The concept of Central Equilibrium – at its most general and expansive – states that peace and quiet exist as balances rather than absolute states. Everything, whether object, event, concept, feeling is operated upon by, in fact exists as, a manifold of forces. Life itself when lived correctly – daringly – is a process that constantly threatens disequilibrium, and the living of life is a continual struggle to retrieve equilibrium – to equilibrate. In taiji the name we give to this struggle is yielding. It requires, above all, awareness and sensitivity, and an immediate engagement with life so that adjustments can be made as quickly as possible – pre-consciously; consciousness always comes after the event of yielding. To yield intelligently I must be aware of the forces operating in all situations I find myself in. The one I’d like to highlight here is the event of confronting the Other – face to face with another person – heart to heart. They exist as a force in front of me – their energy blasts me, their expectations draw me. To respond adequately and appropriately I must become aware how their presence – their demands upon my attention and energy – cause my being to reconfigure itself. If I can remain relaxed (and this is the key) then their presence, instead of moving me, either physically or emotionally, will instantly and unconsciously illicit an energetic response: my energy will reach out behind me and connect with what my teacher called the guardian, to balance the necessary connecting with their presence before me. The guardian is an aspect of energy that allows me to remain free and vulnerable whilst interacting with others. I exist always suspended between what’s before me (what threatens) and what bolsters (supports and protects) me.
Death is the subject we try our best to avoid, especially when young, and it is something our culture encourages us to avoid. Nowadays we can go through life never having seen a dead body, let alone been present whilst someone is dying. The average person fears death because they perceive is as an end – an end to their identity, their ego, their specialness, their existence, so cultures invent all sorts of comforts – heaven, an afterlife, reincarnation – anything to avoid contemplating the unthinkable – non-existence. For the spiritual person death is the final release, the last stage of the process of dissolution they started when they picked up the reins of spirit from their teacher. The only thing that frightens them is the real possibility that death may not be the end.
Any continuous repetitive activity (practice) has three phases – a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning is the commencement and the establishing of the activity. It is a change from not-doing to doing – a shift in balance. Like most change it is stressful and exciting – involves tension. The length of the beginning phase depends upon my ability to relax into the activity – the more quickly I relax the shorter the beginning and the sooner I enter the next phase. This middle phase is marked by stability – I am now fully doing the activity to such a degree that energy begins to manifest and gather within the body – the doing is no longer just the using of energy – it becomes the development of energy. We say that this phase appears when I forget the not-doing – when I am fully consumed by the doing – comfortable and content. Gradually though, I begin to tire, physically and mentally – the stress of doing begins to kick in and I start to get tense. This marks the beginning of the end. I can extend the middle by consciously relaxing the developing tensions, but once the end phase is established it is doubtful how much, if anything, is achieved by continuing with the activity. The more experience I have – and experience is only useful in that it helps me relax – the shorter the beginning and ending phases. I would like to become all middle. Strength and stamina accrued through practice extend the middle, and the problem I am then faced with is not starting and reaching energy – but how to stop – what is it that makes me stop – and do I in fact ever really stop. Then the beginning and the end take on a very different character – bleeding borders – shadings from one relaxed process into another – connexions.
Do we ever really see each other? Foundering in the night. Guarding and regarding. Listening to the quality of the gaze. The time of life. Tallied by turning. Beheld by the other. A strange deportment. Exchanging glances. Touching blindly. The consent of contact. I dared your lids and lashes. Tirelessly inhabiting an interval. A dark circular opening. Tiny reflected images. Not enlightened but dawning. A pupil receiving light. A tongue touching the eye whilst lips pray because I'm afraid. God Bless. One last navigation. You'll outlive me my child. The promise of no longer. A sublime indecency. The tact of touch. Invent a fact, however unlikely. I deciphered the desire. The shores of pure and simple. Nocturnal expositions sidestepping unity. Take me by surprise. No matter the cost. Outstrip me and take me into safekeeping. Give me an advance. Urgent silence. This obligation to insinuate. Leave me free for the brink. Pressing that original impulse into stone. Focusing on an element of eternity. Ruined chapels and antique dealers. Tower of signs. Monumental mind. I risk being present. Vestiges of telling. Memories to meditate upon. Keeping vigil. Tenderly
The ego is a tricky customer – the trickiest – a veritable trickster. A master of self-repair – whatever I do to diminish, erode, reduce it, it quickly not only smooths over but turns to its own advantage: any attempt to weaken it ends up strengthening it. I see this a lot with students and colleagues (I would like to say 'comrade' but since so few people really battle nowadays I will refrain): the ones who have 'amazing' energy experiences, either through their own practice (rarely), during a weekend workshop of whatever variety (what I call the 'weekend workshop syndrome' – commonly) or during a drug trip (most common of all). One cannot deny that the experience was strong and real, but I generally despair at their neurotic need to assimilate the experience by talking about it. As soon as it is voiced the ego has claimed it. Not only claimed but discovered a way to ensure that any similar experience in the future serves it and not spirit. So how should we work? Is the case against ego not hopeless? Well no, it is not hopeless, it is just hard work, hard featureless work. All spiritual discipline of any value will tell you that the work at hand, the only work worth engaging, is to become quiet. This is how we battle the ego – we just do our taiji until that is all we are doing. And yes, it is often boring and often grim, at least until you have really committed to it. Once that commitment is made – once you realize that there is nothing else to do – once you understand that you have no choice – then the work is beautiful and nothing else in life quite compares.
Remove everything possible so that all that remains is essential. Work then generates excess – the delicacy of occasion – a play of light dancing on surfaces – a quality that never quite achieves the vulgarity of manifestation or actuality – a shimmer of memory that never quite breaks into presence.
When you are lying on your death-bed, teetering on the brink of life and death, your energy will have dwindled to nothing, but your heart can be immense. This is destiny which the good student feels so strongly that it is always present. True spiritual work is tempered by an ever-present death, and sharpened by a willingness to die.
Any teacher will tell you that the only way to proceed is through practice – to establish a daily practice regime – a sacred time where work gets done and energy flows. The quality of the work will depend largely upon what motivates it, and ultimately there is no better motivation than love: the student practices because they have fallen in love with the work. Even when the work is difficult, which it inevitably will be on occasion, the student is unwavering – they have the honor to do the work regardless.