The Power of Yielding: Getting it Done By Not Doing It.
by Fred Lehrman
“By non-action, all things are accomplished… Without leaving his house, the Sage knows everything in the world
...My words are easy to understand.”
Dao Te Ching
These are the little ways in which we cheat ourselves of power, which is the use of our energy. As you work in Taiji continues, the realization of what you can let go of reaches increasingly profound levels. Progress is slow, because an unknown fear, the fear of power, keeps the body fighting itself long beyond the time when the mind has seen that there is no reason to fight. Professor Cheng calls this stage of practice “drinking” the cup of bitterness. You become painfully aware that you are, for the most part, manufacturing your actions, and only rarely, for moments, are you being your action. Try as you might, at some point you still resist, and at that point your power is no longer at your command. You are at the effect of your own strength. True power, when experienced, has nothing of effort or strength in it.
Let’s return to Lao-tze and non-action. If you were a blade of grass on a hillside, and the wind began to blow, how would you practice non-action? If you didn’t move, you would be resisting the wind, and that’s doing something. If you lay down flat in order to create no resistance, you would be “doing” passivity. But if you simply remained what you are, a blade of grass, which is intrinsically yielding, yet firm, continuous, and coherent, you would move as the wind moves, back and forth, sometimes more inclined and sometimes less. To an observer, there would be motion. Yet nothing would be being done. A blade of grass, not having the same type of consciousness that we have, spontaneously practices non-action. Through Taijiquan we can recover that sense of being a blade of grass on a hillside, in the wind, in the world, and to find that sense in any situation. Lao-tze observed, “That which yields, endures, that which resists is destroyed.” And that which is destroyed has no more power.
The strangest part (and hardest thing to accept) about studying Taijiquan is the slow realization, through observation, that non-action actually works. Somehow, by adhering to the principle, you find that you can handle and repel someone whose strength is much greater than your own, with no effort. This realization is on the level of physical mechanics. It is appropriate in that it supports and is in harmony with a realization on the inner plane, which is that you don’t have to do it anymore, because you’re already doing it.
As you read this article, you don’t have to try to read it; you’ve already done that. In fact, you never had to try to do anything, except that you preferred the redundancy of effort. Discover the on-going energy of the Universe, which you’ve been using since before you were born to put your body together and to get you here. That’s your power source, and it’s free and unlimited.
Lao-tze said that the Dao which could be talked about was not the Dao he was talking about. So words lie, even though we need them. Taiji is first of all empty, basically useless; and that makes it the most useful thing in the world. Knowing the useless enables you to find the emptiness in everything: if the wheel did not have an empty space at the hub through which to run an axle, it would itself be useless. So your Yoga, your carpentry, your piano playing, your thinking, your writing, your being with people—all expand as your practice of Taiji teaches you to do less and less and less.
That which you control, controls you. Grab something, right now, say the leg of a chair, and hold onto it tight enough to keep me from pulling it away from you. Now try to move around the room with this thing that you’re controlling. See? That’s what control costs in terms of power. However, he who controls emptiness, who controls space, has power. He can move freely, act appropriately, and let go instantly when it’s no longer appropriate to be involved. His actions are a function of shr-jung, right timing.
Since the principle of the Dao is not to be in conflict with anything, Taiji is not incompatible with other ways. Yoga, Zazen, Alexander technique, the various therapies – all are facilitated by the element of awareness which Taiji takes as its prime focus. If this were not so, it would not be the “Extreme Ultimate Discipline.” And if it is to contain everything, it must itself be perfectly empty. Taiji is not really a training in self-defense, or health, or philosophy; the benefits in these areas are side effects of the practice.
Taiji does not teach you how to do something. It teaches you how to do. It teaches you how. It teaches you.
The editorial questions behind this issue of the New Age Journal is: “Who rules the world?” In order to answer that, we have to consider some discouraging possibilities. All power games take place in limited fields, with boundaries and goal posts. If ” the world” is a limited field, we are in trouble.