A recent T’ai Chi practice spot

Happy New Year!

In November 2022 I began writing a Substack about Tao, the embodied life and art where earth matters. You can read it here.

My Grandmaster John Kells wrote hundreds of pieces for his students about the practice and spirit of what he taught. Returning to reading and rereading them after many years, I felt drawn to publish here one of the writings that has most affected me since I first read it in 2004. Here it is in full.

The fighting eye of life is death

The first lesson we learn after physical separation from our mother is fear: the impossibility of doing what is required to stay alive.

The basic instinct for survival is well recognised, but even a little experience will show us that initial feelings of impossibility, or fear, can be undone by lessons learnt through teaching, either from another person or from sheer experience itself.

The basic instinct for self-survival remains the same, but the use of attitudes regarding it should not be described, in the best instances, as fear, but simply as careful techniques to a desired end.

When conditions are not perfect then shrugging & struggling to the next stage of survival is smeared by that anxious tense feeling of impossibility – that fear.

Even a successful experience may not be accompanied by the wisdom to recognise its natural source.

The whole problem is seeing our own reflection in everything.

Fathers love their sons, largely because they love their own reflection, so that often, when that reflection disappoints, the love, if not replaced, is accompanied by frustration, anger & even dislike.

In ordinary communication you attribute your own motives to the other person, rather than feeling & experiencing what is actually there before you interpret & reach conclusions.

So this feeling of impossibility is like a fearing & fearful mist that dampens the whole environment so that everything is in fear, though not usually of fear.

Fighting the breaking moment to realise the exploding thrust of reality cannot be done when your energy is taken up by fighting the miasma of unreality.

How to fight this escape from truth is the work of every human being.

There is no choice in the matter, & experience leading to depression, despair, anger & abuse is no substitute for the soft melting connexion that is possible between all entities.

The problem with fear is that it is easily & well remembered.

The habit of turning away from the light & reflecting one’s own poor image into & out of everything, is an indulgence which can be relied upon.

The free advance that connexion allows is not strictured & subject to laws of imagining anything that can be constructed by the elements within you that you regard as thinking.

Thus the work is fiercely forgetting rather than defending self, with an absolutely flourishing & vigorous spiral intensity, so that everything is consumed, so that even forgetting is forgotten, & only connexion is allowed its natural blaze.

The rigorous change that is potential & bursting in what we call every moment, hooks & gathers, through trial & error, but ever closer, to other hearts.

The natural process is connecting heart to heart – growing for one is pouring into & through the others heart, & no matter how slightly, the other doing the same leads in a double spiral to a third heart between the two connecting entities.

This is a new life, as real as any screaming baby brought about by a man & a woman, requiring nurturing respect & a life of its own – connexion – connected & connecting.

In this world of triadic spiral connexion there is nothing left undone & nothing that is not transformed or transforming.

But this knowledge is not usually given to us in early life.

The struggle for survival means that we are all warriors.

The softness of a woman gives her an advantage in the seeping insistence on touching the other through the mother’s heart.

In his efforts to appear like the warrior, the average man hardens his frame, pulls away from softness & becomes indulgent to some extent in the mist of fear, & overcomes through facing these fears with what is called courage.

But often courage is mixed with force: somehow not wishing to give time or thought or energy to the complexity of things, & desiring to force forwards & smiting the subject of courage to smithereens.

But all warriors may learn by experience that going back to the root of courage is what is important.

So filling the heart somehow requires re-education.

In a big sense to re-educate your whole life, & in a small sense to live day by day.

The pain & tearing agony that fuels fear comes from disconnecting.

The biggest disconnexion, & hence the biggest fear, is something we have not experienced – death.

Except that we see it everywhere.

Dead plants, dead animals, put into our bodies throughout the day.

Dead thoughts, dead memories, past fears, rotting & festering & in their own way blooming.

When this nightmare enters every aspect of every molecule, then what does the immensely fearful person do?

It does not matter what he thinks, he knows he has to change.

Hard, strong & forceful, he or she has to become soft, weak & yielding.

The strong fear that had made the survivor so immense has to be forgotten.

All that mist & damp rotting reflection have to be softened & warmed away, & all the surfaces of soul & sensibility & body, no longer resistant & clutching in the grip of fear, but soft & hearkening in the embrace of connexion in the natural falling away of previous absorption in the reflections of self.

For want of a better word, this powerful beginning of the natural process is called yielding – the start of enheartening: filling the deprived heart of the fearful one with connexion driving away self, sorrow & thoughts.

Finding a method here is useful because then with this method you can give others your insight into freedom from fear & into connexion.

So the essence of the warrior is to never forget the technique that brought him through death & the overweening useless fear of it, & into life.

One who has not made this journey will inevitably talk of suffering.

But the fighting eye of life is death, & one experience to the warrior is no more or less important than any other, & therefore will not be indulged.

Thus the rush of love has its own character, the rush of reaction in a self-defence situation has another, the rush of pain due to injury or disease is yet another.

But all are equal so there is no point in talking about suffering.

The warrior’s fighting eye blesses what it delights on because it neither detracts nor adds anything.

What is brought into your being through your senses is what is there.

The rest of nature understands this & harmony is bound to exist with it.

Mankind generally does not understand this so harmony is lessened.

Connecting through the heart, ever forwards, open, hooking, embracing, along the connecting natural process, is all you can do.


Nothing can escape, so it is important that each warrior does his best to sharpen his fighting eye & reach as far & as deep as he can for all our sakes.

John Kells – Blakeney – 29th May 2004

Published by Caroline Ross

Artist, maker, teacher of earth materials, founder of Great River T'ai Chi.

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