Bisy Backson (Chapter from the Tao of Pooh)

The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff

(Note: I transcribed this straight from the book but all spelling errors should be considered my own. You can find a full PDF here and an audio-book here. I have no idea how to reach the author to obtain permission for reprinting his work but my hope is that he’d appreciate the spirit in which I’m doing it.)

Bisy Backson

Rabbit hurried on by the edge of the Hundred Acre Wood, feeling more important every minute, and soon he came to the tree where Christopher Robin lived. He knocked at the door, and he called out once or twice, an then he walked back a little way and put his paw up to keep the sun out, and called to the top of the tree, and then he turned all round and shouted “Hallo!” and “I say!” “It’s Rabbit!” — but nothing happened.

Then he stopped and listened, and everything stopped and listened with him, and the Forest was very lone and still and peaceful in the sunshine, until suddenly a hundred miles above him a lark began to sing.

“Bother!” said Rabbit. “He’s gone out.”

He went back to the green front door, just to make sure, and he was turning away, feeling that his morning had got all spoilt, when he saw a pieces of paper on the ground. And there was a pin in it, as if it had fallen off the door.

“Ha!” said Rabbit, feeling quite happy again, “Another notice!”

This is what it said:

GON OUT
BACKSON
BISY
BACKSON
C.R.

Rabbit didn’t know what a Backson was—in spite of the fact that he is one—so he went to ask Owl. Owl didn’t know, either. But we think we know, and we think a lot of other people do, too.

Chaung-tse described one quite accurately:

There was a man who disliked seeing his footprints and his shadow.

He decided to escape from them, and began to run. But as he ran along, more footprints appeared, while his shadow easily kept up with him. Thinking he was going too slowly, he ran faster and faster without stopping, until he finally collapsed from exhaustion and died.

If he had stood still, there would have been no footprints.

If he had rested in the shade, his shadow would have disappeared.

You see them almost everywhere you go, it seems. On practically any sunny sort of day, you can see the Backsons stampeding through the park, making all kinds of loud Breathing Noises. Perhaps you are enjoying a picnic on the grass when you suddenly look up to find that one or two of them just ran over your lunch.

Generally, though, you are safe around trees and grass, as Backsons tend to avoid them. They prefer instead to struggle along on asphalt and concrete, in imitation of the short-lived transportation machines for which those hard surfaces were designed. Inhaling poisonous exhaust fumes from the vehicles that swerve to avoid hitting them, the Backsons blabber away to each other about how much better they feel now that they have gotten Outdoors. Natural living, they call it.

The Bisy Backson is almost desperately active.

If you ask him what his Life Interests are, he will give you a list of Physical Activities, such as:

“Skydiving, tennis, jogging, racquet-ball,skiing, swimming, and water-skiing.”

“Is that all”?

“Well, I (gasp, pant, wheeze) think so,” says Backson.

“Have you ever tried chasing cars?”

“No, I–, I never have.”

“How about wrestling alligators?”

“No, I always wanted to, though.”

“Roller-skating down a flight of stairs?”

“No, I never thought of it.”

“But you said you were active.”

At this point, the Backson replies, thoughtfully, “Say—do you think there’s something…wrong with me? Maybe I’m losing my energy.”

 

After a while, maybe.

The Athletic sort of Backson—one of the many common varieties–is concerned with physical fitness, he says. But for some reason, he sees it as something that has to be pounded in from the outside, rather than built up from the inside.

Therefore, he confuses exercise with work.

He works when he works, works when he exercises, and, more often than not, works when he plays. Work, work, work. All work and no play make Backson a dull boy. Kept up for long enough it makes him dead, too.

Well—here’s Rabbit, “Hello, Rabbit. What’s new?”

“I just got back from Owl’s,” said Rabbit, slightly out of breath.

“Oh? You were certainly gone a long time.”

“Yes, well…Owl insisted on telling me a story about his Great-Uncle Philbert.”

“Oh, that’s why.”

“But anyway—Owl said that he hasn’t seen the Uncarved Block, either, but that Roo is probably playing with it. So I stopped off at Kanga’s house, but no one was there.”

“They’re out in the Forest, practicing jumps with Tigger,” I said.

“Oh. Well, I’d better be going, then.”

“That’s all right, Rabbit, because—-”

 

Where’d he go?

That’s how it is, you know—no rest for the Backson.

Let’s put it this way: if you want to be healthy, relaxed, and contended, just watch what a Bisy Backson does and then do the opposite. There’s one now, pacing back and forth, jingling the loose coins in his pocket, nervously glancing at his watch. He makes you feel tried just looked at him. The chronic Backson always seems to have to be going somewhere, at least on a superficial, physical level.

He doesn’t go out for a walk, though; he doesn’t have time.

“Not conversing,” said Eeyore. “Not first one and then the other. You said ‘Hallo’ and Flashed Past. I saw your tail in the distance as I was meditating my reply. I had thought of saying “What?”—but, of course, it was then too late.”

“Well, I was in a hurry.”

“No Give and Take.” Eeyore went on. No Exchange of Thought; HalloWhat‘—-I mean,it gets you nowhere, particularly if the other person’s tail is only just in sight for the second half of the conversation.”

The Bisy Backson is always On The Run, it seems, always:

 

GONE OUT
BACK SOON
BUSY
BACK SOON

or, more accurately:

BACK OUT
GONE SOON
BUSY
GONE SOON

The Bisy Backson is always going somewhere, somewhere he hasn’t been. Anywhere but where he is.

“That’s just it,” said Rabbit, “Where?”

“Perhaps he’s looking for something.”

“What?” asked Rabbit.

“That’s just what I was going to say,” said Pooh.

And then he added, “Perhaps he’s looking for a—for a—”

 

For a Reward, perhaps.

Our Bisy Backson religions, sciences, and business ethics have tried their hardest to convince us that there is a Great Reward waiting for us somewhere, and that what we have to do is spend our lives working like lunatics to catch up with it. Whether it’s up in the sky, behind the next molecule, or in the executive suite, it’s somehow always farther along than we are—just down the road on the other side of the world, past the moon, beyond the stars…

“Ouch!” said Pooh, landing on the floor.

“That’s what happens when you go to sleep on the edge of the writing table,” I said. “You’ll fall off.”

“Just as well,” said Pooh.

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“I was having an awful dream,” he said, rubbing his eyes.

“Oh?”

“Yes. I’d found a jar of honey…,” he said, rubbing his eyes.

“What’s awful about that?” I asked.

“It kept moving,” said Pooh. “They’re not supposed to do that. They’re supposed to sit still.”

“Yes, I know.”

“But whenever I reached for it, this jar of honey would sort of go someplace else.”

“A nightmare,” I said.

“Lots of people have dreams like that,” I added reassuringly.

Oh,” said Pooh. “About Unreachable jars of honey?”

“About the same sort of thing,” I said. “That’s not unusual. The odd thing, though, is that some people live like that.”

“Why?” asked Pooh.

“I don’t know,” I said. I suppose because it gives them Something to Do.”

“It doesn’t sound like much fun to me,” said Pooh.

 

No, it doesn’t.

A way of life that keeps saying, “Around the next corner, above the next step,” works against the natural order of things and makes it so difficult to be happy and good that only a few get to where they would naturally have been in the first place—Happy and Good—and the rest give up and fall by the side of the roar, cursing the world, which is not to blame but which is there to help show the way.

Those who think that the rewarding things in life are somewhere beyond the rainbow—-

 

“Burn their toast a lot,” said Pooh.

“I beg your pardon?”

“They burn their toast a lot,” said Pooh.

“They—well, yes. And not only that—”

“Here comes Rabbit,” said Pooh.

“Oh, there you are,” said Rabbit.

“Here we are,” said Pooh.

“Yes, here we are,” I said.

“And there you are,” said Pooh.

“Yes, here I am,” said Rabbit impatiently. “To come to the point—Roo showed me his set of blocks. They’re all carved and painted with letters, on them”

“Oh?” I said.

“Just the sort of thing you’d expect to see, actually,” said Rabbit, stroking his whiskers thoughtfully. “So by process of elimination,” he said, “that means Eeyore has it.”

“But Rabbit, I said. “You see——”

“Yes,” said Rabbit. “I see Eeyore and find out what he knows about it—and that’s clearly the next step.”

“There he goes,” said Pooh.

 

Looking back for a few years, we see that the first Bisy Backsos in this part of the world, the Puritans, practically worked themselves to death in the fields without getting much of anything in return for their tremendous efforts. They were actually starving until the wiser inhabitants of the land showed them a few things about working in harmony with the earth’s rhythms. Now you plant; now you relax. Now you work the soil; now you leave it alone.

The Puritans never really understood the second half, never really believed in it. And so, after two or three centuries of pushing, pushing, and pushing the once-fertile earth, and a few years of depleting its energy still further with synthetic stimulants, we have apples that taste like cardboard, oranges that taste like tennis balls, and pears that taste like sweetened Styrofoam, all products of soil that is not allowed to relax.

We’re not supposed to complain, but There It Is.

“Say, Pooh, why aren’t you busy?” I said.

“Because it’s a nice day,” said Pooh.

“Yes, but—”

“Why ruin it?” he said.

“But you could be doing something Important, I said.”

“I am,” said Pooh.

“Oh? Doing what?”

“Listening,” he said.

“Listening to what?”

“To the birds. And that squirrel over there.”

“What are they saying?” I asked.

“That’s it a nice day,” said Pooh.

“But you know that already,” I said.

“Yes, but it’s always good to hear that somebody else thinks so, too,” he replied.

The hardheaded followers of the previously mentioned Party-Crashing Busybody religion failed to appreciate the beauty of the endless forest and clear waters that appeared before them on this fresh green continent of the New World.

Instead, they saw the paradise that was here an the people who lived in harmony with it as alien and threatening, something to attack and conquer—because it all stood in the way of the Great Reward. They didn’t like singing very much, either. In fact … from the Miserable Puritan came the Restless Pioneer, and from him, the Lonely Cowboy, always riding off into the sunset, looking for something just down the trail.

From this rootless, dissatisfied ancestry has come the Bisy Backson. who, like his forefathers has never really felt at home, at peace, with this Friendly Land.

Practically speaking, if timesaving devices really saved time, there would be more time available to us now more than ever before in history. But, strangely enough we seem to have less time than even a few years ago. It’s really great fun to go someplace where there are no timesaving devices because, when you do, you find that you have lots of time.

Elsewhere, you’re too busy working to pay for machines to save you time so you won’t have to work so hard.

The main problem with this great obsession for Saving Time is very simple: you cant save time. You can only spend it. But you can spend it wisely or foolishly. The Bis Backson has practically no time at all, because he’s too busy wasting it by trying to save it. And by trying to save every bit of it, he ends up wasting the whole thing.

Henry David Thoreau put it this way, in Walden:

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, an so they take a thousand stitches to-day to save nine tomorrow.

…Let’s return to The House at Pooh Corner. Christopher Robin has just asked Pooh a question:

“What do you like doing best int he world, Pooh?”

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best—-” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

The honey doesn’t taste so good once it is being eaten; the goal doesn’t mean so much once it is reached; the reward is not so rewarding once it has been given. If we add up all the rewards in our lives, we won’t have very much. But if we add up the spaces between the rewards, we’ll come up with quite a bit. And if we add up the rewards and the spaces, then we’ll have everything—every minute of the time that we spent. What if we could enjoy it?

The Christmas presences once opened are Not So Much Fun as they were while we were in the process of examining, lifting, shaking, thinking about, and opening them. Three hundred sixty-five days later, we try again and fin that the same thing has happened. Each time the goal is reached, it becomes Not So Much Fun, and we’re off to reach the next one, then the next one, then the next.

That doesn’t mean that the goals we have don’t count. They do, mostly because they cause us to go through the process, and it’s the process that makes us wise, happy, or whatever. If we do things in the wrong sort of way, it makes us miserable, angry, confused, and things like that. The goal has to be right in front of us, and it has to be beneficial, in order to ensure a beneficial process. But aside from that, it’s really the process that’s important.

Enjoyment of the process is the secret that the myths of the Great Reward and Saving Time. Perhaps this can help to explain the everyday significance of the word Tao, the Way.

What could we call that moment before we begin to eat the honey? Some would call it anticipation, but we think it’s more than that. We would call it awareness. It’s when we become happy and realize it, if only for an instant. By Enjoying the Process, we can stretch that awareness out so that it’s no longer only a moment, but covers the whole thing.

Then we can have a lot of fun.

Just like Pooh.

And then he thought that being with Christopher Robin was a very good thing to do, and having Piglet near was a very friendly thing to have; and so when he had thought it all out, he said, “What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You and You saying, ‘What about a little something?’ and Me saying ‘Well, I shouldn’t mind a little something, should you, Piglet’ and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing.

When we take the time to enjoy our surroundings and appreciate being alive, we find that we have no time to be Bisy Backsons anymore. But that’s all right, because being Bisy Backsons is a tremendous waste of time.

As the poet Lu Yu wrote:

The clouds above us join and separate,
The breeze in the courtyard leaves and returns
Life is like that, so why not relax?
Who can stop us from celebrating?

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