Thought is constantly creating problems . . . and then trying to solve them. But as it tries to solve them it makes it worse because it doesn’t notice that it's creating them, and the more it thinks, the more problems it creates.
Relaxing & opening need to become almost synonymous. Lifeless relaxation happens when we allow gravity to operate on our body – when we surrender to gravity. Lively relaxation happens when we open up and allow gravity into the body, so it can operate on each particle individually, and through the body. Any tension or blockage resists gravity – refuses entry and refuses passage. Time is Nature's response to tension – a gentle but persistent reminder.
The thinking mind constantly reaffirms our own story about ourself, even when it is objectively considering. In fact the mind is incapable of objectivity because its sole concern is survival and dominance, and when these are concerns the story is always going to be far from the truth. There is one constant physical activity guaranteed to cut through both the story and the need for the story: breathing. When we become aware of our breathing our physical presence overshadows our mental one. Our minds can still think but the body can't take it all that seriously. Only when we forget the breathing are we invaded by fear, anxiety, hope, expectation, envy, greed, etc. When we breathe deeply and slowly and above all consciously then is all we have is what is here: we are what we appear to be: we become natural – part of Nature.
Relaxation, on one level, means looseness (relaxed muscles & joints), but this is just a beginning level. Ultimately relaxation means letting go and giving oneself completely to the work at hand. If this work is strenuous then clearly the muscles cannot be relaxed because they must work very hard, but they can be totally on and with the task, and in this sense they are relaxed – energy will flow through them. When we manage to relax into work in this manner then the work itself sparks the spirit which in turn opens the joints which in turn stimulates (demands) the energy to flow. This principle is an aspect of Central Equilibrium (if one thing exists then its opposite also exists in the same place at the same time) – we relax most usefully when we work whole-heartedly. Letting go (totally) is enormously difficult and requires years (decades) of work to locate and work through the countless tensions in the body and mind.
I think that to be truly a man, to be nature capable of thought, one must think with one's entire body, which creates a full, harmonious thought, like those violin strings vibrating directly with their hollow wooden box. As thoughts are produced by the brain alone ... they now appear to me like airs played on the high part of the E-string without being strengthened by the box - which pass through and disappear without creating themselves, without leaving a trace of themselves.
Basically we are not naturally rooted because of two things: (1) we are wrongly motivated, and (2) our bodies fight gravity instead of working with it. As babies we are perfect until we start to be greedy. This coincides with starting to crawl and then walk. A baby crawls because it sees something it wants, it puts its mind on the object and struggles towards it. And so it starts a lifelong habit of endgaining – striving to gain something relatively oblivious of how it is achieved, rather than sinking into the process or the action and allowing the end to be simply a natural consequence of what preceded it. This also starts the fight with gravity. If we could we would turn gravity off to speed up the endgaining: gravity and time are an inconvenience because they prevent us from having the thing now. If instead we worked with gravity, and let ourselves take the time, then we would develop energy and energetic connexions, specifically a lifelong relationship with Mother Earth, and this energy would be far more enriching than the objects of desire ever could be. Now these bad habits run very deep and they cannot simply be turned off by changing our minds – they have organized us physically and energetically as well as mentally, so a period of time (3 years is recommended as a minimum) is required, along with a body of correct work, to retrain ourselves to cooperate instead of fight – specifically with ourselves (body and energy), the Earth and everything else, as we do anything – even (especially) the simplest of tasks. Tai Chi, Hatha Yoga, Alexander Technique, Pilates, are all methods to achieve this: to make us acutely aware of our physical actions, our physical world, and our connexions. Tai Chi works fundamentally with root and with yielding (these are really the same thing – yielding is rooting to the other person as an extension of the Earth). Alexander Technique is very interesting: a good teacher will demonstrate in the first lesson that endgaining (forgeting the process for the sake of acquiring the object(ive)) actually makes it far more difficult to achieve the end result. Now the problem with a purely physical approach to anything (I include energy in physical) is that it refuses to recognize the importance of emotion, and especially emotional trauma, in our lives. If we do not confront our fears then they will always haunt and inhibit us, so we need a methodology that encourages them to manifest (show themselves), and encourages us to face them and work through them. In other words there must be therapeutic value in our work. This can only happen if the working environment is totally supportive, non-threatening, non-competitve, above all open – i.e. rooted in Mother Earth. Which brings us back to where we began.
The problem with peace is that unless it is a really spirited peace – full of activity and change – it leads to stagnation and disconnexion. Real peace is as threatening and dangerous as real war because it demands to be brought into every part of ourselves, it demands that we thoroughly wake up and connect – become useful. False peace, or rather lack of unrest, allows us to wallow decadently in its safety and boredom.
The string of pearls: a healthy spine. Each vertebra attached to its adjacent neighbour but free to move. A whip.
A healthy relaxed spine is extending in both directions along itself: active and alive. What prevents this is retreat into thought/tension (thought/tension is stiffness and tightness – contraction).
Our integrity – our wholeness and our honesty – is in the spine.
A healthy environment, like a healthy spine, is relaxed, free, flowing, full of interactions, full of change.
Our interpretation of the world imprints on our spine and then our spine creates our world.
The limbs and the head are extensions of the spine, so in a sense we are all spine.
For the body to work well, its motivation must be in the spine and not in the head or in the legs.
What fucks the spine and then our wholeness is concentration: dwelling too long and too linearly on one object. The eyes do this almost by their nature (light travels in straight lines), so we must learn to look differently – roving moving eyes. It's rude to stare. Not to be trapped by seeing. The eyes are in the body (back of the head) not on the object of observation. What we see is pretty inaccurate anyway, even with perfect eyes, and cannot be trusted (used as support).
The spine is like a chain and we are only as strong as our weakest link.
For the head to extend upwards (rather than move upwards) the tail must extend downwards. For the head to extend forwards the tail must extend backwards (this is central equilibrium).
If the spine is healthy, free and above all rooted (through the legs) then verticality is not terribly important – a convenience rather than a necessity.
Thought is a refuge: a cave gaudily decorated with our fears. It is a cave from which we rarely venture. When we do it is because we have been encouraged by an injection of energy and spirit. When this runs out or subsides we scamper back to our cave, whimpering and complaining, wondering why on Earth we ventured out in the first place.
Mind is an open expanding embracing space which when at peace contains everything there is. It is not passive. When empty it still contains natural principle, principles of generation and harmony. The body should be a concrete expression of mind, and the mind an abstraction of the principles we discover through the body. The mind cannot be cluttered with the inventions of thinking because these inventions are always illusions, but it can be obscured by them.
Our primary concern is not with yielding but with presence because we have to start with something real – something with the potential for positive consequence. To be present I must be here with no fear – with no tendency to either shrink or deflect. If I have no fear then I embrace and absorb what is touching me – I take it all into my body and into my Earth – my sacred ground. What comes in transforms me: I become the stone beneath my feet, the skin, wood, clay and metal I touch, the sun that sears my skin, the rain and wind in my face, and these transformations leave lasting imprints – they cleanse me of me and make me something better.
A friend pointed out to me recently that central equilibrium is, in many ways, an energetic, spiritual and karmic extension of Newton's Third Law of Motion – that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. We all know from school that if we want our hands to push forwards then our feet must push (the ground) backwards. Here we take the support of the ground for granted and generally trust it implicitly. However, to get energy flowing from the ground and into the object we are pushing, we must also trust the object, because if we are thoroughly relaxed then the feet and the hands are equalized: what happens between us and the object is the same as what happens between us and the ground. To get energy to flow we must trust the Earth not as a hard surface upon which to purchase, but as a supply of energy: a source we extend into and which thereby extends (its energy and presence) into us.
Yielding mind is mind not limited, constrained or congested (by thinking). Yielding mind is no-mind, central equilibrium, natural mind, the natural process. Yielding mind is the subtlest of influences and yet pervades everything. It is supremely active and soft. It invites and allows the vicinity into your body, making it a complex nexus of energies and influences. The principle of central equilibrium tells us that if we want energy to enter us then we must send our own energy and intent forward into that energy: to be entered we must enter (and to enter we must allow ourselves to be entered). The point of contact is then stable and can support, encouraging trust on both sides. From trust love can grow. Love is a trust so total that the point of contact becomes everything, melts and then there is union.
The elders say, "The longest road you're going to have to walk in your life is from here to here. From the head to the heart." But they also say you can't speak to the people as a leader unless you have made the return journey. From the heart back to the head.
First become intimate with your skeleton. This requires the flesh to be loose enough to allow your fingers and awareness into the bones. And then to allow free alignment of those bones with the natural flow of energy.
This is the most fundamental, and probably the most important, principle in Tai Chi (in anything and everything). It basically states that stillness is an ever refreshing balance of forces and energies. More specifically it implies that energy always flows in both directions, especially in a healthy exchange (any situation – any place – can be considered an exchange, at least with those places contiguous with it). This could also be a definition of health.