In a number of the early taiji classics known as the “Yang Forty Chapters,” there is a recurrent reference to “conscious movement” (zhijue yundong). From what I’ve been able to gather, zhijue yundong is a phrase that appears in the writings of some important Ming dynasty thinkers, who were deeply concerned with understanding the nature of consciousness, and endeavored to clarify consciousness through meditative practices. In other taijiquan texts there are other concepts that I think are closely related to “conscious movement,” including “zhuoshu” (experienced familiarity with techniques), “listening energy” (tingjin), “sensing energy” (jue jin), and the more modern terms used, for example, by Yang Zhenduo: “perception/sensation” (ganjue), and “energy sensation” (jingan).
One of the clearest statements of the “conscious movement” concept among the Yang Forty texts is text number 2, translated by Douglas Wile:
The Practice of the Eight Gates and Five Steps
The Eight trigrams and five phases are part of man’s natural endowment. We must first understand the meaning of the words conscious movement. After grasing conscious movement, we can begin to interpret energy, and finally, from interpreting energy, proceed to spiritual illumination. However, at the beginning of practice, we must gain an understanding of conscious movement, which although it is part of our natural endowment, is very difficult to grasp.
—Wile, Lost T’ai-chi Classics, pp. 66, 135.
The last line is particularly fascinating, as indeed, consciousness is a very hard thing to grasp, as it happens to be that which is doing the grasping. The “natural endowment” term, by the way, is “guyou” a term used as early as Zhuangzi for what someone or something inherently has. What also catches my eye here is that this document closely follows the progression found in the Taijiquan Treatise: “From careful investigation and experience (zhuoshu), one may gradually realize how to comprehend energy (dongjin). From comprehending energy, you will obtain by degrees spiritual illumination.” This basic progression (zhijue yundong—dongjin—shenming) is repeated in Yang Forty text number 20. Yang Chengfu, in turn, referenced this same progression in the Push Hands section of his Essence and Applications book: “Studying push hands, then, is learning how to sense energy (jue jin). Once one can sense energy, it will not be difficult to understand energy! He then quotes the treatise line, “From understanding energy, one then advances to spiritual illumination (shenming).” The term conscious movement, or some variant, appears in texts 2 through 7 and well as text 20.
I’m interested to hear what other taiji practitioners think about the meaning of conscious movment. How important is it to your practice? Is it something that you strive for, or do you not get what it’s referring to?