Harmonize Inner and Outer

Inner Outer Mutually Harmonize (nei wai xiang he)
Taijiquan trains the shen [spirit]. Therefore it is said, ” the shen is the commander and the body serves as the messenger.” If the shen cane be raised, one’s actions will naturally be light and agile. The outer frame is nothing more than: ’empty, full; open, close.’ What is called ‘opening’ refers not only to the opening of hands and feet; the xin yi (heart; mind, will; intent) simultaneously opens. What is called ‘closing’ means, not only the hands and feet close: the xin yi simultaneously closes. To be able to harmonize inner and outer, thus unifying the qi, this must happen perfectly without gaps.  [this is one of Yang Chengfu’s Ten Important Points for the Practice of Taijiquan with original commentary, translated and interpreted by Sam Masich].

Often in the more advanced class, I will invite students to name a focus for the evening’s practice. Tonight we heard breath, breath and movement, moving from post to post, and the one I chose for myself for tonight – Harmonize Inner and Outer.  After the practice, we reflected on what the form taught us; what we observed or learned from the focus we had chosen. When I ask my practice a question I usually get either a very straight-forward answer that illuminates a whole world, or I get more questions. Tonight, I got more questions.  Harmonize? What exactly is meant by this? Clearly it is different from one must follow the other –  inner doesn’t follow outer, or vice versa – as in a previous point about upper and lower. No, harmonize implies an equality of aspects. Inner and outer must get along, somehow – and perfectly without gaps, no less!

Perhaps to harmonize is to unify. Doug Wile’s translation in Tai Chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions is ” The Unity of Internal and External.” He translates the previous point not as Upper and Lower Mutually Follow, but as Unity of the Upper and Lower Body. His consistent use of ‘unity’ seems to slide over some important nuance in the different meanings. But, it is nonetheless helpful to me to consider the notion of unifying as part of understanding harmonizing. Like the yin/yang symbol – the ultimate symbol really of harmony of opposites -contained within a unifying circle. The harmony creates unity.

And that is what I am looking for……ultimately. Unity or harmony of head and heart, spirit and body. I’d like to feel that my insides match my outsides; that if I seem cool and collected, kind and thoughtful on the outside, that I truly feel those things on the inside. Similarly, that if I feel disturbed, or upset on the inside, that I can appropriately express those feelings on the outside.  Like everything in tai chi, it is more likely a matter of doing less, than doing anything new and special. Just tune in and stop hindering my expression, and also notice that when all is well ‘out there’ go ahead and just let myself enjoy a little easy all is well in here, too.

Til the next move,

The Taiji Circle

The Taiji Circle is such a great graphic!

In one elegant and simple design it conveys so much meaning.  A circle with an S curving through the middle, one half white, the other half black, and each side with a dot of the other side’s color in it.

Seems no matter how long this symbol has been a part of my life, the meaning to which it points goes ever deeper.   The symbol refers to the yin-yang philosophy that the dualistic nature of all that we see in the world can be understood not as mutually exclusive contrary opposites, but as complementary to, arising from and dissolving back and forth into each other.  Night becomes day, summer becomes winter, etc.

Qualities, not Things

Yin and yang are qualities, or aspects of things, they don’t exist on their own.  No thing that exists, exists in isolation or absolutely.  And therefore, no one thing is yin, and no one thing is yang – but everything may be yin or yang relative to something else.   And the same thing maybe yin in one regard and yang in another regard, relative to a single other thing. It’s just not as simple as black and white.

No Conflict

Seems to me the human challenge is to recognize the harmony among the opposites. Black and white relate to one another, and black and white have the seed of their opposite within.  I find this incredibly valuable to remember – especially when I am in what feels like conflict with someone else.  Whatever I feel is in opposition, I first notice the seed of that in me, in my position, and then I remember that my position exists in relation to theirs – this gives me the ability to accept their position, without abandoning my own and points the way toward some resolution reflected in the greater whole.

The Whole

Right! The greater whole – the circle in which all this dualistic interplay is happening. For ultimately, there is something which cannot be talked about or described, because it is not subject to the yin and yang of life, but encompasses them both.  For me, this is where blogging stops and the practice of taiji begins. Moving through 108 moves of my taiji form, I feel the harmonious interplay of all the seemingly opposing forces – up and down, advance and retreat, form and emptiness, mind and body, and on and on and on…..

Til the next move, enjoy your practice