Published Aug 2012
Most people relate Tai Chi as the slow motion exercise performed by old people in the park who are doing their best to get a little exercise in their advanced years. Most people have absolutely no idea that Tai Chi is actually a very sophisticated martial art form.
Tai Chi is a westernized spelling adaption of Taijiquan which translates to Supreme Ultimate Fist. The martial applications of Taijiquan are so numerous that volumes have been written for each of the five major styles and each of those individual styles would take a lifetime to learn correctly.
Taijiquan incorporates all four fighting modalities: striking, kicking, joint locking and takedowns within the beautiful flowing movements witnessed by the untrained observer. The forms are just performed with the techniques hidden. The story as to why this is so begins in feudal China where the warlords kept a close eye on the peasantry and did not allow martial training in fear of peasant’s greater numbers gaining enough advantage to overthrow them. Thus the peasants hid the martial training within the forms so as not to attract the ever watching eye of the oppressors.
While Tai Chi has become extremely popular for western mass consumption, Taijiquan really only appeals to a select few that have the patience, diligence and internal fortitude to put in the time and energy required to learn and absorb the proper philosophies, concepts and techniques demanded by this living art. It is not easy. Unlike external martial arts like Karate or Tae Kwon Do where students can see martial progress within six to twelve months, students of Taijiquan will not be able use their art for martial purposes until they change internally and philosophically. This often takes many years to accomplish simply because it takes time to over write the competitive and combative western world view programmed into each and everyone us.
The good Taijiquan martial artist learns not to compete and not to resist. He learns how to join, neutralize and control using the least amount of his own energy while at the same time taking advantage of the opponent’s energy. These skills are tried and true but are not easy to obtain or master.
Taijiquan is an extremely deep living art form that enhances the student’s physical capacities, emotional balance, mental clarity and spiritual wisdom to forge an extremely competent martial artist who is striving towards the ultimate goal of self mastery.
Parts 1 & 2
Superficial mind is a program working within the hardware of the brain. This program is an operating system that has an architecture that includes the sub programs of ego, logic and reason. Superficial mind also includes what is referred to as the sub-conscious which runs the body’s intrinsic functionality.
Be certain to understand that no thought is ever created within superficial mind. A program is but a program after all, regardless of its intricacies or capacity for upgrades. Thus on our path to self mastery we can bypass any system, modality, technique or practice that remains focused on or within the realm of the superficial mind.
Now, if the superficial mind is the programming running within the hardware of the brain then where did that programming originate and how was it loaded in the first place? More on this later.
The Reality of the World
We humans think of ourselves as walking and talking bodies continuous in our thought and motion. We live in this world that is, without doubt, defined by our senses. We sense the reality of the world through the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Yes some would say we have a sixth sense of intuition so we’ll include that sixth sense in this essay.
It is a fact that we sense this world we call reality, of that there is no doubt. But what is “sense”?
To “sense” means to interpret. To interpret necessitates assumption.
To expound on this idea let’s look at the sense of sight and what we see. First off, you can’t see anything without light. Everything you have ever seen has been a due to light bouncing off an object which then follows a path to the receptacle of you eye, which then transmutates into an electrical impulse that travels along the optic nerve which then is translated by a specific part of the brain using a specific program. Thus you have never seen anything first hand. What you have done is re-imaged information. The hardware software configuration has interpreted information and that is why we use the term “sense” of sight. The same system functionality is used for the rest of the senses, including intuition. The term “common sense” is rooted in the mass conceptualization that humans refer to as reality. To put it bluntly, we play in a world of interpretations.
The seekers path inevitably leads to this finding. The question then becomes how to use this knowledge to further our quest for self mastery.
Self Mastery – Part Two
The concepts engaged in part one of this essay basically boils down to the fact that what you perceive on a daily basis within your life is not what you thought it was.
For millennia, the great sages have always said that the world that we perceive is false. The Vedic philosophy as well Hinduism and Sikhism call it maya, while the Buddhists’ refer to samsara, different names for the same idea. The idea being that what man perceives as reality is illusory.
The true seeker MUST WORK THROUGH THIS PARADIGM SHIFTING IDEA in order to proceed. One cannot just bypass this part of the process without fully digesting it. Digestion can often take years because the reality we call waking life is such a fantastic show!
This worldly reality is best conceptualized with the analogy of a cinema. When you go out to the movies, you are seated in some comfy chairs, chewing on some popcorn and if the movie is good, you get absorbed into the show. When the bad guy gets kicked in the crouch you flinch, when the hero triumphs at the end you cheer. Yet it is all illusion. This analogy is VERY close to the truth of the situation. I say this because light is at the basis of the cinema show just as it is “here” in what we call reality.
If one can grasp the truth of why I am sharing then you’ll have more even questions. But I will move on in order to focus on the specific topic of this essay.
If this reality is illusion then one might say that “nothing matters” as it’s all just some type of play, show or game. There is a bit of truth in that reasoning, but this knowledge should lead to a higher understanding if you continue to seek the bread crumbs along the path.
Fully understanding that this reality is an illusion does not diminish the fact that there is a consciousness perceiving the show. This is where the jolt comes, this will be the a-ha! moment. Truly understanding, grasping, digesting the fact that you are that conscious awareness which experiences all things is the enlightenment. The Taoists have eight immortals in their folklore and of course there is Buddha and Christ and Zoraster, all enlightened. But all “enlightenment” means is that they have fully digested the truth, nothing more. Immortality has nothing to do with the body living forever, immortality is our nature, most just don’t know it due to being immersed, anchored and subject to this reality.
There’s a great Zen saying –
Before enlightenment, chop wood carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood carry water.
What this means is that conscious awareness will not change after enlightenment, after realization of the truth. Conscious awareness cannot change as it is the primal witness to the cinema show. Think about it and you might grasp why all those statues of the Buddha show him with that slight all knowing smile.
In the previous parts to this essay my point has been to at least plant the seed of the idea that the worldly reality we play in is not as solid (physically or conceptually) as we believe it to be and that in fact it is only due to our senses that we perceive what we do.
So if the world we perceive is illusory then what’s the freakin’ point?! Getting too wrapped up in the daily drama would be like living vicariously through a soap opera character right? Well not quite.
The image of the TV character blinking into existence at 120,000 pixels per second on the TV screen does not have a direct link to conscious awareness. The actor did, but the screen image does not. So here’s the jist of the situation. Whatever you experience whether in daily waking life or in the dream state is all recorded and digested by consciousness. That’s it, that’s the game in a nutshell. Creative experience is the goal of the game coupled with the added bonus of enlightenment. It really is the journey that is important folks, because there is no end to the game.
Now we have to address the apparent physicality of this reality in order to continue to build a foundational understanding upon which we can pave our path to self mastery. This part will not be easy for me to articulate so please bear with me. Also note that I will not be attempting to prove anything as it is up to the reader to seek their own truth and proving anything in an illusory world is impossible. That’s why science works on theories.
Reality is the light show we play in everyday, period. Reality is perceived via the senses. The senses are interpretations of incoming information. Information is carried via waves. Waves are the only method of information transfer. Waves are electrical in nature. Our universe is powered electrically. Waves have but two ways to travel, away from source and back to source. When waves travel away from source that is called radiation. When waves travel back to source that is gravity. There is no pulling force in the universe. Gravity is electrically powered to return to source. Waves radiate all information towards manifestation and after purpose has been fulfilled information gravitates back to source.
The physical world is not based on mass, it is based in motion. Motion is the foundation of physical reality. Without motion (vibration) time and space would not be perceivable to the senses. Today’s science has finally agreed with the ancient knowing that what we perceive as a solid mass of rock or iron is 99.999999% “empty” space. What we are playing in is not physical, but rather the ultimate light show.
The universe is not what our senses tell us it is. The senses are but tools used to decipher information. “Information”…. in – formation, to put pieces together to create a form.
Think of the TV screen with one frozen image. The image is created with light radiating out of every pixel programmed to flash in either red, green or blue. Expand that image so that it becomes the universe. One unchanging image. If the image never changed would the concept of time exist? No, because time is the rate of change. When the light does flash within the pixel it has done so with purpose. It was programmed to flash red, green or blue in order to be one integral part of the overall image. As the image changes the observer perceives time and motion and then gets swept away in the story. The unfolding story gravitating back to consciousness is the chronicle forever being played out.
The Bottom Line
It is now necessary to make the determination on whether or not you can swallow the idea that you are the conscious awareness experiencing the show. If the answer is no then the balance of this essay will only serve to plant seeds. If the answer is yes then the path to self mastery will perhaps become a little straighter.
Intellectually understanding the concepts of this essay is step one.
Step two would be to then play with the information, poke it, stretch it and rip it apart.
The Buddha apparently once said,
Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
Step three is to live in this new understanding with an acute awareness of what you are experiencing in order to answer new or remaining questions and get closer to the truth.
Living consciously within your understanding is the challenge. Reality will continuously chip away at any sharp edges of your growing understanding to keep you in the TV version of the game for as long as possible. This chipping will be performed in many ways not the least of which will through the people closest to you.
Understanding is all we can strive for while based in reality. True knowledge is held within the realm of Actuality. True knowledge is the information that has played out and returned to source.
IF your understanding of reality leads you to enlightenment then you will experience a shift in awareness. This shift in awareness is like a veil or filter being ripped away from in front of viewing consciousness. When this happens you will know connection, connection to everything. Vivid clarity is the new norm. Patience, integrity, virtue and truth are now your swords with which to slice up reality.
From this place of understanding one becomes the warrior. You necessarily become a warrior not because you need to invade and conquer but because reality will CONTINUOUSLY chop away at your understanding trying to again raise the veil and get you to play the game as all the other observers are playing it.
There are many, many traps to be wary of while trying to maintain conscious awareness but the ego is probably the most worthy opponent to be aware of as the ego cannot be extinguished. Jesus went out into the desert for forty days and nights to battle the ego. The softly smiling Buddha is often depicted riding a large bull which personifies his taming of the ego. The ego is an imperative part of the operating software as without it the sense of separateness cannot be created or maintained.
Consciousness is witnessing everything. You are consciousness. The path of self mastery leads to this understanding. Mastery is a conscious return to Source.
Master your words.
Master your thoughts.
Never allow your body to do harm.
Follow these three roads with purity
And you will find yourself upon the one way,
The way of wisdom.
Published Mar 2012
It is said that Tai Chi (Taiji) is the Mother of the ten thousand things. In today’s hectic lifestyle the “ten thousand things” could be seen as stressors and the wise wo/man will at some point understand that one doesn’t have to submit to these outside pressures. The question then becomes; how do we accomplish this difficult task?
Tai Chi for those who are unfamiliar with this internal art is much more than a slow dance like movement that people 50+ enjoy. Tai Chi or more accurately stated Taijiquan, is a philosophy and a lifestyle. The Taiji symbol that everyone is familiar with is a two dimensional representation of a philosophy which states that everything is interconnected, without beginning or end, and that harmony and balance is imperative for an individual. This harmony and balance has to be achieved on fives different planes to be complete. These planes are the physical, emotional, mental, energetic and spiritual dimensions of our lives. Only through the incorporation of the Tai Chi principles will the player be able to achieve this universal harmony.
Most people begin Tai Chi for the often cited health benefits of enhanced physical balance, leg strength, flexibility, oxygenation of the blood, enhanced lung capacity, detoxification and stress reduction gained through this gentle form of exercise. For these benefits alone Tai Chi is worth exploring yet there is more, much more to be gained if the player truly seeks what Tai Chi has to offer.
Imagine being able to neutralize the energy in even the most traumatic situations and remain calm and grounded. Imagine being able to be open minded enough to see and appreciate dozens of possibilities when most people would just see tragedy and loss. Imagine reconnecting to your innermost self and being able to take advantage of the wisdom of Source. These are the benefits gained by the committed Tai Chi player.
I find it ironic and somewhat amusing that it is the 50+ generation that usually seeks the benefits of Tai Chi because, the lessons we learn could and certainly should be utilized by the younger generation. But it is obvious that slow is definitely not the language of today’s youth now is it?
So we resign ourselves to our differences and the wise Tai Chi player sits back, centered and balanced, watching as the world spins faster and faster, content in the understanding and implementation of self-mastery, the ultimate goal of the Tai Chi player.
Published Nov 2012
Students seek to learn tai chi for various reasons including stress relief, increased physical attributes (such as better balance or enhanced lung capacity) as well as a myriad of emotional, mental, intellectual and spiritual reasons. I like to say that there are as many reasons to start tai chi as there are students.
Regardless of why one starts a tai chi practice I invariably see a common result manifesting in the diligent students that I have been fortunate enough to spend time with.
At first I see the student overcome the physical challenges that are either personally inherent to their situation (such as lack of balance, co-ordination or even more chronic issues such as knee or back problems) and then (or sometimes in conjunction with the physical) I see students learn to let go emotionally and start to realize just how tightly wound up they really are.
I have personally witnessed a woman, who having been hospitalized three times for heart palpitations overcome her emotionally based stress after just fifteen weeks of introductory practice. I have also seen a woman who was very reliant on a cane for walking, toss that cane away after only eight weeks of practice. These basic accomplishments are just the beginning of what diligent tai chi practice can manifest in one’s life.
As one’s practice matures the benefits start to accrue on progressively more subtle planes. After a few years students often start to show signs of heightened mental clarity and intuition. These benefits of mind are often down played by outside observers as being too subjective in nature to be truly quantified and attributed to tai chi practice, but as someone who has witnessed the same growth phenomena in many students I can assure you that the tai chi philosophy and lifestyle has played a major role in this grand transformation.
Often after many years of diligent practice one gains the benefit of tai chi on the most subtle level which is in the realm of spiritual growth. It literally takes years for the taming of the ego and shredding of legacy programming to take place, resulting in a spiritual metamorphosis for the student. I liken this transformation to the change in the body from pubescence to adulthood. It takes time (years) for the trillions of body cells to run through the process of mitosis in order to mature the human to the next evolutionary level and the spiritual transformation is no less complex than that of the body.
Suffice it to say that digesting and living the tai chi life style can bring more benefits than one might have initially been looking for.
Published April 2012
I always make an attempt with new students to explain the complexity of Qi (chi) and before their eyes glaze over, I attempt to paint a picture for them.
“Every one of us has a big bucket of Qi,” I explain. “The Qi is our energetic life force that allows us to think, move and function in this world. The problem is though, that our buckets all have a hole in the bottom from which we continuously leak Qi.”
“When our buckets become empty we can no longer function and we’ll pass on from this world. Therefore, what we attempt to do as we practice the internal arts of Tai Chi and Qigong is accumulate more Qi for our buckets. Our goal is to gather more Qi than what we are losing on a daily basis. In this way we increase the time we can play in this world.”
The above is just an excerpt from my regular speech but I think you’ll get the point. Our minds and bodies require fuel to continue operations. We get some of this fuel in the form of oxygen from the air and calories from our food but we also require the more subtle energies that fuel our innate Being and Spirit. These subtle energies can come in the form of laughter, joy, wonder, excitement and love, all gleaned from our interactions and relationships. Plus, we can actually draw from Universal energies found throughout nature.
By first understanding, and then eventually accepting the above philosophy, the Tai Chi player will learn to harvest these subtle energies with which to refill his/her bucket, which then culminates in a longer time to play in the world of the ten thousand things.
As a non Tai Chi practitioner one might question the validity of the above, but then I would direct you to your own experience and ask that you try to remember how you feel on those days when even though you aren’t technically sick, you know that your spirit is depleted. It could be due to a death in the family or a sense of loneliness or perhaps something else, but the point is that our energy is more than just the calories we consume.
The practice of Tai Chi & Qigong brings this fact to life and we learn to cultivate the powerful and positive subtle energies that are all around us. We learn to connect, accumulate, refine and ingest these energies in order to make each day the best it can be plus fill up the reserve bucket for those days that we can’t seem to find the refilling station.
One of the great lessons we learn in Tai Chi is that it is never too late to start refilling your bucket of Qi. It doesn’t matter if you are 30, 50 or 80 years old. As long as you are still breathing, you can start today to contemplate the truth of what I have said in this article. If you find that you agree that we all need more than calories to live a positive and healthy life then I would invite you all to seek out a good Tai Chi and or Qigong instructor. A good instructor can then teach you about your innate Qi as well as the subtle energies found throughout the Universe from which we can replenish ourselves in order to live a long and healthy life.
Published March 2012
Tai Chi is known for its hypnotically slow movements but do you know why it is performed so slowly?
There are a myriad of answers to the above question but each answer would just be one piece of the tai chi puzzle, therefore I will endeavour to point out just a few of the main reasons for the unhurried pace of this living art form.
In Yang style tai chi we train in sets of forms that consist of anywhere between 10 to 108 movements. We train these sets over and over again for many years to get to the point where our mind and body connection is such that we don’t have to think about which form comes next, we just flow right into it.
This repeated practice is to allow the player to stop thinking about which form is next and thus lowers the brain wave state to such an extent that we are actually meditating while in motion. Mentally the best “place” to be is on the boundary of alpha and theta brain wave activity with the dominant brain waves cycling at about 6-8 cycles per second. Playing along this border brings with it many psychological benefits including enhanced creativity, increased awareness, clarity of mind and most certainly, stress relief.
Physiologically we must perform the forms so slowly simply because there is so much going on and we don’t want to miss anything. Tai chi players have trained themselves to partake of the subtleties of human existence and we savour the smallest of details.
Moving slowly allows a player to train and perfect what is called “ting jin” which means internal listening. When performing the forms we literally stop the world and “go inside.” We “listen” for structural alignment, weight distribution and muscular activity. We train and develop “whole body connection” where each joint of the body is just one link of the integrated whole. At a high level of awareness one can even “listen” for the circulation of internal energy.
One of the challenges of moving so slowly is the amount of control required to do so. To illustrate this point I would like you to stand up from where you are sitting right now and then sit back down again, but wait, I want you to sit very slowly, taking a full twenty seconds to sit back down again. Ok, go ahead, I’ll wait.
As you would have felt, if you accepted the challenge, moving very slowly necessarily requires complete control of your body. The enhanced control trained for by the tai chi player leads to mental control, emotional control and eventually a calm and peaceful practitioner who always remains rooted, grounded and in control even in the face of controversy or environmental chaos.
Published March 2012
As one matures, rugby and MMA are not the exercises of choice for obvious reasons. Yet we still need to find some type of exercise that will promote good mental and physical health.
Tai Chi or rather Taijiquan could be the perfect exercise for not only the 50+ crowd but indeed for all ages.
Everyone knows Tai Chi as the slow motion movement that people do in the park, yet there are many hidden facets to this form of exercise that I will endeavour to share with you over the course of a few articles.
Taijiquan literally translates into “supreme ultimate fist”, pointing to the often hidden fact, that at is base, this living art form is martial in nature. When taijiquan was first introduced into Western society the concept of learning to perform a movement slowly in order to be able to accomplish the same task rapidly didn’t really catch on, yet the general public still found the effects of this form of exercise worthy enough to continue its spread into the consciousness of mainstream society.
In fact, the slowness and detail of the movements are one of the driving factors that make taijiquan so effective, in so many ways. From a physiological perspective, when one slows down a movement it has the effect of isolating the specific muscle that is being activated. Thus taijiquan is an excellent form of isometric exercise that strengthens the legs and increases overall balance. Interestingly, taijiquan is also great for the respiratory system as one tries to slow down their breath to match each yin or inward motion with an inhale and each yang or outward motion with an exhale. As we endeavour to deliberately slow our form down we necessarily must expand our lung capacity to match the inward and outward flow of motion. This deep form of breathing drives oxygen into the system fuelling the cells and increasing the detoxification efforts of the body as the flowing inward and outward pulsing motions enhance the effectiveness of the lymphatic system.
The practice of Taijiquan also helps to center the player from emotional and mental perspectives. We strive to totally relax and learn to just go with the flow. We train to look for and find our center of being. This practice shows its usefulness in daily life when the universe throws you a curveball. A taijiquan player has trained to join whatever energy has been thrown at him and he has the ability to neutralize it, rather than react in the usual fight or flight response. So regardless if you have been in an accident or lost your wallet, you will be able to remain centered and calm, seeing the situation with clarity rather than through the dark filters of the ego.
Taijiquan is also a very safe exercise modality that actually decreases your likely-hood of injury as opposed to the majority of gym or competitive exercises that often lead to injury. We have a saying at our club – “If it hurts, don’t do it.” While this sage advice is self-explanatory to the taijiquan player, it is often regarded as a cop-out to resistance trainers.
To condense the benefits of taijiquan into one article is impossible. Suffice it to say, that to practice this living art form leads to better physiological health, emotional well-being, mental clarity and possibly even spiritual growth. That being said, maybe it’s time to find a good teacher and give it a try.
The true Tai Chi player is exactly that, a player. We understand that life, just as comedian Bill Hicks used to say “is just a ride”. Tai Chi (taiji) philosophy teaches us that the material world or more poetically phrased “the world of the ten thousand things” is an effect of Yin and Yang interaction and Yin/Yang duality is itself an effect of Wuji (no-thing, the void) splitting into two interrelated polarities.
When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Tao Te Ching Chapter 2
What all this means is that when one goes down the rabbit hole far enough you will eventually reach a point where you either throw up your hands in frustration because the mind cannot conceive of a reality where everything comes from Wuji (no-thing) or you do get it and you are left the knowing that all life is about is the experience.
Tai Chi philosophy teaches us that we should become like the hub of a wheel. This means that we stay relatively stationary and just watch as the rest of the world (any point on the surface of the tire) spins faster and faster, seemingly travelling great distances but ultimately ending up back at the original starting point.
Life has nothing to do with accumulating materialistic things or money or power or control, as all of these concepts are transitory. What life is about, is the journey and what happens on the journey and the types of experiences you pursue. This is the only goal that makes any sense and the only goal worthy of cultivation.
Taiji (tai chi) literally translates into “Supreme Ultimate”. Taiji is not the slow motion exercise practiced by millions world wide it is in fact a philosophy. It is a philosophy that burrows deep down into the human microcosm and marries it to the macrocosm of the Universal system. Everything is interconnected, never separated by time or space. All energy starts for Wuji (no-thing) and ultimately finds the path back to source completing the journey.
Walking the path of tai chi then becomes a simple task. All we ever have to do is cultivate what experience we deem is appropriate at any perceived point in time. There is no other goal. There is no greater reward.
Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
Tao Te Ching Chapter 2
Published May 2012
Tai Chi is a living art form performed by millions of people world-wide everyday. The reasons why one learns and practices Tai Chi are as varied as the number of people who participate. Today I’d like to share with you one particular reason or “why” one might undertake such a journey.
Today’s science has raised many more questions than it has answered. In fact the laws of science are dwarfed by the number of theories that abound. All of this theoretical practice or “mental gymnastics” necessarily drive one away from experiential reality. Your thoughts are not reality. Your reality is based on your experience.
Tai Chi is meditation in motion. Tai Chi is finding stillness in motion. This apparent paradox is central to Taiji philosophy. I will attempt to explain.
The world is seemingly made up millions of things and these things are made up of a gazillions more particles, yet today’s science succinctly states that 99.999999999% of all matter is empty space. Related to the concept of matter is the concept of space and time. All time seems to be is the rate of change of matter within the confines of space.
Still with me? So what does any of this have to do with Tai Chi?
Taiji philosophy explains all of the above and in fact it does so quite concisely. Thus the truly committed tai chi player strives to find the truth of his existence through the manifestation of the tai chi art form.
To accomplish this grasping of universal truth one MUST drop the reality of the world and dive deeply into the Self. One way to accomplish this is to perform the “ritual” of the tai chi form without the activation or use of the thinking mind. When this can be accomplished, one has a vastly different experience that is not based on physical reality but is experiential none the less.
This type of deep practice is rare within today’s YMCA type teachings but it is within the grasp of anyone who actually wishes to seek the true benefits gained through the living art of tai chi practice.