Photo: Joshua Fuller
The generals have a saying:
“Rather than advance an inch,
It is better to retreat a yard.”
This is called going forward without advancing,
Pushing back without using weapons.
- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
The path of external striving is endless. Outward facing egoic ambition, our heroic effort to advance an inch, will always justify its own existence by creating another condition upon which we believe our freedom hinges; a job promotion, more money, a nicer physique, a faster car, a bigger home, greater influence, another woman, even deeper spiritual realization.
Though these attainments may provide momentary relief from our endless wanting, in time, the satisfaction we once felt fades. We find ourselves again feeling empty and trapped, chasing after the next thing we are convinced will free us. All the while blind to the knowing that no external attainment is capable of alleviating the deep longing for freedom that lives in the very core of our masculine being and motivates all striving.
External striving is not a bad thing. You likely have a purpose in the material world, something you feel a deep soul calling to actualize, and you should absolutely pursue its realization. But to do so with the expectation that it will yield any lasting freedom dooms your endeavor from its inception.
Call to mind a great success you’ve had at some point in your life.
Does it still carry the same sense of satisfaction it once did? Is it as important to you now as it once was? Has the liberation you felt upon its attainment since faded?
Does it still matter to you at all?
Can you even remember it?
Ask yourself, why would this cycle not perpetuate itself in all endeavors?
The freedom that we intuit is possible, the Holy Grail that motivates our ceaseless striving is, paradoxically, only and always available right now, here, in this very moment.
But, knowing this freedom as an embodied direct experience requires that, at least momentarily, you halt your striving for another inch and summon the courage to retreat a yard.
Power, true Alpha, begins to bloom only through inviting the possibility that what you’re really after exists only in the pristine stillness of this eternal moment, and there is nothing you need to do to taste it.
In fact, it’s very likely you need to do much less. Touching power requires retreating a yard into effortless non-doing.
To pontificate on this through mental conception not only isn’t enough, it’s a hindrance. You cannot think your way to power. Power dwells in the space before thinking.
Power comes into being only through embodied experience. Though you may be fortunate enough to encounter a wise one who can point out the way to power, no one can know power for you.
The lock to the chains that bind you and the key that will set you free exist in you alone. No one can save you but you. Be weary of anyone who makes such promises.
Retreating a yard, as Lao Tzu’s Generals say, is to turn our outward striving inward and engage the training of the mind.
To taste power, you must train the mind to be still.
You must learn to do nothing.
You might think, “Well, I do nothing all the time.”
I have some beers with the boys and do nothing.
I watch TV and do nothing.
I take an afternoon nap and do nothing.
I sit on the beach and do nothing.
But, as mindfulness deepens through consistent training and we begin to attenuate the minutiae of our moment by moment experience, we find there a prison of perpetual doing!
Incessant activity! Thinking! Wanting! Craving! Aversion!
There is a vast expanse between colloquial “doing nothing” - lying sedentary, slack jawed and mouth breathing, sleepwalking through our waking life, and the pristine state of effortlessly concentrated non-doing through which power reveals itself.
The way to power is rife with paradox: Arriving at non-doing takes some doing. Allowing for the springing forth of effortlessness requires some effort. Ha! If you cannot hold paradox, you’ll never know Power.
Particular attentional skills must be developed through consistent training:
Concentration - the staying power of mind
Clarity - a palpable moment by moment connection to the subtleties of the sensing experience
Equanimity - the systematic eradication of preferential clinging and aversion
To know power, you must develop these internal skills and, in so doing, make the mind serviceable.
Retreating a yard into your meditations, you begin to experience that you are not your thinking mind, but the imperturbable field of knowing awareness in which all thoughts arise from and pass into. Abiding in the eternal throne of this boundless awareness, you begin to taste power.
Like a well trained dog, the mind stops barking when you ask it to, it stays where you want it to stay, it makes your life better - not worse. Positive states flourish as you begin to grok that the self-experience, like all phenomenal experience, arises and passes impermanently in the eternal substrate of empty awareness - that which you truly are.
With awareness as the view, you experience the one taste of all sensory experience from the steady gaze of the Lion, the most powerful in all the kingdom.
You come to know power as freedom, pure and unbound. Eternal, always right here, independent of conditions.
The power of freedom is available to any man who would retreat a yard and engage the trainings with diligence.
But, Lao Tzu also cautions:
“When a superior man hears of the Way, he immediately begins to embody it. When an average man hears of the Way, he half believes it, half doubts it. When a foolish man hears of the Way, he laughs out loud. If he didn’t laugh, it wouldn’t be the Way.”
Tell me my friends, what kind of man are you?
Will you spend this precious human birth endlessly striving for another inch?
Or, have you the courage to retreat a yard into the boundless freedom that is your true nature, and join the ranks of the powerful ones who walked this Way before you?