Friday, April 19, 2019
Saturday, April 13, 2019
This chapter highlights the folly of thinking that we know what’s good or bad, or that we can control things outside ourselves. It begins with an observation about government.
When government is unobtrusive
People are wholesome and pure
When government is oppressive
People are restless and contentious
The Tao Te Ching’s passages on government are consistent with the view that the “government is best that governs least,” or with the concept of a “servant leader.” This is challenging to apply to today’s world when the more traditional social structures of villages and small communities are missing in much of the developed world. So I prefer to consider these “government” passages in relation to our own individual self-government. Then the message of the text is easier to discern and apply.
When I am overly harsh with self-criticism, or overly strict with rigid rules, I lose my connection with the divine energy that moves all around me and through me. If instead, I remain fluid and in alignment with this energy, then, to borrow from Buddhist terminology, “right action” naturally and effortlessly occurs.
Our loss of alignment often results from judgment, and attachment or aversion. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Good fortune arises from the ashes of misfortune
Misery is held in the folds of joy’s robes
The characters for good fortune/joy 福 and misfortune/misery 祸 have the same radical, or root, meaning to reveal, as in a sacred revelation. This suggests that good fortune and misery are both rooted in holy origin, both part of the divine dance of life.
The chapter goes on to explain that when we impose our rigid standards of judgment (like an oppressive government) on our experience, we become confused and misguided. However, when we drop our judgments of good and bad, our attachment to pleasure and our aversion to pain, we can see everything as it is. We take our place in the divine dance.
Everything shares the same breath. But the movement of the breath comes and goes. It ends only to begin again. ~Wang P’ang
Friday, April 5, 2019
Friday, March 29, 2019
I’ve been going through a challenging time, really for the last year and a half, but especially in the last couple of months. A time of opportunity to go deep, and deeper still. A time of breaking open whatever has been closed. A time of emptying out on the inside and stripping away on the outside, thinning the walls of the container that is me. A time of answering sorrow’s call. A time of grieving, grieving the loss of thinking, of thinking that I know who I am.
So when a dear neighbor, who knows some of what I am experiencing, asked how I was doing, I responded that I was having a hard time, that I needed something sweet and sugary (how enlightened). Later when I stopped by her house, her counter was covered with ingredients. She said she was making cookies. I was perplexed.
“Were you making them anyway, or because I said I wanted something sweet?” I asked.
“I am making them for you,” she answered.
At which point I burst into tears.
Wow, I really needed cookies. No, I needed someone to make cookies for me. That simple gesture of caring crashed into my heart with love. I was crushed with overwhelming gratitude.
I’m reminded of a story I read somewhere about a boy who went to a restaurant with his parents. When he ordered a hot dog and fries, his mom quickly overrode his request, telling the server he would have some chicken with vegetables. The server turned back to the boy and asked, “Would you like mustard and relish on your hot dog?”
As the server walked away, the boy turned towards his parents with a big smile and said with amazement, “Did you see that? She thinks I’m real!”
The simple act of caring is heroic. ~Edward Albert
Friday, March 22, 2019
I look for something grand
A palace on the other side of fear
Promising wonders marvelous and sublime
I am here, I call
Carry me over this treacherous sea
To gardens where peacocks roam
And fountains glisten
Marvels is it, comes the reply
A snowflake falls
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
The theme of this chapter can be summed up like this: Do not interfere.
One can rule a country with predictable justice
One can wage a war with unpredictable strategy
But one can harness the power of the universe only by non-interference
We don’t have to look far to see where interference, even well-intentioned, has caused more harm than good. In the southern United States, you can see miles of natural vegetation choked by the uncontrollable proliferation of kudzu, a non-indigenous plant introduced along roadways to prevent erosion. Or, on a more personal level, we might think of times when our efforts to “help” a friend or a situation had unanticipated and often unappreciated results. I know I can think of a few!
When we encounter some of those unanticipated results, we often feel an urge to “fix” things by interfering even more. One of the best Star Trek stories (from Voyager) involved an individual who figured out how to go back in time and change specific events. He used these “time incursions” to eliminate historical enemies of his species. However, these alterations allowed a plague virus to emerge which ended up killing his beloved wife.
His grief spurred him to go back over and over to try to re-establish a timeline that brought her back. Unfortunately, each effort shifted future trajectories in unpredictable ways, creating new worlds and civilizations and destroying others, creating chaos and eventually driving him mad. So there.
Coming back to the present time on this planet, I am struck by the timeless accuracy of this line from the next section of the chapter:
The more rules and laws we have, the more lawbreakers and criminals emerge
As a lawyer, I used to marvel at the endless library shelves stuffed with books full of laws. And new ones constantly arrived. Besides the laws themselves, there were even more books full of regulations detailing how the laws should be applied. And more books still, full of judicial opinions settling disputes about all the laws and regulations.
I can sympathize with that poor alien trying to use time incursions to create the reality he sought. Are we much different with our “law incursions”? I wonder.
Thus the sage says:
I refrain from forcing change, and people transform themselves
I abide in stillness, and people manifest their natural goodness
I refrain from interfering, and people themselves prosper
I live without desire, and people enjoy simplicity
The character for this last word is 朴 and means purity or simplicity, like an uncarved block of wood. This character is used throughout the Tao Te Ching to indicate our natural state of oneness with the universe, with infinite, undifferentiated potential. Like the concept of beginner’s mind.
In a curious quirk of the English language, “do not interfere” if said aloud, sounds just like “do not enter fear.” Hmm, something to think about.
Friday, March 8, 2019
I recently wrote about grieving unmet needs. This has led me to a deeper exploration of grief and sorrow. Someone suggested that I spend some time with grief as my teacher, comparing it to my relationship with my martial arts teachers. Intriguing....
So I find myself a novice once again (sort of a grief grasshopper for those who remember the old Kung Fu TV series), embracing beginner’s mind. Not because I haven’t experienced all kinds of loss in my life, but because I never allowed myself to grieve.
There are all sorts of reasons for that, both personal and cultural, but now the door is open, calling me into the darkness of sorrow. And I am ready to step through. As a friend is fond of saying, let’s see what happens.
I have already found that I am not alone. Joy walks with me, a loving guide into her twin’s domain. Some might think that joy is the opposite of sorrow, but I learned long ago that joy and sorrow dance together. The opposite of both is fear.
In the five element qigong system, courage resides in the lungs, as does sadness. I breathe in, filling my lungs with courage as sadness wells up to be released with the exhale. Breathe in, breathe out. I hear my martial arts teacher drawing out the word, “Agaaaaiiinnn”!
And grief whispers in my soul, “I will carry you. I will carry you.”
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. ~Psalm 30:5