Last night we saw in the new year with friends, champagne by the fire and a game of Scrabble. As I tipped back a third glass and discussed new year’s resolutions–my own usually address my desire to practice meditation more devotedly–I was reminded of a recent NYT article about how we are often at our best when not trying so hard. It had made me realize that meditation is rather like getting drunk. Both offer a break from the constant effort of thinking and offer an effect where the brain is relaxed and one’s words and actions seem more spontaneous, less calculated, perhaps more excellent and true.
The article, A Meditation on the Art of Not Trying, is about the work of University of British Columbia prof Edward Slingerland who is putting his finger on something in his study of spontaneity in the context of Asian philosophy, psychology and neuroscience. Dr. Slingerland uses the Chinese term wu wei [“ooo-way,”] to describe “effortless action” or the state of grace, where one acts and speaks authentically, expressing deep down goodness and truth without really trying.
Meditation is certainly a healthier and better way than drinking to relax the brain and achieve grace. Today is New Year’s Day and many people are sleeping off the effects of the annual boozy binge that is New Year’s Eve. I learned long ago to moderate my flutes of champagne (three is pushing the limit) or else spend the night resting my feverish brow against the cool ceramic of the toilet bowl, embarking on the new year like a seasick sailor.
Last night one of my best plays on the Scrabble board came with a word that is good to know for the game of high scores for rare letters like Z and Q. The word is Qi [pronounced “chi”]. I first learned about qi back in my Macalester College days when I studied Asian philosophy with professor David White. Qi is life force, energy, spirit. Qi can be pictured like breath rising visibly from our pale lips on days like yesterday when the temps were minus zero.
I have learned a few things along the way and over the years. On this New Year’s day I am grateful for all of my teachers and for the many lessons I have been taught. My new year’s resolution? To relax and not try so hard. It is good to find healthy practices that help you get out of your own way and tap into the grace that is there in your gut. And qi is a more potent spirit than champagne.