Friday, August 23, 2019

Look Again

It's here
Right here
Oh look again
If you could see 
All war would cease
For why would we fight
Our own reflection
So look again
Do you not see
In every face you fear
So who then is your enemy
Please look again
Until you see 
The face of God
For none else exists

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Non-Action Hotline

In my No Way Café contemplation group, we were joking about my “addiction” to acquiring even more translations and interpretations of the Tao Te Ching. This could prove to be a costly and cumbersome habit since the Tao Te Ching has been translated more than any other book in history except the Bible. How many do I need?

When billionaire John D. Rockefeller was asked how much money was enough, he answered, “Just a little more.” I can relate.

Someone joked that I should call the “non-action hotline,” referring to one of the basic principles of the Tao Te Ching. Another person picked up on the joke and added that when you call, all you hear is white noise. So funny.

But it got me to thinking more about this concept on non-action or wu wei, undoubtedly one of the more challenging concepts to understand and put into practice. We are a culture of overt doing – making our to do lists and checking off the items with smug satisfaction, or wilting in the face of all the things left undone. We set goals and make New Year resolutions, and measure our success or failure accordingly.

Many see our current national and global situation as a call to action. A woman I barely know came up to me before tai chi class and asked me what I was doing to address something that was recently in the news. When I agreed that the situation was tragic, she raised her voice and challenged me. “No, I mean what are you DOING?”

Understanding that no answer I could give her would be satisfactory, I just said quietly, “Probably not enough.”

A more accurate answer might have been, I’m doing what I am called to do. Or even better, I’m allowing what wants to manifest through me to manifest. Non-action doesn’t mean passivity or apathy. On the contrary, it is a dynamic and powerful principle. It means being in alignment with the natural energy of the universe such that necessary action happens, and unnecessary action doesn’t. That can look different for different people. It can look different for the same person at different times. But it all starts with internal harmony that then manifests outwardly in various forms.

In martial arts, we practice finding our internal alignment. All movement comes from this. All power comes from this. When I am aligned, I can feel the energy moving freely. I can sense in my body the truth of this teaching. It’s wonderful.

The Tao Te Ching assures us that when this principle of non-action is internalized and practiced, “nothing is left undone.” This is the paradox of wu wei. If nothing is done, how is nothing left undone? All I can say is that when I “surrender as general manager of the universe,” as the saying goes, I can experience the creative and dynamic power of the universe at work. Whatever I “accomplish” is then not anything that I have done, but it has happened through me. In that sense, nothing is done (by me) yet nothing is left undone (by the universe).

Maybe I don’t need any more translations of the Tao Te Ching ... at least today. I better call the hotline.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Arms Open Wide

The wonders of this existence
Open your heart with the pain of loss
Each moment comes and then is gone
Its leaving is felt
Its loss is mourned
Even as we welcome the next precious moment
Life and death in each breath
Arms open wide

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 61

This chapter address the theme of power in the context of the relationship between large and small countries. Like other chapters addressing nations and government, this chapter can also apply to individuals – how we govern ourselves and how we relate to others.

A large country is like a river delta
The lowest point where all streams converge
Manifesting the receptive stillness of the feminine
It absorbs the power of all the water that flows into it

The Tao Te Ching often uses the image of water to describe the natural movement and energy of Tao. Water naturally flows towards the lowest point. The character for low 下 is used nine times in this chapter and can also mean underneath or humble.

The chapter goes on to describe the relationship of large and small countries, explaining that harmony between them is fostered not by force but by mutual respect and humility. An image that comes to mind is the practice in some cultures of bowing, each party offering respect rather than demanding it.

Bowing is often a part of martial arts ritual. Teachers and students bow to each other. Higher and lower ranked students bow to each other. Sparring partners bow to each other before and after combat.

Humility is sometimes confused with weakness or passivity or being taken advantage of. Or humiliation, which is a function of ego, whereas humility is a relinquishment of ego.

As we see in this chapter, humility is a quality of strength and power, like the power of the ocean that lies below all the waters of the earth. True power comes not from force, as anyone who practices martial arts will tell you. There will always be someone stronger. True power comes from alignment with the natural energy of the universe, allowing that energy to flow unimpeded.

Humility is a quality we used to value. It is one of the fruits of the spirit listed in the Bible. But as we look at nations and world leaders today, as we look at those who excel in sports, and those who attain celebrity status for reasons no one can identify, it seems that self promotion and self aggrandizement are the coin of the realm.

This chapter has led me to contemplate the place of humility in my own life. Is this a quality of the people I admire? Do I catch myself when ego puffs up? Do I value the opportunities I have to learn from others and to be in caring relationships when I check my ego at the door of life and bow to the beauty of every moment’s blessing?

I’m practicing....

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. ~Matthew 5:5

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Why We Practice

Last weekend I was walking along a trail with a friend. We had our dogs with us – my little fur ball and her big Lab. We came to a small single plank bridge over a tiny creek. The plank was 12 inches wide. I started across. Just then her dog decided that she wanted to be in front. Before my friend could warn me, her dog came up behind me and in racing to get past, bumped into my left leg, knocking it upwards and spinning me sideways on the plank.

By all reason, I should have ended up in the creek, which was only a short drop and the worst result would have been wet shoes and maybe a wet rear. So not that big a deal. But somehow I didn’t fall. As I turned, I managed to maintain my balance, sinking smoothly into my right foot and bringing my arms up in a pose that looked something like the photo above.

Poised there as my mind took in what had happened, I felt sort of foolish and amazed at the same time. I slowly stood back up, looked at my friend, who was just staring at me, and said, “I have no idea how I did that.”

Perhaps that is not entirely true. My martial arts practice involves a lot of balance and responding to the unexpected. When the dog bumped me, my body just did what it is trained to do. I really had little to do with it in terms of analyzing the situation, making a plan, and executing it. It was over before my mind caught up and figured out what had happened.

In reflecting on it later, I understood that this is why we practice. We practice so that when needed, our training kicks in and operates without much conscious supervision. We internalize our practice and it becomes part of who we are.

Here’s the thing. We are always practicing something. I got to wondering what else I’m practicing. Am I practicing kindness or meanness? Compassion or judgment? Forgiveness or anger? Generosity or withholding? Connection or separation? Faith or fear?

We practice intentionally and consciously what we want to manifest when something catches us off guard, so that our training will kick in when needed, guiding us as we engage with others and the world around us.

So I’m going to be paying more attention to what I’m practicing as I go through my day. For example, thinking of some recent events, I want to practice not taking things personally. I could also use some brushing up on taking responsibility for my own feelings. I would like to practice taking the long view when considering my response to something in the moment. And I definitely need to fluff and buff my practice of maintaining good boundaries.

How about you? What would you like to practice?

An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory. ~E F Schumacher

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Each Day

Each day
Is one day less to live
Do not waste it
So that when death comes
As it surely will
You can lay your body down
Satisfied that not one day
Was left unloved

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Everything – No Matter What – Is Perfect

I’m reading a book titled “What is Mysticism” by Jon Mundy. Yesterday I read this passage:

Mostly, it’s a profound inner knowing and an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things – a sense that everything is perfect just the way it is.

When I read it, I got chills because I was blessed to experience this perfection once. Some of you know this story, but I haven’t written about it in a while, and reading this book has brought it back to the forefront of my consciousness.

I have a cabin in the mountains, my little forest retreat, with no phone, TV, or internet. It nestles under huge evergreens, on top of a small but steep rise overlooking a creek. One time, years ago, I left my kids with a trusted friend, and went up to the cabin for an overnight respite.

For some reason, I decided that I needed to clean all the little branches and pine needles off the roof. I stood on an extension ladder and raked the debris to the ground. After moving the ladder all around the cabin, I was on the last section. The base of the ladder was on the deck. There was one branch stuck further up on the roof. I leaned forward over the top rungs of the ladder and reached as far as I could with the rake. And then I felt the ladder slip.

My first frantic instinct was to grab for something. But there was only the slanted roof, with no gutters. In the next instant, I knew I was going to fall. And that is when everything changed.

I will try my best to describe what happened, knowing that I can’t. There are no words. So I will try to fail well, using words to do what words can never do.

The moment I understood that I was going to fall, the world changed. I did not leave my body. Indeed, I was very aware of being in my body as it bounced off the falling ladder. I felt my back land on the edge of the deck, and experienced the disorienting tumble as I flipped off the deck and rolled head over heels through the brush down the hill.

But that is not the story. The story is what was going on as all this was happening. At that exact instant when I surrendered to the fall, all fear evaporated. Arms of angels embraced me in peace and light. No, I didn’t see them, and “angel” is not even the right word, but I felt surrounded by unconditional love beyond anything you can imagine. Everything that I knew or thought I knew fell away.

Surprisingly, I did not sense that I was being protected from bodily harm. On the contrary, as I felt my body crash and tumble, I was quite sure something was going to break. The blow of my back on the edge of the deck might leave me paralyzed. I might even die. At the very least there was going to be a broken bone somewhere. And I was there by myself with no way to get help. All of this was floating through my mind, but totally, completely without fear.

Because none of that mattered. It didn’t matter because I was being held in the absolute certainty that whatever happened was perfect. I understood, not with my mind but with my entire being, that everything is perfect. That was the word I “heard” from the angels, or beings, or energy that surrounded me – perfect. Always. No matter what. Perfect. Just let that soak in for a minute.

Everything is perfect. Always. No matter what.

The sublime peace and exquisite joy of that moment was...ah, I can’t even try to express it. All I can say is that I knew it was real. That it was the only thing that is real.

I would like to tell you that this moment of awakening or enlightenment or whatever you want to call it lasted forever. At the time, it did seem like forever because time was suspended while I was falling. But I returned to the “ordinary” world. After my body came to a stop, I lay there on the side of the hill, fearing to move in case some part of me didn’t move! I started with my toes and moved on up, reassured that everything was functioning. Scraped and bleeding, and not yet feeling the bruising and soreness of the days to come, I crawled back up the hill and sat on the deck trying to process what had just happened.

As my thinking mind started to rev back up, all the “what if” thoughts started to dance a frantic, fearful dance, playing out scenarios that never happened, yet seemed real in my imagination. But I stopped them with a quick rebuke. I had been given a priceless treasure and I was loath to toss it aside in favor of worthless mind trinkets.

So I sat there, looking at the ladder lying innocently on the deck, tracing with my eyes the track my body took from the roof to the bottom of the hill, and giving up any effort to make what had happened make “sense.” I breathed in the smell of evergreen and listened to the creek, humbly grateful for this glimpse of...what? Heaven, truth, reality? The word doesn’t matter.

I might not have become an enlightened being that day, but I had an enlightened experience. Since then, especially in challenging times, I have drawn on the memory of what happened, reminding myself of what I learned that day. That things are not what they seem, that I understand very little, and know even less. And that no matter what happens, even if I can’t understand it, everything is perfect.

Nothing real can be threatened
Nothing unreal exists
Herein lies the peace of God
    ~A Course in Miracles