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BE LIKE VAPOR

Tai-chi is fluid.

Tai-chi is fluid.

Why do we tense up in response to stress? Tension makes us feel stronger and more present. When we are relaxed, we feel that we are like vapor, drifting away.

Tai-chi teaches us that we are more effective in defending ourselves when we are relaxed. Let the opponent fight a vapor rather than a solid object. When relaxed you can be quicker and more effective.

If the situation is not physical, such as a verbal argument or a life situation, staying relaxed will keep your mind clear and you will react more creatively. But how can we learn to stay relaxed when we are so programmed to tense?

Imagine a “black hole” (a collapsed star) that is so dense that even light cannot escape from it. If the entire earth were as dense as a black hole it would be the size of a peanut. So in comparison to a black hole, we are not very dense. We are almost not even here.

We tense (become more dense) in order to “feel more here” so we can be more formidable. Tai-chi teaches us that our vaporous nature also has power. It teaches us how to use the power of relaxation to get through life more easily.

The nature of a black hole with its immense gravity, is to pull everything towards it, to grab, to own. The nature of vapor is to merge with everything around it and to become part of the world.

Chi-gung, forms, push hands and Tai-chi bodywork are all designed to teach you the value of fluidity, the value of empty space within you, the value of merging. Internal space is defined as the ability of each joint and muscle to move. Even though the form is quiet, with minimal external movement, there is a free flow of internal movement, like waves flowing through the body.

This is the healthiest state of the body and it allows a relaxation of the mind and emotions as well. Embrace your fluid state and learn about its power.

Our dvd series, “How to Learn and Teach Tai-chi” discusses these ideas in detail. (See http://store.movementsofmagic.com/howtotetavo1.html for more information).

BREAKING DOWN THE WALL

Push Hands

When you visit another culture you realize how differently other people see the world. We tend to feel that our “modern” world-view is the most correct because we are the smartest people who have ever lived on the earth. And yet, the fact that we are willingly destroying the life support system of the earth creates questions about how smart we really are. The way in which our life-style is destroying the life support system within our bodies also calls into question even our dedication to survive.

Tai-chi practice is a way of introducing into the modern world, the concept that each of us is an ecological environment, completely connected to the larger ecological environment. How we balance the internal ecology with the external ecology should be a large part of our “personal culture”. If we can experience our bodies as living and conscious, rather than just a machine that carries our head around, we can begin to restore our health.

Our modern culture is based on the isolated individual, each of us fighting against all the others. To maintain this feeling of isolation we “condense”, that is, we tighten ourselves physically and mentally, turning ourselves into a walled city. We feel that, as long as our lawns are green, the rest of the environment doesn’t affect us.

According to Tai-chi principles, the destruction of the natural world and the destruction of our own physical health, arise out of the same mind-set. When we practice the two-person exercise of push hands, for example, there is a tendency to use physical strength to push the “opponent” over. It is common for someone, being pushed, to grab the arms of the pusher to avoid getting pushed and thereby be able to say that he didn’t really get pushed.

Push Hands is a game of transformation. It is based on not using tension but fluidity. It is based on allowing the push of your partner to be absorbed by your body, the force distributed among all the muscles and joints, and then transformed to go back to the pusher. Your role is to transform the force that comes to you. In this way you learn the connection between your inner self and its connection to the forces around you.

When you learn Tai-chi forms, it is not just a question of memorizing movements. You learn to generate movement from the relationship of the hips and legs to the root (your connection to the ground). The rest of the body then expresses that relationship. So forms teach you how to express your relationship to the earth.

There is a tradition, in Zen practice, of expressing your feelings at the moment of enlightenment. One student expressed it this way, “The inside and the outside – they are made of the same flesh”.

Every time you tense up and isolate yourself, you damage not only yourself, but also your connection to the earth, and even the earth itself. Every time you set yourself against others in anger, you do equal damage.

Tai-chi practice teaches you how to live an ecological life in the modern world. Practicing Tai-chi this way is a powerful way to transform your life.

RESPECT

The relationship between mind and body should be the same as the relationship between yourself and another person. Each of you wants respect and wants to know the intention of the other. Each wants to maintain its individuality and also its connection to each other. Each wants to enjoy the interaction and benefit from it.

When you gain a skill, you reach a certain point where you have to let the body do the work (in riding a bicycle for example). You trust that the body knows what it is doing without the intervention of the thinking mind. But it is difficult for the thinking mind to let go of control.

It is difficult to accept that another person thinks differently than you. As an example, it is difficult to accept that an aboriginal culture may want to maintain their way of life, with perhaps, just a few well chosen modern advances. If there are “resources” beneath their land (oil, coal, gas for example), it seems to us unreasonable that they don’t allow another culture to come in and tear apart their land to acquire those resources.

As we learn Tai-chi, the mind thinks us through the movements. We remember all the advice from the teacher on proper mechanics. We “push” our bodies through the movements so they are done properly.

But then we learn the push hands exercise, in which there are no pre-set movements (in free-style push hands). The thinking mind could not possible keep track of all the spontaneous movements and be able to respond.

The student has to let go of the absolute control of the thinking mind and trust the creativity of the body. This creates a fear of dissolution in students whose whole identity is centered in the thinking mind. At this point it is important to examine your relationships with other people. Are those relationships based on respect of their individuality and intelligence?

If you can respect that another person can be intelligent and yet disagree with you then you can more easily accept that the body can have an intelligence that is different in its nature than the thinking mind but equally as valid. You might also be willing to accept that the body can be more intelligent than the thinking mind.

To allow the Body-mind to have equal sway in one’s life as the thinking mind is like courtship. You want the other to be part of you but you don’t really know who she or he is at first. Is she intelligent or does she just parrot what she has heard? Is she kind? Will she treat you well? You look for signs within your interactions that will answer these questions. Yet somehow, you know that for better or worse, she is part of you and you cannot grow as a human being without her. You look for ways of working together in harmony.

The point at which the student “allows” Body-mind to be equal in power to Thinking-mind means giving up absolute power. You no longer “shove” the body from move to move but yield to an inner knowing of the form. You find the Body-mind wants to do the form differently than the ideas in your head, and you yield to that. You allow them to be part of you. You actually listen to what they are saying.

More importantly you allow yourself to change, to be affected by the qualities of the consciousness of others. The two lovers grow mentally and emotionally, from knowing each other. Thinking-mind and Body-mind each grow from having to interact with each other.

So respect, a form of yielding, allows growth. Without growth we deteriorate physically, emotionally and spiritually. We engage in battles both within and outside of ourselves.

What is the degree of respect and yielding in our culture today? Are we becoming more rigid or relaxed and fluid? Where are we headed?

There is a Zen saying that “The inside and the outside are made of the same flesh”. I believe that Tai-chi practice can be a great help to our modern world by encouraging respect on all levels.

WHY I TEACH TAI-CHI


Imagine if liquid cement dripped onto your body every day and then dried. Every day the cement gets thicker until you can barely move. Tai-chi is the solvent that dissolves your casing of cement, allowing you to move. It dissolves the rigidity of every muscle and joint in the body until you regain your natural flow of movement and the joy of movement of a child.

This is why I teach Tai-chi. I spent twenty years as a zoologist, working with hundreds of species of animals, one-on-one. In order to work with them I had to move like them and even think like them. I couldn’t afford to become rigid. From the perspective of the degree of fluidity of animals, modern humans seem made of stone.

I believe that much of our modern health problems come from this rigidity. But another result of this problem is that we feel trapped in our bodies and disconnected from the rest of the world. The result, in some people, is anger and even violence.

I created a system of fluid movement that can be used along with Tai-chi training or by itself that dissolves the rigidity of the body. You no longer feel trapped and actually feel very comfortable within your own “skin”. You feel connected to the natural world.

These movements are called, “zookinesis” meaning “animal exercises”. It is a combination of chi-gung and movements derived from over 30 years of working with animals.

It is fulfilling to see students of zookinesis and Tai-chi discovering how they can simply let go of that rigidity and become fluid and once again feel the joy within their own bodies. Modern adults have lost that joy to a large extent.

Every piece of cement that falls from one of my students is exciting. It means another step on the path to freedom. It means more joy and less anger. It means greater health and less stress.

One day I hope rigidity will be only a distant memory in our culture. I teach Tai-chi and zookinesis to help achieve that future.

Bob Klein
www.movementsofmagic.com

TAI-CHI AND THE BIG BANG THEORY

How can the big bang theory and other scientific concepts be used to illustrate principles of Tai-chi? Both science and Tai-chi principles can be difficult to grasp but if they are compared, then both become clearer.

In this example I use the big bang theory to explain an advanced aspect of Tai-chi training. The scientific theory of the origin of the universe begins with nothing – no space, matter, energy or time. The universe exists as a “singularity” and then explodes, creating space, matter, energy, and time. As it progresses, the individual stars, planets and other heavenly bodies evolve. The question is, will the universe keep expanding until its energy gives out and then die out? Will it expand to a certain size and then shrink back to a singularity? Will it reach a steady state? These questions are worked out mathematically and I don’t attempt to out-think the physicists and astrophysicists but just use their attempts to understand the universe to clarify our attempts to understand Tai-chi.

One of the most difficult aspects of Tai-chi is that you have to become aware of every joint and muscle of the body and how each operates at every second of your movements. This requires a type of attention that is everywhere at the same time. Yet our attention is fixed and located in a specific place (the head). It doesn’t have to be so, yet our culture created this condensation of attention in the head.

In my studies of animal behavior (I was an ethologist), and work with thousands of animals in the field and in captivity, I have found that their attention is more evenly distributed throughout their bodies. Human athletes also have this quality of attention.

For a student to be able to function with precision and grace, he has to go through a process in which the attention is allowed to individuate (to be located in each joint and muscle of the body). The head cannot direct this attention by the thinking process, because thinking is slow and awkward.

In order to have the attention individuate (seep into every part of the body and function there), the fixed point of the attention in the head (the singularity of attention) has to empty. Every increase in individuation of attention requires an equal emptying of the singularity of attention in the head.

If we look at the big bang theory, this would mean that as the universe individuates, the singularity must continue to empty. So the singularity doesn’t cease to exist, rather, it is in a balanced relationship with individuation so that its emptying is equal to the evolution of the universe. The existence of the universe doesn’t end the singularity but is one side of the whole while the emptiness is the other side.

Again, I am not trying to be a physicist but just trying to illustrate a Tai-chi principle. So what is this concept of “emptying”? In Tai-chi it is relaxing, letting go and not fixating on anything. Our attention is usually so weak that it can easily be grabbed by our senses, thoughts and emotions. Most of us are at the mercy of these sensations and have no independent existence. Any form of meditation helps to develop the “passive observer”, a state in which the attention is vibrant but cannot be grabbed.

If your attention is not in this state then it is very hard to concentrate on many things at once. The very idea of “you” concentrating on something else means that you are in a state of fixed attention in the head or in the thinking process. If attention is more individuated the individual parts of the body have more say over how you do your form or your push hands and it becomes more creative and spontaneous.

The attention in the head and thinking process does not have to end in order to allow the body to be filled with attention, but rather it has to “empty”. It has to move toward the “passive observer” state, which we call “Yin”. Yin is not the absence of “Yang” but the balancing of “Yang”.

Yin attention is not “held” and can seep into every part of the body and function there. It can seep into your surroundings as well. When it seeps into a natural area, in which randomness predominates, the attention can easily stay Yin. When it seeps into our modern world, with its geometric, fixed structures, the Yin attention turns Yang. We order the world around us to maintain a fixed Yang attention, which is why it is so hard for us to flow in a Tai-chi form or to relax in everyday life.

If we then use these ideas in Tai-chi to understand the big bang theory, then we have to look for a process of “emptying the singularity”, which again does not lead to an end state of but is a continuing process that balances the evolution of the universe.

This is a very difficult achievement for Tai-chi students – to realize that letting go is not a goal with an end but is a continuous process. It is the letting go that initiates the movement. Tensing does not initiate a movement. One of my students realized that he keeps putting breaks into his letting go. He lets go a little and then stops because he feels he has “achieved” the letting go.

In astrophysics there is an increasing understanding of how “black holes” help in the evolution of the universe. These holes are really matter that is so dense and has so much gravity that nothing can escape them, not even light. It is like attention that is so settled into the body that it cannot be disturbed and grabbed.

When a person is comfortable within their own bodies and relaxed, this draws other people to them, just as a black hole pulls matter into itself.

The real question for Tai-chi students is, once this individuation is achieved and each part of the body becomes conscious and functional, then where does the intention come from to do anything? If all the attention is dispersed into each cell, organ, muscle and bone of the body and there is only a “passive observer” at the “helm”, then how can things get done?

In Tai-chi theory, it is the balance of the individuation and the passive observer that allows creativity to flow. That creativity is the cooperative conscious activity of every part of you combined with the flow of consciousness through you. The “flow of consciousness through you” requires further explanation.

In ancient cultures consciousness was not considered to be just the activity of nerve cells in the brain. That is a modern idea. Consciousness was considered to be a natural energy, just as as gravity or what we now know of as electro-magnetic force and subatomic forces are natural forces. Each creature lives within these forces and adapts to them. We have joints and muscles to provide leverage to counteract the force of gravity. In the same way, our brains use the flow of consciousness to function. Since this is the understanding of the culture that Tai-chi evolved from, we have to take this into consideration in our training in order to make sense of it.

The state of balance between Yin attention (release) and Yang attention (holding) is the proper state to achieve creativity, not to mention health. But to be willing to “empty” the condensed state of attention in the head is the most difficult task of the Tai-chi student.

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(This is a technical aside for those familiar with these ideas. If you are not involved in the technical aspects of Tai-chi, please skip this paragraph). Yin is often used to denote “condensing” while Yang is used to denote “expanding”. In this case I am using Yin to mean release and Yang to hold. Yang attention is likened to grabbing a bird to see it. While you can see it, the bird is frightened and unmoving and all you can see is its external appearance. Yin attention is when you release the bird. You can see it until it disappears in the trees but what you are seeing is its true behavior, not just its appearance. When Yin is released, it is said to turn into True Yang or expansion. When that True Yang connects, such as the attention connecting to other parts of the body, the connecting is called True Yin. You can also see that holding or Yang (such as holding attention in the head) results in Yin (condensing). This interaction of Yin and Yang where one generates the other shows their interdependence, but you do not need to know this to understand this blog post; I’m just injecting it here for technical clarity. Now back to the blog post.
***
The teacher has to use his or her teaching creativity to guide the students to that state. The feeling of this type of letting go (of the singularity in the head) has often been compared to jumping off a cliff. If the teacher has helped to develop the body consciousness (“Body-Mind”), you will have something soft to fall on when you jump off that cliff. You will find that the cliff is only two inches tall.

This brings me to an important point. In each culture the dynamics of the culture are expressed in terms of their cosmology. Their description of how the world started and what is really going on within it is a reflection of the dynamics of their culture. Whether their explanation is of the interaction of the Gods or the mechanics of science, these explanations change as cultures change.

It seems to most of us that science is in a different category than other cosmologies because we strictly test all our theories. But the very structure of our minds is what gave rise to the scientific method and re-enforces it. As someone trained in the sciences, I am dedicated to the scientific method and believe strongly in its effectiveness to reveal “truth”. But I also understand that to some degree, culture affects how we perceive the world around us.

This is clearly shown in Tai-chi training. It is shown in how students interpret what the teacher says, for example. It is difficult for them to accept the teaching in its most simple form because their minds are not ready to receive the ideas and their bodies have not experienced them. And so they interpret teaching in odd ways. A typical example is that in Tai-chi we use “whole body movement”. This means that every joint and muscle is in continuous movement appropriate for what it is doing at that moment. This results in fluidity. Yet many Tai-chi students (and teachers) interpret this to mean that you keep the body stiff, with no movement whatsoever in the torso but the body as a whole moves slowly and smoothly. This latter understanding is clearly absurd yet it is commonly followed.

I was teaching a student to “release your attention out the back as much as you move your attention forward”. He interpreted that to mean that he pay attention to his back (the back of his torso).

We can only understand what our minds allow us to understand. As the dynamics of our minds change through time, our relationship to our bodies and to the environment changes. And then our cosmology changes. Just think what the changes to our attention, caused by our addiction to electronic devices will do to our cosmology in the future.

Tai-chi students must understand the relationship of the dynamics of their attention to their perception and seek to maintain a dynamic, balanced and alive attention, consistent with what is required by the body to maintain health and joy. When you learn to let go, you find that tremendous energy fills you. How would our modern cosmology be affected if everyone practiced Tai-chi?

If every part of our body is experienced as being alive and conscious, then the world around us is experienced the same way. We no longer look at animals as dumb, but filled with consciousness, just of a different nature than ours.

The big bang can be seen as the birth of a living organism and its growth as the growth of that organism, including the growth of consciousness. By making ourselves more alive and conscious as individuals, we are participating in this evolution of the living organism, the universe, just as each cell in our bodies participates in the evolution of ourselves as individuals. And just as the death of one cell of our body is not seen as our own death, the death of individual people is not seen as the end of life but as part of the growth of the larger cycle of life.

If consciousness is a force that flows through us, then the death of an individual is not the death of consciousness. On the other hand when we block the flow of consciousness within us as when our bodies are deadened with our unhealthy life-styles, this is more like a death.

THE TAI-CHI MIND

Tai-chi has a powerful effect on the way our minds work. We are used to using our minds linearly, as you would when reading words in a book, one word after the other. We are trained to use our minds in this way and cannot stop even in our everyday lives.

So when we practice Tai-chi it is very difficult to allow all our joints and muscles to move at the same time. We can only concentrate on one thing, then the next, etc. You may see Tai-chi forms in which the body is held stiffly but the arms and legs move gracefully. This shows the limitation of how many things the student can pay attention to at once.

The goal of Tai-chi practice of course, is to have no such limitations but to allow each part of the body to pay attention to itself, in coordination with all the other joints and muscles. This requires our thinking mind, delegating authority to the body. Yet the thinking mind thinks it is the only thing that can perceive and react to things. It can barely conceive that the body is intelligent.

The Gnostics tell a story of Sofia (representing the seeking for wisdom) trying to find God. During her journey she gave birth to the demiurge (lesser God) and then continued on her journey. The demiurge looked around and realized he was the only one there and thought he was God.

This is a way of saying that the thinking mind is not the King – that each part of the body is a center of intelligence. Tai-chi allows us to achieve this decentralized attention so that we can be better coordinated, healthier and have better relationships with other people.

If our attention is isolated in our heads, as if in a box, then all perception is related to the head. We feel isolated in that box and perceive other people as being boxes. Each of us wants to be a bigger box, or a more powerful, or smarter or braver box. Our identity is related to our isolation.

With decentralized attention, our identity is related to our connections – to other people, to nature, of the mind and the body, etc. We don’t feel opposed to others but connected to them, part of them.

Imagine if everyone in the world had a mind like this. Their very identity would depend on their connection to everyone else and every other living thing. How would the world be different? When a Tai-chi teacher teaches, he or she not only tries to improve his students’ health, but is laying the groundwork for a more peaceful world.

The body requires an even distribution of attention in order to maintain its health. When attention is locked up in the head, the body is starved of the energy of attention. Notice how you feel after finishing a Tai-chi class. Your body feels empowered and connected, relieved of stress. You feel more open to other people and to nature.

You are helping to heal the world every time you take a Tai-chi class or spend time practicing. Remember the principle: “The inside and the outside reflect each other.”

GARDEN HEALING

Gardening is a powerful form of healing. Food that you grow is much more nutritious than what you buy in a store. You can make sure to fill the soil with rich compost and other nutrient rich ingredients. The gardening process is very meditative and gives you an excuse to be outside and get some exercise. And growing the food you eat gives you a psychological connection to the earth.

It also heals the earth itself. The food you eat does not need to be shipped to the store and this saves on gas. Large scale agriculture uses a lot of heavy equipment (which uses gas) and usually large amounts of pesticides and herbicides. It takes land that might be left in natural state and turns it into a monoculture outdoor food factory. The food is boxed and packaged and then removed from the boxes and packages. We could have a much smaller footprint on the earth if we grew our own food and just walked a few feet into the back yard to harvest our lunch.

Yes, it takes labor and that labor could have been used to work more so that you could pay more for buying lower quality, chemical-filled food or even more for food without chemicals. But at a certain point you should stop and ask yourself, “Does that make sense?”

Why are we in such a rush to avoid spending time with our green friends? Tai-chi practitioners not only learn a series of movements but a healing life-style and a more natural attitude.

As the sun warms us up this Spring, consider helping the earth and helping yourself by growing an organic garden. I have found a lot of tips on youtube to make growing food easier and more productive and I hope to soon start a cooperative to provide the extra food that I grow to others. Each neighbor may grow just a few types of vegetables and they can barter foods with each other. That would help bring the community closer together, another form of healing.

Please leave comments about the foods that you grow.

CAN YOU DETERMINE YOUR FUTURE?

Imagining a bright future

Our future is becoming clearer – faster pace of life, increasing distance between people, less healthy food choices and increased stress. It’s now more important than ever to understand how choosing the future of your personal life can be different than going along with the future destined for you by our society.

Recently an Australian farmer’s crops were infected by pollen from a nearby genetically modified organism (gmo) farm. This farmer’s organic status was revoked and he went bankrupt. He is now trying to sue the gmo farm.

I watched an episode of “Dangerous Grounds” yesterday. In this reality show a coffee grower visits dangerous areas to buy gourmet types of coffee beans. In one area of Brazil the farmers have to keep 24-hour guard around their villages to protect themselves against agribusiness. The farmers claim that thugs from agribusiness keep trying to sneak into their villages to shoot them to take away their land.

In many ways our food, and the earth in general, is a battleground of people who wish to live simple, healthy lives and those who want to rape the earth. We can certainly help to protect the earth by joining ecological groups but we also must protect the earth in another way.

Our bodies are part of the earth and part of the web of life. We can protect our bodies and our minds from a sort of rape by the violent patterns within our culture. We can make sure that destructive patterns, which may have invaded us (like the gmo pollen), are rooted out and discarded. The fears that make us distance ourselves from other people and groups can be recognized and the power of those fears over our behavior, dissolved.

This is what Tai-chi and Zookinesis practice do. They give us the tools to bring our original organic consciousness back. The teacher explains what has happened to us internally and guides you back to being human. The Tai-chi Bodywork quickly melts away years of tension, fear, trauma and self-destructive patterns to free you to live a better and more enjoyable life.

Learning and practicing these exercises is just as important to protecting the earth as working politically. They teach you to control your own personal future so you can better contribute to a better future for everyone.

DANCING CLOWNS

I teach sitting zookinesis exercises to a group of Alzheimer’s residents in a nursing home. Yesterday the television behind them had been left on and was showing a scene from an old black and white movie. Two clowns were dancing with each other in exaggerated movements. The sound was off so I couldn’t tell what was going on.

As I sat facing the residents it was hard not to be distracted by the dancing clowns. The residents were trying to participate in the exercises as best as they could and certainly some were trying to figure out what this guy was doing moving around in strange ways.

I realized that this was a great metaphore for how I see the world. Our minds struggle to figure out what is going on in the world and how to participate in it. Our Body-Minds (the natural consciousness of the body) understands that the world we humans live in is, to a large extent, just a bunch of dancing clowns, moving about in exaggerated ways.

Suddenly the movie scene changed to a man and woman interacting in a very serious way until they finally embraced and kissed. In the midst of this confusing, clownish world, the thing we depend on most is the love for each other.

TAI-CHI HEALING WITH THE ELEMENTS

The modern idea of healing is to cure a disease or injury when it occurs. Tai-chi represents an older, more traditional approach to healing and that is to keep the body healthy so that it can resist disease and injury.

The idea that your body must deteriorate as you age is a modern idea. Those who practice Tai-chi know that you continue to strengthen as you have more years to practice Tai-chi. It is common to see people practicing extreme Tai-chi forms well into their ‘90s.

Tai-chi Tiger Form

If you read this blog you know that Tai-chi training consists of a variety of exercises (forms, chi-gung and push hands) and healing practices (massage, herbal medicine and acupuncture). There are simple principles to all of these practices and they are expressed in the teaching of “the elements”. This set of principles is common throughout the world. A version of “the elements” can be found in Native American, ancient European and other cultures.

There is great variety in how the elements are explained but in the following description I hope to specifically convey the principles of healing.

Earth
Earth is the physical world. It represents how we need to make sense of the world around us by trying to create a coherent story of who we are and what is going on around us. Our society provides this story to us. Within that story we can find ideas that limit us and ideas that free us. The social movements throughout human history are an effort to change the story of the society about who we are and where we came from. They attempt to fashion a story that frees our creativity and allows us to fulfill our potential as human beings.

Earth also represents simplicity. We are encumbered by fears, patterns of habits and tensions, regrets as well as by “stuff” (junk that we buy and don’t need). By simplifying our lives we can remove the ball and chains we are dragging behind us. We can also learn to let go of negative people who are pulling us down and have no intention of really helping themselves to heal.

Earth is also the food that we put inside of our bodies. That food is sacred. When we shovel pre-made, chemically infused who-knows-what into our bodies, we not only injure our health but break the bond between us and the earth. Simply growing some food that you eat repairs that bond. Eating organically, healthy food helps to repair your body.

Earth is the center as our bodies are the center of our consciousness.

We could go on much further about earth, but let us continue to metal.

Metal
Metal is transformation. It is creativity, the ability to allow yourself to change and to see things differently. We take base ore and melt it in heat to extract the metal. In the same way, you (base ore) go through the fire of life and of your training to become the shining pure gold that you are capable of becoming.

And then this metal is turned into useful implements, swords for example. Do you just live your life to take up space or is your life being used to help the world around you? To help heal our world, you must first become transformed in the smelting process and then become fashioned into a healer of some sort. Simply by having been healed, your presence, by example, can help to heal those around you.

Metal is also the element of “animal consciousness”, or the natural “body-mind”. This mind is contrasted to the “clever mind” of modern times. Not that there’s anything wrong with the clever mind – it has produced technology. But the natural mind is the common sense and sensitivity to the natural world that lies at the base of our consciousness. It becomes aware of imbalances in our lives and pushes our behavior to correct those imbalances. In contrast, the “modern mind” seeks the extremes.

When you wake up in the forest and breathe in the beautiful scents, your natural awareness is awakened. Metal is associated with the lungs in Chinese medicine.

Wood
Wood is the element of life itself. It is the way nature unfolds and provides energy to all its creatures to promote the consciousness of metal. It is wood that provides the fuel to transform the metal ore.

Wood is the tree whose branches and leaves reach towards the sun to absorb energy and whose roots reach deep into the soil to absorb water and nutrients. It is an example of the balance of “heaven and earth”.

If you are not rooted well, the events of your life will throw you over easily. To be rooted in an understanding of your personal history and the history of humankind is essential to really know who you are. To be rooted in a love of the natural world and therefore a love of your own health will strengthen your body and soul. To be rooted in your family and community will balance and empower you.

“Heaven” does not refer to the mythological place we go to when we die (if we are good). It refers to yielding to the forces of nature around you so that your life can be lived in harmony with the promotion of the living world. It means accepting that you can become greater than you are now and yielding to teachings of all kinds so you can continue to grow (towards sources of “light” which means knowledge). Wood allows you to become transformed for the better (as it is burned to transform metal ore) while remaining rooted in the real world (earth) so you don’t become an air-head.

A tree provides a home for birds, monkeys, insects and others. It provides food for everyone. It provides the raw material for homes and furniture. It holds the soil to prevent erosion. Wood takes care of the basic needs of life to make our lives easier. Is your life like a tree?

Fire
Fire is the energy of enthusiasm. When you let go of the encumbrances of life, the bitterness, resentments, self-righteousness and anger and learn to appreciate the simple, sacred beauty of the world around you (natural and human), they you can be enthusiastic about life. That enthusiasm goes a long way to healing you and it can be considered to be the result of healing.

Fire is what gets you up in the morning because you love your life and want to live it. It is the heat in relationships that makes you want to interact with other people. Yet it is earth that moderates that heat so you don’t become too aggressive. In this way the elements balance each other and the job of the healer is to find out which element is too strong or too weak. It is the balance that leads to health.

Fire gets you involved in practices like Tai-chi because you appreciate the beauty of the teaching. In this way it transforms you as fire transforms metal ore. Fire is the movement of the exercises, like the dancing flames of the campfire or fireplace.

Fire is the energy flowing through your body when you release the blockages to the flow of chi or when you let go of sorrow. When your muscles let go of their tension through Tai-chi Massage, you feel energy flowing through your body. While you feel very relaxed, you also feel cleansed and energized. Fire has burned up the fear stored in the muscles and released the energy.

Water
Water connects. It is love and compassion. It is the end of the feeling of isolation so that your spirit can “enter the world” and become part of it. Yet it is balanced with earth, which establishes clear distinctions and boundaries, so that we don’t lose our individual identity.

In any relationship there is the fear of losing oneself, yet the desire to lose oneself in the relationship. The balance of water and earth allows both to happen.

Water cleanses. When you release sorrow or physical tension and feel a rush of energy through your body, the element of water then cleans out the debris (like tears cleaning out sorrow). The body is mostly made of water. The lymph cleans out lactic acid and carbon dioxide from cellular metabolism. The intercellular fluid transfers nutrients and oxygen from the blood vessels to the cells.

Yet these fluids have no pump other than the movements of the body. Each muscle of the body must be used, in fluid movement, in order to move the lymph and intercellular fluid. Otherwise the nutrients and oxygen won’t get to the cells to be metabolized and the cells will be bathed in waste. Your food will wind up as fat and you will be tired because your cells are not metabolizing well.

Water conforms to the shape of the container. It is what allows us to be “invisible” during push hands or fighting because we flow with the movements of our partner. It is the principle of not opposing force but flowing around it to continue to come in and accomplish our task.

Water is strategy as it is so adaptable. It allows us to “shed” our fixed patterns and become more creative. This is called “shape shifting” in some cultures. We identify more with our creativity than with our fixed patterns of behavior and thought.

Meaning of the Elements
This is just a hint of the levels of meaning of the elements, their interactions and use in Chinese Traditional Medical Theory. It is a holistic approach in that it considers the body, mind and spirit and the relationship of all aspects of our lives. Each element is associated with a season, a direction, a color, an organ-system, etc.

And so you can discuss the elements in diagnosing an ailment as well as in how you live your life. It is a set of principles based on balance that is useful in every aspect of your life. The way that most people start to learn this system is through Tai-chi practice. The teacher explains how the elements are used to explain aspects of the movements of your Tai-chi form, chi-gung exercises, push hands, massage and, if you go further, the self defense.

This training strengthens each individual from the inside out. It strengthens not only their bodies but their lives as well, allowing them to live full, productive, long and fulfilling lives.