for Tim Walker

The purpose of my teacher's Tai Chi, and his Heartwork in particular, is to make the student so immediate – so energetically present and ready – that engagement and connexion are no longer a matter of choice but instead happen naturally and inevitably because of this immediacy. A consequence of this is that the student's energy – however much they have, a lot or a little, it doesn't matter – isn't just available instantly, it has already cogged into their environment and the beings in it. My teacher always used to say that if you find yourself in a fight then your Tai Chi has failed you. This was interpreted by his students as meaning that the Tai Chi adept should have developed the sensitivity to feel belligerence in the air well in advance of its physical manifestation, and the wisdom to avoid it. He may well have meant that when he said it (at least 20 years ago), but I don't think he'd mean that now, or not in important situations. He would now argue that if your practice has given you this ability to cog into your environment – this active immediacy – then your very presence transforms that environment and dispels that belligerence. And if it doesn't and you find yourself in a fight then so be it – far better than starting to practice either retreat or avoidance (both the same thing really). This world of cogging – knitting – energies is the world of the heart, hence Heartwork. Your ch'i may reside in your belly but there is part of your energy that is everywhere and it is this part that needs to be developed if we want to learn to yield or to make a difference all of the time. If you reside in the heart of others and you improve then you also improve them. If you do something stupid and hurtful, if only to yourself, then you also hurt them. This is responsibility. The acknowledgment of this aspect of connectedness is respect. Active respect is not just putting the other first but engaging your energy so that the connexion deepens. This is spiritual progress for both of you.

The Internal

The Internal is always there for you but it comes at a price, and that price is essentially respect: respect as a foundation for all the emotions in your life has to become fundamental to you.

John Kells


the substantial

The nature of the true fate is giving way,
The nature of the giving way is softness,
The nature of softness is going in,
The nature of going in is welcoming openness,
the nature of openness is heart.

- John Kells

from the English over taichi heartwork of Steven of moorlands

This is a Google translation from the German of a post on Philip Stanley's Qigong blog. The original English text is here. Interesting that the google version is as accurate as it is, and that it reads like a stilted English version of part of the Tao Te Ching. I love the photo, and the rendering of my name.


Heart & Spirit

Each and every element has its own expression – essential nature, uniqueness, “spark of the desire magneto” – and each and every action/posture is a coming together of many elements in a conflagration of creativity. The heart opens to invite these elements in and the spirit animates and harmonises them. For the heart to be successful it must connect not necessarily with each element, but with the source of each element's expression. This is slipping under. The emotion accompanying this is compassion. For the spirit to be successful it must operate ‘in the spirit’ of cooperation. The emotion here is joy. The spirit must not be fierce enough to have developed will – otherwise force and control enter the situation and it will be far less than it could be. The thinking mind is nowhere in evidence – it comes in later – after it's all over – to pick over the bones.


All at once
the depths of time

A lantern on the internal

Pam Rehm

Wang Yen-nien

Probably the most distinguished living martial artist. Here demonstrating old Yang style Roll-Back. JK studied with him in Taipei in early 1973 when Wang was 59. Video clips of Wang doing his Tai Chi Form are available here.

Wang studied Form (not pushing-hands) with Chang Chin-lin in the late 40's. Cheng Man-ching had studied pushing-hands with Chang in the 30's: he flew him to his home, paid him a small fortune, and worked exclusively and daily with the great man for over 8 months. Many believe it was this instruction, and the transmission received during it, that gave Cheng Man-ching his edge – he remained undefeated from 1936 until his death in 1975.




This is the beginning of Tai Chi. Gradually the gentle flowing movements encourage the body to shed its tensions, especially those in the upper body and hips.


As the body relaxes it opens up to gravity which draws the body down into the legs which gradually become strong. This in turn strengthens the kidneys and is a real investment for old-age.


As tensions subside and blockages release, energy starts to gather and flow in the body.

Awareness / Sensitivity

Without gross tensions to get in the way, the body starts to feel new sensations to do with energy awakening within. It also starts to become aware of other entities as energy-beings rather than just physical lumps. One also starts to perceive communications with other entities as exchanges and interchanges of energy.

Softness / Yielding / Listening

A quality which refuses to go against anything – a constant yielding. When one relaxes and opens to energy one feels no need to resist others but neither does one feel the need to draw away from them and retreat. Softness and yielding is that middle ground between resistance and retreat. It is a very nourishing place to be largely because it softens and transforms as it touches thereby encouraging a mingling of energies – especially deeper energies associated with essential nature. To be soft requires us to have started the battle of conquering our fears – the place from which our tensions and hardness spring.


“Natural way best way.” This is softness taken further. It attempts to access our essential nature – an aspect of ourselves generally subdued by our desires and conditioning, and eventually install it as the fundamental driving force in our life.

Light & Lively

This is associated with a sense of humour – a refusal to allow things, even the Tai Chi, to get you down. It is a felicitousness – a natural and appropriate unhurried speed – quick and bright. An aspect of spirit.


Spirit, or ‘spirit of vitality’, is an energy that rises in the body, expresses in the eyes, and is responsible for organising and coordinating all our faculties so that we work in prime condition no matter how we ‘feel’. It is a natural fighting energy (‘fighting spirit’) and it starts to cultivate internally when the student brings the fight inside, battling their own fear, pride, arrogance, laziness, etc, albeit with a yielding softness. This is the arena of solo practice – a little every day is recommended. Eventually the spirit shines full and clear.


This is an unusual quality – an attractiveness and natural adherence to things. It comes from practising perseverance, with spirit – a gentle persistent spirit that teases constantly through the practice.


Particularly the heart – an open heart naturally empathises and willingly engages. But also an open body. When the joints relax and loosen the body naturally takes on a rounder shape and as the energy develops the character also becomes round and full.

Entering / Embracing / Connecting

Knowing that no matter how one feels, and no matter the state of one's energy, opening and connecting to others compassionately, which requires a moving forward – an entering and an embracing of their domain – will bring positive affects all round.


This really means giving yourself completely and unconditionally to the task at hand – no reserve, no reservations. The connexions we make and the situations we find ourselves in are managed best if we throw ourselves in with enthusiasm and energy. Energy is their to be spent rather than horded and only by spending it will we get stronger.

Giving from the heart

Of our energy and our essential nature. This is what my teacher calls destiny. If we never fully reveal and give of our true nature then our life has been largely wasted.


Objects in free space are separated by their music.

George Quasha
The history of poetry in our century is only superficially the history of the struggle to make it new. More enduring is the struggle to regain the definition of poetry as spiritual ascesis.

John Taggart


the story must exist in each word

Louis Zukofsky


Property Line

Joseph Massey has a new book of poems out.
whisk the rifts

dusk dims
between leaves

on the tree
whose name

I refuse to find.

Understanding depends upon energy

There is much we cannot understand because we don't have the energy, quantity or quality, to properly engage with it. This makes it clear that to travel deeper into understanding we need to practice something that will improve our energy. If you were to look at the general sweep of a meaningful life you would see a gradual increase in wisdom as that being's energy strengthens (up to a point) and then continues to refine as it inevitably declines in strength with the onset of old-age. If you were to look more closely – microscopically – you would see that the life contains relatively short moments of real brilliance and intensity when the spirit of that life is really engaged, charged and learning, followed by longer periods of seeming calm when the body, mind and energy of that being slowly come to terms with the preceding gains of their spirit. Everything lags behind spirit. When the spirit makes big breakthroughs the health can often suffer as the body struggles to catch up.

A consequence of understanding depending upon energy is that if your teacher has better energy than you, not necessarily stronger but more refined and better connected, then they cannot really be reasonably argued with because the place they are trying to bring you to through their teaching they understand but you have absolutely not a clue about. The teacher's job is to wrench the student out of their understanding and into the whirling spiral of the natural process. If one's energy is always improving then one's understanding is always changing – each day things have to be reassessed, and every so often even one's basic and fundamental convictions will shift. It gets to the point where understanding is a matter of connexion rather than knowing – one comes to terms with the world by connecting with it rather than by digesting or assimilating experience. One understands not by processing through the catalogue of one's own experiences or even through the range and depth of one's own energy but simply by emptying and then becoming what is before.

There is no remedy for love but to love more.

Henry David Thoreau
To the degree that seeing and hearing are activities rather than receptivities.

Lyn Hejinian


Every communication boils down to two parties coming to an understanding.

John Kells


Tai Chi is a martial art. It is about fighting. One of the reasons for this is that when we fight we are at our best, in the sense of being energised, empassioned, spirited, aware, alive, together and most importantly of all – connected. The connexion we experience when in such a state of heightened intensity and awareness is in no way passive – it's not something we wait to happen – it's something we make happen and it's something that the extra energy at our disposal allows us to make happen. We become supremely active, or we lose the fight. My teacher once said to me that the most difficult thing for him, as a teacher, was to instill fighting spirit into naturally soft and mild-mannered students. It's also the most difficult thing for such students to learn – we all have so much invested in being the way we are. But it is absolutely essential that a student begins the struggle of trying to learn it otherwise their Tai Chi, and their life in general, will just be a superficial dance – far far less than it could be and certainly far less than it needs to be to make spiritual inroads into it. Those students that recognise, register and engage in the battle at hand – the one with their own negativity, however it may express itself, so that when they are present there is more of them present, more of them available for connexion – are the ones that begin. And it is a process of continual beginning: one improves but one never has the chance to rest on one's laurels. The next stage is always more difficult – more of a fight – than the previous one. Peace, if there is such a thing, is the peace that comes from knowing deep down that one is living the right life – is fighting the real fight.


for Barbara

above the snowy mud


spring birds
clearing sky

Somewhere fish are swimming
the month of our birth

Aaron Tieger


I always sit till I see some living thing; because if such appears, it is sure to be appropriate to the place.

John Constable

I love this – quoted by Ronald Johnson in his The Book of the Green Man. It is so true, of work, of meditation, of perseverance in general – eventually it is all ignited into life by the venturing in of a spark of inspiration stimulated by one's dutiful and selfless efforts. The work then seems to generate its own energy. The difficulty though with most things is how and when to finish. Obviously not when one feels like it – there is no discipline in that. Such feelings are generally distractions – boredom setting in, pangs of hunger or thirst, weariness. In Alexander Technique they have developed a concept called inhibition which roughly means to delay reacting to a stimulus that one normally reacts incorrectly or badly to, and then choosing a more appropriate response. It is basically a way of reconditioning or a way of bringing a little control into a life ruled by urges. And it is control, not freedom, but nevertheless it can be a useful technique to apply when one begins to weaken and feel the ego finding excuses to curtail or finish a practice session. At such junctures just tell yourself – OK five minutes more. And because such times are junctures – passages from one use of your energy to another – the work you do during that five minutes often has a very different character to what went before – it opens out and is less burdened by heaviness and seriousness. This is also the case if you only have half an hour at your disposal for practice instead of the usual two or three. You don't need to pace yourself in the same way through that thirty minutes, which brings a lightness and a charge of energy into the work. However, without the heaviness and the seriousness for your spirit to battle against you wont develop either the gravitas or the grace required for complete immersion into the work or into life, on a deep level. Without discipline life is only, as my teacher points out, passing from one sensation to the next.

I threw a stone upon a pond
& it bounded the surface, its circles interlacing
& radiating out to the most ephemeral edge.

Ronald Johnson


reality changes from substance to subtlety

Wallace Stevens


Photo: Mara Moore


The most difficult task on earth is to somehow tackle and eradicate the fear and ignorance that block our ancestors from thrusting up into us and impelling us to become what we are destined to be. To connect properly and effortlessly with others first requires us to connect with our own life – to deeply feel (know) its significance and context – within the stream of life that went before and will go on after. Abandonment, if it is anything other than a foolhardy letting go, is a relinquishing of self sufficient for this responsibility. To live such a life requires energy but first and foremost it requires power. Power comes from connexion – connexion to sources of power. It expresses through us if we are so connected but is never really ours – we just have the key. The two principle sources are the teaching and the ancestors. Without letting these two into your life I'm not sure it is possible to make a correct (natural) connexion with the earth or the heavens or the other. Everything has an ancestry – a weight of tradition – a power source – so if when we connect with other entities we connect with that, which requires us to yield – to lay our ancestry alongside its, then we tap power, a power which may even be unavailable to that entity. This is what the teacher does all the time. He/she feels and connects with the mass of positive influence that has fed into our lives, especially from before we were born. This is the teacher's compassion at work. It is like a nosiness – a constantly ferreting interest (intrusion almost) that need not express itself verbally but will certainly express itself energetically. It requires, from the teacher, softness and constant yielding – a constant entering and drawing in. By tapping into your latent power the teacher unlocks it for you, if only for an instant. The student's usual reaction is to recoil in horror at the immensity of firstly the power itself, and secondly the task of coming to terms with it, harnessing it, and putting it to real positive use. Little by little the student resigns him or herself to the task and makes a start. Then all that is required is the courage to continue.
From the rain you come
to stand here in silence
and find
it all out.

Joseph Massey


It isn't what a poet says that counts as a work of art, it's what he makes, with such intensity of perception that it lives with an intrinsic movement of its own to verify its authenticity.

Willian Carlos Williams


Photo: Sasha Andrews


And only here and there a freak like me
Looking at himself, all of him, with intense scrutiny,
See how he runs round like a dog, every particle
Concentrated on getting in safe somewhere, while he
With equal determination must push himself out,
Feel more at all costs, experience more, be shattered more,
Driven towards an unqualifiable upward and onward
That is - all morons feel - suicidally over the score.

Hugh MacDiarmid


Heartwork is a battle with mediocrity — our own first and foremost. The basic unit of our work is the give and take: an abandoned and courageous expansion into the world followed by a voracious and almost vicious contraction that has two functions: to gather energy in and to thrust (pull) us forwards for our next expansion. Such “breathing” engages us energetically and is what prevents us settling into flat mediocrity. However, even give and take can become routine, as evidenced by most “cup of tea” (polite) pushing hands. Our figure of eight is an attempt to prevent the same package of energy being passed endlessly back and forth during pushing hands. We dig as deeply into ourselves as we do into the other. Rather than simply brokering an energy exchange between the other and the earth, or the other and our own skill, we attempt to transform with our give and take. If we at least can become something better in our giving then we have a chance of engaging with the other on a level of transformation rather than just exchange. Real communication has nothing to do with exchange, and all to do with change. Real communication leaves you changed forever. You become a different person and the old you can never be revisited except in memory. Such self-transformations, and the inevitable dangers to our own security, safety and balance, are usually reserved for solo practice or for partner work with friends and trusted colleagues. When we talk of generosity or courage or abandon or openness we mean the willingness to transform whenever necessary. This requires real forgetting of self — only when you forget self can you join with a completeness that makes transformation inevitable.


As if I had known nothing,
until this
into my eye
the tears started.

Ted Enslin


Natural Process

We teach the natural process: the flow of soul through mind, body and spirit, to engage the heart to beat in every thing.

John Kells


Grandmaster Ma Yue Liang

This may interest. Thanks to Simon O'Connor for sending me the link.

Practising outside this morning, surrounded by cats and a dog, I heard John (a different John) comment to Ann that the animals just love company. I hope he included me in that. Somehow, everything makes more sense when you're together.
So close.
I want to give you this
before the wind
blows it out
of my hand.

Ted Enslin

A correct feeling for self

Becoming front-foot requires one to have a positive approach to everything – one's natural response should always be to move forwards to enter and embrace. For most of us this is hardly the case, instead of this natural response we have a conditioned response which causes us to either fearfully retreat from situations or barge forwards with little sensitivity which is just as odious as, and certainly more obnoxious than, retreating. What has become clear from recent Heartwork classes at the BTCCA though, is that when tracing large figures of eight with the hand and arm, students are willing and able to complete the upper part of the eight, the part that surrounds – embraces – the other, and yet the bottom of the eight, the part that surrounds and embraces oneself, is often pinched and cramped: people have little real feeling or respect for themselves, especially for themselves in relation to the other. It brings to mind a phrase of Heraclitus' which Charles Olson was so fond of: “Man is estranged from that with which he is most familiar.” It takes two to tango. If we wish to make a strong and lasting connexion then as well as generously reaching out with an open heart to embrace the other, we also need to bring that other, or at least be prepared to bring that other, into our own space – into our home – to reveal an environment as equally hospitable and inviting as our initial solicitations. For this we need peace of mind and the ease (lack of anxiety) and companionability that peace of mind allows. We must be happy in ourselves and with ourselves. This is a positive aspect of self, different from selfishness or arrogance or self-interest, all of which detract from the other. When we have the proper feeling for ourselves then we are in the best position and condition to give of our energy. In a sense it is simply an equality. There needs to be equality, at least on some level, before hearts can properly connect to create the third heart and the energy between. A Heartwork exchange is the search for the equality in the situation – the place where we can both meet and communicate – neutral ground – where neither has the advantage over the other and yet where each is willing to give and receive. The skill in Heartwork is in trusting both that this ground is always there, no matter what, and that it is always within you to find it, together.


“We lost a feeling for being centred when we came to expect the ground on which we walk to be smooth and even. When we walk on rougher terrain the body feels wonderfully centred, because it has to take charge of its own balance.”

Dave (seen suspended in the slim picture below) texted me this this morning. Sounds like an ad for those Masai Barefoot Technology shoes but is in fact from a book on voice production/projection.



O.E. heorte, from P.Gmc. *khertan- (cf. O.S. herta, O.N. hjarta, Du. hart, O.H.G. herza, Ger. Herz, Goth. hairto), from PIE *kerd- "heart" (cf. Gk. kardia, L. cor, O.Ir. cride, Welsh craidd, Hittite kir, Lith. širdis, Rus. serdce "heart," Breton kreiz "middle," O.C.S. sreda "middle"). Spelling with -ea- is c.1500, by analogy of pronunciation with stream, heat, etc., but remained when pronunciation shifted. Most of the figurative senses were present in O.E., including "intellect, memory," now only in by heart. Hearty is c.1380; heart-rending is from 1687. Heartache was in O.E. in the sense of a physical pain, 1602 in sense of "anguish of mind;" heartburn is c.1250. Broken-hearted is attested from 1526. Heart-strings (1483) was originally literal, in old anatomy theory "the tendons and nerves that brace the heart." Heartless (c.1330) originally was used with a meaning "dejected;" sense of "callous, cruel" is not certainly attested before Shelley used it so in 1816. Heartland first recorded 1904 in geo-political writings of H.J. MacKinder.

Dingle — March 2006


Off to Ireland with the kids today until next Wednesday, flights permitting. I'm teaching a Heartwork class on Sunday afternoon in Mallow and again Monday evening. All welcome.

Taking correction

The difficulty with any learning is to take correction.
No matter how intelligent, correction always means some fundamental change in the way you live your life.

John Kells




Ronald Johnson



Softness is giving and receiving simultaneously. But nothing is ever really simultaneous. Everything requires your full attention. The frequency with which you vibrate from one to the other is a direct measure of the fineness of the between-energy your softness generates and evokes. And the commitment and selfless devotion you bring to your life and work is a direct measure of the depths to which this energy penetrates the souls of all present. Doing one thing should always imply the other — negative capability — having a mind and heart big enough to contain the whole of experience.
as the Heart equally
holds all else there is anywhere
in Creation, when it is

“A life brimming with ambiguity is far more exciting than one locked into certainty.”
John Kells


from stone

feel the
stone fill

Cid Corman
The shocks of change are like angels sent by your spiritual master.
They sit by you till you no longer need them.
But with them, as with everything, yielding/communication is vital.

John Kells
no where
now here
no where
now here

Ronald Johnson


Coming to terms with the natural process is coming to terms with the unattainable.
The only way is by forgetting desires and anxieties – basically the fears springing from an overweaning grasp on a personal self.

John Kells
    progressive growth flow
propagation of
threads of
outward limiting
or spatial
discharge of tension from
interlocking of multi-dimensional growth


When having difficulty with the work — it lacks inspiration or seems to be getting stale — always try to be vigilant because something will always enter your life, something often completely unrelated to the work, that will force you to see it all in a new light, from a different angle, a new perspective, and allow you to bring new enthusiasm to your endeavours. Everything's connected especially if a life has something as vital and as true as the work at its centre.


Front foot, back foot

There are basically two approaches to life, the back-foot one and the front-foot one. The back-foot one waits to receive before it gives. It is constantly going through the process of receiving, recognising, categorising, assessing profit to be gained from giving and then, and only then, giving accordingly. Its two main tools are the eyes and the rational mind. The front-foot approach is always moving forwards – always giving first in order to constantly kick-start a healthy exchange that benefits all parties. It relies on energy rather than the eyes, and heart rather than the rational mind. The back-foot approach is all about maintaining a general status quo – matter and energy can move around, can change hands, but are never created or destroyed, so if you leave a situation richer then someone or something somewhere is poorer. The front-foot approach is about transformation and about creativity. We could call it an anti-entropic approach – one that uses the vital life force within to bring more positive feeling – more heart – into the world. It operates from the basic premise that it is a simple matter for two beings to come together in an act of communication and actually create energy. Not only is it a simple matter it is the responsibility of every entity in the universe to behave so, at least in some way. Such behaviour is natural, at least when one's essential nature wakes up. Unfortunately most yielding in most TaiChi is back-foot behaviour. Heartwork is a body of knowledge and a body of work that draws participants onto the front foot. Whether those participants chose the struggle to stay on the front foot is a matter for them. It will require a very active engagement with faith, sincerity and courage, and the unsettling truth that one cannot be on both feet at the same time, and neither can one rock back and forth – it's far too exhausting and is still back-foot behaviour. Yin and yang are an illusion – a consequence of back-foot living. A front-foot person has no time for such constructs, they are too busy creating the world.

Acts of Will

Let me open up
like morning down my spine

and find that I have found

no clear route
no evident map of destination

only a constant disappearing
into the day's allowance

Pam Rehm


Since there is nothing to be looked for there is nothing to look back on and the very act of looking becomes alive and the observer vanishes.

John Kells
Internetted eternities, interspersed / with cypresses

Ronald Johnson
It's not what you feel that's important, it's what you give.
Giving enables you to rise above your feelings.

the wind
is causing
the swirling

of leaves
would an
idea be
what idea

Robert Grenier

One of my very favourite poets, RG is 65 today. Happy Birthday Bob.

"When, in the writing of things, you begin to look at them as a reader, as if they were yours but not yours, that's a sign of things starting to light up." RG

Here is a letter Grenier wrote to Jacket Magazine - a response to an essay on Zukofsky. The last page is beautiful and quite pertinent to students of John Kells.


No hard feelings.


The good student is nourished by change for he knows that as his turmoil settles, the turmoil of the natural process neither settles nor unsettles, so he no longer takes a personal attitude to his own turmoil. This is a great secret.

John Kells


Thich Quang Duc

I remember this happening but I don't remember the assassination of JFK in the same year. Strange the things that catch the imagination.
the equipoise of
formal wisdom
not yet
we can still speak



The essence of true destiny is yielding,
The essence of yielding is softness,
The essence of softness is entering,
The essence of entering is welcoming openness,
The essence of openness is heart.

John Kells

Energy & softness

It is important that what you present to the world doesn't make that world shrink or retreat in either horror or injury, but in fact encourages it to well forth and enter you as you enter it. For this to happen you need to become an energy being, a being operating with and from the prime constituent of the universe – energy. Again this is not the gross energy associated with doing or making, it is a fine but active energy that connects appropriately and permanently. You have no choice in the matter. And this is the crux really to denying the thinking mind its presumed central position in your life. If there are no decisions to be made then this mind is largely unnecessary. The quality most associated with the fine energy of connexion is softness – a laying alongside seeping and insinuating softness best demonstrated by JK. He has always said that the only way to learn what it is he teaches is to fall in love with softness and let that love completely consume you. If you don't have all hours of the day at your disposal for practice then this is the only way to succeed.