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Acquiring without Seeking

20 Oct 2008
I visited Galveston this weekend, where I was given another marvelous lesson by nature - but probably not the lesson you are thinking.

True, I went primarily to witness the destruction for myself. While not a camera buff, I went camera in hand to take photos to send to friends and family. But while experiencing emptiness can be a profound experience, photographing emptiness -- where large communities of beach houses used to exist -- is not so easy.

I found myself standing by the beach a few miles west of the seawall, where I could see the geotubes that were planted last year to help build dunes. Now they lay on the beach, waves splashing over them, and represent a dune line that likely will never exist again -- see the photos I post later today. The new beach is about 30 feet, maybe more, back from the old beach line.

I began practicing a standing post meditation by the shore line. I had my camera around my neck because I feared sand damage if I set it down. Almost immediately I realized I was in the presence of a large flock of oversized pelicans. They were playing in the water, probably feeding on fish just beyond the tubes, over which water was constantly flowing.

They would swoop by me, splash after some fish, then settle down and float on the rough water as easily as a duck swims on a placid pond. They would hang around for a while, then fly around in a circle, come back, and do it again.

Seeing the pattern, I determined to get some closeup pictures of the pelicans. I turned on my camera and set it to the most power zoom setting - which made it hard to frame a photo as the birds flew quickly by. In fact, the more I tried to get the picture, the less they flew by. Even though I never moved from where I was standing, even though all I did was try to use my camera, it was as if they knew what I was doing and did not want to be photographed.

I realized it was as if nature, or the Tao, was gently telling me not to "want" so much. I turned my camera off and put it down on a protected spot. I returned to the water's edge and practiced taijiquan for an hour. During that hour I was treated to a marvelous front-row seat of pelicans in action, often swooping only a few feet in front of me. They were showing off! The moment the camera went away, they returned.

This experienced reminded me of an important lesson from the Tao: wanting is often counterproductive. Wanting too much can turn lovesick people into stalkers and gluttons into thieves. Wanting speaks to desire, which springs from ego. Learning only becomes possible when we open our minds and detach our egos, thereby removing preconceived notions that exist in service to our desires.

Practicing taijiquan can be this way for beginners, especially those still learning the sequence of the form. We want that sequence so badly that we cannot hope to comprehend it beyond the rote of steps. Only after we give up our desire for "learning the form" can we truly learn it, but with this warning: our lack of desire must be coupled with continued, and renewed, intent. How to intend to do something without having an egotistic desire to do it -- that is a subject for another time. Meanwhile, think about it.


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