Thursday, January 17, 2013

How Practicing Taichi Deepens Your Connection to "Source" (Dao)

The last post brought up another question. Even though this question may have been asked in harassing jest, I've decided to tackle it. :)
How does taichi chuan help to connect to the source? 
Excellent question!

 I'd like to begin with sharing an interview with Patrick Kelly as much of my answer is going to come from something I picked up from him during the seminar I attended in 2011. First I'll begin with my own answer and experience...

What Is The "Dao"

I suppose I should start here. One problem with linking taichi to daoism (normally written as Taoism) is trying to define what the dao (or "way) is. You learn early in your studies that the dao is the name we've given to something that transcends language (thus making it unnameable). That's OK though. It's where we have to start. In the 10,000 things (the illusionary reality born from the void).

Often times instead of trying to understand or talk about what the dao is directly, it's easier to talk about things that reflect it because they're naturally connected to it. What's more naturally connected to dao than nature? We can look at the changing of the seasons, animals, plants, formations and streams. All around us are expressions of "dao."

Going with streams, did you ever play in the rain as a youth? Did you form dams and make boats for heavy rain? The way the water responded to obstacles you put in front of it, reflects the dao. How your boat navigated the current, reflected dao. And you, at that time, while immersed in "perfect" play were probably flowing the taichi way and living very near dao.

Explaining what dao is goes beyond the scope of this post though, we're suppose to be talking about how practicing taichi brings you closer to that.

In My Own Experience

I was actually exposed to the ideas in Daoism before I started my first kungfu class or even considered doing taichi. Someone gave my brother a copy of the Daodejing and I made that thing my personal bible. When I was later told that taichi was suppose be a martial art that physically expressed the principles of daoism I was sold (seeing old people throw young people around helped sell me too. ;) )

Even though I've been tackling Daoism for about 20 years, I feel like I'm just starting "crack the egg." I've essentially been trying to make my personal philosophy and martial philosophy parallel my small understanding of daoism (with a dash of Zen). Looking back over the years I can see how where I was and where I am is leading me closer to dao. Or perhaps better stated, I feel like I'm doing a better job of following it. Both studying Daoism and practicing the taichi form has helped with this process.

Now lets add what I picked up from Patrick Kelly to the mix.

Sit, Stand, Walk, Run, Dance

That's not exactly how Patrick Kelly described it, but I like the way it sounds. :) This is what I picked up from the seminar. It's easier to connect to that "source" through meditation. It's probably why meditation feels good and people like doing it. Trouble is, when you stop meditating, you're back in the 10,000 things. You're worried about this and that. Your mind is churning full of ideas. Did I turn the stove off? What time is the game on? Do these jeans make me look fat? You know the drill.

The taichi form can be used as a moving meditation of sorts to practice keeping you connected to that source. Here's how Patrick Kelly laid it out:

mediation -> simple standing exercises -> the taichi form -> two person fixed pattern drills -> free pushing -> life

It's hard enough quieting the mind in meditation. That could take years and years to master. And actually... it's tricky to discuss, but I'm not sure if quieting the mind is the aim in meditation. You let thoughts come and go without trying to bring them up or suppress them (in the meditation I'm currently doing anyway).

I'll speak theoretically now as I don't train a "no mind" meditation, but lets say being in a state of "no mind" was the ultimate connection to the source. You'd start training that in meditation first. A quiet and controlled environment. Then you'd move up to simple standing exercises, the form, two person exercises, free pushing exercises and then life.

You're Already A Master

Without getting too esoteric, if you were to ask me I'd tell you you're already a master. Not a master of taichi of course (as you would quickly find in a session of free pushing with ME ;) lol), but a master of being connected to that source. The only thing getting in the way of seeing it is YOU. Perhaps not the you reading this, but the you that thinks it has a name, a body, a job, a mind to think with... :)

In the beginning you might see taichi as something to do for your health, or perhaps you see its potential as a martial art. If you stick with it, train diligently and study the philosophy that goes with it you will find an art that leads you down a path of transcending physical and taking you to that source. I believe that's why you find many older teachers and masters preaching against physical force or even doing push hands at all. They've started digging deeper...

Lucky for me I'm young and still like throwing people around (and getting thrown around. :D ) lol


  1. Thanks Casey. Well put. I like the idea of clarifying the connection to Tao in the moving form of Taiji and allowing that to translate into how we move about in the world. This is where the rubber meets the road!

    As I alluded to in my other question it seems to me that the relax part of Taiji is important to cultivate. It appears that the way we are conditioned is to always strive forth to achieve some goal or purpose. But I don't think this approach is completely applicable to clarifying this connection. Like you said the connection is there NOW, one does not have to "do" anything. I think in Zen they call this realization the "backwards step". Here is where the paradox lies. This concept of "connection" "enlightenment", 'nirvana", "immortality" , "freedom" (what ever you want to call it) is a spontaneous happening, not something that can be accomplished by taking the same approach the ego takes in achieving certain things in the physical realm, this Awareness of Truth opens naturally, and spontaneously. I think here is the rub, that ain't going to happen haphazardly by just sitting around, smoking weed, and watching Cheech and Chong (well, probably not:) ). So, there is some use in the practicing of Taiji, meditation, study, and self inquiry.

    Casey has talked about this from a push hands perspective. In the beginning you have to push with physical force, but maybe, if you keep refining the practice, one day you discover you are not really pushing at all, but allowing nature to flow naturally. Un-damning the river ( as Casey illustrated in his post) Maybe, by pushing, as well as rooting against someone else's push, we start to detect and eliminate our own internal resistance to our True Nature. Maybe, the pushing or the "seeking" is useful in that it exhausts itself and reveals that we don't need to push or seek, just relax and allow the river to flow.

    Thankfully, I have found Casey here in Milwaukee, because I have a lot of pushing to get out of my system!

    Casey, I know you like throwing people around, but I have yet to see you get thrown around! I do appreciate the modesty though ;)

    1. lol :) Thanks Mr. Ferris. Yeah, the "awakening"/"enlightenment"/"immortality" happens in flashes. I was reading through a website dedicated to enlightenment the other day and there's reference to various "levels" of enlightenment (in different Zen traditions). I think a limited few of us are lucky to have the awakening epiphany and keep it with us 100% of the time for the rest of our lives. Lots of us may get glimpses, but need to keep training to make it a permanent thing we carry with us. I believe a lot of humans get stuck with having a deep theoretical understanding of "it" but don't do the work to transcend the thoughts.

      Also, there definitely does seem to be levels and exercises to help "level up" (to put it in gaming terms). But yes, how do you pursue something which leads you to having no desire? lol I tend to not worry about these things, try to stay virtuous and enjoy the ride. ;)