Think And Do

Taoist Cosmology

We see the graceful and gentle flow of a Tai Chi practitioner and wonder if we can attain that same level of smoothness and relaxation. If we observe closely, we see and even feel the joy, calm, and rapture in his face. We wonder what has enabled him to experience that release that complete attention to the workings of his body, and to the control that it takes to move with such SLOWNESS.

Sometimes, we see the practitioner in a demonstration of the sheer focused power of Tai Chi. Always a short battle, rarely any gross movement we must watch carefully and with attention so as not to miss "the action". The practitioner, often considerably older than we expect, waits patiently for his opponent to attack, and suddenly, the attacker is across the room, flat on his back, leaving us the audience, and him the attacker, wondering "just what hit him".

We all begin the same way in our personal practice with the focus on our physical bodies. Gross movement is first - maintaining balance, shifting weight, keeping elbows below wrists, Tan Tien in line with nose.

How can we maintain the grace in our hands and fingers yet focus and control the power in our bodies? How can we shift our weight without focusing on the legs? How do we keep our joints soft and our eyes alert?

How long will this all take? Will we never cease to practice and practice, each passing month and year showing only small wisps of improvement? How long will we review each move? How much stance work will we have to do? How much balance can we practice?

What we learn over time is that the practice is the goal. The attention grows deeper. The strength, power and grace stem from that practice and attention. We learn that it does not come from muscle. It comes from Chi.
Chi, the universal energy, that which holds us as individuals and binds us as people, is what we connect with in our practice. We discover that chi in the passage of our breath. Breath guides chi; chi moves body. Body always follows.

Consider the symbol of Tai Chi. The Yin/Yang . A complete circle. Black and White. Each flowing into the other. Not a straight divide, but a gentle ebb of one and flow of the other. Neither color is solid - it contains a spot of the other. What does this mean and how does it relate to our practice?

The black is Yin. Female. Earth. Night. Dark. Moon. Quiet. Nurturing. Withdrawing. Moving backward.

The white is Yang. Male. Heaven or Sky. Day. Bright. Sun. Loud. Taking charge. Moving forward.

Our practice is the balance of those two energies in our own bodies. With each backward motion, we are moving Yin. Forward motions are Yang. Sinking weight is Yin. Lifting motions are Yang. Inhales are Yin. Exhales are Yang. We start with the body when we are newcomers to Tai Chi. But we connect with our Chi through our breath as we practice and practice. We begin to feel the energy flow as we allow the muscles to relax. We become acutely aware of the most subtle movements and gestures within ourselves, and, as a result, learn to be acutely aware of the subtle movements and gestures of others.

We learn to let go. That is when we begin to feel the strength and power.

All very simple but not necessarily easy. When the body is tight, we are more vulnerable. Glass shatters more easily than silk. Brick crumbles. Water flows.

We must become water.