Spiritual Dimensions of Tai Chi Chih
By Michael Isaacs
April 2004


The spiritual dimensions of T'ai Chi Chih practice are fascinating to ponder. How do nineteen movements and one pose contribute to spiritual awareness, growth, and discernment?

In doing the movements, I have formulated three aspects of spirituality: "It", "Is", and "As". I realize that everyone has his or her concept of what spirituality means. So I invite the readers of THE VITAL FORCE to write their own views on this subject.

"It" is from Justin Stone's writings that "Tai Chi Chih does T'ai Chi Chih. That is, an invisible entity can emerge to do the movements for us. This "It" is the "chi", which I consider another name for Spirit. It has also been called intrinsic energy, vital force, universal energy, eternal energy, and ultimate energy.  Most teachers and many students gain glimpses of this transcendent phenomenon at various times in the practice.

Right now I can say that I yield, at times, to the "It" of Spirit during working the pulley.

I hope that I will have more "It" experiences as I proceed on my path in the T'ai Chi Chih discipline.

The second aspect of spirituality I will label "Is". It is being focused and concentrated in the present moment. In our practice, "Is" moments can be on the soles of the feet or the T'an T'ien or, at times, on  softness, continuity, slowness, shift of weight, alignment, circularity, polarity, and flowing from the center. Whatever the focus of awareness, thoughts and feelings about the past and the present are minimized or eliminated. In this attunement with the present moment, T'ai Chi Chih practice is similar to meditation. The mindfulness meditation of American Buddhists comes to mind.

As of late, I experience "Is" most while moving in daughter in the valley.

The third aspect of spirituality is "As". Oneness appears and is reflected as attributes of the Divine such as circularity, peace, stillness, joy, beauty, and transcendence. It is harmonious connection with the oneness of the universe. In this oneness we are attuned with the ways of nature and life that lend to peace, serenity, harmony, and balance. In our practice we feel best when our entire body moves as one.

Synonyms for Oneness in the natural universe are wholeness, balance, allness, infinity, eternity, and perfection--- all spiritual concepts and verities. Since we human beings are part of the universe, being mentally and physically in harmony with these principles is in accord with all T'ai Chi. 

Oneness appears and is reflected AS circularity.

Circularity is ever present in our world. For example, the moon, the earth and other planets, and eggs are circular. The minute cells that constitute our body are circular. Even within the individual cell there are countess circles, including the nucleus, nucleolus, centrioles, and dropelets.

Circularity is ever present in our world. For example, the moon, the earth and other planets, and eggs are circular. The minute cells that constitute our body are circular. Even within the individual cell there are countess circles, including the nucleus, nucleolus, centrioles, and dropelets.

As we know, the symbol of the "Tao" or "T'ai Chi" (Supreme Ultimate) is a circle with the light half, yang the dark half, yin. Circles have no beginning or end. To me that signifies unity. It is interesting that one of the usages of the word "circle" in the dictionary for "come full circle" is to find oneself back where one started.

The complete and connective nature of circles is reflected in the name given to many groups, such as a woman's circle, social circle, and circle of friends. The ultimate connection between husband and wife is symbolized by a wedding ring.

For me, the oneness of circularity is most pervasive in cosmic consciousness. The circularity is in the oblong connectedness of the arms. In this still pose, I sometimes feel the archetype of a divine beholder and witness of the whole universe.

My beginner's class begins in a circle with rocking motion and bird flaps its wings. I do the same at the end of the class for cosmic consciousness.  In the full practice, when appropriate, the class is in a circle all the time.

Oneness appears and is reflected AS peace.

Peace can be found in flowing rhythm.

We see peace and serenity in the continuous motion of brooks, rivers, streams, and in the rolling waves of the ocean. We observe and experience this pleasant relaxed feeling in rocking chair, cradle, and playground swing. We notice calm in the flight of birds and the graceful movements of deer and members of the cat family. We see harmony in the willow tree which moves with the breeze, almost flows with the breeze. We feel peaceful when we witness the falling leaf, the floating snowflake, and the passing cloud.

Rhythmic movement reminds me of the mythical Chinese dragon, the symbol of wisdom and strength. I imagine this dragon moving gracefully between heaven and earth. It moves beyond time and space, with a freedom of body, mind, emotions, and spirit.

Lately, I experience this flowing relaxed feeling most during rocking motion. I also feel it in all the forward and backward yin-yang movements of the legs,
especially as I glide back and forth in base drum.

Oneness appears and is reflected AS stillness.

Alternation between movement and rest is found frequently in life. In the daytime we are up and moving. But at night we sleep. The heart beat is regular, but rests briefly in between each beat. In breathing there is a slight pause of quiet and rest after each inhalation and exhalation. We have heard it said that we should move like a river but rest as a mountain.

It is in the rest position in T'ai Chi Chih practice that we replicate the stillness and silence in the natural order of life. In an early Chinese classic text, the earth has been identified with stability, immobility, motherhood, the center, and the calmness of origin. In rest we concentrate on the soles of the feet. The body sinks, firmly rooted to the ground. We adopt the nature of earth.

For me, the rest position, the reuniting of the yin chi and the yang chi, can be indeed a spiritual moment. It then when I can experience in my own body and mind the scriptural proscriptions "beside the still waters", "be still and know that I am God", and "peace be still".

Coming into the rest position softly, with a graceful conclusion and a deep breath, are auspicious ways to prepare body and mind for glimpses of this sacred silence.

Oneness appears and is reflected AS joy.

Joy can often be found in circular movement. As a youth, I remember the joy of blowing bubbles, riding on a carousel, and running around a school athletic track. And then there was the excitement in watching a three ring circus, "wheel of fortune" on television, children playing with a hoola hoop, and drooling at a round pizza pie.

As a young adolescent I loved bouncing a round pink rubber ball against the wall in my bedroom. Unfortunately, my parents did not share my joy and enthusiasm. They were more involved in the constant pounding noise that reverberated through the walls of the house!

In my current practice, I have the most moments of joy in the circular movement of the arms and hips during carry the ball. The motions feel right when I allow the revolving arms, wrists, and hips to truly "let go". I can also experience this heightened joy during the elliptical movement of the arms in push pull. Their course of movement illustrate that the most harmonious and natural line between two points is a graceful curve.

Oneness appears and is reflected AS beauty.

So much in nature is beautiful. We do not have to look far to behold beauty as we behold sunrise, sunset, rainbow, flowers, clouds, grassy fields, mountain peaks, and running brooks. As the poet wrote "only God can make a tree".

Lately, I feel a kinship and identification with beauty as I move in passing clouds and push pull.

Oneness appears and is reflected AS transcendence.

By transcendence I mean lifting up and raising consciousness (awareness) to the Divine. To the native American Indian the sky represented the Father of the universe. In the Old Testament we have many examples of God's intervention from above. One is manna coming from the sky above to feed Moses and the Jews in the wilderness as they fled from the Egyptians. In the New Testament, we have the ascension of Jesus. Phrases with derivatives of the word "high" are often used to describe the Divine essence. One example is the phrase "higher power" which is used in 12 step recovery programs. Other examples are the high holidays and high priests in Judaism.

So in our form, it is important to have proper alignment. Proper alignment is in accord with spiritual principles. That is, the crown of the head is upright, as though suspended by a rope coming from the ceiling. We aspire upwards towards the Divine. The importance of this auspicious upward position is emphasized in meditation postures strived for in many spiritual traditions. The ones I am most familiar with are in Hindu yogi and Zen Buddhist meditation. There is an emphasis on a straight spine, shoulders arched back but relaxed, and an upward gentle lifting of the neck and head. 

This uplifting transcendental feeling comes to me most often as I do the upward movements in wrist circles taffy and in light at the top of the head and light at the temple. This feeling particularly resonates in the raising of the T'an T'ien, as well as the moving of the upright crown point of the head. I occasionally experience a spiritual moment when I move my hands and arms upward in daughter on the mountaintop culminating with the crossing of the hands. This positioning reminds me of the raising of hands and arms to heaven in prayer. 

An illustration of how "It", "Is, and "As" are related to each other can be seen in the planet earth. The invisible source of energy that created the earth, sustains it, and moves it is the "It". The actual rotation of the earth in the present moment of time is the "Is". The soil, air, plant life, animals, bodies of water, and clouds appear "As" tangible objects in the visible world.

T'ai Chi Chih practice is infinite in the opportunity it affords us to grow spiritually. We are indeed fortunate to have this resource to allow us glimpses of the "It", "Is", and "As" of Spirit. We have access to cherished  effects of circularity, peace, stillness, joy, beauty, and transcendence.

Thank you Justin, our T'ai Chi Chih teachers, and all our spiritual teachers!    





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