And although the wisdom is revealed in poetry, eloquently phrased, and very esoteric, in this book rests a clue for how to understand the principle of full and empty, or, in modern day grind terms, how to apply the principle of busy and free.
If you’ve been feeling like every second of every day is booked, or even if you do have down time, but feel like it’s not enough for your sanity, let me share with you the guidance of a taiji master.
The Secret of Full and Empty
T’ai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions,
Compiled and translated by Douglas Wile
Empty empty, full full, with spirit
Empty full, full empty as hands
To practice T’ai-chi without mastering
the principle of full and empty,
Is to foolishly waste time without ever
When one has the opponent’s vital point
in the palm of one’s hand; finding empty,
be on guard, but if full, attack.
If we fail to attack the full,
our art will never be superior.
Within empty and full, there is
naturally a full and empty;
If we understand the principle of full
and empty, our attack will never miss the mark.
On the surface, a taiji practitioner might interpret this as wisdom for sparring technique. And this would be correct. Yet you can move deeper into the meaning and apply it to one’s life, the daily and the spiritual.
Take the phrase, “To practice T’ai-chi without mastering the principle of full and empty, Is to foolishly waste time without ever accomplishing anything.”
That is the Chinese martial arts version; here is the Life version:
To go throughout life without applying the principle of full and empty, is to waste time without accomplishing anything.
Say you’ve been feeling completely stretched in your life, like every second is filled or should be filled with one of the thousands of things you have to do.
Know that feeling? You could really use about five more hours in the day, right? Even just to get a full night’s sleep?
Here’s the thing:
To get more done, you need to do less.
You don’t believe me.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but one of the best ways to make more space for all the things you have to do is by scheduling time for Doing Nothing.
This is doable. You can do this doing-nothing thing. You just need to find the formula that works best for you.
For me, it’s taking one full day out of each week and purposefully setting it aside as a full 24 hours of nothing: nothing scheduled, nothing that must get done asap, nothing that is mandatory, nothing that is urgent, pressing, or critical.
But maybe for you it’s a Do Nothing Day once a month, or a Do Nothing morning once a week.
During these Do Nothing hours there are no "I should be ________ right now”s.
Of course those should-be thoughts come up, but when they do, I use them as a catalyst to take five minutes and really do nothing.
I may be slicing watermelon and have the thought, “I should be sweeping the house right now.” If I notice myself think this, I can decide that as soon as I finish the watermelon slicing I will go sit on a rock and, well, sit. Not meditate, not ponder life’s greatest questions, just sit. I try to do the nothing-est of nothing I can for at least five minutes.
Have you ever really tried to do nothing? It’s hard! You start thinking about things you have to do!
So here’s the thing. You time of Doing Nothing is not ultimately about doing nothing the whole entire time.
Setting aside extended time that you schedule into your week is about having the freedom to do whatever you really want to do, from a place of truly wanting to do it.
And, by the way, “To get it done and off my To Do List” does not qualify as authentic, in the moment, from the heart wanting.
There is a shift that happens when you do this. Afterward you feel a little lighter, a little refreshed, and much more ready to take on all those things you have on your schedule.
When you take time out of your busy schedule to commit yourself to space between doing all the things you have to do, they transform before your very eyes and become things you choose to do— even— things you get to do.
What version of this time of Doing Nothing can you see yourself taking on?
Can you do the once a week full-day scheduled into the calendar as a blocked out go where the wind blows you kind of day?
If that gets you nervous already, can you do a half day of Doing Nothing?
A weekly hour of Doing Nothing?
Start where you can. And commit to it— if this feels like an interesting idea, that is.
The more you give of your time to the space between doing, the more likely you are to hold a more positive outlook on the things you need to get done, which directly leads to your accomplishing more in less time.
Whatever you feel you can commit to, mark it in your calendar and treat it as an appointment that cannot be missed.
Become empty and experience a fullness. Then, when you return to the fullness of daily life, you’ll have an emptiness within that will give you the peace, clarity, and harmony necessary to hit the target of all your goals.