follow the Horse

The beginning of the year: waking in a cold room, and a dream so close that there is a moment to know it before the inevitable dissolve… the elusive meaning of Embrace Tiger, Return to the Mountain comes to me with a felt-in-the-body clarity… just as the Year of the Horse canters in…

Translation of the Tai Chi Form names – Chinese characters into English – is in some instances uncertain or lost, but here the four principal images must surely be true to their origin. They appear again and again in early Chinese texts, poetry and painting – hardly surprising given the natural world from which they emerge; so heavy are they with symbolism that even today they resonate.

Two nouns:  Two verbs:

Tiger:  active, life-Force of mind and body, of oneself…
Mountain:  stillness, maturity, landscape of meditation… up*
Embrace:  holding close, tender…
Return:  that which comes before and goes beyond…


Gently take hold of yourself, seek out a place where to be still; there spontaneously rest, know your mind, until prompted in Nature to move again.

This is an oblique intuition; hard to listen to or even hear amidst the noise of the valley, and it is surely no accident that in our Form its step is to the barely-seen diagonal Right behind us.
And, by the way, my interpretation has absolutely nothing to do with its martial application.

… And what of the Horse, rising, silvered by the crescent moon as the Snake descends to shadow? Their difference in locomotion is immediately apparent, reminding me of the famous proverb* that admonishes not to ‘paint legs on a snake’; ie to see things as they really are and not to arrogantly pantomime them into something you might wish them to be. Snake is snake as Horse is horse.

Time is said to be fleet-off-the-hoof in Horse years, and many Horse folk characteristically embody the seeming paradox of their four-legged namesakes, able to twin sociability and running together with a mane-tossing independence and earth-stamping stubbornness.

Follow the Horse… It’s all going to be a bit of a party!


*The countries of far eastern Asia – China, Korea, Japan – each have their particular traditions concerning hermits, sages, and Immortals dwelling in remote mountains; very attractive and appealing to my mind. For an example, try to seek out the chapter ‘Yasenkanna’(part 3) in Trevor Leggett’s The Tiger’s Cave. Also my verse Shan Tung Hsuan amongst these pages.
*This proverb has, I think, a distinctive Ch’an (Zen) flavour.

© Lunar New Year Janaury 2104