Some of you will have heard of Lao Tzu, the Old Master. There is another master, Chuang Tzu, the Dignified Master, who lived in 4th century BC. Lao Tzu wrote poems, like riddles, instigating endless debates. Often they left me confused. Chuang Tzu wrote stories, including riddles, some of which, for reasons unknown, I remember well. They reveal themselves as I am growing older. How kind is this?
Here is a short story by Chuang Tzu or also written Zhuangzi I would like to retell:
A king got up early, one day. He looked out of the window, down into the courtyard. He saw the court butcher moving quickly in front of a hung up beef carcase. His movements were elegant; they reminded the king of dancing.
Every now and then, a piece of meat would fall off. It looked so effortless. Intrigued he went into the courtyard and asked the butcher: “A butcher’s job is hard work. How come, for you, it appears to be so easy?”
Still dancing, the butcher answered: “I guide my knife through the space between the parts of the carcase.”
The king did not want to show that he had no idea about what the butcher had said. He called a Wise Man.
The Wise Man explained: “There are three types of butchers and they are classified by how long their knife stays sharp.
“The unconscious butcher hacks indiscriminately, through bones and sinew. His knife would render useful for a week.
“The conscious butcher would avoid bones and sinew. He would cut on the meaty side. His knife would stay sharp for half a year. However, he would waste good meat.
“The aware butcher’s knife would stay sharp forever. He separates the meat from the bones and sinews leading his blade through the gap in between.”
Being, living in the NOW
This topic intrigued me since I heard of it the first time in the mid-1980. My first ingeneer’s attempt of materialising my early impression of the Now occurred, when I erased the numbers on a clockface and replaced them with twelve Now’s.
The next step was to imagine the duration of a moment, a piece of the Now. In the first successful image I visualised, I was climbing up a ladder and every rung was a moment, a Now. It made sense, but I felt it was too slow. Moments are much shorter.
This was followed by looking at the mechanism of a film projector. This is how it works: ‘The film strip stops for a moment for each individual image on the strip. Light shines through an opening for a blink, and the image is projected onto the screen.
‘When the opening is closed (no light), the film moves and puts the next image up, it stops, the light comes on again, and the image is projected. This happens fast, 20 to 30 times per second, 20 to 30 moments, Nows per second.’
In both cases, the moments of Now are individual; each had a start and an end.
There is a difference between the ladder and the projector. In the ladder image, time and moments were stationary, and I, the experiencer moved. In the projector idea, the film (time) is moving incrementally, while the experiencer, (I) stands still.
Having found a solution (film projector), I could have lived on happily ever after. This is not my nature. In the next paragraph, I talk a bit about my ingeneer’s way.
The First is the Best?
Working as an ingeneer at front-end research, I learned one important fact very early on: ‘There are always more than one solution to any given problem.’ Besides, shortly after, an experienced ingeneer pointed out to me: ‘The first solution is hardly ever the best.’ I was about thirty years old, then.
Often, the first solution serves as an instigator for a research program. Alas, this first idea has the habit of occupying the front seat in the mind. It is difficult to go past it.
Generally, ideas flow. Therefore, I visualised a river and a boat coming along, separating the one flow. The wake would splash onto the riverbanks. The initial idea had been separated and multiplied into many and the ripples return and the water surface is covered with many waves and crossovers.
I have successfully used this image, innumerous times. During those times, the mind’s characteristic ‘to prove itself right’ had been very welcome. In my experience, the first solution had never been the best.
Interestingly, I found, in the Arts, sticking to the primary instigation mostly leads to the best result. Like when I have an idea about a topic to write about. In case I lose the string, the same intensity, clarity, poignancy, the inspiration that drives me, never returns with the initial impact and strength.
This is the reason, why I am sitting here, now, a quarter to three in the morning, writing.
The Bow of a Ship
One day, when I was sensing the ‘flow of water at the bow of a ship splitting’ vision and felt the flow of water, I became aware of time. I began feeling the flow of time. I became the water separating part, the stern of the ship. I noticed, time, instead of stepping, tick tocks and so on, it was flowing now, without increments. The incredible high number of minute moments has melted into one, one stream.
I was a close observer as well as the bow, feeling the flow of water, of time. This was a significant change in my ‘understanding’ of the Now: ‘feeling the current of time’, and leaving the incremental movement behind. Steps, however, fast and short they might be, are still steps.
I felt calm and a gentle joy. I learned to place myself at the bow in an instant. I was comfortable. Time is flowing, nothing else.
Dance the Now
In my late forties, dancing began to occupy my life. Not quite a beginner, I wanted to impress, show how much I knew and how skilled I was. The drawback is: ‘Intricate steps come as mini-sequences, which are hard to interrupt.’ In case the music changed unpredictably, I was unable to follow this change. Then there was no synergy between music and movement.
I became aware of the absence of this power. Expressing music in movement and remaining connected with it became my primary intention. (The second was the bond with my partner. The third, preventing collisions with other dancers.)
The more I danced the simpler my movements became. It made sense:
The simpler the movement, the easier it is to respond to the music.
It became easy for me to stay in the present and allow myself to be lead by whatever future (music) I would hear.
The simplest dance step is just a step, like walking. Walking consists of making a step and stopping. The music tells when to stop when to step as well as the speed of the step.
An unexpected obstacle on my journey of unanticipated dancing occurred when I became familiar with the music. This was a challenge.
I overcame this by focusing more on the immediate sound modulation, my responding movement and harmonising it with the movement of my partner. Yes, a tantric experience. This helped me to hear the music, almost as if I heard it for the first time. I allowed the music to surprise me and then forget it.
Today, after twenty odd years of dancing, the music determines how and where I move. I am always at the point when I hear the new sound rising out of silence or emerging from the last sound, while I still feel the last sound still vibrating in my body.
Hearing the sound, seeing the free space to step into, feeling and integrating my partner’s movement and her residual momentum, all this causes my next step with no time for thought. I feel the exquisiteness of moving through the moments on the motions of the music’s current. Often my partners expressed their experience of similar feelings.
Moments are as short as the beat of the music, even shorter, in half or quarter timing. No time for the past and the future lurks already around the corner, before the end of this moment.
Exploring moments in the sequence of time, I imagined moving forward in tiny, fast, simple dance steps. Propelled and guided by the music. The steps got shorter, less than a fraction of the length of my foot, and faster than I could actually move. I was flowing.
The present was intense, rich and it absorbed me, there was no time. No time for anticipation, no reminiscing over the past. No time to think and feeling was flowing. All merged into Now.
I realised, I had been dancing into the Unknown for a long time. It felt and still feels exciting and adventurous.
The sharp Bow
Last Sunday, 25 June, at the Form meeting, the topic turned to bows and ships. My mind said: “I know that one.” I went inside and while part of me was listening to the reading of poems about separating water and the wake moving out, my other part was at the bow, became the bow.
I was feeling the flow of water, of time brushing along me and the body of my vessel. I was physically immersed in this sense.
I felt a force accelerating me and moving me forward. I noticed the rounded shape of the bow becoming more and more pointy. Time flowed faster. I could feel the speed. It continued accelerating.
Gradually, the roundness of the bow slimmed, sharpening itself incredibly and it turned into a ship-bow size razor-blade. Sharper and sharper. I was this minute edge, so sharp, I could separate the water’s flow lines. I moved through the empty space between. There was no friction.
I could not feel the flow anymore. Since resistance was gone, my speed accelerated to infinite. This is science, meta-science. I love it, I feel at home, like a pig in the mud.
There was no sound. I was the edge. I still saw the flow, but the lines had turned blurry. The sense of speed was phenomenal.
I noticed a new sensation, an increasing tension. The vacuum of the emptiness in the space between the flow-lines was pulling faster than the speed at which I was moving.
Suddenly a snap, I had separated from the metal. The suction of the vacuum in front of me had overcome my adherence to the metal of the bow. I was a point, a fraction ahead of the blade’s edge.
No sound, no flow, no friction, only a sense of immense speed was left, a sense of piercing in and through the gap between the flow of time.
Is this still time? Is time not defined by what I experience in a moment of time? But what, if time is so fast, the moment so short, that my human mind has no time to experience anything? What is the point of existing when there is no experience?
I am. I feel joy, adventure, keen to enter into whatever it is.
I feel like a pirate in a movie, holding a sabre on my stretched out arm, swinging on a rope across the gap between the pirate ship and the merchant ship, letting go at the moment of flying the highest and… you know how pirates do it.
Moving, dashing, impossible to be restrained, yeehaaa!
Unconscious of the world around, have I left it behind? Am I still visible? Does the world exist? Where am I now? There is nothing, a nothing that cannot be named.
I have shrunk to a minuscule point, moving at infinite speed through the nothing between the streams of time. Time is like water, certainly not constant. I can see streams of different speed.
I still exist. I am so small. The step between being so infinitely small and being nothing is so small. I have no size because there is no yardstick.
I could be enormously big, however, what is around me is so much enormously bigger than I. Seeing the ratio, I am already much closer to being nothing than to be matter.
Any moment the flame of I extinguishes.
In the gap is nothing, no resistance. The skilled and aware butcher’s knife does not get blunt; there is nothing to wear it. Chuang Tzu must have been at this place, 2500 years ago.
We say: ‘Whatever I experience is true, is real.’ If only one person has experienced something similar, if we share this it makes it all more real. I know, there is not more real than real, but it feels like … more real. Knowing that Chuang Tzu has been there making it even more excitingly real.
PS: I started growing a beard. Next: Befriend a butterfly.
27 May 2015