Returning to the source is something we need to do everyday. We read in Taoist texts of the idea of returning to source. There are all kinds of methods and symbolic instructions for transforming the body. While I don’t want to distract from whatever Taoist lineage or martial arts philosophy you practice, I want to bring the idea of returning to the source to something more pragmatic. I want to elucidate that it’s not some mystical thing that by practicing the methods we can achieve immortality. Returning to the source is an approach to living we can embrace everyday and within our practices no matter how advanced or often we partake in our art forms.
I haven’t posted in a while as my martial arts practice has waned due to what I talked about in the 8mm of Learning post from almost a year ago. The path of recovering from a major surgery like an intervertebral fusion is a winding one filled with pot holes, setbacks and frustration. It also has a plethora of opportunities to rediscover lost art forms and practices. Pain and suffering has a way of focusing our attention on what’s important. For me, it was about treating every moment as a decision to bring movement to every part of my body. A year after the surgery, I can tell you without regular movement my body begins to remind me of its importance. Muscles tighten. Small nerve sensations speak to me of the edge I live on every day. I certainly do not have the pain and nerve issues that brought me to my knees, sent me to urgent care, restricted my walking range to 50 feet, or started me down the path of opioid and muscle relaxer addiction. I understand from others who have had parts of their spine fused, my surgery is a 100% success. I can do everything I was able to do before I first felt that twinge in my back after shoveling some wet Colorado snow. Furthermore, I can do it without medications.
Going through the process of conservative techniques, pain management, surgery, and rehabilitation has given me a new awareness of the edge we all live on with respect to our ability to move, our general health and the myriad threats to our daily living. It has also revealed to me the importance of enjoying what we have and the need to balance risk and reward in our daily decisions. I haven’t swung my pendulum to the never ending pursuit of an unobtainable ideal of perfect health. Nor have I let myself not care about what I do with my body, health and life. I’m finding my particular balance day by day. Some days are better than others. Just the other evening I was practicing the foundation exercised called the dan-yu. I was fairly relaxed and found the connection Master Moy helped me find years ago. Focusing on the bubbling spring on the bottom of the foot, the movement felt like it did not stop. There was no bottom or top of the movement but rather transitions from squatting down to standing up and back again. My pelvis opened and closed with the movement and timed with my inhalation and exhalation. After a few cycles, the movement began to integrate into a single ever-changing experience. The breath guided not only the up and down but the expansion and contraction in the pelvis or perhaps those movements created my breath. Both are true and depend only on our perspective.The weight stayed anchored in the bubbling springs throughout.
The bubbling springs is an acupuncture point on the sole of the foot. It is an entry point for the kidney meridian. The image of the bubbling spring is apt as it brings about the idea of energy bubbling up and supporting the life around it. All movement within the body happens with fluids and lubricity. The bubbling spring in Chinese acupuncture theory is an entry or source of this energy. Without the renewing vitality inherent in the Bubbling spring, we degrade over time becoming dry, rigid and inflexible. Further stagnation exacerbates this situation. I witnessed a lot of stagnation through the trials and tribulations along my path through the forest of immobility over the last couple of years. It wasn’t until the other night, I felt like I had returned to the source of vitality I cultivated for most of my life. I’m not saying that the bubbling spring is my source. It was simply a focal point or schwerpunkt to rediscover after a significant change. In mythological terms, it was a threshold I passed returning from another realm where I had to slay one of my many dragons of pain and suffering. My schwerpunkt or center of gravity in my life is movement without which death begins to speak to me over my left shoulder or through the nerves in my leg. Movement and change bring about learning and growth keeping mortality at bay.Moving and changing removes oppressive nature of mortality from our concern and connects us with our internal and external environments. Paradoxically, being more aware of my mortality and eminent but unknown time of death allows me to live more fully. And herein lies the true source of vitality of life. Respect for life and movement come from accepting death, stillness and the unknown moments ahead. Being certain about anything is a form of stagnation preventing learning, moving and change. When I say death, I’m not just referring to our physical passing from this universe. I’m also referring to the death of ideas, relationships and interactions internally and externally. Everything lives and dies. Movement and stillness are intimately related. Bringing these facts into our daily lives is a source of vitality, humility and respect. It is returning to the source.
Practicing Tai Chi or any martial arts after an injury is an excellent opportunity to learn or relearn basic principles. I recently sprained my ankle. After a few days of taking it easy on my affected leg, I practiced some forms and was reminded of how important it is to connect with the bubbling springs.
Every time we bend our knees and hips to lower our center of gravity, being grounded in the sole of our foot allows the structure to carry the weight instead of the soft tissues. A small deviation away from balanced structure is felt immediately with an injury somewhere along the chain of pearls connecting our feet with our spinal engine. Moving slowly through the forms also allows us to listen to the rest of our structure as a small change outside of proper alignment can be felt with the injured tissues.
A couple of principles of martial arts apply here:
The fundamentals are always good to practice and relearn.
Listen with all of your senses to ensure alignment and connection.
Be mindful of injury, but do not allow the injury to define you or your movement.
We can learn our form from anyone, even someone who doesn’t practice our form, even from our own injured body.
Master Moy once told me during a major correction, “You should be able to learn tai chi from anyone, even someone who doesn’t do tai chi.” I was doing dan-yus in front of a group of about 30 people at a Fung Loy Kok Taoism workshop. He also said some things to me which seemed so militant to some onlookers that they left the Taoist Tai Chi Society. However, to me I never had the sense Master Moy was trying to control me. Quite the contrary, I had the experience of trust and attempting to peel my outer layers like an onion and show me what was inside of me. It’s as if he took my hand and showed me around my inner being. After what seemed an eternity of his lecturing me through an interpreter, I felt lighter and was able to do far more of the exercise I could do before we started. I also remember information about the physiology and physics of the exercise.
Many things stick with me from the correction. However, I usually return to his voice and the translation of “You should be able to learn tai chi from anyone, even someone who doesn’t do tai chi.” In the context a tai chi correction, this statement implies we need to be open to the learning all around us. I practiced the Taoist arts for over 15 years in an organized environment and instructed Tai Chi, Lok Hup, Health Recovery and gave classes in Taoism. After my wife and I started our family project, our involvement in the Taoist Tai Chi Society dropped off and faded away. Our interest and practice remains to this day. We continue to learn from each other and from the world around us. Our practice is sporadic which affords us the opportunity to observe and experience the fundamentals of the Taoist Arts in way unavailable to us while heavily integrated into the society.
The external form is just as we taught years ago with a strong foundation in angles reflecting body mechanics. A forty-five degree step is along with proper length of step is critical to the many aspects of the forms as is alignment of knees, hips and an ever shifting center of gravity. Internally, we return to connecting the bubbling spring and tigers mouth as well as dropping the coccyx to open the hips giving the internals freedom to move and connect to the movements. Deeper yet are the connections to the stillness learned in meditation and the non-judgmental awareness of both internal and external environments. Out of this stillness we stay over our emotional, physical and mental centers. We enable ourselves to learn tai chi from anyone and most especially those who do not even do tai chi.
My wife and I have the fantasy of returning in some fashion to the Taoist Tai Chi Society if life affords us the opportunity. If it doesn’t we still continue our quiet cultivation. We connect with ourselves, each other and those who pass through our lives. We learn tai chi from the world around us.
I recently discovered my manuscript I’m working on needed some contextual story or background to help readers connect with it. Having had a couple Tai Chi folk read it and not give feedback, I thought I should relate it to my background in the Taoist Arts. Thus, I’ve added some fictional characters to collaborate within a setting of a Tai Chi class with the result of writing a standard of living based on business called, “Managing the Business of You.” Some of the information from the manuscript is at http://www.bizofyou.com. Here’s an excerpt:
On one particular evening in class Emmet focused on using the same intention in every move. He first explained the acupuncture point called the “Bubbling Spring.” “It’s a point on the Kidney meridian on the center of the sole of the foot, at the base of the ball of the foot, between the pads. Although acupuncture calls it a point, it’s more of an area. When you place your weight in the area that’s one-third of the total foot length from the tip of your toes, the bubbling spring is stimulated.” Emmet went on to show how to use intention to place your weight in a specific area of the foot. He used the squatting type exercise where the practitioner opens the pelvis, bends the knees and lets the center of gravity drop in a straight line that points to a place between the feet. The line where the center of gravity drops can be adjusted. When the weight is spread throughout the feet, the practitioners feel their weight in the bubbling spring throughout the movement. Much of what Emmet showed was non-verbal. He showed it many times as each student sees different things and often has to see movement from many angles in order to learn what is expected of them.
Emmet had the class practice the exercise until most of the students had increased circulation evidenced by breathing deeply, flush faces or perspiration. Emmet is continually amazed at how simple movements can get energies moving. He let them take a break and started explaining how the same intention may be used in more than the 108 movements of the tai chi set. Starting with the bow before the movements he showed moving slowly allows one to focus their center so their weight spreads throughout the foot but remains localized around the bubbling springs. He allowed his spine to curve over like a fishing pole keeping his knees unbending. His hips had to move back as his spine went forward to counterbalance one another all the while keeping the weight centered in the foot. After his hands touched the floor, he reversed the process to return to a standing position. He turned his feet to start the first move of the set while keeping his weight centered appropriately in each foot. He kept going in the second move allowing his spine to stretch easily out. His weight moved from one foot to another as he stepped between moves. With any contact with the floor, his weight was centered around the bubbling spring. He repeated the movements a few times and explained a few key and critical points along the way like dropping the tail bone and maintaining balance between the push from the feet and the expression out through the spine, arms and hand movements.
The intent of the fictional story is to relate the principles of tai chi to our daily activities and principles of managing the business of you. It’s a work in progress so who knows how it will end up after the agents, editors and publisher get a hold of it.
The bubbling spring is an area on the soles of our feet that connects us with the earth. For my own practice of the Taoist Arts, connecting with the bubbling spring has become a major indicator of whether I’m moving in an integrated manner or not. This is true in our foundation exercises, Tai Chi, Lok Hup, or Hsing-I forms. It is also true when I’m walking around at home or at work.
There are specific sensations when our movements are properly integrated and connected with the bubbling spring points on the soles of our feet. We will feel the weight evenly distributed when we are standing. We will feel the tendons of the foot gently stretched. When we are walking or moving in the forms, we will feel the weight glide throughout the foot depending on our stepping motion. The foot will feel like we are rolling through all of its structures when we walk or do weight shifting movements.
Most of the time we are unaware of this sensations. Here is the key. If we can direct our attention to the bubbling springs as we move, our movements will be more integrated. Out directed attention allows us to connect our movements with our intention which we will talk about later.