The Four Dimensions of Purpose
By Dr. Michael Mayer
Michael Mayer, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and
Tai Chi/Qigong Master Instructor certified by American Tai Chi and Qigong
In November, 2015, we published an
Bodymind vs. Mindbody, Integral vs. Integrative,
to introduce the fundamental concepts in Dr. Mayer's approach.
current article, Dr. Mayer focuses on another important concept: the four
dimensions of purpose. For more in-depth discussion on this subject, please
check out Dr. Mayer's book:
to Living Younger Longer: The Self-Healing Path of Qigong, Standing Meditation
and Tai Chi.
Dr. Mayer describes the historical background to this viewpoint in shamanism,
Buddhism, and cross-cultural traditions of postural initiation. He also goes
through various Tai Chi and Qigong movements and shows various meanings from the
Four Purposes view. His website is www.bodymindhealing.com.
Each Tai Chi movement can be seen as having four dimensions of purpose:
self-healing, spiritual unfolding, self-defense, and changing one's
psychological life stance. By practicing the four dimensions, a Tai Chi
practitioner is opened to deeper meanings and can find a multifaceted story
expressed through their movements.
Let's take for example the second Tai Chi Chuan movement, which some call Taoist
Immortal Paints the Heavenly Rainbow. The practitioner starts with their hands
in the stance of having both hands palms-down, as if holding two balls in a
stream; then a counter-clockwise circle is made. One self-healing purpose of the
movement can be found when the practitioner stops the movement with the hands in
front of the heart is that the practitioner opens their heart to the direction
they are facing. Secondly, a spiritual/shamanic purpose of the movement can be
embodied if a practitioner imagines that, like an ancient shaman, he or she is
painting a rainbow across the sky.
Thirdly, from the self-defense perspective, if someone is punching you, this
movement makes a circle and a 45 degree angle to divert a force coming toward
you; and this movement is part of learning how to yield to, not confront, the
disarm an aggressive force.
Fourthly, this type of movement can change your life stance toward such linear
forces in life psychologically and physically, particularly when you assume the
correct posture of slightly pushing out your lower back (ming men) as you
imagine catching a medicine ball in front of your heart.
It does not matter whether this is how any other teacher or practitioner
interprets the meaning of this posture. What matters is how a posture helps the
practitioner to find his or her own connection to the world behind the world.
My approach to Tai Chi has grown in part from my background in humanistic
psychology, where discovery of one's own unique meaning is paramount. As applied
to Tai Chi Chuan, this means that instead of focusing on ultimate truths and
contending about which of our interpretations is more "Tai Chi-ish," I believe
it is important to see that each of these four types of intention in Tai Chi
practice contains its story. Each story has its value, which opens us up to a
new world of meaning.
As with the example of the movement of Taoist Immortal Paints a Heavenly
Rainbow, every Tai Chi movement can be seen as a letter of a long-lost, right
brain hieroglyphic alphabet. These letters (postural stances) open us to
discovering the consciousness of another world, just as did the discovery of
In chapter 7 of my book
Secrets to Living Younger Longer, I go through more
Tai Chi movements and show various meanings from the Four Purposes view. For
example with "Shoulder Stroke" in Tai chi this is similar to the Bodymind
Healing Qigong exercise for cleansing the liver; "Playing the Guitar" (also
called Lifting Hands) as one lifts the foot can help to empower the Ming Men and
help with lower back problems. "Push" has a similar feeling to Hua Tau's Bear
animal frolic for the Liver, and when one pushes the point Liver 14 (below the
nipples) is emphasized, which is at the end of the liver meridian, associated in
some animal form systems with the Bear. Cloud Hands can be seen as an exercise
for clearing the heart of negative emotions (page 171).
In Chapter 6 and throughout the book I show how Standing Mediation Qigong has these 4 dimensions
of purpose. In addition to classical meanings, many Tai Chi practices and
Standing Mediation practices can be seen as developing "the Golden Ball"
referred to in the Western and Eastern mystery traditions such as the Grimm's
Fairy Tale of Iron John and the Wildman (page 24).