Probably, this post is not for all. It speaks about an ancient discipline that can’t be explained because it has to be experienced in order to be understood, at least to some degree. Indeed, Tai Chi Chuan is a practical discipline that expresses complex principles that govern our Universe and, consequently, our lives.
Taoism is an ancient spiritual philosophy institutionalized in the 1st Century A.D. with roots that are far antecedent to this date.
The ancient Taoists defined themselves as “Men of the Path” – a term that is also antecedent to the term taoist.
For the taoists, the Tao is the Path. What is the Tao? It is the Whole, the Universe as intended from it. The word “Universe” keeps in itself the meaning and aim of Taoism, and also of all spiritual philosophies: uni-versum: “towards the oneness”, “in one direction towards the One”… the Path.
The Tai Chi Chuan has its roots in Taoism. Originally it was a discipline with Taoist roots so, before spending any words concerning this noble discipline, it would be useful to make an overview about the taoist vision.
Tao has its Laws and modalities of action dictated by the reciprocal interdependence between two principles – two primordial energies known as Yin and Yang.
Even if these principles can’t be described in a simple way, we’ll say that, ideally, Yang is the active, warm, full principle; the Yin is the cold, conservative, empty principle. The alternance of these opposites generates another principle that is the perpetual, eternal movement: all is in motion and constantly changes form.
The seasons, the parts of a day, our bodies, our emotions and thoughts… all changes conform to large and small harmonic cycles.
If we take an in-depth look at Nature itself, we’ll notice that all the animate and inanimate forms are in perfect tune with this cosmic dance and in harmony between themselves. The only ones that seem to not be in harmony with the Universal Harmony are human beings.
The reason for this is that humans possess a mind – that, differently from the others, human beings are far developed, but still, the mind is not developed enough to be used as a useful and constructive tool – and the faculty of feeling himself as a self-conscious individual with an identity.
This generates a separation, giving an illusion of being separated from the Whole, from the others… from the Universe.
It seems that, as a result of this separation and of the causes that produce it, humans suffer an intense solitude that push them into seeking an identity, even fictional, but one which could give them a role in the “Cosmic Game of Life”.
The more a human fights in a desperate seeking for creating an image that could allow a sense to his life, the more he creates disharmony.
Instead, what should be understood is the rhythm of this “Game” with its Principles (Laws) and synching with them.
Some great civilizations had deepened this argument and the most wise structured some systems, psychophysical disciplines able to return the human to a state of “dynamic harmony”. Tai Chi Chuan is the result of these disciplines.
Approaching the Tai Chi Chuan as a gymnastic able to reestablish a good health condition, or just as a martial art, is reductive; indeed, this discipline has much more to offer. It can bring the practitioner to a reintegration with the natural harmonic flow.
It’s true, not all men and women feel ready for this, but at a certain point of individual development, it’s necessary to stop acting egoistically (or mechanically, or unconsciously) and learn what the Taoist called the Art of Wu Wei, “acting without acting”, namely, acting “naturally” aware of being an individual, but also an individual who is part of a greater context- Nature, the Universe, the Whole; an individual who travels towards the perfection that is manifested in all that exists.
Unity in diversity is the characteristic of Tao, and also a characteristic of everyone of us. So, flowing in Existence in a relaxed, conscious and natural way, without obstructing or trying to change the natural flow of “Tao”: this is probably one of the greatest taoist teachings that are expressed in the art of Tai Chi Chuan.
As the ancient taoists used to say, the “small Tao” represented by everyone of us, must learn to harmonize itself with the “great Tao” of which we are an integral part.
Or, if you prefer in Western words… the “below” must harmonize itself with the “above”
…..”as above, so below”.
Even by affirming that the Tao is the Path, comparing himself with the Universe, as stated above, this surely isn’t the definitive description of what the Tao is.
Indeed, as Lao Tzu said, the Tao of which one can speak isn’t the eternal Tao.
So, how to understand the Tao? The thing is that the Tai Chi (this is central to this topic), is a discipline that has to be practiced and experienced. If we try to express the core – the essence of an experience, the only thing we can do is to move away from the essence of the same experience. Try to express in words the essence of the experience of being in love, what we really feel when we are in love with the most correct words. We’ll notice that, the more we try to describe it, the more we move away from the experience “love”.
The same with the Tao… it can’t be rationalized or labelled. But it can be expressed at least partially through the Form, the breath and the awareness – three skills which are the core of the Tai Chi (or at least should be the core of this discipline).
Indeed, the form of the Tai Chi Chuan, nevermind which style, is ideally performed with awareness and fluid relaxation.
At once, from the stillness, the intention of moving arises. Such intention is like a seed from which will grow the form, the motion that will generate the apparent fullness in the emptiness.
Why apparent? Because even nuclear physicists know that the appearance of solidity is an “illusion of our perception” caused by the velocity of rotation of the electrons around the central nucleus of the atom. And, even this atom is composed of particles in motion.
Such motion generates the illusory feeling of solidity. The movements during the form of the Tai Chi Chuan expresses this in theory and practice.
Ok, but concretely, what happens when one practices the form? When practiced with awareness, presence, relaxed and focused, one begins to feel, to perceive something inside of himself – as is usually referred to as his Center- which, beyond all the movements, remains motionless and still.
Through a constant practice and, of course, experience, this point will become a “center of awareness” from which we may observe the fluid “taking the place” of the form.
At the same time, if we wish to and if we remember, we can keep and conserve this type of observation at every moment of the day. We can teach ourselves to observe from this “center of awareness”, everything that happens, inside and outside of us. Not as simple as it would seem when read, but possible.
We become witnesses to the fluidity of a life and its manifestation always in motion: events, feelings, colors, and sounds that merge together to compose a visible part of what is named Tao.
A brief and foggy description that maybe for those that “have eyes to see and ears to listen”, will perceive why it’s impossible to speak about Tao.
And, at the same time, it is a way to “meditate” on the “motionless” center of awareness inside of us.