My wife and I are in Maui right now. I’m sitting on the balcony of our condo, watching the waves roll into Napili Bay. Seems like a good time to think about going with the flow.
Of course, thinking and flowing are like oil and water. They don’t mix very well. Still, there’s a certain flow to thought when you just let it happen. It’s conscious controlling that messes the flowingness of anything up. That’s the bugaboo of religious concepts—the subject of my previous post.
They’re like rocks in the ocean. As an avid boogie boarder, I know all about those. I’m aware of the location of just about every large rock in Napili Bay. They’re where you don’t want to go when you catch a wave. Big waves aren’t dangerous. They’ll just toss you around. It’s hitting a rock or a reef that will wreck your day.
Rigidity sucks. Stay clear of it.
In “Lectures on Zen Buddhism” (one of the essays in Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis), D.T. Suzuki talks about flowing. Don’t let the book’s title put you off: this is a great essay.
Suzuki urges us to become artists of life. However we earn our living, this should be our real profession. He says that “in point of fact we are all born artists of life and, not knowing it, most of us fail to be so and the result is that we make a mess our lives, asking, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ ‘Are we not facing blank nothingness?’”
The problem is that we’re facing in the wrong direction, where meaning won’t be found: outwardly. Suzuki assures us that “an artist of life has no need of going out of himself. All the material, all the implements, all the technical skill that are ordinarily required are with him from the time of his birth, perhaps even before his parents gave him birth.”
Cool. You don’t need to be saved. You don’t need to get religion. You don’t need a guru. You don’t need to heed the word of God. All you need to do is learn how to unlearn all the crap that you’ve been taught about what you are not.
Don’t copy. Be an original. Art isn’t imitation. Listen to Suzuki.
To such a person his life reflects every image he creates out of his inexhaustible source of the unconscious. To such, his every deed expresses originality, creativity, his living personality. There is in it no conventionality, no conformity, no inhibitory motivation.
He moves just as he pleases. His behavior is like the wind which bloweth as it listeth. He has no self encased in his fragmentary, restrained, egocentric existence. He is gone out of this prison.
One of the great Zen masters of the T’ang says: “With a man who is master of himself wherever he may be found he behaves truly to himself.” This man I call the true artist of life.
Yesterday afternoon I felt an urge to do some Tai Chi forms and a few martial arts kata that I’ve taichized. A sandy outcropping on the edge of Napili Beach beckoned to me. Weddings often are performed there. It’s a beautiful spot, facing Molokai.
When I mentioned my intention to Laurel she said, “Just don’t do it by me. You’re going to look funny. It will seem strange.” I didn’t blame her for having that reaction. I understood how she felt. But I didn’t care what other people on the beach would think. I always do these forms several times a week, and it was time to do them again.
I’m glad I did. How often am I going to be able to do Tai Chi in the soft sand, with waves crashing over rocks and dashing me with foam? I didn’t care if people were watching me. Nor did I care if people weren’t watching me. For the moment (and just for the moment, sadly) I was in a Zen-ish state of mind. Suzuki again:
But let a man once look within in all sincerity, and he will then realize that he is not lonely, forlorn, and deserted; there is within him a certain feeling of a royally magnificent aloneness, standing all by itself and yet not separated from the rest of existence.
…What makes him feel that way comes from his personally experiencing creativity or originality which is his when he transcends the realm of intellection and abstraction. Creativity differs from mere dynamism. It is the hallmark of the self-determining agent called the Self.
[By contrast] Individuality…is liable to become associated with self-asserting power. It is always conscious of others and to that extent controlled by them. Where individualism is emphasized, the mutually restricting feeling of tension prevails. There is no freedom here, no spontaneity, but a deep, heavy atmosphere or inhibition, suppression, and oppression overpowers one and the result is psychological disturbance in all its varieties.
I know a bit about sword techniques. I’ve studied the Japanese katana and have two “live” blades plus several wooden practice bokken. I’m slowly learning a Tai Chi sword form. However, I’ve done very little freeform sword fighting.
Still, from my other marital arts experience I can relate to Suzuki’s Zen wisdom here—which applies equally to all of us fighting the battle of life. He is relating the advice of Takuan to his swordsman disciple Yagyu Tajima-no-kami.
Takuan’s advice is chiefly concerned with keeping the mind always in the state of “flowing,” for he says when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of a swordsman, it means death.
…When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy’s sword-movements. He just stands there with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is really only to follow the dictates of the unconscious.
The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hands of the unconscious that strikes. There are stories in which the man himself has not been aware of the fact that he has struck down the opponent—all unconsciously.
Now, that’s flow. Real artistry. Conscious concepts get in the way. “I need to hold the sword this way.” “If an attack comes from this direction, I will parry in this fashion.” Thoughts like these interrupt the genuine knowledge, prajna, that springs naturally from within.
Religious thoughts are similarly obstructive. “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.” “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet.” “Without a living guru, god-realization is impossible.”
Ideas like these cut us off from the reality toward which they supposedly point. They interpose dogma between us and direct experience. Does anyone really know any of those statements to be true? No. But the faith of billions rests on theological hypotheses like these.
They’re considered to be rocks on which to stand. Actually, they’ll bust your head. Trust yourself. Flow with the waves of life and stay away from reefs of rigidity. When given a choice between one religious way or the highway, head for the open road.
I've just discovered your blog and would like to add my support. After being raised as a Christian to my teens I realized that Christianity was full of corruptible ideas and just not really the way for me. I explored other religions but never really found any that stuck to me, and often found myself just being a spiritual person without any religious declaration. I found it enlightening to be able to follow my own flow and not be stuck to anyone else's ideas. I could still base my opinions off of others, but I didn't HAVE to, which I found very liberating. The only problem is I felt alone. Any acquantainces I made who didn't follow a specific religion were just non-spiritual people. I began to feel like I was the only spiritual person who didn't declare a following to any specific religion. It just dawned on me today that there HAS to be someone else out there, so I did a quick search for unorganized religion and the first site I landed on was this one. Thank you for your insights, I have been reading for the past several hours. Before I landed here I envisioned creating my own religion and urging people to follow me, however after reading your posts I see that would even be a bad idea. Again, I thank you, you have no idea how much.
Posted by: Chip | May 06, 2006 at 11:37 AM
"Big waves aren't dangerous." How big are we talkin' about, surfer dude? I may wish to take issue.
My tai chi teacher always told us it was good to do the form with someone watching. Helped our concentration she said.
Posted by: R Blog | May 06, 2006 at 12:10 PM
Chip, thanks for the kind words. They mean a lot to me. To echo you, you have no idea how much.
Randy, I stand corrected. When I said "big waves" I was thinking of Napili Bay-type big waves, which are vastly smaller than the North Shore-type big waves you're so familiar with.
You're right: a big wave that sucks you under water and keeps you there for a long time can kill you, even if you never hit a rock or reef.
What I was thinking of is my experience with not-so-big big waves that just thrash you around underwater before letting you back up. If you go with the flow, you're fine.
Of course, it could be that one of those "roller" sorts of waves could turn you upside down and smash you against the ocean surface and perhaps hurt you.
But in my boogie boarding experience I've never seen anyone hurt that way--by a wave without hitting a rock or reef. It's always been a hard thing that sends them bleeding into shore, not a soft thing.
Yes, I agree about doing Tai Chi with someone watching. I didn't have trouble with my forms on the beach, aside from coping with the soft sand.
But I've taken to doing my Tai Chi routine in a open space in the athletic club weight room where I work out. I figure that other people roll around on big balls and what not, so I should be able to roll around Tai Chi style so long as I don't run into people.
Some of the Nautilus-type machines face right at me when I'm in my Tai Chi spot. A few times I've become aware of someone seemingly looking at me and gotten self-conscious. Then I'm prone to stumble or forget a move. Interesting.
If I tune my consideration of other people out, while being aware that they're in the room, I do fine. It's thinking, "what are they thinking about me?" that is the problem. Like you said, public Tai Chi does help the concentration.
Posted by: Brian | May 06, 2006 at 01:15 PM
I have read some of Suzuki's works and admire several aspects of Zen but a couple things in the sections you've quoted seem almost scary. I understand 'going with the flow' but to always do as one pleases and to wield a sword and strike a man down without knowing (until, perhaps, afterwards) doesn't seem like the best social behavior. Yes, those are illustrations but from the quote itself it appears to have actually happened (granted, I would assume, during the days of the samurai) but the principles are still promoted.
From following your meanderings, isn't your goal to 'know' God/The Ultimate/The One? If one lives constantly from the subconscious, wouldn't that forfeit actively 'knowing'? What if the subconscious isn't motivated toward enlightenment?
Posted by: Steve | May 07, 2006 at 12:46 PM
Steve, I assumed that the swordsman was conscious of the threat facing him, which had to be dealt with, but acted spontaneously and naturally--not from his conscious thinking self.
Haven't you ever said to yourself, "Wow! I can't believe I did that!" In an approving sense, not a chastising sense. Athletes call it "being in the zone." Zen seems to just take this to another level, where you, the zone, and being all are one, so you're not even aware of being in the zone--though you are.
Regarding living from the conscious vs. the subconscious, Suzuki says: "But I must remind the reader not to take me for an anti-intellectualist through and through. What I object to is regarding the intellect as the ultimate reality itself. The intellect is needed to determine, however vaguely, where the reality is. And the reality is grasped only when the intellect quits its claim on it."
Ramana and others say that it is like using a stick to stir the fire and get it blazing, then throwing the stick into the fire. Makes sense to me. How can you realize the One if you are two?
It comes down to faith, in my opinion. Not faith in any particular concept or dogma, but faith that the Ultimate can be known if you relax your hold on the non-ultimate and sink into it.
I do believe that the subconscious is motivated toward enlightenment, as the Buddha taught. All beings desire an end to suffering. That drive leads us to learn what causes suffering. I'm not saying that we need to accept the Buddha's answers--just that our own quest for release from suffering will lead us in the right direction if we're honest with our questions and the answers that we directly experience.
Posted by: Brian | May 07, 2006 at 01:04 PM
Thanks for the clarification on waves. Glad someone is in Hawaii! If it rains you can watch some surfin' here. http://www.surfsessionreport.com/index.php It's free. I don't surf but I like to watch. Boogie boarding is the right idea. Also, if you haven't read Eddie Would Go, it's good Hawaiian reading.
Posted by: R Blog | May 07, 2006 at 03:39 PM
Like Taoism, going with the flow is not for sissies. Detachment means unhooking the intellect from results. Understanding the threat and facing it with one's whole self means the distinct possibility of dying.
Because the flow includes non-being.
Attachment in this example could be selecting non-rigid thought because of some intuited danger. IMO Suzuki points to the flow of life as sufficient, exactly because it is strong and profound and doesn't require intellectual "additives."
One possible world is where analytical thought is practiced as tai chi forms: fist of decision, clouds of data mining, the snake climbs down deconstruction. You can perform this kind of self-defense in a class, in public place, and then move on. It is a good idea to have someone watch, to give feed back and to make sure you don't hurt yourself.
Posted by: Edward | May 08, 2006 at 11:31 AM