Among the many fundamental things about Taiji that are tricky to grasp and incredibly powerful when you do, lately I'm being blown away by this one:
It is never as powerful, useful, or meaningful to move as it is to be moved.
How do you "be moved"? Simple(ish) — instead of pushing something with your muscles, you shift your focus to perfecting how everything is lined up and balanced so that the energy can flow through you as smoothly, as uninterrupted as possible. (See also "Redirecting Lightning".)
Yes, you do both things all the time: The difference is where your focus is. Try this little exercise: Stand up and lift your arms to straight out in front of you. Great; put them back down. Now, focus on your core (stomach / oblique) muscles, feel them activate, and without doing anything at all with your shoulders or biceps, let your arms float up. The latter is trickier — especially the part about keeping your shoulders relaxed – but the end-result is more graceful/controlled, and because it uses core rather than arm muscles, hella stronger. In the first case, you're just forcing energy through; in the second, you're clearing a path for energy to follow. (Bonus exercise: Try the above and focus on feeling the kinetic energy that drives the motion coming all the way up through your feet and legs to your core-muscles and then floating your arms up. Now drop everything, shake it out and just lift your arms the old way again, and feel the difference. Wild, eh?)
The energy is there already — you have motion in you (unless you're dead), and making more is as simple as putting a little pressure on the ground with your foot — so the challenge is really to make it go the right way. Which is, considering the subtlety of the energy we're talking about — are you with me here, physicists? — an impressive task.
You can't, by the way, learn to do this without learning to feel said energy. There's no shortcut where you just "put your arm at thirty degrees and blah blah blah". There are certainly guidelines, but at the end of the day whether they're working comes down to just one thing: Where'd the energy go? Did it get stuck and/or dissipate, or did it go where you wanted?
Other ways to say it:
Instead of initiating / forcing / "doing the yang", you relax / prepare / "focus on the yin".
The act of moving still has to happen, but it is in essence easy; the hard part, and the part that gives strength and perfection to the movement, is all the space of non-movement around it.
You don't "bring (a) God"; you prepare the altar just so. The god is arguably there all the time (whether because it's omnipresent or a metaphor for energy / existence or whatever); what makes this different from everything else is how it's prepared — the intention and reality of it, and its ability to channel that energy effectively. This is the essence of what we look for in an altar, a ritual, a prayer; yeah? Something that can channel god-energy. It's not your energy that matters, which is why even very inexperienced spiritual people know that the person loudly wishing for a million dollars isn't doing praying right.
(Holy shit guys. Praying–correctly–is taiji training.)
"Moving" in the life-activity sense is pretty easy, too. You can always create change, though anyone can tell you how much easier it is to create bad change than good change. All bad change requires is unleashing some energy. Good change requires aim: In fact, arguably it requires just aim.
You don't "throw a punch" any more than you "bring a God": Even though the act in that case does come from you (well…we could argue that the energy you're channeling is just as validly "god-energy" as the one that's making the trees grow, but let's leave that for another time), acting is 1% of your total effort, the other 99% of which is prepatory stillness.
When you get good, you can do this work quickly (perhaps like a "good" spiritualist doesn't need much in the way of trappings anymore); but when you're a student, you may spend five minutes just standing there, adjusting everything, in service of calling forth a single motion. (Yes, to answer the implied question, I do this. Pretty often. Probably looks seriously weird from the outside, heh.)
Other ways to mean it:
Quick, name your three biggest challenges right now. Better job? Huge goal? Lacking something relationship-wise, or need a new purpose in life?
Do you think the best answer to those things will come from "moving" — from throwing action at them — or from standing still and preparing everything so that the energy that's all ready all over the place can flow through you in the right ways?
You've heard the same ten thousand platitudes I have, about how like attracts like, about how if you do the right thing the right opportunities will come to you. But why? How can you make it happen? Do you "just wait"?
Well, yes and no. You don't just wait, or to say it another way, you don't do nothing; you in fact do nothing. You do the 99% that isn't the action itself — you clear all the blockages; you make the altar, the body, the pathways, the yin bits, perfect. And then, because the force for such changes doesn't come from you, you hold still and wait for a bolt of it to come — which, depending on the force required, usually doesn't take very long; most life-changes are predicated on types of energy that fly around among humans all the time. (Right? We're not talking about preparing the ground for the coming of the next Messiah here; we're talking about getting the right frame of mind together to accept a pulse of finance, or friendship, or luck — all pretty common things.)
This feels totally different.
It's both easier and a million times stronger.
When you do it right, you tend to be dumbstruck, looking at your hands and wondering where the hell that came from.
It's not that there are "things you can't do" in this world. It's that there are things you can't do in this world; that require the kind of power that can only come from yin-doing, from making the situation such that they can happen with maximal efficiency.
The difference is that between a toddler throwing blocks and a student constructing a block-throwing robot: So much more preparation "work" goes into the latter, but what you see, the final outcome, is just a shockingly more powerful and efficient use of the same simple energy that's there all the time — in fact, what you see is one person flailing with all their strength and missing, and someone else sitting back and having a nice drink while perfect shots just happen for them. You wouldn't say the student put in "less work" than the toddler, but because their work was more focused on preparation and efficiency, at the moment of throwing, they're having to do very little — in fact, if they prepared right, then the less they "do", the better.
"Stillness," says the I Ching in places, "is a sacrifice that you make to enlist the help of the Creative."
It is a sacrifice, too — it's difficult, when you desperately want to Fix The Things, to force yourself to focus on the yin-stuff and on being ready for the energy when it comes. When you're hurting or miserable in some way, you want to poke it, to do something about it, not to let it be there; but that's exactly the point. Tensing around it will hold it still, and shoving it will only cause damage. Flailing, in any sense, is never optimal. Even if all you can do is force yourself to relax, even if you accomplish nothing else in either the yin or the yang sense, you're better off for not having made things worse than if you just started throwing (literal or metaphorical) wild punches.
OK, I think I've run out of usefully different ways to say it. But yeah, Internet!
I'm about to go try my punching skills on my job problem.
Wish me luck. ;)