Quick Q & A
Q: From practicing Tai Chi / Meditation will I be able to stop my mind from thinking?
A: Your mind will always be thinking / following a thought process. However the practice of Tai Chi / Meditation will help you move your thought process from being in the head to being in the body and the environment that surrounds you. This enables you to experience the "now", the present moment, and with practice, this will naturally develop over a period of time.
Q: Surely using your mind to plan and analyse are essential to living and functioning well in society.
A: Definitely. However, in society today with our electronic devices to over stimulate us we are more susceptible of over using the mind and are constantly caught up in analysing and planning modes. The mind is like any other tool. Once you've used it for a specific function you should put it down. Ask yourself, how many times during the day do you paused and experienced your surroundings? Do you have times when you can sit still in an environment that feels natural and use your sensors to experience the present moment?
I have written this piece "The chattering mind" in response from recent questions from Tai Chi students, friends and general conversions with people and will give some insights from my own experiences and a method of practice.
Whether practicing static meditation; standing or sitting, or moving meditation; Qi Gong or Taiqiquan, with the guidance of a good teacher and practice, anyone should be able to develop being mindfully present and spend less time on thoughts in their head.
Having studied standing meditation, Zen sitting meditation, nei gong and Taoist exercises, all systems have complemented my study of Tai Chi Chuan. Out of those systems I would have to say, that in the beginning, I found it easier to develop mindfulness in practicing Tai Chi Chuan. In Tai Chi Chuan you are continually placing the mind into the body as you have to mechanically synchronise your movements in the body as well as being aware of your surroundings, foot placement for balance on the earth etc. Whereas if you are standing or sitting in meditation it becomes easier for the mind to wander off into thought land. Interestingly though, after a few years of practicing Tai Chi Chuan I naturally felt the urge to pursue standing meditation and sitting meditation. I was also very fortunate to be shown under the guidance of Sifu John Hartley, internal taoist nei gong exercises which continue to development energetic flow / movement.
So how can Taiqiquan help the mind be more present?
Below is brief example of my experiences from studying a series of mindful walking exercises that my teacher Sifu John Hartley developed from his love of taiqiquan and his compassion for helping people achieve a more contented and healthy lifestyle. This will help you get a better image of how your mind can be more present in the body and surroundings. I would also like to add here that the mindful walking method is not a new form or someone's desire to create a new brand of taiqiquan. It's about developing the fundamental principles of the Art in 3 walking movements (brush knee, repulse monkey and cloud hands). These 3 walking movements are recognised in any taiqiquan form, regardless of the taiqiquan system that is being studied. E.G: Yang, Wu, or Sun. So it's accessible for any taiqiquan practitioner as you can assimulate the method into your taiqiquan form practice as well as help develop the mind to be more present in the body and surroundings. For someone who has never studied a taiqiquan form, it also good news, as you can assimilate the method in less time as you won’t have to learn a 24, 37, 58 or 108 movements (depending on the taiqiquan form system) that takes months to 2 years just to memorise the sequence.
One of the core aspects of the mindful walking system essentially revolve around the development of achieving the inner listening abilities of movement and then energy flow in brush knee, repulse monkey and cloud hands. My journey began after I learnt the coordination of legs, waist and upper body movements working in unison while sinking and rotating around my central axis line while walking forwards, backwards or sidewards. Then as my mind / body began relaxing into these rhythmic movements I was naturally able to keep focused for longer in the body. The next level of development came through further practice when I began feeling / experiencing internal signals that came about from sinking and rotating around my centre axis line. From there I gained the ability to the listen to the very subtle internal gestures within the body that signalled when to move. I found this euphoric as I was naturally experiencing the present and was moving with less effort and greater balance. I gained an insight into the saying "seeking the stillness in the movement". I then slowly increased my practice as it was becoming more internally focus for longer periods of time by listening to and feeling these internal gestures that propagated my movements. From the constant practice of aligning the skeletal body around the central axis line and listening to these subtle internal gestures that propagated movement, my body began to naturally feel the subtle sinking and rising of energy flow "chi" in the body. The feeling of moving energy is a visceral experience in the body that sinks and rises and is not a feeling that you can get straight away or in a short period of time.
Also be careful when learning Tai Chi Chuan and / or meditation. Make sure you keep a discerning attitude (see the article "how to find a teacher"). It is very easy for your conditioned mind to take over and think you are learning and feeling the "chi" but in fact you can be just imagining it all in your head. I have met many tai chi practitioners who have fallen into this unfortunate trap. Make sure you are genuinely feeling and experiencing what you are practicing in your body by following correct body alignments and listening to the internal gestures that propagate movement. Don’t jump steps in your method of practice trying to feel "chi" otherwise you Tai Chi will be head / thought orientated.
Now back to chattering mind.
The human mind is a very useful tool but we humans over use the thinking mind spending more time in our mind, analysing, planning, fantasying, dramatising, instead of experiencing the present moment with our sensors. At times we may feel overwhelm by this continue conversing or “chattering mind”. That is why we find it hard when adopting a practice that pushes you in the direction of being present in the now. Our mind/ bodies are not use to it and resist and you may find your mind wandering off into “chattering” more so in the beginning rather than focusing on the practice.
Method: Try this:
If after reading this, something has come up and you wish to ask a question please email me at email@example.com
Below: James in standing meditation Ronnie Creek, Cradle Mt, TASMANIA Sept 2017