Structure and Song

Now that we have a handle on some of the basic elements of ancient Chinese philosophy, let’s start to widen our scope to elements of the everyday world. We’ll begin by looking at a concept in weaving: warp and woof. The expression is often used as a metaphor for the underlying structure on which something is built or started.  The warp and woof entangle, forming a web.  The warp is the row of vertical strings on a loom that weavers weave first.  These are the original framework fibers. Simply put, the warp is the structure.  “Warp” in Chinese is written “Ching” as in the “I Ching” or the “Tao Te Ching”. Warp is what you tie all other parts to. Which brings us to woof.  The woof makes it all sing.  They are the notes between the bars. The woof holds all the magic and chaos as it weaves and swerves through the warp.

The Necessity of Framework

However, we still need to remember the significance of structure. The important first step of framework (warp) cannot be stressed here enough. Think about the bass line in a piece of music. That bass line usually carries the song. It is what the rest of the players start from and return to. The bass line is the pulse of the song. Same goes for the warp. It is the pulse of things. It sets a beat. With a steady rhythm, we can start riffing on and exploring and creating harmonies and expressing who we are. Without the warp? Just a lot of lovely noise. Constant aimless noise with no end and no frame. Without the woof the warp would just be rules, rules, rules. Things would get boring real, real fast. The two work together in an exquisite existential harmony. Providing exactly what the other cannot even imagine.

Difficult Beginnings

We’re going to shift gears here and start to relate these ideas to recovery. Starting a new life in recovery is not easy. Where do we begin? The desire to not drink is certainly not enough. We cannot start fresh in a life with a goal of “not” doing something. We want to DO things. Not not do things. Doesn’t even sound right. But what do we do? What happens first? Beginnings are rocky. The Chinese have a word we do not have. It’s called “chun.” Chun means “difficulties in the beginning.” Make special note to the fact that “difficulties” has an “s” at the end. There is not just one difficulty lurking ominously for the beginner, but many. However, by setting principles first, like the warp, we can weave the life we wish.

A Tiny Green Sprout

However, due to the ideogrammatic nature of the Chinese language, chun has a few secret meanings too. Chun is the image of a tiny green sprout popping up from the ground. This sprout, that was a seed just a few days ago, had to undergo the daunting task of being born and then racing toward the sun and simultaneously grow roots to attach itself down and get water and also dodge any obstructions that may be in their way as they push upward. But the sprout won’t know about the obstacle part until he gets there and that’s just way the cookie crumbles. All that effort to get born could be all for nothing. Blam, obstacle. However, chun is not deterred by these obstacles. Chun just grows slowly and keeps moving around, over, or through the obstacle. One way or another. This is an old word with lots of secrets.

Principles and Goals

Now it’s time to tie it all together. At the beginning of things, basic principles (warp) come before specific goals (woof). We cannot head off in a direction before we establish our principles for heading off in the first place. Our principles are what we believe and practice. Once we have established our principles then we discuss goals and plans. So, the beginning is about setting up what we practice. Who we are. Which is never easy. Then goals. Then freedom. Otherwise, we put the woof before the warp and we all know what happens then.

“Beginnings are sudden, but also insidious. They creep up on you sideways, they keep to the shadows, they lurk unrecognized. Then, later, they spring.”

― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin