"The emphasis on practice is because it is the only time in your life you can steer your karmic situation."
Compassion is practised by doing things for others. Giving of what you possess: time, energy, wealth, health, to those you feel need it. Real things, actual things, for real people, actual people. Not only in the mind. There is no other way.
"The trouble with Westerners is that they want to witness their own enlightenment."
Grace is something given for free, for no reason. It is beyond our normal economy of this for that. When it comes, which it always will, when you least expect it, then best be ready, best be grateful.
"The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality."

"All of us, as bodies, are in the active position of figuring out how to live with and against the constructions – or norms – that help to form us."
Real progress always happens unawares – takes you, especially, by surprise. Others may have seen it coming, but for you its always a consequence of grace.


The Jewel in the Heart: a gentle pilot light, always ready to set you aflame. Look at it, into it; ask it, nicely, to lead the way.
Savour the moment. Learn from it by savouring it. It will never happen again quite like this.


Truth is sincerity of fiction – the shock of the new – rather than precision of fact.


Adyashanti, when asked about enlightenment: It's like going to the best restaurant in town, ordering the most expensive meal on the menu, and the waiter arrives with an empty plate.
"Only by risking the incoherence of identity is connection possible."
We live in, and so have no choice but to be part of, a sick culture in which an education consists of teaching children to overrule their hearts with their heads. Hardly surprising therefore that despite the obscene level of wealth of the middle-class, depression has reached epidemic proportions. As I told my eight year old daughter this morning, when I found her weeping because she thinks she lacks the talent (and meanness) of one of her friends: Listen to your heart, learn to trust it, and it will make you happy.
"Let's face it. We're undone by each other. And if we're not, we're missing something."


"I've taught over 10,000 students in my time, and the only thing I've ever wanted is for them to get their bums in."

John Kells

Because when the bum is in – when the sacrum is directly under the heart – then the heart is always being directed upward, like a fountain. And remember: the bum is in but the tail is out, otherwise the knees, and your sense of humour, will suffer.

"There's always something you missed or something you didn't notice or somehow you got wrong… I don't really have a beginning."
Meditation is spring cleaning the mind. Sifting through your shit, looking at each precious item, seeing it for the turd it is, and asking, "Do I really need to hold onto this or can I safely let it go?"
As far from life as from death.
A friend of mine is in Nepal: "The smell of life is visceral & primal – putrefaction, piss and incense."
"Culture is a sham – a cosmetic painted on life by rich people to conceal its ugliness."

Those injured plaints of imperial dudgeon that the perennially lazy feel entitled to intone.
I remember clearly my first Taiji class with John Kells. His presence – a perfect mix of softness and sobriety – inspired, or rather demanded, a level of attention that I had never previously given anything. My foremost concern, at that first class, was to concentrate hard so that I could recall the work and the words (I didn't know about energy at that point) and practice them when I got home. I came to Taiji to learn something that I could work on, and with, in my own time, that would, unequivocally, help me become a whole person and therefore a better person. And so, my unwholeness, my unwholesomeness, my maladjusted autism worked in my eventual favour because without it that persistent dull ache for transformation, which I had, have, felt, for as long as I remember, would have been the last thing in my fledgling heart.
"Everyone wants to be special, and some people are, but never in the way they think they are."

John Kells


Sensus divinitatis.
When a student reacts violently against something you say, you've touched a nerve, a place they won't look at, and you're on the right track. Just tread gently.

"Art comes from everywhere. It's your response to your surroundings."
The reason people don't/won't believe is because they are afraid of their own imagination.
"Talent is cheap, you have to be possessed or obsessed, rather. You really have to feel like you cannot not do art, and that is something you can't will."
When you deny God then you deny a very beautiful part of your own being, which is a crying shame, but also rather dangerous. Now by God is all I mean is the upward draw on the spirit that becomes apparent when you get into heart-mode – heart-mind – accessed by quietening the thinking mind so that the faithful heart can come to the fore. Then it feels as though an invisible hand has reached into the chest to pull the heart up and out. If the mind is at all sceptical then it won't work, or at least won't be felt. The mind must naively believe – it must welcome external operation – it must be willing to fall upward into love. This doesn't, of course, mean that thinking is outlawed, it just means that thinking is not compulsive, is not necessarily one's first recourse, and can be switched off at will so that other faculties of mind and being can operate unhindered.
"A good teacher is like a good artist. They go right to the most difficult part of whatever's going on."

A faithless soul, as well as being something of an oxymoron – a perversity – is ugly, misshapen and off-centre. It cannot be otherwise.


"We used to be hunter-gatherers, now we're shopper-borrowers."
Much of what passes today for depression is, I feel, really anger, suppressed, internalized rage, a spirit livid at years, decades, centuries of repression and denial.
Life is like one big party. If you just turn up, unwilling, with nothing to contribute, then you'll have a pretty miserable time of it. But if you come, full of good energy and a willing heart, then, not only will you have a good time, but you'll as likely transform the event into a good time for others too. Real life is all about transformation.
"Nature does not proceed in a straight line, it is rather a sprawling development."

I was emailed recently with a request for a few of my teacher's maxims, sayings, anecdotes, by someone obviously without the stomach to trawl through the shite here for them, so here's a couple of my favourites:

"The worst form of laziness is to work very hard at the wrong thing"

which, he always claimed, was Thomas Aquinas, but I suspect he designated respectable provenance in the vain hope that we may give it more credence.

"I can't do the work for you, and if I could, I wouldn't."
A teacher is someone you have no choice but to listen to regardless of whether your delicate sensibilities approve of what you're hearing. The buck, of course, rests with the student.
Whatever you turn a blind eye to you effectively condone. If this isn't obvious by now then you're not working effectively.
"What interests me is the opportunity for all of us to become something different from what we are, by constructing spaces that contribute something to the experience of who we are."
The unknown is a place where the mind no longer functions, usefully, it can only fret, and worry, and pine, and moan, and generally slow things down, which it loves to do, gives it a spiteful sense of control, and, so, the only way to function, adequately, in the unknown, is with spirit. So, given that death is the great unknown, and given that death is the only inevitable in life, beckons us all, we suggest just a smidgen of work on the spirit before you pop your veritable clogs.

That warm fireside glow of smug self-satisfaction that the bourgeoisie loves to don belies a soul shrieking in terror at the dire consequences of denial.


The intelligence to enjoy doing what needs to be done.
"Establish enigmas, not explanations."
Meditation: basking in the love of God, for the love of God. No more, no less.
"Work out of your work. Don't work out of anybody else's work."

Heartwood: core strength.
Face up, stare down.
True in the sense of 'a true aim' or 'true heart.' This is spiritual truth. Nothing at all to do with information, verifiable or otherwise. Spirit doesn't just find truth, it makes it.
"Truth must be found in reality, not systems."


Every significant advance seems like a setback at the time because it forces you back to square one.


It's so very beautiful how animal human eyes are when they've been robbed of everything except spirit.
Real change always takes you in a completely unexpected, uninvited and unwelcome direction. It's difficult if not traumatic. But once it's well and truly established, then you realise just how much you needed it – how it saved your life.
"I was always weak in health, but my life was strong."


To get where I need to go I must become a different person. This will require a transmission of energy from a qualified master, a lifetime of work and, above all, grace.
Fire on the (h)eart(h)

Sesshin: touching the heart-mind.
Mind in dantien. I guess we've all been drilled in this since day one – the Taiji mantra for beginners. But what they don't tell you is that unless your heart reaches for the stars you'll never get the mind there naturally.
"You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it."
Trying to teach my daughter to read: "Sit still and CONCENTRATE!"
Trying to teach Taiji to my students: "Relax the mind and MOVE!"
For farm animals there is a Holocaust everyday.


"150 people die every year from being hit by falling coconuts. Not to worry, drug makers are developing a vaccine."
When I witness those around me building or maintaining unsustainable – unnatural – structures – habits – for the sake of pampering an already bloated sense of self, a phrase of my mother's always comes to mind: "It'll all end in tears."
Death doesn't just reminds us that we are alive, it makes us alive. Without its hovering presence life becomes flat, safe and samey.
Don't intimidate your students with too much information. If they're doing the work then they'll find out for themselves. And if they're not doing the work then they don't deserve to know.
"The purpose of art is to bring people into presence."

It'll all end in tears. This is the fate of all of us, our commonality. So, best get in plenty of practice and weep, weep, weep, washing those tears of emotion so that they can be simply what they are – indicators that defences have been breached and life has flooded in transporting us to a different place, a spiritual place. This is why prayers and tears always belong together. When the nun weeps during prayer she is not feeling sad or happy she is simply feeling the deep tremble of life, what my teacher called the truth, the poignancy of existence, and that always elicits tears.
Spiritual freedom arrives when you've the presence of mind to see through the self. It is all about growing up. Material freedom comes when you've the time and wealth to indulge an ego unfettered from super-ego. It is all about not having to grow up.
I think therefore I think I am, I think.
It is impossible to listen whilst nattering, it is impossible to see whilst mind is projecting images. This is why true presence is always stunned silence – a blank canvas.


Perhaps the most important word in my teacher's lexicon is Natural, or, as his teacher put it: 'Natural way best way.' The notion that what is being taught is simply what would happen naturally if it wasn't for an almost violent willfulness, what Robert Creeley aptly called a 'magnanimous cruelty,' exercised by the student against the teacher, the teaching and what these represent, namely the death of ego. If this simple word – Natural – can make you look at this state of affairs and plainly see your own mean-spirited part in it for what it is, then that one word will save you years of chasing your own tail.

the present moment
and the present presence
(ground beneath our feet)
"I" is, of course, the vertical letter. Spine, spire, spirit.
Roots provide stability and access to nutrients for growth. Without roots a plant would tumble and wither. The same with a Taiji root, which is really just a willingness and tendency to sink and melt down into the ground. A content humbleness that gives itself to gravity in order to receive from Earth. The keen student often adopts a slouch, both of posture and of demeanour, in their efforts to develop a root. A Taiji master, on the other hand, with a well established root, never slumps because the upward flow of energy from that root, feeding spine and spirit, won't allow it.
in a moment of inaugural freshness
The arrogance of mind is its claim to foresight.


You don't have to be gay to be gay, though I dare say it helps.
"Because of an innocent misunderstanding you think that you are a human being in the relative world seeking the experience of oneness, but actually you are the One expressing itself as the experience of being a human being."
The bourgeoisie love to have things on their own terms – it's what gives them their sense of power. But some things, real things, can only be taken as is, hook line and sinker. Internal teaching is one such. It is largely a bitter pill that cannot be sweetened or ground up or swapped for something more palatable without destroying it – it must be swallowed whole or not at all.
Noisy mind maintains a world – a semblance of reality that is in fact illusion – and blocks out ever having to face reality as is – energy as such – except on unexpected occasions when, for whatever reason, structures momentarily fail and reality gushes in. Such moments, which we'd generally rather forget, should serve as beacons by which to navigate a course through the treacherous mire of convention in search of faith and spirit.
"Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes."

Close your eyes, fall in love, stay there—
The only way to go consistently and methodically beyond the self is through discipline. Mind bending drugs (including the legal ones) may show you facets of mind you can't ordinarily access but it doesn't take long to realise that these experiences aren't that useful, and, in the long run, they do more harm than good, feeding ego and weakening spirit.
The inner strength to no longer need to come in from the cold.
The proof of meditation is in the sitting. Quiet mind, no mind, inner peace, energy, even spirit, are largely by the by. Discipline for discipline's sake, rather than for any end in sight. This is the cold stark reality of our work – what Dr Chi called Nothing.
Be acutely aware of your failings, without judgement, and progress will speed up immeasurably. For this you need to listen to feedback, which is always available.


"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light."
If love is the magnetic draw on the heart towards the Other, then God is surely Love, with a capital L, the call of Absolute Otherness from above, from beyond the globe. A call to pray the wordless prayer of adoration, which a light heart naturally indulges. And it alarms and saddens me more and more to witness the fury with which those around me deny their natural light heart, actively work against this call to their spirit by indulging instead a frantically noisy noisome mind. People prefer the pall of depression to the lift of obedience. Freedom is not the freedom to do as you please, but the release of spirit that attends the choiceless life.
Judge food not by how good it tastes but by how well it sits in the stomach.
"Thankfully, perseverance is a good substitute for talent."


As any good chef knows, if you don't go against the grain then the act of cutting sharpens the blade.

"Watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye."
To become whole we must look into the mental blocks safely tucked behind the veneer of bourgeois respectability, blocks the system encourages because that system would collapse wholesale if perfect spirits awoke within it. These blocks are the products of trauma – things we couldn't process at the time – and the truth of trauma is that pain is unavoidable, not just the pain of reliving the trauma but the pain of leaving behind the self defined by that trauma, and the pain of finding a new life, a new identity. In the end though it will all be deemed worthwhile, assuming you live long enough.
Pay attention. And it is payment – the very least you can give.
Try living with (and for) vision rather than merely from one sensation to the next. People willingly pay nowadays for something that will help them feel better, be it yoga, therapy, holiday, but will they pay to be guided through a course of pain and suffering in order to eventually become a better person? This would require vision, and real heart.


"The difficulty is to find exactly the form one's passion – work is produced by passion with me, like kisses – is it with you? – wants to take."


There seems to be an inverse relationship nowadays between quantity of available information and quality of prevailing wisdom.
"Always say no to drugs. It will drive the prices down."
What students find difficult to understand is that the work is reductive rather than accretive. It may seem that Taiji is all about learning Forms, but that is only the beginning stage. Once a Form is learnt it becomes a thing to repeat in practice day after day so that tensions adhering to the body, mind and spirit can gradually fall away. This is why solo practice – solitude – is always the most important aspect of the work, without which there is only the most superficial of progress.
Mind is often likened to an ocean – a deep body of water full of immeasurable movement and mystery. And it is, of course, but it has become something of a sewer, or at least a smelly canal, polluted by all manner of detritus – plastic bottles, used condoms, motor oil – and all manner of shit that's sunk to the bottom – no longer visible but slowly fermenting, sending up occasional bubbles of noxious gas to remind us of the scale of the task ahead if we ever want clean natural water able to really sustain life and creativity.
Meditation is time looking at mind.

‘the real’ refers not simply to external reality but to those elements of reality that resist verbalization


Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which petty thoughts have made,
and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Deja Moo: The feeling that you've heard this bullshit before.
To succeed at this game you must feel keenly the humiliation and regret that always attends the satiation of sublunary desires. Otherwise you will spend all your energy pursuing mundane goals, be it wealth, reputation or love.
"I need to give affection and love, because without that, I wither. I need to give that love to someone. Without that, I'm rudderless."

To waken the body stretch and move. To waken the spirit learn to fight, especially your own laziness. Waken the heart by learning to love, sensitivity by learning to listen, mind by learning to be quiet inside. A lot of learning to do. But it all starts by learning to relax.


"Man has little needs and deeper needs. We have fallen into the mistake of living from our little needs till we have almost lost our deeper needs in a sort of madness."
Human universe: this false humanism that worships Self instead of God, that refuses the most obvious of facts – that only the damaged souls, the broken individuals, will ever countenance the work involved in true ascent – and instead strives to heal and rehabilitate Ego with a gamut of therapies designed to rationalise spirit out of the equation.
Envisage a culture, the pinnacle of which is hermitage: the rejection of trappings, the social, societal, the whole rigmarole.
"reaching for the sky and the earth simultaneously"

True humility is always looking up, because nothing is beneath it.
In the Classics it says: Move like a great river. I presume a great river is an old river – one close to the sea – meandering, slow, sluggish, inexorable. Yet, beneath the surface, brimming with life: eddies and currents, creatures and ecologies, ambiguities and possibilities.
Life is what you make it. Not materially but imaginatively, metaphorically. It's all in the visualisation: the imagery and symbolism, analogies and animism. In the end it all comes down to what you have the heart to see.
Lark ascending


"And we in us find the eagle and the dove."

"I had a dream that I was awake and I woke up to find myself asleep."
"For God's sake hold your tongue and let me love!" This, surely the strongest opening line in the whole of English poetry, is actually Heart bellowing at Mind.


When heart connects upward then you develop angelic presence. You become angel and you are attended by angels – a veritable quire, no less. Attention and attendance
True presence means listening, but listening with your energy rather than ears. This requires a spirit thoroughly awake and fully attuned. There is absolutely nothing passive about real presence; in its own way it almost forces the situation.
Body melts into Earth and heart flows upward like a flower.

"he is everything and he is hidden"


Listen to the Other, look at the self, and judge neither.
How belittling is a label.
Consider a fish in a pond. Material progress means the fish gets bigger and the pond gets smaller until the poor silly fish chokes in its own shit. Spiritual progress means the fish gets smaller and the pond gets bigger until the fish dissolves and disappears into water.
"Intellect takes you to the door, but it cannot gain entry, only love can do that."

Impact gently, plant firmly. In walking, and in everything.
Whenever we do something we become an operator and that gives us a feeling of power and a sense of meaning. Sitting, however, we do nothing, simply sit, patiently allowing ourselves to be operated upon by the prevailing forces in our vicinity: the pull of gravity, the draw of heaven, noises, draughts, vibrations. We become operand. Yet, paradoxically, when we bring awareness to this state, these forces center us in the world with such unambiguous incision that we become empowered simply by being rather than by what we can make of the world. Creature rather than creator. And this liberates the heart to love, wisely or foolishly, it matters not, because the mind no longer needs to worry about protecting a manufactured, and therefore false, identity.
"in moving away from England a whole world opened up"


The spiritual cannot be understood in terms of the material, and vice versa. They are different worlds, different dimensions – incommensurable. But they can, obviously, both operate in the same space otherwise we would lack either body or spirit. Mind is that space – that inclusive container of both realms – and we need to recognize it as such, rather than the reluctant go-between it has been relegated to since the two dimensions became antagonistic. And, surprisingly, that antagonism developed when these realms started to become corrupted by the other: when the material world developed ethical compunction and the spiritual bowed to a calculated economy of tit-for-tat.
"When everyone is trying to be something, be nothing. Range with emptiness."

"Always now – just now – come into being. Always now – just now – give yourself to death. Practicing this is Zen practice."
Each adjective, each adverb, each descriptor, a symbol of adoration.
Spike a can of beer with a good glug of vodka,
Sleep like a bairn for three long hours.
Wake, right as rain, and sit
A good long hour, worshipping your maker.
The tension that must be harboured to hold onto material gains – property, reputation, earning power – is exactly the tension that must be relinquished to make spiritual progress. Material egress, divine congress. Otherwise regress.


The whole wide world resonates with memory thence meaning.

Starting over


Spend a little of each day in worship. For your soul, if nothing else.
Downright spine
Upright heart