“It is wrong, then, to chide the novel for being fascinated by mysterious coincidences… but it is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty.”
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
“Living from the Void” is the title of the chapter in which he interprets the eleventh verse, and inspired me to write this post.
But as I started writing, I realized I had to write two posts.
In this one, I’ll give you some background on how I stumbled into the book, and the uncanny “relationship” I developed with it and the Tao Te Ching itself.
In the next post, which will be the last one of my Year of Nothing series, I’ll talk about the content of the eleventh chapter of the book.
Hater of all things new age
I used to identify with that phrase until not too long ago. I would have never bought Dyer’s book back then.
But then, six months ago I was in New York, half way through my Year of Nothing.
One afternoon I visited Steve Pavlina’s blog to find that he had just published a post entitled The Afternoon of Life, inspired in a new DVD by Wayne Dyer, of the same title.
The post didn’t go into much detail about what the DVD was all about, but Steve’s post hit home for two reasons.
First, during my early teens I read Your Erroneous Zones, Dyer’s self-help classic, and it had a big impact on me, specially a chapter entitled “You Don’t Need their Approval,” on how one should live life without seeking the approval of others.
It was the very first self-help book I read. I got it from my father, who read it despite being the most anti-self-help person I know.
I never read any other book by Dyer after that, in part because his later titles drifted from the commonsensical pragmatism of Your Erroneous Zones towards subjects that seemed to be too newagey for me.
Second, Steve’s post emphasizes the role of synchronicity as a guiding principle in life:
Interesting synchronicities… happen all the time when I stay in the flow of being happy and doing what I can to help people. But when I get too caught up in personal ambition and lose sight of meaning, fulfillment, and purpose, the synchronicities go away. I can tell when I’m back on track because the synchronicities immediately start flowing again. It’s magical how that happens.
Dyer’s movie ended up having a life-changing impact on me. But I didn’t buy it right after reading Steve’s post. I was still too skeptical about “spiritual stuff”.
A year of synchronicity
I have always been curious about the concept of synchronicity. In a way, my incipient faith in it inspired me to go for my Year of Nothing — the experiment was all about going with the flow and allowing myself to be surprised by whatever I discovered along the way. After reading Steve’s post, I started thinking more often about it and opening up to the possibility of experiencing it.
And as Steve says, it really worked like magic. The very best things that happened to me during this year were the result of a series of meaningful coincidences.
Three years before, and completely by chance, I met Jim Borrelli, one of the very few people in the world certified by Chu as a Nei Kung instructor, while taking a short break with my brother in Los Angeles. I wasn’t even thinking of basing myself in New York at the moment.
The only reference I had of Taoism until then was a Spanish translation of the Tao Te Ching I bought eight years ago while living in Barcelona, which I left behind with my best friend and roommate when I moved to Dubai.
Despite my skepticism, I couldn’t help feeling attracted to the book when I saw it. There was something about its ancient, majestic flair that poked my curiosity. So I bought it, skimmed through its pages a couple of times, and left it to accumulate dust in my library.
When I met Jim and started reading about Nei Kung on his web page, I had a flashback of the curiosity I felt for the Tao Te Ching in Barcelona and decided to give it a try.
I got hooked since my very first lesson. I had never felt so good after any other form of physical activity in my life.
During one of my classes with Jim, the subject came up that my next stop after LA was Caracas, Venezuela, where I was going to visit my family. Jim told me that from all the places in the world, there was another Chu-certified instructor in Caracas: Eka Markez, with whom I study to this day every time I go back home for a holiday.
So as soon as I was back in New York, it was natural for me to go look for Master Chu.
Re-encountering the Tao Te Ching
After a couple of weeks in New York, I flew to Buenos Aires to meet up with my best friend, who was coming from Barcelona to visit his Argentine family. I asked him to bring me the copy of the Tao Te Ching. I just felt curious about giving the book a fresh try now that I was practicing Tai Chi Chuan and Nei Kung.
When I got the book and opened it up, I found that that particular Spanish translation of German scholar Richard Wilhelm’s 1923 version, opens with the poem “For a Version of I Ching”, by none other than Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.
I either hadn’t noticed the poem when I bought the book, or had completely forgotten about it. The fact is that getting the book back in Buenos Aires after so many years and suddenly finding Borges in it, felt like an irrefutable sign that I was on to something.
But that initial surprise was nothing compared to the shocking revelation I was about to go through. A couple of pages after the poem by Borges, I found that the book’s prologue had been written by Carl Jung, who was a close friend of Wilhelm’s. It is an essay on the concept of synchronicity. Jung thought of it as essential for understanding the Chinese worldview, and the Tao Te Ching.
The essay stands today on its own as a classic on the subject. A full explanation of synchronicity had arrived to me by the workings of synchronicity itself!
Back to New York, and to Wayne Dyer
A couple of weeks later, I was back in New York in the middle of August’s heat. One afternoon, I’m walking down 5th Ave with another of my very best friends and ex business partner in Dubai. We walk into East West Cafe, which is inside a huge spirituality, holistic health and esoteric philosophy bookstore.
As we walked towards the coffee shop in the second floor, my friend strays and starts browsing the books. I didn’t feel like browsing myself much. Despite my gradual opening towards the concept of synchronicity and the Tao Te Ching, the bookstore still seemed too airy fairy for me. So I kind of stood still there in the middle of the room.
All of a sudden my friend calls me from the opposite side of the aisle. She wanted to show me something. When I got close enough to her, I almost choke out of an attack of hysterical laughter.
She was holding in her hand a DVD by Wayne Dyer entitled “The Shift”, asking me if I knew anything about it. It was the movie that I read about in Steve Pavlina’s blog a few weeks before, but the title had been changed!
I told my friend about my reading of Steve’s post on the movie and my initial reticence towards it. She had absolutely no clue about that, no previous reference of the movie whatsoever. But she picked it out from the thousands of products that could have caught her attention. We quickly agreed we had to by it.
Watching The Shift was, again, a revelatory experience. The movie opens with a scene where Wayne Dyer is writing on a desk. The camera zooms right away on a book besides him written by, Abracadabra, Carl Jung. The phrase “the afternoon of life” is his.
The central theme of the movie is the sudden shift from a life based on ambition to one based on meaning and higher purpose that many people go through.
I felt identified all the way: I was going exactly through that process. The movie also made me understand Dyer’s shift, and how it reflected back into his writing. How and why he went from the pragmatism of Your Erroneous Zones to the spirituality of his later books.
The movie alludes many times to Lao Tzu, legendary author of the Tao Te Ching, as one of Dyer’s spiritual masters.
But it wasn’t until a couple of days ago that I stumbled into Change Your Thoughts — Change Your Life. As you might have come to expect by now, again, this was due to total coincidence, while doing a search for books on Amazon.com on a completely unrelated subject.
And to top it all off, the process of writing this post was itself a good case of how synchronicity keeps knocking at my door.
Telling the Resistor to suck it
Synchronicity is seen by many as an esoteric subject, so at first I felt queasy about people thinking I was crazy after reading it. It was my good-old-anti-new-age reflex kicking in. Almost everyone I discuss synchronicity with reacts positively, or at least with an open mind about it, leading to interesting philosophical discussions. But writing a blog post on the subject, somehow, felt different.
As I pondered these issues in a bout of indecision that was about to make me file the first draft in the “Writings You Better Keep To Yourself” folder, I got this blog post by Communicatrix in my inbox which, surprise surprise, opens with a paragraph on a clear-cut synchronicity that inspired her to write it.
And it’s also about a self-help book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which was deeply revelatory to her. The way she describes the book almost fits perfectly with the way I feel towards Dyer’s book, or for that matter, any book, movie or information resource that enters into mystical territory a bit farther than I’m perfectly comfortable with:
[Way of the Peaceful Warrior] is a a parable of awakening that’s derived from real life… containing mystical elements that may or may not be true. As with the consumption of most myths and parables, that sort of stuff is beside the point: what matters is what the stories in the book do to you as you take them in. Are you intrigued? Do you feel questions bubbling up? Recognition, self- or otherwise? Do you feel tumblers falling into place or a coating of dust being blown away? Do you want to climb in and disappear, or pull the characters out and ask them questions?
…if it is the right book for you, it will ring a bell that cannot be unrung: that reminder that yes, there’s something else and yes, one foot after the other—given some purpose, luck and assistance—will get you there…
After reading Communicatrix’s blog post, I logged into Twitter. I wanted to see if I could find a final bit of anti-writers-block encouragement. And because synchronicity has its ways of working better than Google to find the right information at the right time, I came across this made-in-heaven-for-Alan tweet by Communicatrix herself:
“Before dismissing something as newage-rhymes-with-sewage”, check for the baby in that filthy bathwater.
That was it. My resistance was gone. Or, again, as Communicatrix said it in that very same blog post, “I told the Resistor to suck it, because I knew what I had to write about.”