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Submitted by Stillman Brown on Tue, 8/3/2010, 11:53am
My work has recently brought me in to contact with an internationally recognized fish expert who also happens to be a professional-level angler and actor. I think of myself as well-rounded but this guy puts me to shame. I know Jimmy Liao as a scientist/angler/actor, but he did a piece for NPR a few years ago that is one of the most elegant descriptions of mindfulness I’ve encountered. Add poet-philosopher to his list of talents. Listen to it here. He says:
"Then one night something wonderful happened. I was researching how fish swim in turbulent flow and discovered that they could surf on swirling eddies without using much muscle. What I suddenly realized was that obstacles could actually help you struggle less. That was what I'd needed to know for a long time."
That is a wonderful image of the meditator's process. It’s the opposite of salmon, leaping and straining to get upriver against the current, driven by biological imperative. Buddhism is full of metaphors from the natural world: flowing water, leaping monkies, bridges over flowing water, etc., and I never get tired of them. I like the image of a hawk riding thermals - relaxed and attentive, but still full of agency, watching the landscape below. More Jimmy:
"I believe I can get around the obstacles in my life not by fighting them, but by yielding to them and pushing off from them. It is what Taoists call Wu Wei, literally: to go with the flow. Now I could take the energy of my father's violence and move through it, to surge past that turbulence."
Jimmy has found a particularly taut integration of professional, intellectual, and emotional strands in his life. Not every job lends itself to the working-through of deep psychic material (gardener, therapist, writer: good. Derivatives trader: not as good). But I take Jimmy as an example of how one’s work can be an expression of one’s practice, even in a very specialized discipline.
How is your work an expression of your practice? And I wonder: does it have to be a particular kind of work, or can anything be done mindfully? Even soldiering?
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