Taiji teaches the skills required to become a passionate and compassionate human being:
- connect to the Earth as sink and source of energy – rooting
- acknowledge other energies on their own terms – listening
- engage other energies – connecting
- turn potentially harmful energy to your advantage – yielding
- finish a task before starting the next – attacking
- stay connected – sticking.
Keep to a yielding mind. This is the key phrase of taiji (as “Forget self and become one with the Tao” is the key phrase of Taoism). Yielding is the art of returning energy, of keeping energy continuous and circulating when it threatens to stop or escape. A yielding mind is one that is continuously returning as a flow or exchange of energy. So, a mind with the breathing is a yielding mind as long as it perceives and thinks the turns of the breath as continuous rather than discontinuous. The yielding mind relishes the point of return, the point where yin becomes yang, the point of transformation, and strives to make that point stretch and extend and engulf all that is static or inert or habitual. I don't keep to a yielding mind on the off-chance that I may be attacked and so need to use my ch'uan, but because a yielding mind keeps me passionately engaged with energy, and in particular, spirit. A yielding mind keeps life, in its moment by moment becomings, alive and worth living. Without a yielding mind I am carried by life the way a piece of driftwood is carried by a stream, intact and relatively unchanged. Instead I want, and need, to live a life where every part of me is challenged and stressed and forced to swallow life in great gulps, a life of such intensity that everything about it is threatening to break or rupture.
The antelope spends its days grazing the savanna. Every now and then it needs to flee a predator; if it fails then it is killed and eaten. Imagine a situation where all predators are removed. The antelope is now safe to graze all it likes without having to keep a weather eye open for danger. Does that antelope now lead a better life? And is this new predator-free state of affairs good for the health of the species?
As soon as one starts to write about taiji it becomes yin and yang, dialectics, movement from stillness, in breath following out breath, internal and external, yet the doing of taiji is much more about finding a feeling, uncovering a secret, honoring the moment, serving the Tao, harmonising with all I fail or refuse to know. In this sense it is religious.
Be a bit freer than you perhaps might have thought you could be, or ought to be. That will give the paint a chance to be itself, not to be stunted but to come alive.
Matthew Collings' advice to novice painters.
The Tao Te Ching, wonderful text though it is, is still only describing the natural process. We, as warriors, have no interest in such bourgeois propaganda, because we know it wont help us win the fight, it will only help us settle into some comfortable conformity known as understanding. We know that understanding the natural process is nothing when the real task at hand is to become a natural process – become a force of nature – so alive – so intense – so immediate – so amoral that everything in our wake is changed, and not necessarily for the better.
My miracle is that I am alive and I have duration. My job, as a veritable miracle, is to create miracles, to use my energy to make a difference, to make difference. In my case this means working with those that seek me out to shed their skins of inauthenticity – to help them stop being copies, fakes, and become original.
That strangeness, which makes you singularly unusual, and probably makes your life a hell of sorts, is inherited from one of your parents. You are not unique, just a point on a line going back probably tens of thousands of years. A lineage. A line of flight, of energy. Part of your work, your meditation, should be a tracing back – a journey back in time as you sink into that energy. In fact, this lineage is time, and without sinking into it, there is nothing to thrust you forward into your destiny. Any teaching you receive should concentrate on connecting you to your own specialness, which of course is never what you think it is because it cannot be thought. It is necessarily completely beyond the realms of the imagination. In this sense your destiny is simply to become who you are.
When I connect with my heart or my belly I invest the object with the possibility of life – I animate it – and I draw us together – my connexion pulls me toward it. I am no longer the stable point of reference. I am the kite, held by my connexions. I no longer have the stability or the stupidity to manufacture opinions. I am simply held, suspended, in a vast intricate web, most of which I am unaware of; and the only thing I know is that I cannot know, so I do the only thing I can do – I abandon myself.
The natural world cannot be represented or described without taming and framing and therefore corrupting it. Any attempt to enter it with a thinking mind, or even an organic structure, will clear away its infinite texture, leaving only that which can be known. In a sense this is our power as civilized beings : we change the world into something we are comfortable with simply by entering it. This is the major theme of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings : the emerging Age of Men necessitates a gross and violent reduction in diversity of the natural world, because man's chosen tool – his thinking mind – is too specialized and restricted to accommodate nature in its full glory. It is also, much more poignantly, precisely what mankind finds itself in the midst of today : the quickest and most horrific mass extinction programme the planet has ever seen.
There is an inevitable suffering involved with being alive, with being burnt by life's inevitable intensities. This is the suffering we must be brave enough to seek out and confront. We could call it the passion of life. There is also a suffering involved with avoiding life: boredom, laziness, depression, anxiety, neurosis – all effectively excuses for dodging the real biting intensity of life. This we must refuse, by renewing our commitment to the passion of life, each time it shows its smarmy face.
10 RULES FOR STUDENTS AND TEACHERS
FROM JOHN CAGE
- Find a place you trust, and then, try trusting it for awhile.
- (General Duties as a Student)
Pull everything out of your teacher.
Pull everything out of your fellow students.
- (General Duties as a Teacher)
Pull everything out of your students.
- Consider everything an experiment.
- Be Self Disciplined – this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
- Follow the leader. Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There is only make.
- The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It is the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things. You can fool the fans – but not the players.
- Do not try to create and analyse at the same time.
They are different processes.
- Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself.
It is lighter than you think.
- We are breaking all the rules, even our own rules and how do we do that?
By leaving plenty of room for "x" qualities.
Always be Around.
Come or go to everything.
Always go to classes.
Read anything you can get your hands on.
Look at movies carefully, often.
SAVE EVERYTHING – it might come in handy later.
If you are making progress, which, assuming you have been correctly taught for a long enough time, and are practising regularly, on your own and with others, you will be, then your taiji today will be a total embarrassment to you in a year's time. It's not so much that you'll know more then, but rather you'll be more aware of how much you don't know. Your taiji will be less clever and more natural. Softer, but only because your understanding of softness has deepened, beyond that light feeble touch you originally valued as the ultimate in so called softness. Wherever you are today, you'll be somewhere better tomorrow. It's all in transition, and it's all transitory. This depends on one thing: correction.
A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labour and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.
Words offer me distance, a haven from which I can prod at the world, dig ditches, grooves of understanding, greased slides down which I rush oblivious to warning into the pit of knowledge. Real thinking always questions what is seemingly known, stripping me of security, until I arrive at a place where I can simply be, unencumbered by possessions, of which understanding is the most insidious.
Most of us, although we don't acknowledge it, are burdened by emotional attachments. Not just to those we have feelings for, but to everything in our lives: people, objects, thoughts, feelings. This means that the heart, which should be fluid and soft, takes on the stable characteristics of a physical centre or anchor or root: the heart ends up doing what in taiji we would like the lower dantien, or belly, to do. The lower dantien should be a point of physical stablity from which elastic threads emanate and attach to all other physical parts of me and my world. It anchors me physically in the world. Then, and only then, the heart can be free to roam and change as it will – to exist in, and only in, the world of affection. For most of us this is the work in hand: to detach emotionally and attach physically.
The only thing I need to change is my relationship with myself. If this changes then everything changes. I need to stop considering myself as special, stop seeing myself as authority or standard. Because when I perceive the world from the vantage of my own reality then I invest all I experience with the fallacy of that reality – with my actual unreality – my disconnectedness. In taiji we attempt to put the Other first. This has nothing to do with being nice or considerate to people, or even with trying to understand their point of view, but with allowing their inherent reality, untainted by my judgements, to shake and unsettle my own. Allowing their eminent immanence to blow away my own trivial transcendence. This is an important point for taiji students, because as they study and train, and their understanding and expertise increases, their confidence in this renewed false reality entrenches and hardens. They should attempt to recollect the beginning of their studies, when novelty and unknowing prevailed, before they had managed to construct the world anew. This is the reality we wish to instil – the reality of no reality, or no hard stable reality. Instead a reality of ceaseless flux, with me as physical centre.
The arbitrary caprice of some utterly irrelevant circumstance. An alien reality with a will of its own. Solid actuality taken from the hands of another. Nobility and wealth find no enjoyment. This one-sided self-existent life. Endowed with beneficence and subjection. At variance with itself. Isolation and transcendence. Absolutely elastic like the preceeding reflexion. The separate character is not completed. In principle it takes root in revolt. Spirit imparts an unnatural selfless object. Frankly and freely keeping hold of itself. Transitory power and the voluntary dispensary. Inorganic arrogance benefits from accident.
The virtue of principle. The quality of pure abstraction. Exercised constraint and the identity of subsistence. Nature exists of itself. Something alien. Thinking is not an external activity. Absorbed in mere assurance. Proper inwardness or retraction into self. The immanent self and later on. Steeped in concrete. The very kernel. Forget the general survey. Take effect. True knowledge and the existing entity. Higher truth and the whole as such. Sunk into the material at hand. The contrary demands abandonment. Understanding assumes a position. Degraded and predicated upon speaking. A table of contents. Self-certainty. Exercise that insight. Absorbed in contest. Lifeless magnetism and the intrinsic position. An immanent living principle. The indwelling process of the transition to form. Beauty and holiness are in vogue these days.
People often ask me the difference between taiji and chi gung, or more crassly the difference between taiji and yoga. In a sense there is no real comparison: chi gung and yoga are methods for developing personal energy through bodily movement, whereas taiji is a martial art – a method for engaging with and fighting with another human being. At every level taiji must be imbued with that beautiful and mysterious concept of the other person – the Other – he who is alien to me in all non-trivial respects, otherwise it is not taiji. The physical and energetic contest between me and the other person then becomes the model for every event in life. Each event not only comprises the known and unknown, external and internal, predictable and unpredictable, but is created out of the contest between these polarities. Without the contest there is no poise, no equilibrium, no elasticity, no softness and no magic. So, as students of taiji, it is our duty to enrich each and every event in our lives by searching out, or rather being soft enough to permit, the Other to manifest, and threaten to uproot all that is sure. The outcome, always uncertain, then becomes my teacher and guide through this torturous life.
The musician strives for virtuosity in the belief that the facility that brings will also allow freedom of expression. But as the decades pass the musician realises that that virtuosity doesn't only lock him into patterns of expression, it locks him into expression itself. This is the insight of the East – a Zen insight – that the things I create – art, speech, movement, gesture, affection – can only be free and thereby natural when I am free and natural – free of myself and free of all I know.
The proper student of a Master, whom we may call the disciple – he with the discipline to follow, must learn, often the hard way – through failure, to behave in such a way that the teaching wants to expose itself in his presence. This doesn't mean listening slavishly, passively, but presenting a readiness to be transformed. If the Master feels clearly that the disciple is ready and willing for the teaching, then he will teach, in fact he won't be able to restrain himself. The disciple's attitude to his Master – that of total openness and acceptance to whatever may transpire – is exactly the same attitude the Master has to spirit and the unknowable. Listening isn't just a readiness to hear, it is a willingness to be transformed by what is heard.
Personal power, rather than power invested by status or society or ideas, is largely a matter of finding one's centre and then inhabiting it. Inside looking out rather than outside looking in. Magnanimous impulses – lofty notions – are generally indications that the centre has been vacated if not lost. Centering is necessarily a selfish pursuit – it requires lots of work on yourself – it requires you to know yourself and to love being yourself. In this sense personal power comes from knowing, or rather from being and living, the truth.