Cross-energy – right rooted foot to left extending hand – ensures that the line of flight – the energy as it flies through the body – includes the heart. It ensures that my humanity – my weakness and frailty as well as my passions and dreams – are part of my taiji. It also offers the possibility for creative and engaged expression to come from my energy – my connectedness – rather than my ego.
The problem for the student, the teacher, the philosopher, is how to proceed such that everything changes. What fact am I missing that, if known, would turn my existence upside down and inside out. My teacher cannot tell me, even though he must know, because either I wouldn't hear or I'd run for the hills.
Body as one unit: compressed by gravity (the earth's and its own), awareness (the world's and its own) and a deep elastic tension, into a point of intensity. Intention then extends this point into a line of flight, and we have the creation of space – the possibility for movement. In this sense all movement is free, to a degree, because it requires spirit.
Taiji requires presence and develops presence by absenting anything extraneous – anything not necessary to the task at hand. On the other hand it's also inclusive – it can swallow any energy and spin it into a singular expression – a unique form. It is through such inspiration that my boundaries dissolve and I become swallowed up by reality. Everything I possess, including my body, is no longer my own, and I am ready to slip away.
The structures that make up the fabric of life must be elastic – subject to give and take – otherwise they cannot be fundamentally trusted. What this means is that the connexions that make up my life, whether they be simple perceptions, loving relationships, moral or behavioral strictures, adjust as much to me as me to them. A piece of elastic stretches in exact proportion to the strain put upon it – it is utterly responsive, and its response is always appropriate. If I am this way with the world then the world will be so with me. This is what in taiji we call yielding mind – the ability to lead a double life – trusting and supporting in equal measure but in two different dimensions.
Once the student has graduated there needs to be two strains to his work: a deep love and reverence for the tradition he now belongs to, and a determination to break from the stranglehold of his teacher's vision in order to find out for himself. The first is a measuring of experience against the wisdom of tradition, and the second is the testing of tradition against the singularity of an individual's experience. The first incorporates fresh insights into the living body of tradition, keeping it full and healthy, and the second unsettles the dogma of tradition, keeping it sharp and keen – using impertinence to maintain pertinence, if you like. It all amounts to a struggle to strike a balance – a fullness of heart – from which one can both investigate the truth and represent the truth.
Be aware (beware) that everything your teacher says or does, no matter how seemingly trivial, has symbolic (poetic) weight, and should be allowed to reverberate through your being to your very soul. They have this power by virtue of the energy the work and the transmission has imparted. They are unusual messengers – singular servants of the Dao. Your job is to practice like hell in order to make these reverberations stick and eventually find a way of being passed on – bear fruit.
The teacher offers a set of concepts, principles and techniques – tools with which to deconstruct old habits and create new ones. This is the external side of the teaching. More important than this though he shows you how his spirit engages with the work – forever ferreting and delving – at once both deeply respectful and mischievously irreverent – stretching and testing every boundary. This is the real transmission without which no technique or concept will ever work.
A spiritual life is one devoted to paying off karmic debts in order to be free. Such work, to be effective, must be supremely active; suffering passively is a total waste of precious time. So the freedom we talk of is not in the future but now. It is the freedom of spirit required to truly face reality and then do what must be done – live the true life.
We crave reassurance – an affirmation of our right to exist: family, friends, teachers, wealth, culture, ego, even a good mood. However, nothing works quite as well, and nothing is so healthy, as giving. When I let my energy out in such a way that it does good then, and only then, I know I make a positive difference – I know that I please god.
In a sense there is no difference between a good student and a good teacher. A good teacher is someone able to effect a beneficial becoming in the good student, and the good student is someone aching to become a better soul. Ultimately they both operate upon the other as teacher and student. Without each other neither can progress.
A responsibility is not a duty I nobly enburden myself with – an imposition of the superego – but the aching need of the heart to respond to a real situation. It makes itself felt most clearly in mourning: when someone close to me dies my heart's impulse is to remember, and I struggle to keep them alive in the thoughts of my heart. In this sense all thought is simply the desire that the heart settle – that the pain stop. The struggle of our work is to be strong enough to bear our sensitivity – our mourning – without losing balance. To break open if not apart, and keep our footing.
The energy we speak of is not qi (ch'i). In a sense it is spirit – pure and simple – but the spirit of uncertainty, of not knowing, of potential or possibility, the possibility, always, of something unaccounted or unexpected; the element of surprise. A person close to death – threatened by the drastic and irreversible – has such energy in abundance. New immigrants – especially illegal ones – have it: they wander and wonder in a daze of uncertainty. Children, especially babies, have it the most. It comes from being unable, or refusing, to discriminate or judge – unable to take support in anything that is not real. It is the power of powerlessness. All heart; or at least centred there.
Practice, or exercise, is the oldest form of self-referential training with the most momentous consequences. Its results do not influence external circumstances or objects, as in the labor or production process; they develop the practising person himself and get him “into shape” as the subject-that-can. The result of practising is shown in the current “condition,” that is, in the practising person’s state of capability. Depending on the context, this is defined as constitution, virtue, virtuosity, competence, excellence, or fitness. The subject, seen as the protagonist of his training sequence, secures and potentiates his skills by putting himself through his typical exercises. Exercises at the same level of difficulty should be evaluated as maintenance exercises, while increasingly difficult ones should be regarded as developmental exercises.Peter Sloterdijk
The icon painter works with endless repetition all his life, executing a single basic repertoire of a very few motifs in the belief that he is nothing more than the instrument of a supernatural image-light that pours into the work through his hand, always with the basic assumption that the authentic original picture could project itself into the visual world even without human mediation, although this occurs extremely seldom.
Root is that part of me already in the Earth, but also that part of Earth already in me: Earth's claim to my body and it's elements – it's call for my dissolution, my absolute relaxation. Work is the struggle to stop resisting, and in this sense it is spiritual, because what denies natural communication – this healthy exchange between me and Earth – is the ego – my terrified attempt to cheat or ward-off death by grasping to an isolated, independent unity. When we privilege ego over spirit then we deny the elastic dynamism of life and death. Energy and spirit are frictive elements – they are generated when opposites are allowed to contest – so if we deny this contest – this game or play – by privileging one over the other, then we deny natural energy, and are reduced to injesting in order to acquire it – food, drugs, entertainment, etc. Such heavy, coarse energy is not what we mean by energy. We mean the energy of inspiration – a light enthusiasm – the breath of god blowing ever so gently across the face, that brings you to your deeper senses, and an even deeper conviction that all is such energy, and the meaning of life is to somehow dissolve into such a vision of reality – to die a noble death.
The word spiritual has two connotations: with spirit, and without ego. So spiritual work does two things, it cultivates spirit and it erodes ego; the first is exciting and the second is painful. So if your work doesn't contain a little excitement, and at least a little pain, then the chances are that its being done incorrectly.
Most of us live upon a pedestal, and it's the legs that keep us propped up there. This is the sense in which the legs are used to support the ego: constantly straightening to push us onto the platform (soap box) our conditioned mind has created for us. So, that first instruction of taiji – sink & relax – let the legs give and bend, coupled with the humility of single-weightedness, is a radical combination – the beginning of the battle with our intransigent self. We must become so accustomed to slipping from our pedestal that no part of us wants to regain the arrogance that comes with perching upon it. Then the pedestal erodes away – crumbles effectively – and it is safe to venture into that middle ground between the legs without falling into the trap of double-weightedness.
But let us read lightly, with a nimbleness that is, if possible, as subtle as Derrida’s, simply, guided by the playfulness of the words, as the full sense of the sentence trembles sweetly and bears it on towards the next. The usual, coarse dynamism that leads a sentence to the next seems in Derrida to have been replaced by a very subtle magnetism, found not in the words, but beneath them, almost under the page.
from speed and noise
a strategic withdrawal
from conformity and self-interest
from conspicuous consumption
an absolute retreat
a strategic withdrawal
from conformity and self-interest
from conspicuous consumption
an absolute retreat
No matter how much I strive to bring taiji into my ordinary life, there is an absolute other-worldliness to pure taiji which only has continuity with itself. There is always this sense that I live two lives: the mundane one – earning a living and spending it, and the life of energy bound by the form of taiji – struggling heroically with a set of principles and problems to get to the bottom of this mystery of movement and spirit and time which we call life. The two lives come together, somewhat trivially and certainly unsatisfactorily, in attending class (either as teacher or student). Yet this attendance, my teacher was always at pains to point out, is never a substitute for practice.