Looking Deeper - Common Threads

Some thoughts on how philosophy and practice can arise from the same fabric.

How we are in the Universe includes two seemingly opposite concepts

Over the years, I have noticed something delightful in the practice of my crafts. Whether web development, martial or healing arts, I realized I was using less effort and <gasp!> more intuition. In the beginning, I had to examine all the check points, all the things I learned in school. Then, more and more, I saw things less as individual parts that must be examined individually, and more as a whole pattern which I could view like a work of art. I saw things from a different, larger point of view. From what I have heard from others, this seems to be the definition of mastery - knowledge or skill in a subject gained from experience. By the way, this is also the definition of the Chinese phrase, 氣功 (Qi Gong). It means skill gained over time with lots of practice!

Now that I am officially older (ie. receiving mail from AARP...), I see that all three of these fields I enjoy have quite a bit in common. Each has theories and concepts upon which the practice of the craft is based, and each has some folk lore associated with it. Below I've outlined briefly some of my observations. Note: I added a link for each quote's citing - not all of them go anywhere yet. Still updating the site! I know the source for some of these quotes while some I just found on the web and loved right away. In any case, I present them to you as is. Let me know if I've given an inaccurate citing.

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The field of programming has many theories, such as language and information theories, logic models, and so on. There are many schools of thought on which programming languages and constructs - which tools - are best for which tasks: PHP, JavaScript, Java, Perl, Python, Ruby, C, and so on and so forth. There are also overall principles, such as keep your code clean, and also principles about patterns of design which we can follow to avoid the pitfalls experienced by those who came before us.

Programming, like martial and healing arts (see below), has pithy quotes and wise sayings:

Cleverness
"Everyone knows that debugging is twice as hard as writing a program in the first place. So if you're as clever as you can be when you write it, how will you ever debug it?" - Brian W. Kernighan
"Complexity kills. It sucks the life out of developers, it makes products difficult to plan, build and test, it introduces security challenges, and it causes end-user and administrator frustration." - Ray Ozzie
Going with the Flow
"Walking on water and developing software from a specification are easy if both are frozen." - Edward Berard
Viewing as Whole Patterns
"Progress is possible only if we train ourselves to think about programs without thinking of them as pieces of executable code." - Edsger W. Dijkstra
Creative Process
"First, solve the problem. Then, write the code." - John Johnson
"If you cannot grok the overall structure of a program while taking a shower, e.g., with no external memory aids, you are not ready to code it." - Richard Pattis
"Without requirements or design, programming is the art of adding bugs to an empty text file." - Louis Srygley
Technique Evolves into Art
"I hate programming, I hate programming, I hate programming. It works! I love programming!" - An image on tumblr

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The field of martial arts, whether one is a teacher or continues as a student, has many schools of thought and principles to follow. There are different styles of martial arts, such as Karate, Aikido, Wing Chun or Taiji Chuan. Each of these styles has something to say about their view of how things should get done. Very much like fractal patterns, even within a specific style there are numerous other schools of thought leading to variations on that style, and even one style where we should forget about style and find our own way of doing things.

These principles and theories have been organized by most styles into choreographed movements. The movements are actually ideas or principles strung together in a series of movements to make them easier to remember (and to aid in teaching). Further, once a student knows the movements, they can begin forgetting them, and then begin the real learning, that of examining the physics and qualities, or spirit, of the movements. How do these work? Why must the elbows be in this position, and how does turning my waist and using my legs transfer power to the hands? Eventually, even these details fade and what is left is a joy of the practice itself.

Martial arts definitely has sayings, and if right now you're not having at least one flash back of Yoda saying something wise to Luke, then you likely aren't a martial artist techno geek like me. ;]

Future Image of Yoda, Master Jedi

Cleverness
"...The more weapons the ruler has,
The more disorderly the state becomes.
The more cunning the ruler uses,
The more untoward things happen...." - Laozi, chapter 57
Going with the Flow
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves...." - Bruce Lee
Viewing as Whole Patterns
“Preoccupied with a single leaf you won't see the tree.” - Vagabond
"Although the changes are infinite, the principles remain the same." - Wang Tusng-yueh, trans by Douglas Wile in T'ai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions, p117.
Creative Process
There is a Zen saying that describes the stages of a path or process: “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is a mountain” - citing goes here
Technique Evolves into Art
"In Japan, a number of time-honored everyday activities (such as making tea, arranging flowers, and writing) have traditionally been deeply examined by their proponents. Students study how to make tea, perform martial arts, or write with a brush in the most skillful way possible to express themselves with maximum efficiency and minimum strain. Through this efficient, adroit, and creative performance, they arrive at art. But if they continue to delve even more deeply into their art, they discover principles that are truly universal, principles relating to life itself. Then, the art of brush writing becomes shodo—the “Way of the brush”—while the art of arranging flowers is elevated to the status of kado—the “Way of flowers.” Through these Ways or Do forms, the Japanese have sought to realize the Way of living itself. They have approached the universal through the particular." - H.E. Davey, Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation

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The field of healing arts is also filled with styles, principles and theories, teaching methods and overall concepts which previous masters organized into methods. Principles and theories include: Eight Principles, Three Divisions, Yin Yang Theory, Meridian Theory, Doshas, Chakras, Energy Fields, Structural Integrity and Patterning theories, and so on and so much more. And there are numerous schools teaching Ayurvedic medicine, Traditional Chinese medicine, Japanese medicine, Tibetan medicine, Native American healing, Clairvoyant healing, Massage and Bodywork healing methods, and infinitely more. Each of these styles has its own way it describes the world and what healing is all about. They each have practical methods, and principles upon which these methods are based, and yet... they all have common thread weaved around what they see as universal principles.

And of course, the field of healing arts has its sayings, as well:

Cleverness
"Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself." - 13th century Persian poet and mystic Jalal ad-Din Rumi
Going with the Flow
"Circulating your internal energy is just like guiding a thread through the nine-channeled pearl. Then nothing can block the circulation." - Master Wu Yu-hsian, trans. by Waysun Liao in T'ai Chi Classics, p114
Viewing as Whole Patterns
Form and function are a unity, two sides of one coin. In order to enhance function, appropriate form must exist or be created." - Ida Rolf
Creative Process
"The living image that results from the art process is the true teacher, leading the way towards greater personal understanding." - x
Technique Evolves into Art
"I think artists can go to a level of vision that can often save us from a situation which seems to have no solution whatsoever." - Susan Griffin

The alternative to studying these larger concepts and deeper theories is to forever be piecing together our efforts, whether in coding, learning new martial techniques or in chasing patient symptoms. For all our good intentions, hard work and forced attention, we end up working hard to fix problems down the road that we ourselves created in the beginning. We learn that hurrying to "get stuff done" ends up destroying not only our project but the whole company. In the IT realm, there are many examples of companies who pumped out spaghetti code (ie. messy, unmanageable work) or just threw more money at things to get stuff done by force, and are now no more. There are also many martial artists who have injured themselves or others by muscling through the techniques, and many healers who burn themselves out trying hard to heal people instead of assisting them to find their own way.

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Principles are a kind structure reigning us in from hurting ourselves. They act like a hug to keep us from making the same mistakes other humans have already made. If we fight against all structure, it is like a child with internal conflict pulling away from a kind parent's hug. They interpret the kindness as control. When we understand the wisdom behind the practices, rather than following them literally and blindly, a whole new world of possibility emerges right beneath our feet. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.