Tuesday, February 12, 2019
I had an epiphany last night at a meditation gathering. The topic of the evening was exploring the Buddhist approach to anger. At one point in the evening, we were paired up with a “buddy” to share something we felt angry about. With the support of our buddy, we were encouraged to look beneath the anger for the hurt underneath – the shame, the fear, or the sadness.
I related a “stuckness” I’ve been experiencing over a long ago situation with someone that has been stirred up recently. My efforts to forgive, to feel compassion, have tripped over my still simmering anger. After so many years of spiritual practice, my inability to release the anger and bitterness, especially over things that happened years ago, seemed silly and embarrassing. I mean really, I know better.
My buddy listened and then observed that I was patting my chest as I spoke. “Is that where you feel it?” he asked.
Yes, I realized. My heart hurt. Something softened.
“Perhaps,” he suggested gently, “you need to grieve your unmet needs.”
I saw so clearly then that up till that point, I had experienced the situation as an either/or choice. Forgiving the other person meant the dismissal or devaluation of what had been so hurtful to me. Recognizing the importance of releasing the anger, I had rationalized that what I had wanted and needed was insignificant, and that in any event, I didn’t get it, and I wasn’t going to get it now, so I should just get over it.
And how was that working for me? Hmm, not so great.
As acknowledgment of my deep hurt bloomed in my heart, anger at the other person melted into grief. The well of grief filled up and spilled over, spreading out and soaking into the parched ground as forgiveness and compassion. It didn’t even take any effort.
Recognizing and honoring the hurt didn’t increase the anger – it released it.
Today I feel sad, a good sad. And free.
And so humbly grateful.
[Note to buddy: Thank you for being a blessing to me.]
Thursday, February 7, 2019
Sunday, February 3, 2019
This chapter has a surprise bonus in it, a little hidden wisdom treasure. But before we get to that...
The chapter begins with a passage comparing a person with abundant Te (Virtue) to an infant, a metaphor repeated in several places in the Tao Te Ching. A baby is supple and soft, yet amazingly strong and full of vigor. I laughed when I read that the infant can cry all day and not get hoarse. Having recently spent what felt like all day (but was really only about half an hour) trying to soothe my wailing grandbaby, I can attest that I wore out much faster than she did. My ears are still ringing.
A baby’s innocent and unfiltered engagement with its experience of life in the present moment is its protection, its power, and its wisdom. It lives in perfect harmony. This is reflected in Jesus’s encouragement to be like a small child, to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. And it is picked up in A Course in Miracles, which teaches that our safety lies in our defenselessness.
The next passage sets out a series of connections.
Knowing harmony is called the eternal
Knowing the eternal is called enlightenment
The natural expansion of life force is called a blessing
The heart’s allowing vital energy (qi) to move freely is called strength
The secret wisdom treasure is hidden in these last two lines, which can be translated in an opposite way, thanks to several characters susceptible to different meanings. An alternate translation:
Increasing life force is called ominous
The mind’s control of vital energy is called overstraining (or violence)
Hmm, so which is it? These lines reveal the beautiful and unfathomable paradox of Tao. The two translations are not in conflict with each other. The characters support either view (although for reasons too detailed to bore you with here, I lean towards the first translation).
When we are in harmony with the infinite (eternal), our energy is uncontained and unrestricted. It moves in concert with the energy of the universe. To say it another way, the energy of the universe moves though us unimpeded by our attempts to control it or direct it. Our power is unlimited because it is not “our” individual power, but universal power. We are merely the conduits through which it is expressed.
The second translation cautions us about exhaustion and suffering that result when we seek to impose our individual will on this energy that moves through us. The effort we expend in doing this depletes our vital energy and leads to disharmony and misfortune.
The last lines contrast this infinite and eternal energy with the finite and limited energy of the individual.
Things in physical form flourish and then age
This is not the nature of Tao
What is not Tao comes to an end
This sounds more negative in translation than I think the Chinese characters truly reflect. Elsewhere in the Tao Te Ching, the infinite and eternal Tao is described as the source of the “ten thousand things” (the manifested universe) which come into being, and then at the end of their life cycle return to Tao. The physical aspect of our individual existence is undeniably time limited. We manifest and return. That isn’t bad. It is natural. We are both infinite and finite.
Again, the wondrous paradox that weaves through this ancient text. Babies are not troubled by this. No wonder so many wisdom teachings honor them.
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
When I’m at my cabin, I walk my dog off leash, as do many folks who have cabins nearby. When approaching other people, whether they have dogs or not, I call my dog to heel so that she won’t bother them. If the other people have a dog, I clip my dog’s leash on for added control. Sometimes they do the same. However, because my dog is very skittish around other dogs, if the other dog is off leash and begins to run towards us, even if the dog is clearly being friendly, I usually pick my little dog up.
When this happens, the other person often assures me that their dog is friendly. But my dog is not so predictable when she is scared, so I usually respond that I’m not worried about their dog’s friendliness; I’m worried about mine.
After repeating this scenario many times, it occurred to me that there are so many assumptions being made, not only about the dogs but about the people. I realized that the other owners are assuming that I pick my dog up because I am afraid of their dog, especially if their dog is big. They assume that I am concerned for my smaller dog’s safety, that I’m judging their dog to be a threat to mine.
Their assurances sometimes carry an undercurrent of defensive accusation, as though I have misjudged their dog and I’m being over reactive, when in fact I’m trying insure that my dog does not react badly or start an altercation. I make my own assumptions about them, their dogs, and what I assume they are thinking about me and my dog.
The point here is not about dog behavior, or proper dog owner etiquette, but about how a brief and simple encounter carries so many unspoken and often unrecognized assumptions and judgments.
We go through so much of our daily lives making these snap judgments, and then acting on them without ever questioning them. On a recent run to the grocery store, I decided to see if I could catch all the assumptions I was making in a thirty minute period.
Wow, that was sobering. I made assumptions based on how people drove, what they drove, how they parked, what they wore, their ethnicity, their gender, their age, what they had in their shopping carts, with whom they were shopping, how they behaved when we passed in the aisles, how they behaved in the checkout line, and on and on. Some of my assumptions disturbed or embarrassed me, even though they were fleeting and quickly dismissed. I’m sure that for every assumption I caught, countless others slipped past me unnoticed.
I don’t think we can avoid all assumptions, and I’m not suggesting that we should. This is what our brains are wired to do – identify, categorize, and evaluate. And that serves a purpose. But when we do it so unconsciously, our assumptions can lead to beliefs and actions that might be based on a faulty initial premise.
Like the book title says, don’t believe everything you think. If we are willing to take an honest look, to be aware of at least some of the judgments we so automatically make, if we are willing to soften our attachment to our own view of things, we might be wondrously surprised.
Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in. ~Isaac Asimov
Friday, January 25, 2019
Monday, January 21, 2019
I went to a presentation recently that purported to be informational. And it was. However, as the presentation began, I realized that the information was being offered in the context of a sales pitch.
The “product” would benefit my life in grand ways. It was unique and far superior to anything in the same category, as evidenced by many scientific studies and personal testimonials. There was only one source for this product, and there was no way to learn more or to “try out” the product until I paid for it. And once I got my product, I would be bound by signed agreement not to share information about it, giving the product an aura of secret initiation and belonging to the “in” group.
The person making the presentation used other techniques as well, some subtle, some overt, to draw in the listeners. By the end people were eager to sign up.
Sounds so obvious, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing. Even though I could identify some of the various sales strategies being used, I still felt the pull. Despite my skepticism of the sales pitch, I still hesitated, wondering if my life might indeed be enhanced by what they were offering. And perhaps it would be. But I found my judgment too clouded by the careful manipulation to make any kind of trustworthy evaluation. So I walked away.
Wanting is a powerful emotion, convincing us that there is a lack, causing us varying levels of distress and discomfort which can only be alleviated by obtaining the object of desire.
The Dalai Lama admits to a fondness for gadgets. He told the story of walking by an electronics store and stopping to admire a device displayed in the window. Laughing, he described the desire that arose for this shiny object, even though he had no idea what it was for.
We can all relate.
Watching myself respond with at least questioning if not outright desire to what I recognized as a marketing strategy . . . well, it sort of amazed me. What an opportunity to contemplate the nature of wanting. What does it feel like? Where do I sense it in my body? What emotions are attached to it? What thoughts are attached to it?
Wanting is not good or bad. It just is. We want some things; we don’t want other things. But we needn’t be at the mercy of our wanting. We can get to know it rather than blindly follow it. And that knowing might benefit our lives in grand ways!
One who knows enough is enough will always have enough. ~Tao Te Ching