Let Go Your Singular Focus

Down, Up, Same Time
In, Out, Same Breath
Left, Right, Same Side
Hand, Foot, Same Body

Our ability to focus is a blessing and curse. Our focus determines our reality as some say. It also limits our ability to perceive more than the focal point upon which we become attached. This is true of many aspects of our lives. Relative to the subject matter of this blog, I want to poke at a concept hinted at by many Tai Chi masters including Mr. Moy. I have contemplated his teaching of “up down same time” in the Dan-yu, Tor-yu and many moves of the forms. Recently, my body has recently provided me with the experience out of which I’m beginning to grasp the teaching over two decades later.

Many students struggled when shown how to pay attention to both the hand and foot at the same time or breathing continuously without stopping. These are all of the same nature. Namely, the philosophy of yin and yang are interwoven into all we do. However, the concept of yin and yang is more of a gradient as opposed to competing constraints or polarized opposites. Our Western mind is cultured to think of opposites as different, distinct and separate. The traditional Eastern mind comes at the opposites as an interplay or dance between friends. This continual exchange of energy between opposites may be experienced in Taoist Arts and other forms of martial arts. Power emerges out of properly aligned relaxed posture. Health emerges our of balancing physical work and relaxation within our particular situation. Philosophically, opposites are fundamental to our experience due to our naming minds. We separate things based on our observations. This is this and that is that. The mere act of naming separates aspects of what is ultimately a single integrated experience. For lack of a better construction, yin and yang are used to conceptualize the differences and ever changing relationship between. The thing is yin and yang are of the same nature or rather originate out of the same experience. Without light there is no shadow. Meditation pokes at this experience of the oneness of things underneath the trappings of all our thoughts, descriptions and understandings.

To facilitate the experience of the relatedness of yin and yang, we have to let our focus and attention be different than our normal apprehension of our experience. There are many paths we can take to accomplish this. The experience of unifying opposing elements may feel completely foreign. For those driven to do, do, do without cessation to the point of sleeping only a few hours at night, letting up on our focus on whatever needs done can feel like bulldozer demolishing the house we live in. For others, who go day to day without direction, purpose or meaning, the experience is elusive. It can feel like warship cutting through the lazy waters of the sea we are floating in. The waves from the ship turn us over into the depths of what we know not. No matter our particular approach to life, there’s a middle ground to stand not upon but within. More often then not, we need a guide or some type of feedback from another further along the path to realize this middle realm between our particular oppositional forces in life.

Occasionally Mr. Moy would touch a hand while doing foundations or a move and talk about the bubbling spring and how the intent is in the feet. This is the beginning of expanding our attention and loosening our focus on one body part. It slowly connects two or more body parts within a movement or posture. I remember a particular correction from Mr. Moy who touched my hands as I pressed down in the dan-yu. He mentioned to push from the bubbling spring in the foot. He did the same as I pushed up out of the squatting exercise. Pushing up from the feet and expressing through the hands while going up was easy to grasp. Going down in that correction left me grasping. However, after a few moments I must have caught on as he said, “You see, up down same time.” The experience of what occurred when I allowed my attention to be split between hand and foot at the same time set me on the path eventually repeating the correction. With regular practice it became a part of my movements. Mr. Moy also set me off on a journey of discovery about unifying the opposites instead of holding them at opposing corners of a boxing ring. Letting go of our need to do right with our singular focus we can pay attention to more than one thing. It’s the same as allowing your vision to relax. When our focus is not centered on one thing our periphery vision pulls more information into our consciousness. We see “more.” In actuality, we see the same amount of information. Our brain simply removes most of what we see from our consciousness due to our focus on an object. We have a perceptual bias tricking our brain into “knowing” what’s going on when we are deluded by our bias and its singular short term focus. “You see what you expect to see, Severus.” (Potter fans will get that reference). 

We can choose to let our focus relax not just with our vision but with other senses and even our intent. This relaxation of our focus is the first step of letting go the need to be at the center of everything. It is expanding our use of attention. It is the experience of not knowing begetting the ability to say “I don’t know” which in turn allows us to learn. Using our attention outside our singular focus is an opening of our spiritual to experience more than our limited ego-bound reality. It’s a door to new experience not of our nature. As we let go our conscious self and reach out with our feeling (a reference for the Star Wars geeks), we open our world to more richer experiences. Over time this creates the ability to perceive the simultaneity of movement in the instruction “up down same time” or the circular breathing of “in out same breath.” We start to see the world from a different perspective. It’s like we start working the third aim and objective of what used to be the Taoist Tai Chi Society, “cultural exchange.” The words themselves take on meaning beyond the simple and albeit confusing sentences as above so below (one for the Alchemists). Our dedicated practice through the years creates experiences moving beyond the emptiness of the words taken at face value. The words become reflections of our experience, directions on how to achieve those experiences as well as pointers to principles not easily captured in written form. And, therein lies the heart of openness, learning and spirit. 

Hand, Foot, Same Intent
Left, Right, Same Side
Out, In, Same Breath
Up, Down, Same Time

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