If we have “the capacity to wander”, we can wander in all circumstances. But what is the capacity to wander and how do we get it?

Since I don’t have that capacity, how could I say? Well, the saying is relatively easy, because the concept is easy. It is also the case that, as was likely with Zhuangzi himself, our interface with this possibility is dialectical. This is to say that it is “realized” only as and by approximation. Were it otherwise, if there was some final state that had to be achieved, then our wandering would depend on that and no wandering would be possible.

We can, therefore, wander in our inability to wander, or in our inability to wander in our inability to wander, or . . .  If this doesn’t seem to logically cohere, it is because it reflects the process of life itself. Does life make sense?

There seems to be two strains of methodology presented in the Inner Chapters. One suggests that we just take the leap, make the choice, just do it. “Hand it all over to the unavoidable.”

The other suggests some form of meditation that brings us to the point where the wandering follows as a matter of course. The story in which Confucius begs to be the disciple of his disciple who has realized this serves as a case in point.

After much “sitting and forgetting” Yan has become “one with the Transforming Openness.” “The same as it?” Confucius exclaims. “But then you are free of all preference! Transforming? But then you are free of all constancy!” (6:54-5)

There is no reason why we cannot utilize both methods. Indeed, the practice of the one without the other might be impossible. This is especially the case when taking meditation as an imaginative excursion (as I do). We can only “hand it all over to the unavoidable” when we have imagined a point of view that encourages us to do so.

3 thoughts on “WANDERING III”

  1. I sometimes meditate in the Zen style of “shikantaza,” or “just sitting”–meaning no mantra, no counting breaths, no nothing…just sitting. Hard as hell, really, because the mind tends to wander (ha!) and so it’s a constant cycle of “oops, there I go again thinking…back to the present moment” and then just paying attention to whatever’s happening at the moment, without attaching any thought-value to it. The metaphor my Zen teachers used was “thought trains”–every time you get on one, first become aware that you’re on a thought train, then get off the train! In a 30-minute meditation session, I only rarely get to a point–interestingly, usually at about minute 28–where I’m so relaxed and present that no thought enters my mind (or at least I don’t hop on any thought trains and don’t even “watch” them whiz by). I wouldn’t call that state anything (any-thing) and always hesitate to talk about it, because it’s non-designatable: you can’t pin words on it, ’cause whatever you may say about it, it ain’t it. Only metaphors can go there, and they’re all wrong by definition–i.e. (and e.g.!!), they’re the finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself. But I can tell you that the *result* of such an experience is “just” being more fully present. Nothing more, nothing less. Curiously, time–or my perception of time–also seems to slow down dramatically (this temporal aspect needs further investigation…I suspect it’s got some real marrow in it). By the way, sitting meditation is a slog, and I’ve discovered that this experience can be achieved on a much more consistent (and pleasurable!) level via a session in a floatation tank (have you tried them? They’re great!). In any case, I think the ideal of the sage is being “one with the Transforming Openness” at all times, and I’m faaar from achieving that…indeed, even thinking that I can “achieve” it or that I’m “faaar” from it shows how muddleheaded I am. But when I reach this muddleheaded state, I laugh a good belly laugh and it seems to do the trick, whatever this trick may be. My saving grace, such as it is, is that I tend to naturally return to this laughter–genuine, “existential” laughter–time and time again. It’s like untying a bothersome existential knot, to put it metaphorically.
    This long-winded and repetitious (I think I commented about this before) comment is all by way of me being curious about your statement of “taking meditation as an imaginative excursion”–care to share any specifics (method, mindset, whatever)? Not as a prescription (heaven forbid!), but more as, well, an imaginative exercise. Here I’m thinking of The Happiness of Fish, one of my favorite passages. To quote you, “Zhuangzi knows the happiness of fish by observing their everyday function, their doing what fish do.” So I ask you, Scott, what is it that you do, vis-a-vis “imaginative excursions”? I suspect that part of the answer might be “engaging with Zhuangzi” in your posts, but aside from words…? No Huizi-like logic games here, just genuine curiosity.
    Yours in drift and doubt,

  2. Hi Roman. Your contributions and questions are appreciated, as always.

    In answer to your question here, perhaps I can tinker a bit with “engaging with Zhuangzi” and say that I “imaginatively engage with the interpretive visions of Zhuangzi”. In today’s post, for instance: “Seeing all lodging places as one, let yourself be lodged in whichever cannot be avoided.” Or, “Making your real home in oneness, let yourself be temporarily lodged in whatever cannot be avoided” (4:10; note 6)) This invites the attempt to imagine doing/being just that.

    To do this is to experience something of it, to feel it. It’s that simple. (Experience understanding.)

    My favorite is: “Seen from the point of view of their sameness, all things are one.” Adopting this point of view, even momentarily, bends/tweaks the mind outside of simple cognitive thought.

    I practice this mostly as I write it–which is the value of these daily posts. I also do it when I feel a definite remedial intervention is necessary–a frequent occurrence!

    There are very real differences between this method and yours–but we might want to imagine how they are the same–completely the same, as in “one”. This (experientially) takes me in two apparently opposite directions at once. It totally affirms both as what they uniquely are, and it so completely relativizes them that they are seen to be of no great importance at all.

    This is de seen as an expression of Dao. There is no expression (doing/being) that is not Dao. This simultaneously gives them all absolute value and no particular, special value at all.

    Somewhere (somehow) out of this comes my sense that it is the practice that matters–not the goal. We might need the “end” to encourage the “means”, but it is really only the “means” that has true value–because it is our being now. Our present de is perfect.


  3. I forgot to mention that I am presently reading Ziporyn’s “Emptiness and Omnipresence” which explains Tiantai Buddhism’s meditative technique. It seems very much like a kind of imaginative meditation to me–though very much more complicated than Zz’s in terms of the philosophical understanding (intellectual IQ) required.


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