck how all the large modern buildings are steel structures clad in a thin veneer of polished pink granite or some other gaudy stone. And all the shops, vying for custom, are desperately presenting the glossiest surfaces imaginable. Fashion. Only ever skin deep – it's so easy to see or feel the vacuity beneath. Christmas. In a way its all topsy-turvy. When the meaning of life is to locate, nourish and develop one's essential nature so that the cage of conditioning can be released and one's energy and spirit can be free, instead society presents us with the opposite message – concentrate fully on the surface and you need never face up to the emptiness inside. Obsessing on the cage, whether by polishing it to make it look as attractive as possible or by aggressively trying to break it down, is not correct. We need to concentrate on the jewel at the heart of it all – our own essential core and the same in others. Communication happens when these touch and dance together. When these jewels become the focus of our hearts and minds then the grip of the cage (its grip on us and our grip on it) gradually releases and the hard shiny surfaces dissolve and we enter the realm of true softness. When you touch another, either physically or with your mind, heart or energy, unless you can abandon your cage then you will never be properly with that person and you will not be soft. A world without landmarks. A frightening prospect, but also an exciting one.

Once, after dining on a rotten fish,
I saw that the door was unhooked;
toward the stary abyss of flight I leaped
with a pup's perennial recklessness.

Lunar gems cascaded across my eyes.
The moon was a circle! I understood
that the sky is not broken into squares,
as it had been from within the cage.

Another thing my teacher used to advise was always try to have the courage to follow your first thoughts or impressions, and try to ignore the second ones - they're usually signs of fear creeping in.


Mr Blake is 248 today.

27.11.05

"What do you fear my lady?"
"A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valour has gone beyond recall or desire."

26.11.05


Louis, Finnegan and little Sam Kent at my son's 13th birthday party. Sam is the one in blue with the ball.

Laying Alongside

Basically, at its deepest level, this means compassion. Technically it means facing up to what's there without confronting it head on. Entering with soft surfaces that nestle into & onto the oncoming energy, never perpendicular to it, always along it. The energy is coming towards you and you are advancing towards it, your surfaces meet and twist (not just turn) in such a way that the friction between you is minimized and you either slip under and uproot or you draw down and roll over – undermine or overbear (at an advanced level you'd do both at the same time). Compassion requires you never to lose heart – never let anything knock you back or off balance. The flow of heart energy issuing out of you, forever thrusting forwards, must somehow accommodate and transform oncoming energy. Yielding. The sooner you can do this the more likely you are to succeed. So soon that it is before. Before and beyond – two words my teacher uses all the time.

Two ways of practising this when you're on your own. Firstly, within your own Tai Chi to investigate and work with the principle of dynamic equilibrium: how do those opposing forces at work within your body actually interact? They don't just meet and grind to a halt (or they shouldn't), they constantly writhe and twist around each other like two battling snakes, the figure of eight being the most accurate simple depiction of such an action. Turning one way and immediately turning the other, and so forth. Single-weighted. Each action you take should automatically generate the opposite action, so each time you sink energy should spring up from the ground into you, and each time you turn to the right to give way and allow the imaginary opponent's energy through something in you should be advancing and turning to the left to sneak behind them. It is only by working and becoming familiar and comfortable with these oppositions that you will be able to deal appropriately with the real thing. Also, by working in this way your surfaces are rubbed raw and begin to bleed into each other. A mingling becomes possible. This brings us to the second way of practising laying alongside when you're alone. This is just compassion. You're now sitting at the computer, so try this. Imagine you have a switched off light bulb in your chest cavity (heart) – become aware of that area. Now just switch that light bulb on. The light should immediately cast out and illuminate the objects in your environment and as it does it should turn on the lights in the hearts of those objects, inanimate though they are, and you should all glow together. You feel warm, your heart fills with love and compassion and your face beams with giving. Quite quickly you settle into these wonderful feelings and spoil it all – the light dims as it turns inwards in enjoyment and self-congratulation. Now imagine the sort of person you'd have to be for this giving from the heart to be constant – every moment of every day – no let up - and for it to motivate and govern every action you ever make. This is the warrior's way. Vigilance is not just being ready it's being out there touching and transforming with the light of your heart – the mist of fingers (see how a different image immediately changes the mood – the imagery is everything). We need to become party to the secrets objects share.
The wise have no motives
Fools put themselves in bondage.

25.11.05

The Touching Heart

To live in the world of connectedness the student must be supremely fluid and supremely light. This means shedding all the baggage they can, or at least not clinging to what little baggage they chose to maintain. This is why Olson said a poverty stricken ambiance is the best for living and for loving. The teacher's job is far more destructive than creative – he breaks down the student until all they have left is what has been eluding them all along – their connexion to the internal. Compassion is feeling the heart of things – all things. Why limit yourself to sentient beings? Feeling, for us, is more a giving than a receiving. The martial artist cannot afford to wait for things to come to him – it'll always be too late – he'll always be on the back foot. He has to be able to throw out his heart and touch with it. He must develop what my teacher calls a mist of fingers. A mist because this sensitivity must be a fact of his being rather than an act of volition. Invest yourself beyond yourself. Compassion invests with heart to such an extent that everything in your life and in your environment should be brought to life in the same way that your teacher has brought you to life – by stripping you bare. Remember the story of Chang San Feng walking in the snow, his feet a few inches from the ground, leaving a trail of exposed grass from which small flowers were beginning to spring and bloom. It may seem that when you touch the internal not much has happened – but it is the greatest gift you can bestow and is the culmination of all your work. The whole of life hinges on such subtleties.

24.11.05

Not for a moment, beautiful aged Walt Whitman, have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies.
Lorca

Radiant Inventory

The world has become
a spectacle of absence,
a radiant inventory.
The sunlight that falls
on the margin of the lake
nurtures a deficit
in its clarity, its violence.
These waves are items are
a description of themselves
in discourse with their changes
through time. The sand
is a finite texture of
self corruption. Everything
interpenetrating, extensile,
at once continuous and discrete.
This sunlight both sustains and erodes
the luminous surface of matter
the precise miracle of life.

Now that I have been opened
I can never be closed again.
The reflection of the sun on the waves
is a shining path to the horizon
a dazzling lucent shuttle
of unknowable complexity.
A cloud over the sun
momentary camera obscura.
And as I move towards resolution
the world abandons its detail
in a theatre at once dark & light
where life is a kind of joyous shade
a shadow over the sun
a dark radiance.


Christopher Dewdney

The Internal

Poets express the inexpressible and it's always interesting to read what they have to say about their creative process. Here's Susan Howe from 1989.
Language is a wild interiority. I am lost in the refuge of its dark life.

Poets are always beginning again. They sail away to a place they hope they can name. Linguistic nature is always foreign. Grammar bales the darkness open. Only a few strike home. They remember and acknowledge each other.

When I write, words or phrases come to me. I don’t go to them or start with a plan. I start with scraps and pieces and something comes. I never know. I never sit down intentionally to say something. It comes to me. But as I work more on a poem a meaning is established and then I must continue until I feel it's done or undone. To an almost alarming extent - alarming for me - sound creates meaning. Sound is the core. If a line doesn't sound right, and I do always have single lines or single words in mind, if a line doesn't have some sort of rhythm to it, if my ear tells me it's wrong, I have to get rid of it, or change it, and a new meaning may come then.

23.11.05


       you are
ungraspable

Special Times

The average person, in a whole lifetime, will probably have less than a handful of really life-changing energy experiences, and will meet less than a handful of living entities that really make their energy sing. The day to day grind of living one's life, the going to work, the eating of food, the shitting it out, etc. are not really that important, what's important is to be ready for these special occurrences - to be awake when they happen and not let them pass you by - and to spend at least a couple of hours every day preparing for them and honouring them. Popular culture is full of paeans and laments to such experiences – films about fleeting chance meetings with someone you feel more connected to than anyone else in your life (Hollywood always spoils them by having the characters live happily ever after in married bliss), songs about staying true to lost love (as if you really have any choice), and poems that express the perfection of connexion. When you're connected well with another then you're connected in that instant to everything, “And makes one little room an everywhere.” If you allow the practice to spring from this sort of feeling or yearning then a significant portion of each day is spent with the energy of connexion – with what's really there rather than with what we fill the day with. We have to constantly ask ourselves why we do the work. Do we do it because of what we want out of it – the relaxation, stress relief, power, healing ability, to teach, or do we do it because we know we have no choice. If your motives are truly noble – they come from a selfless need to serve the Dao (rather than a desire to have the Dao serve you) – then the work you do will begin to stitch the days and the weeks and the years into one seamless thread of service and devotion. This is the only way really to bring that vibration of connexion into everything you do. The regulating aspect of the work – the part that stops you disappearing up your own backside, as my teacher would say, is of course the pushing hands. The simple give and take, the touch, the laying alongside, the being inside another's ward-off, the impossibility of yielding, all tend to disarm the ego and focus one's attentions on what really matters – the miracle of the other.

22.11.05

One has to impoverish one's mind.
Carl Andre, b.1935

   precise answers
transformed by
dooryard plants

Humility

Basically there are two realities – the reality of energy/heart/connexion and the reality of self. The reality of self is the sum of all your experiences and all your conditioning, it's like a large data base from which you constantly draw to make informed and sensible decisions and constantly add to as you have more experiences. It is accumulative. The manager of the data base is the thinking mind. When different selfs interact and communicate there is a transfer of information from one to the other. The reality of energy/heart/connexion is the opposite of this. When self diminishes, through work, suffering or trauma, the being starts to vibrate with energy, and then communication has nothing to do with information transfer and everything to do with resonance and fellowship. My teacher used to have a wonderful phrase to describe the students he found unbearably selfish – clotted with self. And self really is a congestion – a sticky glue that prevents vibration. It smothers the real world - the one of connexion. When you remove self then you have what was there all along but which self negated – energy. “Cease activity and return to stillness / And that stillness will be even more active.” As a teacher it is reasonably straightforward to wrench a student into the world of energy. What is frustrating and ridiculous is then watching them struggle to make sense of this world using the data base of self. They'll immediately start telling you about all the amazing and wonderful feelings their having, or about similar experiences they've had before, or (and this is the best/worst, depending upon your humour) about worthy books they've read recounting parallel experiences. It's enough to make you sick. No humility. The real world is not there to be made sense of it is there to be joined. You honour it in that joining and you become a tiny trembling part of it and that is enough. This is humility.
       rhythm of crickets
only a few beats faster
than your heart
Joseph Massey
I feel the two missing beats at the beginning of the third line - the communal heart.

21.11.05

Suffering

One of John's insights of the last 4 years is that Buddha's identification of suffering as man's great problem is incorrect. Instead man's big problem is disconnexion – or what he used to call selfishness. Suffering is not bad per se and in fact it can be greatly beneficial because it can dispel the veil of comfort preventing real connexion. “Not comfort / but vision.” One of the great difficulties I have as a teacher is convincing students that the reality of heart and energy firstly exists and secondly is worth devoting a life to. The only students I can really talk to are the ones who already suspect the truth of heart or already know it for sure, and what all these people have in common is that they have suffered, often quite severely. Those that haven't suffered are so sure and confident in their existence that there is no real communication possible, not on an energy level anyway – they just don't want to know and very quickly go their own way. Of course there are people who have been driven even more deeply into their shell by their suffering, but as long as they have the humility to stick around they eventually start peeping out and then miracles are possible.

Fire on the Hills

The deer were bounding like blown leaves
Under the smoke in front the roaring wave of the brush-fire;
I thought of the smaller lives that were caught.
Beauty is not always lovely; the fire was beautiful, the terror
Of the deer was beautiful; and when I returned
Down the back slopes after the fire had gone by, an eagle
Was perched on the jag of a burnt pine,
Insolent and gorged, cloaked in the folded storms of his shoulders
He had come from far off for the good hunting
With fire for his beater to drive the game; the sky was merciless
Blue, and the hills merciless black,
The sombre-feathered great bird sleepily merciless between them.
I thought, painfully, but the whole mind,
The destruction that brings an eagle from heaven is better than men.

Robinson Jeffers, 1887-62

20.11.05


You do your work, I do mine, then we come together and do our work which is THE work. This is the way of it.
John Kells

The Family Heart

This is a reply to Tim's comments yesterday, which I appreciate very much.

I think the greatest gift you can give your children is the example of honestly following your heart, even if that means leaving them. Also I think the number of adults out there damaged because one of their parents left home to sincerely find themselves is miniscule, especially when compared to the number of adults damaged by parents who remained in a stale relationship for the sake of the children. If you dearly love your spouse and children and yet still feel drawn to spiritual work, even if that means wrenching yourself away from them, then I implore you to take that path because there are so few people like you, and the world desperately needs more of you. Also I'm not sure that damage is such a bad thing. Greatness always, I suspect, grows from neurosis of some sort. It's the irritating grain of sand that produces the pearl. Energy and power in Tai Chi are generated through conflict and friction, and it is the same in anything – there have to be contrary forces that wrap around each other to produce results, whether it be your legs thrusting against gravity, your waist turning in both directions at once, or your purity struggling through your perversions. Battle is the fact of life. Yielding is the acknowledgment of that. The yielder knows with all his heart that the battle is everything and so it's not even a matter of entering – if the battle is all there is then he's already in it – how can he be elsewhere? Not all battles need to be fought with an axe in your hand, and really yielding is the art of winning the fight before it seems to have begun, but to be successful in yielding you need to reject all securities and sureties other than the thrust of your heart. The teacher is vital because they show you your heart. For the very talented student this may happen on the first meeting, but for others it may take 30 years or more of undistracted toil and labour. The important thing is to stay with your teacher as long as it takes.

Once, when my son was a baby, I arrived home from Tai Chi in a foul mood, entered the living room and sat in a chair opposite my son and spouse, fuming. My son, who adored me, struggled off his mother's lap and started to crawl towards me, face beaming. I looked up and glared at him at which he suddenly stopped, never having seen me in such a state. I then watched him look back at his mother and then towards me. At that instant I saw him make probably the most important decision of his life – he threw off his apprehension, the smile returned, his heart reached out and he continued towards me. I then picked him up, transformed as much by his courage as his energy and the evening turned out wonderfully. What made this experience all the more poignant for me was the knowledge that pretty much the same thing happened to me when I was a baby, yet I had chosen to cling whimpering to my mother. In a way my last 20 years of Tai Chi have been my valiant attempt to break that habit.

My abiding memory of childhood is the unhappiness of my parents. My mother tells me it all stemmed from my father not actually liking his work. He always wanted to pack in his job and branch out into self-employment and self-searching, but felt bound by duty to support his young family. My mother always implored him to follow his heart and insisted that she'd far rather live in abject poverty with someone who was fulfilled and happy than with the person who earned a decent wage and yet came home miserable and abusive each evening. My father could never pluck up the courage to do it, not until he'd earned enough money to give himself a comfortable cushion to fall back on, by which time it was far too late because the family had split up and he had lost heart anyway.

If one of you in a relationship has heart and vision then all of you should follow it. That vision should become the core of the family heart. However, if the other spouse feels resentful of that vision, or feels you should give it up for the sake of the family then for God's sake leave them because staying is not going to do anyone any good. What are the children going to learn? How to destroy heart and soul.

19.11.05

Palais Ideal

Ferdinand Cheval's Palais Ideal.

“Whatever your age, whatever you wish to
achieve, if you are courageous, persistent and
hard-working, you are sure to succeed.”


"In the evening after dark
When man is resting
I work on my palace
No one will ever know
How hard it was."
Compassion is the warrior's grace.
John Kells

Fighting the good fight

The warrior is just someone who stands and fights. Of course she's not stupid, so if there's no possibility of victory she'll skulk away in order to train like mad and come back another day. However, she knows that nothing of importance can be avoided. If she turns her back on any problem, no matter how slight, she knows it'll eventually catch up with her and possibly cause her death. The teacher's job is to behave as the Dao – to force the student to face up to their most important problems – the one's that are holding back spiritual progress. This is why the teacher's presence and company is often so unbearable and seemingly noxious: because it encourages the enemy within to rear its snarling head and it becomes associated with that enemy in the student's mind. There was a time when I would start to feel physically sick if my teacher approached me. “Oh no, here we go again,” I'd think to myself, quickly filling with dread. My teacher, ever the consummate yielder would feel my apprehension and offer me sympathy and consolation, just enough for my guard to drop and for me to start reprimanding myself for thinking so ill of him, and then he'd hit me with a gentle but pointed observation on my progress or lack of it, steeped of course with quite a vicious energy, and suddenly all the fears and doubts would come flooding back with a vengeance, and I'd have another week or month of hell and torture facing up to them. Now there is no need for any comments – the presence and the energy are enough, and this is an important point: the beauty, softness and affecting nature of his energy is enough to reveal my own inadequacies – his energy disarms. If you don't feel your defences (your strength) ebbing away in the presence of your teacher then you're wasting your time studying with them. If the teacher makes you feel good about yourself – more full of confidence and swagger then either they're not teaching from a valid lineage (that is, they have received no transmission of energy themselves – they have nothing of importance to teach) or you're not treating them with the proper respect and reverence, or they're building you up for some almighty fall in the near future. The teacher is never a friend. They are your teacher and the relationship you have with them is unique and powerful. They are by far the most important person in your life. If you think your children or your spouse or your friends are more important to you then again you're wasting your time, or rather your progress will be limited, that is it'll eventually stop. "Friendship is the refuge of the lazy heart," my teacher said to me a few days ago, and shocking though this statement is, if you think about it you'll come to realise it is pointedly true. The teacher cannot fight the enemy for you, that is your job, and through it you'll gain the strength to hone your attentions to the jewel in your heart. The student needs the teacher until she understands this process of learning and has the courage to face her fear alone.

The Celtic Heart

This from John Connell in Dublin. The language defines you. As does your use of it.

I was with Ray a few days ago travelling on the upstairs of a Dublin bus. A large group of teenage schoolkids got on and filled the upstairs. We didn't pay much attention to them - just the background chatter rising and falling behind us and in front. A stop or two before they got off I suddenly realised they were all conversing in Irish. Not the stilted awkward Irish I remember from school, but a very fresh light-hearted banter full of life and delight. I feel like sending the school a letter of appreciation and support for the way they have created an environment for these 16-18 year olds to interact with each other in a creative linguistic way. They are the real Resistance. An alternative to mediocre conforming sameness.

Everything has a jewel. The heart has a jewel, the teaching has a jewel, the poem has a jewel - an essential lively core that twinkles and gleams, no matter how faintly. Our job is to focus on that jewel and not be distracted. If others want a meeting with you then they meet you there; otherwise they're a waste of time.

18.11.05

Everything shagged with ice this morning.

Rod Philp visited yesterday - he lives now in Iowa - haven't seen him for 12 years. As soon as we touched and Pushed Hands the years slipped away and it was suddenly only yesterday we last worked together. Freud said that time does not exist in the unconscious. I guess the unconscious may be that part of the mind that resides in the heart. To become rationally aware of it we must drag it into the head where it undergoes inevitable distortions and perversions as it translates, transmutes and transduces into images and words. The idea, for us students of the heart, is to operate from a base (a giving) of faith rather than from a need for understanding: to bring the mind down to the heart rather than the heart up to the head.
Beginning form

Wide globe
round arms
want latitude

improbable regions
east’s sword dance

you
untranslatable
into me

we’re a mouth

kiss the diameter
make time go long

Alice Jones, Extreme Directions, The 54 Moves of Tai Chi Sword

"This sequence of poems, evolved from the poet's observation of the daily practice of Tai Chi Sword, evoke the fluidity of martial art practice, the motion of Chinese brushstroke painting or calligraphy, as well as the shifting physical and metaphysical arena that is human relationship. Each poem title is one of the 54 Sword movements, translated from the Chinese by the poet's husband, Wong Yoo-Chong. Tai Chi literally means the outer-most limits, great polarities."

"Based on the classical moves of Tai Chi sword, these poems have all their distilled grace, but cover much more distance, leaping from marine life to geometry to intimacy with ease." Cole Swenson

17.11.05

Magic is what happens when you put your hands on someone.
John Kells
GERTRUDE STEIN

Curie
of the laboratory
of vocabulary
she crushed
the tonnage
of consciousness
congealed to phrases
to extract
a radium of the word
Mina Loy

16.11.05

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

This phrase best describes the state we struggle to attain through the work or otherwise. This is why we work so long and hard on rooting and sinking – it balances this internal lightness and prevents us from taking off and disappearing altogether. The work settles and brings peace (of mind and body, and eventually soul) and gives you such a secure and strong foundation that you can readily attain and maintain this lightness despite your external worries and stresses. I watched Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 last night, which by the way is not a patch on his previous In the Mood for Love, but there again what could be?, and in it he beautifully depicts this trembly, fragile and vulnerable emotional state, expressed very differently by men and women, all brought about through the poignancy of love and loss of course. Such heightened emotional states are generally considered by society as inevitable consequences of our humanity, but somehow destabilizing and extreme and not to be encouraged. It is our contention that it is precisely these states that define you and give you power, and even if they cannot be maintained they should still be remembered and honoured and in some way kept alive and present because they are the most real part of you. There have been many documentaries on TV lately about WWII, focusing largely on German and Japanese atrocities and conveniently forgetting British and American ones, and it has been a real education for me to see just how easily those involved are still moved to tears by their memories – just how alive their experiences still are, and just how affecting they consequently are as human beings – just how much they draw me into their souls to partake of their humanity. There were also of course a fair share of people interviewed who felt no remorse or sadness at all, and they were repugnant and repellent, having constructed a hard shell around their human frailty in order to survive. In a way they represented the general approach, within the martial arts and within society, to coping with connectedness – cut off from it, or deny it altogether – see the other as separate, yourself and your extensions (family and friends) being solely and wholly important. This is the attitude that honours time, or the passing of things, “Oh that's all in the past, why should it concern me now?” But for a truly alive person there is no past because everything that has happened is still happening and was happening before it happened. In Shakespeare's Winter's Tale, Time the Great Healer does his healing not because the protagonists forget their loves and losses but because they keep them alive. Enough time must elapse for the heart of Leontes' and Hermione's love for each other, represented by their lost daughter Perdita, to grow and mature and gather enough energy to physically bring the lovers back together again. The final scene is one of the most powerful in theatre and always has me sobbing. The newly unveiled statue of Hermione (which is in fact Hermione herself) moves her faithful and repentant husband to such emotional heights that it starts to move and comes alive. His belief and faith, and their consequence - his love, literally breathe life into stone. This is power.

15.11.05

Ancestry

One of the consequences of delving deeply into just one energetic teaching/lineage, and not allowing yourself the luxury (foolishness) of picking and choosing, is that you begin to feel your own sources. Especially with something like Tai Chi which is all about connecting with the ground, energies start seeping up from that place and awaken old memories from your ancestors and your roots. From where do you spring? Origins. But also coils, helical structures loaded with energy and possibility and wisdom, waiting to be realized. And it is only when these structures start to reveal themselves through the work that you are able to bound and unbind into your life with the deep confidence of connexion. In a way our original sin is that we have forgotten what really matters and instead cling to the mass of superficial garbage and baggage which our immediate and karmic environment presents us with. John always used to say that the curse for the individual is thinking that they are special – clinging to a feeling of separation and loneliness. He also used to add that people are special but never in the way they think they are. Your specialness arises from the fact of the unique coming together of all the genetic and energetic threads that define your possibilities. As each of these threads comes alive, through the work or other, it is like turning on a tiny light of connectedness. With time and work these lights become a shining beacon, enlightening both your own path and the lives of others. The key to opening the energetic heritage of your ancestry is the sacrum. The ancients believed that the soul resides in it. When you start to breath into it and from it, and adjust your posture so that the heart is held directly above it, then it starts to feed the heart with energy from the ground. The sacrum transforms earth into heart – brings that h around to the front – but only if it is relaxed, worked and correctly aligned. When you stand (or sit) your sacrum should feel as though it is sinking down into the ground beneath your feet and the heart should feel as though is is lifting to the heavens, not directly upwards but up and slightly forwards. Generally speaking this heart energy, from the ground via the sacrum, is the expression of your connectedness and is of course so much more than just you. Your ancestors spread out behind you like an ever widening wedge, doubling each generation. Go back 200 years and you have about a thousand. Go back a thousand years and you have, in theory anyway, in excess of a trillion, which is vast. Of course there will only be a handful of threads that dominate what you are, and maybe only one that interests you sufficiently to want to build on it, but with work the rich texture of your heritage relaxes and settles and begins to shimmer. Within that texture there will always be a common thread to whatever situation you are in or person you are with. Kith and kin.

14.11.05


This posture is especially useful for scaring young children.

Old Stories

Writing to Richard Druitt in Puerto Rico earlier I recalled something that happened the last time I was in Ireland. I usually fly over on a Friday and teach a weekend Intensive which we round off with a meal at Ann's on the Sunday evening (the Monday class is a coda for those who can stomach more). This particular meal was remarkable because the Irish, ever gregarious and communicative, started to recount the old myths and fables. Now these stories are almost certainly from pre-Celtic times so are at least 3000 years old, and what became apparent was that their retelling, especially in such good and energized company, evoked ancient aspects of spirit and essence which, in England at least never surface. I began to realize that these strange people have actually had the heart and intelligence to keep alive their energetic heritage despite the suffocating presence of the Catholic church, and the probably even more repressive recent presence of the English. For me it was like receiving a priceless and magical transmission: the room sang with the old voices. In England, where all tribal structures have been replaced by those revolting feudal hierarchies of church and state, energy has been repressed and controlled and directed into the acquisition of profit. As a consequence we are to some extent lost – the things we do belong to don't nourish us deep down – and our collective soul has been broken. Even family is fractured, and we have little feeling now for our genetic ancestors or our places of origin. John Connell told me how the fighting spirit used to rise in him when a particular teacher at school in Dublin used to recount the ignominies of English behaviour in Ireland. There was a history programme on TV recently which tried to convince viewers that Cromwell was actually very good to the Irish. This is the sort of arrogance and deceit that unfortunately characterizes governance in this country: we are told lies and consequently have no choice but to cut off. The proliferation of information nowadays is just another aspect of this. The temptation is always to spread yourself so thin that you never really get to grips with anything, certainly not your own energy, not even your own life. This is the way the powers that be want it. Our responsibility as spirited individuals is to fight this control. In a way it's a blessing because the warrior needs an enemy without to keep him agile and on his toes.
Philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.
Karl Marx

13.11.05

Progress

About 15 years ago I complained to JK that I felt I hadn't progressed.
“I always feel I'm at the first stage,” I whinged.
He looked at me askew and said, “That feeling never changes.”

About 10 years ago John Porter said to me,
“Steve, you remember when you were a kid and you couldn't wait to grow up?”
“Yes”, I said, expecting him to rue lost innocence.
Instead he added, “Well I'm still waiting.”

12.11.05

invest yourself beyond yourself
for you are
a representative of fire
in the windy hopeless cavern, a spark
unable to warm the dark but able still
to see its flaring cries

even
without light, able
to clasp the mists of loss.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, from Drafts XXX: Fosse
Harmonize with touch.
John Kells

Depression

One of the curses of humanity, especially civilized humanity, is depression – low spirits. This is the real enemy: negativity, despondency, dejection, sadness, hopelessness, depression. Warriorship is all about fighting – in particular fighting the negativity attacking from without and from within. The warrior trains so that negative events, thoughts, situations – the things that get the average person down – stimulate his spirit to rise and fight. Fighting is all about engagement and letting your energy out, and in a sense depression is an extreme case of not being able to do either of these – an extreme case of self-obsession. There are many ways of averting depression (bringing the spirits up) that don't involve fighting – phone a friend, go into therapy, open a bottle, pop pills whether prescribed or not. However they are all really cases of avoidance – putting the fight off until another day when you may have more energy or be in a better mood, or hoping it'll go away for good. Of course it never does and the next time it rears its ugly head it'll be just that little bit more difficult to cope with if you have this history/habit of avoidance. There is no time like the present, and your daily practice is the realization of this fact. Your daily practice is the courageous confrontation – the battleground - of your negative and positive aspects. Your negative aspects of course are your ego, your conditioning, your reluctance, etc. and your positive aspects are your spirit, your heart, your essence and your destiny, all calling out to you to drop your negativity and start living a meaningful life. The skilled fighter is the one who quickly gains control of the fight by unbalancing the enemy – either pressing them onto the back foot or luring them too much into the front foot or just cramping their style and forcing them to fight a fight they can't win. Negativity does this all the time and if you do your practice in its arena then it'll feel heavy and a bit of a grind and the doing of it will gradually get you down. This sort of practice really achieves very little. Instead try to turn the fight around and operate from your positive side within the arena of positivity – the negative will come to meet you, no fear of that. This is achieved by dwelling and reveling in the present. Depression (and really any negativity) is all about dwelling elsewhere, either the past or the future – for the depressed person there is no present, or not the beautiful unfolding miracle that is the present anyway, there is only their depression. The positive person, when they practice, forget the past, have no concern for the future, and just do the work for the works sake, without the heaviness of expectation or reluctance or over-exertion. So when you practice see it as a celebration and a realization of the unique occasion - what John calls "becoming's bleeding edge." Don't struggle to retrieve good feelings you've had before, or try too hard to look like your teacher, just drop your expectations and do the work and let it strip you naked so that the movements can start teaching you to tremble with the Natural Process. At least when you're like this you'll be inclined to yield to the negative – turn your waist and shrug it off with an understanding smile. Humour is the warrior's greatest weapon. If you are constantly mindful (heartful) of this then you'll avoid hours and hours of practising dullness.

11.11.05

In the very earliest time,
when both people and animals lived on earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could happen—
all you had to do was say it.
Nobody can explain this:
That’s the way it was.

Nalungiaq, a Netsilik shaman

The tremble of vulnerability and connectedness.
If I have a look like this on my face when I'm the human equivalent of 19 years old then my work will have been successful.

Rules of the Dojo

After talking with John yesterday about the three great Japanese martial artists - the ones he has most admiration for - Ueshiba (aikido), Agami (karate) and Mifune (judo), I found this by Mifune on a Judo website. The wonderful thing about the Japanese is their culture of respect and refinement. By the way, John considers Agami to be the greatest of the three, not necessarily because he was the best fighter but because he ventured most courageously into the internal and the unknown - that raw and trembling space where all you have is your vulnerability and your connectedness.

To master an actual technique, mental culture should come first.
Acquiring a technique requires a careful, modest, non-mean, free and attentive mind.
In other words a player should do his utmost and nothing less.

Have no falsehood in mind.
Reluctance or deceit are not conducive to the inner harmony required by Judo practice.
Do not lose self-confidence.
Learn to act wholeheartedly, without hesitation. Show reverence toward the practice of Judo by keeping your mind in it.
Keep your balance.
The centre of gravity follows the movement of the body. The centre of gravity is the most important element in maintaining stablility. If it is lost, the body is naturally unbalanced. Thus, fix your mind so that your body is always in balance.
Utilize your strength efficiently.
Minimize the use of strength with the quickest movement of body. Acknowledge that what is called stillness and motion is nothing but an endlessly repeated process.
Don't discontinue training.
Mastery of Judo cannot be accomplished in a short time. Since skills depend on mental and physical application, constant training is essential.
Keep yourself humble.
If you become self-centred, you will build a wall around yourself and lose your freedom. If you can humble yourself in preparation for an event you will surely be better able to judge and understand it. In a fight, you will be able to detect the weak point of your opponent and easily put him/her under control.

Kyuzo Mifune

10.11.05

Gifts

Many, many thanks to Corinna, Ann, Nitsan and Simon for the Sony Vaio, and to Lyndy for the Canon IXUS. I guess I'm fully equipped now and have no excuses left.

The interesting thing about gifts is that whenever I put them to use I remember the people who bestowed them and a little of my heart goes out to them in continuing gratitude. This is especially poignant with gifts received from friends who are no longer with us: Ken Patchen's Collected Poems which Kit Lean Chung gave me in 1994, the hippopotamus nail brush from Natasha, the books from Ian Waller, Leon Bryce and Larry Koenig. The greatest gift is always respect, and these gifts were just the givers' way of saying that they appreciate what I'm doing with my life.

An interesting principle is that if you are connected to a living teaching, and through the teaching to the source of it all, then you also need to establish a channel for that teaching to pass out of you to others in order to maintain the continuing flow into you from the source – like a siphon. It's the same with energy – if you give then you will receive. The living teaching needs lively sharing spaces for it to properly come alive and express itself. And it has all the attributes of a living entity – character, independence, unpredictability, awkwardness. It can be relied upon to obey the laws of energy, but also to constantly surprise, delight and alarm. John always said that the best way to keep a secret is to tell everyone. It's a bit like refusing to carry anything with you other than your connectedness and your open heart. Walt Whitman. A contributor to Ron Silliman's blog recently suggested that the only people who give anything away for free nowadays are the poets and I would agree, although I would probably define a poet as someone who feels the internal and somehow expresses that feeling rather than someone who necessarily writes poems. A few years ago I read a survey which discovered that more than half of the people it questioned admitted to having been moved to write poetry at least sometime in their life. I guess there's hope for us yet.

9.11.05

Poetry

You can only learn what I am teaching if you have poetry in your soul.
John Kells

Or, as Joe Massey beautifully put it, "You awake / within the poem."

It's like a yearning for something beyond yourself - what we call the Internal. It is the ultimate light and life. If you yearn for it it's because you hold a little of it in your heart and it's wanting a home. The tragedy of the human race is that the more we progress the more we move away from the Internal, this is because our progress is external (technological) rather than internal. The reason I post poetry is because I know it's vital for a student's progress to become interested in communication beyond the mundane (use of words). John Kells doesn't read poetry but he writes it all the time (every day) and often has me read it to him - it always reduces him to tears. Good poetry is all about lifting the heart and making it tremble with anothers and ultimately with the heart of Go(l)d. This is also exactly what our work is all about.
If you can't bring a little light and life to every situation you find yourself in then what sort of turd are you?
John Kells

8.11.05

Splitting Sacrum

This is the sort of email I love to receive (it inspires me) - from a comrade in arms who works a couple of thousand miles away but who feels like he's in the next room.

In the last few months, while training and after, I feel as though my sacrum is splitting open into two parts and the tailbone is dangling in the gap between. The crack is slowly advancing upwards and is now a few centimeters above the waist line. After the training the whole lower back feels bruised, though the pain disappears after a while. Is this o.k.?

Sailing

The rawness we search for is a consequence of our forward thrust into what John calls the eye of the work. It’s a bit like tacking into a headwind: if you face it head on then you’ll get blown back but if you keep on turning into and through it, left then right then left then right, you utilize the energy to squeeze you forward; an advancing figure of eight – a zig-zag with the corners smoothed, clockwise then counter, and so forth. So the intelligent way forward is by turning, which is another way of saying single-weightedly because each time you turn you move naturally from one foot to the other. Double-weighted and you’re stuck in the middle, unable to move – anchored to the spot. To move forwards we search for that wind - the pressure against our progress - and turn into it. The turn yields in the sense that we allow the wind to take an aspect of ourselves, the part we are endeavouring to cast off, and blow it back and away as the raw tender part squeezes unnoticed out of our body and around the main thrust of the blast. So each turn has a dual action – it edges forwards and it leaves behind. It is this accommodating balance combined with the turning that makes our forward movements soft and yielding – we give the impression that we are backing down and giving away, and in fact part of us is, but only so that our better half can slip behind the enemy. Our progress is a process of constantly twisting and stepping out of ourselves – each step an effective rebirth.

In your daily life try and cultivate the habit of leading with your energy rather than your mind or your body. As you move forwards let something come out of you and advance, dragging the physical along with it. Feel how this is activated by turning the waist (body) or the mind – either of them turning will subtly open a portal and allow your energy to slip out. The posture in the Form is Step Forward Deflect Downward: it is the only one that springs to mind in which we yield as we advance rather than as we retreat. Not surprisingly it is also the posture in which we feel most strongly that headwind.
    The more advanced example shows a
balanced
zigzag
relaxation
an epic tempo
when the
diagonal
is present
further back things lighten progressively

7.11.05

The sacrifice of all to the ache of essence to be free.
John Kells

Sacrifice: from Latin sacer & facere - to make sacred.

6.11.05

a place not on any map
snapping & crackling
between antipodes


Ronald Johnson

Yielding

John often talks of connecting to another by laying yourself alongside them, and today whilst working with him I suddenly realised that this is exactly how it is. I had a very simple choice: whether to remain being me or to relax my boundaries and allow myself to absorb him sufficiently to hear and feel and eventually become what he is. And we were aslant, slightly, to each other, and even when we are head on we have both done enough entering and yielding by now to insinuate and nestle accommodatingly rather than clash and press our differences. Listening was a matter of losing my bearings and allowing the other to become my point of reference. The more I was able to do this the more I became aware of the subtle beauties and intricacies of his energy, but also, surprisingly, the more I became aware of my own energy and how it was changing and waking to the implications of the process of this listening which was in fact a joining. Entering one has a choice whether to frantically search for familiar landmarks against which to judge the unknown (the most familiar being self), or to enter upon entering a realm within one’s own energetic reality which no longer needs landmarks because nothing is known or unknown - there is enough seepage through the living surfaces for the web of connectedness to feed and inform all within it. Persistent entering of this nature wears away the skin and leaves it raw and tingling, constantly searching for new (or old) surfaces to lay against. And such surfaces are all around though some are more fulfilling than others, in the sense of taking you breathlessly beyond yourself. When both parties lay alongside each other in this listening and becoming manner then there is the chance for a developing relationship: some magic happens and the resulting sparks coalesce and settle into the energetic space of your togetherness. This can and generally does happen unawares, especially for those not particularly interested in energy. However, for those of us who work with it and within it, laying alongside eventually brings you to the realisation that there is nothing else quite so worthwhile so why bother with anything else. This is the choiceless state of grace and active yielding that we all yearn for on some level. The secret is to get to that level so that you can leave behind all that gets in the way.
Home is where the heart is.
Pliny

5.11.05


Li Ching Lin, apparently a student of Yang Ban-Ho and famous for his Sword Form, known as Li of the Immortal Sword. Dr Chi studied extensively with one of his top students on the mainland, before he moved to Taiwan.
Faith allows your purity to shine through the fog of self.
John Kells

4.11.05


Sun Lu-Tang (1861-1933), of course. Famous for his Ba Gua and Hsing I (less so for his Tai Chi). There is something magical about this man, and the legends that have sprung up around him, from his meeting with the Taoist on the mountain, to his shrinking testicles, to the manner of his death.

Thinking

Thinking is the vestibule of the mind.
The main purpose of thinking for the average person is to grasp at the world outside his body, and by a process of tightening make this palatable to his inner condition.
This is the way he comes to terms with the rawness and suddenness of reality.

John Kells

The Tremble of Life

The student of Heartwork, instead of interposing things between himself and this rawness and suddenness of reality, instead relishes and learns to use that rawness as a guide. The good student knows deep down that no matter how unbearable, that trembling vulnerability he feels in the face of reality is the tremble of life, and is what gives him power and strength. When my teacher used to say to students, especially the ones full of assurance, swagger and self-confidence, to search each day for weakness and vulnerability, it wasn’t in order to eradicate that weakness through the work, but to establish it as the guide and beacon for one’s developing humanity.

“Six foot six he stood on the ground / weighed two hundred and thirty five pounds / but I saw this giant of a man brought down / by a thing called love.” In the face of such feelings the average person retreats to recover or wallows self-pityingly, but if they had the courage to refuse either of these options and instead drove forwards with their aching breaking heart they’d realize that whilst in this condition they have immense power because they are so much better able to connect, and through that connecting to transform and change the world (this is power). Always be eternally grateful to anything that gives your ego a good bashing, and try to familiarize yourself with the tenderness and tearfulness that accompanies it, and work to establish this condition as your primary one.

Jesus is often depicted with a hand raised, a compassionate face, and a chest ripped open to reveal the sacred heart.

John always used to say that how you feel is simply an opinion of the way things are and you should never let it interfere with your relationship with either the work or with anything else. To treat things badly because you feel bad is the ultimate in meanness. Being confidently full of yourself when you feel good is equally repulsive (how many Tai Chi masters fall into this trap?). A few years ago, after watching my gleaming perfect Form my teacher said to me, “You must bleed more.”
quick - a startled faun
unstill as a flame

Ronald Johnson

3.11.05

Rest

Body builders know for a fact than when they train (lift their excessive and awesome weights) they are destroying or breaking down muscle, and it is during their extensive rest periods between training sessions that the muscle is built up larger and stronger than it was before. This is probably a good model of what happens during any work regime. Working you expend energy, resting you gather it. This rhythm is the heart beat of the work. It never stops. Hit the right rhythm and your labours will be worthwhile. Work too hard or too much and you’ll become blinkered and exhausted and eventually burn out, rest too much and you’ll become sluggish and depressed. The important point here though is that the quality of your rest is as important as the quality of your work, especially with something like Tai Chi for which relaxation should be such a vital necessity. Students who don’t rest properly tend either to be incapable of relaxing, or their relaxation is just sleepy and lifeless: no real energy. Getting through your day with tension rather than energy is very dangerous. The tension will draw on reserves of vitality that should really be saved for much later and you’ll age more quickly and live a shorter effective life than you should. What proportion of the population start the day with coffee and end it with alcohol? This habit may get you through the day, but it’s unlikely that any of the activities of the day will help in developing and refining the soft abiding between-energy that should consume and envelop everything the good student does. Tension, by definition, tightens, constricts and separates. Heart opens, expands and joins. The two cannot live together.

Beautiful picture and beautiful posture this (and a beautiful man, and tree). My teacher often used to say that the student's bum only properly comes in with postures such as Golden Rooster when one knee is strongly raised, pulling the coccyx under, stretching and straightening the lumber region of the back. Try doing a Form raising the stepping leg exaggeratedly (pull the stepping foot up to the knee of the supporting leg, or the groin, or touch the knee to the elbow of your ward-off arm with each step, depending on your flexibility and sense of humour).

2.11.05

The Work

writing poems
(keeping rabbits)
each day the shite
to be cleared
fresh straw to be laid

Tom Pickard

Yielding

Yielding means giving way, not resisting. In a martial sense this is reasonably clear to see: energy comes towards you and rather than try to knock it off course or retreat from it, you turn the waist, allow the energy through, turn it and return it. The person who excelled at this was Dr Chi: he could yield in any situation from any stance: he embodied yielding. This was because his Tai Chi studies had gradually taken him deeper and deeper into yielding and had led him to realize that yielding was in essence just connecting. Connecting, connexion, connectedness are the basis of life and existence. It is the one thing that happens and is happening all the time, and, as John would say, out of time. So yielding, if you become consumed by it and are correctly motivated (you have a driving need to be better connected rather than a desire to overcome others), will lead you to the source of it all and to the one thing worth studying: connectedness. When this becomes your consuming passion and interest then you begin to develop a yielding attitude to everything: you softly enter all things equally. It doesn’t take long to realize that to connect to other entities you must remove all of your own hardnesses from the situation, and preferably from yourself: eradicate. These hardnesses include your opinions, your ego, your conditioning, your thoughts, your desires, your fears, your education, in fact pretty much every aspect of you, leaving just energy, essence, spirit and soul; even the body is eventually rejected, which, if you like is the beauty and meaning of death. Your hardness encloses and constricts these more fundamental parts of you. Once you begin to let that hardness go then energy and essence will come more to the fore in your being and in your life, and you will begin to operate (cooperate) on their level. In a sense this means leaving for good the world of the average person and entering a new world which the average person touches every now and then, but really has little interest in or regard for. The purpose of this blog is to elucidate this process.

This is a response to Ray's comment below.

1.11.05

Perfection

The Truth of Perfection is the Perfection of Truth.
It stands alone, forced upward to prominence by the movement of the tectonic plates of reality as they ride the molten magma of change.
The landscape has no features, just this prominence.
This prominence is the expression of the landscape.
Nothing can adhere to it, for it is not there to be used.
It slips all grasps, yet it is the one thing to practice.
Why practice anything else?

John Kells

Celtic New Year

This article is taken from another site. Click the title to this post to be directed there.

November 1 is the Celtic feast of Samhain. Samhain, Gaelic for "summer's end," was the most important of the ancient Celtic feasts.

The Celts honored the intertwining forces of existence: darkness and light, night and day, cold and heat, death and life. Celtic knotwork represents this intertwining. The Celts observed time as proceeding from darkness to light. The Celtic day began at dusk, the beginning of the dark and cold night, and ended the following dusk, the end of a day of light and warmth. The Celtic year began with An Geamhradh, the dark Celtic winter, and ended with Am Foghar, the Celtic harvest. Samhain marks the beginning of both An Geamhradh and the new Celtic year.

Samhain and the new Celtic year actually begin at dusk on October 31, the beginning of the Celtic day. Oidhche Shamhna, the Eve of Samhain, was the most important part of Samhain. Villagers gathered the best of the autumn harvest and slaughtered cattle for the feast. The focus of each village's festivities was a great bonfire. Villagers cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames. (Our word bonfire comes from these "bone fires.") With the great bonfire roaring, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit their hearth from the one great common flame, bonding all families of the village together.

The eve of the Celtic year was a very holy time. The Celts believed that Oidhche Shamhna was a gap in time. Our world and the Otherworld came together on the night between the old and new years. The dead could return to the places where they had lived. Many rituals of Oidhche Shamhna provided hospitality for dead ancestors. Celts put out food and drink for the dead with great ceremony. They left their windows, doors, and gates unlocked to give the dead free passage into their homes. Swarms of spirits poured into our world on November Eve. Not all of these spirits were friendly, so Celts carved the images of spirit-guardians onto turnips. They set these jack o'lanterns before their doors keep out unwelcome visitors from the Otherworld.

There was also a much lighter side to the Celtic New Year rituals. Young people would put on strange disguises and roam about the countryside, pretending to be the returning dead or spirits from the Otherworld. Celts thought the break in reality on November Eve not only provided a link between the worlds, but also dissolved the structure of society for the night. Boys and girls would put on each other's clothes, and would generally flout convention by boisterous behavior and by playing tricks on their elders and betters.

Divination of the events of the coming year was another prominent feature of Samhain. Celts used hazelnuts, symbols of wisdom, to foretell the future. Bobbing for apples, another traditional Samhain pastime, was a reference to the Celtic Emhain Abhlach, "Paradise of Apples," where the dead, having eaten of the sacred fruit, enjoyed a blissful immortality.

Ancient Celtic religion cast the year as a contest between the gods of winter and summer for the favor of the goddess of the earth. The god of summer claimed victory at Latha Buidhe Bealltainn, May Day, but at Samhain the god of winter, who was also lord of the dead, was victorious. Celts often depicted the god of winter with antlers which he shed each autumn like a stag. In parts of western Brittany the coming of winter is still heralded by the baking of kornigou. Kornigou are little cakes in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god of winter shedding his "cuckold" horns as he returns to his kingdom in the Otherworld.

Many ancient Celtic customs proved compatible with the new Christian religion. Christianity embraced the Celtic notions of family, community, the bond among all people, and respect for the dead. The Western Church gave Samhain a Christian blessing in 837 AD when November 1 was designated the Feast of All Saints or Hallow Tide. Oidhche Shamhna became Hallow E'en.

Install the Deity on the lotus of your Heart.
Ramakrishna