prior to all certainty


We observe the breathing because that endless alternation of in and out, tension and relaxation, models very well the workings of reality. And, as always, the parts of the series to pay special attention to are the changes: when in switches to out and relaxation rolls into tension. On one level these changes are external – consequences of endless movement in a finite system – return is inevitable. But on another level they are internal – the workings of spirit as precursor to all that is. This is the level that interests us.
Restless feet that yearn to be unshod, to leave the civilized and civilizing comfort of old shoes.
Bide your time.


Feel the world then feel yourself in the world.
The theological fallacy: the notion that God, the Internal, Spirit, can be adequately approached and then understood by the mind. The only way to approach God, and ultimately the only way to approach anything, is with the heart – is with love.
Each practice session is as a grain of sand: negligible in itself. And yet we practice diligently: simply for the love of it.
The work is a work of erosion.
Roundness is patience. A round posture develops a round mind. A featureless space enveloped by a smooth isotonic surface.


Taijiquan is an exercise in patience. Patient in the sense of not rushing an outcome, but also of enduring hardship (work, injury, disappointment, etc.) without complaint.


It's not the past or future that are illusory but the present and presence. The illusion of irreversible time. The future doesn't really change the past but it does call to it, and the present only becomes real – a bridge – when I am responding to that call – allowing myself to be pulled across – drawn by connexions already humming rather than pushed reluctantly by a past already cold.
All spiritual work hinges on one basic belief: that the most fundamental desire is to give.
If you desire clarity – the clarity that arises when the body and energy are working correctly rather than the illusion of clarity that stems from an overactive mind contemplating its predicament – then work with cross-energy.
It's never one or the other – always both. The external only becomes boring when it is stripped of its internal. If I want to rise up and find the light then I also need to dig down into the damp darkness otherwise I have nothing to give – no energy – and can only observe the cold light of day. The name of the game is always connexion – touch – across which pours a world of feeling.


Cross-energy: when one side is earthed the other comes alive, as though by magic.
Before forgiveness can be bestowed it must be begged for, otherwise whatever is given is tainted. This is the meaning of prayer: not just asking God for forgiveness, but remembering each occasion of sin (where sin is any action or thought that has impeded my own or somebody else's spiritual progress).

Be suspicious, especially of your own achievements and abilities.


Taiji: mindless movement performed mindfully.
Circles, circles, everywhere – set up by turning, always turning. Sinking in taiji is a sinking into circularity – falling, or rather being sucked, into a maelstrom, or rather two maelstroms, each rising up through the body from a foot like spinning funnels, channeling energy both down and up. Such energetic structures only reveal themselves when the Form is practised quickly. The Form is a celebration of movement, above all, turning, and if practised as such then the shapes the body takes as it turns are a consequence of that turning: of centrifugal and centripetal forces, and as soon as movement stops and those forces dissipate, then the body collapses. This is our path to lightness.


Sitting on a park bench, awaiting the next appointment, surrounded by large fig trees. The one closest to me is magnificent, and as I let my eyes follow its trunk upwards into the branches and billowing crown, I also feel, but differently, its roots extending under me. That tree, seemingly twenty feet away, contains me.
Impermanence. There are no things, only change. So, rather than viewing objects as actual entities, see them as containers of process.

Internally each of us is as a ball of yarn with many loose threads dangling. Each of these threads represents a possible becoming – a journey that beckons our embarkation. But also each thread is a vestige of the past – a fragment of our ancestry, genetic or energetic, put in place possibly millions of years ago. So, when we take up the challenge of our destiny and follow one of these threads, instead of swallowing hook, line and sinker, the external demands of society and species, then we are travelling both forward and back at the same time – breaking through the constraints of presence into a true future by remembering a true past.
Eschew the external, especially its claim to represent reality. The external is the detrita of process, in the same way that the artist creates art, the poet writes poems, yet the finished work reveals little of its making, quickly becoming a representative of some dubious artistic identity, a commodity to be bartered or rubbish to be binned.
Will expresses from a position of fullness and presence. Spirit calls from a place of emptiness and absence.


True attack is not explosive but ingestive, not destructive but capturing. We are hunters of energy and spirit.
Thinking is useless, you must simply act.

The function of thinking is not to reveal truth: there is no moral relation between thinking and truth. Thinking simply clears the air – locates and removes obstruction to my flight through life. Thinking creates simulacra (it cannot do otherwise – how could I possibly hold the infinite variables of real life in my puny mind?), not as imposters to truth, but as handholds to haul myself along then immediately leave behind as I struggle with the pitfalls of progress (forward movement) and strive to keep the flow of energy clean and strong.


Taiji is the study of turning.
True humility doesn't give rise to fawning weakness but to ruthless detachment, a detachment from all aspects of self, from everything the mind makes up. Without it the shoulders will always hunch and you'll find yourself reveling in images of the world rather than listening to, or rather being part of, what's there.
in gold refine thy soul,
crown more than self
impassioned stream beyond the years
When a new life is conceived it is not just a union of sperm and egg, but of an infinite array of effects and energies: time, place, mood, weather, wine, etc; they all bear on the quality and the character of that life. What makes the life a life though is its desire to grow, develop and above all express itself, in its being and its becomings, by consuming experience.

The only rule for life is to always express what you feel, and allow that expression to change how you feel. That is, to keep spirit alive.
Taiji is a difficult union – a marriage – of heaven and hell – form and energy. Once the Form has been learnt, which doesn't take long, it needs to be conditioned – elastified – brought alive and taught to breathe. This happens when the energy it contains threatens to burst out.
To cut through concepts, ideas, images – representation – with the intensity of pure action.


A call to arms.
A faith in operations always beyond my sensitivity and knowledge.

Spirit is our only hope.
If my sensitivity – that feeling of being special – isolates me then I'd be better off without it.
…the nonorganic life that runs through the universe, giving it shape and form…
A secret is not a static content that is either hidden in a box or out in the open … Secrets are always in motion, always being secretly perceived.


The quality of taiji lies not in how accurately it conforms to some ideal, but in how much joy it expresses – in how much energy it contains.

Taiji is something to do, not something to worry about (am I practising enough? is my Form good enough?). And that doing is a big affirmative statement, full of joy and enjoyment. Never feel guilty for not reaching an unreachable ideal. It is a mean teacher that plays that game. And if you feel something is wrong then make a correction, or beg a correction from someone better than you.
Consciousness so easily succumbs to the illusion of finality.
The feast is forward. Perhaps my teacher's most beautiful statement. It is a phrase worthy of a lifetime's study. Forward is not simply moving ever onwards – refusing to retreat – but living affirmatively, without guilt, without lack, productively rather than acquisitively, joyously rather than sadly, through the body rather than the mind, light of spirit rather than heavy with depression.
True communication is not a battle of opinions but a sharing of intimacy.
Taiji is all about striking a better balance so that life and love can unfold as they should. A balance between internal and external.

The Dao that can be spoken is not the true Dao. The apophatic turn. So why speak? Not to utter truth, or to approach truth, but for catharsis: to achieve the correct emptiness – a feeling of having emptied: the sudden silence as the music stops. And this is our tremble: an oscillation between a silence about to descend and a silence about to sound.


I am a little world made cunningly
Of Elements, and an Angelike spright…
Distinguish two types of understanding. One that uses experience of the internal to arrive at a richer external, and the other that uses novel configurations of the external to enter the internal. One tries to calm down the trembling and the other to heighten it. And again this is central equilibrium.
If we take the world to be a collection of things and reality to be an energetic web of connexion, then the external is everything that relates to the world, and the internal is the energetic trace of the workings of reality.
We all have a stumbling block which will, in all likelihood, be the death of us. Even with the best teacher in the world, would we listen?

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest…


I still remember the awe that struck me when I lifted my first stone and learnt that there is a completely different world beneath: damp, dark and alive with tender roots and creepy crawlies; a world that would have scorched and withered had I not gingerly replaced the stone.
"Those rampant, many-footed things that pullulate in damp and darkness under big flat stones."
It is the contention of taiji that if I attend correctly to the external then the internal will eventually open up of its own. If, however, I use magic, in whatever form, to enter the internal prematurely, before I am externally prepared, then I will likely break.


Spirit is the power of fabulation.

The irony of our game is that we work hard to achieve the one thing – spirit – that has absolutely no respect for hard work.
touch is "the continual interruption of an interruption…"
Spirit is the agent of change, of difference, of becoming, whereas essence is a beingness, an invariance, a mark of identity. Spirit is of events, essence of things. But this is not a binary, a duality, for essence is volatile, a perfume whose scent is spirit, and spirit always leaves a trace which slowly and imperceptibly distills back to essence. Essence and spirit are different phases of the same substance.
Becoming light is a long, slow process of forgiveness.
"I just want to work and surprise myself."

Spirit makes (all the) difference.
Boredom arises when the environment, internal or external, refuses to be aroused.
Notes for SL, who struggles to understand:

  • The understanding you search for is a construction – an attempt to codify an event – and as such it can only ever be a gross approximation.
  • The understanding I think you should be working for is the knowledge your body and energy (not thinking mind) acquires when it experiences spirit.
  • The understanding you search for will always suppress spirit in its attempt to observe, record and represent a state of affairs.
  • The understanding you should be praying for is that which arises after spirit has dismantled, deconstructed, demolished everything you think you understand.
  • Spirit is always impatient with understanding because spirit is the great destroyer.
  • Spirit creates, but only after it has destroyed, and everything spirit creates dies when spirit dies.
  • Spirit struggles to shake itself free of its past: when you see it in a child's face it is like a secret struggling to secrete itself.
  • Spirit inspires: love, devotion, sacrifice, work, change; without spirit change is impossible.
  • Rouse your spirit and make each Form an event.
  • True understanding is the accumulation of these events into a body (a physical memory) of work – a corpus.
Taiji is a machine that only runs effectively on spirit. Try any other fuel: force, will, greed, anger, understanding, even energy, and it will defeat its own purpose.


The strength to step outside your box and become nothing.


The good teacher wants one thing: to help you find your voice by rousing your spirit. The teacher attempts this initially by using you as sounding board for their own voice – they practise on you in the hope that spirit will activate spirit. The difficult students, the students with authority issues, resist this – they listen and learn, often avidly, but block their own spirit's involvement. These students at some point will have to break away from their teachers and come to realisation in their own space and their own time, otherwise the blocks will become tumorous.
It is possible to call out to (your) spirit, to invoke and provoke the unvocable, but be careful: it's never what you expect or what you want. It will surprise and shock and leave you shaken to pieces. To handle spirit, to survive it even, requires a ruthless detachment bordering on the pathological.
prĂ©sence d’esprit
Totally suspicious of the external: its blaring, glaring presence, its vulgar, common sense, its reification, whilst gradually becoming more and more trusting, loving even, of the internal: the possibility, the increasing probability, of a life elevated by, animated by, inspired by, a rarefied absence and illogic or nonsense that is spirit.


"It is fellowship, it is respect for difference, it is the knowledge of one for the other."

Whilst the thinking mind can conceive of a whole, it cannot adequately think it since it always favours certain components over others, either out of preference, incompetence or ignorance. The heart, on the other hand, constantly searches to include.

Our big mistake is to assume that the only valid model for an action is the way it's been done before.
When the child roams free, to do what it will when it will, then the spirit is lost. Spirit responds to restraint and constraint, whether it be a cage, a deadline or a duty. And spirit needs to be trained: to focus, to endure and, above all, to believe (in itself).
Religion is a protection racket.
prudent & provident

Tender times: first days of school. So clear to see the gentle spark of spirit in all those innocent faces. Yet why does school insist on developing and strengthening the ego rather than the spirit? Because spirit is only nurtured by spirit, and if the teachers are weak and shitless then there is little chance, except fortuitously, for any spiritual development in the children. When it was time for my son to start school, sixteen years ago, I asked my teacher which school to send him to. He told me to send him to a Catholic school. I was surprised and asked if he wanted him to become a good Catholic. "Absolutely not," he replied, "I want him to have something worth fighting."
Attachments that are difficult to break will always hold me back and weaken me. They deny me that narrow window of opportunity for the next breakthrough – they make me too late. Timing, as ever, is everything.
Gratitude cuts the cords of attachment.


In the sense that the Internal is ever illusive, ever retreating from inquisitive gaze and inquiry, it does not exist, does not standout. This is why it is impossible to convince the non-believer. The Internal is not of being. It is more a promise or invitation. A spark of courage that helps us say yes to the impossible and the unknowable.
To glimpse something of the immanence that holds the universe together. This is energy.

on a sea
of necessity
let’s float
& call
that free
A dominant, pervasive system, whether it be the ego you contain, the political system that contains you, or capitalism as a whole, cannot be successfully opposed because it constructs the very terms of its opposition. It will always coerce you into playing its game because, on some level, it expects to be opposed and so becomes stronger under opposition. The only thing to be done is to open the heart and find a more inclusive space: a set that contains the forceful system as a trivial, special case. And in a sense this is our work: to find, in fact define, a universal space.
In taiji an action is true when it is obedient to principle, when it is correctly motivated, when it comes from spirit.


Beneath the routine of the day-to-day, the quotidian, this habitual passing of time, there is a life of spirit, an expression, an extraordinary dance aching to be danced, that we only ever expose in glimpses. These glimpses, strung together into all of a few minutes over a lifetime, amount to my contribution to reality.
Grace is a gift of spirit.

Faith, hope and charity create the ideal environment for the cultivation and manifestation of spirit. Faith is a deep enduring connectedness, hope a cheerful positivity, and charity an accepting generosity.
Spirit is what keeps the heart beating, the lungs breathing, the qi flowing. It is not voluntary but it is arousable.
Don't mistake will for spirit. Will is forceful and hard, spirit energetic and light.


The most important habit to cultivate is that of breaking habits. If you can do this then old age won't be so bad because you'll constantly be adapting to your failing body and mind. The work is all about training the spirit – discipline – finding things to do that your ego gives resistance to. Discipline breaks through shrouds of laziness so that you can face the world naked and raw, with a spirit that bristles, because if it didn't you'd die.


When meditating, whether it's sitting crosslegged, doing the taiji Form, or walking the dog, I eventually become aware of what I can only call God's love, a fine ether that pervades my space, caressing rather than buffeting, entering and leaving every pore, filling my lungs and heart, bathing my eyes and ears. Then, a little later, my spirit rises and I realise that this love, beautiful though it be, is still a trap, a seduction into passivity, a wash of yin that calls out to the yang, the tang, of my awkward spirit to cut through like lemon through grease.

Measure a life not by how much shit has been piled up but by how much love has left the heart.
The anxious mind is in the business of anticipation and control: it cannot let things be. And so the future that comes to pass is always less than it could, should be. Even on the simplest level: that of the heartbeat and the breathing, this is the case. When I relax the mind the heart beats differently: each beat resounding, calling the true future, the unknowable, to attend me, deliver its riches, its grace. When I become quiet, lose my violence, at peace, I am as St Francis, befriended by all God's creatures: an infinite array of fine energies completing my profile and making destiny at least a possibility.
Sit back (sink the body, relax the mind) and let the legs take you for a ride.


The main function of thinking is to keep the world solid. Stop thinking and everything begins to melt. Or is it just me?
"you have mass and volume only when covered with cinders"

I claw the edge
of the curtain cliffs
that lock and let
the light in.

I bare my arse
to winds that whisk
off the waves
and whirl the ramparts.

I prowl the scrubby crag
of Yellow Mountain.
I shape the stone
that shifts on your skyline.

Alec Finlay
Meditation takes me out of a place fraught with nervous tension, through a tunnel of peace and quiet, and into a space teeming with spirit and life. Peace is only ever a passageway.
The good student puts taiji first. And if those who profess to love you don't accept that this is the source of your goodness and strength then best do without their love.
Taiji is a machine for training the spirit. Unfortunately few practitioners ever do enough practice to get there.


The misguided are those who mistake tension for strength.

Trust and anxiety are opposites.
Relax and trust the heart.
Know thyself, the Delphic maxim, is an admonition that has been attributed, in various forms, to pretty much every spiritual teacher from Heraclitus and Pythagoras to Lao Tzu and Jesus. But what does it mean? What does knowing thyself actually entail? I'm pretty sure none of the teachers were suggesting that I enter psychotherapy, but rather that I start a course of disciplined work which, over time, would allow me to confront all the resistances imaginable to such work, and finally achieve some peace of mind. Knowing thyself means being at peace with oneself – being in possession of a peaceful mind. This, for me, is the most important work one can do, because without peace of mind connexion cannot be true. A true connexion is from the heart, created and fuelled by love. An untrue connexion is from the head, largely generated and maintained with anxiety. True connexion sets both parties free, untrue connexion binds the parties together in an unhealthy knot. Without peace, any love, felt and expressed, will always be tainted with selfishness, with anxiety. And as we've said before, anxiety is fear and fear is always, when we finally get to the bottom of it, fear of death.
Ignore thyself, and strive to know thy God!


"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."

The spiritual adept locks herself in rigorous discipline in order to achieve freedom of spirit.
"the unconscious is a place of underground passageways or rhizomatic burrows through which desire moves like a guerrilla fighter, ready to spring up when we least expect it"
Not listening, refusing to listen, is a form of persecution. It is the beginning of fascism, the denial of the multiple (we) and the promotion of the one (me). It tends to occur when a member of a multiplicity or ecosystem becomes over-dominant and starts to put its own interests above those of the system it either belongs to or is invading. It is somewhat ironic that, over the past millennia, having achieved such fascism with the over-dominance of the rational, reasonable mind eradicating and supplanting not only a multitude of energetic dimensions within ourselves but also most of the species on the planet, that we bourgeois liberals put so much store by the beautiful concepts of democracy and peace. Peace is not a monoculture but a fine and vulnerable balance that is only possible when its members listen to and respect the interests of others, and not just other people or peoples but other creatures and other possibilities. Such peace, it should be obvious by now, is a thing of the past.
"To work for peace, you must have a peaceful heart."
If spirit leads the mind which leads the energy which leads the body then when is the present moment? For those with the experience the present is clearly the moment of spirit (the spirit of the moment), and everything else lags lazily and hazily behind. When the spirit rises the present focuses and tightens – contracts – into a fiery intensity, an intensity that can only be borne by heightened awareness.

The physical endures long enough to get over its embarrassment at having arrived so late.
Presence, by definition, overstays its welcome.


Let's assume your weight is fully on the left foot, that is, the left side of the body is full and the right side is empty. The line through the body from full hand to full foot is a weight-bearing column, and the line from full foot to empty hand is a whip. Mass is borne by the full side whereas energy is expressed in the empty side.
The physical and the energetic represent two different worlds. Our struggle is to reach a tolerance (in mind), a depth (of heart) and a maturity (of character) to work in both simultaneously. These qualities do not come from thinking or from understanding, but from love and acceptance.
ad fontes

resonance & interference
When I arrive at an understanding it illuminates a state of affairs. But it also affects that state – an understanding mind inevitably fixes that which it understands. So, as soon as I understand I should immediately reject that understanding by moving on, out of the light and into darkness. This is what Keats called negative capability. In taiji we work to understand and then we work through that understanding until it is seen for what it is: what my teacher called "yesterday's cold potatoes."
True understanding is arrived at when spirit illuminates a situation sufficient for me to say something meaningful about it. What I must realise though is that the understanding lies in the spirit and not in either the words I spin together or the meaning I am trying to communicate. Spirit is universal in its inevitability yet local in its details, and the words it inspires will always fall short of truth. They may have a certain beauty for their own sake, and they may inspire me or others to a certain focus of work, but if they are taken as gospel they will certainly hold me back.
Occiput back, sacrum forward.
Students (especially students of my teacher) should be careful not to neglect the first principle of taiji: head suspended. It is the principle that tempers the rest, without which corruption sets in almost immediately.

In the practice of taijiquan the main thing is the spirit.


Hope is a state of mind that encourages the future to unfold unimpeded – that yearns for the grace of God – that believes in the power of events. We, being physical creatures and therefore necessarily creatures of habit, need to hope otherwise the only force for change in our lives becomes despair.
A great person is one living a destiny to its full, whereas a good person is simply unselfish, generous. Both amount to a life of service: one serving spirit and the other others. Rarely do they coincide: a great person needs all the energy they can garner so are often selfish and manipulative, whereas a good person often doesn't have the spirit for destiny and so settles on helping others.
Always look beneath the veneer of knowledge and expertise at the quality of the person. If the work I do isn't making me a better person then I'm wasting my time.
Find a teaching that enables you to bring trembling into your account.