Greg Knollmeyer posted an update 2 months, 1 week ago
Rest In Paradox
I love taiji. I’ve been studying and practicing taiji for years. As with any long term relationship, I do find myself frustrated from time to time. The fact that my practice is so indirect frustrates me. While it’s true that I can perform forms or stand when I choose, the actual internal growth doesn’t come from performing forms or standing. It comes from the things that I allow to happen inside of those practices. I cannot force myself to relax. Rather, I can stand with good alignment and allow myself to relax more deeply. When it goes well, my integrity and relaxation feed each other and growth occurs. But often I’ll be seeking growth and will quite literally try too hard. I’ll get too fixated and my intention puts me in tension. At those times, I’m actually preventing growth.
The Dao de Jing 道德經 (Tao te Ching) Tells us of this kind of paradox in the first verse. The desire for understanding dynamics often reduces a dynamic merely to its effects.
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations
So practice seems to be a paradox. If I practice with a desire to improve, I’ll flatten the dynamics and end up with empty forms. If I don’t want to improve, why practice?
The opening lines of the Dao de Jing tell us that the paradox of indirectness is built into the universe. It tells us that its subject is actually unsayable.
The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
A literal student would put the book down. If it can’t be said with words, why read a book about it? But the book continues for another 80 chapters. So something more must be going on here. Perhaps something might be gained in trying to understand the ineffable through words when we don’t hang on too tightly to the words. If we begin knowing the truth itself cannot be adequately expressed, perhaps we can pick up some hints as we explore the text. Practice seems like this. If I don’t hang on too tightly to the forms or the stance, but use them to explore internal dynamics, perhaps I’ll find something.
Often I joke with students that much of what I say are “lies pointing in the direction of truth.” There is an inherent limitation in description—particularly when it comes to internal dynamics. How would an opera singer describe the internal sensation of singing and holding a perfect note? We can definitively name what syllable and note are being sung. But it is impossible to express that same definitive quality in the singer’s description of how s/he generates the sound.
As students advance, taiji increasingly reflects these paradoxes. At the beginning, many things can be communicated in a direct and specific way. Putting feet in the right place for a proper stance can be communicated easily. But to get to real health and martial benefits we need more than that. We need internal skills and deep relaxation while having good integrity. Relaxing into the earth in this stance cannot be communicated very directly. Nonetheless a good teacher will work hard to make subtle dynamics as observable as possible. In the example of rooting, a teacher might do pressure testing with students so they can feel differences or drop root with a student so the dynamic is more palpable.
An attitude of exploration seems the most effective way to participate with teachings while resting in paradox. If I’m exploring root, I might put myself in proper alignment and then explore my body for tensions and release those. Then I might send my awareness as far down into the ground as I can and try to find new ways of sinking my root. I might try different images—What would it feel like if I imagined I was in an elevator sinking down to the center of the earth? Exploring that image and its sensations may also provide growth. Eventually I might find paradoxical experiences. Often the feeling of being heavily rooted is accompanied by a sense of extreme lightness in the body. These contrary sensations co-exist quite nicely in a way that is very hard to describe. But focusing on exploration to discover new awareness and new dimensions in practice can help you rest in paradox. Exploration is a wonderful antidote to frustration.