Friday, August 22, 2014

I do more than T'ai Chi

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In November and December 2013, I wrote about what my daily workout looks like:
  • T'ai Chi
  • meditation
  • Shaolin Brocade
  • Qigong by Jesse Tsao
  • 5-Animal Qigong
  • 5 Tibetan Rites
  • stretching
  • core workout for cyclists
  • resistance training
  • aerobic workout
One of my instructors was a sort of purist.  He believed that T'ai Chi was all we needed to be healthy and strong.  No need for pushups, for example.

I didn't believe in that.  I love sports, I love exercise, and if time weren't such an issue now, I'd be working out a few hours a day.  In fact, when I lived in Dubai, and was cycling regularly, I was working out two to three hours a day on average over a 7-day week.    

In general I am interested in a variety of things and I enjoy doing a variety of things.

Keep in mind that T'ai Chi isn't just the form or practice.  It is also a mindset, and a spirit, and a philosophy.  It is a way of being and living.  In this important respect, I can bring T'ai Chi into anything and everything I do, and so can you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

When I get distracted

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I have an active mind.  I love to think.  Often my insights come at the most unexpected moments, in the most unlikely places.  Coming out of a nap in bed, for example. 

So when I do sitting meditation, or when I practice T'ai Chi, my mind is probably nothing like what experts or masters instruct us to do.  I have thoughts galore in my head. 

Over the years, however, I've learned not to follow everything that experts and masters say.  So if I am particularly full of thoughts, and rather distracted, going into meditation or T'ai Chi, I simply let myself be and leave all of that alone. 

I do my best everything to follow T'ai Chi principles.  Which means that when I meditate, I keep myself quiet and still.  My mind might be a pond with flowing or swirling waters, but by keeping quiet and still I gradually settle the pond and clear its waters. 

I relax, and root, and center, when I practice the form, and that settles my mind enough to have a truly fine workout. 

On the whole, I don't criticize or judge myself for having a distracted mind.  That is simply part-and-parcel of my nature.  To me, following the Tao is to acknowledge and respect, and work with, not against, my nature.

Monday, August 18, 2014

When I lose my balance

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When I lose my balance, I calmly recover it.

I may be stepping or kicking, sweeping my leg across, or simply raising it.  If I should lose my balance, I don't get tense trying to maintain it.  That seems to be our tendency: That is, we fight to avoid falling out of movement, and that is not abiding by T'ai Chi principles.

When I do my daily T'ai Chi, I'm not performing for anybody, I'm not demonstrating anything, I'm not in competition at a tournament.  Rather I am simply practicing.

I work at re-centering myself, in a relaxed, natural manner.  Sometimes that's all I need to keep my balance, and I go forward with the movements.  But sometimes I just set my foot down, pause a moment or two, and continue on.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Peace à la Buddhism, by Kadam Morten

Kadam Morten Clausen is a Buddhist teacher in the New Kadampa tradition, a modern, worldwide tradition founded by Buddhist master Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. He is the Resident Teacher at the Kadampa Meditation Center NYC as well as the Vajra Light Buddhist Center in Hartsdale, NY. 
Transcript -- The whole sort of atheist critique of religion doesn't really address Buddhism insofar as Buddhism is established really as a science of the mind. It's based on observation of the mind. And everything that Buddha taught can be empirically verified through your own experience. In other words, you can test it. Actually, I think it's a very interesting science because you're the scientist. You're not just reading about what other scientists have done and, you know, confirmed and so forth like that, but you, yourself, are the experimenter. You experiment with your own mind. 
What Buddha basically said is that we can understand through our own experience that happiness comes from inner peace. And we can explore that in our own experiences and see, well, that's true, happiness does come from inner peace. And maybe even more importantly, we can also then establish, I have the capacity for inner peace in my own mind. In fact, we might even say that through training of the mind, through practicing meditation, you can see that it's actually not difficult. All we need to do is learn to let go of our unhappy thoughts, and our mind automatically becomes peaceful. 
So in other words, you don't have to, like, make your mind peaceful, you just have to let go of your unhappy thoughts, your angry thoughts or your anxious thoughts. 
And what happens through that is that you then begin to experience a sense of peace, a deep inner peace. And you can verify that through your own experience. And through that, you get in touch then with your own potential for peace or other virtuous minds, like love or compassion or joy or kindness, generosity. In other words, you can verify it through your own experimentation that that is the case.

What we then discover is that the mind has this incredible capacity for profound peace or, we might say, for limitless love, for limitless kindness. That's where I find some fault with the -- you know, as you're calling it, the "new atheism." Simply because I don't think they are paying enough attention to the science of the mind through which we can establish, so to speak, an alternative science, but it's equally, empirically verifiable that there is a spiritual dimension to our being that you can discover through your own practice, in fact, that there is this, yeah, you might say a divine element to our nature because we discover that the mind has this capacity for limitless love, limitless compassion, limitless joy.
Some people may pit science against religion: Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, for example, against God.  But science and religion can certainly co-exist, and in their essence may even mirror one another.  In this respect, I appreciate what Morten relates, and it's very relevant for our study and practice, our meditation and reflection, in T'ai Chi.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Elaborating Wu Wei, by Edward Slingerland

In this 5-part Big Think Mentor workshop Edward Slingerland teaches you how to apply the ancient Chinese concept of Wu-Wei to your everyday life. Following the teachings of four philosophers (Confucius, Laozi, Mencius, and Zhuangzi) you will learn strategies for attaining the seemingly paradoxical state of "effortless action." In other words, you will learn how to cultivate your inner spontaneity - how to try not to try. Slingerland is an expert in Chinese thought, comparative religion, and cognitive science. This workshop is an accompaniment to his latest book Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity.
This first video lesson is an introduction to idea of effortless action, the concepts Wu-Wei and De, and the four philosophers that will be covered in the workshop.
Being in the flow, being in the zone.  Yes, athletes sometimes find themselves in this state, while in the midst of competition or performance.  T'ai Chi practice promotes wu wei.  T'ai Chi practice facilitates wu wei.  Take time to learn about it, make effort to practice, attend the right classes, and get it a try in your everyday life.  What Slingerland relates, in this and the preceding article, is really good for that learning.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Introducing Wu Wei, by Edward Slingerland

Dr. Edward Slingerland on wu wei, the Confucians and the Daoists' key to political and spiritual success. Slingerland's is the author of Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity
Transcript.  Wu wei is an early Chinese term that means literally no doing or no trying. But I think a better translation is effortless action. And it's the central spiritual ideal for these early thinkers I look at. So the Confucians and the Daoists. And what it looks a little bit like flow or being in the zone as an athlete. So you're very effective. You're moving through the world in a very efficient way -- social world and physical world. But you don't have a sense of doing anything. You don't have a sense of effort. You don't have a sense of yourself as an agent. You kind of lose yourself in the activity you're involved in. 
And you're not only efficacious in terms of skill in the world. You also have this power that the early Chinese call -- unfortunately the Mandarin pronunciation is duh which sounds kind of funny. But it's often translated as virtue. It means like charismatic power. Charismatic virtue. It's this energy you kick off, an aura that you kick off when you're in a state of wu wei. And this is why these early thinkers want wu wei because for both of them, the Confucians and the Daoists it's the key to political and spiritual success. So if you're a Confucian getting into a state of wu wei gives you this power duh. And this allows you to attract followers without having to force them or try to get them to follow you. People just spontaneously want to follow you.  If you're a Daoist it's what relaxes people, puts them at ease and allows you to move through the social world effectively without harm. So everybody wants this because it's a very -- it's the key to success. But they're all involved in this tension then of how do you try to be effortless. How do you try not to try.

So the first strategy is the early Confucian strategy which I refer to as carving and polishing strategy which is essentially you're gonna try really hard for a long time. And if you do that eventually the trying will fall away and you'll be spontaneous in the right way. So you practice ritual, you engage in learning with fellow students and eventually somehow at some point you make the transition from trying, to having internalized these things you're learning and being able to embody them in an effortless way. The second strategy, the uncarved block or going back to nature strategy is the Daode jing or the primitivists Daoists. And they essentially think the Confucian strategy is doomed. If you are trying to be virtuous, if you're trying to be a Confucian gentleman, you're never gonna be a Confucian gentleman. Anyone trying to be benevolent is never gonna actually be benevolent. They're just gonna be this hypocrite. 
So their strategy is undo all this learning that you've been taught. So get rid of culture, get rid of learning, actually physically drop out of society. So they want you to go live in the countryside in a small village. It looks a lot like kind of 1960s hippie movement, you know. Back to nature and get rid of technology. Get rid of all of the bad things that society has done to us. There's good points to this strategy, too. One of the main insights I think of the Daoists, these early Daoists is a way in which social values, social learning can corrupt our natural preferences. So we're, you know, body images in advertising teach women that they have to be anorexic if they're attractive. We're taught that we always need to have the latest iPhone. So, you know, we have a perfectly good iPhone but then we see the new iPhone and suddenly our old iPhone isn't good anymore. 
There's a lot of good literature on this in psychology on the hedonistic treadmill. We're never quite happy with what we have. As soon as we get it we want the next thing. And the Daode jing thinks Confucianism encourages that. And the solution to get off that hedonistic treadmill was to just stop and go back to nature and be simple. So that's the uncarved box strategy. And probably which strategy is the best varies by the situation. So it probably varies from situation to situation what your particular barrier to spontaneity is in the moment. And it also probably varies person to person. So people who have innate personality differences that probably determine which strategy's the best for them. And then also, you know, we've got -- people are introverted who need one sort of push. And people are extroverted, you know, the other kind of maybe be getting pulled in. And also probably varies by life stage.
There is a lot to this talk to reflect on.  But in essence wu wei is about following the Tao - the Way of Nature.  From T'ai Chi practice, to our personal, social and professional activities, wu wei is about finding what works naturally, what works best, where we are most inclined, and even where fate seems to lead us to.  Defining wu wei as effortless action is right.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Jackie Chan Martial Arts Scenes

Jackie Chan has to be the most comedic and creative in the genre of martial arts hero.  I mean, what's funnier than fighting while drunk and saving precious vases?

I couldn't think of another movie that I could tie-in to one of Jackie Chan's, but I found this bit with Jim Carrey.  So my articles this week have been, I hope, entertaining at least.  Carrey pokes good fun at what happens in dojos, including some excessive self-promotions.  Neither T'ai Chi nor martial arts in general have to be so serious all the time.