Breakthroughs

There’s a moment when a new skill you’ve been learning and which was seemingly beyond your capacity, suddenly happens all by itself and you can do it. In these moments you see the Tao beyond words or concepts.

I recall when studying Chinese medicine in the early '80s, I was going into paroxysms about not being able to read the pulse, the main diagnostic tool used. For two years it had been baffling me, for though I understood it intellectually, I simply couldn’t feel what I was meant to. Then one morning on my way to the clinic driving the Queen Mary, a decadent old silver '60s Cadillac, along edge of the Rio Grande as it snakes its way down through the foothills of the Rockies with the sunlight dancing on the ripples in the water, it suddenly came to me – ‘bollocks to this confusion and obfuscation,’ said I, ‘I can do this’.

My rational mind didn’t necessarily believe it but agreed to hold itself in animated suspension till I proved my case, which I did that morning. As my teacher indicated for me to feel the first patient’s pulse after him, I took it and reported my findings, as was the custom and for the first time in two years, instead of being corrected, my teacher smiled and nodded his head. This continued for the rest of the day with patient after patient and that was it – I could read the pulse.

In that moment of getting it right for the first time I felt the Tao, just as I had the first time I managed to dive into a swimming pool, or the first time I was able to play a paradiddle on the drums or a chord progression on the guitar, or the first time I was able to crack a gag in Catalan – I’m sure you’ve had many moments of such grace yourself.

One of the best ever happened during a session with my original 70s Tai Chi master, John Kells and his number one student, Charles. Since I went off to live in New Mexico in 1979, John, one of the world’s proper magicians, had been developing a higher level of Tai Chi, working with the angelic body and on account of it is able to push a person with great force without even touching them, simply using his will and abilities to gain purchase on the opponent's angelic body.

At first I couldn’t get it at all and would stand there like a baffled idiot, just like when I first began learning Tai Chi. However, gradually over the weeks, I started getting glimpses of it being possible. Then it happened all by itself. It began with me physically lifting Charles, who’s around 15 stone, whatever that is in kilos, clean into the air, using just one hand simply by moving the chi up inside my own body from below my navel to the top of my chest. With my local mind blown, I then went on to push him into the air in the same way a couple of times without actually touching him. It exhausted me for an hour or two afterwards because he's quite a hefty guy and my body’s not yet used to that level of chi flowing through it but left me exhilarated, not just for the thrill of being able to do the technique itself but also for that moment of seeing the Tao in me.

I wasn't too bothered about being able to push people without touching them and so happy to let that develop on its own, as I was only doing it for fun but was excited about the effect it had on my normal earthly pushing hands abilities (pushing hands is the Tai Chi version of two people doing boxing practice), which I immediately went to try out with explosive effect straight after the session with my favourite sparring partner. It was like having a new friend to play with – a new aspect of me I hadn’t met before, yet who’d been waiting patiently in the wings for at least thirty years.

And I think that’s the point. When you make breakthroughs in whatever fields of endeavour you’re developing yourself in, you get to meet new aspects of you, you haven’t previously met but somehow knew were always there and in those meetings, you also meet the Tao, which is you really anyway and before I lose myself and you in a pointless metaphysical tangle of words, let me bid you a stupendous day in which you spontaneously make breakthrough after breakthrough, leaving you in no doubt about the ineffable magic informing your existence.


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