Tuesday, May 24, 2016
The Wordless Way
This is one of my favorite lines in the Tao Te Ching. The first two characters 圣人 mean sage. The next 行 can mean to move, proceed, engage in, practice. The next two characters 不言 mean no words. The next 之 is a linking character, like a possessive. And the last character 教 means teaching or lessons.
So this line can mean that the sage practices no words lessons herself, and that she teaches others without words.
This morning in martial arts class, one student was confounded by a particular concept. She kept trying to understand the word used to identify it. The teacher at first tried to address her question in terms of vocabulary. If one word didn’t resonate with her, maybe a different word would. But nothing was quite satisfactory.
Finally the teacher asked the student to put her hands on his body. “Feel this,” he instructed. “Now feel this. Can you feel the difference?”
“Yes,” she replied, “but....” And she continued to look for the right word. It was clear that the concept could not be meaningful to her until she found the right label for it. The problem, however, was not finding the right vocabulary. The problem was that the concept could not be precisely explained. It could only be felt. Once felt, we could try to describe it using various words and images, but it could only be understood by the direct experience.
For me, when I put my hands on the instructor’s body and felt the difference, it was like a light bulb came on. After that, I didn’t really care what words we used. Abracadabra would have worked just fine. Because I had sensed through touch the instructor’s teaching, it was indeed like magic.
There is nothing wrong with words. I love words. My whole career depended on words. But words can sometimes get in our way. When we are struggling to understand something, it might help if we try to quiet the inner chatter, allowing the wordless space to show us the way.
If you think that Truth can be known from words
If you think that the Sun and the Ocean
Can pass through that tiny opening called the mouth
O someone should start laughing!
Someone should start wildly laughing
Note: The photo at the top is a picture of Bruce Lee with his teacher, Ip Man.