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.
A child of captivity is too weak for freedom.
He who's conceived in a cage will weep for a 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
rhythm of cricketsJoseph Massey
only a few beats faster
than your heart
I feel the two missing beats at the beginning of the third line - the communal heart.
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
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.
“Whatever your age, whatever you wish to
achieve, if you are courageous, persistent and
hard-working, you are sure to succeed.”
When man is resting
I work on my palace
No one will ever know
How hard it was."
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.
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.
east’s sword dance
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
“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.”
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
without light, able
to clasp the mists of loss.
Rachel Blau DuPlessis, from Drafts XXX: Fosse
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
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.
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.
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.
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.?
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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).
each day the shite
to be cleared
fresh straw to be laid
This is a response to Ray's comment below.
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?
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.