Over time, and with practice, the wisdom of taiji eats its way into my being and begins to change me and my relationship with it (and hopefully with everything else), until I have become it. This wonderful process is all a matter of practice – in as many environments (places, seasons, moods, company, attire) as possible. It's like painting a large picture, each session being a different brushstroke, a different colour, a different angle.
We live constantly with uncertainty because we don't know the future – we never know for sure the consequences of our actions. This is what my teacher called the humour of the natural process. However, we must act with certainty – with strength and conviction – knowing that each act is effectively not only making positive choices but erasing infinite possibilities too. I must be aware that my power is my ability to carve my own path through time – make my own life – and then take absolute responsibility not only for what I have made and what I have done but for what returns to me – for the consequences of the consequences – my karma.
"What we learn isn't what we're taught nor what we study. We don't know what we're learning. Something about society?"
A vulgar or selfish life is one dominated by the use of force. An honorable life, on the other hand, is devoted to energy and connexion. Force is used when one wants to make sure, which implies that it issues from a state of ignorance. Energy manifests when one has the humility to be natural and the belief to let nature take her course.
"Forgiveness is acquired. It is not inherent in the mind, which cannot sin. As sin is an idea you taught yourself, forgiveness must be learned by you as well, but from a Teacher other than yourself, Who represents the other Self in you. Through him you learn how to forgive the self you think you made, and let it disappear."
Taiji, indeed all spiritual work, gradually takes me back in time, through the mire of my personal history, to that very first time I said no – the first time I decided to withhold my energy. I don't remember the details of the occasion – maybe they will come later – but I do recall the unforgivable sense of victory and achievement that accompanied that mean and cowardly act. It is now a reasonably simple though lengthy matter of breaking the ensuing habit – reprogramming myself. This, if there is one (there is), is the switch waiting to be flicked, the switch that turns life around, the switch that enables me to face forward.
The desire to emulate, to be true to something outside myself, be it the impossible principles or the teacher's grace, causes my energy to hold back and dam up in both anxiety and anticipation. The truth that sets us free is not truth to some external or eternal standard – not the truth of the misguided scientist, but the truth of the artist – authenticity. To be true to my own essence, spirit and destiny.
"You work and work and work and have the life that you have, and once in a while, sometimes once in a decade, you see a few things you've got and think, yes, that's authentic. You try to stay true to that little moment whatever the costs."
Every creative person knows that when it's going well – when they're really cooking – they are just a medium for the creative process, and that what's going on has little to do with them – their ego – and everything to do with the spirit of the event they are participant to. The feelings attached to such participation can range from excitement to fear to humiliation to no feeling at all, and, as such are unimportant. The important thing is to allow creativity to flow through you regardless of how it feels. We must learn to be unattached to both the feelings – what happens during – and the products – the residue – of the creative process. The downfall of most artists is their desire to capitalize on their gifts.
Every creative person knows that their spirit has an intelligence far superior to that of their mind, and their main concern when working is to engage the spirit and disengage the mind. Each artist discovers or develops their own techniques – procedures, rituals, superstitions – to enable this switch.
The teacher should endeavour to simply teach and correct form. It is then up to the student to uncover the internal workings (energy) of such techniques by practising. Too much information feeds ego – both the teacher's and the students'. A little bullshit – philosophy or charisma – can offer light relief but should be used sparingly.
Every exercise, no matter how trivial or seemingly harmless, has its secrets, which are only revealed through extensive practice – losing one's self in the work. Once the exercise is 'discovered' it too must be forgotten in the doing – by attending – listening – to the environs – like a hunter – or the hunted.
For a seed to grow it needs earth, water and sunshine. Earth for support and nourishment, water to sustain growth, and sunshine to catalyze or trigger energy conversion. The same for the seeds planted within the student by the teacher: to develop and come to fruition they need the Earth – a root, they need water – practice, and they need sunshine – spirit or grace – the feeling that the gods of taiji are ever watchful and supportive.
"If we are requisite, upright, alert, tensed – if we are alive, it is because we know, because we hope that the unforeseeable will happen, that it will be unconnected to what is already there or already assembled, that it will catch us off our guard and that we will have to negotiate."
Each moment, or rather each event, has a spirit which we must uncover and engage if we want to live up to our potential. This spirit is the energetic (unspeakable and unwritten) meaning, for us, of the event. If we miss it at the time, which is easy to do, then we must relive the event – mull it over – meditate on it – until its secrets become clear. The work is the process of making sense of life, but not a sense that can be expressed or that settles or appeases me, but a sense that wakes me up.
Your teacher, if she's qualified, impregnates you with an endless resource of memories. Not ordinary memories – more like ghosts or spectres – energies you need years of toil to make sense of. This process of maturation, which only practice can bring about, means that these memories are more real when finally remembered than they were when they originally occurred. In fact the student is usually oblivious to the energetic workings of the teacher, much to the frustration of the teacher, whose destiny it seems is to toil largely unheeded and certainly underappreciated. It is very important that the student acknowledge, in their heart, each memory with a dedication of thanks for the teacher. Without this they are effectively claiming them as personal insights and breaking the tradition. Such arrogance will harm their progress and damage their karma.
I know it sounds clichéd but the most important thing is to practice as though your life depended upon it, indeed knowing your life depends upon it. A disciplined, well-hewn, rooted form containing a wild, voracious, impatient – basically uncontainable – spirit. The spirit must be wild because I want it to trespass insensitively into every dark corner of my body and my psyche, wakening and cleansing until I become the fearless machine god intended.
Energy is a vast ocean of desire, and I, if there is such a thing, should rightly be abandoning myself to its surges and tides, letting it flow over and through me, becoming its endless process. Instead though, I struggle to bundle my being into a package called me – ego – a floating island, solid in its own right but always adrift, an island huddled with others in a veritable archipelago we call family or nation or society. The vain struggle of the ego is to find the bottom of the ocean – a common floor that will affirm and confirm its solid existence, upon which it can anchor itself and find meaningful – enduring – community. But such a quest for knowledge is doomed to fail because as it focuses on the meaning of existence it forgets how to be alive – it always forgets spirit.
Don't listen to second thoughts, was one of my teacher's catch phrases. First thought best thought, was one of Trungpa's. First thoughts are miracles – creative, crazy, adventurous, non-linear intuitions that seem to come from nowhere and take the breath away – all potential beginnings. Second thoughts, on the other hand, are reactionary – reactions to first thoughts – and tend to be considered, deliberated, rational, cautious, conservative, and conformist – a multitude of reasons to say no. First thoughts spring from the world of spirit, and testify to the thinker's energy and courageous originality. Second thoughts are what happens when spirit (force for change) meets stubbornness (reluctance to change): stubbornness tends to win the day; and even if it decides to go along for the ride, unless it softens and starts breathing with spirit too, it will always be biding its time with an “I told you so” when spirit falters, which it inevitably will because there is never enough energy to carry hangers-on.
An internal teaching is a teaching assured. A vast bank of memories, each generously waiting to be remembered, even though they never actually happened to me. Effectuated through transmission, the plug that taps me into the lineage, and a life dedicated to intensive practice without which it all remains a frustrating confusion of whispers.
Stillness in taiji is never a freezing out of movement. Rather it is a state of maximal movement – an intensity of possibilities. But not the intensity of an explosion waiting to go off, which is really just a contained tension, but the intensity of absolute freedom – of not knowing and not caring to know. It is the most difficult state to both maintain and manage – very few have the stomach or heart for it. The strength we work so hard for is simply the strength to be free – to contain freedom.
For me, this low grade anxiety that haunts us all is the product of living lives without real spirit – without the presence and the very real possibility of death. And not just our own death but the death and the suffering of those we fail to live up to or take responsibility for. Every culture and every soul is haunted by the injustices they have both suffered and perpetrated, more now than ever before (because there is more injustice in the world today), and yet we have forgotten how to appease the dead either with prayer or respect – we have no notion of allowing ourselves to house the souls of those we destroy or love – we have forgotten how to truly promise – that truth is neither statement nor sentiment but a promise kept.
The student must be acutely aware, when approaching the teaching and using the principles, of the difference between the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law” – between the spoken or written words that couch the teaching and the true spirit that those words inevitably fail to convey. The struggle for the student is always to go beyond technique – beyond partitioning and utility – and into the soul of the work. Again this is only achieved through love.
We live lives dominated by the percussive impact of our heels upon the ground. This aggression then becomes bound up with our stubbornness – our hard-heartedness – our refusal to listen to energy – and even though civilized and mild-mannered (spiritless) we become essentially angry and violent creatures, albeit with an anger directed largely at our own destinies – our own source. Each time the heel strikes the ground with force the top of my leg effectively batters my sacrum and insults if not injures the tail, making the release of spirit a virtual impossibility.
It also boils down to this: either I use my mind to design my future (planning and/or worrying), in which case I am effectively alone, or at least without grace, or I relax my mind and let my developing energy create my future, in which case I am with god, and whatever then unfolds (a relaxing into destiny) is meant to be. The first path leads to success or failure – either the future lives up to expectation or not. The second is simply an irreproachable life.
A posture is single-weighted when the end of the spine – the tail – extends down the supporting leg and into the ground. A posture is double-weighted when the tail is denied passage through either leg because the mind refuses to make a clear choice for fear of making the wrong choice. The seeming strength, stability and comfort that double-weightedness offers is founded on a refusal to be clear and energetic – is founded on moral weakness. Beneath each show of strength and might lies a vulnerable child who failed to receive enough motherly love.
My work, my taiji, for me, is ultimately not for me at all. There is a deep conviction that I am serving, servant to, if not slave to, the Dao, the gods of taiji, the truth, which remains ever other, ever outside of me, outside my possible experience. The notion, so common here, that one use taiji to make one a more effective human being, a better merchant, remains horribly alien to me, a notion I have absolutely no sympathy with. I would always choose pure and poor – empty – over rich and full. The feeling that bears on me, every moment, all the time, is that there is always another form pressing, urging, impatiently waiting to be performed. If I fail to attend to this then my life loses honour and I am, as my teacher would quaintly say, just another turd.
Our only hope as a species is to evolve out of barbarism – this rapacious consumerism – this madness – and into a feeling for energy and spirit – into giving, or what the religions call love. This is the conviction that drives the work – the knowledge that the work must be done, for the sake of our future and our nature, and that there is nothing more worthwhile.
"Stability is often the stabilization of misery, the stabilization of conditions of oppression, in which case the appropriate practice is a destabilizing one."
Double-weightedness does two things. It stabilizes and promotes the self – the individual as communicating subject/object, and it staunches the flow of energy through the body to and from the ground. It forces the individual to be selfish by denying them any natural energy or spirit to give. Exchange is then reduced to a bartering of possessions rather than a giving and receiving of energy.
The rational mind is essentially double-weighted – always shrinking from edges, extremes and excesses in order to find that reasonable – stable, comfortable and boring – middle ground. Ensconced in the central keep of a concentric castle with numerous curtain walls protecting it from the great beyond – from reality. This has nothing to do with the balance we struggle for in taiji. In taiji we exist on that wonderfully charged boundary between the known and the unknown – between kith and otherness – between kin and the Other.