Fables from the Fishmonger’s Apprentice III: Meteors, Cave-men, & the Three Phases of Embodiment

The sea provideth bounty for all who know how to reap it. But the said “know-how” does not arrive instantaneously. It ripens, rather, through several graduated stages. To step out of the maritime conceit of this series and speak literally: integration, ease, & grace in the body arise as the eventual result of sustained application.

I

The said process often begins in the intellect. We arrive at a conceptual recognition of given aspect of ourselves and determine it a fitting, proper, & worthwhile resolution to change it. We employ the service of our conscious minds to establish a given purpose.

Imagine I stomp about like a club-wielding cave-man, leaving a trail of craters in the sidewalk on my route to work, like evidence of a diurnal meteor-shower that follows as faithfully as my own shadow. Not only would it threaten the serenity of the neighborhood, but furthermore my poor physical frame would be at least as abused as my adjacents’ eardrums.

Suppose I recognise this: out of such recognition precipitates & solidifies a resolution within my conscious mind to change it. I understand the benefits of leaving lighter footfalls. Thus, my rational mind has evaluated the situation & provided me with some direction for progress withal.

II

After providing me with recognition, understanding, & intention, my intellect has served its purpose. If I am to continue with the process, I need practical “know-how.” The rational mind has nothing to offer in this regard. I must progress therefore from a conceptual approach to an experiential one. It is one thing to recognise & wish to rectify some affliction (e.g. heavy footfalls)—it is another thing entirely to actually do it. The crucial distinction is this: the former transpires as a figment in the mind, the latter experience actually happens.

“The map is not the territory.”

Korzybski’s famous dictum, poignantly presses this point. It is the difference between the symbol & the symbolised, the menu & the steaming enchilada, the pointing finger & the soft expression on Phoebe’s silver face at five minutes after midnight. Perhaps I wish to stop stomping: the only way I can accomplish this is if I know how it feels to walk with dignity. I must learn to recognise the embodied experience itself. To come to my senses, I must lose my mind.

III

A fellow with some facility with language might verbally delineate the work of a fisherman. His pen might prate of nets, of vessels, & of waves. He might even fill a whole library with manuals & histories about it. But if another wished to truly learn the practice, mere theory will always fall short. Rather, an aspiring fisher would need to undertake the practice directly, physically, in her own body. Imagine a surgeon reassuring you that he had read every book ever written about appendectomies: would that relieve your anxiety if he had never performed one?

I have demonstrated a progression of change, beginning in the intellect as concept & materialising in the physical world as know-how. Thus ripen the fruits of our apprehension; first obliquely kissed by the nebulous glimmers of abstraction, then bathed in the full summer of lived experience. In precisely this manner, the process culminates: these figurative fruits reach full maturity. The process unfolds as a course of nature. From a certain perspective, it requires no further agency on our part after this point. We simply practice the relevant skill until it becomes a part of ourselves, no longer a discreet object or task in our experience. If the grace in my gait depends upon my remembering, I’ll only walk pretty on the rare occasion that I think someone is watching. Likewise if the fishmonger forgets his art at any time a random thought invades his mind, most of his fillets will be rough-hewn & ungainly, and likely won’t make display at the market. The third prong of this progression of “know-how” is therefore “no-how.” Do nothing but practice, be patient & sustain a faith in the course of Nature:
Concepts divorce us from the world.
Over-thinking murders action in his sleep.
The sound of the rain needs no explanation.
Walk. Stand. Don’t wobble.
Here’s a gross recapitulation of the phases of embodiment as I conceive of ’em:
(I) intellectual understanding,
(II) experiential “know-how”,
(III) “no-how:”
The states mature to traits & action waxeth true & natural.

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