Conscious connection and tuned expression
Connections allow the passing of information from one idea to another. One of the ways we can pass information is by changing the connection itself.
With respect to ourselves, changing connections within ourselves we express ourselves. By changing connections between ourselves and others we change the way we relate and so help to express the idea we are a part of, two people dancing, two people talking, two people in a relationship.
- Dancing with a partner I can signal to her with a slight change in pressure through my right hand that we are going to turn away from each other.
- By myself moving across the earth I express myself by pushing through one foot and then the other.
- Within myself, I express myself by contracting muscles to move one bone with respect to another, changing the way they relate to each other.
Depending on relative mass and energy and how parts are connected, changing a connection results in more change in one idea or the other idea or both equally. Connected to the Earth our expression changes it only a little. Connected to someone while dancing our expression affects each other. Massed together, all of us can affect the Earth alot.
Conscious of connection we allow energy to flow.
When I practice doing Tai Ji with a sword I am learning to be aware of how I hold it and to feel the weight of the sword as I hold it. And I move the sword and position it using my connection, sometimes aligned, sometimes using gravity, sometimes using the momentum of my movement and the swords movement.
While I affect the sword, it also affects me. Even though it is inanimate, it still has weight and form, and because I am holding it and moving it, through that connection it affects the way I hold myself and move. Connected, we change each other, and so we dance.
Dancing with a sword, I am learning to hold the sword firmly enough that I can control it but loose enough that I can feel it and allow it to move. And that’s what I am learning to do without a sword, hold myself firmly enough that I can control my entire body but loose enough that I can feel it and how it is able to move.
And that is what Tai Ji is about, learning to feel all the parts of our body and how they connect and affect each other. Feeling all of the relationships within our body so that I can adjust the connections so that they are balanced, tuned, (and feeling the expression of those relationships, those ideas) with just the right amount of heaviness and lightness.
Feeling the connections within my body I can then use those connections to express myself. Feeling the connections outside of myself I can help to express the idea I am a part of.
Eventually, with or without a sword I will get to the point that I am able to feel all of my body and instead of consciously controlling individual muscles, I feel my entire body at once and feel it into the position or movement I want to do. As if I am letting the idea of what I want to do drive the movement of my body.
The clearer the idea and the better I know my body the easier it will be to feel my way into any position. And rather than me telling my body what to do I’ll be listening to what it wants to do, like a sailboat captain riding the waves, driven by the wind. I’m not quite at that point yet and so I think about how to get there. (Don’t think, Do!)
Varying the connections within ourself
Thinking to myself while I was walking back to my hotel room, I was on holiday at the time, I thought of a cone balanced on its end. In the physics textbooks I had to read such a situation would be classified as “unstable” because it would be so easy for the cone to tip over in any direction.
I started to think about it in a more positive context, rather than the cone being on the verge of falling over, how about thinking of it as having the potential to move easily in any direction.
Letting Gravity do the work
I imagined the sword form I’d been practicing. In certain moves I had thought that I needed to move my whole body to move the sword. It was only a slight movement, a slight twist of the body to cause the sword to drop and pivot around its hilt but in this case it wasn’t quite right. Newly inspired, I though of holding the sword vertical with the tip upwards but then just moving my arm while holding my body stable so that with the slightest movement of my wrist the sword falls away from me. No need for me to move my whole body, no need to swing the sword or use effort, just a slight movement of the wrist and then relax it so that the sword swings and cuts under the influence of it’s own weight.
It’s own weight! Holding the sword so that I can feel its weight if I relax my wrist or my shoulder or my elbow, the sword’s own weight would carry it downwards along the path I chose.
I could do that with more than just the sword. I could try to feel the weight of all the parts of my body, so that letting go at any joint one part or another part of my body would fall freely along a curved path centered around the joint I had just relaxed.
Getting back to my hotel room, I retrieved my sword and tried the move I had been thinking about, keeping my body still while cocking my wrist to tip the sword. Then I tried to apply the same idea without using a sword. Holding my arm in front of as if having completed a punch to the front, I then relaxed that shoulder and allowed my arm to swing down and around and back up in a circle. The weight of my own arm caused it to swing around and I realized that I could do that with any two parts of my body, release the connection that holds two parts together so that one part swings around the other or they both swing around each other until each part reaches a point where they are stable again.
The beauty of this was that I allowed gravity to do the work. I was working naturally to express myself with the minimum of effort, elegantly, using the forces that were already there.
Changing the way we connect
Skating, gliding on one skate, I used to hold my center directly over that skate so that my whole body was balanced. But then I smoothly leaned to one side so that my body fell to that side. To accelerate the fall and to cover more distance I pushed with the skate that was gliding along the ice. Then at the last possible moment I caught myself on the other skate, so that the energy of the fall was translated into a glide and so I propelled myself along the ice. In that instance, rather than releasing a shoulder or a wrist, the connection I was working on was my connection with the earth via the ice but the principle is the same.
By changing the way we connect, by changing the connection between two bodies, two parts, two ideas, we affect the way the ideas relate and we express ourselves.
Engaging a connection
Gravity, the consciousness of the earth pulling inwards, sometimes we resist, just enough to balance it, holding ourselves stable, sometimes we resist enough to move against it, and other times we allow ourselves to go with it, allowing ourselves to flow.
We can express ourselves by releasing parts of a connection partially or fully or we can engage a connection. Expression is a result of changing the nature of a connection.
In yoga I keep my back muscles and the back of my neck engaged in a pose called double pigeon as I bend forwards over my calves. That way my pelvis, ribcage, head and arms become one unit and I use the weight of them all to help tilt my pelvis forwards and so stretch the muscles that cross the back and outer sides of my hip joints. I reach my arms out to the sides and lift them up slightly so that the back of my shoulders are engaged adding my arms to the weight of my upper body.
In this case I am engaging connections within my body.
Expression can be the result of changing the relationships within ourselves, in our relationship with the earth, and with our relationships with those outside of ourselves. In some instances we change connections by creating tension, in other instances by releasing it. And in some instances we do something in-between.
By way of explanation, double pidgeon is sitting with the legs crossed but the heel of the upper leg is resting directly over the opposite knee and the bottom heel is directly below the opposite knee. For those of us less flexible in the buttock regions the sensations thus engendered are quite exquisite, and if one is of a certain bent, quite enjoyable. For others the enjoyment is achieved by coming out of the pose.
Tuning connections for more effortless expression
Moving with a sword I feel the center of the sword and where it is in relation to the hand that is holding it. I also feel the way I am holding the sword, not too tight, not too loose either, just enough tension to feel it and at the same time move it.
Dancing with a partner is a little bit more difficult than dancing with a sword. A sword is inanimate, and while it changes the way I expressed myself, it in itself was constant. With a partner there is two of us to do the thinking and that’s part of the reason we both needed to keep ourselves taught, so that there was some shape, some form, some consistency to the relationship.
Also, with two conscious entities working together, one must be the lead or the foundation.
Dancing with a partner I held myself taught, not tight, but tuned so that any change in my body could easily be felt by my partner who was holding herself the same way. We felt the center of ourselves and each other so that we could move together and keep our connection while allowing that connection to change so that we could express ourselves and the idea of the dance.
We tuned our connection by pulling inwards and pushing outwards at the same time, balancing the firmness of the idea of ourselves with the ability to connect to ideas outside of ourselves.
To express ourselves we feel connections. And so that those connections transmit change effectively we can tune them the way a violin player tunes the strings of his or her violin. Tuned so that when the bow is pulled across them they vibrate around the length of themselves, pulsing very quickly in and out of center.
Tuning a violin, each string affects the other because they share a common connection, the body and the neck of the violin. As any one string is tightened it adds tension to the body of the violin, pulling the two ends closer together, and as a result loosening the tension on the other strings, so that tuning is an iterative process. A musician can’t just tune one string and then leave it. He or she has to adjust each string repeatedly in turn until all the strings together are tuned. But for all the strings to be affected by one string being tightened, all of the strings have to have some tension.
Something similar happens in dancing, when all the parts of each person are tuned or at the very least have some tension in them then one movement of one part of one person’s body can be felt by the other. When all of the connections are tuned then any one movement becomes beautiful because one movement affects the whole, beautifully.
Dancing the Cha Cha
A partner was teaching me how to connect with her while doing the Cha Cha Cha. I had to hold my elbow at my side with my hand forwards, holding hers. Then with my elbow fixed at my side I leaned into my hand and she did the same, as if we were holding each other up by leaning against each other. Then when I moved forwards, or backwards, she felt me move through the change in pressure from my hand.
As I moved, whether forwards or backwards, my whole body moved. With my elbow fixed to my side as my body moved forwards, my elbow, and hand, did too. And when I moved back, my elbow moves back with my body, pulling her with me.
Whenever I was not pressing, not leaning in, my teacher would remind me that we were not connected. I had to press inwards so that she could press back. Otherwise she would just fall into my arms.