28.2.06

We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.
Albert Einstein

Tullius Maximus.
This seal point Birman is Gerrilyn's cat. John reminded me that Wal (Ian Waller) used to breed Birmans.

Be different

My teacher used to say this to me all the time.
In fact this is the constant message from your teacher.
The good student accepts the challenge willingly and whole-heartedly and is instantly different, delighted and daunted by the immediate improvement. Delighted because he feels the truth of this new way and daunted because he knows life is going to be tougher, at least until he becomes accustomed to the changes.
The mediocre student changes to some degree when the teacher challenges them, but then reverts when the inspiration wears off. This is because they don't practice either correctly or enough to generate their own inspiration, and because they don't believe in either the teaching or, on a deep level, themselves.
The poor student isn't prepared to be different at all. You'd think that they would very quickly stop coming along, but they are often clever and know a good thing when they see it and are able to deceive sufficiently to be allowed to ride the energy of the class without actually giving anything real in return, especially not any commitment to change, which is the only real thing you give the teaching, or indeed anything.

This last point is the key to yielding. Real yielding has nothing to do with maintaining balance and equilibrium under pressure. It is all about having the spirit and heart to change when you are required to, which is all the time (each moment). If you are in a situation in which you can successfully maintain balance and equilibrium then it is trivial, unworthy of you and a waste of time. Or, and this is far more likely, you are drastically missing the point. I remember dear old Lester from the Wimpole Street days, well into his 70's having been a commando during the war (he'd actually killed) and a weight-trainer all his life. Someone offered to buy me a set of weights so I asked him what to buy. A barbell, two dumbells and 100lbs of iron was the reply. Will that be enough I asked – I was already squatting over 50kg. More than enough he told me – there are always ways of making it more difficult. Honesty is just so important.

A mediocre student is in a transition stage. They are half way between good and poor and always moving towards one or the other. With a truly mediocre student the teacher is always hopeful that they may chose to move towards goodness and begin to really take on board the teaching. Until they become a good student they haven't actually begun – the transition from mediocre to good is what my teacher calls preparation for the teaching. What is surprising is how many mediocre students chose to drift towards poor. An advanced Tai Chi class will often contain one or two good students and ten or more poor ones, all of whom started as mediocre.

An advanced mediocre student is one who is still able to convince themselves that the teaching is what they would like it to be rather than what it is. If a student is good, mediocre or poor in the Tai Chi class where standards are high and interactions are (hopefully) real then they are the same in any situation. If a poor student finds something they are good at then the chances are they are either kidding themselves (are not receiving accurate feedback) or have found a world with low standards – one that allows (or even encourages) avoidance. In my experience academia is the best example of such a world. I positively shone there so you can imagine the shock I felt on finding my teacher and Tai Chi and quickly realizing what an inept turd I really was (am).

27.2.06

A good person is a blessing. JK

Work

Develop a healthy relationship with the principles – a working one.
Your endeavours should stretch, bend, ply and sometimes distort them – the same way they do you.
Wrestle with them rather than blindly or meekly obey them.
Let the work regularly take you into areas where your principles begin to break down and threaten to mutate.
Only then will you condition, extend and enrich both yourself and your relationship with the work.

26.2.06

The Connective Space

The point I was labouring yesterday was that your solo practice, as well as training the body, mind and energy (spirit) – work that may increase your effectiveness once you have made connexions with other beings – should also facilitate the making of those connexions. My teacher used to have a saying, “If you practice when tired then you practice dullness,” which doesn't mean that you shouldn't practice when tired, but that no matter how you feel you should allow the practice to open out into what we call “the connective space.” This doesn't require any more energy than usual, in fact it requires less because it is always naturally wanting to happen, and what generally prevents it is resistance – we prefer to enter some other space – one more of our own making. The relaxation of Tai Chi is simply cutting out this resistance and allowing yourself to be drawn into this connective space. It is a space full of lightness and gentle humour, and it is above all inspiring – it literally breathes spirit into you. When you are tired you need to rest so you may subconsciously be reluctant to enter this space, knowing that if you do you'll soon get a second wind, become enthused and probably overstretch yourself. However, if you use a little common sense then it should be possible to practice gently and willingly, enter the connective space and have the wisdom not to abuse the energy that space lends you. The wonderful thing about solo work is that no one is watching you – it is your time and you can fill it with whatever – so for the sake of touching connectedness – what my teacher calls the humour of the natural process – you can play with the work. Sometimes when we meet up for a session of partner work and it is clear that both of us are tired and a little unwilling then my teacher will say, “Let's have some fun” and we will approach the session lightly, often starting with something new or outrageous. This will often be enough to make the session a success.

It is the entering of the connective space that makes Tai Chi special. It is what happens when you work together and it should be what happens when you work alone. It is quite easy to achieve, once you know how crucial it is. Are your labours making you better able to make a generous (heartful and soulful) connexion with another human being were they to suddenly enter your space? That is the test. When I started working privately with my teacher I was always shocked that no matter how involved or intense the work became he was always totally willing to answer the telephone if it rang, which it often did. I would always get irritated and annoyed that our flow had been interrupted, but for him it was another thread of connectedness – of potential – entering his space which he willingly took up, and in fact the work we were doing made him more willing rather than less.

25.2.06


John Cage

Practice

The problem with any communicative art is how to practice alone in such a way that it improves your ability to communicate. The tendency is for practice, especially repetitive practice, to create a slick, efficient product which belies a lack of depth. Classical musicians are renowned for this; in fact any art which requires an unreasonable amount of technical skill will tend to place style above content, and that style will become a barrier preventing real communication. If you find yourself marveling at the artists skill, or settling back to be entertained, or even enjoying the situation then communication is probably limited. Real communication is always difficult, uncomfortable and frightening – it grabs you by the throat – never a pleasant experience – and wrenches you into a connected space where the usual landmarks disappear – it places you on the verge where you are most alive – the one between life and death.

The usual process for an artist (including martial artist), of course, is to practice techniques until they become ingrained and second-nature, so that in performance they can give all their attention to the real task at hand – opening up and touching others with their heart and soul. The problem with this approach is that the only time you're getting any real practice is when you perform. When I was a musician we had a phrase - “gig-fit” which basically meant you were performing often enough to be up and capable for the job. Usually if you were performing at least twice weekly then you could guarantee to put on a good performance; anything less than that and the situation would either threaten to overwhelm or your efforts would not hit the mark – they would only strike a glancing blow.

Our heartwork developed in response to this problem. How to practice the real thing, or how to get heart into everything you do. Firstly we upped the amount of daily partner work and increased its intensity so that it involved real fighting spirit. During these sessions so much energy was generated that unexpected things happened – postures changed, textures deepened and detail found its way naturally into simple exchanges that improved their ability to catch and affect both parties. Each session was a journey into uncharted territory. Our solo practice was a struggle to come to terms with what had happened during the partner work, and to retrieve the form of the exchanges – we basically practised exactly what we had done together (memory permitting). The problem was that it is impossible to recreate the intensity and energy of an exchange when you're on your own, and if you try you get very tired very quickly, so what you end up practising is just a shadow of what transpired during the previous meeting. Our next session of partner work would then consist of a frustrating hour or two of trying to get what we had practised alone to work together. Out of this frustration would come a spark of inspiration which would yet again transform the work and thrust us into a space where it all came alive and the togetherness meant something real. This is how we would move forwards – stutteringly. I always had the nagging feeling that our methodology was not quite correct, partly because experience showed me that if I didn't bother practising and instead slept or went into town then the following session of partner work would always be better. There was something about focusing too intently on what was happening or what had happened that blinkered the vision and stunted enthusiasm. The solo work needed as a major component practice that opened out and embraced as well as intricate and complex detailed work – it needed to move in both directions – inward and outward. We have now developed this component. It is what the slow Tai Chi Forms attempt to be – ways of getting in touch with what underlies things – the common ground. However, without the detail and the intensity the slow stuff glides and slips – it fails to catch. It is important that your Form has, at all points, what JK calls “hooks of affection.”

Sorry this finishes abruptly – I'm off to Liverpool now – I'll finish off later.

23.2.06

Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.
Robert Frost
Loss we
need to

cleave to
that which

we are
are still

to be
John Phillips

Peace

“The most valuable thing in the world is peace of mind.” JK

Only when you achieve peace of mind do you begin to touch energy and your potential. By energy here I mean the beginnings of things – the gentle compassionate space where “begin” “touch” “energy” and “potential” all mean pretty much the same thing. It is the space the heart wells into. It should be at least as big as the world you inhabit. In fact, internally it is that world. The struggle is to extend it. To begin this struggle you must first have acquired or located a seed or core of peace within from which to operate. This is the first stage. Before you can love others you must learn to love yourself – you must locate the real within in order to connect with the real in the other. This is love, in a sense, when your reality touches and stimulates another, extending and enriching it, and vice versa. Love brings peace – it wakens you to the internal.

Sacrifice means doing away with whatever interrupts or limits peace of mind (requires a high degree of honesty).
Suffering means bearing the consequences of the resulting connectedness (living the implications of that connectedness).

22.2.06

heart

                 who
loved you
clean
& selflessly true
just as I would

Peace

Revealed religion makes comfort, it doesn't make peace. JK

Peace comes from bravely facing what's there - doing what's right.
It requires sacrifice and suffering.
Sacrifice means giving up things you hold dear.
Suffering means bearing pain and distress.
These are not negative - they are the price of connexion - they are the confirmation.
Peace isn't something that comes after the sacrifice and the suffering, it's what you feel when you stop resisting.

Comfort is another word for avoidance.

21.2.06

Sacred Tree

Today the word "weird" means strange, unexplainable, odd. Something that is weird is beyond the scope of normal understanding. But in the ancient cultures of Europe, the word had a very different status. The original, archaic form meant in Anglo-Saxon "destiny", but also "power", or "magic" or "prophetic knowledge". "Wyrd" was still the "unexplainable", but the Unexplainable was the Sacred, the very grounding of existence, the force which underlay all of life. And one way in which it manifested was in trees, which were regarded as sacred by the peoples of ancient Europe.
Brian Bates


In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil ("The Terrible One's Horse"), also called the World Tree, is the giant ash tree that links and shelters all the worlds. Beneath the three roots the realms of Asgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim are located. Three wells lie at its base: the Well of Wisdom (MĂ­misbrunnr), guarded by Mimir; the Well of Fate (Urdarbrunnr), guarded by the Norns; and the Hvergelmir (Roaring Kettle), the source of many rivers. Four deer run across the branches of the tree and eat the buds; they represent the four winds. There are other inhabitants of the tree, such as the squirrel Ratatosk ("swift teeth"), a notorious gossip, and Vidofnir ("tree snake"), the golden cock that perches on the topmost bough. The roots are gnawed upon by Nidhogg and other serpents. On the day of Ragnarok, the fire giant Surt will set the tree on fire.
Micha F. Lindemans

20.2.06

heart

      Each
one
has
history
repeating
The value of a great teacher is not in spurring work that looks like the teacher's but in fuelling a sense of purpose.
From starting at zero - catalogue to the Black Mountain College exhibition at the Arnolfini, Bristol

19.2.06

heart

    I shall not limit
myself
I shall not hesitate
From
the inside out:

No return

The most important qualities to possess (or be possessed by) are firstly the nagging feeling that the next stage/level is always pending (the inability to ignore what's staring you in the face), and secondly the courage to enter its world (which is unimaginably different to anything you have ever experienced) with no possibility of going back. The first of these is the rarest, and the most important. The second can be developed but I'm not sure the first can – you either have a feeling for the beyond or you don't. Both are aspects of heart. The first is the quality you have in common with your teacher – it is what brought you together and it is what makes your togetherness so rich and productive – a questing. The second is the quality your teacher hopes to help you develop and it isn't the usual courage. It is all about shedding some aspect of self in order to make yourself worthy of the next level, not leaping into the fray fully armed and ready for battle. To achieve this you need relaxation (to relax the grip you have on your present reality), the energy and passion to shake yourself loose of that reality (this is like an irritable fierceness), and then the humility and sense of wonder to enter the new world naked and pure, at least initially. My teacher has always said that the next level is the most difficult to achieve – closer to the bone – and that as you progress more attention, energy and heart needs to be put into your endeavours in order to achieve that elusive level. If you have the heart to devote your life to the work then, as you age, these levels approach with increasing regularity and with more and more subtly and immediacy until each successive moment of your living is an unfolding of a new world. This is the way reality actually is and it is force of habit that denies us it. When you meet someone who is so connected they have a deep relaxation – the feeling that nothing phases them – but also a childlike excitement at pretty much everything. A seeming paradox – they have managed to settle into a process that denies settlement – the natural process of constant becoming.

18.2.06

Skyhorse flies, gallops

 What's nice about the mythic is

the only direction is the improbable

and inside

fleet-footed

mane tossing



we get quite certain
Alice Jones

Extreme Directions really is a beautiful book. I'd recommended to anyone serious with their Tai Chi, or the internal.

Hydration

Never let anything get on top of you.
Especially not the work.
Force it back with the ferocity of your smile.
Swell with fight.
Turgescence: stay hydrated.
Nothing meek or half-hearted about entering.
The work opens up more of you so you can advance better armed.
Live more fully and die more gloriously.

Structure

  metabolicS
in The
eveRybody is
coUld ever be
beCause
The world
sUccess the
tRy
so nEar
more flouriShing
newly-painTed
joy eaRth has no escape from
leisUre if they
spaCes of
of humaniTy can be
jUdgement
infoRmation
syllablE

metabolicS
newly-painTed
joy eaRth has no escape from
leisUre if they
beCause
The world
jUdgement
infoRmation
syllablE
John Cage 1990

Something in Cage really understood the importance of the spine. I'm not sure he ever properly worked with that understanding though, other than producing beautiful poems with strong spines. It's the trouble with most creative people – they generally fail to see the implications of their genius – they don't realise that the devices that make their work strong and rich could make their life equally so if applied at the level of living; they refuse to develop power.

17.2.06

Stop Thinking

Thanks to Tim for sending me this link to an interesting article in today's Guardian:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/story/0,,1711859,00.html
I line my eyes with blue
initiation. A bird-thought sits inside my throat.
Rachel Blau DuPlessis
The course of every intellectual, if he pursues his journey long and unflinchingly enough, ends in the obvious, from which the non-intellectuals have never stirred.
Aldous Huxley

True Friendship is like Water not like Honey

I remember the first beginners class I ever taught for JK, back in the old Wimpole Street premises, must have been 1987 or 88. I was a little nervous (not too nervous because I was already teaching at various night schools around London). After the first class of the first term, whilst the students were drinking tea and chatting enthusiastically John came in to ask me how it had gone. Very well I told him – everyone seemed to enjoy it, and one elderly gentleman in particular had told me that the class had been one of the most wonderful and revelatory experiences of his life. John looked around at the guy and then back to me and said, “We'll never see him again.” Sure enough, we never did.

John always used to say that if Tai Chi is for you then it should feel like a coming home – like you've done it before, a long long time ago, and you've been aching for it in the interim, and now you've rediscovered it you just have a simple feeling of recognition and relief. This is how it was for me, and I remember a student in one of the classes I taught at the Round Chapel in Hackney, his name was John, saying to me that when he watched me do Tai Chi he had the feeling I'd been doing it since before I was born. When someone says something like that to you, with no pretence (he was a young long distance truck driver), you know they are connected. He was also a martial artist and I must say that I've generally been very impressed by the martial artists I've taught. They have sobriety and composure, often know how to let their energy out, and know from experience that a highly respectful attitude towards the teacher and the teaching is the most efficient one for learning – they give more than average.

16.2.06

heart

       without a word
interior
half-
whispers
about goodwill
It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.
Albert Einstein

15.2.06

Words are the last barrier between me and a stranger. JK
Ours not to reason why
Ours but to do and die.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Learning

We relax to settle into who we are – really who we are beneath the millennia of conditioning. It is quite a task – to undo all that and retrieve our essential nature in one lifetime. The trouble is we generally have no idea what we really are and we are usually the least qualified to say, although we may have inklings every so often. The teacher is the person in your life most qualified to give you such guidance. Their clarity and the fact that they have retrieved much of their essential nature means they can see, with relative ease, where you are coming from and where you are going. But more importantly they can see other possibilities – a wholly different world beneath your conditioned responses. And it does appear as a different world – quite apart from the one you are living. It is not just a different track or path, it is a wholly different everything – the philosophical foundations to the life the teacher sees for you – the reasons for living – are very different to your own, no matter how much sympathy and empathy you feel when in the teacher’s company. There is nothing quite so depressing for a teacher as telling a student something important which they clearly have no real idea about and then for them to say that they understand completely, or even worse, that they know it already. If your teacher gives you instruction then you don’t know, otherwise why would they bother telling you. If you really understand something then it will have found its way into every cell of your being – it is not just an idea in your head. It is always striking when you come across students of Tai Chi who have never done pushing hands. They may look expert but when you come to stand in front of them and put your hands on them they will be as inept as a beginner – often worse because they wont have the beginner’s humility or openness. The second most depressing thing for a teacher is telling a student something and being met by a total lack of understanding. If the teacher teaches something it is because the student is ready for that instruction, so being met by incredulity or stupidity just means quite an aggressive resistance is going on.

When you are with your teacher you have to assume that they are all knowing, not because they are but because it is the most efficient way of learning. Most of what you pick up from the teacher comes through osmosis rather than through cogitative reasoning. Osmosis happens on an energy level and a cellular or molecular level, so it can only happen if you open up and connect on those levels. When you are with your teacher you shouldn’t just be undergoing a struggle to comprehend, but a struggle to join and approve. Learning is as compassionate an act as teaching. The most important point I can make here, and it is crucial (I’ve met less than a handful of people in my life who understand it), is that joining and approving is not something you can turn on when you feel like it – you have to do it all the time – you must live like that – it must be the reason you live. Enter, join and become, or open, embrace and transform – the actions of the heart. We work to place these at our foundation. If they don’t seem to work, or you find you’re easily taken advantage of as a result then it’s because you haven’t taken them deep enough. The journey is the process of taking them deeper, and the deeper they go the less you seem to know, and the more fragile, vulnerable and incapable you feel. But this is just a reflection of your absolute courage – your refusal to close off at any point – your refusal to compromise.

14.2.06

Truth

A couple of things JK said to me, years ago:
You either feel the truth or you don't. If you don't then I'll show you the door because you're no use to me.
I've never really been able to teach anybody – is all I can do is reveal to them what they already know.

13.2.06

heart

       nothing
less
than
life or
death

Education

Our central and consistent effort now is to teach method, not content; to emphasize process, not results; to invite the student to the realization that the way of handling facts and himself amid the facts is more important than the facts themselves.
John Rice, founder of Black Mountain College

12.2.06

Intelligence

Intelligence is seeing all the avenues. It is the same as sensitivity, but a voracious, interested sensitivity rather than one that settles back and feels – that's not really sensitivity – it's cowardice. JK

11.2.06

On death
the heart stops—

for a moment

Wallowing

It is the persistent use of the calculating mind that makes you grow old and hard, or at least prevents you getting softer. Olson called it the Universe of Discourse – the abstract, artificial, and degrading world that civilized and educated man has created for himself to wallow in, like the swine in their mud grunting outside (they are calling me for apples). It started to develop with a vengeance with the advent of reading and writing, when communication started to mean something other than heart to heart, and those that couldn't read or write – those that could only rely on heart to heart – were considered primitive or uneducated. The trouble with books is that they get read – they encourage reading rather than listening – the words and ideas become important rather than the energy behind them. And they lie.

Practising Pushing Hands you develop the ability to feel and understand a person, regardless of the bullshit coming from their mouth. You feel their significance, where they are coming from and where they are going, but above all you feel their destiny – what their life should be if they had the sense, guts and grace to live it right. A correct life is one that moves gradually, and maybe even imperceptibly, into connectedness. A correct life is a natural process.

I remember Jeremy once telling me about the Tai Chi he studied before he found JK. They would similarly have day long Intensives (or maybe it was two days), but there was a rule – silence, absolute silence, apart from the last half hour of the session when students were allowed to talk to each other. He said it was fascinating because during the silence everyone was equal – of the group – and he just wasn't aware of who was good at their Tai Chi and who wasn't – such considerations were neither important nor relevant. However, as soon as the talking started hierarchies began to establish themselves (“How long have you been doing Tai Chi?” – the usual shit) and people began to disconnect as they slotted each other in their place. He said it became so obvious that we use language to create an ordered world we are comfortable with – an arms-length world.

10.2.06

The first blood you taste is always your own, but that should give you the impetus and appetite to wade through the enemy's. JK

9.2.06

Excerpt from Memorial Day

The heart stops briefly when someone dies, one

massive slow stroke as someone passes

from your outside life to your inside,

& then

everything continues
Ted Berrigan

The Process of Entering

By leap of faith I don't mean a leap into a belief system but a leap out of a belief system – a leap out of the box containing you into the bigger box containing that box. This is really what progress is, and to achieve it you need faith in the teaching and belief in your teacher and yourself. Most peoples approach to progress is to just become bigger and stronger but to remain within the same confined system they inherited from their parents and the culture that educated them – in Tai Chi terms this would be called "comparative mastery." Every now and then in your life someone or something will come along and will point out to you, either didactically or by example, that there is in fact a bigger richer world out there than the confined one you have become either comfortable or dissatisfied with. So, as I have described before, my father was responsible for opening up my narrow Mancunian outlook by bringing home books on Paul Klee and Stockhausen. And later, Emily Dickinson's complete poems, which just blew my mind – I still find her the most revolutionary of poets, not because she invented new forms or extended the language (how trivial can you get), but because she led such a life of concentration – she was basically a nun devoted to the internal – so internal she never left the house. What was totally interesting about her was that she wasn't just extending and stretching the world I already inhabited, as the others I've mentioned were, she was showing me that a completely different world existed – what we now call the world of the heart. Studying with John Kells – the only other person I've encountered who lives exclusively in this world (it is no accident that ED is the only poet he has any time for) – has gradually made me understand more of this world, and has convinced me that it is the real one and the only one worth being part of. What is very difficult to come to terms with is that on entering a new world everything within oneself has to change – the tricks and techniques you've learnt since birth to deal with the ordinary world just don't hack it in the new one – if they do then it isn't a new one it's just a bigger version of the old one. Now the real bummer is that what is important is not being in a new world but the process of entering itself. Otherwise life would actually be quite a breeze – find a unique niche for yourself – map it out (become an expert) – and rest on your laurels. The internal cannot be mapped because, as it says at the beginning of the Tao Te Ching, "The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao" – as soon as you can say anything about the internal you've externalized it and it is no longer internal. The internal is something you need to be constantly entering. Like JK says, "Each day I start life again." The internal cuts through and confounds any concepts – no matter how generalized and inclusive you make your model the internal will not fit it. Even calling it a world is incorrect. If anything it is that process of entering anew. To enter anew you need energy – the ability to be supremely awake and active – and you need heart – the ability to open and embrace unconditionally – and you need relaxation, or what we are now beginning to call soul – a groundswell of connectedness and commonality that pervades your being – and you probably also need grace – the ability to put your self in the hands of something higher than you'll ever be.

The problem with language and with writing is that it is always open to interpretation – there is always going to be a massive rift between what is meant and what is understood. This is mainly because the interpreter is approaching the text with a rigid interpretive apparatus – they are not actually open. Their mind may be open in that it is willing to receive new information, but the heart is not – is not willing to be thrust into a new world. When I read John's writings there is no part of me that says, "Oh yes! I absolutely agree!" or "No way! That can't be so!" – it's not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing – it's far deeper and more immediate than that. I usually feel myself in the grip of some really uncomfortable truth I'd much rather not have to face. If I think anything it's usually, "Oh shit! Back to square one." It's a bit like having to swallow medicine. The truth is not nice. It's awful. And it's dangerous. This is why I take exception with the whole New Age, alternative health movement – the world they describe and inhabit has no power or passion – it's just a weak middle-class reaction to the excesses of Darwinian capitalism – avoidance, not yielding.

8.2.06

The world begins when eyes lift from the chaste experience. JK

Sacrifice

You cannot have an external approach to the Internal – this was the gist of John's conversation yesterday. There are many Buddhist and Taoist stories about the abbot teaching in the monastery – giving words of wisdom accompanied by a mantra or meditation which the monks take on board and practice in the same lack-lustre way they do everything (under sufferance) whereas the humble uneducated gardener or cook, who just happens to overhear the instruction, is overwhelmed by its beauty and truth, and spends the next 10 years practising assiduously, reaching must greater spiritual heights than any of the monks. The gardener has practised from the heart and has allowed himself to become consumed by what he practises.

Students who fail do so either because they refuse to work internally – from with and to the heart – or because they cannot face the consequences of internal work. When you work with heart the heart gets stronger and its message becomes clearer – it actually starts to speak to you. In particular it'll point out aspects of your life that it doesn't like – relationships that are bad for you, time that is wasted and could be better spent on the work, activities that needlessly drain your energy, food (especially meat & dairy), drink (especially alcohol & caffeine) and other stuffs that damage your long-term health. If you refuse to act on these messages then eventually something will break, usually either your health, your commitment to the work, or your teacher's patience. Students who refuse the messages of the heart are generally too set in their ways – too comfortable – to either sacrifice or leap into the great unknown. They believe they can have – in fact they believe they deserve – the best of all worlds. This approach has no honour, dignity or nobility – it is totally selfish. Internal work gradually lifts a veil, not so much from the eyes but from the heart, and it always requires sacrifice. There is nothing reluctant about such sacrifice – it is done willingly and with immense relief. If there is reluctance it implies that you have either reached your present predicament through rational extrapolation rather than real internal work, or you have only been working partly internally – usually as a consequence of your teacher's strong character. This just means that the sacrifice you make is going to be messy – full of pain, tears and doubts, with clinging regrets long after. So be it. Far better to sacrifice and regret for a while than carry on regardless – something you can only do if you smother the internal completely. Now is the time. It is hopeless to procrastinate because by tomorrow the internal impetus that thrust you to this brink may well have dissipated, meaning that future action will lack the internal power of present action – it'll be coming from the wrong place.

7.2.06

Leap of Faith

A truly intelligent person is acutely aware of the limitations of that intelligence. They know, on some level, that intelligence is a filter through which one observes the world. In a way it just arranges and rearranges the objects of the world it sees, with the help of a handful of moral axioms; it doesn't extend that world, except through extrapolation or conjecture, which it is all too willing to do. To extend your world, and enter the next stage, a leap of faith is required. This is only possible if you are prepared to make sacrifices – to abandon those parts of your life that no longer make sense or no longer bring the rewards they once did, because to make that leap of faith requires energy and courage and it needs to be made with the totality of your being – nothing half-hearted about it. Problems with progress are always the product of a double-weighted mind and heart. If you are double-weighted – in two minds – then you are not giving yourself a fighting chance. The next stage can only be tackled with more focus and commitment than the last one.

The world of the heart is largely invisible. Internal. So the only way to gain entry is through faith. Your teacher can give you technical instruction, but unless your heart already knows you're bound to get it all wrong. Finding out what your heart knows is why we work – quietening down sufficiently to let it really speak – not jumping to conclusions – realising that heart world is never set or defined – it has an infinity of form and texture because it is constantly being stimulated from within and from without – it is never a closed system. Hearts open and embrace – this is their function – they make connexions all of the time. Faith and belief are just opening to the possibilities within the heart world. You must believe in God before he can reveal himself to you. The same is true of your teacher and of the teaching. When you are in their presence you must absolutely have 100% faith – no doubts – no quibbles – everything you are being presented with is perfect. Faith is the price of admission, and it is the one thing the calculating, conditional mind is suspicious of – it just cannot make any leap of faith – it requires proof before it can proceed. My teacher has often said of students locked in their rationality, “Clear head, confused heart.” Far better to be the other way round. A clever rational person often learns from experience that if they take a chance and abandon their rational structures for a moment then experimental “accidents” can happen which help them forward. But not forward into heart – just forward into the acquisition of new facts to help them formulate broader models for the reality they generally operate alongside.

The best way to develop heart is to use it – to love. Deus caritas est*. There should be a handful of good strong relationships in your life which are getting deeper and stronger the more you work on heart. One of these relationships, hopefully the most important, is the one with the work and with destiny. You give yourself to your relationships, unconditionally. The more you can give yourself to the work – relax into it – the more the heart will gradually blossom and take you forwards. Without this unconditional giving the mind is always grasping for pointers, whether they be feelings or clever insights or interesting avenues you see opening up, and progress becomes the mind leading the heart. If the heart is leading then there is no possibility of you thinking, “Oh, this is interesting, I think I'll investigate,” or, “Wow, this feels amazing!” or “Gosh, there's a principle in here somewhere,” because when the heart leads there is a settled and ruthless knowledge that anything interesting is always happening beyond your senses and beyond your understanding and beyond your imagination. Is all you can do is not get in the way of the natural process. This requires humility, connectedness, and above all belief. The constant process of opening and entering is belief. The embrace is the compassion – drawing the world into your heart so that you can heal it and properly fulfill your function as a living part of creation.


*Deus caritas est, et, qui manet in caritate, in Deo manet, et Deus in eo manet.
"God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."
This biblical quote opens the Pope's recent encyclical letter.

A Memorable Fancy

As I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity. I collected some of their Proverbs: thinking that as the sayings used in a nation, mark its character, so the Proverbs of Hell, shew the nature of Infernal wisdom better than any description of buildings or garments.
When I came home; on the abyss of the five senses, where a flat sided steep frowns over the present world. I saw a mighty Devil folded in black clouds, hovering on the sides of the rock, with corroding fires he wrote the following sentence now percieved by the minds of men, & read by them on earth.
How do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?
William Blake

6.2.06

Faith In Mind

The Supreme Way is not difficult
If only you do not pick and choose. 1

Neither love nor hate
And you will clearly understand. 2

Be off by a hair
And you are as far from it as heaven from earth. 3

If you want the Way to appear
Be neither for nor against. 4

For and against opposing each other –
This is the mind’s disease. 5

Without recognising the mysterious principle
It is useless to practice quietude. 6

The Way is perfect like great space
Without lack, without excess. 7

Because of grasping and rejecting
You cannot attain it. 8

Do not pursue conditioned existence
Do not abide in acceptance of emptiness. 9

In oneness and equality
Confusion vanishes of itself. 10

Stop activity and return to stillness
And that stillness will be even more active. 11

Merely stagnating in duality
How can you recognise oneness? 12

If you fail to penetrate oneness
Both places lose their function. 13

Banish existence and you fall into existence
Follow emptiness and you turn your back on it. 14

Excessive talking and thinking
Turn you from harmony with the Way. 15

Cut off talking and thinking
And there is nowhere you cannot penetrate. 16

Return to the root and attain the principle
Pursue illumination and you lose it. 17

One moment of reversing the light
Is greater than the previous emptiness. 18

The previous emptiness is transformed
It was all a product of deluded views. 19

No need to seek the real
Just extinguish your views. 20

Do not abide in dualistic views
Take care not to seek after them. 21

As soon as there is right and wrong
The mind is scattered and lost. 22

Two comes from one
Yet do not even keep the one. 23

When one mind does not arise
Myriad dharmas are without defect. 24

Without defect, without dharmas,
No arising, no mind. 25

The subject is extinguished with the object
The object sinks away with the subject. 26

Object is object because of the subject
Subject is subject because of the object. 27

Know that the two are originally one emptiness
In one emptiness the two are the same containing all phenomena. 28

Not seeing fine or coarse
How can there be any bias? 29

The Great Way is broad
Neither easy nor difficult. 30

With narrow views and doubts
Haste will slow you down. 31

Attach to it and you loose the measure
The mind will enter a deviant path. 32

Let it go and be spontaneous
Experience no going or staying. 33

Accord with your nature, unite with the Way,
Wander at ease, without vexation. 34

Bound by thoughts you depart from the real
And sinking into stupor is as bad. 35

It is not good to weary the spirit
Why alternate between aversion and affection? 36

If you wish to enter the one vehicle
Do not be repelled by the sense realm. 37

With no aversion to the sense realm
You become one with true enlightenment. 38

The wise have no motives
Fools put themselves in bondage. 39

One dharma is not different from another
The deluded mind clings to whatever it desires. 40

Using mind to cultivate mind
Is this not a great mistake? 41

The erring mind begets tranquility and confusion
In enlightenment there are no likes or dislikes. 42

The duality of all things
Issues from false discriminations. 43

A dream, an illusion, a flower in the sky –
How could they be worth grasping? 44

Gain and loss, right and wrong
Discard them all at once. 45

If the eyes do not close in sleep
All dreams will cease of themselves. 46

If the mind does not discriminate
All dharmas are of one suchness. 47

The essence of one suchness is profound
Unmoving, conditioned things are forgotten. 48

Contemplate all dharmas as equal
And you return to things as they are. 49

When the subject disappears
There can be no measuring or comparing. 50

Stop activity and there is no activity
When activity stops there is no rest. 51

Since two cannot be established
How can there be one? 52

In the very ultimate
Rules and standards do not exist. 53

Develop a mind of equanimity
And all deeds are put to rest. 54

Anxious doubts are completely cleared
Right faith is made upright. 55

Nothing lingers behind
Nothing can be remembered. 56

Bright and empty, functioning naturally,
The mind does not exert itself. 57

It is not a place of thinking
Difficult for reason and emotion to fathom. 58

In the Dharma Realm of true suchness
There is no other, no self. 59

To accord with it is vitally important
Only refer to “not two”. 60

In not-two all things are in unity
Nothing is excluded. 61

The wise throughout the ten directions
All enter this principle. 62

This principle is neither hurried nor slow –
One thought for ten thousand years. 63

Abiding nowhere yet everywhere
The ten directions are right before you. 64

The smallest is the same as the largest
In the realm where delusion is cut off. 65

The largest is the same as the smallest
No boundaries are visible. 66

Existence is precisely emptiness
Emptiness is precisely existence. 67

If it is not like this
Then you must not preserve it. 68

One is everything
Everything is one. 69

If you can be like this
Why worry about not finishing? 70

Faith and mind are not two
Non-duality is faith in mind. 71

The path of words is cut off
There is no past, no future, no present. 72

Attributed to Seng Ts’an (b.606AD), the Third Patriarch, but probably written later.
This translation by Ch’an Master Sheng-yen “Faith in Mind”, 1987, ISBN 0-9609854-2-5

4.2.06

The sun fought the snow for a hillside
The engagement
is still on.
Charles Olson

Teaching

One teaches to get it out of the system.
To work with and digest the teaching.
To train up a band of willing comrades.
To purge yourself of the need to be dictator – didactor.

We have often been visited by students, masters of Tai Chi in their own right, with groups or schools of students themselves, visiting for instruction from JK. What is often difficult for them is to switch from being the teacher there to being the student here. I suspect this is only the case if they are teaching incorrectly. When you work with the teaching you sink into the energy – into your own heart, into the heart of the teaching and into your developing relationship with the teaching. This process inevitably causes insights and revelations to surface. The temptation is always to latch onto these insights and lose touch with the energy from which they emerge. If you do this then you are just constructing another artificial and ultimately disconnected (dead) edifice (Form). The secret is to allow these insights to surface, let them stimulate your spirit, engage with them and work with them, but don't let them carry you away from the source. It is always tempting to cling onto the objects of one's creative impulses whether it be for wealth or fame or just self-gratification. Try instead to be like Li Po – writing poems on dead leaves and casting them to the wind. Then the process of creation (of letting out and expressing the energy) will be healthy, enriching and will take you deeper, but more importantly it will leave you clear of congestion – you will be a better instrument for use, by your teacher and your students.

3.2.06

The Heart

The Research

Dr Kells has been taught Tai Chi by some great masters. One in particular, Dr Chi Chiang-Tao was peerless, with very high spiritual qualities. Dr Chi adopted John Kells as his son and heir in 1982 and gave him the complete transmission. However, Dr Kells has also received transmissions from other non-Tai Chi lineages, in particular ones originating in Europe rather than China. These transmissions were energetic and had little art or form, and almost no words – they were acquired by spending extended periods of respectful time with the masters, gradually soaking up the teaching and the energy. These teachings were beginning to express themselves in the Tai Chi by the mid 1980's, and in 1991 Dr Kells decided to embark on a research programme to see if he could find a way of fully expressing this other teaching within the framework of Pushing Hands – the energetic interactions of Tai Chi.

The Chinese approach to martial arts is similar to the Western approach to education: one spends time acquiring well-taught skills in order to further oneself in life. So the Chinese kung fu expert will spend years toughening and strengthening his hands and will eventually be able to smash through a stack of bricks. Or he will develop his ch'i to refine whatever art he practices, whether calligraphy, acupuncture or fighting. Or, if his art is Tai Chi, he will practice for years at hands-on listening in order to gain the sensitivity required to preempt the actions of his opponent. These are all skill based – you acquire something that others don't have in order to gain an advantage.

Our researches have led us to understand that whenever a skill, acquired by one, is applied to another, something happens which is not natural and is not right. It is invasive, no matter how sensitively and caringly it is applied. Real healthy connexion between two beings happens when each forgets themselves, abandons their skills and abilities and rushes in heart first. This is what happens when you are with your loved ones, why should it be any different in any other situation? So the first principle our researches revealed to us was that the heart is the true centre of the person because it is the organ involved in connecting and giving to others. The belly, the traditional centre in the Chinese arts, is the centre of your own personal power – your energy reservoir so to speak – but this has little bearing on your use and function as an interacting human being, especially if the heart cannot or will not engage with others.

Our second principle is that when two beings interact with open, willing and courageous hearts, then the actual interaction can take on a life of its own. This life has a heart (a nucleus) like all living beings, which we call the Third Heart. If both parties allow this Third Heart primacy then the relationship will take both into realms beyond the imagination of either. In fact we have found that if either enters the interaction with any agenda other than this then their heart is not properly open and the Third Heart will not properly develop. Any hidden agenda, whether it be one of control or manipulation, is ultimately damaging and counter-productive. One needs the courage to allow the relationship to dictate its own terms, only then will it transform both parties and take them forwards in life.

This leads us to the third principle. To properly honour and encourage the Third Heart (the between energy) you must give totally to each interaction. This means your energy must enter and go forwards. Or as Dr Kells has beautifully put it “The Feast is Forwards.” This is very difficult – you may be tired or feel awkward or unwilling – many things can place you on the back foot – however it is the most important habit in life to cultivate – to always go forwards with no thought of backwards. It is the one habit that transforms a victim into a warrior. Practising this principle will develop far more and better energy than any ch'i kung exercise. In a way it is the opposite of the Tai Chi approach of dwelling quietly within and listening to the other, waiting for them to act so that you can react.

The fourth principle is that if one puts the idea of the Third Heart – the life and primacy of one's interactions – first and foremost in one's life and lives a life according to them, then one gradually develops into a primarily relating entity. One has practised forwards so much that it becomes a natural fact of your being, constantly reaching out into the world and beckoning and attracting the world in, in a natural and extremely healthy constant exchange. Eventually this happens even when unawares (even when asleep), in fact words like unawares cease to have any meaning because awareness no longer has anything to do with one's rational processes – it is instead an aspect of one's interacting energy. At this stage the student can be likened to a clear channel through which energy flows from all directions, but especially from the ancient teaching and especially to the earth. Energy they have at any particular moment is always borrowed – is always passing through so to speak. Their power resides in the simple acceptance that the heart is all. This allows them to be connected before the connexion. We call this being alive.

The fifth principle is that of destiny. A difficult concept this day and age to come to terms with. It suggests that the direction mankind had gone, especially in the last 2500 years, in putting those faculties that set him apart from other species, in particular his calculating mind, foremost in his existence and in his culture, actually severs him from not only other beings, the Third Heart and connectedness, but also the real power and meaning of his life, which we call destiny. As well as you having a heart, and all your relationships having hearts, your life also has a heart which can only be got to grips with if you lead a life that joins you to the rest of creation rather than setting you apart from it. This life requires the student to actively work with all of these principles and is ultimately what we wish to teach.

2.2.06

T'ai Chi Ch'uan

John asked me to write an intro to Tai Chi and a little about the old BTCCA for a business associate. This is what emerged. Fond memories.

Background

T'ai Chi Ch'uan (usually shortened to Tai Chi) is an internal Chinese martial art – one that uses softness and energy to counter aggressive force. It is named after the famous Tai Chi symbol – the yin/yang circle symbolising the dynamic interaction of the two primal forces of male & female, hard & soft. Ch'uan simply means fist or boxing. Central to T'ai Chi is the concept of yielding – the idea that the adept, without retreating, meets hardness with his softness and absorbs and redirects that hardness back into the opponent. This is achieved with superior sensitivity and subtle turns of the body. It takes many years to master. There are two sides to the Tai Chi coin: the solo Form, a slow and graceful “dance” performed alone in which the student works with the principles of Tai Chi – relaxation, sinking, turning, roundness, etc., and the partner work (Pushing Hands) which involves yield-attack exercises, done very gently to begin with, but gradually, over the years, increasing in intensity and ferocity to eventually emulate real fighting exchanges.

The Chinese have a saying that to learn Tai Chi one needs three things: correct teaching, hard work, and talent, in that order of importance. Correct teaching is vital. It is very important that the teacher comes from a respected lineage – an unbroken line of great masters going back to the originator of the art, and it is crucial that the teacher has received what we call “a transmission of energy” - an unspoken aspect of the teaching which a teacher imparts and embeds in the student at various times in their relationship. This hidden teaching is energetic and will variously come to express itself, often many years after teacher and student have parted company, as long as the student continues to practice sincerely. Without these transmissions the teaching is not alive.

The Tai Chi Centre

Learning Tai Chi is very much a graduated path: one starts at the beginning and gradually builds the Form, adding new postures weekly. Once the Form is complete a new more elaborate one is started. The Tai Chi class usually contains one chief instructor (an advanced student of the Grand Master), various assistants (keen, talented and hard working students who are being groomed for eventual instructor status), and the students. The class commences with gentle partner work allowing students to informally relax for 20 minutes or so after arriving. Then a 30 minute series of simple Ch'i Gung exercises are performed to prepare for the Tai Chi Form. The Form work involves the revision of postures taught in previous weeks, followed by the teaching of new postures. At this stage in the class the Grand Master will come in to demonstrate the correct way of doing things, and to physically adjust each persons posture (including instructors and assistants). He will also give a short pertinent talk about some important aspect of the art to help inspire the students to practice correctly at home during the rest of the week. The Grand Master's presence is vital to learning because he embodies the internal aspects of the art – his energy, bearing and understanding are Tai Chi. The class finishes with more Form practice, often splitting into smaller more intimate groups, each led by an assistant, and then a final exercise done with a partner to round things off. Tea is provided at the end of each class and students are encouraged to stay and chat with their comrades for a good 20 minutes or so.

The experience of the class is relaxing, energising and uplifting. A confined group of 20 to 30 people all working on energy, with energy, but also softly, respectfully and together – is always going to be intense. It also gives everyone the opportunity to touch what we call the perfection of Tai Chi – a feeling of total connectedness, with the Tai Chi, with ones own faculties, and more importantly with the others in the room. We stress from day one that unless the Tai Chi you learn and practice actually improves your humanity – your ability to connect to and be generous with fellow beings, then you are wasting your time. We also stress to students that no matter how tired they are after work, try to make the class and we guarantee they will feel better by the end.

Our Tai Chi naturally encourages a culture of respect and generosity, and the school is built on this. With so many classes per week, each at a different stage, the school feels active, exciting and welcoming. Sunday afternoons are devoted to the largest class of the week – the Revision Class – which students attend to either catch up on classes they may have missed, or simply to revise postures they are unsure of. Most of the instructors and assistants also attend so each student is usually guaranteed at least some individual attention. This class can stretch well into the evening, and students have always said how it sets them up for the working week. Once a month day-long Intensives are also held. These can be attended by all, including students of Tai Chi from outside the school – students of students or of other Masters. Often people travel from afar to attend these popular events, and friendships are struck allowing our own students the opportunity to travel with their Tai Chi to other schools. Networking like this is very much in the spirit of Tai Chi.

1.2.06

The Critical Mind

John once whispered to me, “It's OK to be human, but try your best not to be.”

A drift away from humanism (the overuse of the calculating or critical mind).
Each centre in the body has its own energy, intelligence and ability to “think” (consider and work things out).
Each also has its own mood and function.
In a way each represents a dimension of our being.
Most have been forgotten about in our efforts to put the brain and its functions foremost.
Reality resides in each centre, not just in our head.
Without the fullness and completeness that comes from balance (having each centre working and aware) we cannot move from the human into the divine – pure connectedness.
People who have other centres working are generally called sensitive.
To cope with and properly use that sensitivity they must understand what it is they have that is unusual.
What inhibits and confuses is the act of processing through the calculating critical mind.
This mind distinguishes, discriminates and judges.
In the process it damages (it is always hard).
It will then reassemble in a more agreeable fashion.
The reality it contemplates is therefore the one it has constructed for itself rather than the one actually present.
It cannot connect so it has to construct.
Those that use it live in a capsule of disconnectedness.
It cannot create either, because creation requires connexion – in fact creation is what happens when you connect – it is the life between.
Reality is connexion and connectedness.
It is no more out there than it is in here.
The calculating critical mind negates connexion but it can be used to develop a type of energy that the Chinese call ch'i.
It is unpleasant, coarse and not particularly useful.
It is unnecessary, and it represents a cul-de-sac.
It will not take you deeper into connectedness (creation).
Neither it, nor its master - the mind, can be trusted.

Something Nice About Myself

Lots of people who no longer love each other
Keep on loving me
& I

I make myself rarely available.
Philip Whalen