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  • Karl Thunemann

An Elusive Virtue, Never to Be Proclaimed

By rights, this epistle should begin with an examination of the Bubble Meditation, probably the first exercise I sampled from Lawrence LeShan’s book, How to Meditate. Alas, my good intentions have gone agley, unhorsed by a challenge issued by my principal reader as she read a preceding essay.

I didn’t set out on these memoirs to demonstrate my expertise. No. I am trying to portray how it feels to wander along a meditative path.

Gertrude took exception to my claim that some meditations presented by LeShan were “over my head, beyond my competence and out of my league.” She objected as well to the assertion that I might not quite be worthy of writing these memoirs.

When I meditate at home, I burn no candles—just a Himalayan rock salt lamp. Call me a minimalist!

Please note that Gertrude’s current complaint echoes an earlier objection, which I attempted to address in the epistle called “An Iffy Construction.”. But this one goes even deeper. Gertrude, who is not a meditator, insists that, like or not, I am an expert. I can’t flatly dismiss this claim, given all the energy she put into learning the Healing Sounds of the Shaolin Temple from me (I was not an expert!), or the even greater effort she has put into helping me develop a one-person show called Declamations of a Tai Chi Heretic. She has, in effect, accorded me the status of an expert. It would ill behoove me to idly reject this gift.

All the same, I didn’t set out on these memoirs to demonstrate my expertise. No. I am trying to portray how it feels to wander along a meditative path, perhaps with the hope that a few meditating readers will greet some of my recollections by saying, Aha! This certainly sounds familiar! That would be gratifying. Equally pleasing would be the readers who respond, Funny, but I had an opposite response to that meditation. We’re all entitled to our own private experience. Please let me know about yours!

I will drop my flamboyant declarations, but I must speak to my limitations. In the world of serious meditation, teachers are supposed to be able to recite their pedigrees. They start by naming their own teachers, and then their teachers, and so on. I’ve taken a few workshops in meditation, but that hardly qualifies me to claim these presenters as my teachers. That designation only comes after studying at length with a teacher and absorbing much of the wisdom he or she has to offer. (1) Only in tai chi have I had that exposure. I have had six tai chi teachers. Three of them had studied with Madame Gao Fu, a legendary teacher who lived in Seattle during the 1990s and aughts. I never met her.

I studied with another teacher for several years. He’s an immigrant from Shanghai, and his expertise is evident. But given his difficulties with English, taking down his pedigree was too daunting for me.

So I have every right—call it a responsibility—to be modest about my qualifications. This duty extends even to teachers who possess impressive lineages. Humility—also described as modesty—is a virtue among meditators. Traditional Taoists prescribed three treasures—virtues—to be cultivated by the followers of the Tao—humility, compassion and frugality. (1)

This injunction certainly does not encourage those with slender pedigrees to boast about their lack of credentials. If humility is demanded of all practitioners, it falls with ever greater urgency upon those who have much to be modest about!

To Gertrude I say, point well taken. And in the future, when I feel a need to confess to a lack of seasoning, may I do so with exquisite humility. And now, may I get back to the Meditation of the Bubble. (2)

1. This point is noted in Lao Tsu, by Jane English and Gia-Fu Feng. They are well-known translators of the Tao Te Ching, the seminal book of Taoist values.

2. Gertrude remarks that this epistle is really just a long footnote. If so, this would make this epistle a special instance of digression.


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