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Welcome to our first issue of the Human Process e-Letter which will be published seasonally. In this issue we focus on the relationship between Tai Chi Chuan and the Metal Element and the Virtues of Meditation.

The Metal Element and Autumn

THIS ARTICLE is the first in a series that will discuss Tai Chi Chuan in relation to the classical Chinese Five Elements. The ancient Chinese recognized that the seasons of the year were manifestations of the energies of the Five Elements in a cyclical process, as it transitioned from winter (Water) to spring (Wood), through summer (Fire) on to the harvest time or late-summer (Earth), and finally to autumn (Metal). Interestingly, the sequence of the Yang Style Short Form not only follows this same cycle, but each of the postures is a manifestation of the energy of one of the Five Elements. In accordance with the present season, this article will focus on the Metal Element in our Tai Chi form.

In the autumn the trees begin to let go of their leaves, and withdraw their vital energy internally, to maintain only that which is essential to endure the extreme winter. Likewise, the Metal Element allows us to let go of all that is unnecessary in our lives to help us connect with our own essential nature. It is here that we encounter the human Spirit.

The two organs corresponding with the Metal Element are the colon and the lungs. On a physical level, the colon helps us eliminate that which is not needed from the digestive process. On the psychological and spiritual levels, the colon helps us eliminate negativity and any obscurations that prevent us from connecting with our Spirit.

The Metal element also manifests within us as the lungs. It is well known in many traditions that we can extract chi from the air that we breathe. The lungs allow us to receive the Pure Chi from the Heavens above, so that we receive the inspiration that uplifts our Spirit. These organ functions, of the colon and lung, work together harmoniously, as we let go of the old to make room for the new.

In the Yang style short form, the posture White Crane Spreads Wings, perfectly embodies all the attributes of the Metal Element mentioned above. Our right hand is up, and is facing toward the Heavens, which represents the receptivity of the lungs. At the same time, our left hand is facing downward while manifesting the energy of letting-go of the colon. We have risen-up out of our low-ceilinged room with our Spirit uplifted and inspired as we connect with the Heavens above. Simultaneously, we have relaxed downward to maintain our root and connection to the Earth below. Therefore, this posture awakens in us the embodiment of the human Spirit that is rising-up beyond the obscurations of the limited ego-self. With this spiritual strength we stand firmly upright with our mind centered in the tan tien, as a human being in the Harmonic State of the Tao.

For information on the relationship between Tai Chi and the 5 elements, please visit the Tai Chi Foundation.

author: Thomas Malone

The Virtues of Meditation

THE VIRTUES OF MEDITATION have been extolled by countless great teachers and documented by multiple scientific studies. The styles of meditation are so varied that practically every person can find at least one method appropriate and accessible to their own life. The practice of meditation can be said to be the single most valuable use of one's time.

The immediate benefits of meditation include increased calm, peacefulness, and mental focus. Over time, the regular practice of meditation will result in enhanced clarity, insight, and even wisdom. Meditators are less distracted by habitual thoughts and conflicted emotions, and many experienced meditators report the experience of bliss or ecstasy. In the January 2011 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a study showed that meditation practices can improve blood flow in critical areas of the brain and supported the principle of using meditation as medicine.

Volumes have been written on the various forms and stages of meditation. Not only does every religion have its own ancient and effective meditative practices, but one can easily find a multitude of meditative techniques independent of any religious tradition. Meditation ranges from the most basic and simple practices of single-pointed concentration (such as watching the breath) to the most complex forms of multifocal and multimodal meditative absorption. There are even sports and games employed as meditation, such as Zen archery and the board game Go.

Both scientific studies and anecdotal evidence support the assertion that meditation is of inestimable value as one ages. Studies completed at Yale, Harvard, and Massachusetts General Hospital have shown that meditation increases gray matter in the brain and slows the deterioration of the brain as a part of the natural aging process. Further, many great teachers have noted that, at the moment of death, the only things that will be of any benefit are one's mental calm and stability (direct benefits of meditation practice) and the accumulation of virtue (an indirect product of meditation).

In short, it would seem both sensible and prudent to open-mindedly investigate for oneself whether one can find a form or forms of meditation that are useful and applicable in one's life. Toward this end, The Human Process offers introduction to many different styles and techniques of meditation, both within our Tai Chi classes and as independent courses. We hope you will join us to explore this fascinating and rich field of human experience.

author: Patrick Wooldridge