If there was ever a mantra in Ruby’s class, it was this: “still as a mountain; flow like a river”. Anyone who remembers him would remember this statement, either because he said it or because it was on his t-shirt. It wasn’t unique to him, of course. It was one of the Tai Chi Classics, statements that everyone who practices Tai Chi knows, even if they don’t know who said it. Ruby said this one was so old that they don’t know who said it. I’ve seen it on the Interwebz attributed to Lao Tzu, but I don’t think that’s correct. That’s probably legend, much like attributing the Psalms to King David.
Whoever wrote it, it does sum up Tai Chi very succinctly. As a matter of fact, I will venture beyond that and posit that it sums up Taoism very succinctly. What is Taoism if not observing and emulating the ways of nature in order to live in harmony? And what is Tai Chi if not one of the physical expressions of Taoism? I’m going to say “one of”, because I also believe that other martial arts system are also the physical expressions of Taoism – I’m thinking of Kung Fu in particular.
I’ve recently been watching old DVDs (yes, they still have those) of the 1970’s classic show Kung Fu. I particularly love the flashbacks to the Shaolin Temple and how often they revisit the theme of watching and learning from nature. We can learn a lot from mountains and rivers.
From mountains, we can learn the importance of perspective. Have you ever been to a place like Colorado and seen a mountain range and the mountains further off in the range don’t look so tall, in fact perhaps no taller than the mountains closer to you? And yet when actually get into the range, you realize that the mountains behind are a lot taller? Logically you might know this if you see snow on the mountains in the background but none on the mountains in the foreground, but your eyes tell you something different. So it is with our lives. Things seem larger or smaller, all depending on our perspective of it. The mountain does not move, but we can, and thus change our perspective. Also on things in our lives, we can choose to change how we view them.
Rivers teach us about change, and that there is never an undoing of something that is done. Pick up a stone and throw it in a river. You see the ripples, which do eventually fade. But the rock remains at the bottom, forever having changed the river for your having thrown it in. So too with our actions. The immediate ripples of what we do may fade away, but something is forever changed that cannot be undone. We would do well to remember this.
Many things can be learned by just observing the world around us. Ruby said once that his primary reason for teaching was to get us to look around at our world and truly see what was there. It’s easy to get lost in our thoughts or “to do” lists or smartphones. But we miss so much when we do.
This week, look around. See the mountains, the rivers, the birds, the trees – whatever it is that is around you. You might learn something interesting and valuable.