When my friend Albert was visiting from Japan, he showed me his notebook. As a potter, he’s always looking for patterns and themes which he can develop into artforms that will flow nicely on the ceramic, and show off both the beauty of the cup or bowl; and the sureness (and saleability!) of his design. He inspired me to try a few of his designs and his design method few months ago; then the app Paper by Fiftythree.com broke for a while, and I couldn’t access it.
His design method consisted of dividing his notebook into a half-dozen boxes, which he then filled with signs and symbols that represented the different elements. In Japan, the five elemental system is still in use in training artists, apparently — wind, water, fire, metal, wood. (In the Western World, we have earth, air, fire, water, spirit/Azoth, but that’s for another day). Fire is difficult to get right, at least for me. My drawings of it always come out looking like scribbles. More than any thing else, they wind up being about color.
But this is a post about tai chi, and if you note today’s title, you can see that I’m thinking about the elements today.
Ground: Be connected to Earth, be connected to the space you’re working in. Don’t be rushing off to other places or other purposes. Be in the tai chi, whether you’re doing it for the 230th time or fighting for your life. Because on the 230th time, you are fighting for your life — the goal is not the rising sense of energy in the body: let that become natural and normal. The goal is the strength and the self management and the internal discipline cultivated from the daily practice. Plant the feet firmly, lower the center of gravity, strengthen the legs and feet and toes to maintain the connection. Break it at your leisure and desire, not someone else’s.
Flow: Be connected to Water. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. Be water-full, and prepared to move like the water within you. Flow through the motions, don’t be jerky and cut-up. Be in continuous motion from one place and purpose to the next.
Breathe: Breathe from the belly, from the diaphragm. Be connected to Air. Without air in your lungs, nothing else happens for very long. Keep the breath even and deep. At first, you’ll be overwhelmed by the sensations of your body getting enough oxygen, and you’ll want to stay in that space forever: why not? It’s addictive, really: energized all over, body tingling, a sense of light filling one’s head and heart and mood…. but move beyond that. Get past the point where it’s an exotic feeling. Move to the point where it becomes normal. Breathe because it’s your birthright.
Burn: keep working until the internal hearth lights, be connected to Fire. It’s not enough to have a little energy. Have a lot. Build the fire up inside you during work that you develop some sweat on you. It doesn’t have to be a lot; a little goes a long way. But make sure that internal fire gets lit, and keep feeding it the fuel that it needs to be successful. It won’t burn if you’re ungrounded; it won’t burn if you’re not breathing; it won’t burn if you’re not flowing. It’s a few more deep breaths past the tingling energy of the Breathe advice before the fire lights, but keep going. It’s there.
I’d like to write this whole deep thing about being connected to Spirit, but I’m not there yet. Likely, neither are you, the reader. For now, four will do.