At the core of our beings, Pat and I are the same person.
What separates us is our emotion, or lack thereof. Pat’s the logical one, I’m the emotional one. I’ve always looked up to him — his strength, his morals, his personality — without really understanding why.
It’s only in the last year that I’ve come to realize Pat is a Taoist. This comes with the realization that I’m a Taoist myself, and explains why I try to be more like him.
The interesting part is that he doesn’t even know that he’s a Taoist — sort of like Winnie the Pooh — which is exactly what makes him a true Taoist.
One of Chuang Tzŭ’s parables illustrates this point. In an abbreviated version, Knowledge seeks a conscious reflection to know the Tao, and asked Silent Do Nothing and Reckless Blurter, before asking The Yellow Emperor (ahhh, the Romantic personification of Chinese fables):
Knowledge said to The Yellow Emperor, “I asked Silent Do Nothing and he kept quiet. Not only didn’t he answer me, but he didn’t even know how to answer. I asked Reckless Blurter, and though he wanted to tell me, he didn’t, and even forgot my questions. Now I’ve asked you, and you know all about it. Why do you say that you’re far from it?”.
The Yellow Emperor said, “Silent Do Nothing was truly right, because he didn’t know anything. Reckless Blurter was nearly right, because he’d forgotten it. You and I are far from right, because we know far too much“.
The same is true for Tai Chi1, or any martial art for that matter. Dissect it too much, and you lose the meaning. Think about it too much, and you don’t react. As Michael Babin wrote in his article on self-defense training:
It is sad but true that real skill comes from seemingly endless drilling of the basics and then learning how to transcend/forget most of what you have so patiently learned.
In other words, learning structure is essential to learning to react to a complete lack of structure (i.e. a real fight); but if you focus on structure for too long it becomes counter-productive to “being without structure” in martial terms. One of the many annoying paradoxes in the internal arts.
One of the many paradoxes in the Taoist philosophy as well. As much as I try to study it, learn it, and apply it, I find myself thinking about it too much. As a result, I occasionally stray from being centered, and lose my balance.
It’s the conscious reflection which Knowledge is seeking that preemptively dooms his search. This is my problem as well. I buy Taoist books with a thirst for knowledge, but they’re all telling me the same thing now. Not that the books haven’t helped at all, but I feel like I’ve reached a limit. Perhaps even the simple act of writing about this is counter-productive.
I have the understanding, but I can’t apply it without thinking about it first, and it’s the attempt to apply it that ruins the point. I’ve yet to reach a stage of pure reaction and spontaneity, like Pat.
But I’m getting there.
- Yet another example of how Tai Chi is the physical expression of the philosophy. Or perhaps this could be reverse-generalized, and said that the Taoist philosophy is reflected in everything, such as martial arts. [↩]