She’s an Internet buddy who grabbed my hand and enthusiastically dragged me off to play with her. Always a grand thing, I say!
Fleeky frequents the Wealthy Affiliates platform, which is a learning place for people who spend their time poking at computer keyboards, building blogs and customer bases and all that stuff, twisting their heads around to learn to deal with all the complexities of that effort.
(Most of us who hang at Wealthy Affiliates are learning how to get a handle on affiliate-marketing and are using the incredible array of knowledge presented there by expert online marketers and a very large world-wide tribe of wanna-be financial independents to further our own runs to Rainbow’s-End.)
I told Fleeky about my “Guest Poet Portal” and extended an invitation to her to share a poem on this here blog and her response was immediate.
A Fleeky-poem appeared. The speed of her response was awesome. It took my breath away.
Here’s the poem:
ONE POEM a day
Keeps the doctor away
Sound familiar? Rewrite
Poetry saved my life
It is a wonderful world Full of meaning and sense
The shorter The best
Misstakes and typos Are common errors But…oh so funny!
For more than 20 years now, I’ve beaten my head against the concept of wu-wei, an esoteric bit of a mind-boggle that underlies a lot of the Taoist way of walking.
What to say about wu-wei? Even trying to describe it makes the people doing the explaining dizzy.
Here’s a You-Tube video featuring British philosopher Alan Watts talking about wu-wei. It’s one of my favorites.
It was published by AMP3083 in 2017. The original recording this is taken from is called “Ecological Awareness.”
The guys who run on logic and straightforward thought patterns just dismiss the whole thing as an airy-fairy bit of nonsense. Martial artists love the stuff and get all mystical-magical about it.
The simplest description tells us that wu-wei is the way of “doing nothing and everything gets done.”
(Yeah, I know. Weird, right?)
FIGHT OR FLIGHT…AND THEN THERE’S FREEZE
After all these years, I’ve finally figured out something.
Mostly we know about the “Fight or Flight” body-reactions we get when something happens to us unexpectedly.
BOOM! Something happens, and you either put up your fists and snarl, ready to duke it out, or else you run like hell, screaming your head off.
You can get lots of information and opinions and so on about those Fight or Flight body-reactions. Lots of studies have been done on those reactions and we are the beneficiaries of them all.
There is a third body-reaction that isn’t talked about so much except by guys who are into studying anxiety: Like deer in the headlights or bunny rabbits or prairie fowl shivering in the grass as a hawk cruises overhead, we freeze in total panic-attack mode at the threat of danger.
All kinds of studies have been done by the guys in white lab coats about the Freeze as well, but they aren’t as widely known.
Wu-wei, I think, is a lot about that third body-reaction. It’s part of an ancient theory about the patterns and movements of the flow of energy in the world and how that all works.
After mapping out these patterns and movements and using the I Ching as a repository for their knowledge, Taoist wise guys developed strategies and game plans about how people could work with these patterns of flow to create the world they wanted to live in.
The origins of the theories of wu-weiare lost in the mists of time.
And, it seems to me, the disciplines and practices that developed around it are all about how we can use the Freeze to help us survive whatever has scared us so badly that we cannot think or move or do anything except experience that panic.
We humans do naturally freeze. The wise guys tell us we can use the Freeze once the panic dies down (and if we’re not dead or maimed severely) to suss out what the heck is going on so we can go do something about it.
Since the wise guys who studied the paradoxes involved in wu-wei and worked on developing the (still-evolving) disciplines were all way gone into the Mystic, they tended to go hog-wild with the poetry of it all and leave us regular folks sitting on the side of the road, confused as all get-out about it all.
(They can’t help that, those wise guys. When stars get in your eyes, I think, you just naturally lose the ordinary language that regular people use or something like that.)
SO, HERE’S THE DEAL….
Humans are naturally hardwired to handle crisis.
Often we act too quickly as a way of avoiding the crisis or else we distract ourselves from it. Either way we mostly get smashed.
The alternative, according to the wise guys, is to stop and do nothing until we achieve clarity. Once the panic dies down, we can think clearly enough to figure out what to do next (if we haven’t gotten killed off by whatever caused us to freeze.)
Rabbi David Wolpe, author of MAKING LOSS MATTER: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times, points out, “The gift in pausing is to allow the wave of shock to pass before you are forced to react to the world….The pause allows you to recover yourself enough to figure out the process of integrating whatever the result of the shock is in your life.”
Humans love action. We are probably addicted to it.
Mostly us humans think when we are doing something – even if it is random, unfocused and uninspired doing – we are being “productive.”
Often we are doing a lot, but nothing much gets done. We run around like chickens without heads, bumping into things and flopping down futilely. Not good.
Um, yeah. Even the smartypants guys get poetic around wu-wei.
In other words, rather than splashing around in giant, boggy mud puddles, stirring up the muck all around us, we just have to not-move and not-do, it says here.
We have to forego setting off even more silty muddiness and adding to all the gunk that’s swirling around in the chaotic confusion of it all.
We just have to stop and let the mud settle down so we can see what the heck is going on under our feet.
Once we can see that there is not some big old hole right in front of us that we are going to fall down into or some big beast waiting to chomp us, we can figure out where to put our feet and maybe get out of that stupid mud puddle.
What we are trying to do, really, is “create conditions that invite opportunities for nothing to occur.”
The problem is, as Gordhamer points out, “The more out of touch and uncomfortable we are with our inner life, the more difficult stopping becomes.”
He resurrects that old 1970s hippie bumper sticker, “Don’t just do something, sit there.”
By just sitting there — waiting, watching and listening to whatever urgent possible catastrophe is unfolding all around – you make room for not-doing and you stop yourself from just mindlessly doing, doing, doing and getting more and more tangled up.
Maybe you’ll find some fellow “soul-mates” to whom you can talk.
Memories of remarkable people who’ve wandered through your life, echoes of old lessons learned from them and all that other stuff in your mind can help you wait for the panic attack to subside.
By sitting still and not doing anything hasty, you also give yourself enough time to figure out the right responses and allow the best answers to show themselves.
Once you’ve got those answers in your grasp, then you can move to go do something that gives you the chance to get outa there!
And, mostly, whatever you do will work better than if you just dive in head-first without checking whether the swimming pool has water in it.
There are all kinds of ways to stop yourself from over- or under-reacting to the assorted situations that come up in your life unexpectedly.
Here’s one that was developed by Elisha Goldstein, a licensed psychologist who has written a number of books and who teaches clinically proven mindfulness-based programs on his own and through InsightLA.
O = Observe what is happening around you and acknowledge how you feel right now.
P = Proceed after asking yourself, “What’s the most important thing right now that I need to pay attention to?”
Once you’ve answered that P question, you’ll at least have a direction you can go.
Goldstein’s S.T.O.P. strategy is a lot like what the wise guys tell you to do. The wise guys have more poetic verbiage and way more interesting practices to try, but basically it’s the same stuff.
Here’s what I tell myself to do about it all so that it kind of makes sense for me:
What you have to do is gather in all the nebulous clouds of panicky thoughts about the possibly catastrophic future as well as the feelings you’ve generated about what has happened in the past – both about the most recent incident and about similar incidents that you’ve already worked your way through (or not).
You can reel in all the thoughts and feelings back into yourself and put yourself back into your own body in this present moment right now.
You can then give yourself a state-of-the-body report:
“Okay. So this happened and this is how my body is feeling right now. My neck is stiff. I’ve got a dull pain in my lower back. My stomach’s upset and I feel like throwing up. Fine.”
“Okay. These are my emotions: I am feeling sad/mad/bad/scared…or whatever. Fine.”
“Am I dead? No. Am I maimed? No. Fine.”
(You do this to make yourself solid again and concentrate the you-ness of you back into your body.)
Then you can give yourself a state-of-your-immediate-world report:
“Are the bad guys at the door right this minute? No. Has the someday-maybe catastrophe actually happened? No. Fine.”
“Are most of the good things in my life still there? Yes. Will the sun come up tomorrow? Yes, probably. Fine.”
After that, you can start to look at the situation at hand and begin to assess what you can do as damage control or how you can move towards resolving whatever the difficulty is.
You have made yourself ready to go into deep-thinking and maybe if you play around in there for a while you will be able to come to some insights about what your next move will be.
From there you might decide to fight or run or just get on with your day, ignoring the glitch that will probably self-correct without help from you.
In 2011, a video of a kid speechifying after learning to ride a bike went viral. His dad “interviewed” him after his accomplishment, asking him whether he had any “words of wisdom” for all the other kids who wanted to ride a bike.
“Thumbs up everybody…for rock ‘n roll!” à la the rock group KTN (Kill the Noise) the little boy says, and the world laughed.
The video above is the “Original,” according to the YouTube posting. Copies and parodies proliferated for a while.
I thought on all the sometimes-marvelous, oftentimes moving sermons and speeches and lectures and blogs and videos and books and courses and such put out by assorted and varied people.
It seems to me that if you know how to play with words, work your voice, and move your body with conviction and sincerity radiating out of your every pore, it’s not that hard to come up with stuff that at least gets people on their feet and cheering, rarin’ to go off and conquer the world.
There are even courses that will teach you how to induce that effect on other people, and on yourself, I suppose.
The problem is the word-induced enthusiasms and zeal sort of fade away when those people in the audience go back to their ordinary, regular lives.
The fervor and the fire dies down, drowning in the wake of the unending same-old. The audience members come down off the high and it all turns to meh again.
Wisdom words seem to have a short shelf life.
The viral video made us laugh at ourselves because we know that space, all of us.
IF YOU REALLY WANT TO INSPIRE “THE MASSES”
Master Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson once said, “What is respected by the masses is action; you can inspire someone for a day with your words, but you can inspire someone for a lifetime by what you do.”
And that’s a truth. Thompson lives it.
He is famed as the first Native Hawaiian in 600 years to practice the ancient Hawaiian art of navigation on long distance ocean voyages using only the stars, the wind and the waves, the flight of birds and the power of focused intent.
It has been his life-work to guide the Hōkūle’a, (“Star of Gladness” or Arcturus), a modern-day iteration of the double-hulled sailing canoes used by the ancients to sail across the Paciific.
Nainoa has also helped to further the work of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a nonprofit research and education organization that grew out of the effort to build the canoe and to sail her.
[For more information about the Polynesian Voyaging Society, click on the button below.]
The society has developed many ways to explore the deeper meanings of voyaging and wayfinding and they continue to reconnect the island peoples of Oceania with the old ways, with each other, and with the world.
In their growing, they’ve helped to revitalize a number of cultural practices that hold great meaning and mana for the ones who live it.
These practices include art, language, music, dance, ways of thinking and ways of cooperation that are a counter to the homogenizing and narrowing effects of our post-modern dependence on machines and straight-line thinking.
The book tells the story of the vessel’s making and her first voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976. It captures the images of the people who made her and sailed her.
The saga is a remarkable tale of high adventure and great derring-do, a chronicle of the beginnings of one of the sparks that ignited the rebirth of a culture and a people that was languishing in defeat and despair.
(The author also made an award-winning film, “The Navigators – Pathfinders of the Pacific”.)
In 1978, the Hōkūle’a embarked from Oahu’s Magic Island, once again headed toward Tahiti on another cultural expedition. This time the dream was to have a Hawaiian navigate the canoe on the trip to Tahiti.
The canoe capsized in treacherous seas outside the Hawaiian islands and the crew spent the night adrift.
Eddie Aikau, an internationally acclaimed surfer and waterman, who was a member of the crew, set off on his surfboard to find help. He was never seen again.
The crew was rescued, but the loss of Eddie which was compounded by the departure of their teacher, master navigator Mau Piailug, left the leadership of the voyaging group in disarray.
(Mau had returned to his home, disgusted at the contentious infighting and lack of consensus among the Hawaiians, before the trip began.)
Nainoa’s father and other leaders in the Hawaiian community helped the young people work through their disheartenment.
The old guys, who were experienced group leaders, told the younger ones that they had not “earned” the trip. They had not learned enough of what they needed to know to make the run.
Any great endeavor requires extraordinary preparation and forethought and a great deal of hard work. Until you’ve done the work and developed the backlog of skills that you need to deal with the inevitable emergencies, you are likely to meet with failure.
The elders spoke from experience gained over lifetimes of trying and failing and trying again.
With the sharing of their life-knowledge they helped to foster the understanding that there could be a deeper purpose for the voyaging than just playing around and having a good time on the open sea.
Thompson went to Micronesia to bring Mau back.
The group learned. Thompson learned. They earned that trip to Tahiti and then planned and worked and did others.
They continued to venture out on voyages throughout the Pacific, to build their community, and to build canoes.
They kept extending the circle of connection outward.
AN ICON RIDING THE WAVES THROUGH TIME
Hōkūle’a, which was designed by artist and historian Herb Kawainui Kane, has become a symbol of the ancient indigenous arts of wayfinding and sailing off into the unknown and for the power of human connection and cooperation.
Other canoes have since been built, but she was the start.
Her greatest voyage was a three-year circumnavigation of the earth that began in March, 2014. Hōkūle’a docked at 150 ports, stopping in 23 countries including Tahiti, Brazil, South Africa and Cuba and came home in June, 2017.
The world watched. The children learned.
An interesting thing.
The around-the-world voyage began with many of the oldest surviving members of the past canoe crews who had a hand in sailing the vessel over the years of going out and then returning.
The crew that brought her home were from among the best and newest voyagers who had been trained by their elders.
And the procession continues, from the old ones to the young ones, from the past to the future.
THE POWER OF REMEMBERING YOUR TEACHERS
In 2015, as Hōkūle’a was making the world-encircling voyage, PBS Hawaii’s Leslie Wilcox presented an episode in their “Long Story Short” series that featured Wilcox’s interview of Nainoa Thompson.
The talk-story meanders through Thompson’s life and includes his childhood and his history with wayfaring and the cultural renaissance of the Hawaiian people, touching on turning points and highlights of his life-journey.
It elucidates Nainoa’s thoughts on how one develops into a worthy leader, the importance of building community, and the value of teachers and mentors in this process.
Even more importantly, Nainoa explains how he continues to live his life based on the “culture of values” into which he was born.
Here’s the YouTube video of the interview:
About halfway through the video, Thompson talks about the time when he was appointed by the Hawaii Probate Court, in the year 2000, to serve as one of the five trustees for the Bishop Estate, the largest private property owner in the state of Hawaii.
The trust, established by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s will, funds the Kamehameha Schools, a private school system in the state that the princess founded.
Nainoa’s appointment as a trustee came at a time when the trust was rocked by a scandal centered around gross mismanagement that jeopardized the future of the schools.
The previous board had been dismissed and Thompson was one of the replacement trustees, recommended by many community leaders.
Nainoa said that he felt absolutely inadequate for the job at hand. He was a fisherman, he said.
“…I didn’t feel like I had the tools, I didn’t have the background. But you were asked; right? You were asked to do this.”
Maybe it’s a Hawaiian “thing” – one of those values that are a given: When your community asks you to do something because they believe that you are the one who can help, then you have to respond to that trust and say yes.
Once you do that, you have obligated yourself to try to do the best you know how and to learn how to do better than you already know.
Thompson tells how he countered his own self-doubt during that time by having his assistant hang in his office pictures of all of his life-teachers, those who he defined as “leaders that navigated” – the ones who had set the course for him for his whole life. There were more than sixty pictures on the walls of the room.
The pictures included Pius Mau Piailug, one of the last traditional navigators from Micronesia; Thompson’s father Myron “Pinky” Thompson; NASA Space Shuttle astronaut and teacher Charles Lacy Veach; and waterman Eddie Aikau.
Whenever he faced uncertainty and overwhelming pressure to make some complex decision that involved balancing the often-conflicting needs of the people involved in an issue or situation, Nainoa would take a time-out and go sit in the room, surrounded by his teachers.
He would remember their stories, how they acted, how they thought, and the way they lived. He would ponder on what they would do in the situation he was facing.
Their ways of walking became the foundation for building and developing his own.
He says, “…that was the smartest thing I ever did, was to get all my teachers and my leaders in the room with me, and I could sit with them in counsel by myself. Then, go back inside and deal with the rough decisions that you’re never, ever feeling that it’s one hundred percent the correct thing to do….”
At one point in the interview, he calls the fear of moving forward into ambiguity and uncertainty and taking the next action his “best friend.”
Thompson likens that fear to a door you don’t want to open– the one that requires you to be honest about all of your inadequacies and your-less-than-perfect self and to go on anyhow.
For that lesson, he credits his friend, Eddie Aikau, the big-wave surfer who always would go, who always wanted to take action.
“Eddie said, Open the door.”
Nainoa kept that thought with him as he continued to help to build a legacy for the ones who followed after him.
Once his term as a Bishop Estate trustee ended, Thompson went back to the sea.
The voyages and the wayfinding continues still.
As a writer and a poet, I am very much aware of the power (and the limitations) of words.
I do know that one elegant and beautiful way of walking through the world is more valuable than all the words and words and words that are meant to move the hearts around you.
It’s a good thing to remember when you are working towards some dream or other. It really does not matter whether the walker becomes famous or remains obscure. It’s glorious to succeed, but what are you succeeding at?
It seems to me that what is important is whether the way the walker walks helps to make the world a better place for everybody else.
It’s probably the most effective way to make friends and influence people as well.