The Scarlet Letter
Volume I, Number 1 | August 1993
An Experience in Not Doing
by Fr. K'A.K.
I took the exam in a different city than the one I lived in, arriving for breakfast the day before the exam. I proceeded directly to the University where the tests were given and simply asked around for a place to stay. I found a Boarding house for the reasonable price of $10. The first clue that something was up was the curtains. I found to my amusement that the boarding house had the same exact curtains as my house. These curtains are white with black swirling psychedelic spirals. A welcome sight needless to say.
My next action was a walk to the Cleveland Museum of Art to see an exhibit "Maya Blood of Kings: A New Interpretation of Mayan Art." I arose at sun-up the next morning, went to the hospital cafeteria for a leisurely meal and proceeded across the street to the test site. The second point in my favor (after the curtains) was the perfectly close proximity of all the locations of my activities.
I had not done much in the way of last minute studying for the exam I was to take. Math being an anathema to me I did devote two or three hours to going over the necessary formulas the evening before.
I had arrived 45 minutes early so as to acclimatize myself. About 500 people were taking this exam today. I took a seat in the front of the auditorium in order to avoid looking at the anxious masses assembled in the cavernous room behind me. After a several minutes of resting on my part we were all asked to leave the room and return, present our identification and then we would be assigned seats. This announcement was followed by an uproar of dismay from the people who had carefully chosen their seats.
I had already realized that anxiety was going to defeat one half of the room and outright fear the other. As everyone scrambled to be "first in line" to present their I.D. another realization hit me. No matter where I was in that line of nervous people, when I got to the Check Point, They would give me whatever seat assignment They wanted.
I stretched out on a table in the lobby and alternately dozed, and smiled inwardly at the folly of those in the line crawling slowly by. I was a little too smug in those days. Two other groups did the same as I—five out of five hundred.
One woman was of particular entertainment. She stood in line with her study guide, reading furiously. She then walked to the trash can and threw it out in a gesture of final resignation. After a few minutes of nail biting in line she rescued the treasured document and returned to the line to cram some more into her head. After five minutes she again discarded the guide only to retrieve it once again. This repetition continued half an hour or so.
When my turn in line came (when all else had gone before me that is to say) I presented my ID and was assigned a seat. The seat, lo and behold, was one row behind and one to the right of my original choice on entering the exam room. This small private triumph bolstered my spirits substantially for the grueling exam. My scores were respectable.
We can examine this event from a few points of view. I had decided before leaving Buffalo to try this sort of non procedure/non preparation in practice. Perhaps the faith or courage of undertaking this test of Not Doing in such an important scenario helped my non efforts in some way. The GRE test is a major factor in admission to professional programs in the US. I studied what I felt I needed to and not much more. I didn't make too big a thing out of it. At very least this approach calmed me in a stressful situation and allowed me to focus my efforts on answering the exam questions.
Not Doing as a process can be described in simple Taoist terms. It involves a yin, open, receiving attitude that can surf the suprises of events. More yang, active Taoist practices such as Chi Kung or Kung Fu which are used to condition the being and prepare it to "go with the flow" can be likened to studying for the exam of every day life. Some preparation is good, but too much can confuse you. Harmonously balancing these two approaches is "going with the flow" or the Tao. This also involves being mindful in each moment. Being in that moment you are currently in and not worrying too much about the next or previous moments.
A third and final perspective in this scenario can be gained by use of the Qabalah and the Tree of Life as a model for the whole of the Universe2. Here we are intersted in the Celestial Triangle made up of the upper three Sephiroth. These spheres—Kether, Chokmah, and Binah—are considered Immortal in that they are what remains of beings after death. When used to illustrate the mind, these same spheres help us to examine the current scenario. The Yechidah (Kether) at the top of the triangle is our link with the Divine, our True Self. Chiah (Chokmah) is the sphere of our True Will. The path from Chiah to Yechidahis one of active practice. Performing a specific ritual action to achieve a result could be placed along this path. Neschamah (Binah) is the sphere of intuition. The path of passive receptivity connects Neschamah to Yechidah. This is the path of Not Doing.
Thus we have two paths towards one goal. An active, yang, controlled, Chiah path could be represented by studying for the exam. This is balanced by a passive, yin, non-controlled, Not Doing, Neschamah path. The woman who kept discarding and retrieving her exam book was too involved in the Chiah path to be calm. Someone too much on the Naschamah path might not study enough to pass the exam. Both Taoism and Qabalah seek to balance these two paths.
In the future, this space will continue to be used for an examination of the symbolism of every day life—including visual media and language. Your comments, addressed to Scarlet Woman Camp, are appreciated.
1. Psychic TV, "Those Who Do Not," Crippled Frog Music. Temple Records/Gramm Records No. 23. Reykjavik, Iceland. 1984.
2. Kraig, Donald Michael. Modern Magick. Llewellym Publications. St. Paul, Minnesota. 1989.