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.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Response-ability


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. ~Marianne Williamson

Science has proved what mystics have known for millennia – we are all connected through a network of energy, physical as well as consciousness energy. The Avatamsaka Sutra describes this interconnectedness as the “jeweled net of Indra.” This net stretches to infinity in all directions. A jewel is placed at each intersection of threads, likewise infinite in number. In each facet of each jewel is reflected all the other jewels in the net. And within each reflection is reflected all the other jewels and all the other reflections, thus creating a dynamic phenomenon of infinite reflection.

Through this connection we are not only reflecting, but creating, eternally creating in concert the “ten thousand things,” a term used in the Tao Te Ching to describe what we perceive as the universe we live in. We know from particle physics that observation affects the observed. When we focus on something we affect it. It changes in response to our attention. We, in turn, respond to the dynamic interaction our attention has created. In responding to and interacting with our world, we create the very reality we experience. Furthermore, we affect the reality that others experience by reflecting our experience through the “net.” It all becomes part of the jeweled net of our universe. (“Internet” takes on a whole new meaning!)

Just pause and consider this for a moment. Everything that we do or say or think reverberates through all creation. Yes, even thoughts. A Course in Miracles teaches that there are no idle thoughts. Our very thoughts create the universe that we perceive.

Powerful beyond measure indeed! As John F. Kennedy said, quoting the Bible, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Our ability to respond to our world through our deeds, words, and thoughts, gives us the power to affect our world, and everyone and everything in it. This response-ability gives us the choice to use this power for good or for harm.

Everything that we do or say or think, according to A Course in Miracles, is one of only two things – an expression of love or a call for love. When we are in harmony with the sacred (Tao, Holy Spirit, universal energy), the beauty of love moves through us and manifests in all creation. It’s not so much that we express love as that love is expressed through us.

When we are not in harmony, we suffer from the illusion of separation. Our spirits seek to restore unity, calling for love. This call can manifest as deeds, words, or thoughts we might label as harmful, such as anger, judgment, violence. Underneath, all these are rooted in fear, the mistaken fear of separation and the desperate yearning to restore unity.

We might label these manifestations as harmful, but here is the true power of our response-ability. They are only as harmful as our own responses allow. If we respond to anger, judgment, or violence with more of the same, the illusion of separation ripples through the jeweled net as the call for love goes unanswered. But if we recognize these manifestations of fear as what they really are, calls for love, we can respond with expressions of love, thus dispelling the illusion of separation and reflecting unity throughout the jeweled net. All creation then vibrates in perfect harmony with God.

As you go through your day, consider the power you hold. Remember that everything that you do or say or think is either an expression of love or a call for love. Recognize the calls for love you see around you, and choose how you will respond – with a further call for love, or a healing expression of love.

And don’t forget that expressions of love can be directed to ourselves as well, especially when we recognize the call for love in our own spirits.

Blessings to you this day, my friend.

Note: Thanks to Judi Jason for inspiring this post by sharing with me the concept of response-ability and her thoughts on the topic. Love you, Juju!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 21


The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth
The named is the mother of ten thousand things
   ~Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ~John 1:1

This chapter is the counterpart to both Chapter 14, which described the unknowable nature of Tao, and Chapter 10, which described the concept of Te and how it manifests in our lives. Te has been loosely translated as primal virtue, but not in the moralistic sense. More like inner harmony, or integrity.

Here, in this chapter, we see the connection between Tao and Te, how Te emerges from Tao like the stars emerging from the star nursery in the photo above. This chapter is, an a sense, a creation story.

The nature of vast Te flows only from Tao
Tao’s manifesting is elusive and intangible
Elusive and intangible
Within is image
Intangible and elusive
Within is form
Hidden and obscure
Within is essence
Its essence is real
Within is truth
Its name is everlasting
The origin of all creation

In the Bible, God created by “naming.” When he said, “Let there be light,” there was light. And so on. Naming is a creative and powerful process. Many cultures have naming rituals for their children. We have seen that the Tao cannot be named. It is beyond concepts, and thus beyond language. But here, we are told that the name of Te is everlasting. It is the name of creation, the ten thousand things. It is not so much the things themselves, although it is that too, but it is the existence of the things, their very being. The being that emerges from nonbeing.

Like the stars that appear from a cloud of primordial star “stuff,” Te emerges from the brimming emptiness of Tao. And while we can’t know unlimited Tao with our limited minds, we can recognize the manifestation of Tao through the harmony and integrity of Te. Indeed, we are that manifestation.

Dancers come and go in the twinkling of an eye, but the dance lives on. ~Michael Jackson

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Season of Forgiveness


To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.  ~Lewis B. Smedes

Fall was the season of courage and gathering energy. Winter was the season of stillness and storing energy. Now we arrive at spring. The light has been quietly returning since the beginning of winter, and now it surpasses the darkness as birds sing the day awake. Sap rises. Buds that have waited patiently through the cold months open timidly or boldly burst forth. Everyone comes out of hibernation. Kids are playing outside as neighbors greet each other. The stores of winter are almost depleted and now it’s time to plant. There is a sense of newness, of promise. We feel alive.

It’s funny in a way that our calendar new year begins just as winter settles in. The new year motivates us to begin new projects, set new goals. But winter’s energy is stillness and quiet, not action and accomplishment. Spring is much better suited for these undertakings. The Chinese medicine and qigong associations predictably express this energy of expansion and growth, but the association of forgiveness might not be so obvious. Let’s look at the various associations to see what they have to teach us this season.

Organ

The organ associated with spring is the liver. The liver is a busy organ, with detox, regulation, and production functions. The detox function purifies the blood and prevents stagnation and is perfect for spring, like perpetual spring cleaning! This function operates in our physical system, cleaning the blood, and also in our energetic system, cleaning our qi, or vital essence.

One of the points on the liver meridian is called the “great surge.” The Chinese character for surge is      . The short lines on the left side of the character stand for water. The rectangle with the vertical line through it means center. So this character suggests the center of water, like a spring bubbling up. We saw this same character used in chapter 4 of the Tao Te Ching to describe the inexhaustible nature of Tao.

This particular acupressure point on the liver meridian is located on the top of our feet, in the “valley” between the bones leading to our big toe and the one next to it.

Massaging this point on either foot is a great pick me up, helping to remove energy blockages so that the qi can move freely through the body. I’m told it can also help with headaches and allergies!

Element

The element associated with the liver is wood. This is not surprising as trees blossom and produce new leaves in the spring. There is also an expansion quality of energy in this season, represented by the rings added around tree trunks every year. Indeed, this quality of growth and expansion is seen in all plant life. Whether it’s dandelions growing through cracks in the sidewalk, or fern fronds unfurling, or vine tendrils curling around porch railings, we see this great surge of life that will not be denied.

Emotions

As stated before, the emotional associations are often categorized as positive or negative, but don’t think of this as good or bad, but more like a polarity, or a balance. The negative emotion associated with this season is anger. We sometimes feel anger when our plans are thwarted in some way, when our efforts to move in a chosen direction are blocked. When this happens we look for someone or something to blame, and when we find a target, our anger is reinforced.

The positive emotion to counter anger is forgiveness. This might not make sense at first, but think about what unforgiveness feels like. We often feel stuck in our righteous indignation. When we can’t “let it go,” we begin to stagnate in our inability or unwillingness to move on. When I used to lead discussion groups on this topic, a common stumbling block was the belief that forgiveness had to be warranted in some way. But this is based on the mistaken view that forgiveness is for the benefit of the forgiven, when in reality, forgiveness liberates the forgiver.  [The topic of forgiveness is vast, and certainly deserves more than I can include in this post, but here is a link to something else I wrote on this topic that might be helpful.]

The healing sound associated with the liver is “shhhh.” What a perfect sound to soothe the beast of anger and allow the angel of forgiveness to release us from whatever blocks the sunshine of our souls.

So this season is a perfect time to clean out the debris, plant a new crop of beauty, and watch it grow.

Spring is nature's way of saying "Let's party!"  ~Robin Williams

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Gift So Rare


I'll give you a poem
Said the stranger passing by
A gift so rare
Not of the senses
But of the soul
Like the sunshine 
Dappling the morning trees
Sparkling on the dancing waters of your life
It needs no words
But whispers delight and blessing
It is mine but not mine
As it was ever yours