The Able Course

Water always follows the easiest course, and one such course appears in a documentary of the Zambezi River. To tell the story of a river, like telling the story of a road, is an intriguing concept and if done ably, necessarily pedagogical in that the movement of a course or journey points to something more. Indeed the documentary made generous detours to the birds and tribes aligning the river; one tribe with their god Nyaminyami, who they momentarily felt had abandoned them in modern times, faced with displacement by a man made dam, but then it seems he may have caused it to flood not once but twice. The cameras went back to history, to non-digital shots of the Noah Project, and then came back to the present as animals rested at a grassy oasis at the adjacent Mana Pools. Lions and zebras and a host of other animals all feed at that paradisaical piece of green among the dust. The story of the river ended at the ocean, except it was observed that it then evaporated, entering the atmosphere to begin the river story all over again. It was a great narrative model, and brought to mind verse viii of the Tao, that the way is like water, which gives life to the ten thousand things without trying. 
The message of the verse, about trying without forcing things, may sound antithetical, perhaps because of the number of people who are good at following the grooves in life but aren't aspiring to perform their actions ably and so confuse the natural course of things. A professor active also in the media pointed out this week that even in academia, there are many who may look good on paper, but deliver little in the classroom or in terms of lasting (meaningful) work. 
In the mean time, people get older and to many it may seem that life is not meeting expectations. I am beginning to think again about the talking cure though not in the original sense but in terms of the critical (and humourous) possibilities opened up to the mind and thumos through stories. For not to be able to at least articulate (if not practice) ideas of when and how to act is to become brittle, hardened, quite the opposite of water. No sooner had I thought this that I realised how many narratives are based on the theme of reality (or 'fortune') vs. expectations.
It has been argued that to reflect on ideals, such as versions of utopia, is a useful way to exercise the imagination and inform choices. Learning how to address ideals may help with 'career paths,' adolescence, and mid-life crises - except learning is associated in the popular mind with childhood and adolescence, as if one could ever be finished with figuring things out. Joseph Epstein wrote that, “People who have read with love and respect understand that the larger message behind all books ... is, finally, cultivate your sensibility so that you may trust your heart. The charmingly ironic point of vast reading, as least as I have come to understand it, is to distrust much of one’s education. Unfortunately, the only way to know this is first to become educated, just as the only way properly to despise success is first to achieve it.”




One does not learn to learn but learn to live - but surely we may wonder at how many writers, teachers, movie makers fail to live up to this point. The instructor is to make it possible, through slow attention and effective comparison, for the themes they address to be worked into the everyday reality of their audience. The attentive audience, the one that has tried on more possibilities, will then have a greater foundation for future learning, and also ripple beyond their initial ring, which announced their existence. 
To become concentric seems an act of both generosity and trust. To exit one circle and enter another, I think too that one becomes more transparent either to others or to oneself. One is also at the mercy, to the extent of being open if discerning, of others, a plot, a lesson. It takes courage, but by circling out, one may contain more within oneself and is that much the richer.
Like to teach a class of the disciplinarily challenged and be told to get their attention and to imaginatively begin a class with karate, like the protagonist of Dangerous Minds (the title seems to include the mind of that teacher, a 'danger' to the system, not to the students, not to learning). To be open to the experience, to go through with it, to use what one already has: to be resourceful in and with life. 
"You can't save me from my life," says one of those students from the film. There is no safe way, but there is a Way: to really look around for the good with deeply still eyes, and to act orderly, with ability, and in a timely fashion, residing in a suitable place - according to verse viii. This has been translated as 'doing what you love,' which is interesting because 'able' once designated that which was fit for a purpose in that it was easy to be held. To be able is also to be easy. Suitable.
In the programme on the water of the Zambezi River, I saw the bee-eaters living along its sides, those birds may be the very ones that summer where I live!The breadth of a good programme leaves something for everyone that can be held on to, applied. It may sound idealistic to write in favour of an easy course - particularly given the difficult obstruction of so many man-made grooves, and idealistic it is, for the ideal is an ongiong direction, not a destination.  





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