UNDERSTANDING WHAT YOU LEARN

There is often a big difference between what you hear the teacher say and what he means. It’s not that the teacher doesn’t explain himself well; its that his teachings have to penetrate the body of assumptions you have accumulated all your life.
A student of mine said that he read in the classics that you should do the form equally from the north, east, south and west. He took that to mean that you should begin the form by facing the east sometimes, the west sometimes, etc., so that on average, you will begin the form facing each of the directions about the same number of times. It only dawned on him this week that it means that you should do the form equally from the north, east, south and west each time you do the form and at every moment of doing the form.
Elsewhere in Tai-chi writings it says that you should distinguish left from right and back from front. This means that you should be aware of each direction so that you can make sure your energy fills each direction at all times. The two sayings mean the same thing.
Another of my students this week said that when I even discuss the subject of “attention” her mind goes blank and she has trouble even paying attention to what I am saying. Often the teacher may say something that an inner part of you understands. This inner part (the Body-Mind) wakes up because it knows that the teacher is talking to it. This can disturb, distract or even overpower the thinking mind. The thinking mind then feels weak as the Body-Mind tries to come to the fore to listen to the teacher.
The teacher may tell you how to use a part of your back or your hips in the form or push hands. If you can’t even feel that part of your body you can’t really know what he means. The students often say that for the first time they feel that they have a back (or a hip or ribs etc.). They may know they have these parts (know with their minds) but they can’t feel the intricacies of movement and behavior of those parts. It is as if you read about a person and feel you know him. Then you actually spend time with him and really get to know him.
Books and teachers can give you all the information in the world about Tai-chi but until you FEEL, you really don’t know what it means. We say that each part of the body must be like the hands. This means that, just as you can manipulate the hands either to use tools or to be expressive, you should be able to use any part of the body that precisely. This includes the ribs, the back, the hips, etc.
If you are an actor, a simple gesture should give the viewer a world of information about what is going on inside of you. When we practice sparring, we need to “read” every movement, every posture, every glance of the sparring partner. Even his breathing pattern gives us information about his intentions. It is better to spar his intentions than his physical movements because the intentions come first. When you develop this awareness then the words of the teachers mean something.
One of the best training methods I know of is called, “The jolt of thought”. When an idea comes to you, it doesn’t come in words. The entire thought hits you in an instant. Then you translate it in your head into words. The words convey only a fraction of the content of the original thought. If you can only pay attention to words and not to the original “jolt of thought” then you only perceive a fraction of the creative thought that comes to you. Practice not translating the jolt of thought into words. You will find that it is “pregnant” with content. Don’t do this while driving or operating heavy machinery.
You may eventually be able to “think” completely with the jolts rather than with words. This is called, creativity. Then when you hear the teacher, his words will trigger many inner experiences inside you and you will be content to experience them rather than needing to snatch a few words of “understanding” from them. This inner “knowing” is far superior to intellectual knowing. (Not that there is anything wrong with intellectual knowing, as long as it doesn’t cut off the inner knowing).
A good teacher teaches to the Body-Mind. Your intellectual mind may not be able to latch on, yet you do feel a tug inside. Those students who feel that tug last. Those students who insist only on their intellectual knowing, never get far. They may study for 50 years and never get far. This is true for any training which combines mind and body.
Music is a great example. You may have a musician who is incredible technically but you wouldn’t want to listen to him. Yet you may have someone with limited technical skills but who has a whole lot of soul and you can’t stop listening. Obviously as a teacher, I am a proponent of both soul and technical skills. I believe one of my faults as a teacher is saying too much. Even in beginning classes, I discuss the inner processes a student goes through. Perhaps the student is not yet ready for that but at least he gets a sense of what Tai-chi and Zookinesis are all about. If he should quit after a few months of classes he doesn’t think that Tai-chi consists of learning a series of slow movements. He understands that the “forms” as they are called, are a method of teaching Tai-chi, but not the Tai-chi itself. He gains an appreciation for the depth of this training.
Yet I often see blank expressions on students faces when I discuss these things and I wonder if I went too far. I wondered this for a long time and then concluded that I can only teach the way I teach. Those students who like it will stay and those who don’t will move on. It is torture to contain myself when I would like to discuss an interesting subject. Perhaps a balance is necessary. When the expressions become blank then I know it is time to go back to teaching the movements.
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