As Tai Chi players, each time we enter the sacred space of the practice court we have the opportunity to mindfully engage in the creative process and renew ourselves from the inside out.
The creative process in the internal arts of Tai Chi and Qigong is about renewing, expanding, liberating and it is also about manifesting.
Throughout my years of study, my teachers have impressed upon me the vital importance of individual practice and investigation–the art of completely penetrating a Tai Chi or Qigong movement and becoming one with all aspects of it. This is the heart of the creative process, and it is through the creative process that we continue to refine in body, mind and spirit.
From the very beginning, this is one of the aspects of Tai Chi that enthralled me so completely: I had found an activity that was challenging and engaging on all levels; it was an art I could spend the rest of my life investigating and refining. While the angle of investigation may be unique to each Tai Chi player, the aspiration is the same: to be Tai Chi.
What does it mean to be Tai Chi? To truly live in the present moment, awake, aware and free; to truly be the unique, authentic human being we were created to be.
My Sifu, Master Donald Rubbo, says: “Our thoughts determine our reality. There is no difference when speaking of penetrating a movement, in becoming the movement, or in becoming Tai Chi. As long as the perception exists that I haven’t acquired it yet, that is how it will remain. Also, the desire of being it pushes it into the future to some time that may or may not manifest it. If we keep pushing something into the future every day, how can we ever create the reality, or view, in the present moment?
“Look at it another way–there is no practice in being a good human being, we just are good human beings. This is how we are in the world. We may encounter obstacles along the way, but we continue to grow, we continue to refine ourselves. So, stop practicing ‘Strike Palms’ and be ‘Strike Palms.’ Stop trying to be healthy. . .be healthy! Be happy! Be fulfilled!”
(Note: The name of the opening movement in the Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi Chuan set is ‘Strike Palms To Ask Buddha.’ This is not a religious acknowledgment, rather ‘Buddha’ is synonymous with ‘enlightened’ or ‘awakened.’)
“In Tai Chi we are working with infinite qualities, limitless potentials. We need to move away from the idea that we are separate from the potentials of radiant health and happiness. Instead, we should recognize that we are health, we are happiness, and we are fulfillment in this present moment.”
“Follow your heart-mind and be true to your authentic self. Don’t be persuaded to be something you are not—that’s garbage! We understand potent energy because we are sensitive, but to what end? Do we tap into it and become more authentically our own true nature? Or, do we sacrifice our authentic nature to appease another?”
We are faced with choices all the time: there are actions taken, and actions not taken. I would argue that even an action not taken is in itself an action taken. Neutrality will ultimately find us losing ground. Change is constant, change is unchanging, and the nature of change does not permit a permanent, comfortable footing.
Sifu has spoken about how ‘habits’ continually bring us back to unhealthy and uncomfortable patterns. Thankfully, we can choose to free ourselves of these uncomfortable patterns through the creative process of transformation.
While the idea of transformation is extremely appealing, the actual process of transformation often brings us to a point of discomfort–sometimes extreme discomfort. With patience, persistence and compassion this discomfort ultimately gives way to liberation and undiluted freedom.
How do we help our students understand this? Some students have faith when we tell them this discomfort will come to an end, some don’t. Sifu says to keep on with the practices and hold the image of your healthy, happy, fulfilled self in the here and now. See it now! Live it now! Be it now!
Tai Chi Chuan, Qigong and Meditation are vehicles to help each individual be present in the moment, and the present moment is a very special destination indeed.
When we truly inhabit our unique, authentic nature, the potential is limitless. Sifu asks: How many seeds are in an apple? How many apples are in a seed?
Who can tell the limitless potential of an individual seed, or a precious human being?
“We must understand the result of perhaps achieving, and perhaps not achieving. . .after a few years, or less, you give up because you haven’t accomplished your goal. And this is what leads to the “regrets and sighings” as spoken about in A Mnemonic of Thirteen Tai Chi Chuan Movements.”
Because our thoughts determine our reality, one should notice as interesting, and then put aside, thoughts like:
I’ll never get to that level.
I’m not good at this.
I’ll never be happy.
Sifu says, “Thoughts and energies have the ability to manifest in the moment—why not make those thoughts and energies positive ones!”
This is where our mind should be during our practice: welcoming in the limitless potentials of health, joy, compassion, wisdom, internal power, and more. Why? Because it is here, in unity with limitless potential, that we can effortlessly create the most meaningful life possible for ourselves, not just on the practice court, but in all aspects of life. In this way, too, we can positively affect our family, friends and broader community.
Where do we start? How do we begin?
“There are many practices that can be of assistance. Cultivating the Five Elements Practice is particularly helpful and a good place to start. Understanding the nature, forces and qualities of each element, understanding that they are not separate from us, and we are not separate from them. These elements don’t just exist outside us, they exist inside us, too. We truly are made of stardust.”
To begin, consider the Five Elements and their qualities/forces:
- Wood—expansion—outward in all directions. Associated with the liver and gallbladder and the season of spring.
- Fire—ascending energy—rising energy. Associated with the heart and small intestine and the season of summer.
- Earth—stabilizing, foundational, lubricating energy. Associated with the spleen and stomach and the change of season, particularly the transition between summer and autumn.
- Metal—absorbing, magnetic, drawing inward from all directions. Associated with the lungs and large intestine and the season of autumn.
- Water—downward, heavy, accumulating, flowing kind of quality. Associated with the kidneys and bladder and the season of winter.
Goal: to develop awareness and felt sensation of these energies, and internal power, abilities and wisdom.
“From stillness comes awareness, from stillness and awareness comes sensitivity, from the integration of stillness, awareness and sensitivity, wisdom arises.”
These are not simply words on paper–they are also seeds of thought. Cultivating and nurturing these thoughts brings them into action. This is all part of the alchemical, creative process.
Practice: Cultivating the Five Elements
- Begin in Wuji
- Gather and wash/purify the body nine times: 3 x for physical body, 3 for emotional body and 3 for energetic body
- Stand in ‘Holding the Ball’ with hands at height of solar plexus or Lower Tantian. Place your awareness in the Lower Tantian and breathe into the area of the Lower Tantian without force or strain, and allow the breath to be long, slow, smoothe and even.
- Now–Become the Wood element-expansive in all directions, and rest in this awareness for several minutes
- Become Fire element—rising energy, rest in the awareness
- Become Earth element—stabilizing energy, rest in the awareness
- Become Metal element—inward, attracting energy, rest in the awareness
- Become Water element—downward flowing, accumulating, heavy energy, rest in the awareness
- Become all five elements at once and rest in this awareness with closed eyes
- Now, stand in the vast, inner sky of limitless potential. Call on the ultimate aspect of limitless potential right away, in this moment.
- The Five Elements are manifest in this moment, and we are not separate from them; we are one with the limitless potential of the Five Elements, not separate, not different.
- Gather, wash and bring all to the lower Tantian to conclude the practice.
“This intention-driven-action is not what is familiarly recognized as Tai Chi, but is this not Tai Chi?”
Is this sacred space of unity and limitless potential resident on the practice court alone?
Not at all.
Sacredness is everywhere, in everything and in everyone, not simply in a sacred building or practice space. As Tai Chi players, we can bring the sacred mindfulness of our practice everywhere, to everything we do and to everyone we meet. Ultimately, this sacred awareness encompasses every life activity from the mundane to the sublime.
To truly live in the present moment, awake, aware and free; to truly inhabit the unique, authentic human being we were created to be. This is Tai Chi!
© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.