Yielding isn't something you do to make existence more comfortable – it isn't giving way to external forces but going with (yielding to) internal ones – the ones that boil within and threaten to surge through – the dragon you fearlessly ride with no concern for self. Others should feel that you are possessed, and your company should, in some small way, wake them up, or at least make them uneasy.


The best way to develop heart is to use it. Your solo practice, which you put yourself through as a kind of daily devotion, or torture, whichever way you look at it, helps to develop fibre and reduce the desirous ego (“Your ego is your concern – don't make it mine!” my teacher often bellows at me.) However, it is always the partner work that has most significance, and that is most revolutionary. It wakes you up, not just to the possibility of being knocked off balance, but to the miracle of something far more significant than your self or their self – what happens between you – the being you create together. If you can put this first in your life, and it is always happening, you are never alone, always interacting, especially once you begin to become aware of your (and therefore others') energy, then not only will it keep you young and fresh and on your toes, but it will take you deeper into creation, or connexion (is there a difference?), the only reality worth venturing deeper into. When your time with your teacher and the teaching produces such an energetic togetherness then thank your lucky stars because you're in the midst of a special transmission. A transmission of energy happens when the stimulation of your open and willing and ready presence thrusts the teacher into aspects of the teaching he had forgotten about or didn't even know he possessed. It is never an act of choice – it just happens if the time and company are right. It has nothing to do with giving instruction, and it is as much a gift to the teacher as it is to the student. Teaching a reasonably good student will always encourage the teacher to reach beyond himself and come to understandings he wouldn't have stumbled upon alone. But a transmission is different – it has the feeling of something new to both, and yet from further back in the distant lineage than anything before. The teacher cannot reach it alone – he just doesn't have the energy – it requires the pooled energy of the two of you. It is very important then that the transmission becomes the new foundation of the work, at least until the next one rears its head.


The Demonic Force

Work like a demon to break through the constraining skin of acceptance (squeeze through the accepted skin of constraint). This is why your energy must be constantly improving. The next stage is always the most difficult, requiring a focused and concerted campaign. It is a strange situation because part of you must step far enough outside to see the obstacle clearly - part of you grows up. This is what we mean by stepping out of self. Only when you manage this can you effectively abandon - allow your energy its own intelligence rather than impose on it that of your mind.

Words for Love

Winter crisp and the brittleness of snow
as like make me tired as not. I go my
myriad ways blundering, bombastic, dragged
by a self that can never be still, pushed
by my surging blood, my reasoning mind.

I am in love with poetry. Every way I turn
this, my weakness, smites me. A glass
of chocolate milk, head of lettuce, dark-
ness of clouds at one o'clock obsess me.
I weep for all of these or laugh.

By day I sleep, an obscurantist, lost
in dreams of lists, compiled by my self
for reassurance. Jackson Pollock Rene
Rilke Benedict Arnold I watch
my psyche, smile, dream wet dreams, and sigh.

At night, awake, high on poems, or pills
or simple awe that loveliness exists, my lists
flow differently. Of words bright red
and black, and blue. Bosky. Oubliette. Dis-
severed. And O, alas

Time disturbs me. Always minute detail
fills me up. It is 12:10 in New York. In Houston
it is 2p.m. It is time to steal books. It's
time to go mad. It is the day of the apocalypse
the year of parrot fever! What am I saying?

Only this. My poems do contain
wilde beestes. I write for my Lady
of the Lake. My god is immense, and lonely
but uncowed. I trust my sanity, and I am proud. If
I sometimes grow weary, and seem still, nevertheless

my heart still loves, will break.
Ted Berrigan



Develop energy, but free it also so that you can apply it to whatever you do: love your children, do your work, write a poem, or dig deep to the source of it all. The deeper you go the more energy you need and the better that energy must be – free of taint. There comes a point where any further is only possible if all your energy is directed in the one direction – all consuming. This doesn't necessarily mean that you only do one thing (although that would probably help), it just means that you're a good enough yielder to quickly redirect the energy of any distraction into the work. Yielding here has nothing to do with avoidance or acceptance and everything to do with transformation. For that you need heart and spirit.




“A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader . . . the poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge.” Charles Olson
This could equally describe correct Tai Chi. We relax not to drift through our Form flaccidly and absent-mindedly but to better access our energy and its sources – to better connect – and to better (more accurately) express that energy. The more relaxed you become the more intensity and energy you can give your work, and the more detail, texture and intricacy can naturally express themselves in that work (energy). Each solo practice session starts with simple warm-up exercises. These loosen the body and help the mind abandon its worries and concerns, at least for the duration of the practice. The more simple – the bigger the circles – the more effective they are. As the mind and body relax into an exercise, energy starts to flood the body, invigorating, enthusing and interesting the spirit which rises to do its job of rallying and coordinating the troops (your different facets). Once the spirit becomes involved you enter a different reality. This reality does not obey the usual laws of space and time. Things do not necessarily have their place, do not require spatial or temporal proximity to affect, and things do not necessarily follow one from another – cause and effect are fractured. When the spirit is roused then energy expresses itself very differently. It plays and glories in that play – it doesn't need a reason. Each part of the whole becomes charged and spirited, and each wants to break away and affirm its independence, and it is precisely this obstreperousness, which the heart manages to swallow and hold together, that gives your movements and presence and existence vibrancy, vitality and potency – it reaches out and infects your environment. It also brings alive all the connexions you've ever had, plus interesting genetic peculiarities trying to express themselves through your energy, and opens you to the possibility of future connexions necessary to fulfill your destiny. This is high-energy indeed, and so rich, multi-faceted and deeply textured that the mind can in no way fathom or explain; not only are there far too many variables to comprehend but the reality in which these variables come together is damaged and constricted by rational thinking. The rational mind, and its servant – language – do not fair well in the heartworld. They are not passionate enough. This is why poets must constantly search for new and peculiar ways of using words – putting them together – each time they work they must charge them anew otherwise they wont have any bearing on the reality they are attempting not only to elucidate but to more deeply enter. (You progress in the sense that the tunnel you are digging gets deeper.) Each time is the first – and the last. Or, as my teacher has put it, “revere the work by honouring each moment as the last but first.”


Philip Whalen's Hat

I woke up about 2:30 this morning and thought about Philip's
It is bright lemon yellow, with a little brim
all the way around, and a lime green hat band, printed
with tropical plants.
It sits on top
of a shaved head. It upstages every thing & every body.
He bought it at Walgreen's himself.
I mean it fortunately wasn't a gift from an admirer.
Otherwise he is dressed in soft blues. And in his hands
a long wooden string of Buddhist Rosary beads, which he keeps
moving. I ask him which mantra he is doing - but he tells me
in Zen, you don't have to bother with any of that.
You can just play with the beads.

Joanne Kyger


Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus

“I used to live in New York City and I'd ride my bike over that damned Brooklyn Bridge everyday and there was a white line on it and I used to try to get my bike to sit right on the white line – I'd be going 40 miles per hour – try to get my bike to sit right on that white line – the tyre to touch it – and I noticed if I looked down directly at where my tyre was I could never keep it on the white line but if I looked up and sort of glazed my view of things that I could keep it right on the white line. It was a peculiar awakening that sometimes if you look directly at something it's inapprehendible. Sometimes you gotta look away before you can achieve something.”
Jim White

This beautiful documentary was on TV the other night. An atmospheric journey through the deep white South (USA) with musical interludes so well integrated that they define the movie as much as the imagery and the simple spoken wisdom. Will be available on DVD (in the UK) at the end of the month.


Forever Changes, the Janus Gateway, by Jane Colling.

"In Roman mythology, Janus was the god of gates and doorways, beginnings and endings, of change and transition such as the progression from past to future, from one condition to another, one vision to another and one universe to another. He presided over all that is double-edged in life, representing the passage between barbarity and civilisation, the rural and the urban, youth and adulthood. As herald of the Golden Age, he introduced what was then termed ‘culture’: money, laws and agriculture. When the doors to his temple in Rome were open, it signified the city was at war; when they were closed, Rome was at peace. Rarely were those gates shut...Janus is usually depicted as a double-faced deity, looking simultaneously in opposite directions. Originally, one face was bearded, one clean-shaven. He also holds a key. The first month of the year was named after him: January." Cafe Gallery blurb

It is at Jane's house that we have the London Heartwork Intensives.

Perhaps showing her age with that title - I remember my hippie mother playing that record all the time when I was a kid.

The Talking Jewel

Back in 1980 I worked as a mathematical consultant at De Beers' Diamond Research Laboratories in Johannesburg. I had been led to believe that diamonds only came alive when cut, so was surprised at the beauty of the uncut diamonds I handled there. Some were as big as conkers. They really did have and emit energy – they glowed from within – they weren't just reflecting and refracting light from without. The jewel in the heart has similar qualities. It is like a fine glass phial of essence in the heart – probably more of the soul than the heart – that glows and sparkles, casting its light in a shimmering array all around, but especially up and around, which is why we need our special posture – the sacrum must be directly under the heart to achieve that upward thrust naturally. “It talks all the time, and it talks with everything,” was the way John put it. Intensely communicative. Communication is its essential quality – it is always casting out, never content to stay within. Even when practising alone this is the case. What makes solo work heavy is the tendency for your energy to stay within – working on itself – doing rather than giving. If you work this way then you'll develop power – physical and energetic – but you wont become a better person – one better able to connect and exercise compassion. When practising try to bear this in mind. Imagine (remember) what it's like to be with a good friend, inspired and bouncing ideas and images and energy off each other – light and excited. Let the jewel in your heart talk similarly with the work and with the Tao. Sometimes I'll even talk out loud, as though explaining things to an imaginary student (myself). It awakens the spirit of communication which is, after all, what the work is all about.
"When I put a green, it it not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky."

"I interpret nature and submit it to the spirit of the picture."

Henri Matisse

It was the uprush of violence as much as the earthy physicality of the finished work that shocked people. Matisse said he himself took fright, like the Douanier Rousseau, who sometimes had to open a window to let out the elemental force of his own painting. In Dance and Music, Matisse attempted simultaneously to release and contain that force. "At the precise moment when raging bands were milling about in front of his huge canvases, tearing him to pieces and cursing him," wrote Sembat, "he confessed coolly to us: 'What I want is an art of balance, of purity, an art that won't disturb or trouble people. I want anyone tired, worn down, driven to the limits of endurance, to find calm and repose in my painting'."
Hilary Spurling, from Matisse the Master, vol 2, which won the Whitbread Prize last night.


Added Precisions

Revere the work
Restore the essence
Reveal the teaching
Relate the marrow (to the bone)
Reclaim the voice

John Kells

Listziana, Much Later

I sit in your T shirt
with its spots of paint
as a certain fierceness pours
outside, perhaps, too, on you.

I'm smoking a Camel now
and have a big hole in my
shoulder from washing away
a lot of dirt. Are you there?

there, are you? I am here
and the storm is not enough,
it should crash in and wet,
there should be maelstrom where

a privileged host is smiling.
And naked in debris I there
should be, but, being here, should
bend to you, pick out of rubble

a scrap of painted shirt
as if it were soiled ivory from
a grand piano, possessed of us
both, and ruined now by storms.

Frank O'Hara

Foot to Spine

An interesting correspondence is between the foot and the spine. Heel corresponds to the base of the spine and the toes with the crown of the head. This is one reason the Tai Chi postures with only the heel of the front foot on the ground (Lifting Hands, Play Guitar) feel so different to postures with the only the toes (or ball) of the foot on the ground (White Crane, High Pat On Horse, Seven Stars). When the heel is firmly planted then the base of the spine wants to drive down into it. When the toes only are on the ground then the head naturally wants to crane forward and the energy is clearly felt in the crown. Also when lifting a foot to step the heel rises first and the toes linger on the ground a little, this brings a little liveliness and lightness up the spine to the headtop (just what's needed to manage the step nimbly). When placing the foot back on the ground the heel hits the ground first (unless stepping back), firmly planting the base of the spine and allowing a wave of relaxation to pass down the spine and the legs, and a wave of energy to pass up the spine from the tail to the crown, as the whole foot makes contact. We recommend pointing the toes at the ground immediately prior to placing the heel. If you do this then try to feel the shift from crown to coccyx. You could even try pointing toes, heel, toes and then placing the heel on each step. This brings flexibility to the spine and the mind, and improves balance.


Further Notice

I can't live in this world
And I refuse to kill myself
Or let you kill me.

The dill plant lives, the airplane
My alarm clock, this ink
I won't go away

I shall be myself -
Free, a genius, an embarrassment
Like the Indian, the buffalo

Like Yellowstone National Park.

Philip Whalen (1923-2002)

The Choiceless Choice

The trouble (or excitement) in entering the world of energy, especially heart (energy), is that the mind loses its dominion and the world begins to shift. It begins to shift into deeper ground – where the mind's convictions no longer convince – no longer provide a rigid set of landmarks by which to navigate an emotional and physical course through the day. The courage we talk about in the work is the courage to allow these shifts without immediately grasping and clinging onto the mind's paraphernalia as it disappears from view. It is my teacher's approach to concentrate on the positive rather than eschew the negative. So the mind relaxes (loses its grip) not because we have practised no-mind but because we practice all-heart. This is extremely important and is the key to success. To progress by making a series of adjustments, whether physical (postural), technical, or even energetic is torturous and long-winded in the extreme. It is not natural and will never have a feeling of ease as the natural should – it will be what my teacher calls “working against the grain.” What is required is a simple switch of allegiance, from mind to heart. This is what my teacher calls the choiceless choice. The reason your teacher adjusts your posture in class, or gives technical instruction, is not really to make your Tai Chi any better but simply in the hope that it may help you make that choice – it may thrust you into the heart from which you may not wish to return. The teacher's presence would be enough if you let it. The difficulty, as always, is what to do when you don't have it – how to proceed when you no longer have that pillar of strength in your midst. My teacher would always say work with the energy not the technique. By this he means softly, gently, without force, trying to find the heart in the adjustment he has given – searching for the internal and how that manifests in more heart and, most importantly, in better connexion when confronted by another being. How completely can you be with the other. Power and stability never come into it because a heart-to-heart connexion is out of the bounds of your control and any attempt to control it will ruin it. It should be the controller not you. It should be your teacher.


Allow the Soul

Relax the mind
Free the spirit
Engage the heart
Allow the soul

John Kells

The Artist

The artist: disciple, abundant, multiple, restless.
The true artist: capable, practising, skillful; maintains dialogue with his heart, meets things with his mind.

The true artist: draws out all from his heart, works with delight, makes things with calm, with sagacity, works like a true Toltec, composes his objects, works dexterously, invents; arranges material, adorns them, makes them adjust.

The carrion artist: works at random, sneers at the people, makes things opaque, brushes across the surface of the face of things, works without care, defrauds people, is a thief.

Denise Levertov (from the Spanish translation of Toltec Codice de la Real Academia. With the help of Elvira Abascal who understood the original Toltec.)


I stop a poem when I feel it has been well enough begun that the reader can carry it from there.
Gary Snyder
I saw myself
a ring of bone
in the clear stream
of all of it

and vowed
always to be open to it
that all of it
might flow through

and then heard
"ring of bone" where
ring is what a

bell does

Lew Welch

Perfection's Soul

I like the two comments yesterday because they both highlight different aspects of the work. The key not just to softness but to spiritual progress is perfection's soul. If the student doesn't have a deep feeling, indeed yearning for this then there is not much hope. And that yearning is felt not so much as a need or a magnanimous urge/surge but as an ache in the heart. Maybe yearning isn't the correct word either. Feeling and yearning both have a selfish content – whilst you're feeling or yearning the actual manifestation of that soul, within and without, is probably passing you by. The magnanimous – the great soul – is not something you possess or bestow – it is the wake up call that's all around all the time – humbling and overwhelming: “Awakened / by the ticking / not the alarm.” Touching perfection's soul is most difficult – your hand is always too heavy. The secret is to lay yourself alongside it and attract it with the purity of your endeavours to honour it. Then it may allow you a dance for the few moments of its presence, just long enough to renew your faith and charge your work with its energy and motivation. “Dandelion shadows / enclose the / poem.”

The ache in the heart. My teacher uses the word jewel – the jewel in the heart – because that is what he sees. It is multi-faceted, shimmering, gleaming and transforming – constantly. To hold all those facets in your heart together – the ache, the love, the sincerity, the tenderness, the fortitude, the rawness – all such poignant aspects of your humanity – and yet all facets of your constancy – all in and of the jewel. The heart is the way to the soul, and the jewel in the heart is the way to perfection's soul.


Joseph Massey's Minima St

Joseph Massey has made available his long-out-of-print first book, Minima St, as a pdf file.

The poems are supreme.

breath your silence
articulates    I

touch your thighs

& feel the weather


If the student is not gradually getting softer (progressing) then it is because they are more interested in being hard than in being soft. They have not yet been smitten by softness.


Not yet 40, my beard is already white.
Not yet awake, my eyes are puffy and red,
like a child who has cried too much.

What is more disagreeable
than last night's wine?

I'll shave.
I'll stick my head in the cold spring and
look around at the pebbles.
Maybe I can eat a can of peaches.

Then I can finish the rest of the wine,
write poems 'til I'm drunk again,
and when the afternoon breeze comes up

I'll sleep until I see the moon
and the dark trees
and the nibbling deer

and hear
the quarreling coons.

Lew Welch (1926-71)

Ruthlessness & Destiny

A function of ruthlessness is the ability to rise above your feelings. Like a drowning man coming up for air. This doesn't mean you don't feel. You do – acutely and finely, and you can act on those feelings instantly. You just don't wallow and dwell in them. You don't indulge. No sentiment.

The positivity of the warrior is his constant willingness to fight, come what may. To fight effectively he needs something to fight for – a vision – a feeling that his life means something, a feeling that as long as he remains true and pure he will be taken far beyond the bounds of both his conditioning and his imagination, a feeling for destiny. This word – destiny – many find offensive. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because it implies an arrogance – a feeling of impending greatness. Or maybe because it requires a responsibility above and beyond the socially acceptable ones of getting to work on time and rearing the next generation in your image and likeness. Whatever. What I have found though, as a teacher, is that those with a difficulty with this concept make poor students. Unless a student has a feeling for their own destiny they cannot have a feeling for anyone else's, not even their teacher's. If they have no feeling for this then they cannot align themselves alongside it – they cannot be taught, not internally anyway. A feeling for destiny has nothing to do with foresight – with seeing, into the future or elsewhere. Who knows where you're going or where you'll end up? Who cares? It is simply the deep internal conviction that your life and existence have a meaning and significance beyond the usual, and an understanding that to realise this requires you to live a life beyond the usual. Such a life requires great strength. Where does that strength come from? It comes from your teacher, from the teaching, from God, and from your comrades, but above all, and this is absolutely imperative, it comes from not having it in you to compromise, or as my teacher puts it, knowing you have no choice. If you know this then the strength always comes first from inside; then the work and the living make you stronger – better able to bear the suffering and hardship that inevitably accompany spiritual work – work in the service of Truth. Knowing you have no choice is really the same as destiny. If you think you have a choice then the chances are your grasp of destiny, as a concept and an actuality, will be slender, to say the least.

The warrior's ruthlessness, plus his feeling for destiny, make him formidable indeed. And one requires the other. Ruthlessness without destiny can become disconnectedness or even cruelty, and destiny without ruthlessness is unrealisable. The spiritual warrior is always moving on. He remains just long enough to complete a task and then is off, refusing to celebrate or carry away the spoils. In fact with each battle he sheds a piece of armour – a piece of the mundane, the physical world, and enters a little more the world of heart and soul and energy, the world in which he knows he belongs but which also terrifies him with its lack of landmarks and signposts. Permanent immersion requires complete transformation – you must almost learn to breathe a different medium to air – like returning to the sea to become a dolphin: Jean-Marc Barr at the end of Luc Besson's The Big Blue.

Forward to the sea
and the Sea comes back to you
and there's no escaping
when you're a fish
the nets of summer destiny
Jack Kerouac


Pushing Hands

On their first meeting Dr Chi asked John what aspect of Tai Chi interested him. John instantly said “Tui shou” (pushing hands) at which Dr Chi smiled and said, “Ah me too.” John assures me that if he hadn't replied so then Dr Chi would not have been interested enough to teach him. Dr Chi only once took a look at John's Form, just enough to be able to say, “Good.”

It is important that the student has the ability, through their own hardwork and research, to not only solve the vast majority of the technical and personal problems Tai Chi unearths, but also inspire the teacher with their talent, passion, purity and hearty endeavours to connect to the teaching. Otherwise the teacher will quickly lose interest and will energetically disengage from the teaching enterprise.


Spirit - East & West

These two "haiku" have always summed up for me the difference between the Eastern and Western approaches to spirit:
A day of quiet gladness
Mount Fuji is veiled
In misty rain. (Basho)
Catfish fighting for his life
and winning
Splashing us all. (Kerouac)

I don't need precepts
I need love
I need the Vision of Love
Jack Kerouac


What do you have to lose except everything

Two phrases of John's worth considering:
What do you have to lose except everything?
A tissue of lies (describing the ego).
Why can't I free your doubtful mind
And melt your cold cold heart.
Hank Williams



If joy is the emotion that accompanies and encourages the freeing and opening of the heart then what is the emotion when the heart closes and bears in to finish a task? Ruthlessness, if that is indeed an emotion. Ruth is the noun from the verb to rue – to regret, and is usually taken as pity, distress or grief. So ruthless is the lack of these – no pity, no compassion, no feeling, no sentiment, but also no regret, no blame, no clinging attachment. There is a clean clarity to ruthlessness – it just gets the job done with no fuss and no concern, allowing you to pass uncluttered to the next. My teacher is always at pains to point out that the only real enemy for the student is themselves, especially those parts getting in the way of natural functioning. To tackle and fight these requires real ruthlessness because the one thing we are all generally in love with is ourselves, especially those parts keeping us the way we are – those parts we assume define us. The great master uses the Natural Process, not his self-image, as his reference. The Natural Process cannot really be felt or observed so in a way the great master is operating constantly in the dark – blind. The only thing he has to guide him is his heart which, through years of work, he has cleared and developed. The heart knows, much more than the mind, and yet for the average person the mind is constantly overriding it. The master doesn't let this happen – he has abandoned the internal dialogue in order to dwell permanently in the world of energy. To get to this state he has had to regularly apply the knife of ruthlessness to excise those aspects of self that reveal themselves, through the work, to be impeding his spiritual progress. When the heart is worked it will move on, into new relationships and out of old ones; this is the natural way. The ruthless warrior refuses to be fettered, but he also knows that any fetters are of his own making, so he doesn't have it in him to apportion blame.

Ruthlessness is the mood that immediately precedes the battle. It is a drawing in, a marshalling and gathering of energy so that you have something to explode with when the enemy is upon you. Your ruthlessness loads the spring, your abandon releases it. Breathing, or more accurately, reverse breathing.



A fascinating comment on the Spine post below which I quote here. It's reassuring to receive confirmation.
Interesting that this should be on your blog, because I am studying to be a chiropractor. I am learning the McTimoney style of chiropractic. This weekend, we were at college and learning the advanced adjustments for the coccyx and shoulder. One of the adjusments I made was on the coccyx of a fellow student, and aferwards his energy was completely changed. It was great to see. Another adjustment that was made on my shoulders also had an effect on the vertebra of my middle thoracic spine, this had an effect on me and opened up my heart more than it ever has been. I now actively want to know about every one I see. It's great. So similar to what you are talking about.

Engage the Heart

Discussing with John yesterday the phrase “Forget self and become one with the Tao” I pointed out that many artists and creative people forget self regularly in their work (they have to for the work to come alive), and yet they are often more selfish than average. John explained that it's not really forgetting self that is important but putting the other person first – you forget self by remembering the other, not by rousing your (creative) spirit. He has been stressing this a lot lately, partly I suspect because he knows that I live alone without intimate interactions, so there is a vital part of my humanity that doesn't get exercised.

John just visited me to say that he is not prepared to use the phrase “Forget self” again because he doesn't care to mention or acknowledge a negative (even two negatives together don't quite make a positive). I suggested “Remember the heart” as an alternative which he liked, so we picked up the dictionary to investigate the word remember, which means to bring into the mind, or call to mind, which isn't quite what we wanted. We tried other words but eventually, after over an hour of rooting through the big book, he decided that “Engage the heart” was nearly perfect.

John has always stressed to me that it is vital to have a deep feeling and love for words and the language, especially their history and origins. Stilling the thinking chattering talking mind is not a matter of denying the language but of passing through it to the time words first began to condense from the energetic environment. Passing into the world of energy is like going back in time, through your ancestry, or the lineage, or your primal dragon body. When John uses words well he sinks into the energetic space he is attempting to elucidate and waits for the words to congeal and make themselves present. They come as sounds as much as meanings. “Slake at nature's breeding edge.” Why the word slake which, as Gerrilyn has pointed out, implies slacken, which isn't what he meant at all? But if you say the phrase the sound means exactly – it sounds perfect: menacing and intense.

Elephant hawk moth on my curtain.



The heart precedes you. The struggle is to make this the fundamental fact of your life. The heart should naturally lead. If it doesn't then there may be a slight structural collapse in the spine – gravity (your own weight) may be getting you down. Run your hand up your spine from the coccyx to see if there are any kinks, any vertebrae that seem to protrude slightly more than others. There's usually at least one (round about mid-back on me) and if you gently press it in and feel how you'd have to be, energetically and emotionally, to have it correctly in line, then the heart will take a lift and the cloud of self concern will clear from your eyes. The spine should be supple and fluid. It is structured in such a way that movement naturally passes up and down it in waves – like a whip or snake (the snake within). Any kink or blockage will inhibit this natural flow and energy will not be able to pass properly from the sacrum to the heart – the heart will not be receiving the correct nourishment or impetus it should from the simple fact of your posture, your vertical alignment within the field of gravity, and your movements (breathing and wandering). We encourage the energy to rise into the heart by sinking each energy centre into the one beneath it – into its source of power. The sacrum should feel that it is beneath the feet, the heart in the sacrum and the mid-brain in the heart. Without these fundamental connexions your physical movements will lack power, your heart will lack impetus and the stamina to see through its many generous impulses, and the mind will run away with itself into completely artificial (imagined) realms that have no real bearing on anything.



Always struck after teaching just how important it is to have an excess of energy. Unless you are overflowing with the stuff your interactions will lack power and your living will lack meaning. When two people get together properly and begin to communicate, energy is offered up from each and pooled into the entity which is the togetherness. If enough energy is combined then that entity comes alive and takes each of you for an amazing ride. This is the way life is meant to be – the natural way – because that ride is itself a teaching – it'll show you things you need to see and experience in order to develop. It's like an aspect of grace – creating your own luck. Normal social interactions, especially here in England, lack any power – just small talk – all designed to pass social pleasantries from one insipid vessel to another, maintaining a polite distance which actually belies a complete lack of real interest, in fact a complete lack of real anything because to engage with reality requires energy – lots of it. No intensity, no danger – no life. Without enough energy to be truly generous you are not only denuded but also denatured – you cannot function naturally. You have to try to get used to seeing yourself not as a physical lump containing mind and feelings, but as energy – lots of it – bursting to express itself through work to change your world – yourself and those you interact with. Even if you feel tired and not particularly energetic try not to let the way you feel get you (your energy) down. The heart – the part of you that offers up your energy – must be light. The worst thing of all is a heavy heart. When the heart is truly light then energy leaps up and out of the upper sternum (just below the sternal notch), passing upwards into your face, flooding your nostrils and eyes with a honeyed scent and rose coloured hue, changing the way you see the world – you start to see energy and heart by virtue of the fact that such has flooded your senses. The tragedy of most lives is that people lack energy and vitality because they are using it all to keep the world just the way they are conditioned to believe it should be. The life we live is not our own. It is inherited. The teacher reveals the stultifying and enervating effects of living this inherited life and offers a new energizing approach, and still students refuse to listen. The Tai Chi class is not the place you go to learn new postures and techniques, to then go away and practice in the same way you do everything else – badly – but a place of transformation and growth. The energy created within the class by the willing and open hearted engagement of all participants, coordinated and led by the teacher, is sacred and needs to be treated as such. To go away and use it incorrectly is a sin. It is offering you a challenge – “Use me to become me.” This is probably the most difficult riddle you will ever have to wrestle with, and no amount of thinking will solve it. You must just practice with the same open hearted willing that you offered the class. You must allow your own work to seduce you the way the class always does. And you must develop strategies to enable you to give your best energy to your Tai Chi, the most sensible one being to make sure you get enough sleep and then practice immediately upon rising in the morning. Then you will start to dwell in the positive space where energy naturally accumulates and gathers.



When I am feeling depressed and anxious sullen
all you have to do is take your clothes off
and all is wiped away revealing life's tenderness
that we are flesh and breathe and are near us
as you are really as you are I become as I
really am alive and knowing vaguely what is
and what is important to me above the intrusions
of incident and accidental relationships
which have nothing to do with my life

when I am in your presence I feel life is strong
and will defeat all its enemies and all of mine
and all of yours and yours in you and mine in me
sick logic and feeble reasoning are cured
by the perfect symmetry of your arms and legs
spread out making an eternal circle together
creating a golden pillar beside the Atlantic
the faint line of hair dividing your torso
gives my mind rest and emotions their release
into the infinite air where since once we are
together we always will be in this life come what may

Frank O'Hara

Energy of Soul

A consequence of aligning sensitivity to an active heart rather than feelings is that it precedes you, like your heart, scouting the terrain and ferreting out potential interest. It is always obvious when someone with a good heart enters your presence because that is precisely what they do – their heart warmly and carefully enters your being, well before you are physically close enough to shake hands or engage in battle. Putting the other first is our technique not just for forgetting self, but for getting our energy out there – working (for others). Our solo work – the moving meditation – settles and cleanses, eradicating needy insecurities and developing connexion with our sources of power: the earth and the heavens, ancestry and lineage, and our energy, spirit, heart and soul, so that when the time comes we can give unconditionally and be that pillar of strength and support our world requires. The student must realize that internal progress at Tai Chi is wholly dependent on selfless giving – being more concerned for the other's progress than your own – the bodhisattva vow – and this concern must be genuine – must come from the heart – otherwise it may as well not be there. The solo work and the teaching fine tune your motivation – realign your gaze to what my teacher calls perfection's soul, perfection being that idealized but very real space where everything is softly and beautifully connected and alive – the space where connected and alive mean exactly the same thing. The soul of this perfection is simply the mysterious source of such power – a spring from which we may all drink if we so wish. Continuing progress will only take place if the student's energies are increasingly focusing in on this source, and away from elsewhere. This doesn't mean that the student needs to devote more and more time to Tai Chi. In fact if they have the heart they will find the soul of perfection in whatever they do and may never have to aimlessly wave their arms around again. However, years of instruction and hard work are required before the student can honestly and selflessly (are these two words equivalent?) connect to this source because the social ethos of survival equals self-gain completely works against it. It is very difficult to truly appreciate and understand that perfection's soul – the source of everything including your own immortality – is your life's work and meaning. The quality of the work you do is dependent on the quality of the energy you put into it. Try energy of soul.


Draw me home to yielding ways.
John Kells
The student needs two qualities really. Heart and guts. The heart to see what needs to be done and the guts to endure and digest the work.

Heartful effort's endless enterprise.
John Kells

For You

New York’s lovely weather hurts my forehead
here where clean snow is sitting, wetly
round my ears, as hand-in-glove and
head-to-head with Joe, I go reeling
up First Avenue to Klein’s. Christmas
is sexy there. We feel soft sweaters
and plump rumpled skirts we’d like to try.
It was gloomy being broke today, and baffled
in love: Love, why do you always take my heart away?
But then the soft snow came sweetly falling down
and head in the clouds, feet soaked in mush
I rushed hatless into the white and shining air,
thankful to find release in heaven’s care.

Ted Berrigan



The job at hand is to make the heart supremely active rather than receptive. If it is just receptive then feelings will crash in and constantly knock the sensitive student off balance. I've known such students crippled by their sensitivity. In our work sensitivity is considered a useful tool – an aspect of talent – but not a vital prerequisite because it can be developed. The good student is the one who feels the truth of what the teacher says so deeply that they practice all the time. This feeling has nothing to do with sensitivity – it is instead a matter of heart and destiny.

In my experience, sensitive people are often highly tuned to their own feelings but oblivious to those of others. It often belies a selfishness – an insensitivity to others. My teacher has had numerous students with sensitive powers – clairvoyants etc and he said that generally their powers were real and often considerable, but the mistake they made was in thinking that what they felt was all that was there. They weren't stimulated and amazed by the magic and mystery of what lay before them but by their own feelings. Sensitivity often becomes yet another self-obsession. To try and make sense of what you feel is the wrong approach because it doesn't really matter – who cares? When in front of another person what is more important to you – what you feel of them, or them – the actual person. There is a big difference. It's the use you put yourself to that matters and for that you need heart.

To feel the suffering of others is considered a high human quality (in fact all animals do it – they just don't make a song and dance about it). My teacher told me once of a Tibetan teacher of his who had been meditating regularly with a great master in Tibet before the Chinese invasion. On one occasion a dog outside let out a terrific yelp because a child had thrown a rock at it. The master moved slightly and the dog stopped crying. A large bruise then gradually began to appear on the master's body. His compassion had simply taken the injury from the dog and he had borne it himself. Not only could he feel suffering, he also had the personal power to do something about it – his heart was able to leap out and swallow, and it was so well trained that it did so automatically.

The model we always come back to in our work is that of yielding. How do you survive the onslaught of energy impinging and impressing on you all the time? This energy could be the intense suffering of a poor animal in your presence or it could be a deadly attack from your arch enemy, for us there is no difference – it is all energy, and life is too short to train adequately for any more than one eventuality. We have to have a single response that works for everything. That response is to leap out with the heart, join (connect) and transform. The heart is beautifully appropriate and has its own rules and morality which have nothing to do with those of society or the mind. If you manage to let go sufficiently for the heart to be free in its actions then the transformation it undergoes and initiates will be enough to both manage the situation and in some sense to initiate the next. At no point do we have time or inclination to observe and judge what is happening. We are too embroiled, too involved, too interested, too active to register whether that energy is from a dying child or from an aggressive drunken lout. In fact we only really begin to have problems with sensitivity when the mind starts to register what it is that we actually feel. This use of the mind should only kick in after the event is well over, when it may be useful in distilling a principle or insight from the occasion that can be incorporated into the work. This is itself a process of transformation – having the heart and intelligence to use your experiences and in that use to change them into an aspect of the work. A bit like sitting down to write a poem about an intense experience you've had and in the process generating an even more intense experience – the poem.



When talking to myself,
I take a tone I’ve learned

from you – not of boyish charm,
but probing and severe –

to say, some things are clear
and some withdrawn from sight.

A cyclist is only such
while seated on a bike,

a sleeper while asleep.
These forms are only forms

fulfilled, as you are now
no more than this – a tone.

Devin Johnston


Emotions and moods can be utilized in the work to train the heart to connect and focus. For example the emotion that accompanies the freeing and opening out of your energy by heart (your own or others) is joy. So, to free your energy simply induce a feeling of joy – be joyful. It's the difference between being a victim of your moods & feelings or the master of them. Think of it as putting on a new costume (the word induce is related to the Latin induere which means to put on clothes). Of course to change the way you feel (are) just like that isn't so easy, especially if for whatever reason you're riddled with worry or anger or doubt (fear). What it requires firstly is the realization that most of what you appear to be is not the real you at all. The real you is the essential sparkle deep down (in the heart) that appears in glints and glimmers regularly but fitfully. When you're working well and correctly this sparkle ignites and informs your energy which flows unimpeded through and into whatever you are doing. Everything else (thoughts, ideas, opinions, habits, assumptions, etc.), which we lump together in the term self, tend to constrain or redirect this process. The self always thinks it knows best. The hegemony of self. It's like a strict parent directing a child – over-riding the child's heart with alien and unnatural impositions. Eventually, the child's heart becomes so plastered over that she loses touch with it and becomes instead her conditioning, or her resentful reaction to it. The job of the teacher is to break through this shell and reconnect the student to their heart. It is the most difficult job on earth, for both the teacher and the student. The problem is that the cultural environment we have created for ourselves is generally of the self and conspires in every way possible (especially through distraction and over-stimulation of the mind and senses) to prevent our heart succeeding in its revolutionary overthrow of its overbearing oppressor, even to the point of convincing the heart that it should naturally take second place to the ego. The outcome of this is that a stupendous effort is required to even begin to burst through. Courage. Cor (heart) and rage. The word gives a clear indication of the intensity and fury with which the student must redirect their energies, and where that energy must come from, if they wish to realize their humanity.

Emotional strength is the attaining of some degree of mastery over them. Not letting them run away with themselves or with you (indulgence), understanding how they layer, transform and oscillate (yin/yang – realizing that they are all in essence the same – just intensity of feeling – and so readily transformable), and putting them to use for you in the work. They are essential because without them you are not operating from heart. The heart feels – deeply. It laughs, it weeps. It can be gentle or fierce. It can love and it can hate. But above all it is vulnerable. It is very easy to knock and hurt an open heart. In a way you could say that this is the problem with the human race – that so much seeming success is attendant upon a closed, hard and even empty heart. The only healthy way around this is to train as a warrior – to always head into the fray with no possibility of retreat. When forwards is natural to you then your heart is safe and you will eventually accumulate enough energy and power to slip through heart to deeper realms. The training begins with encouraging heart, which is naturally unselfish and connective, to leap into the activity. To do things with heart. Forgetting self. For this joy is essential.


Remember the tortures of learning Tai Chi? I also recall my teacher telling me that the real torture starts after you've learnt it. How to make it meaningful? Work with others as often as possible and let the partner work and the solo work bounce off each other.


Slake at nature's breeding edge.
John Kells



Every particle of you should ache to touch and be touched.
John Kells

There's real teaching in that sentence. A liquid touch. Imagine every cell in you is reaching out to touch whatever it is you're connecting to. Touch is the key to becoming softer. Without it you'll have sensitivity but not the experience that is and becomes softness.