31.3.15


Life, when combined with spiritual discipline, winnows the soul.
Taiji is about balance, equilibrium; not repression. So if you're prone to emotional disturbance or mental instability, conditions you'd probably be mildly medicated for nowadays, Taiji suggests you strengthen your centre and root in order to balance and stabilise yourself rather than weaken or eradicate your feelings. Then your inner life, your imagination, becomes contained by strength and can be directed more usefully into your life and work. Unfortunately gaining such strength takes time and work and commitment. And it is a work that starts out terrifying you because it really threatens the ego. So the beginning of spiritual work is always difficult – painful – though also exciting and challenging. The work then is to keep it always beginning, to eschew the accolade of expert.

30.3.15

Taiji should be meditative: constantly and patiently returning to stillness; and spirited: always ready to explode into combat. The mind/body (at this level there is no real difference) is simply the arena within which these two dimensions meet and equilibrate.
The spiritual dimension of Taiji depends more of the quality of the mind employed in the doing than it does on what is actually done.
A word of advice. If you find something in your teacher less than admirable that you feel they are not addressing, start to look for a new teacher. Not because they no longer have anything to teach but because your ability to listen has been compromised by ambivalence. And if they play the old trick of blaming your unease on ego then leave as soon as possible.
Most of us manage with tight hips and frozen sacroiliacs because the dantien – the deep abdomen – the aptly named core – is too weak to support the upper body (spine). Taiji: yin/yang, one becoming two, bifurcation, relationship, passion, is born in the release of the sacroiliacs, without which it is all pretend.

28.3.15

Anticipation is a form of investment, a gamble, an informed guess, an angle on the future. And this is precisely what we must give up if we wish a richer life. The only investment we make is in loss.
The word natural in Taiji describes a system or situation or event in which energy has not been blocked by the mind, by ignorance, by morality or duality.
One of the cardinal sins of Taiji is anticipation. We have all experienced a Pushing Hands partner who yields before we push, and we have all been guilty ourselves; it is difficult not to anticipate especially when we know what's coming next. It is a bad habit that we indulge during our Form too: the mind runs ahead of the body, seemingly clearing the way but effectively inducing a mild anxiety that lightens the load on the legs – a load we should be endeavouring to intensify by stilling the mind and being quietly in the body – the dantien. The mind is such a tricky customer, with so many dimensions, some wonderful but some not so good. The ego of course is the part we battle with, not to destroy but to bring down to size. It is the part of me that thirsts for constant affirmation, even to the extent of belittling all around so that it can shine all the more brightly. So beware those so called spiritual teachers who promote some brand of positive thinking: it is often just a glorified technique for bolstering the ego and making one feel full of oneself. The ego, and the mind generally, needs reducing with a regime of discipline and sacrifice. Only then will it become quiet and still enough for energy and spirit to manifest in life.
Nature comes to he who knows how to be still. The same with energy. This is why it is essential to understand central equilibrium. Mind in dantien: let that be our mantra.

27.3.15

"Imagine you're listening to angels above and behind you."
Gardening, not architecture.
Meditation is a time when I forget what's in front of me and remember what's behind. This is the meaning of facing the wall in Soto zazen: the front closes down and the back opens out into the room.

26.3.15

When I lose my centre feeling becomes emotion.
When I keep my centre feeling becomes energy.
Yielding is a technique that loops energy intent on my imbalance either back into itself or down to Earth. Physical attacks are relatively straightforward, at least to visualise if not engage: this is one of the functions of our Form – shadow boxing. Attacks on the mind or the energy are more subtle.
Frequently, during the day, bring the mind back to Taiji: imagine the practice, feel the energy, gravity, your sober centre, because no matter how much you practise, it's never enough.
Power is a matter of timing and placement, both of which should be felt and not thought.
Yielding is likened to swallowing. But before something can be swallowed, the mouth (heart) must be opened and that thing must be brought in. In Taiji we open the heart with Ward-Off (a misnomer if ever there was one) – a hollowing of the chest that brings up the arms to invite and guide.
Students would often ask my teacher how much practice they needed to do each day. He would usually give some flippant reply such as: As much as possible, or, All the time, knowing that they would inevitably not heed his advice anyway. But every now and then, when the student was serious and ready, he would tell them: Two hours minimum. And the only students he ever worked privately with were those who practised well in excess of that. Practice shouldn't be a chore or a bind, something you push yourself through out of a perverted sense of duty, it should be a joy, even though it's prospect may daunt. And if it isn't a joy then your mind is blocking your spirit. My advice is to get into a habit of practice, at least twenty minutes a day – time for three Short Forms or one Long Form – and see where that takes you. If the student can't even do that then they are not a student, and if they find that twenty minutes gradually increasing as the months go by then Taiji, and its internal incommunicable delights, is likely for them.
Internalise Taiji. Become Taiji. This is what takes hours in the day and decades of a life.

25.3.15

To let principle get in the way of talent is the greatest foolishness: a waste of a life.
It's not about being special, it's about being who you are. That should be enough.
Fall in love with gravity: it's the Earth loving you.
"O my soul, the time I trust will be, when thou shalt be good, simple, more open and visible than that body by which it is enclosed."
Draw significance from intimate and impenetrable experience.
To serve the divine spirit which is implanted within.

24.3.15

Internal control: external freedom.
Imagine you're babysitting: sitting in the corner of a room looking after two toddlers. You're reading (because, let's face it, looking after kids is pretty boring) but you're also aware of the children, and whenever they squabble or get into danger or mischief, you're up, attending to the situation, restoring peace and harmony. This is how the mind should function in Taiji: overseeing a system in equilibrium, only interfering when disequilibrium is threatened. The mind must be ever vigilant, but it is a soft vigil.

23.3.15

Forgiveness is the only way to peace.

22.3.15

Make up your mind. This phrase I have to use all the time with my daughter who is constantly weighing her choices and never actually deciding. A disciplined life is one in which the mind is never unmade.
A disciplined life – one free of choice. This is our goal, not in order to become thoughtless automata, but in order to eradicate the neurotic anxiety that always accompanies choosing. Then, and only then, the mind can be placed like an object where I will. Mind in dantien then means something real, and leaves the realm of fantasy.

21.3.15

Body yields to body; mind yields to mind; spirit yields to spirit.

20.3.15

In spiritual work the people who eventually make good students, and then good teachers, are the mild fuckups: the auties, the aspies, the schizos, the savants, the slydexics, the traumatized – those whose wiring makes it next to impossible to navigate a satisfying course through the culture they've been born into. A normal healthy person just wouldn't be crazy enough to do the work...
...sensibility interpreted not as a knowing but as proximity...
The only way to progress is to live your philosophy – to become ethical.
...that strange temporal itch, a modification without change...
In the end (and the beginning) it all comes down to the quality of my mind. Do I have a mind soft and understanding enough to make essence vibrate; invest life rather than take it away; give heart rather than impose Self.

19.3.15

How to work on spirit? Push your limits. Fight! And keep a thread of concentration – mindfulness – running throughout the day.
Meditation recommends that I learn to mark the passage of time with my breathing rather than my thinking. This is catching the tail of time, without which I am simply victim to time and life is largely wasted on dissipation.
Believe me, the ego would rather kill you than let you go.

18.3.15

My Taiji is true to the extent that it manages to remain free of me. Free of my tension, especially in shoulders and hips, and free of my anxiety, my fretting about things past and my planning things future. Good Taiji celebrates the death of Self and the rise of Subject. And this is the irony of spiritual work, the spirit is free to fly (or not) only when I subject myself to a life dominated by discipline and sacrifice. Such a life is clearly for the few, but is that my fault?
Soldier on.

17.3.15

Don't rely on your teacher. Learn to trust your own work and your own insights. And don't fall into the trap of becoming a teacher, not unless your own solitary practice far exceeds your teaching time. The last thing the world needs is another second rate Taiji master.
One thing we are adamant about in Taiji is the none use of force. Our practice is soft: gently persistent, gradually teasing at resistance until it gives up the ghost. The problem with force is that it comes from the wrong place, it comes from ego, so even if it successfully breaks through it has simply succeeded in replacing one layer of ego with a tougher one. A soft approach relies on persistence to wear down the quarry: regular daily practice under the occasional guidance of a qualified master. Without this any gains will be temporary and your art will remain external.

16.3.15

There is nothing quite so pathetic as a student who works hard learning all the externals of his art but makes no internal progress. Such a student is lacking one vital ingredient: what in Taiji we call Mind Continuous – a taut thread of quiet connectivity that runs through one's practice, and eventually one's life, spinning the moments together and weaving them into a smooth featureless fabric; storing energy in its subtle undulations, to be distilled in time into spirit.

15.3.15

"Faith brings one into another world, another frame of what is possible."
Buddhism, Stoicism, Gnosticism all recommend emotional detachment, not in order to live a life protected by remoteness and separation, but in order to connect with spirit rather than through thoughts and feelings. Such a life is far more intense and immediate and full and 'lived' than a life mediated through feeling, and choked by emotion.

14.3.15

Nowadays we all want to live like kings and queens without possessing the requisite nobility and without accepting the inevitable responsibilities.

Spirit doesn't so much create worlds as animate them, bring them alive, singularly. So I work on (with) spirit by ensuring that my Form, whilst remaining true (disciplined), comes alive as a singular expression of this moment in my life. It is precisely the power of my sobriety, the depth of my root, the weight of my centre, the unity of my life and vision, that enables the animus to do its (never mine) work. I am always simply servant to a life never mine.
to set the music of the event to words
In our absolute stupidity we have created a world where the unknowable (the apophatic God) is banished, and where the unknown is used purely to titillate the Self. We have all become tourists, craving new experiences but only from the luxury of five star hotels and the safety of the tour group. We want spirit in our lives but only if it can be used to serve the Self. So when, in Taiji, we say that spirit must come first we are proposing a reversal: an emptying of Self so that spirit can enter and take charge. We must remember what used to be called fear of God (constant intimations of mortality) so that we don't become so full of ourselves that we end up ruining everything.
A good student comes to class because they yearn for something that they can go home and practise assiduously. The poor student comes to class for a fix of good energy that they have absolutely no intention of practising.
Any line of work that draws me out of the known and thrusts me into the unknown is working on spirit. (The unknown being that territory which requires spirit to navigate.)
A good student is someone who, try as they might, just cannot resist great teaching.

13.3.15

anything that arrives
interrupts a waiting
for the collapse
of expectation
it all starts up again

Thomas A Clark
You're only as good as the person who taught you. Now there's a sobering thought. Luckily it's only true if you're stupid enough to take them as model rather than point of departure.
Read between the lines.
When meditating, discomfort in the body is a measure of agitation in the mind. Such discomfort (pain) is to be passed through rather than endured. We call this passage relaxation.
A word of advice: if someone tells you that you're depressed then, without thinking, quickly punch them on the nose. It'll give them something to think about.
I had a dream last night in which my teacher gave me a real scolding for having fallen into bad habits. In the dream I took it all with my usual passive aggressive dumb insolence – nodding in servility whilst brimming with indignation – I am English after all. On waking though I was filled with the energy of insight, and took to my Taiji invigorated.

Take the past as a dream and the present as the moment of awakening.
Despite its softness, the truths of Taiji are hard truths, unpalatable to most. The two most important: nothing is achieved without practice, and freedom results from an intensely centred detachment from all things worldly, especially the ego, being cases in point.
"A slave is one who waits for someone to come and free him."

12.3.15


"We do not need to believe in another world; we need to come to believe in this world, in this life, in this body. What must be restored to us, what needs to be saved, is not our eternal souls, but the ‘flesh’ of our bodies – we must believe in the body as ‘the germ of life’."
Inside the brand-new museum
there’s an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
is me.
Inside me
my heart.
Inside my heart
a museum.
Inside the museum
a synagogue,
inside it
me,
inside me
my heart,
inside my heart
a museum

Yehuda Amichai
There comes a point in a teacher's life, especially a teacher of an internal art, when they realize that unless at least some of the seeds they've sown begin to yield fruit then it's all been in vain.

11.3.15

We all have our work cut out. On some plane it's very clear, what we need to do, though always difficult to admit and accept: tell an angry person that their life's work is to deal with their anger and they're liable to get very angry. A spiritual teacher is someone with the wisdom and tact to direct you into your work, and a spiritual student is someone with the honesty and humility to get on with it.
Stir up the past and let it swirl then settle, and keep repeating until it settles right. This is practice.

10.3.15

Tighten up your act: find your centre, your core, and intensify into it. Being – the interface between you and the world – should be a taut skin that returns energy and prevents leakage. The Stoics had this down neat; and the Cynics. They were real men in those days.
Repetitive spiritual work, what we call practice, serves to build a container, a receptacle, an ark to house both the menagerie of your psyche and the words of god, the Logos. Then it slowly begins to make sense.

9.3.15

"To accuse others for one's own misfortunes is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one's education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one's education is complete."
In meditation we return to stillness – the quiet centre – so that we can investigate what's going on at the circumference: consciousness itself.
Correct relaxation is only possible once I have discovered correct tension, and vice versa. The centrifugal and the centripetal. Correct tension is a centre: a gravitating of body and mind towards the dantien. Without it the insights I gain through relaxation – expanding outward into the world – will tend to dissipate my energy, and then my only recourse is to depression – precisely the wrong sort of retreat.

8.3.15

"Looking into the distance on heading into the bog, one’s first impressions are of monotony and uniformity, but experience soon undoes that, through the constant recalling of attention to what is underfoot or immediately ahead by the difficulties of progress. The most serious obstacles are the flat areas where water glints between clumps of sedge; one is tempted to hop from tussock to tussock, but is forced to backtrack when they become too far apart; then one detours onto a hummocky area pitted with bog-holes and, after struggling with that for a while, scrambles onto a promising-looking ridge of rock and heather, which turns out to be a promontory ending in more sedge swamp. All this can produce weariness and anxiety, but it is pure delight when the weather is good, the evenings are long and there is no need to hurry. Sometimes I come back from such a walk with my head so empty it seems not a single thought or observation has passed through it all day, and I feel I have truly seen things as they are when I’m not there to see them."

7.3.15

The miracle of practice: through repetition to be thrust ceremoniously into the unknown.
"It's such a tricky business. You want to do your art, but you've got to live. So you've got to have a job, and then sometimes you're too tired to do your art… Try to get a job that gives you some time; get your sleep and a little bit of food; and work as much as you can. There's so much enjoyment in doing what you love…"
If you are serious about Taiji then you will need to include: stretching, aerobics and meditation (seated and standing) into your practice.

6.3.15

Prayers and tears: two natural responses to a world that demands I open up, let down my defenses, and touch the real. A corollary being that a life without prayers and tears is not real – has had otherness erased.
"Death is only a thing of terror for those unable to live in the present."
It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of exercising the core, not just for the body but for the energy and mind too. Mind in dantien should be just this: corework. Without it gains will tend to dissipate. The Plank is a good place to start, and will help bring awareness naturally to the lower abdomen.

A tenacious commitment to yielding: holding on by letting go. Gravitating to some unimaginable mythic source in surrendering life to the true heart.
touching upon the untouchable
Learn from mistakes by first admitting them as such and then facing them as such. This develops humility, and is the path to wisdom.
"it is needful for you to have friends who are beneficial for, and likeminded with, your way of life"

5.3.15

The most valuable thing in the world for the student of spirit, next to great teaching, is feedback. The mediocre student – he who blows hot then cold – needs positive feedback: encouragement, reinforcement. The good student – he who can't cool down – needs negative feedback: reining in, careful direction. If their ego can't take it then they are not really a good student – they're on their own trip, destined to shine brightly, maybe, but never to become part of a living tradition.
Now while I have you here before my platform, what words shall I whip forth painted in red letters ten feet tall?
WORK.
That's the first one.
RELAXATION.
That's the second. Followed by two final ones:
DON'T THINK!

Ray Bradbury
up from the bones of earth
The touch of reality.
Relaxation always invites.

4.3.15

"Heaven is this world as it appears to the awakened imagination, and those who try to approach it by way of restraint, caution, good behavior, fear, self-satisfaction, assent to uncomprehended doctrines, or voluntary drabness, will find themselves traveling toward hell … hell being similarly this world as it appears to the repressed imagination."

Before Earth can usefully develop my energy I must possess a well-defined centre of gravity. This is the dantien (belly) about which my physicality gathers. Mind in dantien – the first instruction in Taiji – aims to develop this centre, not just as an abstract point some distance from the head, but as a real physical entity: a heavy stone in the belly that the Earth pulls strongly when I manage to relax the muscles that surround it. The pull of gravity on my dantien keeps me grounded, and stimulates the higher centres to open up and operate:
  • solar plexus (power and creativity) 
  • heart (affection and love) 
  • thymus (passion, desire and fighting spirit) 
  • throat (expression and joy) 
  • eyes (vision and foresight) 
  • crown (higher energies). 
Without an athletic body, firmly bound to the Earth, I can never be full and free.
Front toes point in slightly (so that middle toe points straight ahead) to protect the knee.
When close enough to touch, the mind stops. This is because the mind not only thinks at the expense of sensitivity, the mind thinks in order to stop feeling.
the internal fold of an overrun border

3.3.15

A student is someone who studies – without study they are not a student. So, as students of Taiji, practice is a given: we practice, like it or not. The question is what to practice and how to practice.
There are two forms of spirit: the spirit of opening and the spirit of (en)closing. The first encourages an encounter with the Other, and the second enables an engagement with the Other. The first creates the event, and the second makes the most of it.
Taiji is a spiritual practice and as such its main concern is the understanding of impersonal spirit.
Taijiquan is a martial art and as such its main concern is the cultivation of personal spirit.
A word of advice: never practice something you don't feel to be true.
Truth and spirit are the same thing. So, in Taiji, a gesture/feature is true if it captures and releases spirit.

2.3.15


"Tyranny is seldom (in the long run, never) imposed on people from without; it is a projection of their own pusillanimity."
from a world of subject and object to a world of lover and beloved
Meditation provides a means of unveiling truth. It is, I believe, the only way to arrive at truth, as opposed to hearsay or opinion. Meditation is neither contemplation nor reflection, it is rather an emptying of anxiety (self) so that the veils of falsehood may gradually fall away. The truth it yields is largely silent.
"…like most chronic invalids the ego is fretful, irascible, cruel, bothered by trifles, jealous and inordinately vain. Its only freedom is in domineering over or hindering others; its only happiness is in solitary possession; and in everything it does it seeks, like Cleopatra, for a painless form of suicide…"
Two mantra:
  • Amo ergo sum
  • Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori
What makes me present is the energy flowing through me: the transformations I effect and affect. My generosity.
Meditation is the sacrifice of time.