Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 24


This sweet little chapter carries forward from Chapters 22 and 23 the encouragement to release the ego. Here the emphasis is on the limitations of holding onto the ego.

One who stands on tiptoes is not steady
One who strides cannot go far

The wisdom of these first two lines is made clear to me in martial arts practice. In tai chi sparring (called push hands), if I am not “in my feet,” I become unbalanced and am easily uprooted. This is also reflected emotionally. Fear causes us to “rise.” Our breathing becomes shallow and we often raise our center of gravity. We feel off balance and unsteady. You can see this for yourself. How long can you stand on tiptoe? Now stand normally and let your weight sink into your feet. Different, yes?

The same is true for steps that are so extended that I sort of “fall” onto my front foot.  Try this experiment. Stand naturally and then take a step forward. Keep your weight on your back foot until your front foot is placed safely on the ground. If your step is not too long, you should be able to keep your weight on your back foot and lift your front foot back off the ground without losing your balance. If my step is too long, I won’t be able to lift my front foot. My weight is thrown forward and I am vulnerable to attack. If I try to maintain this pace, I will soon tire.

Again, this plays out emotionally as well. If I react in fear, my thinking speeds up in an uncontrolled way. I am unable to assess a situation and act appropriately. I feel drained of energy. Often I end up making a situation worse.

The next four lines emphasize the result of focusing on the self.

The self-displayed are not enlightened
The self-righteous are not illustrious
The self-praising are not accomplished
The self-important are not enduring

One who follows Tao
Sees these as excessive and extraneous
And therefore avoids them

When we are not focused on the self, we are at peace. We move through our lives with little effort because our way becomes clear. We do not force and therefore have no conflict. We have no fear and therefore act appropriately and with courage. We are unconcerned with credit or blame and therefore are unburdened. Our hearts are rooted in Tao and therefore our spirits are free to soar.

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth
“You owe me.” 
Look what happens with a love like that
It lights the whole sky
   ~Hafiz (as quoted in Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life by Wayne Dyer)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Walking in Beauty


With me there is beauty
In me there is beauty
From me beauty radiates
 ~Navaho prayer

There is a fundamental harmony in the universe that is perfect and beautiful. The Navaho embrace this concept in their notion of “hozho,” a term that recently crossed my path and captured my imagination. I am no expert in Navaho language or culture (I’m no expert in anything for that matter), but I understand this untranslatable term to mean something like “walking in beauty.”

This concept is at the center of Navaho life, representing the universe as a whole as well as our place in it. When we are in harmony with the universe, we walk in beauty. A life lived in harmony is one of well being, integrity, peace, wisdom, gratitude, and joy.

When we lose this harmony for whatever reason, we seek to restore it. The Navaho have specific rituals for this, including one called the Blessing Way. Isn’t that lovely?

Reading about this reminds me of the teachings of the Tao Te Ching. A life lived in harmony with Tao is one of effortlessness, wonder, resilience, acceptance, and serenity. When we struggle against what is, when we grasp desire, when we react in fear, we lose our way.

Perhaps we can borrow the idea of a ritual to restore us to wholeness when our harmony has been disrupted. We can create our own Blessing Way. What might that look like? It could be anything that would be meaningful to you.

For me, the first thing I thought of was a literal walk in beauty, like a walk in the woods at my cabin.

Sometimes, when something is troubling me, I write a letter to it, seeking understanding and guidance. Then I burn the letter in the fireplace. This represents two things – releasing the issue from my control, and carrying my prayer to heaven.

Sometimes I seek to restore harmony through practices like qigong or meditation, or even something as simple as breathing exercises.

What kind of ritual Blessing Way might you use to restore harmony and walk in beauty?

But the beauty is in the walking. We are betrayed by destinations. ~Gwen Thomas

Sunday, May 14, 2017

There Is a Place


There is a place
Of perfect peace
Not a place of our own making
No need to make what already is
No need to fix what is unbroken
Where is this place
If you look you will not see it
If you seek you will not find it
But if you ask
It will find you

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 23


Speaking little is natural
Strong winds do not last the morning
Heavy rain does not last all day

When we exert our ego energy to impose our will on the world around us, we cannot sustain the effort. Sooner or later, our energy is depleted and we fail. The nature of the manifested universe is impermanence. As soon as something manifests, it begins its return to the Source. When we struggle against this natural rhythm, we suffer.

This chapter continues the theme of surrender from the last chapter. We can look at this from two perspectives. If we are exerting force, like the wind or rain, we will run out of energy. As Fritz Perls said, “Don’t push the river. It flows by itself.” The universe needs no help from us to move through its cycle of manifestation and return.

Likewise, if we are on the receiving end of force, our resistance gives strength to the energy being directed towards us. Like the tree that bends in the wind, better to yield and let the force move past. The tree that yields is the one left standing.

So how does this tie in with speaking? As a teacher and as a parent, I confess that I was overly fond of words, that is, my words. One time when I had a week long bout of laryngitis, I discovered that my students and my children did better when I talked less! As I let go of the illusion of verbal control, I marveled at the discovery and delight that had the space to blossom as they found their own way with minimal guidance from me. Once I regained my voice, I used it more sparingly and more thoughtfully (at least some of the time!).

The Buddhist concept of “right speech” teaches us to avoid speech that is false, harmful, or idle. Before we speak, we can ask ourselves if what we are about to say is (1) true, (2) necessary, and (3) kind.

Another way to think of this is in terms of vibration. Speaking produces sound. Sound is creative vibration. (Remember that God created the universe by speaking!) Vibration’s nature is to seek harmony. Thus:

Those who follow Tao become Tao
Those who follow Te become Te
Those who follow loss become loss

These three lines have confounded translators and interpreters for centuries. The translation I have offered here does not begin to reflect the elusive puzzle of the Chinese characters. But I think the essence of the text here is that our own vibration seeks to harmonize with a corresponding level of the universe.

When we are in harmony with Tao, we are one with the infinite potential of the formless, the pregnant void before it gives birth. This is the silence before “speaking” hums the vibration of creation.

When we are in harmony with Te, we are one with the manifested universe. Remember that Te is often translated as Virtue, but does not mean virtue in the moral sense, but rather the natural flow of energy in the world. In this sense, we are one with Te when we are not struggling with reality, when we embrace rather than fear the fluid beauty of impermanence.

When we are in harmony with loss, we are one with ...hmm, what could this mean? I have read many commentaries, but the one that resonates most for me characterizes this “loss” as the loss of our true nature. This loss traps us in ego and we become identified with the illusion of a separate self. Our ego consciousness keeps us in a state of forgetfulness, until we can wake up and remember who we are.

So how do I “tune” my vibration to harmonize with the higher levels of the universe? Not by doing but by releasing. Not by forcing but by allowing. Yes, by surrendering.

“Deep calls to deep,” sings the psalmist.

Are we listening?

Monday, May 1, 2017

What Is True


This
This is what is true
No, not even this
These are words
Words are not truth
But can come from truth 
Follow the words back
Back to the Source
And further still
Enter the no-words space
The vast blue sky
Of dark dark mystery
Fall into the emptiness
And falling falling
Fly

Monday, April 24, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 22


Surrender becomes perfection

If the first line of this chapter is the only one you read, it is enough. If it’s the only line you read in the entire Tao Te Ching, it is enough.

Three words...so simple. But within them is the path to awakening, the key to liberation, the secret of the vast power of the universe that manifests through all of us when we release our resistance. As Adyashanti says, “Surrender is the name of the spiritual game.”

What does it mean to surrender? In one sense, it means to not meet force with force. In Star Trek Next Generation, there was a weapon that vaporized all who sought to defeat the person holding it. Captain Picard figured out that the weapon was powered by the aggressive thoughts of the attackers. As the attackers became more aggressive, the power of the weapon increased proportionately. When faced with the person holding the weapon, he instructed his people to erase all thoughts of anger and aggression from their minds. When they did so, the weapon was useless, and the holder easily defeated.

It also means to cease struggling. Buddhism teaches us that our suffering comes from our struggle against reality, from wanting things to be other than what they are. Think of all the bad guys in the Tarzan movies (yes, I’m that old!) who flailed in the quicksand, hastening their demise. Yes, reality is sometimes painful, but our struggle against reality increases our suffering (described as the “suffering of suffering”), and depletes the energy we need to respond effectively and appropriately to whatever is happening.

This does not mean being a doormat and not responding to our world with courage and integrity. On the contrary, when we follow this principle, we find that we are stronger and better able to “do the right thing.”

Jesus understood this, as reflected in the Sermon on the Mount. The kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit and the meek inherit the earth. These are not teachings of weakness and defeat; they are teachings of triumph and power. Not our personal, individual ego power, but the infinite power of the divine.

The chapter continues in this pattern of one quality “becoming” another, and describes the sage as embodying this principle of not using force, thus avoiding conflict. If there is no conflict, there is no failure.

Remember the story of the warrior brandishing his sword and threatening a monk seated serenely before him. “Why aren’t you afraid?” he roars. “Don’t you know I can run you through without blinking an eye?” “Don’t you know,” the monk quietly replies, “that I can be run through without blinking an eye?” Recognizing true power, the warrior dropped his sword and became the monk’s disciple.

At the end, the chapter circles back to the first line.

Surrender becomes perfection
Are these empty words? 
Truly, perfection restores our true nature 

When we are not pitting force against force, we allow the energy of creation to move through us. Like a river, it washes around and over everything in its path to return to its source. Indeed, these are not empty words, but a map leading us to our heart’s treasure. Home.

Related post: An earlier post focused on a slightly different translation of the first line. Click here to read Yield and Overcome.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Their Labor Was to Look


And the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. ~1 Nephi 17:41, The Book of Mormon

This verse came into my awareness several days ago, and hasn’t left. It seemed to rise up out of its surrounding context and put its hands on either side of my face and speak directly to me. “Pay attention!” it gently commands.

We look but we don’t see what is. We see our thoughts about what is, our beliefs about what is, our judgments about what is, our stories about what is. We create an image of what is. Then we like our image and want to keep it, or we don’t like it and want to change it. All the while, we’ve missed what actually is. We’ve created an illusion and called it real.

We are not really looking. We are looking away.

So what does it mean to look? The verse says it is simple and easy. We don’t have to acquire new skills or learn more information. On the contrary, looking, really looking, is a process of releasing, letting go of our beliefs and opinions and judgments long enough to see what is right in front of us in the present moment.

When something happens, there is a nanosecond of pure experience, a momentary delay before our brains begin the familiar process of labeling, categorizing, explaining, judging. In other words, before we start telling ourselves a story. We react to and interact with this story instead of engaging with what really happened. Our reality becomes a closed system as we create our own illusion and then relate to it in some way.

We can’t really stop our brains from telling stories. This is what brains do. But we can bring our awareness to the present moment and look, really look, before the gap closes and our story begins.

If it’s so simple and easy, why does it seem so hard? Why do so many “perish,” as the verse says? Because we are so attached to our stories. Our stories are familiar and habitual. They have become so real to us that we are unaware of our illusions that we have trapped ourselves in.

People catch monkeys by cutting a small hole in something stationary and putting food in it. The monkey will reach inside and take a handful of the food, but then it can’t get its hand out. Instead of letting the food go, the monkey will be trapped by its own attachment to the food and is easily captured. The monkey chooses the illusion of being trapped over freedom.

We might not be able to stop our brains from doing what they do, but we can be aware of it. Once the story begins we can observe it without becoming ensnared by it. We are free then to keep our attention on what is. We are free to look. What we see will blow our minds wide open.

Give it a try. Next time something catches your attention, try to pause for just a moment. Look at whatever is happening and then see when the story starts. And when it does start, just watch it, and watch your interaction with it. And perhaps, at some point, see what happens if you let it go.