Letting Go

5 09 2009

濘道 Muddy Road

Zen Monks on pilgrimage - art by Sato Zenchu

Zen Monks on pilgrimage – art by Sato Zenchu

Tanzan and Ekido were once travelling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.
Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.
“Come on girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”
“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”
from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones complied by Paul Reps

I recently began studying tai chi with a new teacher after 12 years at the previous school. My former teacher is world class in forms competition, and was very precise in correcting us.

My new teacher is…different. His postures are not the same even if the form is one I have studied for years. I spent a long time making my postures and movements as precise as my old 60-years-plus body would allow me.

Now things are not the same. The sword may be held at a different level or the footwork is slightly changed. In the most difficult instances, the transition from one movement to the next is different.

No, the hardest thing is letting go. I firmly believe that what goes around comes around. Over the years, every sin I have ever committed against someone else has, in turn, been committed against me.

When teaching taijiquan, some of the most difficult students are those who have studied a different martial art. You show them a movement and their brain relates it to something they have learned in this other art and makes an often incorrect connection. Brains are funny that way.

“No,” I say, “that move looks the same but it is not, and the intent is different as well.”

So, here I am trying to equate what I have learned with what I am trying to learn. Fortunately, I am old enough to keep my mouth shut…well, at least some of the time. I am also lucky to have read Zen Flesh, Zen Bones umpty-gazillion times, and I give thanks that “Muddy Road” is one of my very favorites from that excellent book.

Actually, letting go of the old tai chi chuan forms is good practice for life. As we progress from birth to death we must let go of many things, more, I suspect, than all of the newer things we grasp.

To paraphrase a Harlan Ellison story, “Sometimes you have to let-be, a little.”

On top of all the good I get out of playing tai chi I am also playing at letting go. But, ai-ya, it is not easy.

Note: the Chinese characters for Muddy Road at the beginning of this are not the same as those used in the Tuttle edition of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. If my grammar creates some enormous faux pas, blame me.

Zhang San Feng

Zhang San Feng