Learning by Occident


Tai chi is not a philosophy. Lovers of wisdom seldom move, at least in the
west (exceptions include Nietzsche and Heidegger, who were indefatigable walkers, inheritors of the peripatetic school of Aristotle)

Tai chi can, however,  be a way of life, a Dao, a Do, a  Heidegerrian Way.

How can it do that? Because it has re-patterned my nervous system through repetition, made me aware of my deep muscular and fascial tightness, and all the attendant “issues” that reside therein ( another essay on that topic somewhere else)

That it has made me calmer, stronger, clearer, more mature, empathetic, ( with major reverses to be sure) I can be in no doubt. I am in recovery from myself, from the brutal imprinting.

Learning to recover my infant body-soft, powerful, calm, elastic and springy-before the blizzard of conditioning, from the jackbooted, rage-and-libido-fuelled frothing of the Christian Brothers to the Munch-screaming hormones of home life; the body-shaming éminence grise of the Irish Zeitgest, a suffocating pyroclastic “wind out of blackness” that froze sexual expression into contorted shapes of abortive and furtive guilt-infused pleasure;  I also suffered adolescent emotional aneurysms with respect to girls, un-ritualed and untutored in love, which led to impossible infatuations as traumatic as any Byronic hero; all this led to the volcanic boozy rage of a twenty-something incapable of dealing with life.

A typical Irish life you might say.

An academic life awaited, with probable fermentation and infarction in my 50s.

Yet somehow, I escaped.

Progress was slow. Arrogance of the partially-trained. Teachers of immense self-regard.

Then, a magus. But he was a flawed titan. One of his top students then appeared at a moment of need. Since then, he has helped steer me. Together, we now weave our own tapestries of life and definite death, instructors in bodily weft, teachers of movement warp. Spiraling, condensing and opening; the wringing out of the old, the kneading of the new.

It is not only the movements that sprinkle scintillas of wisdom on me, as I regularly epiphanise in class ( little eurekas of Archimedes slopping water in his bath) and almost immediately try to apply the new discovery to my students. I also get this from my regular lessons from my own teachers, often a long trip will be rewarded with one single insight, the instauration of which I know will take a year or more. Not only the motions, but the emotions that shed their hampering clammy hand. Self-consciousness is not the same as self-awareness. One is a fearful reflexive being, diaphragm held tight in fear of rejection, the other is a bodied and disembodied objectivity, a grounded and dispassionate capacity to distinguish, discriminate and sift before judging and acting.

The stillness inside that grows leads to people who possess genuine wisdom.
It is a banality that when the student is ready, the teacher ( or book) will appear.

I have had teachers for years. In my case, it is “when the student stops his flitting and flibbertigibbetting and learns to really listen, to stop and look, then the words of his master that he has impatiently read already will be read anew, as if for the first time”. The words move like a perfect key through the eyes and ears into the locked mind, and one door, one of many, is opened. Snakes and ladders comes to mind, because I am always sliding back to the beginning to look afresh at what I “thought” I “knew”.

Occidentally born, I revolve orientally.


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