Human beings, as their intelligence ascends and their spirit declines, tread really dodgy ground. We are now in a situation where it is relatively easy for a reasonably good intellect to get the better of superior spirit. What this means is that reality, which is largely spirit, can no longer be relied upon for feedback or regulation. We really are on our own.
Upper heart (thymus) is important because it allows me to become a king and thereby govern my affairs with dignity, nobility and wisdom. Each of the three deep centres offers a throne upon which I sit depending upon the care and attention required.
Most of us on this crazy path yearn for shortcuts. But we are deluding ourselves. Not because they don't exist, but because the only reason we need all this work in the first place is because, deep down, in all honesty, we don't really want the terrible freedom and responsibility (loneliness) it promises. Only when we are totally convinced that there is no viable alternative will we embrace it. It's this that takes time.
If the legs secure the belly then the hips will get tense and energy will not pass between upper and lower body. It should be my sobriety and probity – my inner silence – my desire for peace – on the one hand, and my total fascination in the world around me – my passion – my desire for new connexion – on the other, that stabilizes and secures my base.
School, for most of us, was a tedious time: wrenching the mind and body out of the energetic reality of its immediate environment, and submerging (drowning) it in a confusing world of language, ideas and concepts. Taiji aims to reverse this process.
Sacrum is sanctum, and meditation is a long slow process of opening up this room – of locating and residing in this center. Only when I am pure, quiet and still will I ever sink low enough to gain access.
"Once one has made the turn onto this strange road, a world of difference opens up. What looks like a narrow passageway from the entrance, turns out to have all kinds of byways, pathways, way stations — it becomes a world of its own."
The elbows should feel as though they have weights hanging from them. This is because they are connected to the sacrum/dantien which is constantly pulled by the Earth. The knees should feel as though they have strings attached from above. This is because they are connected to the heart which, when unburdened of anxiety, lifts in joy and delight. These are the two expressions of love in our work: the love of Earth (gravity) and the love of God (spiritual connexion). We should endeavour to allow these two forces into every particle of our being.
In the old days, the days of masters and slaves, masters had a thymus – an upper heart – which directed bearing and action. It is a gland, which in most is now atrophied, where self-confidence, self-esteem and pride were centered. Slaves, on the otherhand, had no thymus – it was beaten out of them with subjugation and cruelty by the masters – and so they developed the slave equivalent: ego, which, effectively, is just a long catalogue of complaint and resentment. This is why the only way to subdue the ego is to develop warrior spirit: make yourself master, if only of yourself and your actions. Worthy of thymos.
A re-centering – out of mind and into body – out of the head and into the belly. Only one requirement: a willingness (indeed a desire) to smile (indeed to laugh) for joy. Then the heart and the energy open up.
Meditation finds/creates silence and gathers it in the belly/sacrum where it acts as ballast, lowering the center of gravity and stabilizing the body, thereby allowing the hips and legs to become free to engage the Earth in a relationship of delight and joy.
For most of us the Taiji Form is the trace of an articulated object moving through space: a flurry of arms and legs, with very little real internal transformation. This is what I mean by collapse: form without content: becoming habitual: an inversion of what Taiji is meant to be: creative energy flowing, indeed surging, through time. Making anew.
Taiji is an energetic art. It aims to make those points of contact with the world – particularly hands, feet and face – interfaces across which energy is always flowing, always in both directions at once. This is our mindfulness: simple and continual attention to this fact: a becoming energetic. A becoming energy.
A good student is essentially stubborn. That stubbornness serves them well in guaranteeing their continuing study, but serves them ill by making change particularly difficult to bear if not countenance.
Creativity has nothing to do with making things up. It's all to do with being swallowed up in a living process — being swallowed up by life. And practice (work) is the investigation of what it means to be alive, to be swallowed up.
When the attention lingers it builds up and becomes restless (assuming the mind doesn't wander and the energy dissipate). This is then intent: gathering, intensifying attent that wants to move, and is all too willing to follow a fiercely concentrated mind. This stage is characterized by an intensification of feeling which we call pain, and is why most of us shrink from intent, our own and that of others: it's generally too much to bear. But bear it we must. In fact we need to become immersed in its passional power if we ever want this work to lead us out of the mire of conventionality and into the magical.
The more stable and secure the dantien, the more the consciousness – heart & head – can, and will, in time, open and expand. To do this artificially, with drugs or therapy or group energy, is akin to using force and will eventually weaken both the body and the mind unless consolidated with real work, work that insistently brings me back to the humble reality of the intersection between here and now and my own limitations.
Great teaching shakes every student to their very core. Even poor students, who must then mock and laugh to extricate themselves from its grip. And, as the Daodejing points out, if they don't laugh then it wasn't great teaching. Which is why, when you've been at this game for any length of time, you learn to take the mockery of others as confirmation. Or, as my dear old grandfather used to say: "When a cunt calls you a cunt, take it as a compliment."
A gift economy is one where you give more than necessary in the hope that the relationship will develop. A modern economy is one where you take more than is reasonable knowing that you'll never see the sucker again.
Relaxation is, first and foremost, a coming back to my energy. This is the Buddhist present moment. Not the state of affairs, but my own energy: the connectedness I bring to that state of affairs. And this is the level at which I must love myself. I don't love my ego, my opinions, my cleverness, my chiseled good looks, I simply love dwelling in my energy — there is nowhere else I would rather be.
The good student is a delicate soul. Quite content to get on with the work under her own steam and with minimal supervision, she must be treated with the utmost care and respect by the teacher who may mistake her talent and enthusiasm for mastery. Too much exposure to the teaching and she will retreat behind a wall of stubbornness and effectively become a poor student. The only person to blame for such a tragedy is the teacher. Imagine the karma attached to that.
Consider an army platoon, at ease. Thirty odd comrades chatting, milling about, messing around. Suddenly the lieutenant calls them to attention and they stop what they're doing and stand in formation awaiting orders. Orders are given and the platoon is mobilized. These three states: at ease, attention, mobilization, are analogous to the three states of a Taiji mind: relaxation, attention, intention. Relaxation is chaotic energy, contained but undirected. Attention is a marshalling of energy and awareness: a mind gathered and present, bristling with expectation. Intention is a command for that attentive energy to move, to become active. These three states are also the three stages of Taiji training. The beginning stage (learning the Form) aims to relax and release the body, the second stage trains the mind to be quiet and attentive (perfecting the Form), the third is using the mind to direct energy through the postures (using the Form): intending rather than thinking form.