When the body is calm and the mind uncluttered, only then can one observe the subtle.
I lead off Chapter 13 (“Beyond Relaxation”) of Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate with this quote from Chang San-Feng, Daoist sage and legendary founder of taijiquan.
I was happy to come across that quote again. It is the key to moving meditation and to any study of the internal martial arts.
It all starts with song (pronounce soong). As I discuss in Western Gate, song is often transliterated as “relaxation” but that misleads us into thinking of it as a gooey passivity. It is anything but that. Song is the foundation of soft power. It is where we let go of extraneous muscular tension and relax into the intrinsic support of our connective tissue system.
This is easier said than done, of course. It runs counter to just about every hard-won lesson our body/mind has ever logged. Our nervous systems learn by resisting what is. We feel the sting of falling down long before we ever learn the concept of gravity, and we spend a lot of energy and (largely unconscious) attention making sure that happens as little as possible.
Many of us are engaged in an all-day struggle to stay erect that takes its toll in a myriad of ailments, like joint and back pain, sciatica, stiff neck and shoulders, or just a low level anxiety that surfaces in a thousand different ways. Any time you notice your mind chattering away you can assume that you are not song.
Song is not something you figure out and then assume you know. It must be discovered again and again, each time peeling off another layer. The foundation of xingyiquan practice is a standing meditation posture called santishou. It is said that you can miss a day of xingyi practice, but not santi. The body/mind must be allowed to return to the reassurance of structures that support and nurture us. This allows the body to be calm and the mind uncluttered.
The key to song is an acceptance of what is. We embrace the moment…exactly as it is. Not just conceptually, but physically. We stop resisting the tide of NOW and allow ourselves to feel what we are feeling. This both requires and permits the mind to be uncluttered. Not in a permanent way, but in a dynamic exchange with the universe. In those moments, fear dissolves; anxiety fades; we enter the space between thoughts.
It is only by embracing what is that we can bring about any meaningful change. From the platform of the known we can reach into the the infinite possibilities that surround us and discover or create something new.
In my experience, the best way to train song is to first find your central equilibrium in whatever you are doing. Then slowly adjust your body into a shape that allows the energy to flow THROUGH you with a minimum of interruption. Taijiquan, yiquan, xingyiquan, baguazhang…they each train shapes that cultivate distinct energies.
Which one is right?
The one you are doing now.