Friday, May 06, 2016

Relax and Drop the Bags

"I have been practicing Tai-Chi Chuan for over fifty years. Only two years ago that I started to understand the word “relax”. I remember my Tai-Chi Chuan teacher Yang Cheng-Fu who did not like to talk much and he used to sit all day without saying a word if no one asked him questions. However, in our T’ai-chi class he would tell us to “relax” repeatedly. Sometimes it seemed like he would say the word hundreds of times during the practice so that the word could fill up my ears. Strangely enough he also said that if he did not tell me of this word that I would not be able to learn T’ai-chi in three life-times (meaning never). I doubted his words then. Now that I think back, I truly believe that if he did not keep reminding me of the word “relax”, I doubt if I could have learned T’ai-chi Chuan in six life-times.

What is the meaning of “relax” in T’ai-chi? Here is an example to help you understand the word. When we go visit a Buddhist temple we usually see a statue of Me-Lo Buddha. The one who has a big rounded stomach with a big smile on his face. He carries a large bag on his shoulder. On top of this statue we see a motto: “Sit with a bag. Walk with a bag. It would be such a relief to drop the bag.” What does all this mean? To me, a person himself or herself is a bag. Everything he or she owns is baggage, including one’s children, family, position and wealth. It is difficult to drop any of one’s baggage, especially the “self” bag.

T’ai-chi Chuan is difficult to learn. To relax in practicing T’ai-chi Chuan is the most difficult phase to go through. To relax a person’s mind is the most significant obstacle to overcome in practicing T’ai-Chi. It takes a great effort to train and exercise one’s mind to relax (or drop one’s “self” bag)."
-  Professor Cheng Man-ch'ing

I think it takes somewhat of a Stoic or Buddhist attitude to view one's children, family, position and wealth, and self as "baggage."  I favor an Epicurean view regarding these generally pleasant aspects of our life - namely as a means to ongoing pleasures derived from kinetic (movement) activity and interactions, social and intellectual conviviality, natural healthy functioning, and katastematic awareness.   

Chinese Medical Doctor, Author, Painter, Taijiquan Master


  1. The admonishment to relax is a funny thing.

    We read the list of requirements: "relax." We say "check, got that," but we don't. We are not relaxed,don't realize that we're not relaxed and can't truly imagine being relaxed.

    Maybe a lot of Taijiquan practice is standing around doing things until if you are lucky and your mind is in the right place, you finally become relaxed.

    And then the lightbulb goes off.

  2. I find just sitting in my lovely garden pretty relaxing. No exertion, lowered heartbeat, lowered blood pressure, calm, mellow, doing nothing, just observing with all the senses, not imagining much, kind of neutral ... ah the pleasures of such a katastematic states of being.
    Doing taijiquan is pleasurable, relaxing, variety, fun. I don't remind myself much about "requirements." Yes, getting the mind in the "right place" by being natural and playful is a nice benefit that amplifies the pleasures.