The human mind is far too complex. Throughout the course of our lives we accumulate useless information, biases, assumptions, trivia and misconceptions. Our media bombards us with an infinite number of images meant to strengthen our dependency on pointless products. Societal pressures twist our image of self into a parody of true human nature and worst of all our constantly fluctuating emotions distort our every thought process. Out of all of this chaos is born the false sense of self we call the Ego; the fake version of our own innate nature which we wear like a mask to fool ourselves and the people around us. Is all of this a problem? It depends. For those happy to continue this way then there is nothing negative about the above process taking place; for others the rampant growth of the Ego can lead to the feeling of being lost, unhappy and dissatisfied with the world. It is people from this category that often search for something to help them end the destructive cycle of the human mind.
The Daoists long ago realised that the human mind was prone to this kind of downward spiral. They knew that the main problem with humanity was its excessive levels of intellect. Our consciousness is too far from the simplicity of nature which is close to the essence of Dao, the great source. It became of great importance to them that they calm the mind, shed the distortions which prevented them from accessing their true nature and return to the source; a process they simply called P’u. To me, the ancient Daoists were a group of ‘seekers’ born out of this dis-satisfaction with the state of existence. This need to purify the mind was the catalyst for all of the philosophy, arts and practices which came out of their high mountain monasteries.
It is this key principle which led to the merging of some of the teachings from Daoism and Buddhism. When Buddhism was first introduced into China, the already long established
Daoists found an affinity within the teachings of Buddha which also focused on ending dis-satisfaction and distortions which the Buddhists called Dukkha. A term commonly translated as meaning ‘suffering’ within the West.
Taijiquan is one of the arts which was born from the Daoists search for P’u. Intensely clever, Taijiquan takes students through a process of building up and then systematically deconstructing in order to help with the process of P’u.
When first learning Taijiquan we must relearn how to stand, sit, walk and move so as to maximise the efficiency of our body. These principles are built into increasingly complex positions which utilise every joint, muscles and tendon as we progress through our forms practice. This is a complex enough stage in itself which for many students can take quite a few years. It is sad to note that a great many people grow frustrated during this part of the learning and leave before they even complete this foundation work. This stage is already of great benefit to students health without even encompassing the benefits which can come from the internal practices of the style.
It is the next stage in the study which is the most interesting for me as a teacher. The deconstructing stage.
When students first finishing learning the Taijiquan forms; they usually look quite messy. Their joints do not line up, the body is tense in various places, the rotation of the Kua is all wrong and the limbs stick out at various incorrect angles. To the untrained eye these problems may be almost entirely invisible but to any experienced Taijiquan practitioner they are as clear as day. The trick to correcting the problems is not to try and add anything to them but rather to take things away; to deconstruct.
Taijiquan as a style is based around wholly natural body movements. If the body has to contort into an un-natural position then it is wrong. If it were not a natural body position then it would not conform with the principle of Ziran (Nature) which is considered of equal importance to Dao itself. Some students may disagree with this, particularly when I place them into the correct position. They may suddenly find that they are in a high degree of discomfort as their bodily tensions wants to prevent them from staying in the posture I have placed them. How can such an uncomfortable position be natural? The answer is simple. It is because they have added un-necessary details; in the same way that the human mind adds un-necessary information.
The un-necessary details within the human body is usually manifested as tension. To hold the arms up in the correct position for Wardoff takes very few muscles being engaged around the shoulders and spine. The majority of power is driven from low in the body around the hips and Kua and yet most students will raise their shoulders up to their ears and tense from the middle of their backs all the way down to their hands. Their body has added un-necessary power. Why? Because their mind has included un-necessary information. The mind and the body are linked, this fact lay behind all internal practices, therapies and now even some areas of Western medicine. If we can clean the mind, a process known as polishing the mirror, then the body will begin to relax and work more efficiently. This is what we need for our Taijiquan.
In the same way, if we can purify the nature of our body movements and strip them down to the bare essentials then in turn the nature of our mind will begin to alter and return to a far less complex state. This is the link between Taiji and Meditation.
It is at this point in the training that Taijiquan training can be all encompassing. As our practice improves, so does the quality of our own nature. This may allow us to view our lives differently and see what changes we need to make within ourselves to function in a more efficient manner on a daily basis. Sometimes this can mean changing an external factor within our lives but more often than not it simply means that we need to reconsider how we ourselves react to the events unfolding around us. This, however, is not a forced process laden down with rules of conduct; this is a naturally occurring adjustment to the nature of our consciousness which is a healthy sign of progress in Taijiquan.
Some people will never be able to calm their minds, they are not willing to. They are too happy being caught up in the drama which they find themselves living in. They may identify too strongly with the negative elements of their own character; perhaps they are too obsessed with control? Maybe letting go of the un-necessary elements of their mind is too frightening? If this is the case they will never reach the essence of Taijiquan. Their body will be full of un-necessary tensions and movements. They will never discover the meaning of the core Daoist concept of P’u. What a shame…Let us conclude with some words from the original Daoist – Laozi:
‘The people of the world accumulate, the wise sage does the opposite, he sheds’…