TAI CHI CHUAN, THE ART OF DREAM MEDITATION
by Dario Girolami
Who has not been charmed by the slow, sinuous movements of Tai Chi Chuan? Who has not experienced the feeling that they are watching someone floating under water or in a magical transparent fluid which has the effect of stopping the flow of time?
It is not by chance that Tai Chi Chuan is practised, especially in the West, as a means of promoting longevity, physical well-being and health.
It is indeed true that the constant practice of Tai Chi Chuan is an excellent therapy, but there is more. As a matter of fact Tai Chi is also an effective martial art and an ancient form of meditation.
It may be hard to believe, but those sinous and graceful movements really are martial movements. They are a series of parries, attacks and dodges. But Tai Chi is a martial training system based on the principle of harmony. So every action is defensive in nature, not offensive, and aims at discouraging the opponent rather than defeating him. But these very movements are also a form of meditation in motion. The main scope of oriental meditation, particularly Buddhist, is to develop a constant and all-reaching awareness. In order to achieve this state of awareness, the student learns to to focus his/her attention on breathing, posture or, as in walking meditation, on body movements associated with the rhythm of breathing. Similarly, Tai Chi Chuan leads to a greater awareness of the body in motion.
In addition the movements in Tai Chi Chuan are extremely complex and articulated and this requires great attention to what is being done.
The slow and harmonious flowing from one posture to the next is reminiscent of the smooth movement of water, which flows without resistance, and also of the Noble Truths of Buddhism which says that all is suffering, that there is no substantial "I", but also that everything is impermanent, transitory, in constant motion. All this suffering is caused by craving and clinging or better to say holding out against the uninterrupted, continuous unfolding of reality, which leads to existential distress. Similarly, Tai Chi Chuan teaches us how to move in harmony with reality and how to eliminate resistance to the opponent's attacks but rather let his blows "flow away". Besides, the study of fighting techniques is itself a great way to develop awareness: facing someone who is determined to fight, what if not awareness can help us to get away unharmd?
It is widely understood that the practice of martial arts allows us to face our own fears and the hidden ghosts of our unconscious. This is especially true for Tai Chi Chuan. In order better to overcome our own fears, we need to be self-aware even when we are dreaming: we need to learn how to be aware that we are dreaming and to be able to act consciously even during the dream, according to our will, breaking through the normal barrier between waking and sleeping. If a spiritual way leads to the highest form of reawakening - that is, to a deep and everlasting awareness - should it not also light up the darkest, hidden corners of the self?
Not by chance Tai Chi Chuan, which is defined as a doorway to trascendence, leads to the control of dreams: when performing the figures, the apprentice is encouraged to watch his or her hands. Once he has fully acquired this skill, he will start looking for and finding his hands in his dreams: this being the first step of lucid dreaming, and of the fight against the ghosts and shadows lodged within oneself, which can be overcome by means of martial techniques.
By overcoming his fears, over time the apprentice will reach the point of directing his dreams at will and also of controlling his own will during the dream, of questioning his inner self and thereby getting to know his true self, his bright and dark sides finally harmonized [and living in a vibrant universe].