By Lee Burkins
Words from the Tao Te Ching speak of the space within the walls of a vessel as being useful. The human body is like a vessel and the space within our body is therefore useful.
Our practice of the Water method of Taoist internal arts centers on discovering within our bodies where space is clear, blocked, constricted, stressed, dead or non-existent. Using the methods of dissolving and letting go, we gradually come to a deeper experience of our “vessel” and the depths and usefulness of the space within us.
We also can observe in the external world that space exists all around us, and between us and the things around us. It is a simple observation that space is not empty because things and human bodies are moving within this space. Even the space between everything and everyone is not empty. Directly unseen, gravity, dark matter, and other effective disturbances exist. The usefulness of all this external space makes movement possible.
Humans can travel from one destination to another. Earth loops around in our solar system that sails inside the Milky Way Galaxy that swirls across the space of the Local Group of galaxies that continue on and within ever expansive systems soaring, spinning and spiraling throughout space. The macrocosm of the universe’s external space is useful for all things to exist and move in. What then exists and moves within the microcosm of space inside our vessel, our physical body?
Besides the obvious existence of all the stuff within the physical body: bones, muscles, organs, tissue, fluids, molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles and such; these things exist in and are permeated by our vessel’s space.
The Tao Te Ching also speaks to us of looking for things not seen. What then lies unseen in the internal space? Through the patient, persistent practice of learning to dynamically align with the movements of external space, and learning to relax, release, dissolve and let go of blockages in the internal space, we experience that space is not empty. It is filled with mind, energy (chi) and spirit.
One of the amazing direct experiential relationships of the “space” within us is that it is malleable. It can be shrunk, expanded and geometrically configured. Space is dynamic. Space is actively connected to the body. The more our practice connects us with space, the more the body can release its blockages. In turn, more space is revealed. A great result of this relationship/experience is that the practitioner is able let go at deeper levels and allow the body to be moved and manipulated by the spaces within it. Instead of focusing on moving the physical body, focus is on the movement of space. At this stage of practice fluid movement is attained and available for further refinement.
In addition to the practices of aligning and dissolving, the quieting of mental noise is necessary for the discovery of what lies unseen within the space. (Perfect quietness and perfect alignments are not required but an increasing degree of such is. It is on our journey that we make discovery, not by seeking to arrive somewhere.This is important in not creating tension, thereby cramping space. If space is constricted movement is made more difficult.) As we move into quietness and align, our awareness experiences that space is permeated by the mind and chi and that the mind permeates the chi. It is here the practitioner experiences that the mind directly affects the chi. A ripple in the mind ripples the chi.
This is “seen” in the quiet, collected vastness of micro-spaces within the body. The mind morphs, the chi configures and the body moves. The dynamics of inner space is revealed. It is at this stage that fluidity begins to transition to invisibility, unseen movement.
Of all the practices of the internal art of movement, ba gua is considered celestial. What is outside is inside and what is inside is outside. There is no point at which external space ends and the body begins or the body ends and space begins. Space permeates all. The practice of ba gua is a study of what transpires within and throughout space. Its movements are both beautiful and mysterious and reveal the nature of interaction and change. It is a system of motion that embodies the essence of Tao and in practicing reveals the configurations and pathways of energy within the human body and the omnipotent connection to the stillness of our spirit.
Lee Burkins’ study of the martial, healing and meditative aspects of internal arts began in 1962. At age 19 he entered the US Army, became a paratrooper then later earned a Green Beret where he was trained in weapons, demolitions, psychological operations and intelligence, communications, mountain climbing, knife/hand-to-hand fighting, Shotokan Karate and battlefield medicine. Lee trained and led Indo-Burmese tribal warriors in guerilla warfare in Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Lee started studying with Taoist Master Bruce Frantzis in 1979 and began in-depth practices of nei gung, Tai Chi Chuan, Ba Gua Zhang and meditation. Lee’s main studies include Ba Gua Zhang of the lineage of Liu Hung Chieh, Taoist Grandmaster of Bruce Frantzis for twenty years.