Why Ease and Arduous Experience are in Harmony (with the Tao)
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on February 1st, 2011

I’ve written often lately of my quest for Arduous Experience and Cognitive Difficulty in my practice. This led Grant on the TI Forum to ponder the seeming contradiction or paradox between what the terms ‘arduous’ and ‘difficulty’ mean to most people and the goal of swimming with ease.

If one holds the notion of ease as the context of all swimming endeavors then Arduous Experience and Cognitive Difficulty is included in Ease.  If Ease is the bowl then the AE and CD are held within the bowl. For me that solves the paradox.

Haschu replied: The Dalai Lama once said, when being questioned about happiness: ‘Given that outer circumstances contribute to a certain degree happiness mainly depends on the contentment in our mind’. For me contentment and ease are quite similar.

I resolve the potential for contradiction by recognizing that the least demanding response to any difficulty is to bludgeon it into submission. It requires far greater creativity and subtlety to discover an  economical – or, as Einstein said, elegant – solution.

And now to reconcile science and spirit, Haschu’s reference to Buddhism made me think of Taoism, and the principle of wu wei, about which I wrote an article long ago in our e-zine Total Swim.

Wu Wei – or ‘effortless action’ – is a key principle in Taoism. Its aim is to obtain irresistible power through alignment with the Tao.

Wu Wei is drawn from nature. As planets circle the sun, or as a flower opens to the sun, there is no effort involved; they simply do as nature intends. Unlike the natural world, humans have intellect and free will. Ironically, both can lead to struggle or counterproductive effort. Practicing Wu Wei means consciously choosing the right action, appropriate to its time and place,  in pursuit of greater harmony and balance.

In wu wei ‘effortless’ doesn’t mean lazy or passive. Rather the practice of wu wei is arduous. You achieve wu wei by being keenly attuned to your environment, heeding physical intelligence more than the intellect. We learn wu wei through direct experience, not intellectual or theoretical pursuits.

As most of us recognize, nearly everything in the mainstream orthodoxy of swimming is about more-and-harder and thus antithetical to wu wei. But it seems to me that the elusive and shape-shifting nature of water makes swimming perhaps the ideal physical activity for the pursuit of wu wei. In fact, some translations actually express wu wei as ‘swimming with the current’!

When I first read about Taoism and wu wei, I considered the possibility that TI practice had unconsciously turned me into a Taoist. TI Coach Shane Eversfield has said the same thing about his practice of Zendurance in endurance sports.

2 Responses to “Why Ease and Arduous Experience are in Harmony (with the Tao)”

  1. Ian says:

    Please consider Tai Chi Chuan as an adjunct to your swimming. Tai Chi has been described as swimming on land. I would rather regard my swimming as Tai Chi in water. Tai Chi is both a martial art for self defence, and a structural fitness regime that teaches the value of correct physical posture and meditation to attain the correct mental attitude. This can banish both fear and the stress of striving for gain or improvement. Improvement comes then, from self knowledge and mindful practice.

  2. I’ve done little T’ai Chi myself (I prefer yoga), but TI Coach Shane Eversfield has produced a DVD for Tai Chi for TI swimmers, which you can find on the TI web site. Like you, I’ve long believed that the goal of any practice, swimming included, should be greater self-knowledge.

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