Saturday, September 16, 2017
When hunters in Africa want to catch a monkey, they carve a small hole in something stationary, like a gourd secured with a rope. They put food in the hole, stand back, and wait. The monkey will reach into the hole and grab a handful, but with a fist full of food the monkey can’t get its hand back out. Even as the hunter approaches, the monkey will frantically pull and scream, but it won’t let go. It is caught.
All the monkey has to do is let go. If it releases what it grasps so tightly in its fist, it will be free.
I can relate. Sometimes I find myself trapped by my own attachment to a belief or judgment or desire or emotion. Perhaps I am holding onto resentment over something that happened years ago. Or I am judging a person or a situation in a way that isolates me or causes me fear. The word “conviction” is interesting. Conviction can mean that I have been declared guilty of a crime. It can also mean a firmly held belief. Do my beliefs in some way imprison me?
Whatever I am holding onto, is it of more value to me than my freedom? What am I willing to let go of to release myself from self-imposed bondage?
Consider what you might be grasping in your fist that keeps you trapped. What would it take to just open your hand and be free?
Freedom...is the act of releasing ourselves from the bondage of that which keeps us from living the life we were meant to live. ~Kelli Wilson
Monday, September 11, 2017
I recently wrote a post about the effect of naming on our direct experience of the present moment, and now I turn to the next chapter in the Tao Te Ching and guess what it’s about. Naming! Cosmic synchronicity. I promise I didn’t plan it this way.
Tao is forever without name
Though its natural state is small
Nothing under heaven can rule it
The character for “natural state” is 朴, used throughout the Tao Te Ching to describe the simple, pure, limitless potential of Tao. It literally means an uncarved block of wood. Once it is carved into something, that something has a name. The name identifies a specific form. It becomes this and not that. It becomes limited. That’s not a bad thing. After all, Michelangelo took uncarved blocks of marble and turned them into beauty.
The Bible creation story begins “Now the earth was formless and empty.... Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Speaking a name brought into existence what was named. There is an inherent connection between naming and creation.
Tao is without name. It is forever limitless and unknowable, and therefore beyond our control. And yet....
If princes and kings could abide by it (or in it)
All creation would follow
The text can be interpreted as referring to actual leaders, or to ruling our inner self. If the ruler in either context is in harmony with the natural order, all else falls into place without the need of external enforcement.
As a lawyer, I find this fascinating. In our society, we hold high the “rule of law.” As a contracts lawyer, my job was to negotiate the private “rule of law” between the parties. In other words, I helped them “name” and agree to the rules that would govern their contractual relationship. In the United States, this process has evolved into ever more detailed and cumbersome agreements, as all of us can appreciate when we have to sign something too long to read and too complex to understand.
I shake my head in wonder at the prescience of the author of this ancient text who said over two thousand years ago:
To make order, names arise
Names lead to more names
Know when to stop
Thus avoid harm
We continue to solve perceived problems by more rules. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not an anarchist. I appreciate the need for rules and the good intentions of sincere rule makers. I certainly had a few rules in my own household that brought moments of order out of the chaos of so many kids. But I also tried to keep in mind that there was a tipping point beyond which too many rules were counterproductive. As always, there is a middle road of balance, and a sense of ease when we align ourselves with the natural order of the universe.
Tao’s manifestation under heaven
Is like a river flowing home to the sea
Naming creates existence which reflects the perfection of the nameless. The destiny of all creation is ultimately to return to the Source, as naturally as water effortlessly flows to join with itself.
So we might give some thought in our own lives to the rules we have set up for ourselves. Do they foster or block our journey home? Do they connect us to a sense of oneness or isolate us from the sea of common existence?
In the beginning was the Word. ~John 1:1
Friday, September 8, 2017
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
I was sitting by the creek last weekend watching the light play on the dancing water. When I looked downstream, there was a beautiful cluster of snow white flowers blooming on a tall stalk leaning out over the creek. As I got closer I could see that the cluster was made up of tiny star burst blossoms.
In that first moment of sight I experienced a sense of wonder and delight, a gift of exquisite loveliness right there, offering beauty to the trees, the water, the birds and insects...and me. I felt humbly blessed.
All that took place in the nanosecond gap before my thoughts kicked in. My first thought was “What is this flower?” What I meant was the flower’s name, its label. I didn’t know. Not knowing gave me a subtle feeling of unease as my mind searched for what it might be. I made a plan to take a photo and circulate it to see if someone could tell me. As I got caught up in my thoughts and plans, the initial experience of enchantment quietly faded. It was almost as if the flower no longer existed if I couldn’t discover its name.
When I realized what was happening I was amazed by the rapidity of my shift from a receptive state of gratitude to a restless state of thinking. It happened so fast I barely noticed it. But I did notice it, and felt the loss of that moment of pure enjoyment.
Names are not bad. They allow us to function in the world and communicate with each other. But names are a step removed from what is named. If we jump too quickly into our thoughts, we miss the direct experience of what is happening in the moment. We miss the miracle.
Let’s try to watch for that fleeting gap before we shift from experience to thought, and appreciate the gift that each moment generously bestows.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name. ~Tao Te Ching
PS–If you know the name of this flower, don’t tell me!
Friday, September 1, 2017
Monday, August 28, 2017
Although disjointed and repetitive, lacking the grace and poetry of other chapters (some scholars think this chapter was corrupted somehow), we can nevertheless consider the basic message:
Weapons are tools of violence and fear
Wise people avoid them
Using them only when there is no other recourse
Never celebrating victory
Grieving for the fallen
As it says in The Art of War, the best battle is the one not fought. When I taught contract drafting in law school, my students would tell me that they wanted to draft a contract that would “win in court.” I always told them, “If your contract ends up in court, you have already lost. You are only in court when the purpose of the contract has failed. Even if you win in court, your original objective will not be achieved.”
Looking back at my personal life, I can’t think of one argument I’ve had with anyone that left me feeling good about fighting. Even if I got the desired outcome, I paid a price. I lost a friendship, perhaps, or hurt someone, or felt my energy drained. There was rarely pleasure in victory. In reviewing a dispute, I can often see something I could have done differently to still get the desired outcome or a reasonable compromise, and leave both sides feeling less battered by the process.
Having said all that, I confess that I do love martial arts weapons. I love the grace and skill involved, and yes, I also love the combat aspect, even though I have absolutely no desire to engage in actual combat. It seems contradictory, but I know that practicing martial arts over the years has taught me more about peace than about fighting.
So perhaps we can consider in our own lives what we really gain by fighting, and what we lose. And perhaps we can pause for a moment before engaging to see if there is a better way.
Don't fight a battle if you don't gain anything by winning. ~General Patton
Thursday, August 24, 2017
Like many who saw the solar eclipse in Portland, Oregon, I was surprised that it didn’t get darker. Not far to the south of us, people experienced the night darkness of the total eclipse. But in my location, it was like someone had turned the dimmer switch down just a little. Looking through my special glasses at the 99% eclipse, all I could see was a tiny sliver of sunlight around the dark moon. Yet that 1% of sunlight was still enough to light the earth and was still much too bright to look at without the protective glasses.
Even a little light is enough to dispel the darkness. Think about that.
And let your light shine.
It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness. ~Chinese proverb