Tai Chi and the Tao
Tai Chi and the Tao, or how putting the philosophy of Tai Chi in to action can bring us greater health and happiness. Tai Chi is a practice of “The Way.” Way means of The Tao and signifies a path or river. Taoism is not a religion. It is a “Way” of life. The Tao is the natural order of things. It is a force that flows through every living and sentient object, as well as through the entire universe. When the Tao is in balance it is possible to find perfect happiness. Taoism is a philosophy and the practice of Tai Chi means putting this philosophy in to action. Although the word path can signify a destination, actually we have already arrived, and the daily practice of Tai Chi can help us realise this. As Lao Tzu said; A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.
To find/realise the Way is a very complicated task, so the ancient Taoists employed strategy to get us there. On a more beginner’s level, Tai Chi is first learned to relax the mind and body. This is literally to relax tension as well as align and condition the body, and on a more mental level to deal with boredon and impatience. This level is more about the physical act of respiration and relaxing and softening the muscles and tendons, as well as learning to recognise the energy or “Qi” contained in the air we breathe. On a literal level Qi is the oxygen in the air and the nutrition in the food we eat. The next stage is to learn Qigong, which is concerned with taking this Qi which we have become aware of and increasing its potential as well as learning to move it throughout the body. Although Tai Chi and Qigong are standing and moving meditations, it is said that to progress, everyone eventually needs to learn sitting meditation. This is the ultimate practice of stillness and represents stillness within stillness whereas standing and walking meditation represents stillness in movement. Zazen, or sitting Zen is the practice of Shikantaza which means “just sit”. Just sit without any intention, other than to just sit. Zazen is the trinity of Posture, Breathing and No Mind meditation. No mind is not an absence of mind or dreamy state but actually a state of awareness.
The above paragraph may seem like this a linear process where we learn one thing before another but actually we do them concurrently every day. Sitting meditation and standing meditation balance each other, and that is what we are looking for really, balance and harmony (happiness). Balance and harmony within the individal, balance and harmony between the individual and other people, and balance and harmony between the individual and nature/surrounding environment.
Although the above may seem very complicated, actually the practice is very simple. We just do one thing at a time without any gaining idea or reward. So, a lot of the time in Tai Chi practice we are “undoing”, “letting go”, not following unnecessary thoughts or worries etc. This seems strange at first, to practice without any reward or progress, but paradoxically it works. So, if we are trying to practice to improve our health say, if we practice for the sake of practicing our health will improve as if by itself. This is part of the process because if we are only focused on results (which we perceive to be in the future) we miss the reality of our current practice.
Paradoxically to get there we need to make effort, but with as little as twenty minutes a day we can obtain our goals. Gradually, with our effort we may find ourselves coming to this state of relaxation/awareness most of the time.
People say that they have no time, but with true Tai Chi practice if we have even five minutes we can find that within this five minutes we have all the time in the world (literally).
David Hankey Acupuncture Cork