Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | May 8, 2009

Conversatio Morum and Tai Chi

I’d like to borrow a concept from Benedictine Monasticism and relate it to our practice of contemplative tai chi chuan. The term is conversatio morum, which is usually differentiated from the term conversio morum, explained very well by Sister Meg Funk, OSB, as the diference between a conversion which sustains us for about 10 minutes, and an embracing of an ongoing way of life. In Benedictine terms, conversation morum refers to embracing the way of the monastic life. Conversatio morum is a continual transformation, a putting on of the new man, in catholic terms, the new man of Christ, in tai chi, the tai chi person. Taoist philosophy teaches us that life is change, the yin yang revolve around each other, and we change, we adapt, we act out of the creative spontaneity of life. When we do the tai chi form, we engage in playing out these changes, from hard to soft, from empty to full, and back again. But there is a deeper “alchemy” taking place as one embraces a contemplative practice of tai chi, an alchemy not just of the physical body as we improve our muscles, ligaments, tendon, joints, and internal organs, but of the emotional and spiritual side of our lives. The tai chi person engages in a conversatio morum, an ongoing conversation, a warding off and a yielding, a pushing and pulling, a changing, an embrace of the proper principles of the I Ching, innocence, humility, respect, dignity, authenticity, love and compassion.  It is an alchemy not just of converting jing, or physical essences into chi, or life energy, but of then converting chi into shen, a spiritual energy, a spiritual force, a spiritual wisdom. I think it is important that the art of tai chi chuan was intimately tied to taoist monks, people living a monastic life, because the dimension of monastic practices, silence, meditation, contemplation, are intimately tied to the practice of tai chi. The movement of life is circular, is one of going and returning, and we experience it in the movements of tai chi. There is a deep awakening, a deep understanding of the way of things when we practice tai chi, and it helps us on our way to an ongoing conversation, an ongoing growth, an ongoing change into being fully human.

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