It is spring again!!! Okay, maybe not all the time, but once in a while anyway. And, as the book of I Ching says, the only certain thing in life is its constantly changing, so the elusiveness of British spring certainly fits this theory.
I wanted to dedicate this newsletter to an important question that came up in one of the latest classes.
We were practicing ‘Sticking’ in a circle. For those of you who are not familiar with the exercise, Sticking is a partner exercise in which you place your hand on top of your partner’s hand, close your eyes and follow their movement. Normally we do this exercise in pairs, so the two people taking part in the exercise use one hand each and perform one role at the time-either of the leader (Yang) or of the follower (Yin). When done in a circle, all participants find themselves both leading the movement and following it at the same time. It is very difficult to divide our attention this way, so what usually happens after a while is that, as long as we can relax and let go of our mind’s wish to control the situation, the movement begins to take a form of its own and we find ourselves following some kind of general flow, that is directed by the whole group. In other words, each one of the participants is ‘sticking’ in one level or another to each of the other participants. This process has nothing to do with the thinking mind, yet at the same time it has everything to do with the mind. It goes beyond the logical analyzing abilities of the mind to a realm of feeling the movement, not trying to control or guide it but simply moving with it. This is what is described in the Tai Chi classics as:
The I (mind) and chi (breath)
Must change agilely,
Then there is an excellence of
Roundness and smoothness. (p.44)
And what Lao Tsu so often refers to as:
One who lives in accordance with nature,
does not go against the way of things.
He moves in harmony with the present moment
Always knowing the truth of just what to do. (Tao Te Ching verse 8)
Recently, when practicing circle Sticking in one of the classes, I was asked if this process of allowing ourselves to ‘just go with the flow’, was a good thing. The concerns of the person asking were that if we go with the flow we may lose our individual identity and our ability to think for ourselves, we may allow others to lead us towards wrong doing that can end in great individual, social or political injustice.
This made me realise that the concept of going with the flow required a deeper explanation.
First thing we need to understand is that the Tao Te Ching, when talking about The Flow, assumes a basic natural order of existence. In fact, The Flow in itself is that natural order of the universe.
Then the Tao Te Ching tells us that humans have always had the tendency to interfere with that Flow:
It is Heaven’s Way to take from that which has too much,
and give to that which has too little.
This is not the way people do things. (verse 77)
Why are people hungry?
Because the rich take too much from them.
Why are people rebellious?
Because the powerful push them around.
This is why they’re angry. (verse 75)
Another fundamental aspect of The Flow is that it doesn’t recommend any particular political, social or moral way, but rather advocates Heaven’s Way, or Natural Goodness.
It does not claim to form a political view or take sides, but simply points out what is a natural behaviour, which consists of an integrated part of the way the universe works, and what is not natural and therefore goes against that way.
It doesn’t tell us that in order to be Naturally Good we need to follow communism, capitalism or fascism. If anything, it rather hints that any ‘ism’ has the tendency to interfere with The Flow:
When people don’t hurt each other, Natural Goodness spreads throughout the land (verse 60)-
If a country is ruled in an unobtrusive way,
its people will be honest and live simple.
But if government is invasive,
People become devious or apathetic. (verse 58)
We have to remember that Taoist philosophy is based, amongst other things, on close observations of the natural world.
Taoist writings often talk about the rose never saying to itself: ‘I wish I wasn’t prickly and full of thorns’, the lion never asking itself: ’Should I turn vegetarian?’ and the ocean never complaining that the day is too stormy for its poor sensitive waves or too hot for its water. This is the true meaning of The Flow. When the weather is stormy, the waves will gash and break, move rocks and reshape the landscape, when the weather is warm the water evaporates into steam. This is all part of a natural way in which anything and everything has a reason, and all actions, processes and events are interconnected and interrelated, even when we cannot see or understand them.
If we humans could think more in terms of acceptance (of ourselves and others) and not try to change others according to preconceived ideas that we have about ‘the way things should be’, if we could yield to changes around us rather than try to reshape the world according to what we think is good or bad, if we could be kind and soft rather than judgmental and unforgiving, then we would be truly going with the Flow.
The Tao Te Ching recommends this over and over again:
Flow around obstacles, don’t confront them (verse 8) –
Not because of fear or worry, but because the only way to attend to the hard or the wrong is by being soft, accepting and loving.
Heaven’s Way is never to favour this person over that person, but always to be on the side of the Good. (verse 79) –
Again, the side of the good does not mean favouring the good person over the bad person, but to always be with ‘Goodness’. Because, as it explains: I am good to the good and I am good to the bad because it’s good to be good (verse 49)
Rather like the animals: when a tiger goes out for the hunt, its decision on which way to take does not depend on any ideas of what is considered as good or bad, polite or rude, or any other preconceived ideas that it formed about the world around it. It comes out, takes a few steps and stops to listen to the sounds around it, to feel the direction of the wind, to smell the air. Only then, once it paused and became aware of what’s actually happening around will it choose a direction to follow. And while walking and searching it will repeat the above process of stopping, pausing and then moving over and over again.
This is one way of understanding the Flow and going with it; see what comes your way, respond to it, when it’s time to let go – don’t hold to it but let go, pause and see what comes your way next.
If the tiger’s hunting skills depended on its political views or social preferences there would be no tigers around these days. Unfortunately, tigers’ lives often depend on human’s political and social ideas (such as ‘People will know I’m rich and therefore powerful if I wear tiger’s skin boots or have a tiger’s head in my living room’) – These ideas in themselves go completely and utterly against the Flow.
And most important thing when we try to understand it – The Flow doesn’t need many rules, because it follows Nature’s Way.
In the same way, when we practice Sticking, the closest way to Taoism that we can practice it is by emptying ourselves of all preconceived ideas (from the simple idea that unless I lead firmly I will be helplessly controlled by my partner, to the idea of rating/judging my own or my partner’s Sticking skills) and allow the movement to happen by itself. The quality of our Sticking will be, naturally, different each time, according to the level of tension in my own body and mind and in my partner’s body and mind. But, as was said at the beginning of this email, the only constant thing in life is change, and as long as we are open to change and allow ourselves to change with it – we are at one with the Flow.
When we understand that the Flow is not something outside of us, but we are part of it, we can allow our mind to relax rather than be in constant battle with all that’s going on around us. When the mind is calm energy flows and when energy flows there is movement. Magic can happen then, if we only allow it to. A light hand touch on my own hand can feel, for a brief moment, like waves moving in the ocean. A simple Sticking exercise can turn into a beautifully choreographed dance, and we may experience brief moments of true connectedness to all Life