– May 2007
Practicing Tai Chi, like practicing Zen, can also be said to involve a learning process. When the deepest level of learning has its roots in what could be called, for want of a better term ‘the experiential’, it is perhaps inevitable that it will take place in stages, or, traveling underground in some hidden stream of practice, develop unawares, until it courses into view by catching the attention of the practitioner through a kind of embodiment.
This is what happened to me in getting the deeper meaning in Owen Liao’s challenge which he presents to all his beginning Tai Chi students: “Do you know how to walk?” At first, I could understand that there was some kind of relationship between ordinary walking, and the more grounded ,alternating weight- shifting of the Tai Chi walk . It had to do with bringing more awareness to the legs and feet, and indeed, to the arms and the whole body in coordinating the series of movements that can be described as ‘walking’. This implies a higher degree of wakefulness throughout the body, heightening the activity levels of some habitually neglected muscles and joints; and also, better balance and timing.
It wasn’t, however, until 8 months after my first Tai Chi lesson with Owen that I had a different kind of realization about what he was trying to teach us. We had had a Tai Chi meditation workshop, in the course of which Owen introduced to some new students a few basic Chi-gong exercises, including the challenge to demonstrate how we walk. After we had each done so we offered critiques of our co-participants walking styles. A day or two later I was reflecting on the events of the workshop, and I took up again for consideration, the act of walking. Something was not quite clicking for me, I realized, as I recollected the events. What, after all, was the big deal about our idiosyncratic walking styles? As I thought like this, I began to pay attention to how I was walking, and I remembered to let my legs swing smoothly, but without excess muscular tension, with my shoulders swinging relaxed with each stride. As I did this, I keyed in on a huge reality I had either blocked before, or ignored- a certain kind of ordinary walking allows energy to flow in a deep and powerful river from the soles of the feet through the torso, arms and hands. I could especially feel the energy in my hands, and I also noticed that there was a pulsing rhythm to the energy, as each arm swung in time to the next step.
In retrospect it seems so very obvious that proper walking is nothing more or less than facilitating the healthy flow of chi through the body as one moves. So obvious, and yet so ignored!
So, like Zen practice, Tai Chi is not limited to a particular form, but can be experienced in all the movements of life.
July 30, 2007
Getting into the companionship with chi has many subtleties and layers. In a sense it is like taking a walk, deeper and deeper. Recently, Owen reviewed my Tai Chi form, and noticed that I was not completing the torso pivot required in the first two moves of his form. He felt that this was blocking chi, due to incomplete alignment of the entire body. I incorporated this critique in my subsequent performance of the Tai Chi form, and this transferred over to the way I was able to walk, as witnessed by Owen and another student, Jerry. I was walking with a more erect, and balanced gait. I also felt lighter on my feet.
I find that my sensitivity to energy coming up from my feet is less clear than it is to the energy that I can feel with my hands. On the other hand, it is somehow a feeling of more depth, that carries with it the gravity of the earth, and a sense of getting more and more rooted. This realization suggests that there are more subtleties to discover in that experience, as it begins to open up to my awareness.
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