Thanks for the interesting responses.
"Although the gaze is extended forward evenly, there are times when following the body's changes of position that the line of sight, while directed to emptiness, plays a crucial role in the transformations and supplements the insufficiencies of body and hand techniques."
Louis, thanks for this quote. Do you happen to have the Chinese version handy? The phrasing is quite interesting with many concepts whose importance it may be easy to underestimate. And yet, I do not like the use of the word "insufficiencies." It could suggest that the gaze is merely a backup to help correct mistakes in the body and hand techniques. What I think Yang Chengfu was getting at is that the gaze is critical as a rallying point and organizing principle for the techniques as a whole. Without the gaze, the body and the techniques have no focus and no orientation. Having the gaze clear is a physical expression of having the mind and spirit clear. With the mind and spirit clear, the intent will be clear. With the intent clear, the flow of Qi will be clear.
Louis wrote:Clearly, xuling dingjin is about more that posture and alignment. It’s about what I’ve called a psycho-physiological disposition.
I like the concept you are expressing, but do not find the expression "psycho-physiological disposition" particularly enticing to the right side of my brain. Can you think of a more earthy expression? I have often struggled for a handle to convey this concept in teaching and am doubtful this term would serve.
I tried to teach a student about these concepts recently and resorted to a demonstration and an analogy I believe I have described before. I asked him to smile at me. I then copied his expression and asked him whether my smile looked genuine. He said that it did not look like a real smile. I then said that we think of smiles as consisting of turning up the ends of the mouth, but this is not really accurate. For instance, we also smile with the skin around the eyes. He then smiled again, this time with eyes as well. I then copied this version and again asked whether my smile was genuine. He replied that it was not and that in fact, it was kind of creepy. I then said that although we think we know how to smile, we really don't know how to do so, at least with our deliberative mind. There are too many muscles in the face that must be precisely coordinated. We can smile, however, if we smile from inside. Our faces know how to reflect our inner feeling. To smile correctly then, we have to use an indirect method, similar to method acting
, and lead the movement from our inner feeling. Similarly, in Tai Chi, our inner feeling and our gaze affect how our bodies organize themselves in movement in ways that are nearly impossible to reproduce artificially with the deliberative mind.
Dan wrote:While not included in the “10 essentials” (Yang Chengfu), the concept of slightly and gently tucking the chin, which in my experiences is commonly taught, does address the position of the head in conjunction with “xuling dingjin” and the crown.
I think this is a good example of two things: the difficulty of capturing subtle physical things in words and the variation in teaching principles.
Master Yang Jun has primarily been addressing neck position by advising us to have a sense of pushing the top of the head up, as long as we are clear on where the top is. I have also read, if I am recalling it correctly, that Yang Shaohou advised his students always to feel the back of the neck pushing against their collars. I have heard of the idea of "tucking in the chin," but have not been sure whether that refers to slightly tilting the head forward or slightly retracting the entire head backward, so that the chin feels like it is sinking slightly into the throat. I do not do the former, but do try to do a little of the latter; however, I come at from the viewpoint of trying to find the center in a world where my daily routine tends to encourage bending my head forward over books or to look at computer screens.
As for the bobbling heads, I think that the explanation for me lies in the tendency to conceive of the entire spine as one simple system, whereas the Ten Essentials do not actually teach this. If we organize it as one system, then the pulse of Jin that travels up the spine will go up into the neck and make the head bobble. If, however, we know how to transfer the vertical and upward oscillation of the Jin coming from the forward movement of the lumbar spine into the horizontal oscillation governed by Containing the Chest and Plucking up the Back, the Qi will go into the arms and hands rather than into the neck.
DPasek wrote:To ‘puff out’ the chest would be to produce yang energy where there should be yin (and vice versa for the back with yin being produced where yang should be).
I think I still do not understand how to apply this thinking. If the chest should never produce yang energy, how could you ever do Fajin with it? Even if the back is to do Fajin, don't you first have to store energy in the chest (and puff it out slightly) in order to do it? I would agree that the chest should tend to by yin and that the back should tend to by yang, but I have difficulty understanding how there can be change and circulation unless yin and yang can alternate.
I am out of time for today.