Never Mind, Just Do It

The more we know, the less we understand.
-Lao Tzu

Temple Mural

I recognized a feeling I had for Asian philosophy and perspective at fifteen, when I encountered the writings of Alan Watts.  I felt an instant kinship to the non-dualistic; it made sense to my gut in a way hardened definitions of right and wrong, religious ideologies, and generalized certainties did not. In retrospect, my life unfolded as a response to this affinity and to the intuitive disappointment I felt at the lack of it in my own family, community and culture. I sought out expressions of beauty that expressed this yin/yang heart/mind base layer wherever I could find them. Back then such expressions didn’t fall off trees like overripe fruit in the way they do now. They were mysterious and hidden, but one could still dig around and link into compelling expressions of art, poetry, story and even of movement, my preferred mode of inquiry. Twenty years later I moved to Japan with the intention of staying there. After a year I found living in a foreign culture too isolating for me but I did take the opportunity to travel on my own for many months throughout South East Asia to drink in the culture a bit more.  I have taken many trips since to China. Each time I am east of the Pacific Ocean I feel in a truly visceral way that I am home.

Of course all my experiences are filtered through my Nebraska raised, American educated mind.  This odd combination of nature and nurture engendered within me, I believe, the capacity to take my feelings about my Eastern experiences, especially as developed within the movement arts, and translate them into Western ideas and words. Early in my career I realized I had a knack for being able to use metaphor, analogy and allegory to articulate difficult concepts such as non-duality. I was no scholar but I seemed to be able to bridge the two sides of the ocean in a way that sort of made sense to an audience of eager but unfamiliar Western minds. I became relatively skilled at communicating to students across diverse educational and experiential backgrounds.  This capacity generated a sense of confidence within me and I believe helped me to cultivate both a useful career and an interesting relationship with the world.

And yet this mind/word/explanation skill is not at all how I learned to feel what I was talking about. My teachers, both Eastern and Western only rarely used words to teach. They demonstrated a process or a technique – perhaps only four times at most, and then it was up to us students to hunt and peck through what we saw, or what we thought we saw, to find something. Anything. It took a lot of tenacity to stay with it but it was understood that was the process. We didn't ask a lot of questions. In fact, words really got in the way. Sure, a morsel here and there to clarify a point could be useful but one learned to discipline both the hunger for that food and the tossing of it out. And one really became good at seeing.

Words are fun. I love a good twist of the phrase and find irony to be one of my favorite perspectives. Yet both as teacher and as student, my favorite learning environments are still the quiet ones with only the soundtrack of foot and breath, the smell of sweat, curiosity not logic driving 'one more time.'  I do very much find full commitment to this style of learning is the only way to break through physical, mental and emotional resistance to hard held patterns and beliefs. And then after a good sweat, after many training sessions, after a goodly number of ‘one more times,’ perhaps there is something to talk about.

This is the “old school” method you may hear reference to. It is a true gift because what it really teaches us is not how to know something but how to not know something. As useful as words and explanations can certainly be they also risk robbing us of the great mystery of having no idea. Too many words,  too much mental activity and even the quest for logical explanations, cheats us out of simply seeing something. It robs us of feeling a feeling and dulls the hunger for the hunt of hidden treasure somewhere inside of us.  Knowing in a very real way, stops the mind. (Or as the East might say, the Heart/Mind). Somewhere, even in the East, we have become hyper-competitive, goal oriented and locked up in the “right and wrong” of things. We know so much, have so many words, so many ways of articulating ideas, we have become in many ways devoid of inquiry for inquiry’s sake.  And I think worse, we have become so incredibly uncomfortable with not knowing we have forgotten how to relax with the vast and fathomless. This is a much bigger problem then not knowing something. 

Lately I find myself stopping mid-explanatory sentence and simply saying “never mind, just do it.” Though I have a lifetime of words, I increasingly recognize I really don’t have much to say. On the other hand I do feel the biggest value I have is my vast library of sensations acquired over years of “one more times.” And yet even with demonstrating, teaching, corrections and yes, even words, I cannot extract my experiences out of my being and give them to another person.  What I can offer though is a window into the courage of having no idea, and following that not knowing inward, one more time.