“No chi, no fee!”
You gotta love a martial arts instructor who provides a money-back guarantee for simply experiencing the universe’s energetic life force, what in Taoism is referred to as chi. I certainly love him, even though I’ve never met him.
Back in April, my Taoist boyfriend Joaquin Avellan – who my girls love as much as I do – was our primary introduction to the heart and the practices of this very unreligion-y religion. And, it was an Italian-American from the Bronx, Jim Borrelli, who had introduced Joaquin to Nei Kung, a physical practice generally considered foundational to the Taoist martial art of Tai Chi Chuan years before in Los Angeles.
Joaquin hardly exercises in the traditional sense at all, and yet he is in shockingly good shape for a nearly 50-year-old. Actually, for an any-year-old. When he practices Nei Kung, he basically just holds any or all of 10 otherwise unremarkable positions for anywhere from 3 to 8 or 9 minutes each, and then he is drenched in sweat and utterly energized. He says that he literally hums with bodily electricity, a force channeled into him from the world around him through very careful alignment in and orderly execution of these poses. The results are very real, physically and energetically. From the very first day, Joaquin always paid his fee, with gratitude. Jim always delivered.
As does the Tao, according to Taoists. Basically, philosophical Taoists don’t find the idea of The Way, the fundamental energy of all of life flowing throughout our world, to be inscrutable or abstruse or difficult to align with. It’s us and the way we live that is so often inscrutable, abstruse and difficult to align with. It’s the aligning – accepting the flow of the universe and allowing ourselves to move with it, rather than against it or irrespective of it – that is so often so hard for us. And, since changing ourselves mentally or emotionally is also so hard for so many, Taoism, being such a practical spiritual practice, developed so many direct physical paths and processes to encourage this fundamental alignment.
When Joaquin demonstrated the first pose to my girls, Kyrie jumped up alongside him, but in a silly way. “Sort of just cocky,” she confessed later. She mimicked his position but kept a little giggly smile on her face. Quietly, Joaquin made little adjustments to her hand positions, the width of her arms, the depth of the bend in her knees. And, not two minutes later, her face took on a more serious look. Her eyes locked onto the focus point Joaquin suggested. She began to shake slightly. Once, she glanced at me. At first I thought she looked scared, but then I realized that it was more an expression of shock. As in, electrical shock.
“That was so real!” she whispered to me later.
We were at Pease Park, observing other Tai Chi practitioners nearby. Just before we departed, we saw what looked like an average middle-aged woman walking onto the concrete basketball court behind us. A little overweight, a little underbrushed of hair. From a large black duffel, she withdrew a long wooden sword. Not two minutes later, she was flowing in powerful circles and executing complex spins and intimidating thrusts as she revealed her powerful command of sword dancing. A woman in mom-jeans had morphed into a real superhero right before our eyes.
And who says Taoism isn’t a real religion? I’ll lay money down on that one.