Movement, Balance & The Art of Being Still

5 12 2012

Silas House, in his essay The Art of Being Still, expresses beautifully the delicate equilibrium between movement and stillness.

Writing is a very active pursuit: there is the fluid flow of words, the vivid visualisations, and perhaps some brain rattling to squeeze out those ideas onto the written page.

Mr. House points out one jarring problem, however: “too many writers today are afraid to be still”.

Like me, Mr. House is constantly in motion. But he also knows there can be movement in stillness: “We writers must learn how to become still in our heads, to achieve the sort of stillness that allows our senses to become heightened.”

We must ingest and digest simultaneously, as Eddie from the movie Limitless put it, and as I explained here.

Most tellingly, the Chinese word for movement is 動靜 – dong jing. Dong means movement, jing means stasis and quiet. Put together you have a beautiful word that perfectly exemplifies the equilibrium between the two. Movement and stillness are not polarities – they are in fact forever in balance.

Mr. House gives his essay a roaring finale with these fine words:

I give it to you now and hope that you will take it out into the waiting world, pushing forth through all of your daily work and joys and struggles with a bit of your mind focused on reality and the larger part of it quiet, still, and always thinking like a writer.

Yes, move. But stay still, too. And hang on tight – it’s going to be a hell of a ride!


Watching the Hongkers

20 06 2011

‘Watching the English’ by the anthropologist Katie Fox is an absolutely fascinating read. She basically observes, dissects and analyses each an every aspect of English behaviour in the most amusing ways possible.

Reading through the book, I thought: If I find it so fascinating to read about English behaviour, why don’t I try observing Hongker (that is, Hong Kong-er) behaviour? So here it is – my crude attempt at observing my fellow Hongkers’ behaviour on the train.

Hongkers on the MTR

Photo by t-a-i

There are two types of Hongkers travelling on the MTR (train) at any given time: 1) Those glued to their phones; 2) Those not glued to their phones.

1. Those Glued to Their Phones:
People in this particular demographic group are clinically addicted to their mobile phones. The symptoms for addiction are numerous:

  • tapping/swiping/scratching furiously away on their touchscreens all for the purpose of some game.
  • incessantly swiping their fingers down the touchscreen to renew their live Facebook speed, and chuckling to themselves when they see an amusing picture of their drunk friend.
  • watching some trashy TV show
  • texting
  • talking very, very loudly on the phone about personal issues which no one else could care less about. This symptom may also point to an inability to recognise the fact that: 1) you’re not invisible on the train, and 2) everyone can hear you on the train.

2. Those NOT Glued to Their Phones:
People in this group exhibit more diverse behaviour, which I have summarised as follows:

  • the sleepers: commuters trying very hard to stay awake, but in failing to do so, nod off in the comfort of their hard metallic train seat with their head bobbing madly from left to right, much to the demise of those next to them.
  • the fashion-junkies: mostly females who decide that the train has transformed into their bathrooms and thus justifies their taking out their make-up kit and boldly applying their mascara, eye liners etc.
  • the newspaper-aficionados: mostly middle aged men reading the horse racing guide on Apple Daily
  • the love birds: couples who can’t resist the temptation of cuddling on a jerky train while being squeezed on all sides by sweaty commuters, or who for some reason deliberately choose to publicly and physically display affection.

Of course, this fun little experiment of mine to observe my fellow Hongker commuters is far from complete or fully representative of the Hong Kong population. If you have any other observations to chip in, feel free to do so in the comments section.

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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:


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!