Tailoring Change

There is an intriguing phrase in the Dazhuan, the Great Treatise, the largest of the ten ‘wings’, or primary commentaries, of the Yijing. It is about the nature of change. It reads:

Hua and cai are called bian.1Dazhuan 1.12 化而裁之謂之變。

Translated directly it says:

Transformation and tailoring are called change.

The standard words for change in the Yijing are bian and hua.2The character Yi 易 also means ‘change,’ as well as ‘easy’ and ‘chameleon’. As well as being used separately, they are often employed together as a cover-all term (bianhua) for all forms of change. While there is a great deal of overlap between the two, hua generally means ‘transformation’, the changing of one thing into another, whereas bian generally means the less permanent change associated with alteration and alternation, such as that of the seasons.

The phrase is interesting because it introduces a third, less common and seemingly more specific term: cai, which means ‘to cut out cloth’, ‘to make clothes’. Clearly, the ramifications of this use of cai require some exploration. From the basic meaning of ‘shaping cloth,’3The cloth/clothing radical yī 衣 is embedded in the character 裁 cai. cai came more generally to mean, ‘to fashion’, ‘to fit a pattern’, ‘to trim, pare, cut out’, and subsequently, ‘to regulate’.4The Analects uses cai in the sense of ‘to prune and shape’ behaviour (Analects 5.22). The Huainanzi uses cai in the sense of ‘to measure or judge the appropriate degree’ of something (Huainanzi 9.27 & 10.118). The Guanzi uses cai in the sense of ‘to fashion, to make’ (Guanzi《形勢解》3:34:13, 64/7b6 ), and in the sense of ‘adjust appropriately to’ (Guanzi《心術下》2:67.6). Xunzi uses cai in the sense of ‘to regulate’ (ICS Xunzi 9/39/12).

Tailoring is about making and adjusting clothes to fit someone specific. When the Dazhuan says that ‘transformation and tailoring are called change,’ it is highlighting the importance of adapting to circumstances. ‘Change and transformation’ (bianhua) is not random. It is about adjusting very precisely to the present conditions, internal and external.5This is one of the many meanings of the phrase ‘neiwai xianghe’ 內外相合, meaning ‘the internal and external unite,’ from the Taiji Classics. It is about finding the right fit, right here, right now.

If we consider the metaphor more closely, the paring away aspect of tailoring also resonates with the dropping away of all that is extraneous, which is so important in Daoist practice:

In practising Dao one loses daily.
Lose and lose until you arrive at not-doing
Not-doing, yet nothing is not done.6Laozi 48. See Study Not Studying.

In this sense tailoring is about trimming away whatever does not allow a person to fully adapt and move with the current situation, whatever that may be. The answer to the question, ‘what is it that gets in the way of the ability to change in this way?’ is: whatever is not natural (ziran 自然, literally ‘self-so’).

One of the classic descriptions of adjusting to conditions is in the Zhuangzi. It is most likely the first recorded iteration of the now hackneyed slogan, ‘go with the flow’:

Confucius was at Luliang contemplating the water falling thirty ren (forty fathoms), its froth flowing for forty li (fourteen miles). Turtles, alligators, and fish could not swim there. He caught sight of a gentleman swimming there. Thinking that the man was bitter and wished to die, he sent his disciples down to the flow to rescue him. However, several hundred paces further down the man hopped out and leisurely strolled along the bottom of the bank, singing, with his hair draped like a blanket.
Confucius followed and spoke to him, saying, ‘I thought you were a ghost, but clearly you are a man. May I ask, do you have a special way of treading water? ’
The man answered: ‘No, I have no way. I started with what was familiar; I grew with what is natural to me; and am fulfilled with what has been man- dated (for me).’ I go in where it swirls together and get out where it rushes and tumbles everywhere, I go along with the way of water and do not do my own thing to it. This is how I tread it.7 ICS Zhuangzi 19/51/27 – 19/52/1.

The key terms come at the end of the passage, the swimmer ‘goes along with’ (cong 從) the way (dao 道) of water without any interference, without doing his ‘own thing’ (si 私) to it.8Si 私 means ‘personal’ or ‘private’. He has no way of his own, he simply follows the way of the water. Not imposing one’s private agenda on the world is an important element of the Daoist understanding of naturalness (self-so-ness), which confers the ability to follow along with reality and by so doing remain healthy and whole.

It is precisely the ‘personal’, all of our likes and dislikes, our expectations, that get in the way of our perceiving reality as it is. It is only by seeing clearly that we can adjust to and go along with what is actually occurring.

What is so challenging to us is that this cutting away, this removal of what is not natural to us, is the removal of all the ‘personal’ desires and aversions that we mistakenly believe we are. It is only by going beyond the personal, beyond ‘yes’ and ‘no’, ‘like’ and ‘dislike’, that we can get out of our own way and properly become ourselves.

In the context of practising the internal arts, there are many ways of making adjustments to best suit external and internal conditions. For instance, externally, seasonal adjustments are crucial. There are at least three main ways to make them:

First, and most obviously, the size of our movements can be altered to suit the season. Everything being equal, our bodies are relatively more open in the spring and summer and more closed in the autumn and winter. If we make use of the middle – the 70% rule – the size of our stances will change as our ‘Goldilocks range’ naturally follows the seasons.

Second, within our forms, we may move our emphasis to the relevant element as the seasons change. A Taiji form done to accentuate the water element (kidneys, lü jin, absorption, fluidity – tong 通) in winter, will feel quite different to a wood element form (liver, peng jin, expansion, rising, springiness – tanxing 彈性) in spring.9And just to complete the list, fire element (heart, ji jin, projection, twisting and spiralling – zhuan 轉) in summer; metal element (lungs, an jin, compression, alignment – zheng 正) in autumn; earth element (spleen, zhongding, smoothness – shunli 順利) in long summer and throughout the year.

Third, one might emphasise different neigong forms with the seasons: Fundamentals (Energy Gates) in the winter, Heaven and Earth in the spring, Spiralling Energy Body in the summer, Immortals Cloud Playing (Gods) in long summer and throughout the year, Bend the Bow in the autumn (Dragon and Tiger also works very well in the autumn, but since it is not as elemental it is not as seasonal).10We should remember that, while seasonal adjustments are the general context for our practice, there are many, more subtle levels of change, such as that made for more immediate changes in the weather, for different times of the day, and even for different phases within one’s practice. For instance, exactly where we change from opening to closing through a particular movement in the form can change depending on what produces the optimal flow of energy (qitong 氣通) at that moment. Eventually bianhua can be manifested moment to moment.

Adapting our practice to the seasons is an effective way to tune back into the world around us. It allows us to move with the currents rather than being drowned by them. Returning to the world, becoming more present and being able to see what is in front of us as it is, is the much needed antidote to the hi-tech, distracted age of anxiety that we are presently living in.

Internally, there are three primary contexts that will transform the way we practise: health, the martial arts, and meditation. These three fundamental applications can and should interweave with the external adjustments that we make.Which is also part of ‘naiwai xianghe’.

Bruce, a natural fighter himself, reminds us regularly that, ‘not everyone wants to fight, but everyone wants to be healthy and strong’. The health applications of these arts apply to everyone and are the reason why the vast majority of people take them up in the first place. This being so, and since physical strength and stability are the foundation of the martial and spiritual applications of the internal arts, we’ll focus on health here.11For information on the martial side of the internal arts see: Frantzis, B. K., The Power of the Internal Martial Arts, revised edition (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2007). For information on the spiritual side, the realm of Daoist shengong, see Frantzis, B.K., Relaxing Into Your Being (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002); Frantzis, B.K., The Great Stillness (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2001); Frantzis, B.K., Tao of Letting Go: Meditation for Modern Living (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2009).

In terms of the body, one of the most important aspects of tailoring is that of the form itself. One’s form needs to fit one’s body and its specific capacities. This is the opposite of the ubiquitous ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching forms, where people try to force their bodies into a stylised configuration, usually that of a specific master. What is forgotten with such stylisation is that the master’s form is correct for his or her particular body and skills. This is why different masters develop different looking forms. For instance, Wu Jianquan had an extraordinarily open body and was particularly skilled at throws, and both were reflected in his Taiji form.

Tailoring the form in this way does not mean that anything goes, one cannot just do one’s own thing, but within any form there is far more possible variation than most practitioners realise. Taiji is an embodiment of certain principles, not an external shape.

An important aspect of realising the nature of change and transformation is that it can help us let go of the desire for perfection and the inevitable frustration that accompanies it when we never get it ‘right’. In a world of constant flux, how can there be a single, perfect configuration that holds true for all time? Doing a form correctly means get- ting as much neigong working as possible, given our present level of integration, here and now. It will be different tomorrow.

Beyond fitting the form to one’s capacities, particular health conditions require additional modifications. Doing a form generally for health will not necessarily be the same as doing it for a specific ailment, although there is likely to be a great deal of overlap. The way one does the form to tonify or heal an internal organ, for instance, is not precisely the same way that one does it for improving blood flow, or healing joints, or nerves.

Transformation and tailoring are called change, and change is the way that we constantly adjust and pare away what would otherwise get in our way. Change is the ability to go along with reality, with that which is so-of-itself. The internal arts are essentially bianhua practices. They teach us how to change and transform along with circumstances. Initially, the tailoring is physical: how to move from one position to another with- out getting stuck. Gradually our practices show us how to change in ever more subtle ways.

If we learn to tailor change we can be like the swimmer at Luliang, leisurely strolling next to the turbulent rapids that he has just effortlessly negotiated.

Text and translations © Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2017.

Notes   [ + ]

Do Not Let the Great be the Enemy of the Good

I don’t know whether Bruce is intentionally referring to Voltaire’s famous phrase, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien,” “The best is the enemy of the good” but he often warns students, “Do not let the great be the enemy of the good.”

By this he is cautioning against the trap that many fall into of not doing what they are able to do, because they cannot to do it perfectly or at least as well as they would like to be able to do it. In this way the ‘great,’ which is to say the desire to do something much better than one’s capacities presently allow, prevents people from gaining the benefits of the ‘good,’ which is doing what they can.

This impediment to practice is not new. The Huainanzi, the most sophisticated articulation of the philosophy and statecraft of the Han Dynasty, considered this very question over two thousand years ago:

If someone waits to harness a Yaoniao or a Feitu [legendary horses], then in this age they will not drive a chariot; waiting to be matched with a Xi Shi or a Mao Qiang [legendary beautiful women], then to the end of their life they will not have a family. So, without waiting for the brave and talented of ancient times, people themselves are enough, because what they have they also use.
Indeed, Qiji [a legendary horse] could cover a thousand li [over three hundred miles] in one day; a tired, old nag needs ten rest stops, but it ten days it will also get there. 1Huainanzi 11.17.

We of course have not heard of Yaoniao, Feitu, Xi Shi, Mao Qiang or Qiji, but it is easy enough to replace them with modern equivalents, such as the most expensive sports cars for the horses and our favorite actress or actor for the beautiful women: If we waited until we owned a Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita (I just looked it up) we would never drive a car, and if we waited to date Gisele Bündchen or Dwayne Johnson (also just looked up) we would remain single.

Qiji, the fastest and strongest horse in ancient China, is a particularly good metaphor in the practice of the internal arts. In our instant, want-everything-yesterday culture many want to cover a great deal of ground at once, and when they find that they are not progressing as quickly as they would like, they give up. This is a great shame. In order to progress, all that any of us needs to do is to use what we have. That will be enough. This brings us, as always, to Laozi:

Calamity: none is greater than not knowing what is enough
Error: none is greater than desiring gain
Knowing enough of enough is always enough! 2Laozi 46.

In this context, the error is to desire to accomplish our goals faster than we are able to and then to give up when we cannot do the impossible. This is not to know enough. Such an attitude will guarantee that we fail. That is the calamity. The remedy is simply to do what we can. By using what we have we will get there. This is to know enough. It is much better to do something than nothing. And it is only by practising at our present level that we will ever attain the level of skill that we desire. The attainment of any skill is like climbing a ladder: there are no short cuts. It is impossible to miss out rungs. The good news is that, whatever rung of the ladder we are on, provided that we have adequate instruction, we have enough to make progress. What we need is always right in front of us: the next rung. It is the only step that we can actually take. This view is encapsulated in a saying from the Tai Chi Classics, which is found throughout Chinese philosophy and practice: “Many mistakenly forsake the near in pursuit of what is far away.” It is only by doing what is near at hand that we will get anywhere.

The internal arts are not fast practices. It is not possible to go on a weekend course and become a master, this is true of any authentic craft or art, but with regular practice the benefit to our lives can be profound. One of the keys to success is not to let the great be the enemy of the good.

 

Text & Translations © Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2010 – 2017.

Notes   [ + ]

Articles & Interviews in PDF

Articles

For those who like properly formatted articles, here are all of the articles from the blog (and some that have not yet made it there) in PDF format.

Embodied Philosophy

Being Way Oriented

Do Not Let the Great be the Enemy of the Good

Making Use of the Middle

Nurturing Life

Rounding Off the Corners

Study not Studying

Taiji and the Procrustean Bed

Tailoring Change

Why So Slow 1

Why So Slow 2

Seasons

Autumn

Winter

Spring

Summer

Long Summer

Bibliographies

Laozi (Daodejing, Tao Te Ching)

Interview

with Master Bruce Frantzis on the Tai Chi Classics.
Reproduced from Tai Chi Chuan & Oriental Arts, Vol. 35, Autumn 2010,
with kind permission from the editor.
Bruce Frantzis on the Tai Chi Classics

Chronic Pain

This article is written for teachers who are interested in this aspect of Tai Chi for health preservation and rehabilitation.

Teaching Tai Chi for Chronic Pain