I'm a churchless non-soul. I love reason, science, demonstrable proofs.
Yet I enjoy practicing Tai Chi, with all its talk of qi, meridians, subtle energy flows, and such, most of which isn't within the realm of proven fact.
No contradiction. When talk in my Tai Chi class turns to a word I can't readily grasp with my hand of reason, such as qi, I mentally translate it into a more accessible term for me, such as "internal energy."
I feel that energy. I'm not sure if I feel qi. Maybe they are the same thing. Maybe not.
Regardless, I've never considered that it was necessary to be sure of the truthfulness of everything Tai Chi teaches in order to practice this art, which has been called meditation-in-motion. I can set aside my skeptical scientific side and still embrace Tai Chi to the extent I'm able to grasp it.
A few days ago Amazon sent me the newly released "The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi," by Peter M. Wayne. I learned about it from my Tai Chi instructor, who, like Wayne, teaches about integrative medicine at the college level.
Wayne is both a researcher and a practitioner of Tai Chi. I'm not far into his book, but already I'm impressed with how he is able to reflect the together-yet-apart nature of Tai Chi, as expressed in the familiar Taoism symbol (several hang on the walls of our Tai Chi studio).
Working by day as a medical researcher objectively studying the science of Tai Chi and at night as a community-based Tai Chi instructor, for many years I have walked the metaphorical S-shaped line dividing the more rational and intuitive halves of the Tai Chi yin and yang symbol.
Both as a scientist and a teacher/practitioner, I have explored how best to bridge the wisdom underlying my two vocations, or in the lingo of Tai Chi, how the yin and yang can inform one another.
...In my own Tai Chi practice and when teaching Tai Chi classes, my research informs my experience and teaching, but sometimes I need to abandon the framework of science. Part of the practice of Tai Chi and other meditative arts requires turning off rational thinking and tapping into other, less developed processes, like intuition and imagination.
For example, Tai Chi classics say, "Belief or mind moves internal energy (Qi) and Qi moves the body." At this point in my Tai Chi training, on a good day, this idea is very clear to me. I can readily shift into a meditative Tai Chi flow.
But the scientific community is still far from defining or quantifying Qi, or knowing all the neurophysiological pathways involved in mind-body-energy connections.
My primary goal as a teacher is to use whatever tools I can to help students have meaningful experiences, so to teach only from pure science would be inefficient and unethical. The practitioner half of me remains skeptical of science and thinks maybe science can never address some issues.
Nevertheless, my two jobs, one as a daytime researcher and the other as an evening Tai Chi teacher, involve a delicate dance between yin and yang, both informing one another and incubating rich thoughts, and they have led to my unique style of teaching and practicing Tai Chi.
Throughout this book, I will be clear which half of me is talking. When scientific evidence exists, I will provide the link to published research. I will distinguish this evidence from my personal experiences or experiences my students share, or principles that Tai Chi classics purport or my teachers and other masters espouse.
Refreshing. Illuminating. Nice model for anyone who wants to blend science and spirituality, reason and intuition, explanation and mystery.
Taoism, the philosophical foundation of Tai Chi, doesn't see things in black and white.
The yin-yang symbol has a bit of white in the black area, and a bit of black in the white area. Yin and yang seamlessly flow into and out of each other.
Rigid dichotomies are mostly an invention of the human mind. Nature doesn't work that way. Neither should we, as natural beings.
Are you scientific or spiritual? How about both.
Are you reasonable or intuitive? How about both.
Are you mechanical or artistic? How about both.
Are you a lover or a fighter? How about both.
Are you cautious or a risk taker? How about both.
Are you generous or selfish? How about both.
We limit ourselves by failing to embrace both the yin and yang of life. Tai Chi and Taoism can help us remember that white and black can blend, and also remain apart.
I still have my "There are no rules" t-shirt. It's getting faded, but I don't want to stop wearing it. I like the message. There are no rules is a rule. Yet it is sort of a ruleless rule. Neither a rule nor not a rule. My sort of rule.