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.