Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Verse 69: Deployment

Verse Sixty-Nine
There is a saying about using the military:
I would not think of taking the offensive
But only of defending my ground;
I would not think of taking an inch
But only of giving up a foot.

That is what is called
Deploying forward without bringing the troops,
Throwing a punch without raising a hand,
Grasping tightly without having a weapon in hand,
Launching an assault without confronting an enemy.

There is no calamity greater than underestimating the enemy,
For underestimating the enemy is tantamount to losing your treasures.
Hence, when two armies, evenly matched, cross swords in combat,
It is the side that laments the need to do so that wins the day.

~ Roger Ames and David Hall translation ~
In preparation for writing the post for today's verse, I read the commentary by John Lash in The Spirit of Tai Chi: Essential Principles. His comments centered around the martial arts aspect of it. He talks about "yielding to aggression," withdrawing so that the opponent will "lose his balance as he finds no resistance," and viewing Tai Chi as the art of self-defense.

Amidst the wonderful discussion, I found this gem of a comment:
If you know absolutely nothing about self-defence and you are attacked by someone, your only recourse is to use a weapon. The less you know, the more violent you have to be.
While Lash is speaking of a physical attack, I think this thought applies well to all facets of our lives!

For starters, it would seem to run against another theme that Lao Tzu visits again and again, namely that we need to unlearn much of what we already know. But Lash isn't talking about book learning or ego-based information. When he refers to "know", he's talking about understanding the situation -- the flow of what's taking place before us. If one can't see the lay of the land, then our actions will tend to be more aggressive.

Think back to a recent argument or fight you had with a family member, loved one, friend or co-worker. In my experience, I tend to lash out more when I'm feeling uncertain or not in balance with the situation. So, to makeup for my feelings of uncertainty or inadequacy, I grab hold of some powerful or ugly words and swing them around with tremendous force. My anger -- too be candid, I don't get upset very often, but, when I do, you DON'T want to be around -- turns into an uncontrollable fury and I'm prone to use any weapon (words, again) I can get my hands on.

In my life, then, I can certainly say that Lash's words ring true. When I am more in tune with what's going on around me and I feel more centered, I state my case in a truly self-defensive manner. The little tempest rarely flares up into something more. Though the other person involved may resort to the use of weapons, I yield to their thrusts and sidestep their parries so that they meet little resistance.

In Verse 69, the military can be viewed as a metaphor for our lives in the social world. How do you deploy your forces and why? The answer to this question will provide you with an apt definition of the real measure of your character.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

1 comment:

  1. The ideal in tai chi is to reach a state where little if anything catches you off-guard. This is because you have become so relaxed, yet alert, that whatever comes, you always yield and blend with it, then get out of the way so that it can take the most natural course of action. Imagine trying to wrestle someone who is cross between silly putty and a weeble-wobble. ;) Obviously, this applies to all aspects of life, as you well know.

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