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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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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guide-lines

CLICK ON THE ABOVE TO OPEN A BRIEF PDF WITH FURTHER GUIDANCE

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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 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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tai chi enso

FIGHT SKILL PARTNERING TAI CHI
SOLO FORMS
CHI KUNG MEDITATION
Trained-in response:
un-hesitating action,
thought into space,
nowhere everywhere.

Repeated testing:
action and response,
internal/external,
reflexive thought.


Whole mind,
whole body:

action in balance,
with time in space.


Body becoming
aware of/with/by
itself. Vital posture,
inner pattern.


Just sitting –
standing/lying/walking.
Thought into space,
nowhere everywhere.


 

It can sometimes be useful to offer guidance in a written or diagrammatic way as a means of supporting our physical, practical experience. Here (above, and best viewed on a pc/laptop rather than a phone) I am detailing Tai Chi Form practice within a possible spectrum of neighbouring disciplines. It should be noticed that both directions of travel (or acquiring skill) are possible, and that these are not fixed, but fluid positions.
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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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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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alexandrine

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Fable

How often we need to repeat things, repeat a teaching, even to ourselves… Is this is why fables are read to the young? They are not necessarily easy to comprehend but they are easy to hear and follow, with their many repeated words and phrases, where often the child may join in, half-chanting their favourite parts aloud.
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on practice

Only meditate and awareness appears; then we must know that a human life – our own – is necessarily acted upon by that which is naturally occurring in the world – its obvious forms; yet also, from that which is naturally hidden – its mysterious forms. Then must we further recognise that our inclinations, in terms of mood, activity, health, are in their turn affected by the habit of the seasons, together with our maturing, beside the procession of Earth the Moon and Sun through the vault of Heaven’s Time.  Read the rest of this entry →

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bone matters

From elsewhere in these pages:

Imagination is valid awareness and may be as substantial as action…

It is relatively easy, given time, to develop awareness in the External ways of Tai Chi, by our senses and especially through partner work: the softest touch, an advance turned away, a cracking blow… Each of these leaving behind their resonance of energy – of their having been: as warm as breath, as cool as air, as bruise to the bone
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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 the Healing in Chi Kung

Inner-pattern, inner Stillness, inner Light: shadows fly!

Our times have become complicated, and evermore so. And yet, with the rapidity of change, and especially with the multiple cross-currents of mass inter-personal contact, it is words such as, Healing, Meditate, Retreat, Holism (among others), that catch our eye, appearing more in print now than they may ever have done before. How curious this is.

Is it that they offer comfort? Is it that they have an inherent talismanic power to ward-off anxiety, say; that their properties are as jewels that may be bought?
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on Pa Kua Chang ~ Way of Eight Palms

Of the three Taoist ‘internal’ martial arts, Pa Kua Chang is probably the most recent in its formal development. Though its origins are hidden, it emerges from the mountains of Kiangsu province in the early 1800’s and as such has a partly documented history. However, it takes its premise, its famous ‘way of eight changes’, from China’s cultural past at its most ancient – indeed from a time quite lost to us. Its reference, and gateway of understanding, is born of the I Ching – oldest of seers – and of that oracle’s preternatural pattern of the primary eight tri-grams set out around a circle.
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Hsing I ~ on the Form of the Mind

Hsing I, as an expression of Mandarin Chinese, does not readily translate into English, which is hardly surprising as, in my experience, neither is it readily understood by speakers of the language – at lease in a general sense. But perhaps its very shadow of meaning gives us a clue to its nature.

For first it is there, and present; then it is gone, and past. It is entirely direct, yet may take any direction. It may pre-empt, or abide: lighten or darken.

It is the deep, formless form of the essential mind.
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on TUI SHOU ~ push hands

Tui Shou is an art of internal balance, and pre-eminently so; where two move together as one, either to maintain a continuity in each other’s locus of chi, or to find the centre of that energy and subtly disrupt it. Done with an honest heart, it cannot be faked; and where the physical skill is lacking, or not yet learned, an intellectual grasp alone will not be sufficient, will in fact be a barrier. In the first place, its usual translation – as ‘push hands’ – maybe misleading: our minds jumping far too easily, too roughly, to the verb, to the push. ‘Sensing hands’ or even ‘Playing hands’ might serve us better, especially in beginning; only later and by its regular and patient practice may we seek its revelation, the true depth of knowledge that it may bring.
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