Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 39


This long chapter is divided into two parts that mirror each other followed by a “coda.” The theme is Oneness. When we are in sync with the oneness of the universe, everything is as it should be – effortless, in harmony, sacred, full of life. When we are out of sync, life becomes a struggle, and our life force becomes depleted.

In the first section, we see how various aspects of the universe manifest Oneness:

Heaven is clear and pure
Earth is serene
The soul is divine
Valleys are full and abundant
Creation (the ten thousand things) is alive
Rulers are virtuous and honorable

But if these aspects lose their connection to Oneness:

Heaven without clarity would split open
Earth without tranquility would collapse
The soul without divinity would wither away
Valleys without abundance would be exhausted 
Creation without life force would become extinct
Rulers without virtue and honor would fall

The chapter ends with an admonishment against vanity:

Embrace humility as your foundation
Do not shine or tinkle like jade
Rather chime like stones

These last two lines can be understood a different way:

Do not shine or tinkle like jade 
Or clatter like stones

Either way, we are being warned against thinking ourselves special or superior. Instead, when we see ourselves as part of the vast Oneness of the universe, we are part of something much more vast, more beautiful, more perfect, than our individual egos could ever attain.

This chapter reminds me of a poem by Emily Dickinson. In it, there seems to be a delicious secret in recognizing our inherent oneness and connection to each other.

Nobody

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

At the Gate


One of my favorite movies of all time is King of Hearts, a 1960s film starring Alan Bates and a young Genevieve Bujold. The story takes place in a French village during WWI. The inhabitants flee the town, leaving behind the inmates of an asylum with the gate open. They filter out into the empty town and take on the roles of normal life, full of joie de vive, such that a Scottish soldier (Bates) sent into the town is unaware of the situation, with hilarious and profound results. 

This brief description does no justice to this gem of a movie, but sets the stage for the final scene. After opposing armies meet and kill each other off in the town square, the inmates realize that the villagers will be returning. They quietly abandon their adventure and return to the asylum. 

Finally understanding what has happened, Bates reluctantly rejoins his unit and prepares to move out. But at the very end, he returns and walks towards the asylum, shedding his uniform along the way, until he stands before the gate, stark naked, asking to be admitted. 

The people we find most appealing in the movie are those who have been judged insane – the ones who seem to appreciate life, reveling in the present moment, with open hearts and flashes of deep wisdom. When confronted by the dismal reality of the life he had never up to that moment questioned, Bates, along with the viewer, is led to consider that the inmates of the asylum might understand more about the precious nature of life than those who so thoughtlessly cast it aside. 

His walk towards the gate, to me, represents the process of awakening. It requires utter surrender, leaving behind everything we use to clothe ourselves – our beliefs, our judgments, our shame, our stories, our hopes, our fears. We must be willing to let it all go, layer by layer, like the uniform left strewn behind him. 

Until we stand at the door naked, with nothing to offer except ourselves, asking to come in. And we will be welcomed, because we are standing at the gate of home. And as the saying goes, home is where they have to let you in.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. ~Matthew 7:7

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Only Way


There is another way
The only way
Some think it secret
Yet it beckons all
Some think it leads afar
Yet it leads nowhere else but here
Some think it hard to follow
Yet it asks no sacrifice and requires no effort
Your soul's deep yearning
Your heart's desire
Is already yours
Now and always
Just let go of everything that is not it
And you will see

Sunday, February 4, 2018

I Just Like To Do Things My Own Way


My son James is autistic. For those familiar with the spectrum, he would probably fall somewhere at the very low end of high functioning. Several years ago, I had a conversation with him about his adult life. I was trying to ask in a sensitive, diplomatic way how he felt about not being able to do some things that he might see other adults doing. I was trying to understand if he saw himself as different, and if so, how he felt about it. 

James thought for a minute and then he shrugged. “I just like to do things my own way.” 

So true. He does. He has always marched to the beat of his own drum, and happily, at least when allowed to march unimpeded. 

When he was a boy, I once asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. 

“A deer!” he said. Not the sort of career choice answer I was expecting.

“Hmm, I’m pretty sure you are going to be a man when you grow up,” I replied. 

“NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” 

Looking back, I can see so many times along the way when I tried to make James fit into a mold. I believed that being a good mother to James meant trying to help him overcome the difficulties that I saw facing him. It meant making him more like everyone else.  

Then one day, I was passing close enough to hear James talking to himself in the mirror. 

“It’s great to be James!” 

Wow. 

I regret now all the ways that I became the impediment to James’s happy life dance. 

As I look around I see that this is not an isolated example. How many ways do I do this to others? To myself? How many ways have I tried to mold myself into the person I thought I should be at the expense of person within longing to be free? 

We want others to agree with us, to act like we think they should act, to believe what we believe. We hold others and most of all ourselves to a standard ideal. And meanwhile, the natural universe of beauty and energy and wild variation longs to express itself through all of us and each of us. 

The universe just likes to do things its own way. And who are we to stand in its way?

The universe is saying: “Allow me to flow through you unrestricted, and you will see the greatest magic you have ever seen.” ~ Klaus Joehle

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Guides from Beyond


This poem by Rumi has come as a guest into my “home” recently. A series of events over last fall and the beginning of this year have left me at various times elated, terrified, energized, devastated, regretful, confused, excited, upset, exhausted, stunned, content, happy, and lost. This poem knocked on my door and offered me a framework for holding all these events in my heart with gratitude. 

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness
comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if a they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

“Each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” That’s a comforting, or at least an encouraging way to view things, isn’t it? Each guide comes bearing a gift, if I’m willing to receive it. Every experience, the pleasant and the brutal, has something to teach me, to reveal to me. 

Guiding me towards...what? Something profound? Maybe even enlightenment? Dare I hope? 

Perhaps nothing so grand. Perhaps putting our welcome mat out for whoever or whatever stops by leads us towards the simple acceptance of what is. We cease to judge. We cease to struggle or resist. Or to grasp and try to hold on. We make our peace and fall in love with life. All of it.

The Buddhist story is told of Milarepa, who came back to his cave one day to find it filled with demons. He didn’t know how to get rid of them. He tried to teach them Buddhism. They ignored him. He got angry and attacked them. They just laughed. Finally, he gave up and said, “I’m not going anywhere and it seems that you are not either. I guess we will have to live here together. Let’s have some tea.” 

The story says that upon Milarepa’s offer of hospitality, the demons promptly disappeared. But I wonder. I think perhaps they stayed, along with the neighbors and artists and pets and politicians and dust bunnies and laughing children and kings and beggars and lost lovers and birth and death and everything in between and beyond.

Who is knocking on the door of your guest house today? Will you let them in?

You give yourself to life out of love, and it is to love more fiercely that you walk through the fires of sorrow that forge the heart into boundless affection. ~Adyashanti

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Storm


Sometimes a storm roars through your life
A sudden wind whipping, lightning flashing, thunder crashing, rain gushing, heart thumping storm
Over as soon as it begins
Leaving you breathless 
And more alive than you have ever been
Snapping, sizzling, sparking
Like lightning hit and lit you up
You look out and see
The world is new


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Minutes to Live


A friend was in Honolulu visiting family last week when the alert went out that a ballistic missile was headed to Hawaii. The alert stated that it was not a drill. She was absolutely convinced that she had just minutes to live.

We know now of course that the alert was a false alarm. But for the people who went through it, who believed it, something profound happened. How could it not?

What my friend experienced is her story to tell. But hearing her tell it made me imagine the experience for myself. A beautiful day in paradise. I’m enjoying the sun, maybe strolling along the beach. I feel good. And then I get a warning that in minutes everything is going to blow up and we are all going to die.

That seems different to me than becoming ill, or having an accident, or even being attacked by another person. In this scenario, everything around me still looks the same. I still feel good. Nothing seems dangerous. And yet I believe that in minutes something is going to fall out of the clear blue sky and my life is going to end, and there is no escape.

We don’t know of course what we would actually do. Some things you just can’t rehearse. But what can we learn from imagining such a scenario? What would I think about? What would I do? What would I feel?

And after learning that the alarm was false, what would I carry with me into a life that just moments before I thought was never going to happen? How would my life be different? How would I be different? Would I remember the lessons of those minutes when death was imminent, or would I settle back into my life as it was before?

There are many ways that the people in Hawaii who lived through this last week could look at what happened. It was a mistake. Perhaps it was also a gift. How many of us are given a few minutes to look our death that closely in the face and then live to tell the tale?

And perhaps the rest of us can share a little of that gift by listening to the stories of those who were there, and by imagining what we might have experienced and learned if we had been there ourselves.

Isn't it sad that so often it takes facing death to appreciate life and each other fully? ~Lori Earl