I'm a big fan of doing nothing.
My wife can testify to that, especially when she feels its time to attend to some household chores and I've got something less vigorous on my day's to-do list.
So I couldn't pass up going to a talk by Qiguang Zhao at Salem's Willamette University yesterday. I heard about it from a fellow Tai Chi student, who emailed me that Qiguang was going to speak about "Do Nothing and Do Everything."
From a Taoist perspective. Ah, nice.
I figured the talk would offer me more ammunition to fire at anyone who dared to consider that my seeming laziness was anything but a profound philosophical and spiritual stance.
Qiguang is the Chair of Asian Languages & Literature at Carleton College. He's written a book with the same name as his talk, contributing both the words and the illustrations.
I enjoyed the style and substance of Qiguang's talk. Taoism is about flowing with life, rather than fighting what's happening. A skilled Tai Chi practitioner, several times Qiguang used wordless movements to point to what can't be expressed in words.
I've written a lot about Taoism on my other blog, but I'm still trying to grasp the ungraspable nature of this profound,yet simple, philosophy. Here's my recollection of Qiguang's essential message -- an expansion of notes I took on my laptop.
In Tai Chi we trust the body, just as in Taoism we trust nature, which has its own rules. Often we needlessly worry in the present while fearing the future and regretting the past.
People think they are God, that events should happen as they desire. This creates guilt when the inevitable disconnect between what we intended and what happened occurs. We are part of the universe. We cannot control the world.
Recognizing that we are not separated from the cosmos, that our actions are part and parcel of everything and everyone in existence, we do nothing and do everything at the same time.
Meaning, action becomes relatively effortless when we surrender the notion that we are in charge ("relatively," because there are no absolutes; change is the only unchanging fact of life; movement in one direction inevitably ends, or takes a U-turn).
The Taoist religion evolved from Taoist philosophy. Religious Taoists believe it is possible to live forever and to fly. But we moderns have our own ways of living longer and of flying which aren't magical.
Confucianism is about details. Taoism is about the big picture. Both philosophies have co-existed in China for a long time, complementing each other. With so much increased stress in China now, many people are turning to Taoist practices such as Tai Chi for relaxation.
The Olympics motto is "faster, higher, stronger," reflecting Greek/Western philosophy. In Tai Chi, core movements are slower, shorter, and weaker, just the opposite. This fits with the Taoist emphasis on wu wei, effortless doing: yielding like water while being as strong as a crashing wave.
The most beautiful places are where two phenomena meet, like at the beach (land and sea). Also, when two cultures meet, such as when the modern meets the ancient, or East meets West.
Live afloat, like a boat loose from its moorings. Eat your fill and do what you will. Feel small, and your problems will be small. Take care (a Confucian sentiment) and do not tip the boat. Take it easy (a Taoist sentiment) and enjoy the scenery.
After Qiguang ended his talk, I asked him a question. I was curious about his extolling of imagination, since it seems that nature -- which Taoists emulate -- isn't at all imaginary.
In nature, something either is, or it isn't. There's no in-between. By contrast, I said, religions are full of imagination. People believe in an imaginary God. They imagine that Jesus saved them from sin and will take them to heaven after they die.
Since philosophical Taoism isn't a religion, why the emphasis on imagination?
Qiguang's answer was appealingly subtle. He agreed that nature is real. However, we can't know the essence of its reality, which is called "Tao." The Tao is wordless, beyond human conception.
So imagination fills the gap between the nameless and our propensity to name. We use our imagination in an attempt to understand what can't be understood, to gesture in the direction of the Tao -- even though there is nothing that can be pointed to.