29.8.07

Change


Turning
one wants it all—
no
defenses.


Robert Creeley

26.8.07

The main channels of communication from the heart pass through the narrows of the neck and waist to reach the peripheral points of contact with the world. If these channels are open, the person is open, and his heart is open to the world. Our defenses are erected around these straits of passage. They do not completely cut off all communication and contact, for that would be death. They allow a limited correspondence or a limited access. So long as the individual keeps within these limits he remains free from anxiety. But this is a confining and constricting life-style. We all want to be more open to life.

Alexander Lowen, Bioenergetics, 1975

Sinking

A few days ago a friend asked me to elucidate sinking. Sinking is something that requires constant work, but also something that needs to be constantly replenished with inspiration and enthusiasm otherwise it becomes laborious and disconnected from everything but the ground (sometimes even from that).
We sink to get part of our energy into the Earth where it can interplay with the Earth's energy. What happens in the upper body is then simply a reflexion of what is happening in the Earth. It is as though the surface of the Earth is a mirror. Your energetic activity beneath the Earth's surface is at least as involved and intense as that above. The two images that come to mind are the iceberg (with most of the berg beneath the surface) and the tree with it's root system feeding the crown through the bole: the larger the crown of the tree the larger and stronger the root system otherwise it topples. Your body is the bole and the crown is your expression – your energy entering the world – but in a sense the reality beneath the ground is more real than either. Without a root your expression is weak and aimless, despite its apparent exuberance and sophistication. If your energy is not rooted in the Earth then what you do has an arbitrary feel; and it does not connect, stick or bite into others of itself – naturally. It may lead others – seduce them to follow – but only to lead them astray.

What I mean by "taming your body" is simply developing a root. A root is a connexion with the Earth through which your energy streams down, and through which the Earth's energy streams up. This streaming or flowing of energy, and the relaxation work required to establish this streaming, washes the body clean of tension – clean of ego – clean of you – until eventually there is no resistance to this streaming and hey presto you have a root – with you all the time. In Tai Chi the beginning of developing a root is physically sinking into large (long and spread) postures – strengthening the legs. The pain of such work – in the muscles and in the joints (especially the knees) – is to be expected and to be borne. So is the emotional strain of beginning spiritual work. In a sense the legs must be very strong for a root to develop, but it is not the strength of bearing muscularly against the hard ground (a strength that produces large muscles), but the strength to open up and allow the streaming. To start with the streaming engulfs and terrifies you, but with practice it becomes familiar, bearable and eventually essential to your existence – one of those things you can't imagine being without.

The classical approach to developing a root is through stationary standing postures, especially riding-horse posture and various other single-weighted bow-and-arrow postures. One must stand and relax. The more relaxed you can become within the standing posture the more the energy will stream. Such relaxation requires a developing body awareness – especially an awareness of the tensions within the body – and the ability to relax such tensions. Classically the body is scanned with the mind, usually from the head down, for tension, and then these areas are softened and relaxed by opening up (expanding) the area with your loving heart.

It is possible, of course, to do anything incorrectly. An incorrect approach to standing would be to see it as purely a leg strengthening exercise. It is not. It is an exercise in opening up and allowing gravity and relaxation to draw energy into the Earth. This is a process that is wanting to happen all the time – it is our tensions, especially our over-active or wandering minds, that block it. What I feel I need to stress here is that when you relax properly the heart becomes involved. It is as though the dissolved tension becomes replaced by heart and love. Love is simply the desire to connect – the impulse that innocently makes you reach out into the world. Rooting – relaxing into the Earth – fills your body with love – with the overwhelming desire to reach out and extend your beautiful energy into the world. Courage.

24.8.07

Relaxation

Tai Chi requires us to start developing and using the legs as channels for energy rather than just instruments to either prop us up from the ground or as machines to get us around. So, first and foremost, we must learn to sink our energy down the legs and into the ground. This requires the neck (jaw), shoulders and waist to be relaxed so that the energy in the upper body can drop down into the belly. Then the sacrum & hips must relax so that the energy can flow into the legs. The knees and ankles should then relax on their own, allowing a free flow into the Earth. Now every tension in our body and mind will work against this. Tension pulls energy into the core of the tension – it constricts, narrows and tightens, disconnecting from all around. That core is always fear, and as such is immaterial. The main problem area, in my opinion, is the hips. If the hips are relaxed then the pelvis has a degree of independence from the sacrum and thighs. Using any effort or force to tuck the bum under will bring tension into the hips. The pelvis needs to find its natural alignment through relaxation, and not be jammed into position. A correct posture held with tension is wrong. An incorrect posture held relaxedly is probably more correct. Now correct relaxation involves an expansion of your energy. So relaxing a joint does not simply involve relaxing the muscles, tendons and ligaments around and within the joint, but opening that joint – filling it with energy and good feeling. We call this good feeling heart because when relaxing the whole body the centre from which the wave of expansion emanates is the heart. When relaxing a specific area or place we first feel the core of the tension in that place, then we let that core become the heart of the relaxation we wish to fill the area. We then let our own heart become that heart – superimpose them. Expanding our own heart will then relax the area in question. So, if you put your awareness into the joint and let it fill with love then you are relaxing that joint correctly. Now a joint is just a juncture – a meeting of two bones. Any juncture in your daily life can be relaxed in the same way, including relationships – just put your good intentions and energy into the space between – not into the other – into the Third Heart.

21.8.07

Progress . . . is marked by more feeling, more anxiety and finally more pleasure.

Alexander Lowen

20.8.07


HAPPINESS IN THE TREES

O height dispersed and head
in sometimes joining
these sleeps. O primitive touch
between fingers and dawn
on the back

You are no more
simple than a cedar tree
whose children change
the interesting earth
and promise to shake her
before the wind blows
away from you
in the velocity of rest

Joseph Ceravolo

17.8.07

They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin

16.8.07


small bird with a note
like the creaking of a branch
twice the weight of a leaf
lost in leaf dapple

Thomas A Clark

15.8.07

Heart

When you involve the heart as the organ of loving then boundaries disappear – interfaces melt – and you become one with whatever you touch – the Earth, the other, the future, life. Such a state of affairs is extremely demanding and requires certainly the most difficult strength of all to acquire – the strength to be open. In other words, the strength to be totally vulnerable. There is no end to the amount of work that needs to go into this task. It requires almost constant feedback because our conditioned inclination is to pull into ego – close off. The reward we are used to giving ourselves for hard work expended is self-congratulation: a feeling that we have achieved something both worthwhile and tangible – satisfaction. This is precisely the feeling that makes us curl up into ourselves and cut off from (forget) what is beyond ourselves.

14.8.07

It's about hard work, which is about living to the full extent of one's capabilities.

Cecil Taylor

11.8.07

Open Channels

I receive many enquiries from readers wanting to know why I post poems on this blog. It is not just because I like poetry. It is because there is something about the way a poem and a poet gives that, for me, precisely models the way we as students of Tai Chi should give. Energetic connexion requires unconditional giving. No holding back. And it's not just giving the bare minimum, it's giving whole-heartedly with friendly enthusiasm – overflowing with giving – so that the channels of giving never get a chance to close down.

A while back I posted two beautiful photographs by Astrid Korntheuer, nicked from her website that I had chanced upon accidentally. About a month later I received an email from her threatening to sue me if I didn't remove the pictures. In contrast whenever I post a poem from a living poet it usually isn't long before I receive a friendly email from them thanking me for firstly reading their work, and secondly giving it exposure and introducing it to a new audience.

Back about 1987 when I was deep into practising Tai Chi all hours of the day, one of my colleagues asked our teacher why he hadn't asked me to teach for him yet. His reply was, "I am waiting for him to develop sexual charisma." At the time I thought he was being flippant but later I realised that sexual energy is just energy and what he meant by sexual charisma was enough good energy to draw peoples attention in and create a healthy (flowing) connexion.

I'm just trying to say that I feel it wrong if we as teachers mete out our knowledge. The action of giving takes care of what's given. We need to have exactly the same kind of relationship with everything in our lives. The model is the one with the Earth. If it's not relaxing, free-flowing and opening (expanding) then Tai Chi is reduced to body-mechanics and the only energy is kinetic.
Energetic connexion with the Earth is absolutely vital and necessary. It provides an infinite source of good energy but more importantly it tempers the rampant ego.

10.8.07

A life tempered by compromise is deathly.
The only thing that should temper life is love.

9.8.07



being
aware
you can bring
a meeting place
the body – your only
function
functioning naturally,
a place
Now let me say it to you—simply as I can: the search for an art . . . . either in the making or the appreciation . . . . is the most terrifying adventure imaginable: it is a search always into unexplored regions; and it threats the soul with terrible death at every turn; and it exhausts the mind utterly; and it leaves the body moving, moving endlessly through increasingly unfamiliar terrain: there is NO hope of return from the territory discovered by this adventuring; and there is NO hope of rescue from the impasse where such a search may leave one stranded.


Stan Brakhage

8.8.07

Energy is like money – one can become interested in acquiring it for less than honourable reasons, and having it doesn't make you a better person.

Relaxation

An all-consuming interest in relaxation starts to possess you when tension, and the feelings associated with tension (a tight and smug egocentric feeling of power – the power to cut off), becomes intolerable. Something inside must mature, and you must realise that any tension is keeping you from the truth – is wasting your time. Releasing tension is a simple matter of letting go, something we can do at any moment if we so wish. What prevents us from doing so is that we prefer to hold onto the tension, for whatever reason. If you are in any way honest, sensitive and compassionate then you will quickly become aware of the damage your tension is doing not only to yourself but to your relationships and to the people you are in those relationships with, especially those you weild power over, such as children and students.
When I give them my works, how pleased
they seem with degrees of failure.
The only applause I could accept
would be the sound of them all
going to work from disgust.



Clark Coolidge

7.8.07

Giving

Energetic connexion is just another way of stating the universal law that if you give (in the right way) then you automatically and instantaneously receive (in the right way). If your giving is a relaxed and joyful opening then your energy will naturally extend into whatever you connect with – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You will then also receive from whatever you connect with – immediately. It is a natural law of energy. It cannot happen any other way. If it doesn't happen then your giving is not unconditional – you are still tense – still holding something back for yourself. It has nothing to do with the quality or state of the entities you connect with. In one sense it feels that your opening totally encloses the other, or permeates the entirety of the other, and the boundaries between you melt – you become one, at least energetically. This oneness is clearly palpable and not just theoretical.

In the park recently, during a morning Tai Chi class of Nitsan's, we were practising an exercise with a partner (Nitsan's work is all partner work). The exercise required us to relax into each other. I was having real problems. My legs were in agony and my stability was non-existent. My partner was having a great time. I asked Nitsan what was wrong. He watched thoughtfully for about 30 seconds, and then said "You are giving yourself physically to the other person, but not emotionally." It was one of those rare instructions that changed my life forever.

6.8.07

I never have connected loyalty to anything save love; ideas, never, with them, principles also, I am a renegade, they aren't worth a shit and you know it.

Ed Dorn to LeRoi Jones, 1961

Foundation

The fundamental assumption in Tai Chi, and probably in all spiritual endeavour, is that there is an all-pervading and omnipresent force of connexion in the universe, and the meaning of life is to open up to this force as best we can. (This force effectively encourages entities and systems to open up, expand, organize and grow.)

In Tai Chi we also assume that it is tension that prevents us from connecting: if all tension were removed from our bodies then we would be totally connected.

Tension is a use of energy that tightens into itself – a disconnexion from all around it – which somehow helps us hold on to what we think we are – self.

Self is the accumulation of all the tension in the body. We identify with it because it covers and besmirches the true self: it feels like it's the only thing we have.

Your true self is really a state – a state of perfect and complete connexion. A free flow of energy.

Tensions are released by relaxing, and in Tai Chi we make a strict distinction between a relaxation that makes you floppy and lifeless (relaxed but still disconnected), and a relaxation that impels you to connect energetically. Tension closes and cuts off (negative, pessimistic); relaxation opens and connects (positive, optimistic).

Connexion just means communication – a two-way flow of energy – and has nothing to do with physical attachment, holding on, or grasping.

By connect energetically we mean that there is a streaming of energy from you into the entity, and from the entity into you. These two streams equal each other in quantity but differ significantly in quality.

If there is a lot of energy then the energetic conduit can feel taut and resilient. This tautness is not tension – we call it tone or tonus.

Natural just implies that we are trying to get back to some perfect state – the true connected self – that awaits us underneath all the tensions we house. Practically it just means according to universal laws of Nature, i.e. if we weren't to get in the way with our tensions, it would all happen by itself.

Unclutterable provenance. Where vacuum of
the notes not hit outline the ones that are.

Clark Coolidge

5.8.07

Openness

As teachers we learn pretty quickly that giving a student simple orders: relax, soften, abandon, sink, doesn't really get the job done. Even if the student does as they are told they are still operating within their own closed system of self – they are still relying on what they understand by such terms. What the student needs is to allow their system to open so that all these terms can enter never-ending processes of redefinition. If the student opens then grace enters the equation and things will start happening in their life to clarify, deepen and personalize the instruction they receive in class. As students we all experience this at the beginning – the excitement of a whole new world opening up before us – it makes everything in our life fresh and new and more meaningful. The truly great masters are the ones for whom this excitement never abates, because that world never stops opening. They remain like innocent children always seeing the world for the first time. As a teacher it is your responsibility to show your students such openness and somehow infect them with the bug.
Perfection is the fine line. The delicate balance of opposites.

Touching Perfection



One of those magical moments when a fellow student of Tai Chi hits the perfect posture. I knew it was good not from the way it looked but because of how it felt when I touched it. The energy it contained was relaxed, firm, rooted, sharp, light, but also rich – with body and depth. This richness came from Sandy feeling the truth of what he had touched, and allowing the joy of that truth to fill his body. It is relatively easy to help your partner touch perfection, but unless they recognize it and are totally inspired by it (allow it to change their life forever), I'm not sure how useful it is.

4.8.07

Humility and Teaching

If we are trying to learn something – anything really, but especially something like Tai Chi, which requires us to become more connected, that is, less ego driven – then humility is an essential quality to possess. This requires us to be the one that does not know. The one able to drop all aspects of our character that are trying to get in the way of us receiving not just new information, but new energy and new ways of aligning ourselves with reality, in fact, in some cases, new reality. Once a student reaches relative mastery they are qualified to teach, and they generally do (there's a Tai Chi class on every street corner nowadays). Problems set in if the student/teacher lets the thrill of leading a class go to their head. This happens if the teacher starts teaching too soon, i.e. before their own practice has tempered their ego sufficiently to be open to others in the right way all of the time. My own teacher used to tell the keen students who were interested in teaching that they need to put in, at the very least, two hours of solitary practice every day, and the equivalent in partner work. And by every day he meant every day, i.e. if you miss a day, for whatever reason, then do four hours the next. The student would then be qualified to teach after 5 to 10 years depending upon their talent. This means that a student should have at least 3500 hours of solo practice and 3500 hours of partner work behind (within) them, before they even think about teaching a class. Now thinking about it another way, in our society acquiring a profession generally requires at least three years of university training. My undergraduate training required about 40 hours of study a week for 30 weeks of the year and about 20 hours a week for the remaining 22. This adds up to about 4000 hours in total. Given that the average Tai Chi teacher would claim that their art has more depth than the average university course, it stands to reason that qualifying as a Tai Chi teacher requires more work hours. As usual I'm writing here about an ideal world. But even in this ideal world it is difficult for a teacher to remain truly humble, especially when it becomes clear that their intrinsic energy is far better than those around them.

3.8.07

Responsibility

There is nothing so depressing for a teacher than a student who greets each new instruction with the enthusiastic affirmation, “Oh yes, I know!” If the student had truly known then the instruction would not have been aired. Each new instruction you receive from your teacher is similar to a correction to your posture. Sometimes that correction can be a simple, light but meaningful touch that doesn't move your body at all but gives it energy and support (and knowledge) so that a deeper relaxation can take place. The same with verbal instruction. The teacher can tell you something you feel you know completely, yet that instruction will contain an energetic nuance you are new to and that you must be sensitive and receptive to if you are going to be a good student, that is, if you are going to progress along the path your teacher is laying before you, rather than the path you have constructed for yourself (destiny rather than ambition). When the good student is with their teacher they are in a state of nervous apprehension, the same way they would be in the midst of an enemy. They are listening intently for the next attack which is how a deep and true instruction feels because it really bites into the ego and threatens your sanity. This is why the teacher's company is difficult to take: it places great strain on your mind and energy. And this is why too much contact with your teacher will force you to armour yourself against his reality and at the same time make you dependent upon his energy. If this happens then you effectively start moving backwards, even if energetically you are getting stronger and more refined. What has happened is that you begin to feel that because you spend time in a knowing environment, then you actually know. But in fact you know nothing. You begin to really learn and really know when you take the instruction into your life and apply it intelligently, diligently and patiently. Your life is your business and not your teachers. Your teacher's business is your spiritual progress which may require him to offer advice about life changes it would be prudent for you to make, but ultimately no one can live your life but you. Doing as you're told is not living, it is slavery.

1.8.07

Connexion

When we properly relax we find ourselves rooting through any point of contact we have with the world: the feet when standing, bum and feet when sitting, and body when lying down. When we touch another, object or creature, we also root into and through that other. What this means is that our energy enters the other and naturally finds the other's place of power – its root or its essential character or nature. The energy and character of the other is then allowed into us and we become infused and suffused with it. It is a beautiful and healthy way of being in the world.

Gravity is the constant force that draws our energy down into the Earth so that rooting happens naturally when we release tensions. There is a similar force drawing us to make contact – physical and emotional – with the things around us. The seat of this attraction is in the heart. When the heart is open the arms and voice naturally reach out to all before. Watch a 7 or 8 month old child. Its hands are on everything impulsively, and it learns to crawl and then walk in order to satisfy this overwhelming desire to touch the world. It starts to vocalize at the same time – letting out energy and attracting attention at the same time. We move because we want the stimulation and reassurance of touch. We stay still because we want to be replenished by the Earth. As the baby gets older it starts to experience negativity. Its positive advances – its natural desire to connect – are sometimes met with rejection and sometimes met with physical pain. These experiences gradually dampen the natural attraction of the open heart. The heart starts to close and the attractive force subsides. The child is now controlled by fear.

Now as good Tai Chi students we work hard to reverse this process – to open the damaged heart. This work starts with relaxing and opening up to gravity and the Earth (rooting). If this work is successful then the heart will naturally heal and open because the energy that the Earth gives us (in exchange for the energy we give her) naturally rises up and fills the heart – fills to overflowing. Past fears are wiped away and we are as though reborn, but now with the wisdom and power of our own root to back up our advances into a world trembling to be touched. If the heart does not fill then the energy of the Earth is not rising which can only mean that your own energy is not getting down into her – there is a block in your body somewhere. We must remember that sinking has little to do with bending the legs. Sinking means sinking the energy relative to the body. If both body and energy sink together then there is no real – useful – sinking. Sinking is allowing the energy to stream down through the body and into the Earth. My advice would be to look for tension in the hips, groin and sacrum.


Peregrines nesting – or at least resting – on the Tate chimney.