The other demands attention, and it is our contention in taiji that this demand is the only one able to break through the cocoon of self – to rupture my isolation and shock me to join. And meeting the challenge of this demand has nothing to do with understanding or knowledge, both of which give me the skill to deal with the anticipated other rather than the actual other. It has much more to do with openness and humility, and a willingness to play.
A simple exercise. I stand, relaxed and willing, before the other. They take hold of my hand and lift. I have three choices: to assist – making my arm easier to lift; to resist – keeping the arm in place, even if momentarily out of confusion or mild panic. (Assiting and resisting are both ways of staying in control – having things on my own terms – and both involve tension.) The third choice is neither to assist nor to resist but to relax, allow my arm to be its full loose weight, and allow the other the effort of lifting it. This third way we call yielding, and is a guarantee that energy will manifest.
As I practise my taiji, slowly, inexorably, but above all willingly, the past of tradition opens up before me and I sink down and forward (never back) into its deep dark recesses. This is a past I can absolutely trust to give endless support and nourishment, a past brimming with secrets which the faint light of my sincerity illumines just long enough to catch glimpses – whispered clues as to how to proceed. A past that requires the utter respect of endless revisiting and constant reinterpretation. Each visit adjusts not only my energy but also my karma, aligning me with destiny as I humbly accept and accede to its demands. In taiji we mine the past in order to better yield to the future.
Taiji is a method for awakening and developing energy. Relaxing the body and mind frees energy usually locked up in tension and anxiety, and the gentle movements – turning whilst shifting the body weight from leg to leg – stimulates the energy to flow and grow. As my energy refines and strengthens over the years of practice, it becomes clear that the character of this energy has far more to do with my ancestry and cultural traditions than with anything Chinese. That ancestry and tradition goes back a long way – thousands of years (certainly before Christianity crippled my people with guilt and sin) – pre-history. So, as I practice my taiji, which I do because I love it, I have to be aware that my spirit needs to reconnect with that ancient knowledge, which, in the domain of spirit, is still very much alive, and not become captured by Chinese theory, be it ch'i, five elements, I Ching, or whatever. Yin & Yang I consider to be a sufficiently universal and fluid concept, as old as night and day, which can be interpretted variously, that is, however I chose.
As soon as a feeling or idea (is there a difference?) becomes verbalized it is set as utterance, and this fixity, far from obliging me to stay true to my word, in fact liberates me from the sentiment and allows me to change. As soon as I voice "I love you" is all I can be sure is that I no longer do, not in the way those words were meant. That love may have grown stronger, may have weakened, may have deepened or may be bored and wanting to move on. Is all anything can do is change, so I must understand that any document or report of a state of affairs, be it photograph, video, utterance, diary entry, memory, is past, a past to which the absolute future bears little resemblance.
The old story: a great Master receives a talented apprentice whom he subjects to a strict regime of training – restricting the prentice's life and experience to that of the work and only the work. After many years of devoted labour the student acquires enough kung-fu to understand the world from within his art – he achieves mastery, and necessarily leaves his master's tutelage to make his own way in the world. After many more years of work – teaching, training, and above all, living, he acquires the wisdom and humility to fly free of the art itself. At this point he becomes a Master of the Tao.