Friday, November 25, 2005

Journey of a lifetime

I should say something about me and Tai Chi’. I go to regular classes in a church hall in the neighbouring district, with a teacher I discovered almost by accident (as if there was such a thing) when we returned to the UK three and a half years ago. But the the story goes back a long way. This is a biographical piece I wrote for a class newsletter last year.

When I was fifteen, I bought ‘Teach Yourself Yoga’ to feed my growing fascination with things outside the conventional perspective of life in a mining valley town (this was 1960, may I add!). I learned the value of meditation as a student during the heyday of the Beatles, and the Maharishi, although my path of discovery was derived from Western monastic rather the Eastern tradition. A few years later I was initiated into the world of contemporary dance, and discovered that how we use our bodies is as fundamental an aspect of good meditation, as the practice of silence and stillness.

Another fifteen years on from discovering Yoga, Zen and Tai Chi publications caught my attention. Despite my resolution to find a class and learn Tai Chi in the flesh, rather than imitating postures in a book, another twenty seven years elapsed before I stepped in to my first live session in the old St John’s church hall in Canton. It was like a homecoming.

“What do you want out this class?” Our teacher Christie asked us.

“I want to learn to meditate standing up” I replied, realising how stupid smart-assed that might sound. But for me it was true. As a priest of Anglican persuasion. I spend lots of standing, leading others in prayer. If doing this is going to nourish me, as well as others, and not just be an acted-out automatic ritual, it must have the quality of meditation about it. ‘Performing’ in public can be physically stressful. How to do the job and be refreshed, not drained by it? A real issue, as the demands have increased and I have grown older.

Zen has been described simply as learning how to sit. Stillness, silence, receptivity – a kind of active passivity. Standing is a form of movement. You’re never totally still because your whole organism is balancing itself in the field of gravity, extended between earth and heaven, forwards and backwards, left and right, inside and outside. Stillness dwells at the heart of all this subtle movement. To enter into it completely it’s necessary to be fully conscious of the body in relation to its environment.

All the movement played out in the form passes through or revolves around the still centre. The quality of movement reflects the quality of our relationship with the stillness at the core of our being.

Who am I? What am I? Wouldn’t we like to know. Am I just a body? Do I have a body? Or does my body have me? – Am I just trapped inside it? How does my body determine what I am, who I am? The self, and our sense of self is utterly mysterious – un-nervingly so sometimes – but life is sweet as we learn how best to discover and become our true selves in relation to the still centre, and in the choice of habits and attitudes, which flow from there.

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