Sensation transforms me into something else, and so changes everything. Feeling is a way to register and process sensation in order to remain the same. Keeping sensation at bay – refusing it access.
Imagine someone throws a ball towards you which you must return smoothly without stopping its flow, its energy. You extend towards it to intercept; your hands travel with the ball into your body; you turn your body to keep the ball moving past your centre, diverting it to a new path – back the way it came – which the ball continues along as it leaves your hands. This is yield and attack: the ball being the energy, intention or spirit of the Other, depending upon which level you're working on.
Take Gan Eden – the Garden of Eden – to be the body – the temple. Then Adam and Eve are the male and female principle – yang and yin. Snake, the most interesting player, is energy, coiling, uncoiling, moving slowly, darting fleetly, around the body, always looking for mischief, for a play. Religion turns him into a devil – Satan's player – because he questions the validity of external authority, of the sovereign, and thereby, supposedly, threatens social harmony, status quo. He cannot help this, it's what energy does, it's natural. You must decide who to side with: the eternal external word or the ever-changing, ever-changeable internal. If you choose the internal – snake – then, as you waken him through the work, he ventures out into world and you become real in the sense of energetic, of spirit, which you never were before in your previously obedient robotic guise.
Trauma causes blockage. The frozen entity. Ignorance. Fascism – the intersection of ignorance and arrogance – the great delusion – institutes trauma as health and strength. This is why, for me, the bourgeois model, with its inherent conviction that it really is by far the best, is the most fascist of all.
The past cannot be undone but it can be remembered, repopulated, recapitulated (as Castaneda beautifully put it) – honoured. Any spiritual journey travels back as well as forward – into the ineffable but also back to source. This, again, as always, is Central Equilibrium. Otherwise I never really have stability: neither Earth nor Heart nor Hearth. The journey, though endless, approaches homecoming because what has fueled it all along is the deep knowledge that I have already arrived. It's not so much that time is circular, that it chews its own tail, but that, on one level, the level that counts, time does not exist. When you understand this then you're ready and willing (aching) to pass on.
Maturity is a matter of relaxation. Relaxing into what you are rather than striving to be something special. This, in turn, is a matter of finding your true centre, because what you are depends entirely upon the location of the centre about which your being assembles itself. From this centre you gaze upon the world – a world coloured by the position of said centre. The work is all about finding this centre and abiding contentedly within it. Paradoxically it is not found by looking inward – it is not an object I try to see but a place from which to see. It is found by looking outward with a relaxed and compassionate (these should be synonymous) divergent attention – looking at/for an objectless presence – and, when the spirit threatens to dwindle, addressing that invisible and unknowable presence – letting your energy out for no reason – no profit – other than activating the centre from which that energy diverges. And this is why the Other, in our work, is paramount – because it is only when I give to the Other that I find my true centre; my true place only opens up for me when I open up to the world beyond me – when I tremble and quake with absolute connexion. Such a centre is never a place of retreat and always a place of departure.
If I lift up this wooden stool then it acquires potential energy and I can start to use it for energetic practice. My tendency though, once I have lifted it, is to lock the working muscles so that the suspended stool remains relatively stationary. I assume, in my lazy mind, that stillness and solidity are good, are what's required, and so I freeze. If instead I become mindful of the constant bearing down of the weight of the stool, and balance that with a constant lifting of my arms – giving an impression of relative stillness which is in fact an equilibrium of two opposite movements – then I become energized, which is another way of saying that I become connected, which is another way of saying that I come alive. Now I hold the stool above my head and let its weight bear down through my body. I then mindfully allow my legs to give (yield) under that extra weight, at the same time that they straighten (attack) to push the stool back up. All this would begin to happen naturally if I were to stay in this position long enough for the body to tire and begin to fail. This is the sort of exercise that, over time, reconditions the body to naturally receive and return external forces. And, as you can see, it is simplicity itself: all a matter of mindfulness and attention rather than technique.
A rubber ball bounces because it is able to deform then reform: it stores energy as it changes shape with the force of impact and then releases that energy as it goes back to its original shape. The ball does all this because it is made of that kind of rubber, because of its material properties – its inherent fabric and structure – and not because it has done anything extra or special. In Taiji we train and practise in order to condition our fabric and structure to receive and return external forces naturally. We call this yield and attack.
The unconscious (that most revolutionary and far-reaching of concepts) is a secular reinterpretation of God, designed for us moderns unable to palate the idea of a transcendent authority (but all too willing to keep the law). It is a vast ocean upon which each of us builds a raft of detritus (ego) terrified that if we fall in we'll drown – unable to believe that as soon as we become enveloped by those waters instinct will kick in and we'll not just swim admirably, we'll become fish.
A point (of intent) burning through time becomes a line (of energy): an incision, an inscription; a signature, an expression. By being (alive) it makes (a path). Internal gives birth to external. This must be the way otherwise I'm just obeying orders, slave to the great External: merely following a Form.
What you see is always a function of internal agenda – is always what you choose to see – either because it pleases or displeases – because it provokes emotional response. Whatever leaves you cold is ignored and forgotten. This is the main reason our lives read as a string of misinterpretations (mis-takes), and why, despite reality's best efforts, we never really change; not much anyway.
Real communication has nothing to do with words. If you really want to communicate with the other then face them and gaze into their eyes so deep you touch their soul. This, you'll find, is only possible if you have the courage to become both quiet and vulnerable – respectful. Your deep gaze always opens you to their scrutiny too – exposes the sanctum. Energy flows both ways at once, otherwise it would be force. This is the forward movement we recommend. If you find it interesting then try it with animals – they are the masters – unable to hide behind words and opinions.
Nowadays most who join a Taiji class consider themselves good students if they attend class regularly, and serious if they pay for extra private lessons. So let's get a few things straight. A student, in my book, is someone who studies, and all study is largely homework – solitary practice. A serious student practises – as much as they can – and they wouldn't miss a class for the world. And in an ideal world there are no private lessons – they do more harm than good – bolstering an already excessive ego and demeaning the teacher. A good student has achieved a miracle: they have fallen in love with the work to such a degree that it has taken over their life, for better or for worse. They are the future masters, or, as my teacher would say, masters in waiting.
We are all story tellers – tellers of tales – so much so we forget that behind the stories there is a real world. The temptation to elaborate, exaggerate, fib and lie (what else can words do?) for self gain is far too strong for most to resist. Yet this is the work: to leave the world of words and enter the world of things; energy then follows and flows naturally. And this is why, for us, touch is everything. When I touch another then words disappear and the heart cannot but open and do its helpful work. It is like tending a wounded enemy or a hurt wild animal: the hands both restrain and heal. The capture and the rapture. Ruthless compassion. Central equilibrium.
The enemy is not the rational mind – the intellect. It is the ego. The rational thinking mind is a fine tool which, in the right hands, can help the heart achieve real wonders. But in the hands of the selfish and undisciplined it creates all manner of mischief – internal and external – which then masquerades as truth, deceiving the gullible and causing all manner of suffering.