Similar to children, who are afraid of the dark because the absence of visual comfort allows their imaginations to run riot, so adults are afraid of the quiet, especially inner quiet, because they may then hear spirit and soul, both of which have a very different agenda to the self.
"Vulnerability is not something that we can immunize ourselves against. It is, instead, the very infection — one might even name it love — that connects us. It is what makes the divine, the human, the animal, the mineral, the vegetable, hang together. It is the very condition of the possibility of a life together."
The belly's connexion to Earth is the beast in me, and the head's connexion to Heaven is the angel in me. Then, the heart's connexion to the Other is the human in me. Without Earth and Heaven – beast and angel – ego develops and obscures the heart. Thinking is the reason we disconnect – it is only possible by retreating into the solemn cell of the mind – by putting a safe distance between me and reality.
The more you practice the more you'll get out of the lessons you attend. This is obvious. But what is less obvious is that the more you practice the more the teacher gets out of the lessons (he will be inspired by your enthusiasm and energy) and so the more the other students get from the lessons. This doesn't just go for Taiji but for any course of study. Practice doesn't only improve you, it improves the world.
Last time my mother came here to Israel we took her to the Marcel Janco museum in Ein Hod. After an hour admiring the artist's wonderful work we sat outside in the soft light drizzle. As we chatted a coach full of school children arrived, and as they filed out of the bus I said to my mother: "Beautiful children, aren't they?" to which she replied: "Beautiful to look at, but then they open their mouths and they're so ugly!" And there you have it: the beautiful soul clear in the child's apprehensive face, and the ugly ego pouring from a mind and mouth full of demands and self-promotion.
Forget self and become one with the Tao. This requires me to first forgive the self – forgive the past – put it to rest – and become all heart and soul. An enlightened master is simply one who has completed this task. They appear to float because, for them, the upward draw of Heaven perfectly balances the downward pull of gravity.
Body and soul. A beautiful song. The body melts downward in response to the call of Earth, eventually dissolving into food for her smaller creatures. The soul looks upward, answering a constant call to prayer, eventually leaving the body and rising to meet its maker. Bliss is the feeling of being caught in the middle – in the heart of the tear; where tear is both this gentle rent of my being, and the eye's – the mind's – response to the truth.
The noisy chattering mind is a man-made invention designed to distract us from the call of destiny. Enlightenment is first a state of internal quiet such that that call becomes evident as a general field of energy, and then a process of connectedness within that field such that all self – all decision making – either falls away altogether or recedes largely into the background. Meditation is a time when the student receives intimations of these truths, and therefore a deeper thirst for their reality; a time of renewed enthusiasm, literally.
Relaxation is near impossible to sustain because of fear. It is terrifying to accept that release into a field of entropic dissolution effectively generates the containment – the natural fabric – required for life to not only persist but flourish. This is a real mind-fuck: a matter of faith, and therefore heart.
"The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live. The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant."
The more content we become with our modern bourgeois comforts: our iPhones, our skiing holidays and our antidepressants, the less likely we are to do even a tap of real work. People have to begin to realise that they are being controlled and that the only way to break free of that control is to acknowledge and develop that part of them that does not come under the remit of ego or self.
Christianity, with its glorification of suffering and its evil purges of everything pagan, pretty much erased the world of energy and spirit, at least from general awareness, paving the way for the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, Capitalism, and these present plights of over-population, consumerism and medically assisted longevity. Aren't we lucky!
What makes the work energetic is your ability to quieten the mind (or at least keep it on the job) and use that mind as instrument of intent (mind and spirit working together to direct energy) rather than thought. What makes the work spiritual is your devotion to dismantling the self in order to put the other first. There is absolutely no reason why these two approaches should go together, so make sure you don't confuse them.
In English a person with poor spirit is called 'spineless.' If you want to investigate and work with spirit then you need to strengthen and activate the lower back and belly muscles. So, for example, if you raise the arms above your head you'll feel the lower spine arching (extending) with the strain. Now raise the relaxed arms by purposely activating and tensing the lower spine. To use that area you must really mean what you do and say. This is spirit.
"Like being outside of thought, or maybe being thought itself, or a conduit. Maybe some spiritual experience I can't put into words. Definitely being between things, where I like to be, uncharted. I don't try and rationalise these things, I just end up going in circles. It's nice not really being able to express something in words, it's beyond it. It feels like I am trying to explain that state. I have no idea, it's fucking awesome though."
It matters little what makes you take up Taiji: relaxation, fighting, callisthenics, spiritual quest. What matters is that you practice sincerely and assiduously on your own between classes and allow your motives to slowly develop into more noble and less selfish ones. At some point you will need to leave your master, and maybe also Taiji, and branch out on your own in order to complete the task. When the time comes, don't be afraid.
There is really no conflict of interests between becoming and being. We learn this from meditation. I can only be consistently present, for any duration beyond the fleeting, when I attach the mind to the process of change, when I ride the breath like a surfer riding a wave. And this analogy is one of my favourites because, like the surfer, we must be able to abandon any point of reference outside of our own body otherwise we'll tumble off the board.
Back in the mid-eighties I had a course of lessons in the Bates method of visual re-education, popularized by Aldous Huxley in his marvellous book The Art of Seeing. The teacher was a sprightly spinster in her nineties who had been taught by a pupil of William Bates himself. The only exercise I have kept up is what was called Palming: placing the warm hands over the closed eyes in order to both simulate complete darkness and stimulate the eyes with energy from the palms. After teaching me the exercise she said that I must practise daily. I was rather proud of my ability to discipline myself so I keenly asked her how much she would recommend. "Five minutes," she announced, "every waking hour." I managed three or four days before lapsing miserably.
After an hour's meditation the two poles of the mind, which are usually twisted together in order to think and judge, separate and drift apart revealing a peaceful expanse into which the things of the world enter, clear and clean of the words that have adhered to them. This is a place I could never have reached without that hour of sitting.
Our verticality – posture – has a double aspect. We sprout up from the Earth on two straightening legs; a forceful action that works against the pull of gravity, and puts compressive stress on the pelvis and lower spine. Then we connect the crown to the Heavens and allow the pelvis and lumber spine to relax and lengthen downwards with gravity into softening legs. This latter aspect is unusual and takes a lot of practice. Without it there is no softness. Softness is non-resistance, so, internally, at least, we are not resisting gravity but constantly surrendering to it.
Taoism is all about balancing external and internal. This requires us to first discover the internal aspect of external things, and then work on that internal: acknowledge it, encourage it, tease and tickle it into play. The external then becomes what it yearns to be: simply container of internal life. So, this morning I walked about a kilometre to the local shops to buy bread. On the way I bumped into a student's mother walking her dog and we had a little chat; then I sat on a bench and spent a couple of minutes stroking a stray tomcat whom I've befriended. On the way back I took a slightly different route in order to pass through and admire an acre of waste ground that the local residents have transformed into a beautifully flourishing vegetable garden. By the time I got home a good hour had passed, and I had the bread (the external), but I also danced, inside at least, with the cheerful light energy (the internal) I had borrowed from the exchanges engaged along the way. This, of course, cannot be forced or planned or bought and sold. It is a world of grace which demands only belief and patience – in a word: love.
I have two beings: being in and for myself, and being in and for the world (for others/otherness). In this time of selfishness and individuality the first of these is put first. Spiritual work (meditation, prayer, chanting, mindfulness, Taiji, etc.) is primarily about being for/in the world. This doesn't mean becoming another selfish turd successfully operating within society, it means living a life of utter respect for, and total dedication to the spirit of otherness.
Unlocking a double-weighted body/mind doesn't just make it more agile and spirited, it makes it far more sensitive and responsive. In fact, a body of two interrelating single-weighted halves behaves like a pair of dowsing rods, collecting messages from the ether and translating them into impulses and intuitions. It is only possible if the stiff ego has been dismantled and replaced by a well-toned core. Such people really are of the world rather than of themselves: light, full of mischief and humour.
Retrain the legs to be sources of energy rather than instruments of force. This means softening the legs rather than hardening them, and thoroughly internalizing the principle of single-weightedness. When something has been internalized then it is with you all the time, even when you sleep. So, to internalize a principle, you must become obsessed by it to the extent that you find it in everything you do. Then, effectively, you are practising all the time.
The thinking mind tends to enslave the body and take it for granted – how else could it possibly allow itself to be distracted from the here and now? – and it's only when the body fails, or threatens to fail, through injury, illness or ageing, that we appreciate this. The body is not only a vehicle for a rampant mind. It has its own wisdom and knowledge, which is of the world and energy rather than mind and intellect, and so, in many ways, far superior.
There is absolutely nothing strange or complicated or esoteric about the truth. It is so simple that it's impossible to explain – no one would believe, or would be prepared to believe, it's that simple. Instead the lives we live, and the realities we create for ourselves, are ridiculously over complicated and sophisticated and, let's face it, so far from the simplicity of truth that it's unreal. It's like when you tell a lie and then you have to tell a whole string of lies to cover up the first; eventually you lose all sight of the truth and is all you're left with is the anxiety and bad karma of lying.
To be present, moment to moment, which is what's required for energy to spontaneously manifest, I must be constantly letting go of the residue – gains, insights, sensations, profits – of previous moments. Then, paradoxically, through the grace of spirit, something else accumulates sufficient to break through the rigid frigid skin of objectification, and the world begins to flow and dance and laugh. This is the world of energy. The mind doesn't have to be completely quiet or totally still – that would be enforced and we all know that force is anathema to energy. It just needs to be soft in the sense of letting go of what's gone, and keen in the sense of welcoming what's coming.