Have you ever listened to the album “Moonbeams” by Bill Evans? It actually makes me feel like I am in the room with a genius who is simply playing over the finest tapestry the world had ever given him. He was a great jazz pianist, and one of my personal favorites. In addition to Bill Evans I think Red Garland is another jazz musician I truly admire, but to be truthful these are just fingers pointing the way to another realm. My personal taste of a Be Bop Trio in the 50’s would have been the thing to experience on planet Earth. I mean watching those guys play? Oh, wow indeed my friends, and an exceedingly gracious bow of gratitude is owed to Chuck Pafenbach for sharing it with me when he was my neighbor in Austin.
Great teachers to me, are like great musicians.
Great teachers are able to clearly get you to see inside yourself, maybe through their work, their presence, or how their words move through you. Great music does the same thing when you really think about it. Several of the songs on “Moonbeams” just bring forth deep emotions within you, if you can sit in a space to appreciate the music the way you appreciate a good teacher. When you are sitting alone and just fully immersing your mind and your nervous system into the experience of being present, then you can play a masterpiece like Bill Evans would. When you can hold a standing meditation posture, maybe in similar fashion you can play a sonata. In a similar way, maybe if you break posture and the lack of structure during your Tai Chi set, then it is just like a musician killing the time signature or forgetting the chords.
To do truly great things with your life requires you to be fully present, and furthermore to make no excuses about what scenario you have been given to learn from. To move forward with healing your pain, whether emotional or physical, requires letting go of the tension causing your body to release toxic chemicals. We need great teachers of the Internal Arts to have profound impacts on modern culture with all of its false materialistic promises and illusions. People come to my clinic needing acupuncture, herbal supplements, and true authentic guidance about how to live inside their body. Your body is perfectly capable of releasing all of the healing chemicals it needs to alter your life perspective. Your immune system is capable and powerful, and your immune system can be astonishingly amazing in its recuperative powers. But for some spiritual reason, people experience blockages of energy and blockages of the human body that require the diligence of meditation to resolve. Without the effort and undertaking between a student and teacher, there is no magic, and to borrow the metaphor there is no music.
Really skillful teachers of Internal Arts and Oriental Medicine can help someone come back from even the dreaded label of mental illness. They can teach patients through push hands exercises how to handle the force (stress and setbacks) coming at them. This metaphor is ingrained at the level of the nervous system, deeply embedded in neuro-muscular memory. That is why your student needs at least 2 years of push hands, warm up exercises, and standing meditations that release energy blockages. These blockages of meridians, organs, energies, emotions, and layers of reality seem to fuse the person back together. The capacity to release and let go of deeply ingrained physical and neurological parameters is realized through standing meditation, but we still need guidance from great teachers who can help us to fully enter our incarnation. How do they help us achieve this? It is the by-product of truly putting in the required time of forming a Tan Tien. So, there is the measuring stick of your Tai Chi instructor, is there a Tan Tien? Is there a formed energy structure at the core of their being, or are the teachings like your instructor just empty, hollow, and without real substance?
Sadly, many modern-day teachers will only want to talk about forms and side track students with concepts they barely understand. Many teachers don’t even teach pushing hands, standing meditation, and many have never been to Asia to meet a genuine master who can demonstrate Qi and structure. True teachers know the martial aspects are what verify your so called spiritual realizations. Many people in Western society will go running around telling people about a concept without the teacher really having the student demonstrate any proficiency. In my home town, there are a multitude of teachers who are just circulating what I call empty forms. What is an empty form? It is doing a short form or long form of Tai Chi without any knowledge or demonstration of openings and closings. Openings and Closings of what you might ask? Openings and closings of physical structures like tendons, ligaments, joints, vertebrae, and the kwa. I see people doings forms with poor footwork, broken structures, and no real Qi inside the Tai Chi form they are doing. Therefore, no healing benefits or strengthening of the body is really taking place.
True teachers reveal deeper levels and layers of information. If someone is just at a local yoga studio doing the slow-motion dance routine, I am sorry to say that you need to look elsewhere. If someone is just teaching brute force techniques and throwing people around because they are bigger than everybody else, then you need to move on. Maybe later you can come back and show them the real teachings that offer true self-realization. Because a truly powerful Tai Chi master can demonstrate some amazing skills through their use of structure and Qi. One thing your teacher needs to demonstrate is the power of structure, the feelings of Qi, and the ability to put it all together during push hands to help teach the student where they are weak. Yes, your teacher can tell where your structure is weak, when you break structure, and how to maintain the correct alignments while the dance of push hands is awakening the correct sensitivity inside you.
For me, I am all about awakening the amazing healing properties along with knowing the martial aspects. Maybe I have a different nervous system or outlook of the world than you. My father was in special forces, was a hero in Vietnam, and had a heightened nervous system. He could not often sit in a public place without placing himself in a position to act, should someone pull a gun out and things get deadly. He was taught by the Army to kill, he was taught to have instincts, and taught to survive. Maybe that is why I go into a public restaurant and start thinking of these scenarios. I realized in my early 40’s that I have been doing that my whole life. Not out of fear, just running scenarios in my head, as if I were in an action movie or a war zone. This must be how people in terrorist active and war torn countries feel, but to realize that it was passed down from the DNA inside of me was awesome and creepy indeed. This is a nervous system that is stuck in Fight or Flight. It needs a method to engage in self-healing, or sadly the person will die young from all the stress inside their nervous system.
An older lady who lived on my street made a living reading dogs and people, we walked past her house one day and she met us by the side of the road. After chatting with us for a few minutes, she said all kinds of accurate things to my wife about her personality. Things understood only from reading body language and energy, after years of training this woman had become very gifted indeed. I stepped forward for her to look at me, having no fear of what she might say, but rather feeling quite curios. She looked down at her feet and pointed her finger at me. “You need to understand; most people don’t have a nervous system like you. Nor can they handle it having the senses be sharp, most people in this world have numbed themselves and gotten a dull nervous system because of modern comforts.”
I smile back at her, and she replied with a slight grin, “It takes one to know one.” I looked at her perhaps with confusion, and then she answered my next question by saying, “her father was in special forces too.” Now I know from meeting her, not everyone is meant to experience a radical alteration of their autonomic nervous system. But when you really seek to know the Tree of Life and explore its mysteries, you are in for a great many wonders of the universe inside your body.
The way to explore outer space is through inner space. This can only be known through your nervous system. Your Nervous System is how you experience your reality. All of your senses are integrated and interpreted through your nervous system. For example, your nervous system in a heightened state can save you from certain death if you are in the jungle. The psychic awareness and intuition from highly attuned senses can tell you when an enemy soldier is approaching, or a bear, or dangerous animal that is hunting your scent. Life or death actually depends on your nervous system and the ability to interpret the signals, just like being in a fight. Your martial arts trainings may make your physical body strong, but if you have great Internal Arts training to integrate your nervous system…odds are you won’t gap out or be afraid during your altercation. These concepts apply to everyday life when dealing with the concrete jungle, paying taxes, or the emotional barrage of being at work with other people. You can apply the spiritual precepts of Tai Chi, Hsing Yi, or Ba Gua anywhere you go.
Hold on to your center.
Keep your Root.
If you can practice, if you can do this…then your experience of life through your nervous system is drastically altered and radically strengthen over years of practice. Through repetition, reflection, and refinement, we can access deeper levels of spiritual awakening of once dormant potentials inside us. If we use these spiritual tools with consistency, then we have the potential to become wise and walk the path of the healer and the sage. We can go from learning the chords, to playing the chords, to really playing a musical masterpiece like Moonbeams by Bill Evans.