T'ai-Chi III --
Chun, Difficulty at the Beginning

By Robert Larsen


Clouds and thunder...teeming, chaotic profusion;...heaven and earth bring forth individual beings...the firm and the yielding unite for the first time, and the birth is difficult. But these difficulties arise from the very profusion of all that is struggling to attain form. (Miller, 1976)


"The first meeting between heaven and earth is an explosive event.  In a storm the jagged white shaft of light wrinkles the air and tapers away in patches of haze.  Lightning manifests its absolute power in a flash, and its energy is then absorbed again into the soft translucent clouds.  The sky is intense, dangerous, full of fear and excitement.  The electric force of the storm acts as a catalyst that creates the possibility of a first birth." (Miller, 1976)


When one at last begins opening to the meeting of body and spirit that has been rejected, places in the body that have been deadened to consciousness begin to awaken.  With this awakening one begins to hear the spirit of voices which were silenced in the attempt to "make it work" and "to fit in".  These voices speak at first in vague feelings of uneasiness, then with outright pain, both physical and emotional.  The automatic reflexive assumption is that the practice is causing this unrest.  To stop practice would only be "killing the messenger".  The door may be shut upon the crying child so as to make life easier by not hearing, but that will not still the silent tears. 


These voices cry out and demand to be included.    These small ones, gotten out of the way to please parent or teacher who found them too much trouble, want to walk with you and smell the birth of spring.  In your practice is a chance to welcome them back.  In your practice is a chance to do for yourself what you wished parent or teacher could have done for you.  Guide this awakening child.  Stay with him or her through the difficulties of coming into the world.  Recognize the importance of moving at a pace which does not tear away from life (even if it does make you feel "stupid"). 


Realize you have probably taken on and internalized the attitudes of parents and teachers.  These repressive impatient voices are automatically evoked to shut the little ones away again lest they prove too embarrassing.


As one begins to awaken the memories of the "elephant woman" who has not forgotten something else also begins to happen:  Magic begins to return.  Things are no longer only what they seem, neither are you. Flashes of spontaneous energy may begin to release themselves seemingly independent of conscious will.  Your body and world may begin to fill with an unbidden light, a tingle, or a melting sensation.  There is a softening of the hard and fast edges of "reality".  Possibilities in the unknown begin to open and beckon. 


As spontaneity increases, the one in us who wants to be in control may feel threatened.  Watch for a tendency to retreat into the more manageable routines inherent to an existence supported by familiar habits.  It is the wealth of possibility beginning to open that is causing the trouble.


Exercise, "Sitting on Yourself"


One of the most prevalent patterns of habitual holding might be called "sitting on yourself".  To experience the effects of this pattern, get a lot of energy moving by doing something intensely aerobic; jump up and down and wave your arms in the air for two or three minutes.  Now stand still and take a few normal breaths, then clench your entire body tightly both inside and out and hold it.  What do you feel?  Notice particularly the sensations between the pelvis and the neck.  Now shake it off and make some sounds to let it go.


What was your response to the experience of compressing yourself?  Was it horrible or oddly comforting?  Was it a new experience or strangely familiar?  Many people unconsciously do this all the time in order to endure.  It works to get the job done, to prepare for battle, and to cross the great desert.  But what happens when you get to the oasis?  Can you let go of all that dryness and drink deeply of the cool waters?  Can you let go and sink into refreshing sleep?  If not there is a habit here that probably keeps you somewhat depressed and uncomfortable all the time.


"Compression is what happens when you won't let yourself down and you won't let yourself up--nor really in or out.  You collect a lot of tightly bound, dense energy towards the middle of your body--often in the torso, from the pelvic floor to the neck, but not always.  A person stuck in (energy) collapse often feels a kind of fatigued, drained-out depression, but a person stuck in compression feels a first-rate, grimey, gritty, guilt-ridden, intense and involuted depression.  The feeling tone of this energy distribution is one of being trapped but capable:  "I can take it."  "This isn't so bad."  When you are unconsciously exerting that "in-from-both-ends" kind of pressure, it's hard to let yourself feel good by allowing your energy to move.  (It would hardly matter whether the movement was down or up, in or out; any energetic movement would improve how you felt.)  Once established, compression resists most of all the pulsation that would bring pleasure.  What would spring open the trap is experienced as frightening." (Henderson, 1986)


One's body is never removed from Tao.  It is to the images held by body and dream that one may turn to reclaim the exiled personages of one's being.  Here is where the tensions necessary to lift one's awareness out of touch with life are enforced.  Wherever vital life is replaced by the predictability of routine, the body and dream must compensate so as to include those aspects of life being avoided by the repetition of a ritualized life.  Here is the accounting ledger, the karma, of the attempt to remove the value of spontaneity and embodiedness from life. 


Through ritualized habit one may succeed in transcending the bodied awareness of being in touch with spontaneous life, but Tao is very conservative.  It always keeps track and brings whatever is avoided to awareness in some other way.  Not in the future of some other lifetime, but right here and now there exists the possibility of rediscovering where the flow of one's life force has gone.  In bringing to awareness where your body is "signaling" to you, you may begin to hear the exiled voice of life.  Since these exiles speak for what is being left out, they are quite naturally considered the enemy.  They call to question the one-sidedness necessary to being an expert, perhaps even the depressing impossibility of ever mastering life.  They also bring awareness of the ground your standing on, of fate, direction, and the sacred immutable quality of soul.


How does one become removed from Tao?  During any learning experience an official or conscious system is used by the mind in order to record information.  This official system tracks information according to what is deemed important.    Obviously, what is consciously recorded is going to depend upon the point of view from which the information is being sought.  This system can only get more of whatever one already has.  It is not possible to "get" anything that one does not already know, one just does not have any place prepared to hold it.


If we pause for a moment to look at an image of this attempt, what we see is an expert holding a flashlight in semi-darkness.  That which he sees in his concentrated beam is a friend that supports his need to know.  The darkness, created by his concentrated beam of brightness -- and there is always so much more darkness -- becomes the enemy.  This enemy constantly threatens to overwhelm the light.  No matter how bright the light, or fast and agile the manipulating of the beam; no matter how much he learns, it only serves to increase the depth of the darkness.


Now in Tao there is also an "unofficial" or unconscious (for the expert) mode of learning that takes place.  Here is where all the experience thrown out as "irrelevant" by the expert is stored.  While the mind concerns itself with information it deems necessary for the continued survival of whatever supports its sense of mastery, the body picks up everything! The body is a veritable treasure trove of secreted away awareness.   Like a sponge it soaks up all it encounters.  Unfortunately this is only perceived as a further threat to the expert.  The expert's own body soon becomes the enemy!  The body knows so much more than he and seldom does it agree with his conclusions.  Usually the only way the expert hears from body is through pain.  This is when body is desperate enough to scream.  For the expert, pain is a messenger of the enemy to be conquered.


In our attempt at mastering life we are taught by our society to separate from our earth and bodies.  In the driven attempt to master this body and earth, pleasure is only possible if the expert administers it; technique, drugs, exercise, affirmations, and other potential tools of manipulation may take the place of spontaneous joy and depth.  It is a tricky business indeed to work with this driven expert.  He is so frightened all the time that the mere mention of where he might be thin skinned enough to be able to hear from his body and world makes him jump and sends him running.


When all beneath heaven know beauty as beauty,

There is not beauty.

When all know good as good,

There is not good.


For what is and what is not beget each other;

Difficult and easy complete each other;

Long and short show each other;

High and low place each other;

Noise and sound harmonize each other;

Before and behind follow each other.


Therefore the sage

Manages without doing,

Teaches without talking.

He does not shun the ten thousand things:

Rears them without owning them,

Works for them without claiming them,

Accomplishes but takes no credit.

Because he does not take credit,

It cannot be taken from him.


Lao Tsu

(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. 6.


Julie Henderson, The Lover Within, Opening to Energy in Sexual Practice, (Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 1986), pp. 41-42.


Lao Tzu, trans. and commentary by Herrymon Maurer, Tao Teh Ching/The Way of Ways/TAO, (Princeton, New Jersey: Fellowship in Prayer, 1982), p. 45-46.