◦ thirteens

Here, is the article written to accompany the teaching of the Thirteen Element Short Form which took place over the five days of a residential retreat, hidden away in the hills near Lucca, Italy in the April of 2024, arranged and facilitated in co-ordination with Tuscany Arts & Healing.


To make a Short Form in the Yang family’s Tai Chi tradition is principally a means of returning to the classical – one might say returning to the Mountain – an exercise in concision with the aim of experiencing and examining more nearly, more thoroughly and in the moment, a set of Tai Chi postural archetypes, seceding these from the historically more recent one hundred and eight element Long Form, from the silken maze of its many repetitions, howsoever beautiful they are.

So a Short Form is never a mere précis, or edit, but something complete, whole, having its own origin tradition, disclosing through brevity a self-sustaining continuity, drawn from a reel whose thread does not easily break by being over-extended. That the flow and thread of a Long Form does at times break is almost always because fatigue comes in – which might be physical, emotional, of memory, of the spirit – and with fatigue comes approximation: the Form loses form.
It must be a truth that having not the plenitude of time to immerse in the Tao 道 of continuous practice needed to produce the skills of Long Form mastery, we might find joy in a shorter setting – to “give up that and choose this”, as says Lao Tzu – to be content, to be at rest there.


The classical Chinese world has a particular regard and fondness for certain kinds of pattern, characteristically finding a playfulness in their complexity. Favoured patterns are those that repeat and/or replicate not only by being placed side by side, but, and more typically, by being placed on top of and below each other, and with an understood dimensional transparency too. One might describe them as Layer Patterns.

As the ways of Tai Chi spring very much from this long-ago world it stands to reason that they also are informed with this kind of layer pattern making. And it would therefore follow that upon a pattern, say, of down-to-earth practical skills – being primarily of the physical world and human actions – a pattern of what might be called natural mysticism could be layered – being primarily of the subtle world, that which is hidden and out of reach. That these layers are not separate but interpenetrating would also hold true.

From the scant early writings known collectively as the Tai Chi Chuan Ching 太极拳谱, a number-pattern of THIRTEEN emerges in various arrangements, offering instruction. That it is almost certainly the case, according to this guidance, that the first Tai Chi Forms, the Wudang Forms, were of just thirteen postures also, further underlines it as a number of significance common to the times.

Note: Tai Chi Chuan Ching 太极拳谱 where Chuan means Fist, referencing the martial arts, and Ching, meaning Treatise or Record.

Other than our Short Form’s thirteen postures and their sequence, three more thirteen patterns will directly concern us in the making of the SHI SAN SHI 十三式

The first is in Abiding Principles, being a teaching pattern or grammar that underpins all that we practise. The second is of Practical Skills, and the third of Natural Mysticism, these two in each case being divided into eight and five to arrive at thirteen.

Note: Shi San 十三 is thirteen, the third character Shi 式 means component-type or form; for us it means a posture, here given the word Element. Additionally, and in this context, it bears the sense of implying that Element’s within-dwelling power, or Virtue Té 德.


Here the thirteen takes the form of instructions that would traditionally have been given orally; exhortations to be learned and declaimed by rote in in the form of a unison chant, no doubt accompanied by the bok-bok beat of a wood-fish drum.
Our contemporary approach, being more sympathetic, makes a list of them, commencing:

  • First in the Mind then in the Body
  • Awareness in the belly centre / fu dantien 腹丹田
  • Golden Thread released and vital
  • Head at the crown / baihui 百会 touches Heaven
  • Shoulders and elbows low, relax / song
  • Chest settled, back broad: as lying-down standing-up
  • Waist and hips entirely loose
  • Know where is fullness / yang , where emptiness / yin
  • From the ground to the head, stability through balance, all as one
  • Force nothing, work from in and with softness
  • Breath is even, knowing movement, knowing stillness, both
  • Continuity in practice
  • When in the Body then in the Mind again

In being steadfast, we should endeavour that these principles be always present in our practice. In other words, there being nothing of Tai Chi that falls outside them, these thirteen must, given constancy and time, become fully embodied.

: comprises the Eight Directions and Five Steps.

The Eight Directions are those of our universal compass:

The cardinals North N / East E / South S / West W
The ordinals Northeast NE / Southeast SE / Southwest SW / Northwest NW

Note: In the historical Chinese world – that is to say the imperial world – South is almost always placed at the top of the compass, a fact that may confound us. Explanation is to be found in diligently sifting the overlay of both Practical and Mystical patterns.

The Five Steps are:
Step Forward (f) / Step Back (b) / Step Right (r)
Step Left (l) / Step Centre (c)

Note: The Five Steps can also mean the movement, turn or shift of body weight between the f b r l + c without an actual footstep being made. And stepping Centre may mean stepping/moving into central equilibrium as well as stepping to a single-weighted posture, centrally balanced on one foot, further designated as + rc or + lc.

Unlike its sister arts of PaKua Chang, which moves upon and around a rim of circles, or Hsing-I which, in eschewing circles, takes a direct straight line from here to another here, Tai Chi places itself exactly at the centre of its own compass, being inherently aware of the eight universal directions. As a consequence, where making a turn or directional step, our centre and compass, while maintaining its bearings, is not fixed but moves with us as the Form moves. This is just one of several ways of knowing stillness within movement.
Add in time and spatial dimension, and the patterns of Practical Skills and Natural Mysticism must begin to elide.

: comprises the Eight Trigrams and Five Elements.

Where past is passed, future comes presently.

Here the Eight Trigrams of the I Ching 易經 – the symbols of China’s truly ancient record of divination – are layered upon its equally ancient
Pa-kua 八卦, its geomantic compass. As there is more than one arrangement and a multiplicity of possibilities to be considered in this ancestral wisdom tradition, coordinate directions have been omitted here.

The Eight Trigrams Pa-kua 八卦 are:
Heaven / Earth / Lake / Fire
Thunder / Wind / Water / Mountain


The Five Elements Wu-hsing 五行 are:
Earth E / Metal M / Water W / Wood W / Fire F

Being of the subtle realm the Five Elements are composed not only of their existent physical matter but of their Virtuous properties and actions also, mutually arising and being, mutually falling away and departing. They further correlate with the five principal organs in the body, being understood in terms of vitality Chi , also of healing and medical intervention, making an additional layer, where:

Spleen is E / Lung is M / Kidney is W / Liver is W / Heart is F

Note: At the threshold of natural mysticism, through movement and/or in meditation, it may be that we experience currents, or awareness, or influences gathering round us to which we are unused. In short, we may feel bewildered. This is of the natural part of mysticism – in the sense that we have it in common to feel this way – and intellect alone will not nor cannot source or resolve these currents.
Another way must be found, which is to be guided at the heart wu hsin 無心 and with absolute sincerity. To enter upon unknowing, to be gentle of ourselves, to make still, to let in time: to accept love.
The Oxherd Meditations, at its opening, famously delineates this situation, then proceeds, offering a progress that may, in allowing ourselves compassion, flow directly from it.
A contemporary account begins:

In the pasture of this world, I endlessly push aside tall grasses in search of the OX.
Following rivers of no name, lost in a daze of crossing paths on far-off mountains,
My strength giving out and my vitality exhausted,
I cannot find the OX.
At rest, un-resting,
I hear only locusts chittering and chirring through the forest at night.


108: a number of Eminence.
As so much else that reaches us from the East, we cannot fully know its origins in being revered, in being implicated with wisdom. That 108 is a number of record in the ancient ways, becoming ways of ritual, particularly in Hinduism then Buddhism, and especially in terms of repetition – of chants, of mantra, of striking bells, of pilgrim footsteps, of fingering mala beads – is plain, and clearly so; even today it is a number to sit down beside in faith.
You might say that 108 is a temple number, a sacred number, a monastery number too, and as we know that the physical practices of Tao, its martial and oracular arts, Tai Chi Chuan and I Ching, were most likely systemised and codified within monastic precincts, or under their influence – most notably of Wudang Mountain – it is perhaps reasonable to see why 108 might be designated and appropriated to its Forms.
That it also points to stages in overcoming hindrances on a journey toward spiritual completion, must make it a number of profound significance for some.

Note: The mountains of Wudang, rising in the province of Hubei of modern-day China, became, during the Tang and Ming dynasties, a geographical centre of Tao and Buddha activity, drawing many disciples. Temples and monasteries multiplied; palaces of devotion and ritual to be sure, but also akin to universities in their breadth of teaching and learning.
It is here that Taoist Immortals sported in the clouds, visiting deities such as Shou Lao, to sip celestial teas and play poetry games under the watchful eye of the divinity, Zhen Wu: the Perfected Warrior, Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven, guardian patron of martial artists. It is in Wudang too that the practice of Tai Chi Chuan began to be set down and disseminated, arriving with us these many centuries later, bringing stability, solace, and a Way.

If you would like to obtain a comprehensive copy of these Notes, to include a Table outlining the Thirteen Element Short Form together with its attributes – and/or – If you would like to have a complete illustrated edition of my contemporary account of The Oxherd Meditations in Ten Pictures, including a Foreword and Guide To Use, they are each, or the two together available where a consideration is made, in the form of a donation, in reflection of their value, as Treasure, and for the commitment of time given over in their preparation.

Please request your copies using the email treasure@timstudio.co.uk
And you can find the Donate facility here>>>
Thank you very much.


©April 2024

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and if good things come in threes…

Make the body stable: use Posture –
Make the mind stable: use Time –
Sit with This.

◦ ◦
All that you are is contained herein, and
All that you are is contained herein, and
All that you are is contained herein,
Herein surrender.

◦ ◦ ◦
To the question: Why is our practice, which is training, which is also art, seemingly so endlessly rewarding?
The answer: Because it is True. If it were not true both we and it would tire.

◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦

Along the way we may encounter obstacles or even dead ends, but if we can return to the path it will never play us false. And because of these principles it will also never end, though we may find an ending.

These three good things are responses and reflections of an on-going enquiry into the
Taoof time, repetition, ancestral stream, karma; of guidance we might seek to impart in encouraging our younger self, which is that if we can let an ease of time into our study, leave off hurrying, we will find that the Way of Repetition changes things, changes us, subtly alters us. Instead of same again same again, same again becomes new again, and then new again.
Something happens!
You could say that being-time happens.

And how it bears within the spirit of a human life such treasure as to enlighten our ordinary darkness.
And how it shines in our practice then.


©March 2023
Year of the Rabbit

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at Lordly Ease

The quiet sage depicted in this undoubtedly Taoist image seems to have slipped sideways from his more proper and upright meditation to reflect on the flow of the world as it passes by the rocky promontory that makes his seat. In fact this is a named posture in the lexicon of meditation, a settled point between the dignities of sitting and lying, known as… ‘at lordly ease’.

Originally an ink drawing it is reproduced here (somewhat sketchily) from the famous and charmingly named Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, a book first known in the late 1600s in China, added to over the next one hundred and fifty years well into the Qing dynasty, found also in Edo period Japan and late Joseon Korea. Its fascicles comprise text together with many pages of examples in the ways of painting, particularly of nature: of rock formation, of clouds, of hooping boughs, of rain and waves, of bamboo, of vivid studies played in a few deft brush-marks of folk labouring or at rest. It is, as was intended, a ‘how to’ and teacher of painting, yet also a key in readability to viewers of finished works, where individual elements sourced in the manual could be brought together in making a scene, an entire view, so as to be understood that, ‘Here is a farmstead under storm, here an orchard of blossoming plum… Here a misted moonrise, here oxen ploughing’.

Furthermore, examining the image of this monk at lordly ease they might interpret not only the figure in meditation, but also the figure as mountain – in the overall shape, line of the shoulders, or even as mountain landscape – the raised knee and folds in the cloth, where mountain itself is a living representation of meditation, a place of elevation, of refuge, of stillness, of unknowing.

Lastly: it should be noted that the phrase ‘at lordly ease’ is in no wise gendered as to its sense; it is never only masculine. For example many embodiments of compassion, of Kuan Yin in feminine guise, are given this affirming characterisation. You will find three of these pictured at the end of my short article, written 2013 – Retreat, return, backwards-flowing – found elsewhere in these pages.




© March 2023

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the six ◦ Healing Sounds ◦ of CHI KUNG

SOUNDS can be integral to CHI KUNG/TAO YIN, especially as part of a healing regimen. They act by bringing an absolute focus to the moment at hand, bearing an intimate association to the organ they each are paired with in both a physiological and sympathetic sense. Where physical, emotional, or spiritual dullness may be occurring, their agency is of release, of restorative balance, of light. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, they may effect a continuity between the healing we are cultivating in ourselves and the healing we seek to promote in our immediate and wider society.

Sound, as a natural phenomenon of our world, is and has been in all places and times pre-existing of our current state of Human∙Being; it is our task through practice, repetition, with joy in creating it ourselves, to bond intrinsically with the elemental forces that surround us, of season, sun and moon, time and tide, and with the mysteries that therein lie.

SSiii Mid Five Seasons
LUNGS Metal ZZzzz High Autumn
HEART Fire HO (short)
HHrrr (sustained)
Low Summer
KIDNEYS Water CHWiii Mid Winter
LIVER Wood SHrrr Mid Spring
SPLEEN Earth WHooo Mid to Low Late Summer

In the main, and for our purposes, the sounds are made on a sustained pitch paired with a posture of our CHI KUNG. They may also be chanted rhythmically – although in that practice the order would be different than given here.

They may also be fired, canon-like, as a loud and abrupt exhortation, acting then as a talisman of self-protection in situations of challenge or perceived danger: HO!

©January 2023

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one more step

Here, three thoughts arising, noted separately yet flecked with the same gold.

In practising together:

The teaching is not and comes not from above but works beside us.
Likewise, the teacher… not above but beside.

Which prompts the kung-an/koan 公案 of practising solo:

Whence comes the teaching then,
And where the teacher?



Passed a colour-field
On her way to samadhi –
Leap oblivion.



To have Faith in Self is not to be socially selfish or self-centred but to be released from the need
for, and from the desire of, the next, the next, the last and the next stimulation.
By oneself, one more step; a life in a day.

On the images:
A visit from Sun Lu-Tang,
Wu colourfield,
One more step.

See also On Paradox and
Mind-Push elsewhere
in these pages.

©September 2021



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Many accounts of the Ox-herding Pictures have been made through the centuries, each individual to their maker, yet becoming widely known by generations of ‘passing-on’.

As a sequence they have very often been set – and by some eminent teachers, too – during a period of retreat, over a week say, as a means of focus or adherence for those present, gathered to deepen their awareness and meditation.

It should also be said that context of the picture’s history and dissemination is nowadays easily available for any who wish further to pursue their own OX, should that wilful creature be errant or at large!

Here they are presented simply enough in a contemporary account, following the almost-folk tradition, and to mark the Lunar Year 2021.

To order full-text copies of The Ox-herding Meditations in Ten Pictures, click on the OX calligraphy and follow the details given there. For jaunty promo film, click on the image below.

© February 2021

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If when shadow comes, unquiet, restive in early morning,
Breaks-in from darkness into darker-ness,
Turns sorrow’s stone, whets doubt’s edge, sparks fear’s flint,
Then set your hands with Mind upon your Heart, wholeheartedly 無心 to say and say, and say aloud:
This is, and we are, and you are, and I am the solid ground.
Waking, say this.
LIGHT will hold you then.



In teaching as much as in learning, even in the transmission of Mind, there is always a natural limitation of Human·Being.
It is only of Heaven, of Tao in Continuing, that teaching is naturally unlimited, created limitless by UNKNOWING.
Ever thus, and in being down-to-earth, we are transformed.



If Tiger is Earth with Moon and Personal Spirit, then Dragon is Heaven with Sun and Universal Spirit.
This being so, it follows that we can only know or realise the Universal through the Personal, through a personal journey. So…



Coming to a threshold, in company of another, resting there: such is comfort.
Then stepping through, solus: such is dying before living, before LIVING.



New Year’s Moon: enters the Metal OX.
This is, and we are, and I am, and you are as strong as.


These indicators represent
a possible Day of Hours –
passages of meditative attention.
WU HSIN calligraphy, ink on card,
is by Anzu Sato and
reproduced here with gratitude.

©January 2021

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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:


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 is another of the touchstone practices making up our syllabus in the studio. As a privilege of our Human‧Being 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 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 Human‧Being, 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 and/or Circle Walking, cultivates a tremendous natural strength that is both with and of balance, both with and of internal alignment and support.


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 Human‧Being.

Short film clip here: with many thanks to Angus Hudson for photography (2018).

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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, working in the body as action, sometimes very powerfully, too.

It must 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 2019

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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 realise 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 humorously 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 realise 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, even where set apart in solitude. We are, instead, practising with all the ancestors – this is Suzuki’s phrase – I like 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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All at sea,
As drop enters ocean, ocean enters –
Full fathom five.

Kanmachi Festival Float
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.

Sit with Heart,
Sit with Marrow,
Sit with Tea.

The taste of Chan (meditation) is the taste of Cha (tea).
Chinese temple saying.

Truth not far, nearer than near.

Raise the posture in Faith.

Mind behind mind.

Empty like this! Empty like this!


Dedication: Sanskrit with Chinese.

Earth buries as
Ore despoils as
Water drowns as
Wood founders as
Fire blasts as
Fire comforts as
Wood contrives as
Water saves as
Ore conserves as
Earth unearths us

I aspire to One Mind, Dream Awakening, Without Boundaries,
and sometimes sitting on my black cushion I approach these states.
In the far more difficult ‘just sitting’ of daily life,
there remains a dismaying separation between what I know and what I am.
Peter Matthiessen.

Sit with WU 
Sit with MU  
Sit with This 
Sit with Living  
Sit with Dying 
Sit with End 
Sit with Beginning 

There you are! There you are! There you are!
Who is this? Who is this? Who is this?

If you were not born in this world, there would be no need to die.
To be born in this world is to die, to disappear.
Shunryu Suzuki-roshi.

The quotations of Suzuki are taken from
The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki
(biography) by David Chadwick.
Peter Matthiessen quote is from his
Nine Headed Dragon River.
I have not sought permissions but hope that in the
spirit of companionship they would happily give them.
The temple saying and invocation
of Kuan Yin are traditional.
Other material: the author.
©September 2017

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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.


©September 2017

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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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