Friday, October 31, 2008

Chaotic as a Muddy Torrent

I'm riffing on a quote from The Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu in class this week:

The sage is as alert as a person crossing a winter stream;
as circumspect as a person with neighbors on all four sides;
as respectful as a thoughtful guest;
as yielding as melting ice;
as simple as uncarved wood;
as open as a valley;
as chaotic as a muddy torrent.

Why "chaotic as a muddy torrent"?
Because clarity is learned by being patient in the presence of chaos.
Tolerating disarray, remaining at rest, gradually one learns to allow muddy water
to settle and proper responses to reveal themselves.

This translation definitely takes some interpretive liberties, but I like how it values chaos as a positive quality. The sage does not fight against disarray, trying to impose order on a chaotic world. Instead, he is patient, relaxing into the turbulent stream of experience and waiting for "proper responses to reveal themselves". I appreciate the Taoist confidence that right action will arise of its own, if only we give it space. It is a soothing antidote to the Western workaholic conviction that hard work is the only way to things get done.

Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy follows this principle. When a muddy torrent of emotion or memory arises, the therapist does not interfere or try to redirect. He simply provides a patient presence that helps the client remain connected to her body and open to the flow of experience. The meaning (and perhaps resolution) will arise of itself. The more sessions I receive, the more I trust that understanding will come without deliberate analytic dissection. It is a great relief! I can be more simple and open, yet still find the "proper response".

The swirling clouds of economic recession and presidential drama offer many chances to practice Lao Tsu's suggestions. But it is difficult to change our habitual reactions in the midst of our daily life. Yoga class offers a refuge where we can cultivate new ways of being - patience in the presence of chaos. The clarity required by a difficult balancing pose stays with us as we navigate our lives. Breath by breath, it becomes easier to surf the muddy torrent.

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