The ideal life for most people is one filled to the brim with choices – one in which everything is chosen by the individual – nothing imposed. Such a life, which nowadays requires a hefty income, has the appearance of freedom, but as anyone with a bit of spirit knows, it comes at great cost, and that cost is spirit. Freedom of choice, far from empowering the individual, actually drains her of spirit and energy because it delays, if only for a fraction of a second, the decision making, and it always leaves a feeling of doubt 'If only I'd made the other choice.' It forces anxiety upon the chooser so that strangely the more practice a person has at choosing the more indecisive they seem to get, which then robs their actions of any power, and life just becomes a never-ending series of weak arbitrary choices directed by nothing more substantial that personal preference. A spirited person lives as if there is no choice, and if choices do present themselves the last thing they'll do is deliberate, weigh the options and then make the 'best choice.' They know that the only choice they really have is to live with spirit or not, and acts made with spirit always have the power to transform. So the quality of a decision (action) is determined by the spirit in which it was made, and not by what is decided.
To first find a discipline. Do what you're told, not what you want. Assuming the discipline is taught by a qualified master, this will enable you to gather & develop energy. This energy will direct you into spirit. The problem is that we chicken out – we too readily do it our way rather than the right way. Practising, as much as anything, is the struggle to remember how to do it right. Practising burrows back in time more than forward. It is dangerous in the sense that any slackness or lack of vigilance and all is lost. All taste or personal preference (ego) must be eradicated. Pain (suffering) is a matter of opinion – so clear away all doxa – dedoxicate. Spirit manifests when I withstand the pain – when suffering and courage collide. It is the whole body and mind about to shatter into innumerable pieces. The presence of death stalking me in the shadows. The embrace of life & death in a beautiful shimmering dance. Suddenly
If bourgeois liberalism is about maintaining the (economic) status quo whilst reasonably and peacefully defusing and resolving potential (class) conflict, then our work is pretty much the opposite: to shatter the (internal) status quo by finding as many fuses as possible and lighting them all. Tackling the ego is the most revolutionary task one can embark upon, and it is the task that must precede all others, otherwise change is only skin deep – amounts to no more than rearranging the furniture.
The good student quickly catches the internal aspect of a teaching. The mediocre student feels the internal but is too frightened to plunge in, so she concentrates instead on the external. The poor student also feels the internal but is so terrified of what it implies for them (namely complete change) that they mock and deride it. The struggle for all of us, as my teacher never tired of saying, is to become a good student.
Openness in taiji doesn't really mean being open to new experience, but rather being fluid enough to move to new energetic positions from which the same experience becomes new: generating novelty by changing oneself rather than by changing the experience or the environment. The same way that freedom in taiji has nothing to do with freedom of choice, but instead the freedom to change into whatever is required to get the job done. Both openness and freedom are aspects of adaptability.
Moral indignation is an example of externalizing what should be an internal affair. The real battle – the one we should all be engaging – is not with the behaviour of others but with our own ego – the fascist within – and if we are honestly thus engaged we would not have the stomach for the hypocrisy that always accompanies moralizing. Those empty of ego are full of compassion – not in a sentimental lovey-duvey kind of way – but by being totally present and therefore energetically available for whomever or whatever calls upon them.
The next question will indubitably be better. Humour hidden in the ivy. Meaning absorbed by laughter. Dances circling around the root. Songs bent in the wind. Love standing upright in abandon. A powerful teaching wants to grow. An incommensurable destiny. Passion with grafted endurance. Born from an ageless wound. A radical furrow. Painful reflections folding in on themselves. Origins and ciphers. What difference is there? Pure foundling. Forever ill at ease.
The present – its quality and my engagement with it – has nothing to do with the activity itself. It matters little whether I am quietly meditating or fighting for my life: if that engagement is total then I am alive. And strangely this aliveness means that I pass by most of what passes for life, which is really just the meaningless activity of those who are not alive. Surprisingly, this is hilariously funny.
Nothing is really known : everything is actually a matter of trust. And what I trust becomes support, and as such enters me and changes me. In taiji I have the earth beneath me, ever constant and stable. I have the heavens above me, ever guiding and mysteriously swaying; and I have the Other before me, ever other, beautifully inscrutable. That is my reality.
Tension anticipates a future. If that future is undesirable the tension takes the form of fear. If desirable then the tension manifests as an overweening positivity – a constant insistence that the world is good – for oneself at least. Whilst the latter may be more admirable, and such people are generally better company than fearful pessimists, it is still tense, and as such refuses that soft melting becoming relaxing into life and time that, as taiji students, we trust to be our ultimate reality.
Charles Boer talking of a visit he made to Charles Olson pre 1969:
I was visiting him here [Gloucester, Massachusetts] and I had to borrow his beach wagon which had no reverse on it. I went out to get some sandwiches when all of a sudden I discovered there was no reverse! I managed to get back but how do you back up, how do you park? So I came back and I said "There's no reverse on your car!" And he looked at me as if there should be no reverse on any car, and said "Let me tell you something: never get yourself in a position where you have to go backward."
When the mind is quiet of thought and anxiety then everything moves, including mind, or rather flows: the flow of life. Thinking is only possible if this flow is interrupted – if the flow of mind is halted with tension so that thoughts can be written onto it long enough for them to be registered. Life, which necessarily flows, cannot be thought. If I think then I think about past or future and thereby weaken the present – the only access I have to life. I enter life by bringing my intensity to bear upon the present.
My teacher told me years ago that there would come a time when taiji would demand that I live in exile. At the time I thought him fanciful, or at least I considered that time so far ahead that I paid little heed. Now that it has happened I am in a position to consider why this exile – this wrench from culture, comrades and family – is so important.
We humans have many connexions – points of contract with the world. The function of life is largely to investigate each to discover which are real – deep – and which are superficial – of little consequence. Those that are deemed important we must learn to trust unconditionally, which of course makes us vulnerable – lays us bare to rejection and injury if such connexions, for whatever reason, falter.
In taiji our primary connexion is with the Earth, or at least so it seems. If we look at the old writings on taiji, the ones by great great masters, then we see 'Head suspended from above' being stressed, which to me indicates a connexion with the Heavens – the stars – as primary. And the principle of Central Equilibrium tells us that if we are connecting to what is below then we must also be connecting to what is above otherwise I am forever drifting off balance.
The problem that taiji addresses so profoundly is how do we make this vertical connexion – that with Heavens and Earth – feed our heart – our deep connexions with others – our spiritual life. And it is a life apart – a separate life – which mundane daily living impinges little upon, but does of course distract my attention, which should, for the sake of balance, bear upon my spiritual-heart existence at least fifty percent.
A person in exile is one who does not belong, neither to land nor race nor creed nor culture (and many times neither language), so the points of contact with the world which the native takes for granted are absent for the exile. This means that deeper connexions – non-habitual ones – uninherited ones – come to the fore. One gains support from one's own destiny as much as anywhere – a feeling that one's existence has meaning and makes meaning.