The first paragraph states:
The Tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal Name
(translation by Stephen Mitchell)
This paragraph can help us to gain greater skill in our Tai-chi forms and push hands practice. It suggests a way of “knowing” that is different than memorizing facts. This little book points us in the direction of a depth of awareness that lies beneath our normal way of perceiving and analyzing. In Norse mythology this same substrate of awareness is called “The Underworld” and the “Tree of Life” is what connects the deeper, surface and higher levels of awareness.
When you begin to learn Tai-chi you have no choice but to use your programmed mind (thinking mind) to memorize movements and principles. You feel that if you can do all the movements in the proper order and write down all the principles, then you have learned Tai-chi.
But there is still more to learn. The purpose of Tai-chi practice is to lead you to the deeper level of awareness and to understand the nature and dynamics of consciousness. The exercises are just a means to an end. Without full access to this deeper substrate of awareness you don’t have your full power in life.
At a certain point in your practice you must be willing to “not know”, that is, to allow the intelligence of your body to take over the movements and let the “head” (thinking process) to just sit there and not get involved. At first the student feels that if he lets his head just “sit there” he will not be able to function. How can he exert his intention without thinking?
There is a different type of intention possible that is organic. It is like dropping a pebble into a still lake. The ripples emanate from the initial action (of the pebble). Feel your belly area as the still lake and your tensions and thinking as the pebble. Drop the pebble into the lake and then do your Tai-chi form or push hands. At every moment your movements should come from dropping pebbles into the lake.
This means that the grabbing, tense, unsatisfied mind ceases to “claw at the world” and just takes a break. This frees up a lot of energy for the natural mechanisms of the body to work. If we claw at the world our perceptions are limited to what we are grasping for. When we give up grasping, then we can really see what is going around us and inside of us.
“Naming” in the paragraph of the Tao Te Ching refers to the tendency to making the world we perceive conform to the world we expect. I call this, “The Echo of Expectations”. (What you see of a reflection of what you expect to see). Your body activities, down to the cellular level, then conform to your expectations rather than to your perceptions. You are locked into what you “know” (the story you tell yourself about what is going on). Your world becomes small and your ability to react appropriately becomes limited.
And so Tai-chi practice is a process of “not knowing”, i.e., being willing to not control every movement with the thinking process but to remain in the feeling mode, to participate in life and allow yourself to “not know” where that will take you. Your attention should be within the action, not in the head looking down at the action.
And then you find that you are now outside of a cage you didn’t even know you were in, a cage of “knowing”, of “naming”.