There is a flame, a fire below the cauldron, which ever burns, but is not always utilized. It is the internal fire of change, the motive power of transformation.
This fire refines the inner metal, burning off impurities and attachments that we might see clearly, move smoothly. The components of the flame are alignment, balance, timing, the coordination of the various jin, the intensity of intention.
The initiation of action, the form, is the spark of ignition. The burning is unmistakable at the flame tears through the central channel, searching for fuel and initiating change. And when the flame dies down, after it has burned out, we are never the same.
In my approach to Taiji-Qigong all training is subjective. Our abilities, our goals, the visible reality of our goals, the meaning of these goals, even having goals at all is subjective. Setting an objective standard is a game-stopper and a sure fire way to alienate people who may otherwise benefit from the practice.
My biggest frustration as a teacher, if I have any at all, is getting across the idea that we are all different and that is OK. I don't expect everyone to be able to do the same things the same way. I don't expect anyone to progress at any speed other than what is typical for said person when he/she is doing his/her best. Our bodies know what they need--much better than we do, much better than our teachers do. It is sad to me to see students who think they are struggling, and are holding up the rest of the class. First of all, struggle is a mental construct. You only struggle if you believe you struggle. Second, there is no holding up the class, because there is no where to go. The benefits of practice are found in the practice, not at the end of practice. No one is or should be in a hurry. If they are, they have also misunderstood the nature of this practice. If I have said it once, I've said it a million times: the means are the end.
The way to progress is through diligence, humility, and surrender. That includes surrendering expectations. We should all just go with the flow, flow with the wind. Take a step, then take another. If you feel the pace of things is too fast, slow down and go at your own pace. If you think the pace of things is too slow, slow down and look really close at every single movement, every breath, every intention. You may find it's not going slow enough.
Taiji-Qigong practice should be fun, relaxing, and energizing. Let it.
There is one sure fire way to not progress in practice, and that is to not practice. Yet ironically that is something we often see in "practitioners". Often, these are the practitioners who have the most pressing questions in class or during workshops, the most doubtful about this, that, or the other thing. And they are as well the practitioners who will jump from workshop-to-workshop, style-to-style, retreat-to-retreat looking for the right thing to answer the same inner questions we all have. What they are less likely to do is practice hard, on their own, on a regular basis.
Training is not medicine. Medicine is something you go to for a relatively quick fix when nothing else works. There are times when medicine is necessary for all of us. Training is something else altogether. The practitioner who does her yoga asana/Taiji form/gym routine/meditation/Qigong sequence (whatever the preferred practice) on a regular basis like clockwork will progress. This is a given certainty. The practitioner who only goes to class once or twice a week (or month) will never progress at the same rate. There is no hacking of the process.
In recent years there has been a renewed interest in psychedelics and jungle medicine as a type of bio-hack, a quick way to reach understanding about oneself and the nature of reality. There is some validity to this approach under certain circumstances, and it certainly has a place for some people as a part of the path. But I question any shortcut to growth as a final approach. I fully believe that eventually we have to do the work. Faddish diets for quick weight loss; supplements for quick muscle development; energy medicine for physiological/psychological relief; psychedelics for enlightenment--all of these approaches may work in a certain context, but as hacks they are just shortcutting the work of discipline, which will need to happen sooner or later.
I have said many times, there is no means to an end, the means are the end. The thing you are looking for in practice is found in the training itself. Embracing discipline will reveal your higher self. The purpose of the path is for it to become so routine that it isn't a path at all. Arriving is found in the striving, but once you stop moving the need arises again and again. Concurrently, looking for satisfaction through a hack will lead to another hack, and another. So what is your chosen path?
This subject could be controversial. This blog post could ask questions and answer them so as to suit closed minds. But it won't. There is enough of that in the world as it is. This post addresses Taiji-Qigong practice as I practice it and teach it. For the rest of this post, Taiji-Qigong is addressed as "practice".
Practice doesn't have to hard, but it should be challenging. Practice should be slow, but it should at times be fast. Practice should include enough of the type of movement that challenges, heals, and improves function in the practitioner's body. Practice should include stillness so that the practitioner better understands her/his body. Practice should include silence so the practitioner can address the nature of mind. Practice should include some partner work, if practical, so the practitioner can understand others. Practice should be consistent and routine. Practice should be fun. If it isn't, the practitioner should reconsider, refine, or reform. Practice alternates between stillness and movement, and the goal is to develop each of those qualities equally. Neither of those qualities take precedence over the other.
Practice may include a choreographed form, but that is not necessary. Practice can be the same every day, but is better if it is mixed up. Practice should include strength training; stretching and flexibility; relaxation; agility training; balance training; cognitive training; meditation; energy work; standing practice; compassion; focus training; and proper diet and rest. These are the basic components of practice.
The specifics of training are determined by one's teacher, needs, likes and dislikes. Don't get stuck on a fixed idea as to what determines proper training. Understand the basic components of "practice" and build your routine from there. The rest is just icing on the cake.
Again, the basic components of practice: strength training; stretching and flexibility; relaxation; agility training; balance training; cognitive training; meditation; energy work; standing practice; compassion; focus training; and proper diet and rest.
The Full Moon of July, Guru Purnima. When we honor the teacher, we are in effect honoring the teaching. The Perennial Teaching has been passed down through time, transmitted by those who have some understanding and a leading to share. In different cultures and different times it has changed and adapted, but in essence the message is the same. Once one gets it, the message seems simple and at times overblown. But if one is lost in the Matrix, it couldn't be more timely, more necessary.
Let's face it. At some point in life we trust our emotions, our senses, our neighbors, our egos, the mythologies we have been fed, and the fear behind them. And accordingly we spin through life till things seem out of control. And as the saying goes, when the student is ready the teacher appears.
One of my teachers once said to consider that when the teacher is pointing toward the moon, his/her focus may not be the moon at all, but something beyond. The teacher, in the shadow of said moon, is simply passing on what is necessary for the student. Often, the student rejects it, doesn't digest it, or mistakes it for something else altogether. But once it is out there it takes on a life of its own. It can, and often will, come back around again.
And the teaching is more than words, more than practice. Traditionally, the word Dharma is interpreted as the way, or path, indicating more than just words or teaching, but action, commitment. And once we take that step, putting it into action, becoming the teaching, life can and will never be the same.
There is a saying in Buddhist circles that if one meets the Buddha he should kill him. This may be the most potent teaching. We should honor our teachers, as we should honor all life. We should of course be grateful. But to truly honor the teacher is to take on the Dharma to the point that the teacher embodied is no longer necessary, while at the same time acknowledging that everyone, everything is our teacher. In which case, Guru Purnima is celebrating the path and all who are on it. In other words: all of life.
There is another saying: when the student is truly ready, the teacher disappears. I am at this point wondering the wisdom of these words. My teacher originally appeared in my life when I needed the teaching the most, despite the fact that I was not mature enough or intelligent enough to handle it. Over the years it grew till I was ready for the enormity of it, and the simplicity. Just this year, my teacher left this plane. But the teaching is eternal and I have lots of work to do yet. Fortunately, I have plenty to work with.
Fifty years ago today, Apollo 11 launched for the moon. It is overcast here today on this Guru Purnima. I may not be able to see the moon tonight, much less beyond it. But I have the teaching. My teacher is and will always be with me in spirit. And I have my other teachers, those I know and those yet to appear. The keys to the kingdom are found in the Now, in what is in front of us in this moment.
Apparently, today is the 50th anniversary of the release of the movie, Easy Rider. Watching the movie today, one gets the idea of a silly, cheap attempt at a hippie spaghetti western. And in many ways it is a bit silly. But it really captures a slice of the Twentieth Century, and the odd, violent, and confusing days of the 1960s. In particular, it captures the Americana of the South during this time of cultural change.
I always enjoyed Easy Rider. I was nine years old when the movie came out. The resulting fallout defined my generation and the world we inherited. For someone interested in motorcycles, music, the outdoors, and traveling, it spoke to me in a unique way. I still watch the movie every couple of years (a psychological necessity much like re-watching The Matrix, Scent of a Woman, and The Wrath of Khan). Seeing Jack Nicholson riding on the back of Fonda's Panhead through South Louisiana, wearing a 50s era football helmet, to the soundtrack of Hendrix' If 6 was 9, is priceless. Knowing that a little further into the film his character will be murdered by idiot rednecks, intent on preserving their small-minded, violent, racist, theocratic society brings back memories of my childhood in Alabama, and reminds me that if I look around I can see we still haven't progressed as far as we should have by now.
In any case, 50 years on it still celebrates the quirky and is as cogent a statement on America, 1969 as Woodstock, Hurricane Camille, the Moon Landing, or anything else. Here is an interesting link from the NY Times on Easy Rider: https://www.nytimes.com/1969/07/15/archives/easy-rider-a-statement-on-film.html?fbclid=IwAR3wk8THHMvwKzgZHmfiQOgY56r2nm7JxfFBIIv7cowBUWO6s-PRGwac1bQ
We can't really experience Taiji without a full understanding and experience of Wuji. If we go back to the basics, we know that Taiji is born of Wuji. Wuji is potential. Taiji is actualization. But to truly actualize in space and time, we must return to that which precedes The Ten Thousand Things. To be too Yin or too Yang is unbalanced and incomplete. Ideally we want to exist on the dividing line between the two. That line is neither, thus it is Wuji. When we inevitable slip one way or the other, we aim for balance. Perfect balance is equal Yin and Yang, thus there is no difference, no imbalance. And while we may attain this, it doesn't last. This is the way of Nature. Nature abhors a vacuum. Heat rises, weighted objects fall, water changes state as it freezes and boils. The science of physics is based on Nature attempting to achieve equanimity.
But that never really happens does it? It doesn't happen in Nature, it doesn't happen in our lives. And that is how it should be. We are Nature manifested. We live in a world of change, it is our entire existence. But we don't ride the dividing line in an attempt to avoid change. We utilize Wuji to better navigate Taiji. Wuji is the essence of Ultimate Reality. It is the essence of who we are. And while we live in a world of change, or Yin-Yang, we can be and are anchored by the stillness, the serenity of Wuji. Ultimately, Taiji is informed by Wuji. By spending time in stillness and silence, we are better equipped to find the elusive balance we need in life. Perhaps we can see the interrelationship between them. If we can see the movement in stillness, it is that much easier to find stillness in movement, refuge in the midst of a storm. It's never an either/or thing. It is Yin and Yang; Wuji and Taiji, now and always.
This year, Good Friday is also the day of the full moon. Spring is everywhere, the pollen is thick, new life is abundant. So are the potential metaphors. This season is a time for remembering new birth, new life, second chances (and thirds, fourths,....), resurrection, change and impermanence. New and full moons are special to me, as are noted seasonal days such as equinox and solstice. Of course, in reality a day is a day. But these markers are chances to be reminded of the constancy of change, to embrace that and all it implies. And the thing is, it implies a lot.
If I reflect, I realize I'm not the same person I was a year ago, certainly not the same as ten or twenty years ago. That shouldn't be a reason for stress or melancholy. Rather it should be a wake-up call, a pointer. We try to freeze reality in so many ways, when in fact what we are, the world we live in, and the minds we utilize to process are all in a constant state of flux, movement, and yes, change. Nothing is solid now, nor has it ever been.
Our true essence is one with all the Universe. Quantum mechanics tells us the Universe is constantly expanding with the movement of time. Every second the Universe expands a little more in all directions. With every breath, so do we. Not in the physical sense, per se, although that seems to happen with time as well. But I'm speaking in a metaphysical, energetic sense. Our existence is not limited to the boundary of our outer layer of skin, the limits of vision or hearing.
This expansion of the Universe is Taiji, change, Yin and Yang, it is the power of Hunyuan. Hunyuan both creates and destroys. It is the creative power of the Universe, and destruction is inherent in creation. All is change. As we notice this in the world around us, we can notice it in the world within us as well. So, necessarily spiritual rebirth includes death. To that end, acknowledgement is in order. This is Grace. Our part in the process of Grace is obviously gratitude. So, embrace the season, the changes without and within, and be grateful. Change is the godhead. To acknowledge it is to accept the blessing.
I have been thinking about the various approaches to practice in the West, and the inevitable reactions to them, and what it all means, what it's all about. The issue is the Westernization of practice. Is it really a bad thing? What is it, what drives it? Why does it matter?
For example the arts of Tai Chi, Yoga, and Mindfulness have been, in the eyes of some, watered-down for the Western lifestyle. There is no argument on this point. For the majority of people, yoga is asana practice, Tai Chi is choreographed form, and mindfulness is learning to pay attention to the moment. And that's all. Of course, those who have chosen to delve deeper into these arts know there is more--lots more--to these practices. We assume they are presented this way to make them easier and appealing to more people. And that assumption wouldn't be all wrong. It also wouldn't be all right.
Rodney J Owen