Can Tai Chi Help You to Discover
the Source of Happiness?
Chief Instructor Brett Wagland
When I practise Tai Chi, I am in the moment – completely relaxed, yet
aware of what my body is doing. I feel a deep sense of peace and joy.
This state of being enables me to appreciate the simple things in life
and happiness arises naturally. We say that our health is in our own
hands. So is our happiness. Outside causes and conditions play a role
in bringing about happiness. However, our attitude and thoughts are
more important. We need to guard our thoughts if we want to be
content. When we become judgemental or emotionally overwhelmed, it is
our thinking, energy and actions that affect our response to the world
When we first learn to relax, we realise how little control we have over
the mind. Before we begin to practise, we are unaware of the mind’s
constant chatter. It is like a child talking incessantly or background
radio noise that goes on and on. We need to know how to turn it off or
play something else. Better still, we need to know how not to be
affected by any of it. So the first stage of our training is learning
to calm and settle the mind.
In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, there is a diagram depicting
different levels of calm abiding meditation. It describes the journey
of a meditator training the unruly mind which is represented by a monkey
leading an elephant. The elephant has great potential which is largely
untapped. An elephant that is well trained can do a great amount of
work. On the other hand, a wild elephant can reap enormous havoc. The
monkey is the discursive mind, constantly jumping from one thing to
another. When you feel stressed, it is important to stop and give
yourself some space. Ask yourself whether you are acting from the
elephant mind or the monkey mind. Doing so will bring clarity and will
help you to make sound decisions.
you first learn Tai Chi or Wu Dao Gong Martial Arts, you are unaware of
how much these arts can change you. In the beginning, they appear to be
just punches and kicks and slow motion movements that you find you are
not able to perform well. It is easy to become discouraged and start
the negative chatter. Just as with the example of the meditator and the
elephant, we learn to calm our restless mind. In these arts, working
with the physical body gives us an opportunity to see how our thinking
and actions affect our whole being. At first, the body does not listen
to the mind and the mind forgets the principles of the training. This
is where we begin to see our weaknesses and our self-imposed
limitations. When you make an effort and consider more deeply, a
transformation begins to take place. Gradually, you will realise that
these movements are affecting your roots. Your energy and nervous
systems are beginning to change at a deep level. Traditionally, these
arts were called paths to self development. Naming them martial arts as
such is too limiting.
When a friend came along to film the kung fu class, he asked in a
quizzical tone, “Why are you practising the same movement over and over
again?” I jokingly said, “Because we are slow learners.” In fact, we
have been practising these movements for ten years. A period of at
least ten years is required to develop a strong enough foundation to be
able to move from the external to the internal. To reach a point where
you can express the full meaning of each movement takes hard work,
dedication, inspiration and a knowledgeable teacher. Someone looking
from the outside sees that what we are doing looks monotonous and
requires a lot of effort. The practitioner sees a journey of self
discovery and transformation physically, mentally, emotionally and
spiritually. This view point is difficult to convey to someone who does
not train in this area.
As my teacher Fei Wang likes to say, “Do you understand the art in
martial arts?” In Chinese culture, finding a master who really
understands the deeper meaning of these arts is worth more than money
can buy. We are truly blessed to have someone of the calibre of Fei.
Without someone who has journeyed into the depths of these arts and can
demonstrate them, we would never really grasp their full meaning. So
what is the art in martial arts? Is it a dance-like beauty we are
trying to display? Compared with ballet or modern dance, we are not so
graceful. Or is it closer to painting or playing music? It is said
that the human being is the highest form of creation on our planet.
Being able to express our true nature could be said to be the highest
art form. The Chinese internal arts of Tai Chi, Xing Yi and Ba Gua all
endeavour to train the mind, body and spirit, thus enabling us to
develop and express our full potential.
Happiness is a journey of self discovery, of unlocking our full
potential. At first, it involves exploring the outside world which is
not as fulfilling as it seems to be. Dissatisfaction with the outside
can lead to an inner journey of self discovery. This can be a very
challenging time when we see that things are not quite as they appear to
be. However, at the same time, these discoveries can be liberating.
With regular practice, we begin to see that obsessive focus on the self
indulges the ego and this brings all our negative emotions into play.
When we use our energies in service to others, our good qualities, such
as love, compassion and courage come to the forefront. These activities
are already causes for happiness. The more positive and beneficial our
thoughts and activities, the less obscuration there is to our inner
radiance which is the source of our real happiness. Training in the
internal arts leads the practitioner to many realisations that he did
not at first expect. This is why they are acclaimed as paths to self