The Butcher // 3.13.18

My recent obsession with Taoism, and particularly with Chuang Tzu, the ancient sage, has perhaps gotten out of hand. Over Christmas I read Burton Watson's translation of selected writings of Chuang Tzu. A week or so ago I finished Thomas Merton's The Way of Chuang Tzu, a selection of his favorite sayings he edited together from various translations. And a few nights ago I started David Hinton's full translation. (On deck after Hinton is James Legge, if the fire's still burning.)

The parable that has been on my mind most of late is that of the butcher who follows the Tao: he tells of good butchers who cut their meat and have to replace their knives every year. Then there are the poor butchers, who go through a knife a month; they hack and saw at the meat and make a mess of the whole event. But the Taoist butcher simply allows his knife to find its way, it follows the Tao, and the butcher has kept the same knife for nineteen years, still sharp as new.

I find in my writing, I have at times hacked and sawed, or just cut and slashed, no matter, at some point the "knife" dulls, and I need a new one. Then there is that rare writing that is no-writing, accomplished accidentally, in which the way is simply found, no energy is expended.

Ambition destroys that no-writing, compels me to a writing that I cannot accomplish, one that requires hacking and sawing, absent of grace, replete with struggle. It is a fight with the world, following my own (piss poor) way.

Recently a dear friend shared with me another Taoist parable about two fish: the first appears motionless, is contemplating a pebble in the creek bed, and so is straining with all their might against the current. The second fish exerts no effort at all, and so is carried about by the water, wherever the current takes it. "They're both following the Way."

And so, perhaps am I, and the correct pose is one I am incapable of (as I have mentioned previously), that of gratitude.