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Soulful Sundays: Startling Force


Water is the epitome of relaxed power. It does not wait in perseveration to move out of a cup if spilled, nor out of a dam if released. Water is the ultimate opportunist. It merely sits and fills the container that it is in until gravity helps it along its way--instantly. With enough water and enough gravity, the force that is delivered can be immense.


We could all benefit from cultivating more patience in our lives, but there are mortal limits to its effectiveness. This virtue can only work if the timescale is long enough and the immediate stakes are not devastating enough to reap eventual reward. You wouldn't want to be patient in a knife fight, for instance, where a single blow could be fatal. You also wouldn't want to be reckless and get tricked by your attacker either. A middle ground of focused and appropriate action must be found.


Startling force is a concept in Kung Fu that refers to strikes that happen more quickly than the brain can process them, like the reflex to move when you touch something hot. These reflexes can be trained to a degree that starts to resemble the flow of water. Whenever an opportunity arrives, the practitioner moves to fill it without the extra hesitation and tension created by having to think about it. The result is a movement that is quick and powerful yet fluid. No effort is wasted to accomplish the goal.


Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where a rapid and powerful response is the only thing that will actually work. Slow just won't cut it. There will be time for patient analysis later. Right now action, controlled and purposeful action, is the only thing that matters. We can still be relaxed and detached to the outcomes of that action, but startling force is what is currently being called for.


We mustn't fool ourselves into thinking there is long term benefit to suffering unnecessarily, especially when there is an immediate and appropriate response. When the risks of waiting far outweigh those of acting, we must ask ourselves, "Am I more committed to enduring the suffering than I am to doing anything about it?" Water will always flow downhill, no matter how big the drop. Can we do the same?

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