A habit is a machine that operates without spirit. If spirit happens to rise then the habit is broken, at least temporarily, and we have an event. This is practice. Now, the fact is that spirit is always present, lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce when the time is right. Our skill then is in allowing such time, in reining in our doing, our will, and allowing what's there to present itself. A relaxation – a wisdom – born of faith and selfless belief.
There is a saying in taiji: When performing the Form, feel as though you are under a table. What this means is, firstly, that you should be well and truly sunk – low – close to the ground, and, secondly, you should feel the ever-presence of the table top bearing down above you. If this doesn't make you the spirited hunter then nothing will.
Pride, which effectively amounts to an insistence upon the external, is the puffed up chest of one caught up in class, of one confident in place and direction, of one brimming with self-image. Even if that image is an image of heart – a loving front – it is still a lie. The opposite of this is the taiji hollow chest and rounded shoulders: an old hunchbacked crone stirring her pot, indeed stirring her heart into her pot, her work, her magic.
A loving relationship is one based on an economy of giving – one that always puts giving first. And the first thing to give, no matter the situation, is respect – a willingness to look, to see, and then to look again. This second looking, and the ensuing seeing, is the one that involves spirit – the one when the guard drops and the heart leaps in.
In taiji we give the lower dantien to Earth rather than to pleasure, we give the middle dantien to the Other rather than to self, and we give the upper dantien to Spirit or God rather than to thought. This is a natural process which we fearfully struggle to lock out with tension. We resist gravity, we resist love, and, above all, we resist spirit.
Memories of dissecting a mouse at school. The teacher killed it – put it to sleep – with chloroform before class started. We pinned it spreadeagle to a board, sliced open its belly with a scalpel, and carefully pulled out its viscera, naming each part. Ever since, this operation has been, for me, an image of rational thought: killing, immobilizing and dissecting. And when killing and/or immobilizing and/or dissecting are either impossible or improper then an idealized model is invented to stand in for reality. This operation freezes the world – objectifies it. Both the object of thought and the part of me that thinks – the frontal brain – are gripped in the forceful vice of reasoning. It never occurs to most of us that there is an alternative use of the mind.
The teacher clearly distinguishes external and internal. She appreciates that the external exists only to house the internal. At some point in her tutelage she made a very important decision: to follow only the internal – to let it be her sole guide through life. In a sense this is no decision at all, since, having distinguished external and internal it would be impossible to be guided by the external as it clearly has no wisdom or spirit. However, the external, being visible, sensible and generally in the foreground, always threatens to overpower the internal which is invisible, insensible (nonsensical), and lingering behind or beneath or below. This is why the teacher is also a warrior – ever suspicious and vigilant – and a hunter – restlessly delving and searching.
Spiritual work lets you glimpse the truth – or at least moves you closer to a place where you may possibly glimpse the truth – so it is hardly surprising that the dominant feeling to much of the work is that of disillusionment. Sadness and disappointment as you begin to realise that the old reliables – the structures you took for granted – the buffers and cushions that protected you from facing that most illusive of entities – the present moment – have crumbled away – no longer strong enough to hold you.
The glaring omission in most meditators' lives is aerobic work. Cheng Man-ching, in his snobbery, called it: "Smothering the mind with sweat." We are, ultimately, our body, and our work investigates the possibility of living a life directed by spirit rather than controlled by ego – that is, a life with only body and it's various incorporated energies. It seems reasonable then to exercise the heart and the lungs and the skin and the blood and the spirit with intense and less intense aerobic work. Far more important than qigong.
And the paradox is, always, that the activity connecting me more and more to life and its primal forces, is inactivity – slowing and quietening and doing nothing – meditation. It allows me to feel and join the longest of rhythms. For me this is the perspicacity in the image of arborescence – not the rooting or the branching or the transformation of roots to crown through bole, but the patience and inevitable prayer of standing still for so long.
The struggle is to extend into the line you are creating and living – the line of your life, lives. This is what philosophers mean by thinking – extending the mind in such a way that life fulfils itself, at least conceptually. And artists mean by creativity or imagination – feeling the flow of life and allowing its passage, its force, to squeeze beauty out of them. Without such vision there is so much that ends up not being lived, so much inside that never sees the light of day.
You are, by definition, the centre of the world. A point on which forces converge. These forces point you in a certain direction. This is always the direction to take : the one you find yourself facing. I am, of course, describing a perfect world. One without fear or prejudice. One in which you are consuming life at the same rate that it consumes you. One in which the world's convergence and your divergence are balanced.
The sacrum is my home. It contains my stamp – my true image – me in miniature – a veritable homunculus, or rather, embryo, because pure – undefiled by time or experience. Taiji, indeed all meditation and prayer, aims to relax the minds anxiety – relax our fearfully protective grasp on our own sacrum – so that our essence – our spirit – can start to communicate with the world and with God. We tense around the sacrum to protect ourselves from ourselves – to keep our true spirit bottled up so that we can project instead our ego – our conforming, deceiving self-image. And if the sacrum is the seat of the spirit – the bone – the sacred bone – then the temples house the soul – my soft vaporous spectrality.