We are products of our environment.
When I do the tai chi form, or really any of the qi gong forms either, I am limited by the space in which I do them. This much is obvious. The hippocampus, the part of our brains that tells us where we are, controls short-term memory, long-term memory, and our sense of place. This is why it’s so valuable to practice Palace of Memory techniques in the first place. The Thalamus, which develops the RAW data of sensory perception into SketchUp and .STL files and JPEGs and GIFs, can be fooled by memories into thinking something is happening in the ‘real world’ when in fact it is only happening ‘in imagination.’
These are fluid concepts, of course. My ‘imagination’ is in the ‘real world’, but without the use of pen and paper, and without the thalamus’s peceptual abilities, and the fore-brain’s training, and the hippocampus’s ability to recall information, I cannot show you what is in my imagination. I must translate it to a place/time/form where you can plant it in your memory as an experience. Hence the two Western Mystery Traditions, first that the realms of being are discrete and not continuous; and second that the human body is a microcosm of the macrocosm of the universe: as above, so below, as within, so without.
As I did tai chi today, I was shaped by the room in which I worked. There was a pair of shoes I didn’t move, and a TV set moved to a slight different place than usual. And a chair, not quite in its usual orientation. The form had to flow around them. In moments like these, it becomes apparent that the form is intended to be fluid, not rigid. But it is only by practicing in ‘cluttered’ spaces that we learn to bend the form to suit the space, and so practice being aware of the need to change to suit current circumstances, rather than obey the dictates of the form. Which will you trust, your teacher or your own eyes? Which will you trust… your eyes that see you are practicing in the same room as yesterday; or your foot encountering the misplaced shoe on the floor; or your shin connecting with the chair? When will you come to believe that where you are today is NOT QUITE where you were yesterday?
The Dweller on the Threshold is ever present. Even today, after making it through the whole form, he petulantly cried, you could have waited until you got home. What’s done is done, I told him. There’s little heart left in him, I think. But perhaps some day he will be strong enough to keep me from my daily practice. Not today.
Back to this concept that we are part of our environment. As I moved around the room during the tai chi form, trying so hard to slow down, I shaped the form to move around obstacles, to put my foot down between misplaced shoes, to kick higher than the chair, to plant my foot on the carpet rather than on the floor for the spin. I could have put my foot into the shoe, I suppose, or used my knee to shove the TV to one side on its rolling stand, or spun on the wood floor — but then I might have twisted an ankle; and then I would have been wearing only one shoe. Or I could have spun on the floor; but then my windmill kick would have been too close to the open closet door. Or I could have pulled my groin in shoving the TV with muscles not designed to push sideways.
My friend J.P. used to remind me, in something that seems reminiscent of Chaos Magic (or at least what I have learned of it from Gordon and others), “Before confronting the mass of reality, remember that reality has mass.”
Therefore remember that your environment shapes you much more than you shape it. Moment to moment, our brains are building a model of the world around us, but it’s entirely possible for our brains to build a picture as much of memories of how things used to be, as the way they are. In martial arts, in magic, in life, it’s important to see or feel clearly how your environment is affecting you.