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Taoism recognises that the purpose of conscious thought is to solve problems. It also identifies the danger with thinking...
Invariably when seeking to solve a problem, we lack sufficient information to make an informed determination. Lacking context and perspective, we aim to understand regardless.
This is clearly foolish and cannot lead to any real insights.


To supplement thinking, we use our memories and experiences, opinions and values to assess and analyse whatever it is we encounter. Again, this is a fragmented approach.
Our memories, opinions, expectations and bias are all relative to what we encounter in life and how we reacted to what occurred. Memory is fundamentally unreliable.


Compare & contrast

When we encounter the unfamiliar, we seek to understand it in terms of the familiar.
Tom is considered in terms of Harry. Can you see the problem with this?
Taoism advocates considering things in terms of itself, not in terms of something else. Hence, tai chi is not like karate, nor is it different to karate.
In fact, tai chi and karate have no bearing on one another at all. No comparison is appropriate or necessary. The comparison exists in your own consciousness.
You create the connection. In reality, there is no connection. Similarities and differences will not lead to greater understanding.

Of itself so

Instead of wasting time thinking, problem-solving, comparing and contrasting, Taoism suggests that you 'just do'.
When everything is seen as possessing an essential quality (te), you do not look elsewhere for understanding. You also recognise that your own ignorance is inevitable.
Knowledge requires context and experience. And you have neither. A tai chi beginner knows hardly anything about tai chi.
Scrabbling around trying to understand titbits of information in the context of an unknowable whole is clearly pointless. It is a waste of time and effort.

Try to explain it and it just becomes more confusing.
But beyond words, deep within, something understands.

(Lao Tzu)


Tai chi is physical. There are many psychological insights of course, but everything about the art must ultimately be understood with your body, not with your mind.
You cannot understand tai chi verbally. Words do not extend to reality. Words signify, they point. But that is all.
You cannot eat the word 'bread'. You can talk all day about a strike, but that will not prepare you for the pain and the shock of the actuality.

Stop analysing

You may be pleased with your ability to analyse things, but that skill will not help you to learn tai chi. Understanding comes with hindsight.
A beginner does not possess enough experience to understand the art. Over-analysing will actively hinder your progress.


If somebody attacks you in the street, what will you do? Think about it?  Problem-solve it?
You are already on the floor with a knife wound in your stomach or a broken nose.

You can't understand it

If you cannot speak Chinese and listen to two Chinese people talking, you do not understand the conversation. Moreover, you cannot understand it. No matter how hard you try.
You may make broad assumptions and guesses based upon tone of voice, body language and apparent emotions. But these are unreliable.
Without the necessary cultural background there is no way to determine what is taking place. Learning tai chi is akin to this. You are learning blindly. It is necessary to stop thinking and just do.
The moment you try to second-guess your teacher's instructions, you are standing in your own way.

You cannot practice tai chi with the rational mind. The most difficult thing for beginning students is that they try to make the movements with their minds and they cannot. The movements are too complicated. The flowing of the hands, the correct timing, the bending of the knees, the breathing, the balance; all this cannot be controlled by the mind.

The pianist cannot think of each note as she plays it, it must simply be there. Just leave the body alone. When we do not interfere with it, the body moves with the Tao spontaneously.

(John Lash)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023