Smile into the sacrum. If the work doesn't improve your humour then you're doing it wrong. Key here are the knees. When the hips and sacroiliacs release and allow the pelvis to float then the knees take on a life of their own. This is why, in seated meditation, the knees are so prominent, and why, in Taiji, we lead with the knees. The knees of the heart. It all hinges on how I use the ground: is it merely a solid base from which to project myself up and out, or is it something I have a developing, sensitive, delicate, and above all loving, relationship with?
If you have stomach and heart for the work – if you have it in you to be a good student – then, for me, the greatest tragedy is to succumb instead to being a good citizen or good parent or good teacher, because whatever you do you're going to do well. Why not be all? I hear you ask. Because, believe me, a single life contains neither the time nor the energy.
If I told you a tragic story of how gullible innocence was ruthlessly robbed of its most precious resource and given worthless trinkets and baubles in return then you would think I was talking about primitive natives encountering the white man in the nineteenth century. But, in actual fact, I'm talking about my students who are consistently conned into giving up their time and vitality for the sake of gadgets, comforts and a pathetic feeling of self-worth based on nothing deeper than spending-power.
Allow time to express itself through you. This is what we mean by expression. It has little to do with letting out your energy: with telling the world who you are or what you think; nothing to do with you, as such. Instead become a channeller and purveyor of secrets. A purely creative, and therefore natural, process.
The big breakthrough for the Taiji student is learning how to connect to, or turn on, energy. Most of us experience energy occasionally: when elated, grief-stricken, exhausted or terrified, but those experiences are usually so intense with emotion that the energy is overshadowed or disregarded. Energy, in this context, is not the stuff of work or movement or power, it is a quite separate though adjacent world of pure filigree refinement and delight, a world that, for me, is best described by the famous phrase: The Unbearable Lightness of Being. And it is unbearable – too intense, too alive – yet it must be borne, or entered into, regularly, though sparingly, and then, in time, the student gradually becomes bored with the mundane, becomes more and more reclusive, more self-sufficient, more enamored of solitude, as they slowly fall into that beloved lake, to eventually become immersed, then submerged, then drowned in energy. And it will be the death of you, if you are destined to be chosen by energy. But a sweet death. A homecoming.
Spiritual work starts when the mind stops. The mind will only stop of its own when it has found its true centre. What keeps it from the centre are bad habits, lack of energy and lack of imagination. These limitations are therefore our prime concern. So we need a practice that breaks habits, increases energy (not so much in quantity as quality) and frees the spirit to search out possibilities beyond present circumstances.
The work – the task at hand – is akin to building the pyramids: monumentally huge, and so excruciatingly slow that, on the day to day, there is no progress. Or maybe it's more like dismantling the pyramids, block by block? What sustains the work – keeps it going in the face of the enormous odds stacked against it ever being completed with any degree of success – is the nagging suspicion that I don't really have a choice. And it does get easier as you get older: as your energy naturally quietens, mellows, wanes: as the devil inside – the resistance – stops being taken seriously.
Taiji is the art of marking time. Marking as opposed to making. At our worst we invariably hover outside the flow of time by indulging thoughts and feelings: circulating within heart and head. In Taiji we endeavor to create an unbroken flow or surge of energy from the ground, up the body and out of the heart. We become an expressive machine, expressing and reveling in the pure flow of energy, the pure passage of time. As soon as we attempt to lay claim to what passes through us we break that vital connexion to life, and spirit dribbles away.
The sacrum is a hard nut which we endeavour to crack open with the work, if only to discover why on earth it's called the sacred bone. The weight of the upper body (gravity) drives the sacrum down into the jaws of the pelvis so that the legs – the handles of our nut-cracker – can apply a pumping pressure. The function of the mind is to remain still and open so that this precarious structure maintains its alignment, and to focus in on the job at hand – to remain mindful of what it is trying to achieve. The mind needs an image, a concept, an idea of what's happening, otherwise it becomes anxious or bored. But such images are only ever pacifiers, and we must always be ready to drop them and find new ones when they stop working.