but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.
We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.
In Chinese philosophy and Qi Gong there is a concept of Wu Ji, which can be translated as "The Great Nothingness" or "The Supreme Emptiness." You may often see a Chinese/Japanese calligraphy of a circle, like the one above, this is Wu Ji. This calligraphy hangs on our wall at ICM in the space where we practice Qi Gong/Tai Ji Quan/Yoga. On a few occasions, as I was practicing with students, I began explaining this concept of Wu Ji and only through my explaining this profound subject have I begun to see a fragment of the larger picture that the ancient philosophers were referring to.
As we look at the image above, we see the black ink of the circle but what of the space inside of the circle? That is Wu Ji. It embodies that Great Emptiness. It is both space and time. One of the insights to Wu Ji came to me one day as I was attempting to explain it as I was teaching. I realized as I looked at the image that Wu Ji is "filled emptiness"; the circle may be empty but it is not deflated.
I recall my teacher, Shi Fu Donald leading us in meditation many years ago. He led us to that moment/place before Yin and Yang, before the "I" becomes. It was a very profound moment for me; I was pondering what would be before Yin and Yang, a sense of wonder manifested in me. All through our training in Qi Gong/Tai Ji Quan, we first find Wu Ji and then begins movement, physical or energetic. It has come to me that Wu Ji is "before the beginning." It is even a specific position in sitting or standing, as well as a moment, space or state before we begin a practice. Shi Fu Donald also taught us a Qi Gong form called Wu Ji Qi Gong or Primordial Qi Gong.
When we read the Chapter of the Dao De Jing (Pin-Yin for Tao Te Ching) above, this is what Lao Zi is trying to convey to us. He is trying to show us that the space in the middle of the wheel, the emptiness in the cup, the space in the house and non-being is what creates us as well as our reality. Lao Zi was a famous Chinese philosopher who lived around the 6th century BCE. He is said to have founded Daoism and wrote the Dao De Jing, which has 81 chapters written in verses like the one above, each barely filling a page. It is, after the bible, the second most translated text in the world. As with many things in life, "less is more."
Next time you look at your hand, look into the spaces between your fingers. Your hand exists because the spaces between your fingers exist. This time of winter invites us to look into the spaces in between. There are very few leaves on the trees but there is more space between the branches. Just as we can give ourselves more time and space in our lives between appointments or work to find Wu Ji in our everyday.
Lao-Tzu, translated by Stephen Mitchell (2011): Tao Te Ching - The Book of the Way. London: Kyle Books.
Image Wu Ji by Elaine