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Archive for November, 2012

TAO TE CHING – The Art of “Not Knowing”

Snake Creeps Down movement of Tai-chi Yang Form

The Tao Te Ching is one of the formative books of the philosophy of Taoism. Written by Li Ehr (Lao Tsu) in the 6th century BC, this little book of 81 paragraphs provides a mysterious and poetic view of this naturalistic way of life.

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”.

INDIVIDUAL CONSCIOUSNESS (INDIVIDUAL TAO)

The concept of “Individual Consciousness” or “Individual Tao” in Tai-chi theory is very important to understand in order to practice properly. Individual consciousness is like a wave in the ocean, from origin to its end on the beach. Universal consciousness is the ocean.

If you can detect the universal consciousness within yourself, you will understand the point of view that there is no real birth and death. Waves flow across the ocean all day and night yet the ocean is not depleted by this action.

When we grab for things, ideas or even for an imagined perfect emotional state, we are like the wave, racing to reach the beach. In meditation we are like the calm sea.

When we practice our Tai-chi form we sustain a wave of momentum through our bodies. It may change angles, circle around in different directions, sink into the earth and rise into the heavens, but its course is even and steady. In this way the momentum of the form is like a wave in its movements and like the calm ocean in its slow steadiness and depth.

When our daily interactions are fully intricate and effective yet not rushed, we have brought the principles of Tai-chi into our lives. We can enjoy the things in our lives without desperately grasping. We can appreciate each experience no matter how simple.

Recognize your identity as the life force of nature and you will be able to let go of fear. When you let go of fear no one can manipulate you. Even your habits of tension and patterns of thoughts won’t be able to control you. You will become creative and be able to appreciate beauty more deeply.