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Modern people want quick, easy, simplistic sound bites of information. They are often lazy, distracted and impatient. Just give me the highlights, the bullet points, the headline.
Life cannot be captured by a word or a sentence; does the word 'bread' in any way convey the actual taste?
New starters want to commence their studies with understanding. This is embarrassing. Learning/studying is the process through which understanding is acquired...
Nobody starts with understanding.
Education involves exposure to new material, unfamiliar ideas, theories, principles and concepts. The new becomes slowly familiar. The challenging is no longer quite as intimidating.
But this is not the end. It is still the beginning. Learning is a journey that has no conclusion.
With practice, patience and time, the student becomes more experienced. At this point, they must re-evaluate what they have already studied: revision.
Revision seeks to deepen your knowledge, it encourages the individual to re-evaluate, to re-assess. The very word re-vision means to look at something again.
Questions are commonly regarded as being a good thing. However, the drawback with questions is that they reflect your perspective.
They arise from your own ideas, opinions, notions, experience, education, emotions and memories. This is the problem.
By asking questions, you are 'framing' the sort of answers you are looking for. You are seeking the answers that you think are important. This is not being open-minded.
It is ignorant. Second-guessing. Setting the agenda. Instead of allowing the learning to unfold in its due course you are filtering everything through you.
In modern society we are adept at finding quick solutions. A new videogame, mobile phone or webpage is soon navigated and familiar.
Our brains are skilled at identifying patterns and proceeding down paths that are variations on existing frameworks. Tai chi cannot be understood in the same way.
You must approach the art as a puzzle. It will not fit within an existing pattern/concept.
The Zen koan perfectly captures the essence of tai chi. Koan are not actually riddles or puzzles; there is nothing to figure out as such. When you change how you perceive, the koan becomes clear.
It is like wearing glasses for the first time, having never realised that you needed them.
Koan make perfect sense but it is a sense that cannot be readily articulated because words and ideas do not extend to reality.
Tai chi reflects this; you cannot truly understand tai chi through words or observation.
It is easy to see tai chi as being filled with secrets but this is not the case. A students own incapacity to see actually prevents progress; there is no need to deliberately present obstacles.
Secrets are unnecessary. The knowledge is there, but people do not see it.
The way in which tai chi is being taught to you is quite unusual and deliberate.
If you were given clear lessons that cover a specified facet or topic with the expectation of a distinct end, this would be misleading. Tai chi will never be completely understood, the lesson will never end.
There is no final conclusion to the art. Learning spirals through the same material again and again.
A student must be patient, do the training and let their body change. Your skills will grow from within. Imperceptibly, you change.
You find yourself stronger, mobile, flexible, with quicker reflexes, a calmer temperament and the ability to adapt and cope with crises.
Q & A
If you research and explore tai chi, this helps your mind to soften and open. People like Krishnamurti encourage you to question everything in your life but offer no answers in the conventional sense.
The answer to your life lies in the totality of how you live. This is the heart of meditation - seeing it all as it really is - without veils, conditioning, lies and memory.
Tai chi is a mystery and will remain a mystery but the unravelling of its threads will help you to understand who you are and how you live.
Understanding requires hindsight: experience, knowledge, wisdom, insights, creativity, clarity, contemplation, connections and associations, possibilities, variables, options, choices...
A new starter cannot ever begin a course of study with any hope of understanding the journey before them. Preconceptions reveal more about yourself than about the subject you are exploring.
Krishnamurti's words struck a deep, enduring chord in my mind. Soon I found
several books written by him and at once realised that here was a voice of
reason, of penetrating insight into the human condition, such as I had never
heard before. Without offering a system of belief, a method or an
interpretation, he accurately described the global situation of humanity in
clear and simple language, demonstrating the destructiveness of religious
and national organisations. He urged everyone to find out truth by and for
oneself, and he denied any form of spiritual and religious authority,
including his own.
18 October 1995
Last updated 26 July 2022