The world stirs at the touch of dawn’s earliest light, filtering in sideways through morning mists, and the first breeze comes like a pleasant, waking sigh. So breath and movement awaken as dawn’s veil grows thin, and all life begins a new song.
Stepping out into the dawning world, you are received. Breathing it in, its life is now your own. Known so, carried inside and out, your limbs are freed as air and light move around you. Well rested or underslept, you are met; upset or calm, you will find it meets you on its own terms.
This is how nature teaches us to practice, and Tai Chi as an art emulates nature. And so each morning we can learn the five principles of Tai Chi from a master teacher: adherence, spontaneity, softness, yielding, and rejection of brute force.
Adherence in Tai Chi means receiving your opponent, maintaining continuous and sensitive contact until you discern them. It applies in all human interactions: physical, emotional, and verbal. Adherence is listening through contact.
Spontaneity in Tai Chi means responding to your opponent before they fully express their intent, countering after they have initiated, but before the full cycle has been expressed. Spontaneity comes of listening with all your senses.
Softness in Tai Chi means remaining relaxed in mind and body as the interaction takes form. If the mind is tense, the body will stiffen, and listening will cease. The practice of softness that listens is the cultivation of mysterious strength.
Yielding in Tai Chi means moving with an attack, not against it. By giving up intention you may express yourself in the movements of your opponent, but first know yourself! Yielding is self mastery that frees you from mastery by others.
Rejecting Brute Force in Tai Chi means meeting your opponent on your terms regardless of their approach. It neither resists nor flees a powerful attack, but meets it, follows it, and defeats it after it is spent. This is the essence of Tai Chi.
The ancient Chinese concept of Tai Chi is more than the martial art named after it. It is expressed everywhere there is form, in the harmony of all that is. It is how we may learn to dance with the world, and practice with the universe.
What about you? Are you ready to learn to embody the five principles? Are you willing to transform your interactions, and empower your relationships?
Wandering in the liminal spaces, walking between worlds, we meet her. She is the womb of all life, the essence of mystery, the resting place of souls. She is the undercurrent of rivers, depths of sea, eye of storms, the cavernous earth. She is both the soul of deep shadow and the wellspring of inspiration.
The Tao Te Ching sings of her this way:
It is hard to see what is barely there, but she is always with us. It is hard to keep one’s bearings at the liminal times, but that is when she guides us. She is not to be feared, but cherished; not resisted but embraced.
Have you ever looked into the abyss, into her eyes? Maybe you have seen her in a terrifying dream, or at a moment of imminent death. Maybe it was in the grip of mortal doubt, or in that most dreadful gap of irrevocable loss. She comes to us in these ways, plays no favorites. How small we are in the tides of her presence.
But what seems dark at first is often just the raw passion of our world, the same that quietly supports us in the calm. Yet whether in calm or storm, the beautiful giving earth is ever she who receives us as we are. We must love her as she is!
Oh, but the things we do in our blindness, when we don’t even see the world…and yet the she goes on expressing herself, unmoved, ever-giving. It is not any profound subterranean darkness in our beloved world that we ought to fear, but the darkness of seeing only ourselves.
A Buddhist sage once wrote, “The virtues I practice are not my own”. Whose virtues can any of us practice? Certainly not our own—they are the earth’s.
They are always with us, mothers of myriad worlds, lighting countless nights, each the pivot of her own system, pouring out her own flame whether there be a planet there to catch it or not. They are patterns in the sky, bright orbs, guiding lights, shining spheres—our own compassionate sun a sister among them.
A star, though equally exposed on all sides, cannot be taken from behind. She is fully herself, so transparent one may not look on her long: a beautiful picture of empowered vulnerability. She illumines all her own, effortless in her generosity, as each shines for her sisters of her mother’s light. Once, upon seeing our own world’s sister (the morning star), the Buddha said:
It is lovely to know the stars at the Summer Solstice, just as the sun dips below the Northwestern horizon, and before the moon rises high and bright to add her own magic to the clouds. We can see them only in the lee of our sun’s bathing light, hid behind our own world’s shoulder…oh for the beauty known only in the shadow of the earth!
How well do you know the touch of the stars? Have you ever pondered their pattern, felt their tides of sorrow or joy? Have you looked for them late in the evening, or come out to them before dawn? Have you let their light reach you?
But the touch of the stars is the song from which all things were made. It is the fire of all suns, a chorus of radiance, the music of their tug upon one another, their worlds, and their beings. It would be a sorrow to have lived, and to have missed it.
- Transmission of Light, translated by Thomas Cleary
- Kensho: The Heart of Zen, translated by Thomas Cleary