children-playing-philippines_40412_600x450The art of practicing the Tao is to fully engage with the physical world and our potential activities within it as a form of play.  Playing with whatever comes our way at the intuitive, energetic level is the path to understanding the Way.

The Tao is understood through doing and living, not through thinking and intellectualizing.  It’s wisdom within us arises from authentic spontaneity in any context within which we might find ourselves and enacting them without pausing.  Practicing the Tao stimulates our kinesthetic “gut wisdom” of how to act according to the situation at hand – and it is action that reveals the truth.  The Tao’s principles are firm and abiding and, because of that, are universally applied to our individual lives.

Those who satisfy themselves simply with reading Taoist texts will remain ignorant of the Tao’s subtleties and nuances because they have failed to experience it in any tangible manner.  Yes, studying Taoist philosophy is important in integrating the mind and body into an experiential whole, but, unfortunately, Westerners have become lazily dependent on the notion that the left brain can solve our dilemmas of being.  They have traded in wisdom (Tao) for knowledge (brain functions) and will end out on the short end of a large lemon deal.  However, here, no blame as such people are simply functioning out of a larger cultural context that does the same.  They are nothing more and nothing less than the obedient children of a patronizing social structure that pats them on the head and feeds them candies for their obedience.

Pursuing the true Tao requires a level of curiosity, courage and desire for physical exuberance and acquisition of wisdom that all lie far outside the confines of convention.  It requires the ability for intimate engagement with others and nature.  Those are also the same qualities required of those willing to strap on a pair of snowshoes out in the woods and commencing deep into those unknowns far beyond the boundaries of a library and a book.  The pursuit requires abandoning thought and entering into the world of feeling, sensing and being.  This is the horizon upon which we begin to know our true selves.

A-YellowRiverCJCX2I was fortunate enough to undertake my studies of Tai Chi with a teacher who knew not just the meditative practice of it, but also the martial arts application of each move and was willing to teach them.  As the years went on, he taught us also Ba Gua,  Hsing-yi and weapons work.  We expanded our initial 1-hour lessons in Tai Chi to 3-hour workshops moving between each of the different forms.  His format developed into beginning with the Ba Gua and Hsing-yi first, which involved a huge studio in which we could experience moving in the round, circular patterns required in developing a 3-dimensional understanding of space and our rightful place within it while contacting, grappling with and “taking down” our fellow students in such a large, open field.

Imagine a number of ping pong balls (students) in an enclosed environment having to negotiate space being moved not only by the force of invisible airstream pumped in through the walls, but also by those ping pong balls  (students) deflecting and careening off each other and you will get the gist of it.  Yes, we did go home with bruises and abrasions and applied our Chinese medicinal ointments to those.  If you really want to know yourself, it’s all part of the training.

The exercises and time frame were exhausting, completely over-riding intellectual thought processes and allowing us to begin to perceive and move with other movement in our now-expanding field of peripheral AND focused vision.  We all developed the habit of bringing dried fruit and nuts and lots of water for “breaks,” from the active milieu, only to throw ourselves back into the fray after replenishing our reserves.

The purpose was/is to destroy any thinking/reacting modes of behavior (re-inforced every single day of our conventional lives from birth to death), re-wire the brain for integrative perception of the movement of both the physical and meta-physical forms of energy in our immediate environment, and respond correctly and definitively within each and every situation.   However, all of this took place within the sound principles and framework of the Tao:  that of the circularity of all things and their harmonious (though, at times, yes, violent at the beginner level) interactions with each other.

After about 2 hours of this rigorous, vigorous and engaging play in movement, wherein we simply “UNDID” our former left-brained programming and began to trust the kinesthetic wisdom of DOING, our teacher would turn to us and say,  “Are you all totally exhausted now?”

“YES!!” we would declare in unison.

A large smile would spread across his face.

“Good.  Now, let us all move into doing our Tai Chi.”

And we would, finding, within our exhaustion and incapacities to judge nor inhibit our movements, a purity of being with the Tai Chi that we could not have known had we simply walked in and commenced with that.  One has to shed the conventions of culture before one can find the gifts of meditative being.

Such activities are not meant and do not deplete our energies.  In fact, they should enhance them internallyth-1 and allow them to expand externally.  And they do.  This is why you see so many “old people” able to be with the Tai Chi in such advanced forms.  Rather than dismissing their “slowness” as due to their advanced years, you should actually see them as advanced practitioners who understand slowness because they are old.  Beautiful.

Many times, after class, I would take a walk around the large pond in my urban community.  On the way, I noticed stranger’s reactions to my energetic – the power of which I could feel from every pore of my being.  I felt a huge, golden light emanating from every part of my body.

Many would begin to smile as they approached me, many would start to nod and become attracted and engage, nodding their heads and saying, “Hi!” exuberantly as they passed.  Some would stop and talk.  Some would try to touch me.  I would shake their hand and let go and walk on and see their turned heads looking into the wake of my own passing.  And smile.

That’s the beauty of the Tao and its practice.  It is not about the individual, certainly not about me at all.

Those reactions I always knew were and are about the power of the true Tao and what is transmitted through it when we do so with complete commitment and selflessness.

It’s brilliance shines throughout every path we walk when we are in true integrity and resonance with it and infuses all who encounter its light.

Under the guidance of a good and sound teacher, which I had the great good fortune to have, linear thought and action fade away and the well of un-self-consciousness being can arise.

The Tao is, indeed, the art of play and losing one’s self within it.