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3. Retreat

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

You will find me in a small stone hut; the hut is positioned below a standing stone, perfectly balanced above a moor. The hut was built by a stonemason about two-and-a-half centuries ago; he moved his family here, and carved strange symbols on each stone. The hut is crude; it is made from slabs, as if the menhirs of Stonehenge had been piled up to form a dwelling. It is so quiet here that, as I squat on a stone and watch the doorway, I can hear an aircraft high in the blue. She is heading for America. I can feel the vibrations from the aircraft in my body. This is the world in which you live; your body has been determined by a thousand invisible waves breaking on your skin—each wave disputes with your cells, a change at the abyssal level.

The world is in love with action; but the feminine principle overcomes without movement, so it is with the man in retreat. The image is a stone column sinking into a bog; the strongest stone cannot escape engulfment. The hermit just sits there and does nothing: this is his great achievement, few men can truly do nothing; it takes great discipline to do nothing, really nothing.

After the Cultural Revolution, a Taoist sage arrived back in his village; his remaining initiates greeted him with booze and waving flags. They asked him many questions, wondering if, perhaps, he had been imprisoned in a camp or tortured in a basement cell. The sage shook his head. “I simply went for a long walk on the high Tibetan Plateau,” he said. This is the rebuke to the man of constant action; his action is not real action: he has only learned how to muddy the waters, he does not have the patience to let everything sit still. Those who rebuke and struggle with the enemy become the enemy; the principle is simple and stupid: today we would say it is retarded. It is so, but it is also true that eternity belongs to the retarded child. The sage sought no contact with the revolutionaries and soon, as always happens, the revolution was forgotten; the revolution was forgotten, but the Tao remained.

In the coming times, when we make our retreat to the stars, we will learn how to truly do nothing. You should have no doubt that, as we precess across the zodiacs of strange planets, we will be doing nothing, really nothing. This is not laziness; the lazy are busy in their own way, and many men work very hard to be lazy. You have all known tramps like this; it is the harder path to lie in the street all day as a drunk, quite despised by the world. Yet this is what such men do.

The West’s fascination with action will be dissolved in space; as we move in an interstellar convoy it will be difficult to tell if we are moving, only our position relative to the patient stars will give us away. Cosmic discipline will teach us what it means to do. So far we have done nothing; we have made noise, made some mess: the cosmos is indifferent and infinitely tolerant. The image is the black viper; the snake knows how to act without action. She coils in the stone hermitage, nursing the venom that kills and heals. Our ships, long as Manhattan, will be cosmic vipers; we will be the venom: other planets will learn that we can kill and heal. This is a prophecy, not an entertainment: I have seen the ships, I have touched those men; they are venom in a metal tooth, and your children will know them.

The sage watches the sky, between twin moons lightning falls; it falls from men like lightning, a rain of energy on these dry shores. In the stone hut he lights a candle and stirs the porridge; he has no rebuke for the sky giants, and thunders with stillness.


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