Tao Te Ching: (a section of) Verse 3

Hi guys, just a quick one today. While I deconstructed the third verse in full, there are only three lines that I want to share today…

Verse 3 [a section of the original]

Practice not doing….
When action is pure and selfless,
everything settles into its own perfect place.

Verse 3 [my interpretation] 

Not every situation calls for action;
sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.
By living a life of virtuous intent
everything will be okay (even if it doesn’t turn out how you expected it to be).
Be the best you can be, and trust in the Tao;
it’s been guiding the universe for longer than you can comprehend.
You don’t need to impose your petty desires on it and expect it to oblige.
Like a mother of infinite wisdom caring for an egotistic child,
the Tao has always taken care of you, provided what you needed.
It will always take care of you and provide you what you need.
Live your life fully,
and have faith in the plans of the universe.

Tao Te Ching: Verse 2

Verse 2 [original]

Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty,
only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.

Being and nonbeing produce each other.
The difficult is born in the easy.
Long is defined by short, the high by the low.
Before and after go along with each other.

So the sage lives openly with apparent duality
and paradoxical unity.
The sage can act without effort
and teach without words.
Nurturing things without possessing them,
he works, but not for rewards;
he competes, but not for results. 

When the work is done, it is forgotten.
That is why it lasts forever. 

Verse 2 [my interpretation]

In the physical world, what is considered beautiful is done so in contrast with what is considered ugly.
Happiness is a measure of what sadness came before it.
Ideas of good/bad, tall/short, even white/black only exist in contrast with one another.
Their existence produces their opposite.

They are all subjective judgements that we, as human beings, put on the world.
A sunflower is neither inherently beautiful nor inherently ugly compared to the rose: it simply is.
Furthermore, these binomial opposites are cycles of the same thing;
feeling cold will always follow feeling hot which will always follow feeling cold.

The wise man lives in this paradoxical universe without attaching to it.
He does not judge, but accepts things as they truly are.
He does not condemn nor does he extol the otter for being an otter.
The glass is neither half full, nor half empty: it is half a glass.

He moves through this world because it is his nature to move through this world.
He embraces and embodies the Way, and all people can learn from him.
He does not struggle to be, or do;
he simply is, and does.
He does not work for reward or recognition;
he simply works because it is his nature to work.

And when the work is done,
It slips into the past.
It returns to the Tao
and the cycle continues eternally.

An exploration of the Tao

As some of you may know, I have been making an effort to spend some time every morning practicing taiji, meditating, then reading about different perspectives on life. Simplistically, I am reading self-help books in the quest for being at peace with my living circumstances, finding happiness in the moment. Today I started a book that a good friend lent me; Change Your Thoughts- Change your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao, by Dr Wayne W. Dyer. I was skeptical based on how it was promoting itself- it seemed to be a classic “get rich quick” scheme (with happiness, success and healing being the currency), but I started it nonetheless. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was an analysis of the Tao Te Ching, aimed at a Western audience. The Tao Te Ching is an ancient Chinese scripture on the nature of life and the universe, written by philosopher Lao Tzu. It might be translated as “The Way and its Virtue”, or the inherent truth and power of living the correct Way of life. It is to Taoists as the Bible is to Christians, except its message is older and arguably more universal. As a martial artist, it is a book I have always wanted to read: some martial arts (taiji and xingyi in particular) are based heavily, if not exclusively on the Tao Te Ching and its philosophy.

Dr Dyer spent a year reading ten different translations of the Tao Te Ching and synthesised them, drawing out his own interpretation and expressing it in a way Western audiences can more easily understand. I would like to do similarly. The Tao Te Ching is an amazing text- there are 81 short verses and I have read only the first, but I can already anticipate this is a mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting document that can very easily change the way one comes to know the universe. And so I would like to take this moment to deconstruct Dr Dyer’s translation and to transform it into my own expression of understanding: to learn, rather than be taught. I can’t imagine I’ll do this for every verse, but if I do I’ll keep it much briefer than this blog post. Please note that my interpretation is strictly personal, and is in no way better than anybody else’s interpretation.

First verse [original]

The Tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.

The name that can be named
is not the eternal name. 

The Tao is both named and nameless.
As nameless it is the origin of all things;
as named it is the Mother of 10,000 things. 

Ever desireless, one can see the mystery;
ever desiring, one sees only the manifestations.
And the mystery itself is the doorway
to all understanding. 

First Verse [My interpretation]

If you can tell another person what the Way is,
you have not understood it in its entirety.
If you can identify, label or name that vastness which we call the Way/God,
you are understanding only a shadow of its true nature.

The Way/God exists in ways we can label, and ways that are beyond the limitations of human language.
The unknowable side of it is the essence of the divine; the hidden mysteries of the universe that run behind the scenes; the cycles of nature that allow the world to exist.
The knowable side of it is the physical world we can see and touch and taste. It is the world of “10,000 things”.

By giving up desire you can start to perceive the hidden side of the Way: the true nature of this universe.
By attaching yourself to desire you can only experience the physical manifestation of God/the Way, never truly knowing the mystery that lies beneath.
And perceiving the unknowable vastness of the Way/God
is the path to knowing all truth.
[In a way, perceiving the Tao is like staring into the face of God, or reading the Elder Scrolls: their truth is so powerful that the reader becomes blinded by it. But ultimately, sight is a small price to pay for truth.]

I am quite sure no one really wants to read this, but I really need to tell someone. Unemployment is killing me. More specifically, the feelings I am projecting onto my unemployment are killing me. I feel (regardless of its validity) like there is a void in my life, that there is no purpose to my living. This feeling does not overcome me all the time, but some days (maybe once a week) I will feel as if I’m going nowhere and that there’s no point to living any longer. In a mad frenzy I will search for jobs, throwing applications to the wind. This often makes me feel worse. Some of the jobs are full of promise, hope and prayer; small businesses with a belief in saving the planet, or about helping people in genuine ways. Others actually hurt me when I click the Apply button; soulless corporations who state things like “a hunger for achieving KPI’s” as one of their requirements of applicants. Yet, desperate as I am to make something meaningful of my life, I’ll apply anyway, sickened at the possibility they might accept me. And when that pile of jobs runs dry, I feel worse than ever with nothing left to do but wait until one of them contacts me (which, so far, they almost never do).

I feel like I’m wasting time. Every week I dawdle is one week closer to the start of placement and the resumption of meaningful work. But I am getting desperately bored, and I do not know how to deal with it.

I think I’ll just call Centrelink after all. It’s looking less and less likely I’ll actually get a job before placement, and I may as well be paid to search.

Unemployment

Results of my self-imposed intensive training

So I wanted to write a blog post about my Intensive Training Weekend! I got off to an excellent start. I could hardly sleep from excitement, anticipating all the different kinds of training I had planned. At 5:45am on Saturmorn, my alarm roused me and I rolled out of bed and got ready in the darkness. I dressed surprisingly quickly, ate a banana and was out of the door just after 6:00 to do taiji on the pavement out the front of the house. I practiced as much of the form as I knew, broke down each of the techniques in the first movement and came up with at least two applications for each, and then practiced the whole again to piece it all together. I got my phone out and loaded Zombies, Run! and jogged down to the soccer grounds which I proceeded to do laps of. After half an hour I had completed four laps, and a crazy notion struck me: I could do it again. So, high off the exuberance of my success (dodging zombies, getting supplies for the town, just running for half an hour straight), I ploughed on delightedly. I had become some kind of running beast, saying “Good morning!” to strangers as I passed them, sprinting for up to a minute at a time and never even pausing for breath.  And I discovered that a slow jog actually replenished my energy compared to the sections of sprinting- after a burst of speed, by returning to a joggle I soon caught my breath and could carry on running. At the last gashuku we ran for half an hour straight and I struggled after five or ten minutes. Apparently I had become twice as fit in the past year. It was amazing!

I got back to the house at 7:30. No one else was awake yet. It was bizarre to think that I had achieved so much and Bethwyn’s household had not yet even stirred. In accordance with tradition I had a cold shower, which was painful and brief, involving much gasping and flinching. After some toast, I decided to meditate so I would be in a relaxed and receptive state of mind when it came to drinking tea and musing over Bubishi. However, after a few brief minutes, it became quite apparent that I was not able to stay awake once the adrenaline had left my body. Figuring my time would be better spent sleeping than pretending I was meditating, I crawled into bed with Bethwyn and slept for a whole other hour- an hour of potential training time! Satisfying as it was, I was behind schedule, and perhaps I was being a little undisciplined, so I hurried to get up and make tea. And that was when I discovered I had trouble walking. Apparently my calves seized up when they were given enough time to cool down. I shouldn’t have been surprised- I hardly ever run, and certainly not for half hour and one hour periods to flee from zombies. But I wasn’t going to let a little inconvenience like cramping gastrocnemia stop me from training, oh no!

A little impatiently, I rushed Bethwyn into having breakfast so we could go pick up our photos. Rob, her father, mentioned that I had woken him early, and Bethwyn felt a migraine approaching from lack of sleep. I realised all at once how selfish I was being- who was I to impose my austere training weekend on an unsuspecting family? I decided to get up later on Sunday and to let my girlfriend eat at her own pace. As it turned out, I was only half an hour behind by the time we picked up the photos (which turned out brilliantly, by the way).

Eager to make up for lost time, I started kihon– basic technique training. Bronte, Bethwyn’s labradoodle, was delighted that I had taken up some kind of new game that involved much flailing and crazy stepping- she jumped on me repeatedly and ran around (and through) my legs, leaving toys underfoot and generally getting in the way despite the warnings I gave her. I figured that if I did it for long enough she would get desensitised and settle down. She did eventually, but only after she ran in the path of a returning maegeri and scooted away whimpering. After that, she almost kept a wide berth.

I did my 600 hand techniques in shikodachi pretty comfortably, within a few minutes. The blocks chained into each other smoothly and I didn’t even work up a sweat- I was feeling optimistic about completing the kihon without too much pain. Then I started the kicks. 200 front kicks, roundhouse kicks, side kicks, hook kicks and back kicks, each. What a crazy hard idea that was. In hindsight, I really wish I had set a thousand hand techniques and half as many kicks because the latter takes so much more energy, but hell, I did them anyway. Somewhere around the 50 kick mark I struggled to convince myself that it was worth it, but I also remembered my pledge I made: No matter how tired I got, no matter how meaningless it seemed, I’d finish whatever task I set myself. With relatively good technique, at increasingly hard levels (the last 40 of each set were defensive, step-back kicks, and the last 20 were head-height), I executed all 1000.

Even though I still intended on doing more kihon it was well past lunchtime, so we skipped off to PAWS for food. Although we bought delicious cake, I chose not to eat it until I had finished my training for the day. Time was running short so I elected to skip the conditioning I had planned in favour of completing the neko ashidachi techniques: 500 more blocks, 200 more kicks, 300 more strikes. Tired as I was, I think that my technique, speed and power improved for all the repetitions I did. Next time I’m caught withdrawing into cat-stance, I’ll be able to snap out a block-kick-punch-block combination very efficiently.

After that it was time to see Shaun Tan in Fremantle with Bethwyn, the original reason why I chose not to go with the Academy on their training camp. The talk was amazing and the turnout was huge. I really respect the artist, the thinker and the man. Afterwards, desperate to reward my hard training, I requested fish and chips for dinner, which probably wasn’t the most nutritious or satisfying meal I could have had, followed by the raw beetroot cake we had bought earlier. A little guiltily (no electronics on gashuku!), Beth and I watched Big Bang Theory until around 9:30, when I was too tired to stay awake.

I slept until 7am and despite the many hours of rest I was still quite tired. I felt a hint of sickness at the back of my throat and my calves were hurting worse than ever. Ever obstinate, I continued training because gashuku is a special time to push through physical discomfort/injury in order to grow the spirit. Deciding it was worth warming up a little more, I decided to walk to the soccer grounds and do taiji there. Once there, I once again started breaking down the sequence and pulling out concepts and applications from the techniques- there are so many, and more I can’t imagine I’m sure. I also practiced the first movement mirrored, which was mind-boggling, but I felt more balanced afterwards.

As I was wrapping up my practice children began flocking to the soccer grounds wearing uniforms. Initially I planned to ignore them and keep on running anyway, but I realised it would be creepy if I just circled around their games, dodging parents and dogs. I started up Zombies, Run! and hit the streets instead, deciding I’d run to the train station and just circle around the back streets aimlessly until it was time to go home. I had been contemplating another hour-long run, but I figured my calves had been abused enough and I had better save my strength for more karate-oriented training.

Another brief cold shower (this one much easier; I found that cooling individual limbs one at a time drops the core body temperature, so that after a few minutes the cold water isn’t so unbearable) full of gasps and flinching. Learning from my mistakes I had a much larger breakfast and enjoyed the luxury of reading Bubishi for about an hour, journalling my reflections and drinking tea. A little guiltily I realised I was procrastinating and was behind schedule again. Hastily I tried meditating, and I think I was much more successful by keeping my eyes open rather than closed. I got much closer to achieving the “body asleep mind alert” state, as opposed to the “body asleep mind relaxed/asleep” as I normally do. After a surprisingly educational forty-five minutes I suited back up and decided to get on with kata practice.

Initially my plan was to do 80 fukyugata ichi, 80 fukyugata ni, 80 fukyugata embu, 70 gekisai dai ichi, 70 gekisai dai ni, 70 gekisai embu etc., doing 720 kata in total. What a deluded idea that was. I knew in the back of my mind that 80 repetitions of fukyugata would normally exhaust me beyond my capacity for continued training. It was utter folly to assume that I could do it over and over, practicing each kata to the point of exhaustion before starting the next one. After struggling through repetitions of fukyugata ichi, I quickly decided I would just do 10 of each kata, which was challenging enough by itself. Like with the thousand kicks, there came a very unique time in each sequence where I questioned why I was doing it, and whether it was really important, and how I could possibly justify so much suffering in the hot sun. In the end I performed them all (minus saifa embu and Higaonna-style sanchin, which I couldn’t remember), even though it took me two hours and a great deal of pain. Each time I completed a set of ten I sat down in the shade and drank some water, but I was getting more and more tired and each set was taking more and more energy which I didn’t have. I thought finishing on Miyagi-style sanchin would be a good idea, to restore my breath and spirits, but it turns out that crunching the abdomen, squeezing the fists and locking the legs/torso over and over builds up huge amounts of strain in the body- my fingertips felt like they were being stabbed repeatedly and my shoulder started to catch fire.

By the end my clothes had been soaked with sweat, my water bottle was empty and I was trembling from exhaustion. I stumbled inside, too tired to find food but forcing myself to drink as much as I could. I had been struggling not to throw up, more or less since I started the kata practice, and my nausea was nearly overwhelming now. I showered (a warm one) and rather lamely I asked Bethwyn if she wouldn’t terribly mind getting food for me. Being the incredibly generous and patient partner that she is, made me lie down on the couch to watch more Big Bang Theory while she brought me lunch. I felt remarkably ill; cold, nauseous, weak and so very, very tired. I suspect I may have been suffering from heat exhaustion, but it could just be that I was tired and pushed myself beyond my limits. It did not take very much to convince me that I had trained enough for the weekend, and would give conditioning and Mugai ryu a miss. I felt quite guilty about the latter in particular, but in my heart I believed I wasn’t able to go, and that should have been all the justification I needed.

All in all, I think I did around 3.5 hours of physical training on Saturday and about 3 hours today. Not nearly as much as I had been expecting, but it’s about quality, not quantity, right? I pushed myself much harder in those 6.5 hours than I normally would in a dozen training sessions, with far fewer rests than I might receive in ordinary training. The result was learning a lot of valuable lessons about the limits of my spirit, as well as my body. Plus, my relatively austere lifestyle of getting up early, eating in moderation (I turned down a San Churo’s vegan hot chocolate!) and studying budo were all great experiences to help make it feel like a real gashuku. Next time, though, I’m definitely going to be less absurd about how much I think I’m capable of- maybe aim much lower, but give room for optional extra training if I feel up for it.  I have to say, I’m curious about how hard the training was in the camp in Toodyay, but I’ll have to wait until I speak to the other students at the dojo before I compare weekends. Overall, I’d say it was an exhausting and painful success, though I think that I missed out on a lot of lessons that come from being in the wilderness with fellow students (rather than waking sleeping families up at crazy hours). I’m still feeling nauseous and exhausted now so I think it’s time for bed. Ouss!

EDIT: I know this is a fairly flippant comment, but I’d like to take back what I said about setting my limits too high. I think, compared to Shihan Dan (the head instructor of Wu-wei Dao), I got it bloody easy. In particular, my thousand kicks are hardly worth mentioning in the shade of his teacher

PPS: I think that what made this “gashuku” so special was that no one told me to do it. There was no teacher standing behind me with a shinai waiting to whack my legs if I slowed down- I was my own master, and I chose to put myself through every single step of the journey. And even though I may not have done as much as Shihan Dan has, I’m damn proud of myself for doing it anyway.

Zombie Running and Intensive Training Camp

So firstly, my brother and I went for our first zombie run this morning. I’d been looking forward to it since I found out about the app, and with great excitement we started getting ready. Unfortunately though, the Android phones aren’t able to download it until mid-June! Originally we were planning on just getting two phones, two apps, two head sets, and starting at the same time. Stuck with one, we decided to use my FM transmitter to a portable radio. We had to buy a new radio because Dad’s old one is pretty crap. I was reluctant to spend more money for no good reason, but the new radio worked amazingly well- crisp and loud and accurate. So off we went! The options are a half hour run or a full hour run, with or without incoming zombie hordes chasing you (forcing you to pick up the pace for up to a minute at a time). It was really good!  We couldn’t always hear the transmissions because of the poor transmitter, but for the most part it was quite magical carrying a radio as your only method of receiving instructions from “base”, yelling directions at you to shelter, pick up supplies for the township and dodge proximal hordes. And, it seems, there’s a fairly interesting story running behind the scenes- there’s something more sinister than just surviving. I’m looking forward to going for more runs!

Which leads me to my next point. The Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts is hosting an intensive training weekend this Frinight, Saturday and Sunday. Training eight hours a day, just like the gashuku. Unfortunately, I won’t be going because I promised Bethwyn we would go to a Shaun Tan exhibit. I don’t normally remember the dates of things- I just write them on my calendar and see what’s coming up over the next few days, so I didn’t realise I had double-booked until it was too late. Shaun Tan should be amazing, but I still mourn not joining the boys in their training. As I was busy mourning, I jokingly suggested that I’d hold my own gashuku. And then I realised I totally could! I asked Bethi if it were all right if I spent the weekend training, and she mostly said yes, so it’s on! Here’s my planned schedule, though knowing life it will not look very much like this at all.

Saturday

5:45 – Get up! Fruit, ablutions, dressed

6:00 – Taiji

6:30 – Half hour joggle, interspersed with sprinting

8:00 – Cold shower, breakfast, meditation, tea and reading Bubishi

9:30 – Pick up photos with Beth

11:00 – Basics:

  • Shikodachi:
    100 double punches
    100 age uke
    100 chudan uke
    100 soto uke
    100 gedan uke
  • Zenkutsudachi:
    200 maegeri
    200 mawashigeri
    200 reverse mawashigeri (hook kicks)
    200 yokogeri
    200 ushirogeri
  • Neko ashidachi:
    100 mawashi uke + toga guchi
    100 hiki uke
    200 hiki uke + maegeri + gyaku zuki + hiki uke
    100 shuto uke

1:00 – Lunch!

2:15 – Conditioning: Knuckle push-ups, Okinawan push-ups, jumping push-ups, dips, pull-ups, ab blasters, bicycle crunches, little kicks, reverse crunches, bridge, squats, lunges, frog hops, spidermans and anything else I can think of.

3:00 – Yoga, cool-down.

3:15 – Hot shower, more fruit, get ready for Shaun Tan

7:30 – Dinner

10:30 – Bed

Sunday

5:45 – Get up! More fruit, more ablutions

6:00 – Taiji

6:30 – Joggle and sprint

8:00 – Cold shower, breakfast, meditation, tea, reading

9:30 – Kata:
80 Fukyugata (ichi, ni, embu)
70 Gekisai dai (ichi, ni, embu) 
60 Saifa (kata, embu)
50 Naifunchin/naihanchi
40 Seiunchin
30 Sanchin (miyagi style)
20 Feng quan 1
10 – Sanchin (Higaonna style)

?:?? – Lunch!

2:00 – Conditioning. More knuckle push-ups, Okinawan push-ups, jumping push-ups, dips, pull-ups, ab blasters, bicycle crunches, little kicks, reverse crunches, bridge, squats, lunges, frog hops, spidermans and anything else I can think of.

2:45 – Cold shower, fruit.

3:15 – Head to Mugai Ryu

6:30 – Home. Hot shower! Dinner! Sleep!

No matter how badly life interferes, I aspire to never give up. At no point during the weekend will I allow myself to think the words “Okay, that’s enough, I can rest now” unless I’ve damn well completed each of the tasks. If I set myself fifty push-ups, I’ll do fifty push-ups, even if I have to stagger them. All up, it should be about five hours training on Saturday, eight hours training on Sunday. Ouss!