T'ai-Chi I – Ch'ien the
By Robert Larsen
"The two forces of light and dark meet in simple angular spaces, rather than in a rhythmic sphere as found in the Yin and Yang. In two dimensions, and only in the foreground, we see represented here the pure idea of creation, before it materializes in the world of forms. The light is falling from above. A dark horizontal figure divides the light and by its conspicuous placement therein resembles the number one on its side. Then another, larger darkness continues below.... Being abstract, it might appear as a mere pattern, but it represents something the very nature of which is abstract and transcends all that we know on earth." (Miller, 1976)
"Ch'ien" is the first hexagram of the I Ching (pronounced "ee Ching") known as the "Chinese Book of Changes." This marvelous book tracks the way of change followed by all things and renders the various phases of change in imagistic terms. T'ai-Chi is closely related to the I Ching and is a way of experiencing the power of change imaged by the I Ching.
To understand the way in which the I Ching sees change, imagine each moment of time presenting a new birth. Any "moment," once identified as such, moves through a process of change involving cyclic increase and decrease. The affective form of this moment ripples outward in all directions like waves from a stone dropped into a pool. At any given point along the course of these waves, there are places of "increase", or crests, and places of "decrease", or valleys. These subsequent tendencies toward change meet resistance in the old familiar patterns of inertia present in any status quo. The meetings between the wave-like movement of change and the inertia present in the natural systematizing of consciousness are delineated by the I Ching and are made more experientially manifest to our consciousness through the practice of T'ai-Chi.
T'ai-Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art with its roots deeply embedded in antiquity. The name "T'ai-Chi" translates as "supreme ultimate" or "absolute". The most important preparation you can make for engaging T'ai-Chi is to entertain a fantasy: Allow yourself to indulge in the pleasure of being a beginner. Right now drop the burden of expertise. The beginner, the child, is the one who knows how to access the joy and wonder in not having all the answers. Let yourself imaginally drink in and taste the abundant perspectives present in direct experience. Here there are no expectations of expertise and nothing to prove, just a very sensual world to attend to. Come to T'ai-Chi with an attitude of curious play.
There once was a man who never took the main thorough fairs. He always went the hidden way cutting through backyards and leaping fences. Where other people were always leaving, one had the strange sense of him flowing into every new place without ever a gap behind. But strangest of all, and this I shall never forget, he seemed to have the uncanny ability to create the very ground he walked on with every step.
T'ai-Chi is an approach to the Tao, the Ocean of Life, and as such provides help in meeting the challenges life brings to everything one holds on to. In life, in Tao, holding on to anything is ultimately impossible. The Tao of life is in constant flux. To hold on is to remove oneself from the movement inherent in a way of life. At bottom we all know this, yet we hold on all the time. It is natural. As a result life dams up, presses ever harder for release, and ultimately we are forced to let go by sickness, accident, or some other seeming chaotic intervention which has the power to loosen our stifling grip.
The practice of T'ai-Chi offers an alternative. It provides a way, based in personal experience, to stay in touch with the slippery dance of life. By giving the T'ai-Chi dancer a way to experientially hold the meeting with his or her unseen partner; life itself in all its magnificent fullness, one's need to hold on is greatly diminished. Instead of being driven to follow the tendency of inertia present in the familiarity of the status quo, one is free to feel every nuance of tension which may be building in the inner King's ongoing need to systematize and master life. The way of T'ai-Chi provides an opportunity to let go before the ensuing tension builds to the point where a crashing breakdown becomes necessary.
T'ai-Chi will evoke your talent for easing by opening you daily to the experience of feeling equal to the dance of life. Where one has the prospect to directly touch their inherent ability to follow life, the impossible demand to control the future is eased. This often undervalued ability slumbers in us all; a Sleeping Beauty that awaits awakening. She arouses through the gentle closeness of a kiss, and holds the gift of an easeful, artful way of life.
In our natural striving to win and gain control, we sometimes forget how to attune with the beauty of a deepening golden-red sunset. There is an appropriate place for decrease as well as increase. The magic of right timing is to be found in the art of knowing where to let go. T'ai-Chi attunes our sensibilities to help us feel the deep guidance always present in the Tao of life. To receive this guidance, we must give time to develop a way to let in the meaningful support brought to us by our very mortal senses.
Remember, it is part of human nature to hang on. But remember, that which feels "natural" is that which has become a habit. Our habits define our nature and good habits are much more dangerous than bad ones. At least the bad ones have been identified as such. So what we attempt in T'ai-Chi might be thought of as being against our nature. I challenge you to go beyond your systems and habits; your "nature," and come with me on a journey. Beyond your nature, your conditioning, is the bubbling wellspring of a spontaneous source. Here the waters are clear and pure. Here everything happens only once and does not repeat itself. Here there is a visceral order which washes through you as you sink in, get wet, and learn to let the water untie the knots. Here you are pulled and guided to the deep order inherent in the Tao of life itself.
In the cool air of this spring any attempt to control or master is seen through as a futile and silly attempt to destroy the magic of life. Remember when you could see? Where does one learn that in order to survive one must hold on to a predictable pattern and destroy the magic? Soul and vital spirit by its very essence is original. No two are alike. A truly vital soul is continually created and only by creating can one make and experience magic. The essence of creating, found in the unconditional wellspring of the original source-- in Zen, one's "original face," must be as life breath, not to be done once, but again and again if one is to truly live. Without touching and being touched over and over by this soulful originality, what passes for life is but the operations of a programmed computer, handy for doing sums and taking care of business, but of little value in re-discovering depth and meaning.
Source: Terry Miller, Ed. with commentaries by Hale Thatcher, Images of Change; Paintings on the I Ching, (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1976). p. 2.