I love Tai Chi. So far as I know, it's the only philosophy of life that you can express in movement. (Unless expressive movement -- such as dancing -- is philosophy also, a non-verbal variety.)
One of the first things a Tai Chi student learns is circularity. Also, one of the last things. Letting go of rigidity is a never-ending process, like life itself.
There are no straight lines in the yin-yang symbol. Most of the physical movements in Tai Chi have the same curving feel. Ditto with the philosophical precepts. Taoist sages don't point directly at truth.
The intimate blend of physicality and philosophy in Tai Chi appeals to me. I used to be much more of a dualist, believing that matter and spirit are worlds apart.
Until I'd done enough looking around, both inside and outside of me, and realized that this world is all there is. And that's true for everybody else also.
As I've said before, and am about to say again, not one single person in all of human history has ever had a spiritual experience -- if "spirit" is taken to mean non-physical.
When you're not physical, you're dead. Maybe dead people have experiences, but nobody alive has direct knowledge of that. (Q. "Why?" A. "Because they're alive.")
So spirituality is materiality is living is being a human is meditating is dancing is Tai Chi is having sex is drinking wine is chanting sutras is studying science... and is everything else also.
What works for you, works. What doesn't, doesn't.
In Tai Chi, I've found that flowing relaxed circularity works. Better, in my opinion (based on fourteen years of previous traditional and semi-traditional karate training) than rigid tense linearity.
An oft-heard adage in spiritual circles is to make the mind like an empty teacup. Only then can it be filled with wisdom -- not when it's already full to the brim with existing notions.
OK. Sort of makes sense.
But what happens when the tea cup has been filled after being emptied? Isn't it time to empty it again? How are we supposed to know when the perfect cup of wisdom has been poured? And is there any end to the pouring? Does life ever stop teaching us new lessons?
I smile when people email me, or leave a comment on this blog, saying "Brian, how could you forsake what you used to believe in?"
They should know the answer: life is nothing but change. Each of us is changing continually. Our bodies change. Our beliefs change. Our experiences change. It's crazy to think that we can stop change in its tracks.
Or that we should. Dead people don't change. Living people do. Why would we want to be dead when we're still alive? There will be plenty of time to be dead later.
In the Spring 2009 issue of Tai Chi magazine there's a nice article about "The Intrinsic Qualities of Taijiquan." Even if you don't know much about Tai Chi, including what root means, the authors' message should come through.
The moment you struggle to stay firm, you will stiffen up, and then your weakness (your root) is exposed. In fact, the stronger your root, the more you are giving your opponent a target and a leverage to attack.
..."No root" in Taijiquan is really about having a moving root, not a fixed root. This is like an object floating on water or a ball rolling on the ground.
Compare a tea cup with a ball. You might say the cup has "root" because it is stationary while the ball has "no root" because it rolls around.
However, the tea cup is stable only within a limited range, beyond which it will topple and break. On the other hand, a ball always has a point touching the ground, which is its root. When it starts rolling, that point changes with its movement.
If the function of a root is to stablilize an object, then a ball rolling around in all directions "without falling over" is like having root and not having root at the same time.
You say it has root, yet it rolls around; you say it has no root, yet it never topples. The root of a ball is everywhere, but is also nowhere.
Back in my youth Bob Dylan asked a question. Taoists would answer, "just fine."
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
A complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?