The Seven Pillars of Wisdom – 7

Pillar 7 – Learn Flexibility and Flow

The Phoenix Perspective:
Do something new, like changing your viewpoint, changing perspective, allowing for difficulties without complaint.
Discipline is involved in this work, as old habits die hard.

I’m working (and working . . . ) on a novel. Actually, the 14 points we’ve been discussing form the backbone of the novel. The protagonist, Roberta Thatcher, finds herself working for a company who seems dedicated to helping its employees find wholeness.

Roberta finds that this goal involves truly learning about herself – intellectually, physically, spiritually, sexually – and in terms of her relationships and vocation. There’s a section in one chapter where Roberta is off on a company mandated wilderness retreat. As it fits today’s topic, we pick up as night falls.

No one but Roberta thought spending a week camping in a wilderness north of Algonquin Park, 3 days of which would be by herself, was even the least bit odd. The rest of the group seemed to be glowing with the thought. “Alone?,” Roberta thought. “I’ll be bored out of my mind.” Now, still perched on her log, she realized that she might also be scared. And cold. Shaking her head, she headed for the tent, her goose down sleeping bag and her ThermaRest mattress. Surprisingly, sleep came quickly.

Roberta dreamed. She was standing by a river in a beautiful valley. Across the river she saw two large pine trees. One was perched majestically upon a rocky ledge. The other was near the water. The trees were talking. To each other, of course, as trees seldom talk to people any more.

The tree on the rocky ledge crowed proudly about the view from the top. About how high he had climbed. How far he could see. The whole world seemed the circle around him. He was busy, busy, busy. He never noticed as cuckoos moved into his branches, weasels dug near his roots, and loons lived in his shadow.

The tree by the river scattered pine cones, provided shelter for the young plants, and spoke quietly of deep streams of water. Seemingly alone and lowly, the tree shimmered with peace.

As Roberta watched, a wild storm erupted; the raw, elemental power of a world gone mad howled and moaned around her. A deluge of rain fell. The exposed branches of the tree on the rocky ledge seemed to rail against the storm, but soon began to bend and snap. Brittle, breaking bones, like gunshots. They fell to the earth and were gone.

The tree by the river, sheltered, shed the water, and the water ran into the stream.

Then, the wind began to blow. Mightily. The tree on the ledge teetered and rocked. Its roots, with their tentative hold on the thin soil covering the rock, soon lost their grip. With a sound like a sigh, the mighty tree fell, crashing down and into the river. Swept away.

The tree by the river seemed to be waving good-bye with its swaying branches. It stood, buffeted by the wind, but unmoved, its roots deeply embedded in the ground.


One of the more delicious moments in the Martial Arts comes when you understand the connection between rootedness, or groundedness, and the concept of flexible power. For me, flexible power is the ability to move smoothly out of the way. Groundedness is the ability to find firm footing no matter what’s happening around me. Thus, the point of the trees in the story.

Society at large encourages us to measure success by how far we rise, as apposed to how deep we go. Not surprisingly, many of my clients are people who achieved some measure of “worldly” success. What brings them to me is a sense of purposelessness, meaninglessness. Their relationships fail to satisfy. They are bored or unfocussed. And often the wonder what’s wrong with the world. Or they wonder why climbing the ladder used to bring pleasure, yet now their experience seems hollow.

One answer, for most, is this: climbing to the top is a one dimensional experience. And that applies to anything, including relationships. (Relationships, as a matter of fact are prime candidates for one dimensionality.)

One dimensionality is the opposite of balance.

Suffice it to say at this point that we are given our operating instructions by the tribes to which we belong. Parents and family, country of origin, ethnic groupings, religious practices – each a tribe that inputs data into our sub-conscious. Those rules, that data, dictates how we view the world. We, as children, swallow the rules whole.

The mature person then spends the rest of her life unpacking the baggage.

Which is not the same as teenage rebellion, where we simply do the opposite of what we were taught. The idea of flexibility is wrapped up in becoming whole – being mature – and a first step in this process is understanding that you can hold many view points in your head at the same time.

Flexibility is:
* being able to see, assimilate and use different perspectives and viewpoints, not simply repeating the same tired one(s) over and over.
* being able to see what you do, look at the results, and to change what doesn’t work, all without judging yourself to be a failure, or bad, or stupid.
* being able to choose your friends, companions and life-mates based upon mutual support, listening, intimacy and presence.
* the ability to walk away from relationships that never worked, or worked once, but don’t now.
* knowing that you have your own answers. It’s resisting trying to force others to see your answers as theirs, and it’s resisting having others’ answers forced down your throat. You know what’s best, for you. And, it’s allowing yourself the freedom to be uniquely yourself, working within the structures that surround you, but without taking the structures overly seriously. It’s the essential message of the phrase, “Be in, but not of, the world.”

It is a good thing to decide to build a relationship that focuses on being open, intimate and available, rather than a conventional relationship based upon an endless power struggle over who’s right.

It is a good thing to devise a vocation that uses the total of your skill set, thus generating income from that which is also your deepest passion.

It is a good thing to spend your life seeking to understand more and more of the depth of yourself, and to spend your relationship time learning about those around you.

It is a good thing to move gently on the planet, as opposed to trying to push the planet in a direction you think it should go.
The goal of the more advanced “soft” martial arts (Aikido, Tai Chi, for example) is to briefly merge with the incoming attack (not meet it with force) blend with it and redirect it. Flexibility 101. The flexible person never gives up, nor gives in. The flexible person does not break when the winds blow. The flexible person assimilates and re-directs.

It is Aikido of the mind.

In the end, you wake up each morning and bring you into the world. You can choose to live your life like everyone else, following rules you may not even know you’re following. Conforming. Not making waves.

Or you can choose to be who you are, as the world sighs with relief. In all things, rather than aspiring for the heights, seek your depth. In rootedness is the ultimate flexibility.

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