Movement and Stillness: a balance

10 06 2011

Are movement and stillness mutually exclusive, or are they compatible with one another?

A delicate balance between movement and stillness seems to pervade in Chinese culture. There are quite a few sayings and idioms in Chinese that place the words movement (動, dòng) and stillness (静, jìng) together. In fact, the word for movement in Chinese is 動静 – if you break down the phrase and take each character at face value, then movement is quite literally “movement-stillness”. Does this imply that the Chinese perception of movement inherently also includes stillness as a counter balance?

I came across a quotation from the  Tao Te Ching (a classic Chinese text by the sage Laozi) earlier this morning:

”  躁勝寒,靜勝熱, 清靜為天下正。”

Translation: Movement overcomes cold. Stillness overcomes heat. Peace and quiet govern the world.

So what’s Laozi getting to here? He’s highlighting the importance of balance: movement raises the temperature, and stillness decreases it. To reach an equilibrium, then, there needs to be movement and stillness until the ‘temperature’, so to speak, is just right.

Looks like the chicken needs a good dose of Tao De Ching!

Here’s another quotation:

静若处子,动若脱兔

Translation: This idiom alludes to an army. Before the army makes a move, it is as quiet as a young lady who is yet to be married (presumably a virgin). Once the army does move, it will be as quick and nimble as a rabbit escaping from its predator.

The idiom doesn’t explicitly talk about balance, but I find it interesting that both “stillness” and “movement” are used together.

So what of this balance? I agree that there needs to be a balance – after all, it isn’t exactly realistic to expect someone to keep moving perpetually, or to keep still forever. And yet the world itself is continually moving, developing and changing – so how are we supposed to find ‘stillness’?  For me, I find stillness in movement. But more on this next time.

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Comments are most welcome!