Powerful inaction, conspicuous absence, bountiful void
Nature abhors vacuum, the philosophers said , and so do people, normally.
That which is not there... Vacant, empty, inert...void.
That which is absent, missing, not done, hollow...
Nothing at all! Longing, lack and loss! Warming your hands with moonlight. What use can nothing be? Stuff for the lazy, the faint hearted and the bizarre?
In a land of one colour
this sound of wind 
However it is about the force, the wisdom and the beauty of the empty, the missing and of the undone that I want to muse here.
I will not explain much, I will only interpret and hint. Alluding through a veil is enough, à bon entendeur salut! A glimpse into my secret garden, my secret source of strategy. This is an Upanishad-like subject of intuition, fit for learning respectfully at the feet of the masters, from example and from tales, not from manuals. Do not expect precision of definitions here, this is metaphor and parable about intangibles. As the subject goes against tradition in our culture, in lack of words, I will point my finger to allegories hopefully able to express what I mean; making something from nothing.
The wise knew it for millennia, before the theories of a Big Bang found inconveniently that maybe, the Universe started from nothing: anything may yet be in that which is not.
"There was something formless and perfect before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name, I call it the Tao." *
The strategist, the artist, the sage, have the talent transmute mere emptiness, nothing, into pregnant void.
Beware though, using void and inaction is a master’s tool; stratagem of the sage, this great metaphor is power; in the hands of the apprentice sorcerer all this speculation about not being there and not doing things becomes nonsense, a wellspring of ignorance and laziness or worse, a great danger. Says the Zenrinkushu :
“The water a cow drinks turns to milk;
The water a snake drinks turns to poison” 
With this faint sense of peril I will string pearls of void offered by the great masters of lightness. Some are well known but usually glossed over or disguised under the mantle of common place, seldom heeded and rarely appreciated at their actual value.
Such thoughts may seem disparate and chaotic but, believe me, they are a treasury and a very consistent one, only very different from our culture... I will zigzag amidst them in apparent disorder. Let imagination trickle along!
This page in front of me was empty. Everything was still possible within that uncarved block, imagination could have written anything on it; now as the page is filled with my meagre words very little is left open, except reading it as it is.
Along this road
Goes no one;
Autumn evening 
becomes: This sheep-path
looked so deserted
... one glance ago
Things present, palpable, what we have, actions done, are facts. They determine what we can and must do next and limit us with what we cannot do; yet, the empty space’s potential and its time thus far not used, allow the things present to move and become. The Lao Tzu pictures this with genius:
Thirty spokes form a wheel’s hub
But it’s the empty space within that allows the wheel to turn
We mould a pot of clay
But it’s the hollow space within that we use
We build a house of wood and stone
But we cut windows and doors into it to make use of the empty room within
Therefore, the tangible is what we hold, but we make use of what is not there 
To this Franz Kafka adds his thought about another meaningful emptiness, the potential shrill of silence:
“Now the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence. And though admittedly such a thing has never happened, still it is conceivable that someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence certainly never.”
I too, discovered that sometimes my strongest comment was to keep my mouth shut and my most eloquent answer was when asked what I replied, the persons present had to say: “Nothing. He said nothing.” This nothing is a weighty statement, sometimes a menacing one.
The voice of the cicada
pierces rock. 
Silence. The might of keeping silent. The pressure of silence. I found, despite my temper that one of my irresistible questions - in fact my best - is to cast a spell of silence and not to fill it but let it work, so that other people were compelled to think and to talk in order to fill in the emptiness. This is void that makes people do things.
Moreover, as long as you did not speak you can still change everything. Often, you are glad for having held back a little more before speaking. And did you observe that when you are silent people judge that you know a lot and that you are master of yourself? (Certainly, this also depends on who you are for them.)
Use this test of silence: If you are truly comfortable with someone, you feel at ease to keep silent together, if not, you must fill the silence without cease. Even alone, the proof that you feel well with yourself is that you are at ease without speaking or otherwise making yourself busy.
Did you consider how important pauses, gaps, blanks and intervals, those scattered pieces of nothing can be?
Did you consider planning, timing them and respecting those interrupts as carefully as you devise what you do? Reflect without rush to this “light” anecdote:
Someone asked the virtuoso pianist “Master how do you achieve your divine touch of the keys?” To which he answered “I do not hit the keys better than many other people. My secret is not there. My art is hidden in the way I lift my fingers away from the keys and also in the pauses, when I do not touch them.” 
Leave space for things to happen! Good advice for us Europeans. When you design your better mousetrap and bait it with cheese, leave room for the mouse too, advised Saki .
Maybe what concerns you is excellence; doing things well. Listen then to Tao Master Quang Tzu explaining excellence with a light hand, without wear:
A cook was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. His whole body was engaged in his work, with elegance and lightness, like a dance; the ox seemed to fall apart by itself under his knife. The Lord inquired amazed of such excellence. The butcher put down his knife, straightened his back and answered in essence: “my secret is not in the skill but in the Way... As an apprentice, long ago, I used to see the whole ox and break my knife while hacking it... now my eyes see the cavities, the natural grain, the interstices between joints and ligaments, the way around the bones... there is plenty of room for the knife to pass, I cut with my cleaver where there is nothing to resist and use up my blade, I do not need to sharpen it any more. I advance carefully and the lumps of flesh fall aside from the bone, by themselves..." 
There is doing by not doing.
Let me follow the spiral of negative mastery: in our life, as beginners we must do everything with effort, we pay everything with toil: one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent transpiration, we are told. We need energy and strength.
We run around the big turning wheel of life, always busy; but the Lao Tzu implies – as I read it - that in the centre of the great wheel, the turning slows, you see clear and do more with less, until you do everything with almost nothing; you have a better gear from the hub, and you are better sheltered in times of danger in the eye of the storm.
We had to fill our life with agitation and effort. We also got our heads crammed to the brim with detail and complications; we filled the emptiness of our ignorance and clumsiness with straw and hay.
Only later in life, as I wrote elsewhere, with experience, things grow simple; for some; instead of learning more and more we forget, or ignore, more and more of the useless; instead of doing much we do just the necessary. Then, we can make things simple for other people too. By then we discovered the wu-wei – which I interpret as acting softly, effortlessly, along the grain, as little as possible or not at all - the force of postponing, holding back, waiting without intervening, allowing things to happen without lifting a finger – while many things solve themselves and go as they must, by themselves. The Zenrinkushu gave a hint for those sensitive to hints:
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, grass grows by itself.” 
Many things happen with or without us, many doors we break in prove to be unlocked, even open in fact. Just leave things in peace whenever possible.
Give time to time
An old Chinese proverb says that if you have patience to sit by the riverside you will behold floating downstream all the bodies of your enemies... except if your own body floats by first, I must add; remember therefore, while waiting, that there is no better protection from danger and harm than to be absent where harm happens; when you meet it, pull aside or duck, to let a bad foe rush into the wall or past the brink into the precipice.
It may happen that you have to do something; do intervene, imperceptibly, mostly unnoticed, with a nudge, a nod, an encouraging smile or a risen eyebrow, a casual question, a witty word or a wise story, so that important things happen right.
Even if you cannot wait so long it is still true that it is more intelligent to sail than to row; and it is certainly better to go with the water than to swim against current; to diminish something let it grow, to grow, let it diminish...
Let trouble heal
“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?” asks the Tao Te Ching  .
Balthasar Gracian wrote, saying it all,
that the source is troubled with any little stirring, but you cannot clear it with a stick; only by leaving the mud to settle 
Let things grow
I used to have a place of mine. The custom, as I know it, requires a man to plant a tree to take possession of his land. I did, I planted several but it did not feel to be the real thing. My legitimate tree became a minute oak shoot which was already there, struggling among the weed, a bastard certain to be mowed with them. I did not plant it but I did chose to let it live. Last time I was there, the tall oak tree was prosperous, mature, well higher than the house.
Emptying is essential
You remember the old Zen story so known, that everybody believes to understand it: The old master serves tea to his guest who came to get answers and learn everything from him, quickly if possible. He pours the warm fragrant brew into the cup and goes on, to the brim and beyond, so that the cup overflows. The guest taken aback by such senile clumsiness exclaims: “Enough, Master, the cup is full!" “Indeed it is,” smiles the old man, “your cup is full; into a full cup you cannot add usefully even a drop. You are full of your knowledge. To learn, you must first empty your cup. Speak then! Teach me what you know! I will listen.” 
If you still see here an old joke, think again and understand the need to help people empty their bag and unlearn if they are to acquire something new from you. Unlearning is hard work. Causing it is the highest skill of a teacher.
Examine also deeper this charmingly Socratic thought I learned from R.H. Blyth, an Orientalist who was dedicating one of his scholarly treasuries “to Suzuki Daisetz who taught me all that I don’t know” . See the positive value of bringing about people to find out what they ignore? And to live with it? This is what Socrates did, emptying the cup; he made people aware that they knew little or nothing where they thought they knew it all, so that they grew wiser and able at last to learn, able to confess ignorance.
Emptiness is the best lock
"A room full of gold and jade, nothing can protect"
says the Lao Tzu .
No locks, no alarms or sentry or vault, just beware of having things hoarded. The less you own the less you have to protect. If life is a bridge, travel light! The more you own, the more you hold, the more you are exposed. What you possess, owns you. But what you do not have nobody can take. What? Could we manage better our urge to have things? Use rather than own? Own that which produces for us, not that which costs us? When will I learn?
“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose...” 
Waging war by means of emptiness
Maybe you feel in a different disposition, one of strong manly muscle, competition and warfare. To this, Sun Tzu, the limping master of War, who was carried to his battlefields, offers similar advice about the value of void.
He counsels to attack the enemy where he is not, to strike the gaps, to bypass instead of confronting, to have no form and no plan, to leave no trace, to meet no one (to understand what he means read him long before your battles, in a few good translations).
“To unfailingly take what you attack, attack where there is no defence.” 
Secrets? Strategies to hide from traitors, spies and Big Brothers of the Internet? Sun Tzu, as I remember, advised that the best defence is not to have secrets at all, meaning not to formulate them, so that they are impossible to steal. I learned from this idea not to rush showing plans and goals that bind, and not to put rules in writing until I must**. In some occasions I had the experience that it is a survival strategy to avoid even thinking about a dangerous subject when you are watched.
In a desperate position of weakness, conflict can be conducted by wielding void.
“The 36 Stratagems”, a Chinese Machiavelli, describe this amazing ruse based on paradox and seeding of doubt.
Stratagem 32, the Stratagem of the Deserted Citadel notes:
ploy for bad times,
ruse of ruses.” 
Those strategists of old managed to intimidate an adversary vastly superior in numbers by presenting deserted ramparts, city-gates wide open on still, vacant squares. The silence was such that the enemies grew wary of some horrible trap and preferred to leave. The 36 Ji describes the four amazing bluffs of the thirty second strategy:
- " Where there is a void, suggest an illusion of fullness, so that the adversary does not dare to attack
- Where there is full strength, give an illusion of void, to lure the foe into your trap
- Where there is a void, show openly the void, so that the enemy suspects fullness
- Where there is fullness, show it openly, to make the other side think that it is in fact a void" 
Do you remember the Æsopic fable? The fox, who took refuge deep in his dark lair, cornered by the hunters and poked at with a long pole, was screaming every time he was not hit by the stick and kept mum when he was struck. Do not show your sore finger!
The pinnacle of conflict is to defeat an enemy without combat.
“supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting” 
“...the skilful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field...” 
“What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.
13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes.
12. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.” 
Did you ever consider that the really great victories of the past may have been won by anonymous geniuses able to diffuse danger before it arose and to make enemies fall without battle? People who treated great evil when it was still minute and hardly perceptible?
History does not remember those great rulers who avoided war and catastrophe early, before they grew grave enough to be perceived by the public. Good news are no news.
"As for him who is highest,
The people just know he is there.
But once his project is contrived,
The folk will want to say of it:
"Of course! We did it by ourselves!" "
They, the wise, the noble giants of History, remain anonymous, while we celebrate and admire the bloody, clumsy, inept warriors and high-placed nobodies who allowed bloodshed and collapse to happen or even provoked it.
© 2011, 2012 Ioan Tenner & Daniel Tenner
 nature abhors a vacuum, or horror vacui, is a postulate, stated in circa 485 BC by Parmenides that a void or rather a vacuum, in nature, cannot exist. cf 1. Thims, Libb. (2007). Human Chemistry (Volume One pp. 46-47). Morrisville, NC.
 Matsuo Basho, 1644 - 1694 Winter solitude
* Tao Te Ching, 25, tr. Mitchell S.
 Zenrinkushu [in Blyth, R.H., Haiku, Vol 1 of Eastern Culture, Hokuseido, Tokyo, 1981 p.28]
 Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, chapter 11 free rendering]
 Matsuo Basho, 1644 - 1694 tr. RH Blyth
 Franz Kafka, The Silence of the Sirens in Kafka Franz, The Metamorphosis and Other Stories - The Great Short Works of Franz Kafka, A New Translation by Joachim Neugroschel, 1993
 After Basho, tr. Blyth [in Blyth, R.H., Haiku, Vol. 1 of Eastern Culture, Hokuseido, Tokyo, 1981, p. 9
 The exact quote is: “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes--ah, that is where the art resides!”Arthur Schnabel in Chicago Daily News, June 11 1958
 "In baiting a mousetrap with cheese always leave room for the mouse." Saki (Hector Hugh Munro), The Infernal parliament, The Square Egg and Other Sketches, 1924
 After Mair, V. H., Wandering on the Way, Early Taoist tales and Parables of Quang Tzu, Bantham Books, N.Y., 1994, pp 26-27
 Blyth, R.H., Haiku Vol. I Eastern Culture, Hokuseido, Tokyo, 1949, 1981, p. 31
 Tao Te Ching chapter 15 tr. Stephen Mitchell
 "A fountain gets muddy with but little stirring up, and does not get clear by our meddling with it but by our leaving it alone. The best remedy for disturbances is to let them run their course, for so they quiet down." Balthasar Gracian, THE ART OF WORLDLY WISDOM, tr. Joseph Jacobs, Macmillan, London, 1904, p 80
 After Senzaki. The exact quote is: “Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup? " Senzaki N., and Reps, P., 101 Zen Stories in Reps Paul, Zen Flesh Zen Bones, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1986, p. 17
 Blyth, R.H., Zen and Zen Classics, vol. I, Hokuseido, Tokyo, 1960
 Tao Te Ching, chapter 9 tr. Stephen Mitchell
 "Me and Bobby McGee”, Janis Joplin/ lyrics Kris Kristofferson
 Sun Tzu, The Art of War, tr. Thomas Cleary, Shambala, Boston.., 1988, p103
** But I have met morons who would oblige me to freeze communication strategy - that living, forever changing movement of agency - in documents to be published and "executed" by the employees. Sad...
 Kircher François (tr. et commentaire), Les 36 Stratagèmes, J. C. Lattès, 1991, p. 211.
 Kircher François (tr. et commentaire), Les 36 Stratagèmes, JCLattès, 1991, p. 214.
 Sun Tzu The Art of War, Tr. Giles, Barnes and Noble Classics, New York, 2003, III, 2
 Sun Tzu The Art of War, Tr. Giles, Barnes and Noble Classics, New York, 2003, III, 6
 Sun Tzu The Art of War, Tr. Giles, Barnes and Noble Classics, New York, 2003, IV, 11, 12, 13
 Tao Te Ching, chapter 17, tr R. B. Blakney