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Gleanings from a Taiji Teacher's Journal

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By James Birt

Back in 1990 when my main taiji/qigong (t'ai chi/chi kung) teacher, Larry Eshelman, suggested I start a class of my own, another student told me “now your taiji is really going to change.” I had no idea then how true that was.

A few years later I began a journal where I basically “dumped” all kinds of ideas and insights. My purpose was simply to get these ideas out of my head to make room for more (useful for those of us with a limited “bandwidth”). But now I’d like to share some of my journal. I’ve always believed taiji and qigong are vehicles for exploring what it means to be a human being. What follows may be seen as “signposts” from my journey.

My hope is that they will serve others as well as they’ve served me.

So here we go:

Practice for the liberation of all; every day, for the liberation of all.

Keen observation begins at the center, then realizes “center” is not static and can be quite dynamic.
Forms move from the center, but any point can be named “center.” Even points outside yourself.

“Seek stillness in motion.” Yes, there is stepping. There are twists and turns, rising and sinking.
To “seek stillness” is to look at all movements and ask, “what does not move here.”

Identification manifests as contraction. Examined with playful curiosity,
you can see the soft openness at the core of the tightest knot.

What is the most effective form of self defense? Don’t have enemies. Self too is just a contraction.
What is attacked? What is there to defend?

Deep practice enters the realm of paradox -- of form and formless—of “both” and “neither.”
The vast circle of wuji leaves nothing out.

Each moment/movement is embodied in a playful curiosity, with no agenda except to learn and grow.

Complete taiji practice includes the ground under your feet, the space surrounding you,
and even the distant distractions.

You don’t master taiji; taiji masters you. The same can be said of any other worthwhile path.

Attachment is a consequence of a fragmented view of the world. The same can be said of detachment.

Every step is an arrival and a departure. Arrive completely and lightly. Depart the same way.
Every breath comes and goes the same way.

Marvel at the marvelous. Wonder at the wonderful. Leave dissection for dead things.

We take steps to make a path, and yet in each step is the total and perfect expression of the whole path.

I doubt anyone “gets” enlightened. Rather enlightenment “gets” you.

Manifesting as a taiji cloud is to ride the forces of transformation, at home in the vastness of formlessness.

Good sailors know this: the smallest change in course, applied over time, takes you in a whole new direction.

In cultivating roundness you become infinitely stable but never stagnant.

Being fully present now is the seed and root of all future possibilities.

Self-discovery is more important – and more interesting – than self-defense.

In qigong practice we begin with the body. The forms reveal the energy that has always been there.
As the energy becomes more present in the field of awareness, identity shifts beyond just the body and mind and we realize a freeing of identity. The energy opens spirit awareness, bringing another identity shift into one all-encompassing transcendence.

Where is the boundary between yourself and anything or anyone else? It isn’t your skin.
The boundary is the working of your mind – illusion-making that is the root of all your conflicts.
No illusion can be sustained under the watchful eye of the True Self. Stand with that, walk, eat, and sleep with that.

All forms have limits. We find these limits by practicing the forms.
On the other side of any form is space, and real freedom.

When the doer of the form is emptied out of self, the form being practiced becomes empty – not in a “lacking” sense but empty of any distinctions between external and internal.
This is practice as true integration of human, earth, and heaven.

Stillness is a portal to transcendence. Realize that and transcendence becomes the root, limbs, and flowers of taiji play.

With each shift and step, who and what I am drops into the background.

The degree to which we are fully conscious serves as a bridge, linking the earthly realm of form with the heavenly realm of limitless potential.

There is a vast circle – “wu chi”. You are utterly immersed in it. You are utterly nothing other than it.

Chi is the river. Your body is the boat. You steer the boat to harmonize with the river – not the other way around.

From moment to moment here are my choices – Suchness or Story.
Suchness always abides. Story is transient.

In coming home to that sacred space, we learn to embody its essence – its “suchness” – and carry it into the world.

Yesterday’s silence is not today’s silence. Tomorrow’s silence is not today’s silence.

The real function of the ego is to learn how to surrender.

To react is to fan the flames of contention. To respond is to water the seeds of harmony.

A teacher can only teach you how to “do” taiji. It is up to the student to discover how to “be” taiji.

In a moment, taiji can change. The movement takes you into sacred space/time – a domain linking contemplative beings of all times and all worlds.
We serve together to amplify realized oneness in its infinite manifestations.

What you imagine you can experience. What you experience you can embody.
What you embody empowers your imagination.

Nothing acquired through conventional means can protect you as well as letting go into your own fearless humanness.

White crane cools its wings and a cocoon splits open.
The butterfly’s eyes look upon this world for the first time.

There is no Other. Taken in through the eyes or ears, this becomes just information or belief.
Taken in through the soles of your feet, it utterly transforms.

The great joy at the heart of all practices is that all is in a state of flux. Today’s practice can never be replicated just as tomorrow’s practice cannot be planned.
Move and be still. Be still and move.
Are these different? Are these the same?

All attainment is already with you, riding the breath from this moment to the next.

Forms practiced without manipulation align your essential nature with a larger field of energy wisdom.

There is a time to forget about proper form and experience taiji from a place of lightness – insubstantial as a feather, as a breath, as nothing.

What you experience as a form is actually a complex array of energy patterns.
Embrace that as yourself and watch how time and space become moot.

Inspiration is a sign you have rebalanced and recalibrated your relationship with the universe.

There is much of the Earth in you – and much of Heaven. Here is where they meet and dance:
when you stay out of the way.

When stability falters, don’t contract – expand.

More and more evidence supports the premise that we abide in, and are the product of, a sentient-centric universe.

The natural state is an abiding intimacy with all that is.

Techniques are like training wheels. Once you find your center, your balance, the training wheels become superfluous.
Be free to discard them.

Every moment is a portal. You can either walk through or walk by.

“Cosmoplasticity” – everything is always becoming something else.

Your ego is not a problem or an obstacle – it is a launching pad.

The well of transcendence is infinitely deep. I vow to realize its depths.


Jim Birt in various taiji postures

James Birt practicing various postures


James Birt is a taiji and qigong teacher, a poet, a retired newspaper guy and a Lifetime Professional Member of the National Qigong Association. Feedback is welcomed at