Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 28


The theme of this chapter is returning to our natural state. Tao is the undifferentiated source of the manifested universe. Tao manifests in the universe as Te. Remember that Te is loosely translated as virtue but does not mean virtue in the sense of morality, but rather in the sense of an inner harmony or integrity. Te is not separate from Tao, but rather is the natural expression or revelation of Tao in the world. Te ultimately returns to its source in Tao.

When our own lives manifest the integrity of Te, we return to our natural state of harmony with Tao. One aspect of the integrity of Te is the reconciliation of duality. The chapter gives us three examples.

Reconciling male and female
Become the watercourse for the world
Te will remain
Returning to infancy

An infant represents the primal unity of male and female, a pure channel through which Te flows uninterrupted. Jesus spoke of the innocence of children and their close link to the divine.

Reconciling black and white
Become the model for the world
Te will not fail
Returning to limitlessness

The characters for limitlessness are 无极 , pronounced wuji. If you practice taiji or other martial arts, you are probably familiar with wuji stance, which is basically a relaxed standing posture. The limitlessness of wuji is described as emptiness and is represented by this symbol.


This wuji symbol represents the vast emptiness and limitless potential of Tao. When Tao manifests into form it becomes a duality of black and white, or light and dark, or yin and yang, represented by the taiji symbol.


So within these two symbols we can see the limitless source of Tao manifesting into the perfect harmony of Te. When the two aspects of Te swirl together, they return to the undifferentiated source of Tao.

And finally...

Reconciling honor and disgrace 
Become the valley of the world
Te is then complete
Returning to an uncarved block

The image of the valley is used several times in the Tao Te Ching. A valley is low, fertile, open. It lies humbly beneath the rolling hills or majestic mountains that surround it. Yet it is the source of all nourishment that sustains life. It is a place of refuge and home to the water that seeks the low path.

The image of an uncut block of wood is also used several times in the Tao Te Ching, conveying a sense not only of simplicity but also of unlimited potential. The uncut block of wood can become many things. In the process of carving, however, the emerging form begins to eliminate possibilities. As the completed shape becomes defined, it takes on an identity, separate from all other things it might have been. The uncut block of wood represents the beginner’s mind of zen. And here, it represents the unlimited potential of Tao, the source from which the universe manifests and to which it returns.

The images and poetry of this chapter are so beautiful. If we can take these images as our guides, they will reveal to us the rhythm of the universe, the rhythm of manifesting and returning. Within that rhythm, we can find the balance of duality, the still point around which duality circles in its endless dance.

Is there an image here that especially resonates for you?

May I walk in the path of the low valley. ~2 Nephi 4:32

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Failing Better


Fail. Fail again. Fail better. ~Samuel Beckett, as quoted by Pema Chodron in the title of her book

I’m very experienced with failing. Most of us are, in one context or another. We don’t like to experience failure. We don’t even like to think about it. So we deny it, reframe it, avoid it, hide it, anything to not face it and feel the pain.

The pain of not facing failure becomes shame. We beat ourselves up with I should haves, I shouldn’t haves, if onlys. We tell ourselves stories with different outcomes. We pretend. And in the process, we lose who we really are. Then we can’t truly connect with others. We are alone. And afraid.

But this is what I’ve found. The more I denied my failures, the more I judged them and rejected them, the more I repeated them. Have you ever tried to unwrap something sealed with that cellophane that sticks to your fingers? You try to throw it away, but it’s still there. You fling your hand towards the trash and think you are rid of it only to see that it jumped to another finger and it’s still there.

Like the clinging cellophane, some failures are annoying. But others live deep in the dungeons of our soul. The failures that haunt me the most are the ones where I let someone down, or let myself down, when I wasn’t the best person I could be. This is especially true where my children are concerned. Is there a parent out there who doesn’t cringe at the memory of some way that they failed their children? There are still things that I have a hard time admitting.

Years ago, when I would bemoan something I had done, something I felt embarrassed about, something that I wish I had done better or at least differently, my therapist would say, “Welcome to the human race.” I never liked her at those moments, and being part of the human race was not at all comforting or appealing.

But over time, I began to accept or to at least acknowledge some of the ways I have failed. I could sometimes soothe the shame with compassion. I even admitted a few of my shortcomings to others. Lo and behold, instead of shock and rejection, I discovered I was in good company.

I’m a little more gentle with myself these days. They say charity begins at home. When I can find compassion for myself, it’s easier to find it for others. Once, when I was frustrated with my son’s autistic behavior, someone said, “Perhaps he’s doing the best he can.” She was right. He was. And in my struggle, perhaps I was doing the best I could.

Perhaps we all are. We will have successes and failures. And the failures will sometimes hurt. We might not be able to avoid failure. But with some compassion, forgiveness, and patience, we can fail better. Life will undoubtedly offer us many opportunities to practice!

Invest in loss. ~martial arts practice mantra attributed to Cheng Man-Ching

Monday, July 10, 2017

There Must Be a Better Way


There must be a better way. You’ve heard this and probably said it yourself in many different contexts. This thought is the genesis and the impetus for discoveries, inventions, and growth, for individuals and for communities and nations.

It usually occurs to us when we are at the nadir of our efforts, energy, ideas. We are at an impasse, frustrated and flummoxed. We remember the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over, thinking we will get a different result, and we recognize ourselves.

So we stop, momentarily empty.

That pause is what opens the door of the room that we have trapped ourselves in. That emptiness is what allows light to flood into the darkness that has imprisoned us. And into that light, the thought steps across the threshold: There must be a better way.

And in that moment, in our fatigue and despair, the spark of hope is ignited, and we are willing, if only for that moment, to consider that that thought might be true. If we can find the courage to hold onto that thought, we might tentatively step out of that room and look around us at the expanse of beautiful possibilities stretching before us, beautiful but unknown.

We might look back over our shoulder at the room we have just left. It is familiar and perhaps less scary than stepping forward into a place we do not know. Most of us will retreat back into our patterns several times, many times, countless times, before we are ready, really ready to seek that better way, before the fear of the unknown is less scary than the pain of going back.

And then, my friend, miracles happen. My own life is proof of that.

It all starts with that thought: There must be a better way.

Oh, there is. There is.

Believe it.

As we encounter those patterns that keep us trapped, in our own lives and in our communities and nations, when we are at our wits’ end, fresh out of ideas, realizing that what we keep trying is not working and never will...

stop,

take a deep breath,

and tell yourself there is a better way.

Then get ready for miracles.

Monday, July 3, 2017

I Speak to God


There are no words in Oneness
Words create two
When I speak
I speak to God
Who else is there?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 27


Good walking leaves no tracks
Good speech is without fault
Good counting needs no markers

The first line reminds me of the 70s TV show Kung Fu. In the opening sequence, the young Shaolin novice (“Grasshopper”) trains for years to walk across delicate rice paper without tearing it. It also reminds me of the concept of no trace camping, which means leaving your campsite in pristine condition as though you had not been there.

The character for “good” appears in this chapter eleven times. (You might recall that it was also repeated in Chapter 8, nine times there.) Some people think that the focus here is on skill, skill attainable through diligent practice. Indeed, Grasshopper tears up a lot of rice paper before finally being able to walk across it leaving it intact.

I’m all for practice. I just spent two hours this morning in tai chi and sword classes, practicing the same moves over and over. “Aggaaaiiiin,” my teacher is fond of saying, drawing the word out with a smile.

At some point, though, the movement transcends practice. The rules and structure fall away, along with the mover, and the movement flows effortlessly, perfectly, beautifully. In the very (very!) few times this has ever happened to me, I feel less like I am moving, and more like the movement is happening through me. I’m just along for the ride.

This is called entering the light

Entering the light comprises the characters xi    ming  . Each of these two characters has multiple meanings, with the result that this line has many possible translations. Xi means enter, but also to penetrate, merge, follow. Ming is made up of sun    and moon   . It means light, wisdom, luminous, insight, enlightenment.

So pick a meaning that speaks to you. Or embrace all of them. I love the fluidity of these meanings, which, to me, represent the elusive nature of Tao itself.

The end of the chapter shifts to the relationship between teacher and student. If properly aligned, the  harmonious interdependence and interplay of this relationship reflect the essence and mystery of Tao. We can appreciate this in our lives as we go through our day.

Try this. As you go through your day today, consider everything and everyone you meet to be your teacher. Pause whenever anything or anyone catches your attention and ask yourself what you can learn. Try not to judge; just have an open mind. And, as we would with any teacher, be respectful and give thanks for the lesson. If you like, share something you learned in the comments.

Bonus: Did you ever wonder how Grasshopper got his name in the Kung Fu TV series? In this scene, the new student encounters Master Po, who is blind. Master Po quickly teaches his novice not to assume that just because he has no eyes, he cannot see. Then he instructs his new student to close his eyes and listen.

Master Po: Can you hear the grasshopper at your feet?
Novice: Old man, how is it that you can hear these things?
Master Po: Young man, how is it that you cannot?

If you want to see the scene, click here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Season of Joy


This continues our series about the associations made in Chinese medicine and qigong between the five major organ systems and five elements. These associations are expanded to include associations with emotions, energies, animals, colors, sounds...and seasons. In this series, I’ve tried to highlight a few of the associations that you might enjoy contemplating.

Fall was the season of courage and gathering energy. Winter was the season of stillness and storing energy. Spring was the season of forgiveness and expanding energy. Now we arrive at summer, the season of joy and release.

Summer begins with the summer solstice. Just as winter begins with the return of the light as days gradually lengthen through the dark cold months, summer begins with the gradual fading of light as days gradually shorten through the hot sunny months. I’ve always loved that balance. Each solstice plants the seed of the next.

Organ

The organ associated with summer is the heart. While other organs might be doing critical work to keep our bodies alive, it is the heart that gets all the glory. I don’t recall many odes to livers and kidneys, and lungs rarely inspire poetic rhapsody. But hearts.... Hearts are the target of cupid’s arrows, the seat of wisdom, the source of endless description and metaphors.

Hearts break and heal. And pump. At my daughter’s first ultrasound, when she was barely pregnant, all I could see on the screen was a tiny blob. Within that blob was an even tinier fluttering. That, said the technician, is your baby’s heart.

The first visible movement of life. And all through our lives it is the one organ that we can hear and feel with a sensory awareness that leaves other organs in the shadows. When we hold someone close, we can sometimes feel each other’s hearts beating. Hearts never cease to fascinate and amaze.

Element

Not surprisingly, the element associated with summer and the heart is fire. I ran across an ad recently for the “world’s most perfectly cut diamond” with the trademark name “hearts on fire.” Fire can be destructive, to be sure, but it is also beautiful. It gives warmth and light. It purifies. Like the heart, it spawns poetry and metaphor. And myth.

It captures our imagination and attention. We meditate with a candle. We sit around a campfire with friends, laughing when we realize that we are all staring into the fire as we sing and chat.

Fire also releases energy as it consumes its fuel. The energy associated with the heart is the energy of release. As kids are released from school, we release our daily routines and go on vacation. Fire releases its energy in an upward movement as heat rises. Our hearts feel lighter and more carefree in the summer.

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. With fire and the heart, we think of a warm heart as beneficial, but a hot heart or a cold heart is not so desirable. When I lived in Thailand, where the climate itself seemed to be on fire most of the time, having a cool heart rather than a hot heart was admired.

The negative and positive emotions associated with the heart are reflected in the nature of the fire element. The negative emotions are hastiness, cruelty, arrogance, hatred. The positive emotions are joy, creativity, enthusiasm, honor, and of course love. Since I spent so many years studying and writing about happiness, I especially appreciate the joy that softly glows in a heart with healthy, balanced energy.

We are not always happy in a tra la la kind of way. But a healthy heart center is open, embracing, accepting, loving. It connects us to others in relationship, to our world in gratitude, to the sacred in union.

The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe. ~Joanna Macy

Bonus–If you want to get in the spirit of summer, watch this video! Make sure the sound is on. Guaranteed to make you smile.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Doorway


In this very moment
Is a doorway
Beyond that doorway
Is where we really are
And always have been
From there our spirit calls us to come home
Walk through the door
What you leave behind is only a dream
Do not fear to leave it
If you only knew what awaits you
You would leap laughing through the portal
And never look back

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 26


Heavy is the root of light
Tranquil is the master of restless

This opening couplet captures the essence of this chapter. The first line reflects a principle shared by martial arts as well as many wisdom teachings and even some mythology.

In Greek mythology, Anteaus was the son of Mother Earth. He grew up to be a great warrior. His secret was the strength that he got from his mother. As long as he was in contact with the earth, no one could harm him. (Hercules figured this out and defeated him by holding him up in the air.)

In martial arts we learn to “sink” our energy into our feet, or root. This helps us maintain balance and “uproot” our sparring partners. Qigong breathing exercises also teach us to breathe into our bellies. This belly breathing tells our brains that we are safe and promotes not only physical health, but also a sense of emotional well being.

This connection to the earth and to nature is emphasized throughout the Tao Te Ching. The earth represents not only our physical root, but also the yin energy of the female, the mother, the receptive. It is the source of our wisdom, our strength, our very existence.

This sense of groundedness is further reflected in the second line. When we are securely rooted in our true nature, we find an inner sea of tranquility. We might joke about inner peace, but this principle is basic to all sacred paths. The Bible teaches us to be still and know God. Meditation is the central practice of Buddhism. We find God in silence, when we listen beneath the noise of our daily lives.

Serenity quiets the restless energy that characterizes our human “busyness.” We often feel buffeted by the chaos of life and sometimes overwhelmed. A friend often describes her life as out of control. She responds by trying to exert control by force, but that just creates more restless “movement.” This is exhausting, as I well remember from my own attempts years ago to control things I could not control.

As this chapter teaches, restlessness is not mastered by force, but by tranquility. I’ve found in my own life, that when I begin to feel churned up (notice the directional reference “up,”away from our root), my best approach is to sit, to settle “down”– by the creek, on my meditation cushion, in the car, wherever – and breathe. When I focus on bringing my breath into my belly, my mind detaches from the hamster wheel of distressing thoughts looping through my brain. My body becomes loose and relaxed. The world seems different to me. The way becomes clear (or if it doesn’t, I can be patient until it does), and I can move forward with renewed energy, calm and confident.

Try it. Next time you sense a “disturbance in the force,” (couldn’t resist a Star Wars reference), take a few deep breaths, all the way into your belly. Feel your connection to the ground and imagine roots growing down into the earth. Feel the energy drawn in through your root, enlivening your body and calming your mind.

Whether you do this for a minute at a stoplight, or thirty minutes on your meditation cushion, you will experience the benefit. Like Anteaus, we are nourished and protected by our connection to our origin, to the life giving energy of creation, to the sacred wisdom and power of the universe.

Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm. ~S. A. Jefferson-Wright

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It's So Simple


Here is a conversation I had with someone yesterday:

Me: Does it really have to be so complicated?
Him: No.
Me: Can we talk more about this?
Him: No need to. The answer is no.

I started laughing. A day later I’m still laughing. I have started several emails to him with follow up questions. As quickly as I draft them, I delete them. Because whatever question I come up with, I realize that it is always the same question.

Does it really have to be so complicated?

And I will always get the same answer.

No.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Taste of Truth


The ocean has one taste, the taste of salt
Truth has one taste, the taste of liberation
~Buddha

There is not your truth and my truth. There are not variations of truth or shades of truth. There is truth. Truth is truth. There is nothing else. And, as Jesus promised, it will set us free.

We cannot speak truth to power because truth is power. The only power. Everything else is illusion. It makes no sense to fight about truth because you would be fighting against nothing. Fighting gives form to what is unreal.

We cannot speak truth to power also because truth cannot be spoken. It cannot be thought. It cannot be known in the way we usually think of knowing. It cannot be taught or learned. It cannot be searched for or found.

How can you find something that is never lost? How can you search for what is all around you, that is you? As the saying goes, that’s like a fish in the ocean looking for water.

So relax. Take a belly breath. Breathe in truth. Breathe out truth. Taste liberation. It’s delicious.

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

In the Beginning

In the beginning was the Word
Before the beginning 
         there was no beginning
There was One 
          in silence
The Word vibrated in the silence
And there were two
Beginning
Movement stirring, creating
Then sinking back to stillness
Ending
Being breathed into existence
           and returning to nonexistence
 The dance of life
 So beautiful

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 25


Divided into two parts, this chapter first attempts to describe the indescribable Tao, and then moves to a description of humanity’s place in the grand scheme of the universe.

There is something mysteriously undifferentiated
Existing before the beginning of heaven and earth
Silent and formless, unimaginable
Alone unchanging

This opening passage reminds me of Genesis 1:2: Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 

Throughout the Tao Te Ching, the image of water gives us a sense of the nature and power of Tao. In this passage, the character for undifferentiated is . The three little lines on the left side of the character form the root or radical for water. You might recall that in Chapter 4, the three characters used to describe Tao all have the water radical.

The description as unchanging can be misleading. The nature of Tao is not static, but dynamic, pregnant with limitless potential. However, as the primordial source of all creation, it is unchanging in its dynamic nature, as the vessel that is empty but inexhaustible.

This creative potential is revealed in the dynamic cycle of manifestation and return.

Tao is great
Its greatness flows everywhere 
It flows far away
And returns

We see this cycle of manifestation and return reflected in everything – our breath, birth and death, the seasons, day and night. Science tells us that the universe is expanding. I wonder if at some point it will cycle back and return, like a giant breath spanning a gazillion millennia.

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. In my early thirties, I was lucky enough to live in Bangkok, Thailand, for three years. I was fascinated by the culture, the climate, the language, everything that was so different from where I came from. (As Dorothy said to Toto in The Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”) At some point I realized that geographically, I was almost exactly on the opposite side of the globe from Memphis. I had traveled west to go to Thailand. If I kept moving in the same direction, I would literally be returning home.

After a total of seven years living in three different countries, I did eventually return home, not to Memphis, but to the United States. T. S. Eliot said it best: And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.

The chapter now turns to humanity’s place in the cosmos as one of the four great powers of the universe– Tao, heaven, earth, humanity. And it sets out the proper order of harmony.

Humans follow earth
Earth follows heaven
Heaven follows Tao
Tao follows its own nature

The character for follow is   , which also means law. Notice anything familiar? That’s right – the water radical on the left. So the natural order, or natural law, flows like water through the four powers of the universe. When we take our rightful place in the universe, in harmony with the natural law, we feel the power flow through us, as it was meant to. We realize that our true power comes not from imposing our ego will on nature, but from “following.” As Jesus taught, we “inherit the earth” through meekness, not through conquest.

I find this exhilarating...and sometimes a bit overwhelming. Fear keeps us grasping the weak illusion of control. But in doing so, we miss our natural inheritance. We are made in the image of the divine. We are magnificent, not in our isolated ego selves, but in our individual and collective roles as part of the perfect harmony of creation.

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

There Is No How


Quit trying. Quit trying not to try. Quit quitting. ~zen saying

I want to be awakened. I want enlightenment. How do I get it? Where are the instructions? If I read this book, practice these techniques, listen to this podcast, attend this workshop, devote myself to this teacher, read another book, breathe a certain way, think a certain way, meditate a certain way, chant a mantra, go to a retreat, read another book – will I achieve my goal? Will I pass the test and get my certificate? Will I be enlightened then?

How do I do this? Just tell me how. Please.

You want the secret? Okay, here it is. There is no how. Take it from one who has tried everything listed above. And more.

But then how...

There is no how. There is no way to get from here to there, because there is no there. There is no journey because there is nowhere to go. There is no technique, because there is nothing to do. There is no way of teaching because there is nothing to learn.

Umm....

I know. Right? The brain can’t grasp this. Truly, the brain can’t understand this, because our brains think. That’s what they do. Sometimes they do it really well. But you cannot think your way to enlightenment. Because enlightenment transcends thought. Oh, and also because enlightenment doesn’t exist.

What??

Well, it doesn’t exist in the sense of a static state. It is dynamic, offering an opportunity in every moment to enter, as A Course in Miracles calls it, the holy instant. The holy instant reveals all eternity to us in the perfect bliss of oneness.

Missed it? That’s okay. Here is another moment. And another.

I’m trying, but...

Don’t try.

Then how...

Just allow. Take a deep breath and surrender. Let go of everything. It only takes a moment. Because a moment is all there is.

Do or do not. There is no try. ~Yoda

Friday, May 26, 2017

Awake


Awake
Light's dawning is yet far
But shimmers in the stillness
A quiet glow
Awake
Or you will miss it

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.

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

My Twin

I have a twin
Her name is Death
When I breathed my first breath
She was born
Ever at my side
My dearest sister
She loves me with fierce wisdom
Where I fear she is fearless
Guiding me with sure unflinching steps
She is my last breath
O happy reunion 
As we race home hand in hand

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 20


The chapter begins with a line that ended up being a joke on me!

Abandon learning no worries

This reflects an ongoing theme throughout the Tao Te Ching, favoring the natural flow of Tao over conscious, or acquired, knowledge. As we’ve seen in recent chapters, this contrasts with the high value placed on learning in the Confucian system of social harmony.

There is much scholarly debate about the placement of this line. The four characters follow a pattern from the last chapter, so some scholars place this line at the end of Chapter 19. But placing it there ruins the symmetry and rhyming of the last lines of that chapter. Others place it here at the beginning of Chapter 20, but it is out of sync with the lines that follow.

So where is the joke? After spending a lot of time studying commentary and analytically comparing the alternative placements, I was feeling flummoxed and frustrated by the lack of a clear answer. Then I sat back and laughed.

Abandon learning no worries

Oh....

Now I am not worrying. The wisdom of the line has been clearly and effectively demonstrated through my own futile attempts to analyze its precise placement. The line, like Tao itself, can float where it will.

This is an especially meaningful concept for me (and obviously one I need to be reminded of). I always loved school, and loved the study of law as well as my career as a lawyer and a teacher of law. I have, for much of my life, lived in my head, where I was very much at home. I valued cerebral competence and enjoyed cerebral pursuits, and dismissed anything that smacked of feelings or intuition.

Over time, however, I recognized the limitations of such an approach to life. I lived long enough to see that when I disregarded my intuition in favor of a rational path, the result was never satisfactory. I came to understand that intellect has its place, but outside of that place, intellect is not very helpful, and in many cases is detrimental. As I began to seek out and rely on my intuition (inner guidance, divine guidance, Tao, Holy Spirit, whatever you want to call it), my life became infinitely happier, easier, more...um...beautiful, for lack of a better word.

So when I caught myself reverting to intellectual analysis to solve the “problem” of where this line goes, I had a good laugh.

Now that I’ve spent all this time inviting you to share the joke, what about the rest of the chapter? Through several comparisons, the follower of Tao is contrasted to other people in general. While people are going about their busy lives, the follower of Tao is compared to the precognitive purity of a newborn baby.

Some of the words used to describe the follower of Tao sound negative – dim, fool, confused, weak. However, taken in context they represent the undifferentiated formlessness of origin, or, in the words of the anonymous 14th century Christian mystic, the “cloud of unknowing.” When we enter this cloud, we leave all knowing behind. To go back to the first line, we abandon learning. And here is where we meet God.

Or, as the last line of the chapter says, we are nourished by the Great Mother.

When we remember this, as the first line promises, we have no worries. Like the lilies of the field and the birds in the sky, we are created and sustained by an energy we call by many names, but is beyond names and understanding. It is not ours to know, but to have faith. And when we can allow that flower of faith to bloom, then we rest in the perfection of being.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Thanking Our Enemies



Our enemies are our greatest teachers. ~The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet to avoid being imprisoned or killed by the invading Chinese. For decades, he has lived in exile. If anyone has a right to be unforgiving or hateful towards enemies, he does. And yet he doesn’t exercise that right. Instead, he offers compassion. He knows, as Buddha said, that hatred does not end hatred. Only love ends hatred.

In my martial arts school, we avoid adversarial language. For example, we spar with a “partner” instead of an “opponent.” We don’t compete for points. There is no winner or loser. Sometimes, when one partner uses a particularly effective technique, the other person might say “thank you.” Why? Because the technique revealed a weakness or vulnerability that allowed the attack to be successful. We learn from these “failures.” As one of our training slogans says, we “invest in loss.”

I used to spar with a guy named Billy. Billy had a great side kick that got through my defenses every time. Even when I knew he was going to use it, I still couldn’t get out of the way or deflect it. So when I sparred with him, I always asked him to use that technique so that I could learn. I didn’t shy away from it or get upset with him for using it. I thanked him for it. And when one day I managed to defend myself against it, we were both very happy.

In a sense, Billy was my sparring “enemy” but really he was my teacher.

The world today seems so full of enemies. What could I learn if I took one individual or group that falls in that category, and instead applied the label of teacher instead of enemy? What would I see in myself that needs work?

I had a supervisor once who was, in a word, mean. He seemed to go out of his way to keep the people he supervised on edge, wary. He delighted in bringing attention to mistakes (sometimes real, sometimes not) in a way calculated to embarrass the person. His own mistakes were always blamed on someone else. A request or suggestion to him was often met with a knee jerk denial, but if the suggestion was a good idea, he would then promote it as his own. You get the picture.

I dreaded going to work, and tried to avoid him as much as possible. Over time, however, I realized that he was not going to change, and so it was up to me to find a way to succeed in this environment. I gradually learned to adapt in a way that kept me out of direct confrontations. For example, if I needed his okay on something, I would go in his office and propose the opposite. He would predictably shoot that down and demand the option I supported. I would praise his insight and march off with the approval I needed to proceed with what I had originally wanted.

Rather than fighting him, I learned from him, and in the process became much better at my job, which involved a lot of negotiating. While we never were buddies, I had a successful working relationship with him, and his tactics no longer bothered me. Years later, after moving on to other jobs, I could look back and appreciate how much I had learned from him. He was indeed one of my greatest teachers.

Is there someone in your life you consider an enemy? It might be a family member, a neighbor, a coworker, a person who voted for (fill in the blank), a person who belongs to a group you oppose. Try for just a moment to think of that person as a teacher. What can you learn about yourself from this person? And if you can’t bring yourself to feel gratitude towards this person for what you can learn, can you soften enough to feel compassion, both for the person and for yourself?


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 19


This chapter continues the distinction in the last chapter between a conscious effort to be virtuous, and living in harmony with Tao which allows virtue to naturally manifest.

Abandon sainthood, renounce wisdom
People will benefit a hundred fold

In my young adulthood, I visited a zen center in the beautiful wine country outside San Francisco. The monk who led this group seemed to make a point of being “unsaintly.” He would walk around in his black robes with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, but I never saw him actually smoke or drink. I got the idea that he wanted to avoid being perceived as some kind of holy guru. Irreverent and funny, he was unfailingly kind and gracious. The twinkle in his eye suggested a deep love of, well, everything.

The monk’s followers, on the other hand, floated around with beatific smiles and, at least what seemed to me as, superficial humility, while not so subtly trying to outdo each other in enlightened behavior. They let me know in various ways that I was not in their league. Ah, we are so human, aren’t we?

Abandon benevolence, renounce morality
People will return to harmonious relations

As with the last chapter, we might look at some of these things we are supposed to abandon or renounce and wonder what would happen if we did. They seem to be the bedrock of civilized society. If we toss them aside, what is to keep us from devolving into chaos and violence? On the other hand, how well has adherence to a legally-imposed moral code worked for humanity so far? Just sayin....

Abandon shrewdness, renounce profit
People will be free from robbers

This harkens back to Chapter 3 (not collecting treasures prevents robbery). I think it’s interesting that in the Quran, interest is not allowed on loans. I have a friend who is a devoted Muslim and works for the Saudi government trying to bring banking regulation into compliance with this principle. Not sure how that would work, but in its simplest form, I think the principle here is not to take advantage of others, and not to grasp so greedily for things that we care about more than we care about the things that really matter, which, by the way, are things that cannot be grasped, greedily or otherwise.

Therefore heed these teachings:
Recognize the pure, embrace the simple
Reduce the ego, temper desires 

These last two lines can be understood two different ways. It could be four separate encouragements:

1. Recognize the pure
2. Embrace the simple
3. Reduce the ego
4. Temper desires

The alternative is to read them as cause and effect. In others words, the result of recognizing the pure and embracing the simple IS the reduction of ego and the lessening of desires. Personally, I prefer this latter interpretation. Ego and desire naturally fade as we become less distracted by the artifice of our consumer/marketing-driven world.

Just as an interesting (to me!) aside, the character for pure is  , which depicts raw or undyed silk. The character for simple is   , representing an uncarved block of wood. (As we saw in Chapter 15, this image of the uncarved block of wood is a popular one in the Tao Te Ching, suggesting not only simplicity but also unlimited potential.)

So what to make of this chapter? My commentary has been somewhat disjointed as the different lines reminded me of different things, so thank you for indulging my wandering mind. Overall, though, I think the focus here is on releasing our attachments, whether to beliefs, judgments, or desires. Grasping leads to stagnation; releasing allows natural flow. Consider the things we are asked in this chapter to abandon or renounce. If we can become aware of these things in our own life, then we can begin to see the effects of holding onto them. And to the extent we are able to loosen that grasp, even the tiniest bit, we can begin to experience and to manifest the beauty that is our true nature.

[A] truth is a truth until you try to organize it, and then it becomes a lie. Why? Because the purposes of the organization begin to take precedence over that which it first attempted to keep in order.  ~Wayne Dyer

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Secret Language


The creek speaks a secret language
So quiet you might miss it
Beneath the rushing water song
A voice burbles near the bank
Kneel down in the sponge wet moss
Lean close and listen
Cotton soft marimba bells
Whisper messages of mystery
Don't try to understand
This is the language of the soul
And only there is it received

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 18


This modest little (four lines) chapter does nothing less than represent the entire debate between Confucianism and Taoism, two major philosophical traditions originating in ancient China. (Confucius and Lao Zi, purported author of the Tao Te Ching, were contemporaries, both living in China around 500 BCE.) 

When great Tao is lost, there is kindness and morality
Intelligence and knowledge emerge, and there is great artifice
Family relations are not harmonious, and there is filial piety and parental devotion
The nation is in disorder and discord, and there are loyal ministers

If you look at the second part of each line, you might wonder what the problem is. What’s wrong with kindness, filial piety, and loyal ministers? (I’ll come back to artifice in a minute.) The answer is that nothing is wrong with these virtues. The issue, I think, is one of direction. Does Tao lead to these virtues, or do these virtues lead to Tao? 

With apologies to scholars and philosophers for my gross oversimplification, Confucius believed that the conscious cultivation of identified virtues led to personal, social, and governmental harmony. Lao Zi, on the other hand, believed that when we live in harmony with Tao, these qualities naturally manifest without conscious effort. The “Te” of the Tao Te Ching  means virtue, but in a much broader, organic sense than the moralistic, judgmental connotation we often attach to this word. 

So back to our question about whether Tao leads to virtue or whether virtue leads to Tao -- does the “direction” matter? 

This is where artifice comes in. The character used here  伪 carries connotations of pretense, hypocrisy, falsehood. But the character itself breaks down into person  人   and action  为  , suggesting something that a person does or makes. And indeed, one of the meanings of this character is man-made. Man-made has a more neutral connotation, and even a positive one. Indeed, we are often very proud of what we can manufacture and produce. In this sense, the character might be thought of as indicating something originating from the ego, or self. 

If we think about it this way, the question becomes whether we can find Tao (God, the Sacred, whatever name you like), through the ego’s efforts. The Bible offers some insight.

Paul taught that when one surrenders oneself (ego) to the Holy Spirit, one naturally manifests the “fruit of the spirit” – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – just like fruit on a tree grows because of its intrinsic nature. I think this is similar to Lao Zi’s view that the highest virtue is not consciously cultivated in accordance with some moral code, but rather naturally flows through us when we are in harmony with Tao. In this sense, we are “not acting” ourselves. This represents the theme in the Tao Te Ching of wu wei, or non-action.

In contrast, some of you might be familiar with the Bible story of the Tower of Babel. Basically, a bunch of people got together and decided to build a tower high enough to reach heaven. Great idea, but, as you can guess, they were unsuccessful. 

Going back to the Chinese characters, the Tower of Babel is more like the sense of “artifice” conveyed by the character  伪  in this chapter.  Remember that this character combines person  人   with action 为   to convey the sense of something man-made. The fruit of the spirit is more like the theme of wu wei, or non-action, which permeates the Tao Te Ching. Wu wei is two characters, 无  meaning without, and 为  meaning action. Notice that the “action” part 为   Is the same in both concepts. One is the person acting; the other is non-action.

The point of this chapter is, I believe, that while kindness, morality, filial piety and parental devotion, and loyal ministers are all good things, they are, in the words of one author writing about this chapter, “second best.” They are like the artificial light we use and value when the sun goes down. It is man-made and useful when we have lost the natural light, but cannot duplicate or replace the sun itself.

The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.  ~Deng Ming-Dao 

[Note: In response to a reader's comment that the posts are hard to read with the white print on the red background, I'm trying a larger font. I welcome feedback!]