Friday, November 7, 2008

Knowing What I Don't Know

One of my favorite experiences is the feeling of knowing what I don’t know. I can almost see and feel a space opening up in what formerly felt like pure chaos. A question or an intention appears. In Liuhebafa, I don’t know the transition between “the crouching tiger listens to the wind” and “feint to the east but attack to the west.” I am unsure about the weight changes in “rein in the horse.”

A lot of learning needs to take place before I can begin to know what I don’t know. In the beginning, the form is just a roiling blur, just so much chaos. When I am practicing at home, I begin to be able to put together a few movements, many of which are wrong. I still am not sure where to focus my attention when I get back to class on Saturday. But finally in the beginning movements of the form, I am able to know where to focus my attention. I am able to fill in the gaps of my ignorance.

In Tai Chi, I am also struggling to identify what I don’t know. Here, I am primarily my own teacher since I am not officially taking a class this fall. I find myself sleepwalking through the form when I practice at home. I know that I need to focus on sinking my weight, but haven’t I been telling myself this for a long time? But then there is that delicious moment when I again know what I don’t know. I don’t know what it feels like in my upper legs when I sink my weight when I do “cloud hands.” Now, I can begin to experiment with that.

This feeling of knowing what I don't know goes beyond Tai Chi and Liuhebafa. Usually, whenever I learn anything new, I begin with reading everything I can get my hands on. I plunge into the murky lake of ideas. Usually I find this great fun. Once in awhile this stage lasts too long. I also like the feeling of having a direction or three or a whole spider web of directions. I like a rhythm between chaos and direction.

I like people who know what they don’t know. I feel more confident in their abilities when I know they are searching in a particular direction. I like to know that they are asking for advice or seeking out information. I mistrust people who think they themselves have all the answers.

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