Using T'ai Chi Ch'uan for Meditation
T'ai Chi Ch'uan is highly regarded as a moving meditation, as well as a martial art. But what does moving meditation mean? And what is meditation?
There are many misunderstandings about meditation and there are many different kinds of meditation. In fact, many people meditate but don't perceive what they are doing is meditation. Some people regard meditation as a quiet kind of contemplation or thinking. Others view it as a kind of “non-thinking.”
Basically, meditation is a way to deal with the mind and emotions directly and the body indirectly. This can be done while sitting, standing, lying down or moving. For martial arts, meditation is very important at all levels, but especially the higher levels.
Two films available on video make this very clear. One by the famous Akira Kurosawa is the judo saga, Kanjiri, in which a conflicted judo player has an enlightenment experience that changes the way he lives and fights.
The other is the Samurai Trilogy, starring Toshiro Mifune, who is transformed from a wild character to spiritual swordsman.
Some people view meditation, including T'ai Chi Ch'uan, as a way of becoming internally calm and peaceful. Others feel it is a way to deal with their contradictions, what is real and what is imagined. Although it is possible through the force of one's mind to become calm and peaceful, it is not usually an effective method for long without learning how to resolve one's contradictions created by the mind and the emotions.
Competing with someone and defeating them in push hands or full contact is a way of resolving one's contradictions temporarily, until the next opponent is fought. But the perceptive person will know that the real opponent is within and has to be dealt with all day long and even in one's sleep.
Meditation as a technique can be a practice of just being there, fully absorbed in what you are doing and continually bringing your attention back to what you are doing.
This is one of the simplest and best ways to meditate and also one of the most difficult. To do this requires the ability to accept failure because while meditating the habitual mind, the primordial mind, still tries to reassert itself and you have to keep redirecting your attention to what you are doing. But failure is not defeat. When one is in the present, there is no defeat, not even failure.
T'ai Chi Ch'uan is a valuable way to do this because you continually get feedback from your body and emotions and mind from the changes taking places as you practice the forms.
T'ai Chi also frees up stagnant energy so it revitalizes you so that you are refreshed in your continuing effort. However, movement of the energy can also stir up emotions that have to be dealt with. Stationary, they might remain dormant; by moving, they come to the fore, which provides the opportunity to deal with them.
Self-deception, one of our greatest weaknesses as human beings, is more likely in a static posture because there are fewer checks and balances as to whether you are dealing with the present or imagination.
In T'ai Chi we need to distinguish between Yin and Yang, the insubstantial and substantial—what is unreal and what is real. In dealing with these conflicts, it is good to use the T'ai Chi principle of Yin and Yang to deal with them.
In other words, don't use force against force. Using force or just strength of will is a simple answer that will work sometimes, but doesn't reflect real understanding. So don't try to suppress or overpower contradictions or try to passively think about them.
Instead, find a way to neutralize them. If one method doesn't work, try another. A good way is to redirect your attention to what you are doing in the present. We're talking about how the mind works and how to nourish it.
In daily life, paying attention to the present happens all the time, especially when you are doing something you enjoy or when you have to focus on important work. So it is something that we know how to do but that we also have to cultivate internally, too.
One way to use T'ai Chi Ch'uan as meditation during practice is to visualize the use of the various postures against an opponent. Many masters recommend this as a method of fulfilling correct use of qi, as well as a mental exercise. One of the challenges in this method is that this kind of engagement sometimes leads to tension when there should be relaxation and an emotional excitement when there should be even-mindedness.
Meditation, like T'ai Chi, is addition by subtraction. Less is more. We cultivate ourselves and become whole by subtracting certain aspects of ourselves, even certain things that we enjoy very much. Some of our emotions and feelings about ourselves are very satisfying, even while they are non-productive and hurtful. And it can be difficult to give them up. In practicing T'ai Chi Ch'uan, it is best to think long term, even if you have urgent short-term needs. The process is more important than the goal because the goal will change over time.
Learning is more of a spiral than a straight line. A friend once asked her teacher if there was any magic in T'ai Chi Ch'uan. He said, "Yes, but you have to find it for yourself."
It is commonly believed that if a person can find the right teacher, guru, master, religion or belief system, that they will get release from their problems. Unfortunately, too often this kind of search is like walking in a minefield. It is better to have confidence in one's own abilities and try to understand oneself better.
The key is an even-minded awareness of the present . . . the experience of the moment. From this kind of meditation, we can develop insight. And without understanding yourself, it is very difficult to truly understand others.