[Excerpt from Richard’s book]
I decided to leave London, leave the Tai Chi centre, leave my friends and take a spiritual journey inwards, wherever that might take me. I felt the need to start again. To purify my foundation built thus far, to let it go and to rebuild a new foundation, using Tai Chi Chuan as a way of earning a pure living in the world, and to follow the unfolding spiritiual path before me, in the form of Geshe Damcho and his Buddhist centre. Each morning we would rise at six to light the offering candles in the meditation hall, make tea and chant and meditate as a comminity till 7.30. Breakfast would follow and then around 9.30 I would begin my Tai Chi practice.
One morning as I was moving my way through my practice, listening to the advice I had heard years before echo itself out of my depths, I saw Geshe-la walking past the window. He turned and opened up his impish grin to beam at me and dance around on one leg, a very un-venerable thing to do. We both laughed and carried on our way. It would happen like that. I would hear his steps coming down the stairs which led to the hallway and the front door. Sometimes his feet would turn right and head for the kitchen and other times he would turn left into the outer porch and sooner or later past my bay window where he would catch my eye, my mind and my heart, make me laugh and on we’d go.
After a while he took to bursting in on me. I would be deep in some postural alignment releasing centuries of past tension when the door would fly open and there he would be. “How are you?” he would say. “Lovely day isn’t it?” On and on about nothing, sometimes for an hour we would meander, then just as suddenly he was gone. I was left with an hour less of my precious Tai Chi and bewildered yet honoured by the intrusion.
After a while I began to resent it. I did not sit around distracting him when he was practising, so why should he be doing this to me? It got so that as I began to hear his slippers come down the stairs, my practice would already disintegrate with the threatened interruption. In fact I only had to hear his slippers to feel the irritation arise. I found this hurtful and confusing as I loved and respected this wonderful man with his huge heart, bright sun-like smile and radiant awareness. Some days after his special meditation days he would stagger around as though hardly able to contain it all. It was difficult to get close to him such was the air of vibratory intensity surrounding him.
I decided it must be a test. That was it! I had failed each time. Next time I would ignore him, remain deep within what I was doing and see what happened. The next day I was ready, for to ignore Geshe Damcho was no easy feat. It could be construed as deeply disrespectful to the teacher, to the holder of the Dharma, one whom I had placed myself under by living at the Centre. In spite of his cheerful feminine wisdom and warmth in the few months I had been there, I had felt his steel. One day he came in as I was practising a sword form. I had a wooden sword in my hand and he burst in in his usual fashion, except this time he just looked and made a comment about killing people and walked out. I carried on.
To my relief and disappointment, no Geshe-La appeared that day, nor the next, nor in fact for that week, which was unusual as his interruptions were now quite frequent. But a few weeks later, when I had forgotten about it, I heard them.
They went into the loo upstairs and came out again. They made a left turn and descended down the red carpeted stairs towards my door. They did not go left to the garden they came straight on, towards MY DOOR.
I was right in the middle of the Long Form and had my back to the door. It opened. Nothing. He did not come in, he just opened the door. I pretended to be deeply concentrated knowing that the flow of the form would take me away for a few minutes before it would swing me round to face him. Nothing happened. I was beginning to regret this. Trickles of sweat sprouted from under my arms. I could feel the drops fall into my T Shirt. My legs felt hollow like a winter twig shaking in a storm. I could delay it no longer. I had been slowing down more and more as I reached the point of return. “Ah well,” I thought, “here goes.”
As I turned, I beheld a Geshe leaning forward with the intensity of his look. I beheld two black shiny beads looking deep into me. I stopped, I blinked, held by the expected but completely surprising force, like a rabbit caught in the glare of headlights. Finally I could see he was going to say something. I seemed to have been frozen in the Single Whip posture for ages. My shoulders were aching and I was wet.
“I think you better go make cup of Tea” he said with disdain, “Much better for you than this.” He waved a hand in the direction of my practice. He closed the door. As his slippers went back up stairs I was still in the posture, eyes blinking, mind blinking.
My first response was one of total shock. Absolute shock. Here was one of the people who I respect most in the world, telling me the thing that is most sacred to me is no better than making a cup of tea, in fact making a cup of tea is better. The second response – complete anger. I am furious. I want to rush out and throttle him. The third was “OK I’ll become a monk then. I’ll get ordained.” But the next thought is “Yes but what about all the people I’m going to teach tonight”. When I walk in am I going to say “Sorry guys, we’re just having a cup of tea tonight. That’s it, that’s all we’re going to do. It’s much better than Tai Chi.” It was this range of emotion that charged through me, bang bang bang bang. Put yourself in my position. How would you feel?
After that, I carried on practising and teaching but that sentence ate away at me. It just entered me. “What you’re doing – much better you go and make a cup of tea. What do you think you’re playing at?” I just stayed with it, it’s one of the things I’m good at, I just stay with things and gradually I began to understand. What he was saying to me was that if I was doing Tai Chi to become powerful or if I was doing Tai Chi to be loved or if I was doing Tai Chi to be special, to be different, then much better go and make a cup of tea. Because when you make a cup of tea you just make a cup of tea. People don’t pay you to make a cup of tea. They’re not going to come and spend £150 to learn how to make a cup of tea. They’re not going to turn up every week for two hours to make a cup of tea. What’s more you often just make it for somebody else, it’s not a big deal. You just make a cup of tea. I began to get it. The way I was practising my Tai Chi was actually part of the problem. It was increasing my ego, my sense of self, not decreasing it. I realised I had been acting as if I was not enough. I needed to be good at something and I needed people to see me being good at something, and I needed to teach them something, just in order for me to feel OK about myself.
Not only was Geshe directing me to why I had been doing my Tai Chi, but he was also directing me to how. He was inviting me to play my Tai Chi like I made a cup of tea! It’s no big deal. It’s like the trees bending in the wind, they just do it. It’s like grass growing, or my lungs breathing. Is a tulip paranoid because its not a rose? Can a lion be a goat? He was talking about Non-Action, Wu – Wei. An action done without self consciousness but with awareness. This is the heart of Tai Chi. This is the stillness within the movement, the “Eye of the Hurricane”. He who stands within this has not broken his connection with the Universe, he is still in the Garden of Eden’, to use a Christian metaphor.
And yet there was this love, this great love of the path, of Tai Chi Chuan, and a great wish to become whole, to know why, why am I here? So rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, there were certain things that I began to leave out. I didn’t teach them any more because I couldn’t see their point in the greater scheme of things. For instance a lot of the weapon forms just disappeared. I’d learnt them, but they just went. A lot of the additional partner forms all went. I knew another form, a complete other system – that went. And lots of other things I’ve actually forgotten about now. They just went. I started sieving them through the “cup of tea” and the ones that remained, I used, and the ones that fell through, I forgot about. The Chuan became streamlined. It became a very accurate finger uncluttered by culture, excessive form or a collecting mentality. If the Tai Chi is not here in the simple things it is not anywhere. More is not necessarily better. Keep it simple and accurate and in service to the Tao.