quartet

Here, brought together, are the written thoughts that accompany the four Guidance From The Solace Garden films made and published during April and May of 2020, when teaching in the studio has not been possible.
The films themselves are available to watch HERE:

SWINGS

Touchstone TAI CHI SWINGS are one of the great gifts of our discipline; seemingly simple yet holding deep truths. If, on each day that you practised them, you were afterwards to polish a shingle of wood, or, most traditionally, a vessel-gourd – then in just a few months that tile would start to glow, the gourd roundly to gleam, revealing their hidden inner pattern… As with the polishing, so with the SWINGS: months become years, becoming treasure.
And practically speaking: There is contained in these SWINGS enough to keep us moderately fit – supple, gentle in body and mind – into the days of our later lives.

STANDING

STANDING is another of the touchstone practices making up our syllabus in the studio. As a privilege of our HumanBeing it is at the core, the heart and marrow of the training. And as with the SWINGS, the apparently simple kung-fu of STANDING – meaning right-practice in the Way of the teaching, develops an inherent resource of deep, subtle strength: of chi – which is vital energy, of ching – which is generative force, of shen – which is clarity and power of spirit. Collectively these are san pao– our Three Treasures.
And physically speaking: The practice of STANDING, which is both at rest and yet spontaneous, encourages and gives rise to an overall general fitness that to many seems surprising. In particular, the quality and tone through the large muscle groups – thighs, seat, shoulders etc – results in a self-replenishing and enduring stamina.

WALKING

WALKING practice patterns take the gentle looseness opened-up by the SWINGS, the centred-ness disciplined in the STANDING, and move with these across the surface our world. A further ancestral privilege of our HumanBeing, they make us one with our own ground. Changing distance, they bring the far near. Being in time, they make the future present. They visit nowhere and everywhere, exterior and interior. Our ground may be solid – of Earth, but it is also of mystery – of Heaven, so that, in truth, a Way of meditation opens under our very feet.
And practically speaking: The WALKING, and in particular the stepping-in-parallel pattern, cultivates a tremendous natural strength that is both with and of balance, both with and of internal alignment and support.

SILK

IF there is one thing that attracts attention upon encountering someone at their TAI CHI practice it is their slowly-drawn movement, as if from deep in the ground, the apparently endless and uninterrupted flow, the softness and gentleness in their demeanour, in their spirit; and all this seen, noticed  – desired, perhaps – and taken in a glance.
How to obtain this quality, this virtue of the body-with-mind in motion; and how to name it?
Looking to Chinese tradition, a single thread, though travelling by diverse roads, reaches us from the ancestral past. It is a gift to the world, its reel unbroken since the time of the famed Yellow Emperor (around 4500BCE); it is of turning, of twining, of winding, of weaving – words that each may be preceded by a single syllable – which is, and how we shall call it: SILK. 
And physically speaking: We obtain the movement, the SILK in ourselves, by slowing right down. By working into the pattern of our living code, which is YinYang , we braid the soft to the yet softer, the mind to the heart, to come through time and practice into tremendous and deep resilience, which is the strength and nature of our HumanBeing.

Short film clip here: with many thanks to Angus Hudson for photography (2018).
WATCH IT FULL SCREEN!

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gravel garden

Afternoon, in hot sun – raking,
Tine snags at border,
Pebbles speckle on paving,
Breaking reverie – not of beach, but of Ryōanji –
To bring him home.

Past is passed, future comes presently. Written in
A letter from the world of emptiness:
Pay heed to this.

 

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a term within

These few thoughts, taken directly from my notebooks, thread to a close a year in which the gold of continuous practice has proven itself pre-eminent, where it moves softly from within.

How often it is the case: that the teaching happens after the teaching happens.
It is only very occasionally that the teaching happens at the moment of being given; which is transmission and works in the body as action, sometimes very powerfully, too.

It must (and perhaps) naturally frustrate us, that in everyday thinking we cannot leap beyond the capacity of our own intellect and its (our) personal characteristics, of rational analysis, say, or spontaneous subjective imagining. We all have felt this on occasion.
Yet, in meditation-awareness this does not hold true, as everything at once inter-penetrating, is released, and there is no blindness or darkness but diamond clarity.

Some courage is needed and is developed through the practice. In the words of Nyogen Senzaki* whom I re-read this year: “Where a seed meets sunshine and water it strives of itself to grow.”
And in my phrase: In entering the tiger’s cave we have to be prepared to meet the tiger.

I braved a tiger of my own this summer, howsoever briefly; a visitor from the east. These two comments come from the several that I made at the time:
Bewilderment, confusion, resistance naturally… But only at the moment of truly giving-up does anything like learning happen.
Encountering this beguiling, shimmering tiger, whom I perceive to be an enlightened creature, is like to trying to sweep up leaves in a wind-storm; there is no place to gather.

And to other enquirers on the Way:

Remember this: and as you are beginning now to find –
Right-Posture opens Right-Mind
Which is WU HSIN  無 心
Which is the change you are experiencing
(and will continue to experience)
In your Heart.
Pay heed to this.

*From Eloquent Silence,
teachings and letters of
Nyogen Senzaki 1876-1958
Tiger (on door panels – Muryoji Temple, Kushimonto)
by Nagasawa Rosetsu 1754-1799

©December 2109

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continuity

In a time of on-going uncertainty, guidance may, with seeming serendipity, appear and open of itself before us.  This, at least, has been my experience. In just such a manner, a short (at barely three pages) and informal teisho* of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi opened in the prop of my hand one evening recently at bedtime, and with such potency in its mirroring of my thoughts (reflecting my own path in teaching), that I determined upon waking in the morning to set down its kernel-matter as best I could, using my own words*.

All the teaching comes from practising, through which a way (Tao) is transmitted to us. To practise is to open up our (Tao) Mind and experience all the treasures coming from it. In other words: in order to realize our (Tao or) transmitted Mind, I/we practise.

We should practise right where we are, going step by step, appreciating our everyday lives. There really is no need to travel – what Suzuki calls ‘going sight-seeing’ (from school to school, discipline to discipline). And if you do travel, even though everyone will be friendly and happy to see you, you will surely stretch distance and money, and if you do find a teacher it will be difficult to understand her or study with him. Better to stay at home, watching yourself going slowly, step by step.
If you can go slowly, without any thought of gain, you are already a good student.

There is no trick, no secret on the way – no sudden enlightenment, just continuous practice.

Slowly you will realize that your practice is your true nature; even your thinking, as you practise, is your true nature. What you had previously thought to be your true nature, that part of you that you had educated into representing and being ‘you’, is not you.

I will ask you, as I ask myself: Who is that continuously practises? And that is not easy to answer, because I/you cannot determine or see the beginning of the practice, neither its end. Continuous means that it is without end or beginning, beyond even the span of our present life… So, it is difficult to say, who is practising right now.

One thing we should be clear about, is that we are not practising alone, or on our own. We are, instead, practising with all the ancestors – this is Suzuki’s phrase – I prefer to say that we are practising within the ancestral stream; that our practice is without gain or slip, neither good nor bad. That in continuous practice there is no waste in or of time, and that we do not practise for others or for ourselves.

Whatever we call it: Tao, Buddha, Wu… practise (verb) and practice (noun) is and brings forth its own sake, and our fundamental nature.

Just practise.

Thank you very much.




*Strictly speaking the Japanese word teisho
would indicate a formal Dharma talk, or even exegesis
of a koan. Suzuki, however,
knowing his California audience, was fond of the informal.
My short essay has been drawn from his Walk Like an Elephant in the
collection Not Always So: talks tape-recorded in situ and later transcribed.

*I undertake this is in a spirit of modesty rather
than comparison, finding it a useful way truthfully
to uncover the meaning heart of a great teacher’s words. 

©June 2019

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mind-drown

All at sea,
As drop enters ocean, ocean enters –
Full fathom five.



Kanmachi Festival Float
painting/detail
by Hokusai.
© Trustees of the British Museum,
with kind permission.

© June 2019

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TAO leaves falling, let fall

During the two-week meditation programme of August 2017 (see previous entry), quotations of others together with journal-notes and verse-exhortations of my own played a prominent part. In the days and weeks that have followed some of these persist so as to be often in my mind, blown there by autumn winds.

‘Just sitting’ is to get to our True Mind, the mind not accessible to thinking.
This mind cannot be consciously known by ordinary effort. An unusual effort is necessary.
This effort is ‘just sitting’.
Shunryu Suzuki-roshi.
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two weeks in August

The seed of this two-week meditation programme was planted around five years ago, sometime in 2012; I found that I wanted to see if I could convey to a group, or allow to happen within a group, something of what I was experiencing in my own simply-structured sitting practice. The occasional MEDITATIONs Study Days were the result, although these included standing, lying and walking, alongside just sitting. Later, finding that the one-off days were very much worthwhile, both to myself and those who came to them, I started to wonder if I could offer the same kind of experience over a sustained period, say two weeks; this August 2017, it became possible. I decided to keep a journal.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO DOWNLOAD THE JOURNAL AS A PDF BOOKLET

©September 2017

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privileges

After the early practice a question comes:

How is it?

Wu Tao Hsin 無道信 raises his eyes.

You ask me this morning, how it is?

He adjusts the twist of scarf at his neck, takes a sup of the soft-amber tea.

The Buddhists would say:
There is Form and there is Emptiness, Emptiness and Form.

A Taoist, if she utters at all, might say:
Wu!.. Just this.

Today I say to you, and I think perhaps most practically:
There is love and there is mortality, these two inseparable privileges of HumanBeing.
Love and Mortality.
This is how it is.

He takes a further sup, adding,

And these three answers are each the same.

©December 2016

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sky flowers

In response Wu Tao-hsin道信 pointed;
Holding nothing back
He gives everything away,
Even his name.
Yet the seeker, ever looking,
Does not see the flowers –
And time grows short.

 

Go through this practice –
You can taste the one thing
And not be two, and not be three.
When you have tasted one, rinse your mouth
To be thirsty again.

 

©June 2016

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go deeper

Understand this: that I make these observations in order to let them go.

In the wrestling act of writing ‘on paradox’, companion piece to this (see previous entry), I experienced a series of felt, entirely natural, ‘openings’ – as though all the windows in the house, the road, the town, were suddenly thrown wide…
Light dazzles: tears come, unbidden.
To make clear at once: there is not necessarily a sense of personal advance here, certainly no sense of claiming such, but there is without doubt a sense of intuitive response, of going deeper. I draw attention to it as a means of encouragement therefore, offering a direction of travel.
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on paradox

Following a period of practice – and it may be counted in years – it will happen that the body begins to find a balance, naturally. It is at this liminal place, as between dawn and day that the mind, gradually or suddenly, is set free.

In treading the heavily wooded path toward the numinous, distant as a crystal mountain, I have recently found myself returning to the use of paradox as a means of cutting through: to truth not far – nearer than near… This for myself but also in the spurring-on of others. Or, put the other way around and therefore paradoxically: Paradox seems to be using me.
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seventeen syllables

 

 

 

 

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on marking a passing

It is written in the Tradition* that Humankind follows Earth, that Earth follows Heaven, that Heaven follows Tao – the meta-matter of Nature entire.

Seen from here, in Earth and in our lives: This is the procession of Season by which we measure our span.

Seen from Heaven: This is the pattern of Form, that is elementary; our meagre comprehension of time and dimension falling away.

Tao has not regard of itself, as mind does not see Mind; is ineluctable, as dark as light, aware unknowing… and the wonder by which we, unaccountably, stir: taken in grief, taken in joy… taken in grief, taken in grief, taken in grief… and at the last, taken in love.

 

*from the brush of Lao Tzu, entry 25
©October 2014

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retreat, return, backwards-flowing

Much can be learned from Distance – in particular the distance allowed us by Time.

Needing a little distance just recently, a little wilderness, and following an inner prompt, I took myself to the north of England, to the skies and changeable autumn weather of the high Yorkshire moors; the journey there, the finding of an isolated cottage falling into place with wu wei ease.

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breathes in’s heels

From Chuang Tzu the sentence, ‘the True Man breathes in his heels’, has for a long time – and I mean many years – lain in my mind, occasionally rising to the surface, fish-like, to take a moment of air; and again just recently…

Chuang Tzu is full of these unexplained insights: twinkles in the overall master-work. Meanings are partially felt, only.

Those quick to claim certainty might exclaim: “Here! Here is proof of the well-spring of Taoist alchemy – the esoterica of heel-breathing, the mystic path to longevity. Let the teaching be freely expounded (or charged for!), its secret methods explained…”
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the Four Dignities

Standing Lying Walking Sitting

 

To live a retiring life, Taoist or otherwise, to follow hermitage ways, it might indeed be possible to embody the dictum: when hungry, eat – when tired, rest; although, as with any ‘way’, this too might take many years to master, or to make artless. For most of us it would not be practical; we cannot just retreat, leave off and take to the hidden hills. It is rather the case that if, in fact, we desire to bring something of that lost naturalness into our lives, we must track entirely differently; we must turn again, lace-up our stoutest boots, come down into the valley and with a wind at our backs wear our way with the world rather than seek to leave it.
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on White Tiger, Green Dragon

  • Taoism has a fondness for symbols and patterns largely taken from the natural world and seasons. Presumably these arose as a means of passing on teaching and traditions; of simply having a conversation without misunderstanding. As in the ancient world, so now.
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TAO leaves

Watching forest bamboo at a distance, on a hillside maybe, full of wind and swaying vigorously, it becomes difficult for us to discern a tree singly – a bough rising from earth to heaven – harder still to pick out an individual leaf. We have to move closer. Then we have it: shape, colour, manner of growing, blade-edged and tongue supple. These we may consider leaves:

  • If our practice in awareness brings us to a place of intuition then it becomes practical to act in light of that intuition. Why would one not?
  • Draw on, gently to open the heart of our minds, and know at last the mind of our heart.
  • It begins in stillness.
  • There is patience and there is perseverance: both are needed.
  • An un-quiet mind, that which Ch’an calls ‘monkey’, cannot be subjugated into quietness. Rather, let it have its time of randomness. Quietness may steal in when you least expect it.
  • Our postures should have clarity outside and in, with the beauty of balance.
  • Understanding follows quietness.
  • Action is a consequence of consciousness; our practice is to make both right.
  • Truth understood changes truth perceived: be uncertain therefore of absoluteness.
  • Treat all gently.
  • Imagination is valid awareness and may be as substantial as action.
  • Rest in spontaneity. (Alan Watts: thank you)
  • Resist past and future, instead observe the seasons.
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on the composition of One-ness, way of Realization

“The following short piece was written in 2012: it is now 2018. Coming upon it unexpectedly, I thought, ‘No, this is not quite how I would write this now.’, and wondered if perhaps to take it down. Instead I have decided to let it stay, as a reminder that even our discoveries in awareness change and deepen through the arc of time and experience, and there are still some ready truths herein .” The author.

In our study of Tai Chi, whether it be in learning Forms or making application of postures, it is most often the case that we are exploring their inherent fluid duality.  This is the Yin/Yang of things, as we have learned to pronounce: bravely assuming the ancient Chinese as a short-cut to discussion, its meaning borne out in testing, where each posture, either in movement or stillness, has indeed a combination of these two inseparable Virtues at its core. And yet… and yet…  Beyond satisfaction, where actually does that get us?

Well, certainly it assists our journey. There is no doubt that having an understanding of yin with yang – ‘knowing’ them, as writes Lao Tzu – is to have an insight into supra-universal nature, and we must surely thrill to its spark in us. Yet even that ‘knowing’ does not reveal the whole. It is but a component part. Knowledge alone cannot deliver the self to Oneness; we must have a means, a method.
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