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HUNTING FOR ATTENTION

I used to spend a few months at a time in the jungles of Central America, hunting for unusual reptiles.  They were used for research programs to study how to develop captive breeding colonies in case the species became extinct in the wild.  When you first walk through a jungle you don’t see the animals.  They are camouflaged.  It takes a while to recognize them.  Once you are used to seeing them, you realize the jungle is filled with animals.

There is a similar problem in working with your attention.  When you practice Tai-chi and Zookinesis, attention is perceived as a force which energizes the body and connects it to all living things.  The development and refinement of attention is a large part of the practice.  But we usually associate attention with the head, specifically the eyes.  To most people, attention just means what direction your head is aimed.

To detect the camouflaged force of attention, the Tai-chi forms require that the head remain in an aligned position with the rest of the body.  This means that you cannot look from side to side or look down to see where your feet are going.  Yet you must pay attention to your stepping so the foot will land up in the correct position.  To do this, you pay attention to the flow of momentum going into the leg, to the feeling of weightedness of the leg and to the way in which the step affects the joints of the body so the body stays aligned. 

You can do this with your eyes closed because you are paying attention to feeling instead of to seeing.   When you begin to step you do not focus your attention on the sight of the foot moving to the floor.  You focus on how the momentum flows through the body and how all the muscles and joints of the body participate in sending out the leg.  Each movement of the Tai-chi form requires this same whole body attention.

The forms also require a certain type of breathing.  You generally breathe in as you move forward and expand and you breathe out as you shift your weight back and sink into the ground.  The timing of the breath must be paced exactly with the timing of the movements.  Your attention must be on the relationship of all the muscles and joints of the body as well as on the breathing. 

When the momentum sinks into the legs, it moves down past the feet into the ground, then circles and comes back up.  When you rise, the momentum flows out through the head and arms.  Your attention follows the momentum as it moves out of and back into the body.

In this way you break free from the attention being disguised as the head and eyes.  You now experience it as a force mediating all the actions of the body and the breathing and connecting you to your environment.

You practice strengthening the attention.  You practice making the attention agile so that it can actively mediate all the parts of your body to keep you properly aligned.  Attention becomes a living force.

Your attention becomes so strong that it cannot be controlled by outside influences that are vying to control you.  These influences may be other people, advertisers, politicians, religions and philosophies.  You remain free and independent. 

You also start to perceive how these various groups are in a battle to control your attention and you begin to understand how people can be made to do things they would normally not do. 

Simply by requiring you to keep your head aligned and to keep your eyes looking forward, Tai-chi starts you on a path that eventually leads to your ability to see dynamics at play in our society, which you never noticed or understood before. 

There are many subtle aspects to this training that yield big results.  It is important for the student to understand these underlying principles.  It is even more important for the teacher to understand them.  If you do not understand then you are learning and you are teaching blindly. 

Once you can detect the patterns and qualities of attention of other people, you can understand them better.  You see how their patterns, which are usually habitual and not free and spontaneous, control their behavior.  You can say to yourself, “That pattern is them.  It is not me.”  You can avoid playing into their habitual patterns of behavior.

The Tai-chi and Zookinesis teacher consciously teaches with these principles in mind in order to lead the student to freedom and to personal power.  One of the purposes of these weekly “lessons” is to remind both students and teachers, of these underlying principles so they don’t think of Tai-chi and Zookinesis as just memorizing movements.