The aim of spiritual work, contrary to popular belief, is not the immortality of the soul but the eradication and death of the soul. Any sense of individuality or self – that which makes us feel substantial and important in ourselves, that parcel of surplus energy that we endlessly and narcissistically groom – must be purged in the excess of our giving, in our submission to a destiny that will put us to full use if only we stop resisting with the fantasy of being something in and for ourselves.
Re poetry: I really feel that if you can find a way of working that generates material, almost mindlessly, then, in time, you'll realise that you've said what needed to be said – you'll have gotten to somewhere new. Then it becomes like the Taiji Form: repetition; not to create replicas but to create (differences). Working generates the meaning.
Regular readers of this journal, if there are such creatures, should realise by now that my take on Taiji is idiosyncratic, to say the least; and very personal. For me Taiji has always been spiritual – a path to God. And you can take that how you wish. The path is long, at the very least a lifetime, and precarious, fraught in fact. But sure. A struggle to escape the horizontal plane of quotidian existence – all those delicious curlicues of energy – and rise, or rather extend, through the feelings, to something above and beyond. Similar, in fact, to the computer games my daughter loves to play, where she's rushing along a path, being attacked from all sides, and she must use her wits to both evade those distractions and gather enough lives to keep her going on the next level.
When performing Taiji the arms and legs create a sea of activity and energy from which the head rises like a periscope, calm and aloof, solely to scan the terrain and keep out of the way. If the head collapses down and forward into the fray then my Taiji may feel more involved and involving but it will lack virtue, it will lack that vital separation of heart and head.
When, in spiritual work, we propose giving or love as the motivating force for life, we are not suggesting generosity or charity should become central to our existence. It is much deeper and more radical than that. Most of us live as sensing subjects: recipients of a stream of sensory information which we then process in the brain and use to regulate our actions. This is leading with the calculating mind, a course that spiritual work aims to cut through if not dismantle. Prior to receiving information and acting upon it, a course which is naturally defensive and negative, we suggest that the heart lead with a stream of good energy, transforming the world it enters. Of course we all tend to do this whenever we are in a good mood or excited about prospects, and children do it all the time. What spiritual work proposes is that the heart lead life at all times, not just when I'm happy or when I feel like it. It is really simply a fight against the negative forces of depression and repression, within and without. Our principal weapon in this fight being yielding: the ability to not simply evade those forces but turn them against themselves.
The head, being the top of the spine, is constantly thrust upwards by energy generated in the weighted leg, aloof and unperturbed, whilst the shoulders, dragged down by gravity – the call of Earth – simply leave it be. This is clarity: an ice cold mind uncomplicated by feelings of self, leaving the heart free to do what it does best: feel (for) others.
The balance of yin and yang is not a cancelling out to produce a stable, static and safe middle-ground. This would be double-weighted. It is more a vibration or resonance – an energy – that buoys us up and propels us through time. Reality is then a vast sea of change from which occasional islands offer a temporary peace: the chance to recover enough energy and spirit for the next foray into the unknown.
Taiji is a means to freeing the spirit. We must constantly remind ourselves of this otherwise it so readily becomes another repressive structure. Not because it has an inherent tendency to corruption but because we, pathetic conditioned victims that we are, are far happier with the comfort of repression than with the vast unknown of freedom. Yielding is always a prelude to attack.
It is the contention of spiritual work that the only structure life needs is that provided naturally by the outpouring of energy from the heart. This is what we call Faith. Adam's fall was realising that mind is smart enough to cheat the process. Our return to grace is simply a reversal of his turn.
The function of thought is not to solve problems but to reveal, expose and create them. By living with a problem – immersed in it – working with it – our energy slowly adjusts and adapts, and solutions arise, as if by magic. Any research scientist will tell you so. And this, for me, is the only lesson that needs to be learnt: that as long as I persist and refuse to retreat, a solution – a resolution – will come. We call this the cadential structure of learning.
I have two friends who are heavy-duty meditators. One sits cross legged on a cushion and the other sits on a hard low chair with his feet flat on the ground. They both, of course, insist that their way is best, but what is obvious to me, when I observe them, is that they would both benefit greatly from switching to the others method. There's a principle in there somewhere I suspect.
Life, as we all know, is a constant struggle against the forces of depression – external and internal – that bear down upon us and make our hearts heavy. Taiji recommends yielding rather than resisting: taking a stand and turning those forces around so that they work instead to lighten and lift the heart.
Before studying Zen, men are men and mountains are mountains. Whilst studying Zen, men are no longer men and mountains are no longer mountains. After studying Zen, men are men again and mountains are mountains. This Zen story is true of all spiritual work. Before studying, the mind and being of the prospective student have a certain organisation built around habits picked up through the course of their life. The study of Zen, or whatever, aims to de-organise: break old habits and patterns so that more natural, less ego based ones can take their place. It is rather like renovating an apartment: during renovations all the furniture and belongings have to be put into storage so that walls can be knocked down, extensions built, etc. Afterwards everything is put back in place and life continues pretty much the same but structurally everything is different.