Greetings. To the park this morning. Worked on the 216. Not easy, but, oh so interesting. We have been experiencing record high heat in the last week – the warmest days of winter ever. Positive (nice warm sun) and negative (always fears of drought during the summer) weather. So Tai Chi like.
I want to share some ideas I’ve been working on regarding the idea of “Enlightenment”, as it relates to Tai Chi Chuan. That term, to my mind in the soul searching 1960’s, was a mystical, probably unattainable state that few would ever reach. I was searching for a “higher state” where pain (and most probably) pleasure didn’t influence my thoughts or actions. I found pot and LSD first and thought this effect was going to result in a lifelong altered state of “high”. I then found Tai Chi and gave up drugs, realizing the same ultra-aware state could come from a spiritual, meditative practice like Tai Chi and Meditation. That has been my path for the last 50 plus years.
There are two main categories of meditation – still or moving. In Still Meditation, one usually sits cross legged with the goal of sending energy up the spine to the top of the head. The legs are crossed to shut off any energy from going down the legs. It is directed upward, slowly eliminating any blocks that stand in the way. Moving Meditation is more general, with the internal arts (of which Tai Chi is but one), Qigong, Yoga, Spiritual Dance, and other contemplative movements being examples.
When I think about the term “enlightenment”, what jumps out is the idea of “bringing light to one’s Self”. We are all hard wired to achieve the highest states, and all we have to do if figure out where the switch is located and flip it on. Sometimes the switch is hidden, but with determination, it is there for everyone.
Most people, in my experience, approach Tai Chi as a meditative art rather than as a martial art. Both have the goal of “enlightenment”. What I have come to realize is that enlightenment is simply acting or being natural. Nothing beyond that. Enlightened Tai Chi is moving naturally in accordance with Tai Chi principles. Enlightened meditation is sitting or standing without distracting thoughts intervening. That is why applications are so important. They give you actions based on Tai Chi theory that can then be practiced until they can be performed without distracting thoughts getting in the way. Applications are like sign posts that point the way to the journeys end and guide you along the way. Most people memorize movement patterns that have no basis in reality, like holding the ball between movements. This is a good way to get the arms “sort of” in the correct place, but why are you doing this movement at this time?
Tai Chi is not unique in regard to being enlightening. Any study can lead you to enlightenment – music, art, science, home-making, working the fields, anything. It is not what you do, but how you do it, that leads in the direction of being fully human. Just find something that really pulls your interest and see if it leads you to where you want to go. Enlightenment is focus. Applications are focus training in an internal art, like Tai Chi Chuan. And don’t forget that the name of our art – Tai Chi Chuan – means “martial art based on Daoist principles”. The martial part of the name is there for a good reason.
One can of course, gain much benefit and enjoyment in the practice of Tai Chi without learning applications, but I would argue that the highest states of Tai Chi Chuan practice cannot be attained without this study, and to most people, that does not matter. Only a few people become professional in their field, and stand out. As a kid I liked to play sports. Yet I was smart enough to realize I would never be a pro. So, do your best, don’t worry, be happy.