Dancing the Dao

DANCING

Qigong can be thought of as a dance. So can taiji. So can meditation. So can life really. It is when we are dancing in a graceful, balanced fashion that our life becomes such a dance. When we try to hard, when try to force, when we try to make things happen, we often fall on our face!
But when we are listening for the music within, when we are moving to the inner rhythms of our body and spirit our dance becomes a thing of beauty. When we are flowing like the water that Laozi talks about, taking the shape of whatever container/experience we find ourselves in, then our dance flows like a river down to the sea.
It is only in learning to listen, with our inner ear, that we can move to the cosmic rhythms of Dao itself.
Zhuangzi tells us that in order to hear the music of the universe we need to listen, not with our ears but with our hearts. Then he goes further and says to listen not just with our hearts but with our whole qi body. In this way we can really hear what is going on all around and within us. Then our dance can really be a celebration and union with Source, what the ancients called Dao.

 

This week’s quote.

 

Our lives as well as our minds are limited. To try and understand that which is unlimited with the limited is foolish and dangerous. To do this and consider it knowledge is even more foolish and dangerous.

Zhuangzi

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Looking Up

 

 

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My personal practice these days consists, in a large part, in something I call Looking Up. By Looking Up I mean to, number one, physically look up. It is amazing how often we travel down the road or even across our yard or across the street, all the while looking straight ahead, if not down at our feet. When we look up we see the blue, blue sky above us, with the bright shards of sunlight flowing down to us. Or else we see the great billowing clouds, all full of the promise of rain to make all things on our planet grow and flourish. Or else we might see the rain itself, falling down into our open eyes and perhaps, open mouth. Or we might see the tops of the trees swaying slowly in the breeze, reaching into the sky, connecting from their deeply entrenched roots down in the great yin of mother earth and then stretching up higher and higher into the great yang of the heavens.

It is just a wonderful practice to notice what we don’t usually see when we are walking or driving along. The tops of old buildings in many cities are covered with wonderful designs. Even just the sight of the rooftops of the buildings around us, as they blend in with the line of the sky behind them can be beautiful. We might see birds swooping around in the tops of the trees or on the rooftops or even on the tops of electrical lines.

And, of course, as with all real practices, we can take it a step further and use the concept of looking up in our own lives. It is often when we become obsessed or distraught by the small details of our lives that we lose the big picture. If we can, in our moments of stress or depression, we need to take a look up to become more aware of our lives in all their grandeur. When we are looking at a more objective view from on high we can see how each little moment comes together to form the amazing and beautiful mosaic of our lives. And while it is true that many of these moments contain lots of pain and suffering, we can also get a grander view if we only practice looking up. In that looking up, we can perhaps see the pattern more clearly and in this way we can learn to let go of the small stuff and focus on the whole journey rather than each individual step.

Laozi says we suffer because we have a limited sense of self. The Buddha also said life contains suffering because of our attachment to having things the way we want them to be rather than of the way they are. By using the teachings of these two great masters we can, perhaps, take this long and high view of our selves and of the world we find ourselves in. And in that way we can free ourselves from our earthly-bound material body selves and find ourselves soaring and swooping through the blue, blue sky like a bird on the wing.

Looking Up also means looking at the big picture, something we are not trained to do in our modern fragmented society. Most of us are stuck in our own extremely narrow worldview. We are more interested in what is happening in our own small part of the universe.

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The Slippery Art of Wu Wei

The Slippery Art of Wu Wei

Or

The Art of Doing Nothing

Solala Towler

One whose mind is a mirror of his situation, unaware of himself and therefore making no distinction between advantage and danger, will act with absolute assurance, and nothing will stand in his way.

                     A.C. Graham 1

He who practices the Way does less and less every day, does less and goes on doing less until he reaches the point where he does nothing, does nothing yet there is nothing that is not done!

Zhuangzi 2

 

Wu wei is one of the most difficult concepts in Daoist philosophy. Roughly translated, it means “doing nothing.” Westerners who are first introduced to Daoism sometimes think the term wu wei means sitting around and doing nothing—a passive acceptance of life and a sort of mushy, hopeless attitude. Nothing could be further from the truth. Alan Watts calls wu wei

a form of intelligence—that is, of knowing the principles, structures, and trends of human and natural affairs so well that one uses the least amount of energy in dealing with them” or “the innate wisdom of the nervous system. [1]

Far from being a passive acceptance or resignation to things, it is instead an active engagement with things as they are. It is a way of working with the dynamics of any situation in order to find the path of least resistance and then following through.

The true meaning of the phrase wu wei is something like” “not doing anything that is not natural” or “not doing anything that does not have its roots in Dao.” Joseph Needham explains it like this:

[Wu wei means] “refraining from activity contrary to Nature”; i.e., from insisting on going against the grain of things, from trying to make materials perform functions for which they are unsuitable, from exerting force in the human affairs when the man of insight could see that it would be doomed to failure, and that subtle methods of persuasion, of simply letting things alone to take their own course, would bring about the desired result. 3

It can also mean not overdoing anything. Laozi tells us:

Overfilling a vessel is not as good as stopping before it is filled.

Oversharpen a blade and it will lose its edge.

Pile up gold and jade

And it will be impossible to guard it.

In going after rank and titles

In an arrogant and haughty way

And you will bring about your own downfall.

Withdraw when the work is done.

This is the way of Dao.

(Chapter 9)

It is often in overdoing something, even if it is the right thing, that we are lead astray. To attain anything, even spiritual growth, in an arrogant and haughty way, is to invite our own downfall. But to do our good works and then retire, not calling attention to ourselves is truly the way of the sage. Perhaps that is what Master Jesus meant when he talked about keeping your light under a bushel. This is something that is commented on over and over in Daoism. The one who calls attention to him or herself, being proud of their accomplishments, be they material or spiritual, is only setting themselves up for a fall. It is better, say the sages, that one does one’s deeds or spiritual practice in a quiet and humble manner and then moves on.

Wu wei is the opposite of yu wei or action with useless effort. It is coupled with spontaneity and a deep awareness of what is happening in any situation, allowing one to discern whether it would be better to act or not to act (which, of course, is what Hamlet was really talking about). It is a kind of spontaneity which, as Clae Waltham says, cannot be captured, only fostered. It is a kind of perception of the currents of any situation and our place in it. Laozi says that:

Teaching without words

and working without doing,

Are understood by very few.

(Chapter 43)

And:

Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?

I do not believe it can be done.

The universe is sacred.

You cannot improve it.

If you try to change it, you will ruin it.

If you try to grasp it, you will lose it.

(Chapter 29)

Trying to hold tight to any situation, trying to figure out just what exactly is going on, and most of all, trying to control the situation through force of will or use of “knowledge” or intellectual gymnastics is foolish and will, in all probability, land us on our faces in the mud. Zhuangzi says:

The knowledge of the ancients was perfect. How perfect? At first, they did not know that there were things. This is the most perfect knowledge; nothing can be added. Next, they knew there were things, but did not yet make distinctions between them. Next, they made distinction between them, but they did not yet pass judgements upon them. When judgements were passed, Dao was destroyed. 4

Daoists are lovers of simplicity and naturalness. Zhuangzi says the wisdom of the ancients was perfect because they did not know there were things—they did not differentiate, they did not catalogue, they did not separate one thing from another, one state of mind from another, one state of being from another. In this way they were able to remain pure and close to the original undifferentiated Dao.

My taiji teacher, David Cheng, was fond of telling us it is our mind that gets us into trouble. It is our mind, our discriminating intellect that creates all sorts of problems for us, then thinks it can figure a way out of them. But then again, David said, without our mind we would not know how to drive a car or take a bus or make our way to taiji class! We would not understand what language he was speaking or how to follow his movements. Our mind is a tool, he says—a wonderful, useful tool. Sometimes, for example, we need to discriminate; we need to be able to look at a situation dispassionately and intelligently and see if it is a situation or a relationship or a job or a person that is good for us or bad for us. This is a good way to use that marvelous tool, the mind. But let’s put it back in the toolbox when we’re done with it, he would say. Let’s not leave it lying around where we can step on it or trip over it all the time.

How are we to learn to work with this slippery concept, wu wei? The old maxim, “learn by doing” applies here as well as anywhere else. It is a matter of going slowly, the slower the better. The wonderful dance of tai chi is a perfect example of wu wei in action. The gentle movements are done as slowly as possible, so that it becomes a sort of dancing meditation.

Often we find ourselves in trouble simply because we are going too fast, disregarding signs of trouble that we would have seen if only we had been going a little slower. All too often we get caught up in the rush; our whole culture is based on it. Get ahead! Do it now! So stop to listen quietly to the voices within—the still, small voices as well as the loud and clear ones. It’s hard, if not downright impossible, to hear them when we are going fast, listening instead to the constant blare of the world around us. Sometimes the right thing to do is not to do anything.

Wu wei is an attitude, an approach to life itself. When we become sensitive to the current of change all around us we will be able to make intelligent decisions at all times, using the innate wisdom of our bodies and energy systems as well as our minds. As A.C. Graham, in his wonderful translation of the Book of Lieh Tzu, says, “Nowhere is there a principle which is right in all circumstances, or an action that is wrong in all circumstances.” 5

Wu wei is learning how to conserve our energy and not spend it frivolously or in fear or confusion. Sometimes it is far easier and actually in our best interest and in the best interest of the actual situation to do nothing or to find some way around the situation rather than trying to go through it. Blofeld tells us that “a Daoist conserves his energy by easily according with and adapting himself to each situation.” 6

We may be sick or injured and lying in bed, trying hard to figure out what is going on, why this is happening to us and when will it be over? While the body, mind and spirit are tied up in knots trying to decipher this maddening puzzle, we are getting nowhere, slowly. How much easier, though it takes a little practice, to just let go and let be what is and learn how to be okay while we’re not feeling okay. Sometimes there just isn’t anything to do, and the best course is to relax and and do nothing. Later on the situation may change and there will be something that we can do to help ourselves. Then, with the same grace that we did nothing, we can do something.

Oftentimes doing something is not better, more important or even more helpful than doing nothing. When we feel stuck and unable to move, what we are actually doing is storing energy to be able to make a move, or the kind of move that will actually mean something. Like water, our energy must slowly collect before it can spill over the dam. Often when we think we’ll never get out of a rut or never be able to move again, being patient and conserving our energy will help us make an even greater move when the time is right.

By learning to relax and discover the intrinsic flow of events that contain and are contained by our lives we can reach some measure of security and perhaps even wisdom. Zhuangzi likens this state to that of a drunken man:

A drunken man falls out of a cart; though he may suffer, he does not die. His bones are the same as other people’s; but he meets the accident in a different way. His spirit is the condition of security. He is not conscious of riding in the cart; neither is he conscious of falling out of it. Ideas of life, death and fear cannot penetrate his breast; and so he does not suffer from contact with objective circumstances. And if such security is to be got from wine, how much more is to be gotten from spontaneity. 7

In this passage, Zhuangzi describes wu wei as spontaneity, a total indentification with the present moment. For in reality there is no other moment than the one we are in. Alan Watts says, “you can think about the past and you can think about the future, but since you do that thinking now, the present is inescapable.” So then, how to develop this sense of spontaneity, this sensitivity to the here and now? A.C. Graham says:

If he wishes to return to the Way he must discard knowledge, cease to make distinctions, refuse to impose his will and his principles on nature, recover the spontaneity of the newborn child, allow his actions to be ‘so of themselves’ like physical processes. (Author’s italics). 8

Another way is to follow the advice of John Blofeld:

Caring not for what people may think of him, he takes no pride in heroics, for its own sake, so he looks for the easiest way round. That is not to say that he willingly surrenders an objective, only that he will not attempt the impossible, nor expend more energy than is strictly necessary to attain the possible. By no means lazy, he conserves his powers in order to make the most of them. 9

It is in applying the principles of wu wei to our life that we truly begin to understand and experience Tea Mind or Cha Dao.  By not forcing, by going with the flow, by letting things develop in their own time, by not being attached to outcomes, by giving ourselves time to “just be”—through meditation, walking in nature, through whatever activity or non-activity that allows us to feel the spaciousness of our true self, by being ok with not being ok sometimes—these are all ways to open ourselves to the ongoing, ever flowing stream of life both within and around us.

In the Wu Wei Way of Tea we are able to find ourselves again, we are able to reconnect and realign ourselves with the great Way or Dao. And in that connection we can begin to heal, to find the path to wholeness. And in this Way we can open ourselves to new experiences, new ways of seeing and being, new attitudes and ways of looking at the world and our place in it.

1 The Book of Lieh Tzu , A.C. Graham,  Colombia University Press, 1960

2 Chuang Tzu: Genius of the Absurd, Clae Waltham,  Ace Books, 1971

3 The Watercourse Way , Alan Watts, Pantheon Books, 1975

4 Science and Civilization in China , Joseph Needham, Cambridge University Press

5 Chuang Tzu: Genius of the Absurd

6 The Book of Lieh Tzu

7 Daoism, the Road to Immortality , John Blofeld, Shambhala Publications, 1978,

8 The Book of Lieh Tzu

9 Zhuangzi: Genius of the Absurd

10 Daoism, the Road to Immortality

 

Please follow this blog for more information, stories, instruction and inspiration from the path of Dao. And if you know anyone else who might be interested let them know about it.

If you want more information on The Empty Vessel magazine please go to our site at www.CommunityAwake.com under The Abode of the Eternal Dao. There you will find downloadable issues of the journal, articles from back issues, music, video from China, guided meditations and more.

Embarking on the Way

The Slippery Art of Wu Wei

Solala Towler

Please follow this blog for more information, stories, instruction and inspiration from the path of Dao. And if you know anyone else who might be interested let them know about it.

If you want more information on The Empty Vessel magazine please go to our site at www.CommunityAwake.com under The Abode of the Eternal Dao. There you will find downloadable issues of the journal, articles from back issues, music, video from China, guided meditations and more.


Welcome to Free and Easy Wandering

Coming soon — Free and Easy Wandering — an exploration of Daoist (Taoist) principles and practices, by Solala Towler, editor/publisher of The Empty Vessel. In the coming weeks I will be posting some introductory material on specific Daoist principles such as wu wei, watercourse way, the difference between religeous (dao jiao) and philosophical (dao jia) Daoism, qigong, Daoist meditation, internal alchemy (nei dan) and Daoist medicine. Please join me on the voyage of discover on this ancient path of Dao!

You can learn more about Daoism at my website at CommunityAwake.com under Abode of the Eternal Dao where you can find full color downloadable issues of The Empty Vessel, past articles, music, video, guided meditations, info on our qigong program and China tours – much of it for free! You can also find information on our herbal foods, order back issues and more at our Abode of the Eternal Tao website.

I have been a student of the Way for almost 25 years. I have studied with various teachers including Ni Hua Ching, Chen Xui Shen, Chen Fu Yin and David Cheng. When I discovered the Way of Dao it truly felt like coming home! I am still as excited and inspired by my Daoist studies as I was so long ago! I have had 12 books published on the Daoist arts, including Tales From the Tao and Chuang Tzu (both published by Duncan Baird), Cha Dao (published by Singing Dragon) with more on the way!

I have been publishing The Empty Vessel: The J0urnal of Daoist Philosophy and Practice since 1993 and lead yearly tours to China to study qigong and meditation in the Wudang Mountains, among other places. I also teach qigong (see my site at CommunityAwake for more info on this) and am a founding board member and past president of the National Qigong Association.

So please enjoy my posting as we explore together the fascinating and inspiring world of Daoism!

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