Friday, July 26, 2013

Finding the Empty Room IV: Flying Without Wings

Scott Bradley

Seeing all possible dwelling places as one, let yourself be lodged in whichever cannot be avoided. . . . You have learned how to fly with wings, but not yet how to fly without wings. You have learned the wisdom of being wise, but not yet the wisdom of being free of wisdom.
(Zhuangzi 4:10; Ziporyn)
Once again we find ourselves hidden within the totality of possibilities where we cannot be lost whatever possibility we find ourselves in. Though we rightly pick and choose among the seemingly infinite possible paths before us, how many of them have we chosen as our possibilities? Have we chosen the choice between life and death? Even those things that we regard as avoidable are in this sense unavoidable. However, we need not delve so far into the nature of fate to discover the liberating principle suggested here. Our lives are filled with obviously unavoidable eventualities enough for us to learn to use them to soar without wings.

What word can describe the implied nature of our relationship to these unavoidable realities which face us in every moment? I often use "acceptance" or "affirmation"; yet these suggest a distance between self and other that truly "seeing all possible dwelling places as one" clearly transcends. In the end, flying without wings is a spontaneous activity, which is precisely what the metaphor is intended to convey. Let us call our response to every eventuality a resounding Yes in thankfulness. Thankfulness arises, not because it should, but because it does.

A friend recently pointed out that I was taking the unavoidable problems I was encountering as a personal affront. I asked her to be my guru, but she declined. Still, it is enough that she be a wise friend. I mention this for two reasons. The first of these is as an admission that I dwell here in the philosophy of Zhuangzi because of personal need; I preach to myself. Secondly, this returns us to the central theme of the passage currently under consideration; it is only in losing the poor, embattled 'me' that flying without wings and being wise while free of wisdom become possible.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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