When a student first begins learning Tai-chi and Zookinesis, the first thing that impresses him is how much his body has degenerated. The student is asked to use the body correctly and he can barely feel his body let alone make connections to it.
You might hear the teacher give instructions but how do you translate that into action? Your attention must be fine and energized enough to affect one nerve to move a small part of one muscle while the adjacent nerve remains still. You must be able to breathe into one small part of the lung so that the lung presses against one vertebra while the rest of the lung remains still. While it seems like it would take a lifetime to achieve these feats, you learn that they are actually very simple. They are really at a beginner’s level of achievement.
So you, as a student, wonder, “If this is simple, what hope do I possibly have of getting very far in this practice”. Add to this that as you begin to feel your body internally, the first thing that you feel is how tense, misaligned and dead the body is. No one wants to feel this. We usually are very happy to be dead so we don’t have to feel how out of shape we are. Yet what choice is there? Will you remain dead until you die or will you begin to become alive?
Every lesson and every minute of practice brings you a little closer to becoming alive. Don’t concentrate on how far there is to go. A Zen student told me that he went to a Zen monastery and the teacher had him help build a stone wall. After two hours of this he told the teacher that he was very discouraged. He worked very hard yet made little progress. The teacher told him that he looked at the situation the wrong way. “What is the right way”, he asked. The teacher told him, “Pick up one rock and put it onto the wall. Then pick up the next rock and put it on the wall.” The teacher then left. The student couldn’t understand what the teacher meant.
If you worry about accomplishing a huge task, then each effort will seem small. If you concentrate on what you are actually doing, then each effort will fill your attention. Find the joy in each little inch of becoming alive. Your body, your mind and your spirit can come to life. The mind and spirit also have muscles and bones. They have a structure – an anatomy and a mechanics – a physiology. Like the body, they can be tense, fragile and basically, non-functioning.
Tai-chi and Zookinesis teaches this anatomy and physiology of the body, mind and spirit and gives you the skills of using these parts of you. Zookinesis was originally called, “Spirit Breathing” because of the importance of the use of the breath in training. As an example, when you move in an exercise or Tai-chi form, the parts of your body create momentum. This momentum pulls on each muscle, joint, tendon and ligament of the body, aligning each part in the direction of the momentum. So each part of the body is stretched by the momentum.
As you are expanding, you breathe in. You direct that breath into each joint at the same time that the joint is being pulled by the momentum. (If you don’t understand this at this time, don’t worry. It takes training to appreciate this dynamic. I’m just using this as an example of the use of breath.) As each joint expands in pace with the breath expansion, it is also being pulled in a particular direction by the momentum. The momentum continues to pull on the joint, yet, once the joint is “filled with breath”, the breath then passes through the joint. The result is that the joint is first stretched open by the breath as it is being pulled by the momentum and then, when the breath passes through, the momentum then continues to stretch the joint. The joint is stretched from within and from without.
This is obviously a more advanced training, requiring at least that you understand these ideas in the first place. The point I’m making is that even when a student is at this stage of development, he still is amazed at how dead is his body and attention (even though it is a great deal more alive than when he started). His expectations of what he can accomplish are now so great that the above exercise seems to him as simple as moving one finger at a time may seem to the average person.
You realize that the potential of our minds, bodies and spirits is so great that it really remains hidden and unknown to most people. You begin to feel that you are living in a different world than everyone else and so seek other practitioners to have a community of people you can relate to.
Do you remember ever walking on the earth with bare feet? How did it feel when you then walked on cement? When the students have a community to relate to, how do you think it feels when they then have to deal with the culture at large? No wonder the Taoist monks retreated to the mountains in monasteries! Yet the greater achievement is to be able to function in our culture and still retain your aliveness. How else can others know what aliveness is?
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