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Lions Roar : November 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2008 70 Why would someone like Nancy, with no particular interest in going to battle (quite the contrary), consult a text like the Art of War by Sun Tzu? What could it offer her? Like Nancy, we faced many challenges in trying to accomplish important goals we had built our lives around. We had become frustrated with the available options to working with the resis- tance and conflict that inevitably arose, and that frustration led us to the Art of War. This text (which we learned to call “the Sun Tzu” in keeping with longstanding tradition) came to our atten- tion more than thirty years ago. As we examined the Sun Tzu, we found a source of wisdom about dealing with difficult situa- tions that went beyond anything we had encountered. The text spoke of battle and the enemy, which seemed foreign yet oddly appropriate. We knew the “enemy” was not always an intractable bad person, but often just other people—even family and friends at times—who didn’t agree with us and didn’t want to go along with our proposed courses of actions. The Art of War offers a rich, interconnected group of strategies and tactics that focus on how to take more effective action and accomplish our goals when things get really tough. In this es- say, we’ll explore one of the most prominent of these strategies, called “forming and transforming.” Forming and transforming is not merely a military strategy or an ancient, mystical practice, but rather a way of being in the world. It is one of the ways the Art of War teaches us to work more deftly with the underlying energies in the campaigns we find ourselves in as we go about our daily lives—at home, at work, and in our communities. Bringing it into our lives requires only a slight adjustment in how we approach things. The first step in learning forming and transforming is to under- stand the Sun Tzu’s view of the world, which is, interestingly, quite similar to the view emerging in our own time. Simply put, the Sun Tzu views the world as an interconnected whole. Nothing—no person, no situation, no problem—exists in isolation. We can fo- cus on and work with discrete parts of that whole, which is in fact what the text teaches us to do, but that is only effective when we realize that all parts are interconnected and form a whole. THE HEART OF THE SUN TZU The central teaching of the Art of War is called shih (pronounced “shir,” with almost no vowel sound). It concerns how to act dynami- cally and effectively within the interconnected world we’re part of. If the text sees the world as an interconnected web, shih describes how energy flows within certain patterns in that web—how it moves, gathers, focuses, and releases in any system or situation, natural or human-made. The text teaches us how to work with shih in order to see, capitalize on, and even effect the buildup and release of energy, to help us bring about a favorable result. Shih is not a mystical force. To use a natural-world analogy, it is like a system of mountain rivulets, creeks, streams, and waterfalls that come together to form a large and powerful river. In human terms, it can be seen in the dynamic within any squad, team, or unit in a company, where all the roles, responsibilities, tendencies, and aspirations of the individuals come together to create powerful mo- ments of harmonious cooperation, rancorous conflict, and every- thing in between. Working with shih can be as simple as sensing when to break an awkward silence with a humorous comment, or as complex as observing when the entire direction of one’s market- place or community is about to shift and knowing how to exploit that shifting energy. When we fixate on obstacles only as impedi- ments to getting what we want, our severely limited perspective prevents us from using the energy available in the situation. Work- ing with shih teaches us to let energy function by itself rather than trying to manufacture a solution to deal with what we perceive as obstacles. If someone is angry, for example, we could rely on reactive approaches—perhaps trying to vanquish or ignore their rage—or we could notice how its inherent power might be redirected. The Art of War gives us rich images and analogies to teach us about the power of shih, such as “the rush of water, to the point of tossing rocks about” or “rolling round rocks from a mile-high mountain.” In this way, the Art of War encourages us to observe closely how power and energy collects, builds momentum, and is released in a moment. It asks us to pay fine attention to the terrain we find ourselves operating in and how others will operate in that terrain. It asks us, then, to transcend a limited vantage point and operate from the largest perspective we can find. Within this profound teaching on how to work with reality at such a deep level, the text presents forming and transforming as one of the most prominent strategic skills, a powerful means for work- ing with the energy of shih. These two are a vital pair of strategic practices, and each is a powerful practice in and of itself. Forming is the shape we give to ourselves and our world. Transforming is the way that shape changes in relation to the conditions in the world, and most particularly in relation to our objective and the obstacles that might lie in our path. Simply put, when we remember that ev- erything is interconnected, we realize that how we are and how we act affects everything around us. FORMING The Art of War makes clear that we start the process of forming and transforming by creating victorious conditions first in our- selves. It asks us to recognize that how we conduct ourselves and interact with others communicates an enormous amount to the world around us. Just by walking around, we change the world. The text presents knowing oneself as the first step, which leads us to emphasize the importance of character, or one’s way of being. Another view of one’s own form, of one’s “character,” is conveyed JAMES GIMIAN and BARRY BOYCE are authors of The Rules of Vic- tory: How to Transform Chaos and Conflict—Strategies from the Art of War. They present talks and programs based on this work, which is described at www. rulesofvictory.com . Gimian is the publisher of the Shambhala Sun and Boyce is senior editor of the magazine. NOV 68-73.indd 70 NOV 68-73.indd 70 9/1/08 12:23:16 PM 9/1/08 12:23:16 PM