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24 May 2013

The Art of Redirection

Koans & Fables

There was once a beautiful young girl, whose heart was soft and pure sweetness. When she breathed, nature smiled. Her name was Yin Li.

Sometimes she would walk barefoot, stepping gingerly because her feet were sensitive. In fact, her heart was soft like the tender soles of her feet – it felt every breath and movement, including all the thoughts of those around her.

The things she could sense and feel were extraordinary and exquisite. But they could also be painful and upsetting. In time, the hidden thoughts and harsh words of her fellow villagers caught up with her, and the bruising and pain on her delicate heart caused her to fall critically ill.

She slowly faded from life, lying alone in her hut until one day an old master happened by and stuck his head in the door.

Upon seeing her condition he inquired as to what she planned to do about it.

In her weakened state she could barely respond, but finally managed to whisper that there was nothing to do, all that could be done had already been done.

“Then what are you lying around waiting for?” he inquired.

Confused by his question, she could only stammer, “Nothing.”

“Then if you are lying around waiting for nothing, why are you so preoccupied with anything at all? You’re making no sense whatsoever,” he declared, shaking his head.

“You are trapped in softness, the softness of denial," he stated. 

"Thoughts are like arrows. They shoot out of a person’s mind, or mouth, seeking a target. Once they are launched, it is inevitable that they fall back to the earth. You are made of earth and dirt, a soft  and natural target for an arrow. But that is not all that you are made of. You are denying three fourths of your nature. Why not become fire, or wind or water? Is that so far beyond your ability to imagine?”

“But I feel life so deeply,” she whispered. “How can I ever change?”

“You feel life so deeply because each arrow and every thought has a point. Often it is sharp and penetrating. Turn yourself into fire. Arrows burn in the fire; it consumes them, turning them into ash. Become water. Arrows harmlessly penetrate water, because water first yields and then drowns and weakens even the sharpest and fastest of arrows.  Whisper or roar like the wind. Wind diverts the arrow’s path, stepping aside as it effortlessly redirects each barb, changing its angle of attack." 

"Get it? Are you stupid? Surely you can see this!”

She arose from her bed and immediately declared her desire to become the master’s apprentice. She studied faithfully and in time became known for her dexterity of mind and heart.

Eventually Yin Li became a highly sought after teacher. Even the district governor called upon her skills for the most difficult of negotiations, admiring her ability to readily neutralize the most stubborn and obstinate opponents.

When she died, people came from over one hundred miles away to pay their respects. After her death she became a local deity, and was from then on known as Li Shui Feng, keeper of wind and water wisdom.

-- Mark Walter