Thursday, March 25, 2010

A threefold cord

With tai chi, as with other activities, some folk try for a while and soon give up. Many of us start with good intentions! I suspect that not a few folk feel a little "cheated" by the advertising byline, "Tai chi chuan—easy, gentle, a breeze, works miracles. Try it!"

It looks so beautiful—effortless—when you see a master practice. But, then you try it and your body feels like it doesn't belong to you. The simplest of things become extraordinarily hard. You fall over your feet. And your muscles hurt. It's enough to put anyone off.

But then, it grabs you and you start to get serious. A once a week class becomes a few days a week practice. Then a more or less daily practice. Then an indispensable part of life.

If you do get serious, there is a threefold cord to help your practice develop.

Wu chi: meditation, stillness.

Tai chi chuan: movement, change, Forms.

The Tao: the Way, philosophy, study, including the mystery and wisdom of the I Ching.

The three belong together, but it's likely that you will start with one and that one will lead to the others. I arrived at tai chi through philosophy and meditation. I have been practicing sitting and walking meditation for about 11 years, with greater or lesser commitment and intensity. For the last several years, I have begun all my philosophy classes at the university with breathing meditation. My meditation practice arose out of my work as a philosopher. I am deeply intrigued by the question, "How should we live?" The Tao (and philosophy generally) is one way of beginning to answer the question. Meditation helps immensely in making philosophy more than merely a mental exercise. Tai chi is meditation in motion. Tai chi is the unity of mind and body through chi.

If your exploration turns to a serious seeking, the threefold cord becomes very important. Each strengthens the other. A threefold cord, who can break?

I will look at each of the three as time allows.


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