One of the deepest metaphysical assumptions to modern civilized life is the binary opposition of life and death – they are assumed to be mutually exclusive to the extent that the more alive I am then the further I am from death and vice versa. Any experienced warrior (in short supply nowadays) will attest to the lie in this assumption, and will also stress that to be really alive one must not just face death but evoke death – call upon it to attend and witness ones actions, thereby lending them the power and gravitas of the choiceless life.
Consistency and constancy are the hallmarks of disciplined work, which aims, little by little, to sink a well and tap deep, otherwise inaccessible, energies. Such work is difficult because for long periods there will be no seeming reward and the student will be tempted to desist, hence the need for constancy. And for those driven to seek, the temptation will always be to try new things, in which case they will be perptually scratching the surface, hence the need for consistency.
Sartre has a beautiful phrase: "We are all the for-itself that wants to be in-itself." When I am for-itself then I am self-concerned, thinking about and acting for myself, and when I am in-itself I am generous, carefree, reckless, responding instantly to stimuli without the mediation of thought or consideration.
The present moment is unique – has never quite happened before and can never quite happen again. My practice, which is built upon repetition, must somehow honour and uncover this uniqueness, whilst remaining true to its eternal principles. This is achieved by practising with passion, so that although the form remains largely the same, the content is always different. Passion – spirit – generates difference.
Clearly distinguish full and empty. These are the contradictory affirmations that I must house in my body at the same time. The mind, usually in charge, cannot handle such a demand. Is all it can do is relax, take a back seat, and let the heart be the container. Then, as I do my taiji, it is as though my heart contains my body.
The well-taught (well-cooked) student harbors secrets galore – imprints embedded in her energy by the master over years of exposure. These secrets can only be recovered once the student breaks away from the master and becomes a teacher herself – her own master. Then it is a continuing passion for the work coupled with the inspiration of good students that starts the slow unlocking of this power.
The old and established are signified by well-worn names and concepts. Part of my work should be questioning these names – deconstructing them – prising them apart to expose their truth. The newly appearing are like wisps of smoke or ellusive flashes that need to be captured and caged in new names and concepts in order to nurture and investigate. Once trapped they behave like frightened wild animals that scurry to the back of the cage whenever we approach. We must be gentle and patient to coax them out of the dark and into our presence. Any force or heavy-handedness and they retreat, and we find ourselves working instead with our memory of them. This will make their names simply an extension of what we already know, and thereby deny them their power – their ability to transform, both us and themselves.
When I practice taiji two forces are at play: a weakening and rupturing of the old and established, and a strengthening and consolidating of the newly appearing. My progress depends upon my ability to allow these forces play, and upon my powers of discrimination – my ability to sniff out and discern what, from the welter of new insights, deserves work.
The goal of our profession is the kingdom of God. Its immediate purpose, however, is purity of heart, for without this we cannot reach our goal. We should therefore always have this purpose in mind: and, should it ever happen that for a short time our heart turns aside from the direct path, we must bring it back again.