This Lesson Contains:
Thoughts on Violence
Energy and the Mind
Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art. That is a fact. When most people think of martial arts, their minds flow to all the movies that are popular today where senseless killing and acts of violence are common. Those of us involved in the martial arts know that is a completely distorted view. The ultimate goal of any martial art is self-defense, keeping others and ourselves free from harm. How this is done varies from art to art. I can only speak with authority about Tai Chi Chuan.
It is my personal goal to live a life of peace and harmony, to do no harm to other people and things on this planet. More than that, I want to leave the planet a better place because I have lived my life. This is the over-riding guiding principle of my existence. I started my studies of Tai Chi because I needed help. My life was out of control. I found improved health and well being as I learned and practiced Tai Chi. I didn’t know Tai Chi was a martial art when I started and might not have even started had I known that it was. I had all the common misconceptions about martial arts, thinking my peaceful desires of the 1960’s would be compromised. Fighting was the last thing I wanted anything to do with, blessing my lucky stars I had gotten out of the Viet Nam war.
As my studies of Tai Chi increased, I learned the history and philosophy of this art, and by that time, was so deeply involved that nothing could shake me loose. And, best of all, I found out that the martial aspects of Tai Chi blended in perfectly with my own philosophy.
My understanding of Tai Chi as a martial art is to do the least harm to an opponent while maintaining a control of the situation. Keep the other person or persons from hurting others, or me and at the same time, not hurting him or them. This is so difficult to do on both a physical and an emotional level. But I don’t want that to stop me from trying.
As I write this, it is a week after the World Trade Center Towers were bombed. There is much talk about war and revenge. Of course, that is to be expected. I am so sad and angry at this event. So many innocent people have lost their lives, and the survivors will never be the same. There is hate, distrust, and cries for blood from every corner. I can understand this whole-heartedly. Yet I know it will not help in the long run to act out in the manner being discussed right now - for the U.S. to use any and all measures to root out the terrorists wherever they exist. I know what that means. Many more innocent people will die.
I am not wise enough to know how to deal with this situation. In my heart, I feel that love and understanding will be the necessary tools to overcome the dark forces. We as a society of people must discourage evil and wrong doing by example. In this country we do not kill those with mental illness. We try to help them. If we think of ourselves as a sane society we must do all in our capacity to help those in need to feel good about themselves, to help all people see that they are valuable and can contribute to the betterment of mankind. I truly feel that all of us are born with a loving nature and a desire to love and be loved. Suicide bombers are recruited because thy think they will be loved by God for all eternity if they do as they are instructed by the people in authority.
Tai Chi has taught me that fear, hate, anger, all bred tension and tension is easily overcome by relaxation. A clear mind, free from these emotions, can see the situation and react accordingly. A person who overcomes his enemy with love in his heart will gain the respect of those he has conquered. So let’s work on clearing ourselves by meditation, strengthening the body by exercise, studying the teaching of non violent philosophers, and doubling our efforts to bring peace and harmony to our families, communities and world.
Energy and the Mind
The mind plays an integral part in any activity of our life. People are declared legally dead when their brain is dead, not when their body no longer functions. Tai Chi is totally concerned with the body/mind connection. For this reason, I feel I need to talk about the mind and share some of my insights.
The first person to make me aware of how the mind functions was Master Subramuniya. He is a Hindu Yoga Master, and I had the honor of being his personal chef at his ashram in Hawaii. His knowledge of the workings of the mind came from first hand experience, through meditation. His super-conscious mind could watch how his conscious mind works. He was aware that the body, mind and the entire universe, is made of energy, and this energy can be perceived by man as light, vibration, and sound. As he meditated, he noticed that he heard different sounds in different parts of the mind. As his awareness flowed to new areas, he would remember how he got there and the sounds along the way - sort of like a road map. He would then lead us, his students, on a journey through the mind by reciting the vibrations he had heard or felt on his previous mind wanderings. It was much like chanting, but the sounds had no meaning other than being the actual vibratory sound of a particular part of the mind. It was a wonderful time of discovery for all of us.
It is becoming common knowledge that the mind is divided into areas where similar experiences are filed. It has to be that way in order to learn how to act in life. You can imagine how difficult it would be otherwise. The more that an area is used, the easier it is to get back to it, as the road or energetic pathway, gets larger and more clearly marked. The most basic mind functions, the ones concerned with survival, are located at the base or entrance to the brain so that they are easily gotten to. The higher functions, like abstract thinking, are way in the front of the brain or embedded deep within. These functions aren't necessary to survival so are harder to get to and the last formed.
Let's look at a couple of examples. When you were young and you first saw a fire you instinctively reached for it because it was so interesting and beautiful. Almost everybody would. If you moved quickly and tried to touch it before anybody could stop you, you probably got burnt. That experience was filed away in the survival, fear part of the brain. The next time you saw a fire, your consciousness flowed to that same area and you remembered pain so you didn't try to touch the fire. If you had a particularity painful experience the first time, you might even turn away or move away even though there is no threat now. The path way was well reinforced. Now let's say that as you reached for the fire someone moved your hand away and said “no, that will hurt you”. The next time you see the fire you still might reach for it because the survival pathway wasn't strongly reinforced - the “no” didn't mean very much. Yet, if each time you reached for the fire somebody kept you from it and said no, that path would eventually get strong enough so you wouldn't want to do it anymore. Repeated small stimulations add up to large ones. That is how habits get built and are difficult to break.
When you were young your parents might have stroked you and said, “I love you”. That warm experience was filed away in the being loved part of the brain. If later in life someone strokes you, your consciousness would probably flow to the being loved part of the brain and appropriate warm feelings would probably follow. Your consciousness would not go to the survival/fear part. There would be no reason. Like experiences are filed together so they can be compared, condensed, evaluated, and gotten to quickly and appropriately.
This is where Tai Chi comes in. After you have been practicing Tai Chi for some time, you will develop pathways to a certain area of the mind - the Tai Chi area we'll say. It involves movement and relaxation among other things. Whenever you start to practice, your mind automatically flows to that area and even before you start the practice, you relax. It's a conditioned reflex. The body already knows what to expect to a certain degree. Of course, each session of practice will be slightly different, but you are already in a relaxed part of the mind where learning is easy. If you are practicing to gain martial ability, you do so from this relaxed state. If you ever needed to use Tai Chi to defend yourself the chances are good that you would be relatively relaxed. You have connected Tai Chi with relaxation and therefore they tend to go hand in hand. If you have been practicing Tai Chi with meditation in mind, you'll more than likely associate Tai Chi with meditation and even when doing movements with vigor you'll remain in a meditative state. Tai Chi will be pleasurable and enjoyable.
If you were forced to practice Tai Chi by your parents or had a teacher who worked you in a way that brought you pain, your practice would lead your awareness to an uncomfortable area of the mind and you'll shy away from learning, even if you think that the learning of Tai Chi will bring some benefit in the future.
The state of mind that we approach our learning and practice of Tai Chi, or anything for that matter, has so much impact on what we get out of it. We can use this knowledge to our advantage at any time. Say you find yourself in an area of the mind that you don't want to be in, like depressed or angry. Instead of fighting against this state which makes it stronger, or trying to go deeper into it to understand why (which doesn't always work), just practice Tai Chi and you'll almost surely move your awareness into the relaxed, pleasurable area. The more you have practiced, the easier it will be for you to move your awareness. We all find ourselves in unpleasant areas sometimes. The wise person knows that he doesn't have to stay there if he doesn't want to.
To summarize, the mind is divided into areas. Like feelings, experiences, thoughts are stored in the same or closely related areas. The more powerful the stimulation is, the stronger the path to the place where it is stored will be. Repeating even small stimulations make the path large and easy to follow. We have control over our feelings and moods. If we want to change our mood, just change the area of the mind that you are in. This is accomplished by thinking or doing something that is attached to the area of the mind you want to be in. Once in a particular area of the mind, we tend to remain there until something stronger catches our awareness and moves it. Also, it is how we perceive an experience that determines where in the mind it will be placed and the outcome we derive from it. A slap could either be pleasure (a friendly slap on the back from a friend) or pain (the rejection of an action). The physical experience might not be different, but the mental experience surely is.
Think about this and meditate on it. See if you can use it for your health and well-being. Tai Chi can become a powerful tool for your mental and spiritual growth, and one that will only get stronger as you practice and age.