T'ai-Chi II -- K'un, the Receptive

by Robert Larsen


...the receptive is that which brings to birth, that which takes the seed of the heavenly into itself, and gives to beings their bodily form...yielding, devoted...It represents soul in contrast to spirit, earth in contrast to heaven...(Miller, 1976)


"The primal spell has been broken.  A landscape of tranquil beauty appears in the familiar three-dimensional space of the outer world.  From a ridge in the foreground a single tree bends over the valley.  The faint edges of cliffs call attention to perspective through the distance, descending into emptiness below.  This deep valley...opens full of a soft birth mist and stretches away without boundary.  Many shapes and forms are concealed in its vast expanse -- hazy, opaque, enchanted -- the original valley of the womb." (Miller, 1976)


"From the one comes the two."  Life is composed of form and its inherent limitations as well as boundless energy.  To learn from Tao one must learn to touch; and open to being touched by it.  The practice of T'ai-Chi helps to sensitize our consideration of the subtleties involved in following a truly vital life.  Where there is spirit, there must needs be soul if that spirit is to have depth or meaning.  There is separation as well as oneness; there is the one, and the many thousand things.  Here arises life's difficulties as well as its beauty.  This is what gives birth to love, longing, desire, and a constant need for completion.


It is as important to one's sense of meaning and soul to know what is not possible as it is to know what is.  Only with limits does anything come into being.  Only with limits does being in touch itself become a possibility.  With these limits come birth of the sacred.  To truly transcend limits one must recognize their sacred beauty in the form of life.  To forge a relationship with one's body and world, one must deeply sense their indwelling bones.  Working with the movement and shape of one's body as it accomplishes the series of postures known as the "form" of T'ai-Chi, we move into touch with our limits.  We begin to become aware of those aspects of our being which do not change.  We find some ground.  This grounding is not static or definite.  It is not a set of rules or ideas one must conform to.  It is grounding found where one touches, and is touched by life. 


As with learning to swim, the first step is to sink into the water and get wet.  One must learn to revivify the sensitivity of a child if one is to be able to sense the delicate undulations of "ch'i" moving through living waters.  For this sensitive child all is part of the ever unfolding mystery of life.  How does one tell the difference between something alive and that which is without life?  This becomes the most important question for the warrior as well as the lover.  There is some indefinable something which emanates from inside that which is alive.  In Tao, all things possess an inward quality.  People, animals, plants, rocks, all things, even the air itself.    In the Tao all is supported by a womb of living inwardness.


By increasing the subtleness of our movement in T'ai-Chi we deepen the animation of our inwardness.  T'ai-Chi is a way into Tao.  By learning to complete the postures of T'ai-Chi with a particular attitude one begins to sense inner "currents" which flow through these waters of Tao.  These moving tides are called "ch'i."  By sensitizing our body to these eddies which flow within all things we begin to learn from the movement of life itself. 


Through the practice of T'ai-Chi one is learning to relate to the alive aspect in all things.  Here formless and form touch, partake, and define each other.  Here heaven and earth thirst for each other in a dance of equal partners.  As in a dance one must listen attentively for subtle changes in the partner and follow the unfolding spiral as it leads into greater harmony.  The web of life is delicate indeed.  If one is to touch into the living aspect of things, one's sense of touch must continually deepen in its ability to receive.


A delicious delicacy of deepening wonder might then seduce the skittish, fearful one that may have been exiled.  In the beauty of the dance, an ever renewing delight in the flavor of life is born.  As the formed and the formless one swirl together through night's unfathomable sky, the T'ai-Chi dancer listens inwardly.  Delicate tendrils reach from all things and inwardly touch the heart. 


"O that awful deep down torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rose gardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar... Yes...," she said. "Yes...," and over again, "Yes!" (Joyce, 1961)


The Tao


If Tao can be Taoed, it's not Tao,

If its name can be named, it's not its name.

Has no name:  precedes heaven and earth;

Has a name:  mother of ten thousand things.

For it is

Always dispassionate:  see its inwardness;

Always passionate:  see its outwardness.

The names are different but the source the same.

Call the sameness mystery:

Mystery of mystery, the door to inwardness.


Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching

(Maurer, 1982)



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. 4.

James Joyce, Ulysses, (New York: Random House, 1961), p. 783.

Lao Tzu, trans. and commentary by Herrymon Maurer, Tao Teh Ching, (Princeton, New Jersey: Fellowship in Prayer, 1982), p. 45.