can

it’s challenging, to
come down safely from a high —
meet that challenge — learn
doing by doing nothing
— what the Taoist calls wu wei

Eastern wisdom gets a bad press in all sorts of ways. From Jung’s dire warnings against trying to mimic a foreign spiritual tradition, to one’s own suspicion that maybe there’s a kind of inverted racism in believing (as I do tend to believe) that Eastern cultures really might be superior, spiritually, to Western ones. I dreamed I was climbing a ladder or gym wall bars, and when I reached the top, had to climb down the other side. ‘Coming down from a high’ describes more or less the problem I had yesterday coming back into the office after most of the day spent delivering a talk about my experiences as a mental health service user, homeless person, and talking about my life and outlook in general. My poem draws a parallel between ‘coming down’ and wu wei, and that was probably suggested by the classic metaphor for wu wei which is ‘the watercourse way’ — in other words, to practice wu wei is to follow the line of least resistance, exactly the way water follows gravity. The title of this poem is probably much too loaded with a ton of personal, idiosyncratic philosophising. It’s meant to touch on the irony of how any feeling of empowerment, enablement or positivity — as for instance ‘I can understand wu wei‘ or ‘I can put it into practice’ — is already the very worst starting point for understanding wu wei or putting it into practice.

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