Listen……….Listen…………..can you hear it? Where ever you are……………….? Can you hear the silence? Can you hear the feeling of silence? Listen again, go on, …………………listen…………..listen past the noise……….listen past the hustle……………can you hear it? Can you feel it?
As you feel it……………………………….let it come closer to you. Let yourself be available to be influenced by that silence, by that stillness. Let it in……………………… What happens? Is it not true that something begins to resonate with that silence, with that stillness? Something in you hears that silence, hears that stillness and communicates or is touched by it.
To some degree we all want stillness and we all want silence. That is why we began this path, to become more peaceful and more still and centred, to rest in the midst of activity and to stay relaxed, even though all about is tight and tense.
The essence of martial art is to rest in the midst of action. In the Gnostic gospel of Thomas, when Jesus is asked “What is the sign of God within?” he answers, “It is a movement with a repose”. So whether you are a martial artist or someone interested in re-finding your spiritual heritage, the answer is the same. The essence is to be still in the midst of movement.
And this, too, is the essence of Tai Chi Chuan.
Because of how we have been taught to achieve things and because we think we are our minds, we try to achieve stillness. We try to be still. We try to be quiet. We say to ourselves in a very busy way, “Be quiet, be still.” So guess what? It doesn’t work! Or rather it can work sometimes, or seems to, but in the long run it does not.
One of the ways that it can seem to work is if you try to concentrate really hard. It is possible to close everything else out, for a while. But as soon as the practice is over or the conditions are no longer right, the distraction, the busyness returns. This is called closed concentration. The idea is that your concentration on one point is greater than the outer distraction – hence stillness. But it too is an action, it is a manipulation, a forcing – we are trying to control life. This is not resting, flowing, at ease with what is. For this we need what is called an open concentration.
Open concentration allows things to be as they are and simply returns to the place of flow, stillness and quiet. We walk away and we come back. “I lose myself 99 times but I return 100 – this is a good meditation” is a Zen saying. By doing this we build a relationship not with control, but with flow. Not only that, we begin to feel that which already is. We begin to hear the silence and hear the stillness – because this is not about control or manipulation; because it becomes; because it is just there, behind the noise. The gift is that after a while we can rest more and more of ourselves in stillness as we go about first our method, and then, secondly, our life.
Whether you are a student of Soul Moves or whether you are a student of RDTC the way to become Tai Chi is the same. Where are you looking for stillness? Are you using busyness to find stillness? The answer is probably “Yes!”
So what to do? If you want stillness, learn to feel it. This takes practice and regular practice. In the Form we stand ready at the beginning. If we meditate, we sit ready. If we are going to play some Shibashi, there is a point before we do it, when we are ready. In life, before you answer the phone, before you write the letter, before you cook the meal, there is a point when you are ready.
It is in this moment before you begin that you must learn to listen. Listen and wait to feel the silence, or the beginning of silence. Wait and listen to feel the stillness. Right now as you read this, listen for the stillness. Listen from the stillness. Is it not true that to listen to stillness you settle into listening from your own stillness? The stillness is already there, we just don’t listen to it, we look at noise, we look at activity, we look from activity.
A few years ago I was up a holy Welsh mountain called the Skirrid, near Abergavenny. I was taking a group of Deepening students for a walk, and hopefully, in this wonderful spot, to sit and let go into the quiet and the stillness. Well on this day it so happened that the wind was from precisely the right direction for the local Paragliding School to use the hill for their training flights. On top of that, in the higher mountains it was very windy, so those who really wanted to go flying that day came to the Skirrid, which was lower, to taste their joy of flying.
When we arrived there were probably about 20 to 30 paragliders. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is a way of flying which uses a very large parachute, shaped like a wing. This allows the rider to be lifted by the rising air currents that come off a hill and to soar like an eagle.
Once I had got over the disappointment of not having the mountain to ourselves, I invited our group to disperse to the quieter and empty side of the hill to explore this sense of listening and stillness. However I decided to stay on the busy side of the hill to see what there was to see. It was chaos! Riders were rushing down the hill, tripping over themselves and crashing. Others were managing to get a lift, but being inexperienced, would crash into a bush. There was a general air of pushing and shoving as riders who had come to have a fly, waited impatiently for their turn to rise above the mayhem of the beginners and soar away from it. For some of them this impatience led them to make mistakes and they too crashed into the same bush that seemed to rise up and get in the way no matter which way they turned.
My attention was drawn, bit by bit, to a rider at the back of the queue who each time someone pushed in front of him, just let them do it. He waited. And waited. And I waited with him. Gradually the hill emptied. When no one seemed to push in front of him he made his way to the edge. He already had his chute well arranged behind him, his lines taut but soft. He waited some more. The wind was not reliable that day and had tripped up quite a few before him. One short gust came and went, and another, and he waited till the right gust came and with a light tug his canopy rose and billowed open above him. And then he and the canopy waited. The others who had been fortunate like him had grabbed this moment of air and jumped, run or staggered off the hill. Some made it and others had found the bush. But he waited. He guided his canopy as the wind lightened and then strengthened, keeping his lift, like his lines, ready but soft. He waited, relaxed and poised.
I felt the lift before I saw it. It passed over me like a whisper and kissed his canopy into the sky and with it, him. I saw his feet just step into the air. I saw his body lifted like a feather. It was wonderful. Simple. Silent. It was Tai Chi. It was worth waiting for if you had the patience to wait and the eyes to see.
And so we wait, here, at the beginning and we listen for the stillness and the quiet and then we let it take us. And like the flyer we explore the currents of our method from this place of stillness, resting in repose as we explore the movement, whether it is cooking or writing or Tai Chi or running, it makes no difference.
Our practice is a time each day to remember this. To taste it, as it is – for today’s quiet is not yesterday’s. Then it is something else, another trick of busyness. It makes us stand in our noise hoping for silence and stand in our busyness hoping for stillness. But when we let ourselves feel the knowing that the stillness is in us already, it is a real gift.
When you give yourself this opportunity you will find the Tai Chi and you will move in the Chuan with Tai Chi, but more important than this is that you will know it is not dependent on the Form, in fact it is the other way round. The Form is dependent on this; it is given meaning and light, by this stillness.
So listen now and listen again. Today or tomorrow when you stand before something, listen again for the living stillness and let yourself move and live from there.