The authentic self

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Your self-image is constructed of thoughts, memories, opinions, ideas, preconceptions and expectations.
It is nurtured by the mass media, fashion, your education, your peers, your colleagues and your relationships. Unfortunately, it is not even real.


The main purpose of meditation is to lose our self-image. This is accomplished by noticing what is actually taking place right now.
Our emotions, our thoughts, sounds around us, what we see and our physical sensations. By bringing our attention to the immediate, we erode the illusory self-image and it slowly begins to fade.


The spiritual component of martial arts training encompasses the same goal as meditation. In order to deal with combat skilfully we must take ourselves out of the equation.
Our self-consciousness is a hindrance. We must focus our mind on what is happening right now, rather than on our anxieties, extrapolations or ego.


The problem with confusing self-image with reality is that it is easy to debunk the fantasy. Investing emotion in our image does not make it any more tangible. It just makes it more difficult to shed

You must concentrate upon and consecrate yourself wholly to each day, as though a fire were raging in your hair.

(Zen mondo)


The falsehood of self-image must be shed for the student to become truly skilled at tai chi. This will be difficult to accomplish.
At the start, the student will cling desperately to their ego - believing it to be their identity, their true self.
With time, practice, patience and perseverance, they may begin to see the possibility of freedom.

The old ways

All Taoist and Zen traditional practices require the student to just do what they are told. The routines and skills must be trained without any deviation from the teaching.
No omissions, no additions, no embellishments. Just an accurate reproduction.

Stealing the art

Over time, the student becomes so immersed in the art that they forget about their self-image. They are part of something greater. A living tradition.


When the mass media feels transparent and empty (the news inane and politics a rich man's idea of humour) you feel a sense of detachment from society. Like a spectator. This is a good sign.
You have become adrift.

True self

Somewhere along the journey, self-image is lost. It no longer mattered. The mind is quiet and rested. The chattering voice is gone. Instead, there is a child-like feeling of freedom.
No longer requiring the facades so common in adulthood, the self is now genuine; real, sincere, strong and friendly.

The eyes are the window to the soul

Sifu Waller opens the door to class and permits the student access to the training hall. He is greeted by many smiling faces.
Grown adults show their respect, sincerity and warmth through their genuine friendship and enthusiasm.


When long-term students enter the training hall, the authentic self is there in their faces; in their eyes. The young, happy child - normally hidden beneath years of clutter, anxieties and despair.
For a brief two hours a week, that person comes out to play.

Peter Pan

This is you. This is the real you. You never grew up. Nobody does. You just forgot, that's all.

Beyond class

Once you learn how to shed your self-image, your mind will remain quiet. The authentic self will be visible in your everyday expression. Your lines will soften and youth will emerge.

Of all the people who begin the discipline of tai chi, only a handful will continue past a year or so. Humility, compassion, lack of ambition, non-aggression, spontaneity and silence are not qualities that our societies value. There is no more difficult journey than the journey to the self.

(John Lash)

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Page created 27 October
Last updated 16 June 2023