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It is fortunate for me, indeed, to have people leave such hearfelt comments as they do.  Many of you have done so since this blog has started and to all of you I give my sincere thanks.  Deanna and Mary are but the latest to share in this most sincere manner and I was touched by what they wrote.  Input from the reader is not only appreciated, it also helps give a little direction to the blog as, in reading their comments on the last post, I started thinking about an oft used phrase in T’ai Chi; that of  practicing sincerely, and am moved to share a few thoughts on that subject.

Most of us who have been practicing T’ai Chi for a while are undoubtedly familiar with the frustration that can arise from time to time of not making the progress we think we should be making in the Art.  Or, along the same lines, of feeling a bit sorry for ourselves regarding our particular life circumstances that seem to make progressing difficult. At these times  it is easy to slip into a kind of  “if only” mentality.  See if any of these “if only’s” are familiar……..If only I had more time to practice; If only I had a practice partner; If only I had a better practice partner; If only my teacher would spend more time with me; If only I had better access to a teacher; If only I had a better teacher; If only I wasn’t all by myself out here; If only I was (use as many that fit) smarter, quicker, thinner, fatter, more relaxed, less stressed,  in less pain, understood more, less lazy, more coordinated, had a less nagging spouse, had a spouse, didn’t have so many responsibilities, etc., etc., etc.

The purpose of this post is to, hopefully, help us all relax a little around these thoughts and to realize that all such mental jibberish just isn’t all that important to pay attention to.

The first thought I’d like to share, and one that might be worth remembering when the intellectual mind tries to rear it’s head, is a quote from Master Liao’s book, T’ai  Chi ClassicsIt is on page 118 where he is commenting on Master Wu Yu-Hsiang’s Treatise (the emphasis is mine).      “The only condition for allowing your internal energy to develop, grow and become strong is that you must relax yourself and yield to the universe.  When you become soft and pliable, your internal energy will gradually begin to develop and accumulate.”        It always affects me when I read this as my tendency is to make things a bit more complicated than they need to be and this is a powerful reminder of the first step in practicing sincerely; simply relaxing and yielding.  Although it is a simple concept it can be very difficult to apply, especially when we feel life might be handing us more than we might like at the present moment.  The comfort in remembering this, however, is that since we don’t need to really  do anything to cultivate chi (simply relax and yield), we can let go of our  ‘if only’s’  that we erroneously perceive as obstacles.

The other thing I’d like to suggest is to remember that  T’ai Chi evolved as a means of expression and development of our common human desire to improve; mentally, physically and spiritually.  It is not so much that we do these mechanical movements and something automatically magical will happen to us, but rather as we focus on feeling and relaxing the physical body, as we calm the mind and settle the spirit, T’ai Chi starts to naturally happen and evolve.  It is but one of many possible means of expression, simply a vehicle, that can help us on our path.

To illustrate this further, and from a different perspective, I am going to digress a bit off the T’ai Chi path.  One of my favorite books, (it really would be the one book I’d take with if banished to a deserted island and only allowed to take one) is I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj.  Nisargadatta, considered one of the greatest sages of India, was a man of humble background and means who lived in Bombay, India until he passed away in 1981.  I Am That consists entirely of dialogues, question and answers, between Maharaj and seekers who came from around the world to visit with him at his home.  What follows is from page 171 of that book.  See what he has to say about sincere practice.  (By the way Q. is for the questioner, in this case a somewhat fiesty Westerner, and M. is for Maharaj’s reply.)

Q. From the Westerner’s point of view there is something disturbing in your ways. To sit in a corner all by oneself and keep on repeating “I am God, God I am” appears to be plain madness.  How to convince a Westerner that such practices lead to supreme sanity?

M. The man who claims to be God and the man who doubts it- both are deluded.  They talk in their dream.

Q. If all is dreaming, what is waking?

M. How to describe the waking state in dreamland language?  Words do not describe, they are only symbols.

Q.  Again the same excuse that words cannot convey reality.

M.  If you want words, I shall give you some of the ancient words of power, Repeat any of them ceaselessly, they can work wonders.

Q.  Are you serious?  Would you tell a Westerner to repeat ‘Om’ or ‘Ram’ or ‘Hare Krishna’ ceaselessly, though he lacks completely the faith and conviction born of the right cultural and religious background?  Without confidence and fervour, repeating mechanically the same sounds, will he ever achieve anything?

M.  Why not?  It is the urge, the hidden motive that matters, not the shape it takes.  Whatever he does, if he does it for the sake of finding his own real self, will surely bring him to himself.

Q.  No need of faith in the efficacy of the means?

M.  No need of faith which is but expectation of results.  Here the action only counts.  Whatever you do for the sake of truth will take you to truth.  Only be earnest and honest.  The shape it takes hardly matters.

Q.  Then where is the need of giving expression to one’s longing?

M.  No need.  Doing nothing is as good.  Mere longing, undiluted by thought and action, pure, concentrated longing, will take you speedily to your goal.  It is the true motive that matters, not the manner.

Q.  Unbelievable!  How can dull repetition in boredom verging on despair, be effective?

M.  The very facts of repetition, of struggling on and on and of endurance and perseverance, in spite of boredom and despair and complete lack of conviction are really crucial.  They are not important by themselves, but the sincerity behind them is all-important.

When Maharaj says “Whatever you do for the sake of truth will take you to truth.  Only be earnest and honest.  The shape it takes hardly matters.” he is providing perhaps as good a definition of practicing sincerely as any T’ai Chi Master ever has.  This, of course, naturally extends not only to those formal times in the day where we are “practicing T’ai Chi” but also into those ‘hidden’ practice times during the day such as how we wash the dishes, tie our shoes, sweep the floor, engage in a conversation, give someone a hug or engage in any other of the ‘routine’ activities of daily life. Any and all activity gives us a chance to ‘practice sincerely’, to check our internal state and see where and how we are focused.

Think right and happy practice!