Which ideally would be nothing, as the first four lines of the Tao Te Ching tell us.
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
But last Thursday night I was expected to say something about Taoism to a Comparative Religion class for about an hour. And I was caffeine-fueled with a large vanilla latte. So I expended quite a few words during my expounding about the wordless.
The talk went well. This was the third year I've been invited to the class. Previously I made the mistake of over-preparing. This time I threw a bunch of Taoist books into a paper bag after festooning the pages with post-it notes that marked some favorite passages.
When I felt the spirit, I picked up a book and pulled out a quote. Like this beauty from the Tao of Pooh:
In order to take control of our lives and accomplish something of lasting value, sooner or later we need to learn to Believe. We don't need to shift our responsibilities onto the shoulders of some deified Spiritual Superman, or sit around and wait for Fate to come knocking at the door.
We simply need to believe in the power that's within us, and use it. When we do that, and stop imitating others and competing against them, things begin to work for us.
In the yin-yang symbol, the super-duper ultimate power is represented by the circle. That's wu chi, empty fullness, the state of the Tao prior to creation. Wu chi is the balanced stance of readiness that Tai Chi forms begin and end with.
I mentioned that Tai Chi is a physical embodiment of Taoism. That's a big part of why philosophically-inclined me likes Tai Chi so much. When you practice a philosophy through movement, abstract concepts count for precisely zero. You may think you're got your balanced act together, but an awkward stumble after someone disrupts your root speaks for itself.
A wall that separates two rooms of the martial arts studio where I learn Tai Chi is formed into the yin-yang symbol. My instructor gestures toward it frequently, because every move in Tai Chi flows from the interplay of yin and yang, softness and hardness, insubstantial and substantial, unweighted and weighted.
Just as in life. Except we usually don't pay attention to how opposites do more than attract—they're absolutely dependent on each other. How could you have "male" without "female," or "good" without "evil"?
I told the class that the Taijitu has a bit of black within the white, and a bit of white within the black, to show that yin is yang is yin is yang. When yin (traditionally, the black) is at its maximum, that's when yang (traditionally, the white) begins to blossom.
A basic Tai Chi move is rollback, redirect, and press. Someone pushes hard on you. You roll with their energy, unresisting. There'll come a point where the push runs out of steam. That's a turning point. Redirection now is easy. Your yin acceptance turns into a yang press (or push), almost precisely mirroring the sinuous path of the boundary between black and white in the yin-yang symbol.
Go with the flow. That's Taoism 101. Plus the advanced course. Nothing is unchanging but the supremely supreme ultimate non-being, wu chi. "Tai Chi" means the supreme ultimate, but since it is being, Tai Chi (or creation) continually is becoming through the interplay of yin and yang.
Accept it. Embrace it. There's no way around it, because nothing is outside of it except nothingness. Clinging is futile. The only way to be secure is to have full faith in the Way.
Like the Tao of Pooh says, quoting Chuang-tse, that doesn't mean we're powerless. It simply means that our power isn't ours.
At the Gorge of Lü, the great waterfall plunges for thousands of feet, its spray visible for miles. In the churning waters below, no living creature can be seen.
One day, K'ung Fu-tse was standing at a distance from the pool's edge, when he saw an old man being tossed about in the turbulent water. He called to his disciples, and together they ran to rescue the victim. But by the time they reached the water, the old man had climbed onto the bank and was walking along, singing to himself.
K'ung Fu-tse hurried up to him. "You would have to be a ghost to survive that," he said, "but you seem to be a man, instead. What secret power do you have?"
"Nothing special," the old man replied. "I began to learn while very young, and grew up practicing it. Now I am certain of success. I go down with the water and come up with the water. I follow it and forget myself. I survive because I don't struggle against the water's superior power. That's all."
Well, that's a lot. Indeed, everything.
I talked some about my struggles to learn Tango. As noted in "I get a glimpse of Tango Zen," an effort to learn a new move often goes like this.
I began by knowing that I didn't know. Did fine. I progressed to knowing that I knew. Fell apart. I ended up not-knowing that I knew. Best of all.
That's a valuable lesson for me, the supposed leader, to learn. I say "supposed," because dancing is most enjoyable for me when the source of the leading isn't me. At least, not the usual me. When the leading happens by itself, that's the Tao taking over.
I just got an American Tango instructional DVD to supplement our classes. Watching the first part of it today, I was told that the woman's movement should be a fraction of a second behind the man's. He leads, and she follows. When she moves before the lead happens, that's not good.
One leader at a time, please. And on the Tango dance floor, that's the man (at home, it's different).
The question for all of us is: who leads the leader? From what source does every motion, mental or physical, spring? Can we attune ourselves more closely to the Dancer behind every dance, so we don't stumble around the ballroom of life?
Pooh tries to point the way.
To know the Way,
We go the Way;
We do the Way
The way we do
The things we do.
It's all there in front of you,
But if you try too hard to see it,
You'll only become Confused.
I am me,
And you are you,
As you can see;
But when you do
The things that you can do,
You will find the Way,
And the Way will follow you.
(If Pooh isn't enough for you, here's a bonus Secrets of the Yin Yang Symbol video.)