Thursday, June 24, 2010

Feeling relaxed? Got "song?"

It is a truism to say that the pace and pressures of life have increased immensely. Many folk work long hours, most weeks of the year, to enjoy a couple of week's relaxation on vacation. When vacation arrives it takes the first week to "come down" from the hectic speed of life. By the end of the second week you're just about getting used to it. Then back to work.

There are cultural differences. We noticed when we moved to the USA how much more pressure people are under to work hard, to be productive, to accomplish something ... anything. Friends told us their bosses frowned on them taking two weeks vacation together, and thought they were slackers if they took all four weeks in any year. It still surpirses me when in September I ask a colleague, "Did you have a good summer?" to hear the reply, "Yes, I got a lot done ... followed by a list of accomplishments ... But, I didn't get as much done as I wanted ... followed by a confession of things left undone." In my mind, I am asking about vacation, sun, relaxation, fun.

In Europe, people are more ready to take all the time they can get, work shorter weeks, shorter days, and try to relax a bit more. Still, it is changing there too. Bosses are demanding more work. Workers feel more pressure. Like the USA, to live the material dream you need two people working full-time to afford all you want. True relaxation is in short supply.

There is an important idea in taiji called song (pronounced something like "sown"). It is usually translated "relaxed" and refers to an ideal state. We all need a bit more song. In beginning taiji it can be elusive. "Relax the shoulders," you are told but what does it mean? I have discovered that taiji is "better felt than telt." (For those not from Yorkshire, a rough translation is "you can feel what it means, but it is very difficult to put into words." I think that is why most of the books I have read about taiji sound at times to be speaking in riddles.

In my practice today, I was meditating on the state of song. Feeling it too. What does it feel like? A bit like "Mr. Floppy." Your body feels very fluid. Fluid around a stable spine. Very balanced. Feels like you are a puppet. You are conscious of each part of your body and can place attention there to feel the fluidity. Nothing aches. Well-being. Close eyes, pleasantly floating. Alive and alert. Happy.

Got song?


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It's balance, really ...

It must be age. Increasingly I have found myself drawn to those philosophies that suggest balance is the way to go. Aristotle had it with his "golden mean." Buddhism has it with the "middle way." Stoicism had it with a moderate life. In days gone by I liked the excitement of the extreme. You'll find me now closer to the middle somewhere, hopefully balanced.

Taiji is about balance. Physical balance of course. (I can now stand on one leg, perfectly still, longer than I ever thought possible!) But, much more than that. Taiji signals a life in balance. As yang ends yin begins. As yin wanes yang waxes. So, balance need not be the boring middle, but the gentle flow from one side to the other. The Psalmist long ago penned:
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.
Sad today? Be sure happiness will be yours soon. Happy today? Be ready, for life will bring its sadnesses.

Balance comes through nonresistance to the changes of life. Are you feeling pushed? Don't push back. Allow the push to exhaust itself. Roll back. As whatever is pushing you runs out of steam (as it will) be ready to press forward. Is something pulling you? If you pull back against it, you will be out of balance. Allow it to pull you. Stick with it. It will soon reach its end. Then you can pull back. In balance.

Taiji practice teaches to notice movement, change, to be balanced in the flow of life, ready for the next change, ready and willing to meet it.


Friday, June 11, 2010

The taiji classics ... "suspended headtop"

Perhaps the most essential piece of writing for taiji practitioners is the taiji classics. These are a collection of small accounts of taiji by nine writers, some known and some unknown. The classics can be found in a number of translations (and are often found as an appendix to a larger work).

I quite like the translation of Lo, Inn, Amacker and Foe. It is large print and the sayings and displayed well with lots of space. Ideal for meditation. This was one of the first books on taiji I read and I keep returning to it. My guess is that I will come back to it many times in the future. The reason is that the classics are brief aphorisms that repay careful attention and thought. I have discovered that each time I come back to the classics I learn something new and discover that my taiji has entered a new phase where things that did not make sense begin to make sense.

This is the case with the saying that the head should be suspended by a cord from above. In the classics it comes up a number of times. Here's one of them:

When the ching shen (spirit) is raised,
there is no fault
of stangnacy and heaviness.
This is called suspended headtop.

To be honest, that was (and is) a bit of a mystery as are many of the sayings in the classics. I kind of "get them," but not quite. Recently in my practice I have begun to "get it" more so than before. In terms of posture the spine is to be aligned. The notion of a cord pulling the head upward, while the shoulders relax and chi is sunk downward makes for a correct spine alignment. What does it feel like? It feels very relaxed and very flexible. With eyes closed, feet rooted in earth and legs stable, it is easy to imagine a very stable center with a fluid circumference. It is a very connected feeling.

I realize that this is difficult to put into words. But, now when I read the classics my feeling is, "Ah, yes! I know what you mean." At least, I think I know what it means. Doubtless, there are further depths.

I am enjoying this journey!