Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Oneness Game


Okay, this is going to seem silly at first, but consider giving it a try.

The idea for this post grew out of a game I was playing with my grandson. We were taking random objects and identifying qualities that were alike and different. Then the conversation moved to people. As we played, I started thinking we were onto something profound. Of course every grandparent thinks that everything they do with a grandchild is profound.

But it got me to thinking about situations and people that seem irreconcilably opposed. Naturally, I’m thinking of the current social and political climate in this country and in the world, but let’s not make this about politics. At least not overtly. Let’s start with something not so emotionally charged, and simplify it to consider what unites us instead of what divides us.

Just like the game with my grandson, start with a few random objects you see around you right now. For example, I’m looking at my computer, my phone, and some paper I’ve written notes on. While the computer and the phone are both more technologically advanced than paper (and they are both smarter than I am), all three have in common that I use them for communication.

Another example – I was in a diverse group of people recently and we were trying to find something we all had in common. It turned out that we all had a Memphis connection.

See how it works? No matter what or who is being grouped, we can always find something in common. And with people, this is the beginning of connection, relationship, understanding, dialogue. It doesn’t always mean we like the other person or agree with them, but finding common ground means that we are no longer completely divided.

Give it a try. Remember to start small, and work your way up to the tough ones. And have fun!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Glory Glory




The stately tree trunks
Stand so still
But high above
The tree tops dance
Glory
Glory 
To the morning sun

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Catching Monkeys


When hunters in Africa want to catch a monkey, they carve a small hole in something stationary, like a gourd secured with a rope. They put food in the hole, stand back, and wait. The monkey will reach into the hole and grab a handful, but with a fist full of food the monkey can’t get its hand back out. Even as the hunter approaches, the monkey will frantically pull and scream, but it won’t let go. It is caught.

All the monkey has to do is let go. If it releases what it grasps so tightly in its fist, it will be free.

I can relate. Sometimes I find myself trapped by my own attachment to a belief or judgment or desire or emotion. Perhaps I am holding onto resentment over something that happened years ago. Or I am judging a person or a situation in a way that isolates me or causes me fear. The word “conviction” is interesting. Conviction can mean that I have been declared guilty of a crime. It can also mean a firmly held belief. Do my beliefs in some way imprison me?

Whatever I am holding onto, is it of more value to me than my freedom? What am I willing to let go of to release myself from self-imposed bondage?

Consider what you might be grasping in your fist that keeps you trapped. What would it take to just open your hand and be free?

Freedom...is the act of releasing ourselves from the bondage of that which keeps us from living the life we were meant to live.  ~Kelli Wilson

Monday, September 11, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 32


I recently wrote a post about the effect of naming on our direct experience of the present moment, and now I turn to the next chapter in the Tao Te Ching and guess what it’s about. Naming! Cosmic synchronicity. I promise I didn’t plan it this way.

Tao is forever without name 
Though its natural state is small 
Nothing under heaven can rule it

The character for “natural state” is  , used throughout the Tao Te Ching to describe the simple, pure, limitless potential of Tao. It literally means an uncarved block of wood. Once it is carved into something, that something has a name. The name identifies a specific form. It becomes this and not that. It becomes limited. That’s not a bad thing. After all, Michelangelo took uncarved blocks of marble and turned them into beauty.

The Bible creation story begins “Now the earth was formless and empty.... Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Speaking a name brought into existence what was named. There is an inherent connection between naming and creation.

Tao is without name. It is forever limitless and unknowable, and therefore beyond our control. And yet....

If princes and kings could abide by it (or in it)
All creation would follow

The text can be interpreted as referring to actual leaders, or to ruling our inner self. If the ruler in either context is in harmony with the natural order, all else falls into place without the need of external enforcement.

As a lawyer, I find this fascinating. In our society, we hold high the “rule of law.” As a contracts lawyer, my job was to negotiate the private “rule of law” between the parties. In other words, I helped them “name” and agree to the rules that would govern their contractual relationship. In the United States, this process has evolved into ever more detailed and cumbersome agreements, as all of us can appreciate when we have to sign something too long to read and too complex to understand.

I shake my head in wonder at the prescience of the author of this ancient text who said over two thousand years ago:

To make order, names arise
Names lead to more names
Know when to stop
Thus avoid harm

We continue to solve perceived problems by more rules. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not an anarchist. I appreciate the need for rules and the good intentions of sincere rule makers. I certainly had a few rules in my own household that brought moments of order out of the chaos of so many kids. But I also tried to keep in mind that there was a tipping point beyond which too many rules were counterproductive. As always, there is a middle road of balance, and a sense of ease when we align ourselves with the natural order of the universe.

Tao’s manifestation under heaven
Is like a river flowing home to the sea

Naming creates existence which reflects the perfection of the nameless. The destiny of all creation is ultimately to return to the Source, as naturally as water effortlessly flows to join with itself.

So we might give some thought in our own lives to the rules we have set up for ourselves. Do they foster or block our journey home? Do they connect us to a sense of oneness or isolate us from the sea of common existence?

In the beginning was the Word. ~John 1:1

Friday, September 8, 2017

Rock Turtles




Low creek waters
Reveal round back rocks
Basking like turtles
In the late summer sun

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Naming


I was sitting by the creek last weekend watching the light play on the dancing water. When I looked downstream, there was a beautiful cluster of snow white flowers blooming on a tall stalk leaning out over the creek. As I got closer I could see that the cluster was made up of tiny star burst blossoms.

In that first moment of sight I experienced a sense of wonder and delight, a gift of exquisite loveliness right there, offering beauty to the trees, the water, the birds and insects...and me. I felt humbly blessed.

All that took place in the nanosecond gap before my thoughts kicked in. My first thought was “What is this flower?” What I meant was the flower’s name, its label. I didn’t know. Not knowing gave me a subtle feeling of unease as my mind searched for what it might be. I made a plan to take a photo and circulate it to see if someone could tell me. As I got caught up in my thoughts and plans, the initial experience of enchantment quietly faded. It was almost as if the flower no longer existed if I couldn’t discover its name.

When I realized what was happening I was amazed by the rapidity of my shift from a receptive state of gratitude to a restless state of thinking. It happened so fast I barely noticed it. But I did notice it, and felt the loss of that moment of pure enjoyment.

Names are not bad. They allow us to function in the world and communicate with each other. But names are a step removed from what is named. If we jump too quickly into our thoughts, we miss the direct experience of what is happening in the moment. We miss the miracle.

Let’s try to watch for that fleeting gap before we shift from experience to thought, and appreciate the gift that each moment generously bestows.

The name that can be named is not the eternal name. ~Tao Te Ching

PS–If you know the name of this flower, don’t tell me!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Destiny




Is it possible
You ask
Indeed
It is inevitable

Monday, August 28, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 31


Although disjointed and repetitive, lacking the grace and poetry of other chapters (some scholars think this chapter was corrupted somehow), we can nevertheless consider the basic message:

Weapons are tools of violence and fear
Wise people avoid them
Using them only when there is no other recourse
Never celebrating victory
Grieving for the fallen

As it says in The Art of War, the best battle is the one not fought. When I taught contract drafting in law school, my students would tell me that they wanted to draft a contract that would “win in court.” I always told them, “If your contract ends up in court, you have already lost. You are only in court when the purpose of the contract has failed. Even if you win in court, your original objective will not be achieved.”

Looking back at my personal life, I can’t think of one argument I’ve had with anyone that left me feeling good about fighting. Even if I got the desired outcome, I paid a price. I lost a friendship, perhaps, or hurt someone, or felt my energy drained. There was rarely pleasure in victory. In reviewing a dispute, I can often see something I could have done differently to still get the desired outcome or a reasonable compromise, and leave both sides feeling less battered by the process.

Having said all that, I confess that I do love martial arts weapons. I love the grace and skill involved, and yes, I also love the combat aspect, even though I have absolutely no desire to engage in actual combat. It seems contradictory, but I know that practicing martial arts over the years has taught me more about peace than about fighting.

So perhaps we can consider in our own lives what we really gain by fighting, and what we lose. And perhaps we can pause for a moment before engaging to see if there is a better way.

Don't fight a battle if you don't gain anything by winning. ~General Patton

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Even a Little Light


Like many who saw the solar eclipse in Portland, Oregon, I was surprised that it didn’t get darker. Not far to the south of us, people experienced the night darkness of the total eclipse. But in my location, it was like someone had turned the dimmer switch down just a little. Looking through my special glasses at the 99% eclipse, all I could see was a tiny sliver of sunlight around the dark moon. Yet that 1% of sunlight was still enough to light the earth and was still much too bright to look at without the protective glasses.

Even a little light is enough to dispel the darkness. Think about that.

And let your light shine.

It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness. ~Chinese proverb

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Season of Balance


This continues and completes 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. Summer was the season of joy and release.

And now...what? There is a fifth season? Yes, this is the season of late summer, the season of in between. The days are shortening yet still warm. The leaves are still green yet not as lush. Many are fitting in one more vacation while they are also in the process of gearing up for the new school year. It is a time of transition, as summer winds down and fall has not yet arrived.

In the West, at least in temperate climates, we think in terms of four seasons. The Chinese add this in between time as a fifth season, a season of balance.

Organ

The organ associated with late summer is the spleen and pancreas. Although separate anatomically, these are considered one organ system. The spleen serves multiple functions of filtering, recycling, and storing blood. The pancreas produces insulin to regulate the body’s glucose levels. All these functions are related to the energy of this season – balance. It is an energy of poise after the gathering of fall, the storing of winter, the expansion of spring, and the release of summer. Now there is a pause before the beginning the cycle again with the gathering harvest of autumn.

Just as the spleen/pancreas provides balance within our bodies, this in between season is a wonderful time to find balance in our lives. An instruction in meditation and in martial arts is “Not too tight, not too loose.” Balancing is a dynamic process, shifting moment to moment to maintain equilibrium.

Element

The element associated with late summer is earth. We sometimes describe balance as being grounded, or we compliment someone by saying they have their feet on the ground. In Greek mythology, Antaeus was the son of Mother Earth. As long as he was in contact with the earth, his mother protected him and he could not be defeated in battle. (Hercules figured this out and killed him while holding him up in the air.) We think of the earth as nurturing, providing a bounty of beauty and blessings.

If we review the elements associated with the five seasons, we will see that they follow a creative cycle. Metal, associated with fall, “creates” water through condensation. Water in winter creates the wood of spring. Wood creates summer’s fire. And now the ashes after the fire return to nourish the earth. And earth, in turn, cradles metal. Each element in turn brings its gift to our lives and ushers in the next. So generous.

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 in between season is worry. I see that manifested all around me now for so many reasons, some national or global in scope, but also I hear worry in individual lives.

The positive emotions are fairness and compassion. I find it fascinating to contemplate the emotional pairings associated with the seasons. Some are easier to connect, like the anger and forgiveness of spring. But some are more subtle, like the sadness and courage of fall.

Fairness has an obvious relation to the balance energy of this season. But how does compassion balance worry? It seems to me that worry often involves judgment. Anticipated circumstances are good or bad, or we fret that we are somehow falling short. Compassion softens judgment. Compassion opens and connects. Compassion accepts. It finds the fairness and balance in the middle.

So, my friends, as we rest in this in between season, may we release all worry and find balance in our lives through compassion for ourselves and everyone.

If a problem has a solution, there is no need to worry. If a problem does not have a solution, there is no need to worry. ~the Dalai Lama

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Bringing Peace


Fighting will never bring peace
Ceasing to fight will never bring peace
Only ceasing to fear will bring peace
We will cease to fear 
    when we realize there is nothing to fear
We will realize there is nothing to fear
     when we remember who we are
We will remember who we are
     when we release everything we are not
We will release everything we are not
     when we understand that everything we are not is...
Everything

Note: I posted this poem in February, but perhaps a reminder is timely. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 30


Some have characterized the theme of this chapter as karma, or you reap what you sow. But I’m not sure this gives the whole picture. If I understand karma correctly, one can sow goodness instead of evil and thereby earn goodness in return. This chapter, however, seems to carry forward from the last chapter the idea that sowing anything from the ego self is an interference with the natural flow of the universe, and will lead to disharmony and misfortune. And perhaps this is a more fair characterization of karma than the one we often use.

We can see this in the context of well intentioned advances in science and technology that had unintended harmful consequences. Farming techniques, for example, that increase yield, providing more food for more people, have sometimes caused environmental damage. Medicines that seemed miraculous were later discovered to have dire side effects. We see it in our own lives as well. How many of us have tried to direct a particular outcome, believing it to be beneficial to someone we love, only to have our efforts backfire? (My hand is raised.)

The road to hell, as the saying goes, is paved with good intentions.

The point, I think, is not that we shouldn’t do good things, but rather that we should align ourselves with Tao (the Holy Spirit, cosmic energy, whatever name you prefer) and allow good things to naturally happen. When our thoughts, words, and actions are naturally attuned to the appropriate course, we don’t do good, as much as good happens through us. Everything remains in natural harmony and balance.

The chapter opens with a military analogy.

One who rules in accordance with Tao
Does not use force to conquer the world
Force turns back upon itself
Briars grow where the army camps
Great wars bring years of misery

As with all the ruling or military references in the Tao Te Ching, we can take them literally (perhaps a timely application given current world affairs), or consider them in the context of our personal lives. As another example, I was practicing push hands with  my tai chi teacher this morning. He wanted to show me something that he had recently learned, but in order to show me, he needed me to push or advance towards him. I didn’t know this, though, and I hung back, staying loose and nonaggressive.

What was funny about this is that I am usually more likely to push forward, but because that rarely ends well for me (!), I was consciously trying this morning to be more neutral. In so doing, I unwittingly kept him from using his new technique. In fact, at one point, he got a bit off balance himself. When he complimented me on uprooting him, I realized that I really had done nothing; he had uprooted himself (a very rare occurrence!).

Since it is almost always me in that position of being uprooted, it was interesting to view it from the other perspective. I could see so clearly how my own efforts to direct or control my push hands partner were invariably to my disadvantage. And, like all the lessons I learn in martial arts, I could see just as clearly how this applies in my everyday life.

So perhaps we can all watch for those times in our lives when we want to “rule by force,” with or without good intentions. What that happens, perhaps we might pause, take a deep breath, and consider that we might not know the best course. Perhaps we can allow ourselves to be guided by a deeper wisdom, and trust, really trust, in the basic goodness of the universe.

Lean not on your own understanding, but yield yourself to divine guidance, and your paths will be made straight. ~paraphrase of Proverbs 3:5-6

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

dragon pearls


pearls
shimmer
moonglow
dragons
chasing
fortune's fire

Friday, August 4, 2017

Losing My Mind, and That’s OK


Here is a recent text exchange with a martial arts buddy. He and I usually go to the same tai chi class on Friday mornings, and then stay after class to practice swords. This exchange took place on Wednesday.

Me: Since you are not going to be there on Friday, do you want to go to tai chi in the morning and then play with swords after? If so, I’ll come in the morning instead of Friday morning.

Him: I have time for the swords but not the tai chi. Meet after class? We’re talking Thursday, right?

Me: Right I meant Thursday. Why have I been thinking today is Wednesday all day? Yes Thursday.

Him: It is Wednesday right?

Me: Stop it! What the heck is today?

Him: Wait, I’m serious. Today is Wednesday right? Oh man I’m laughing too hard to text.

Me: Oh that’s right. It is Wednesday today....isn’t it?

Good grief. Can anyone relate? Our brains like to keep us humble. At least my brain does. My daughter says I have the memory of a gnat. She says it with humor and affection, but it is nonetheless true.

Some people are upset about the muddled thinking that sometimes besets their brains, but really, what is there to be upset about? My brain and I have been through many decades together, and for the most part it has served me well. If it needs a break now and then, or if it just has its own devilish sense of humor, then that’s okay.

We can still be friends. Like all friends, we make mistakes. We are less than perfect. Sometimes we do something embarrassing. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes not.

This incident with my brain in this text exchange was insignificant in the big scheme of life, but I realized that most things I think are a big deal aren’t really a big deal.

I think my brain was reminding me to lighten up, laugh at myself, and enjoy.

The first step towards true enlightenment is to lighten up on yourself. ~Bashar

Monday, July 31, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 29


Efforts to interfere with the natural rhythm of the universe
Will not succeed

I am a control addict in recovery, or at least making progress. I long ago realized that I can’t control anything outside myself – the weather, kittens, how other people drive, and so on. Not only did I discover that is it a relief to abandon futile efforts to control what I can’t control, but even better, I came to appreciate the innate beauty and rhythm and perfection of the world left pristine.

The world is a sacred vessel
That cannot be controlled
If you tamper with it you will destroy it
If you grasp it you will lose it 

The parallels to our world environmental crises are obvious, but it applies just as well to our inner environment. The self help industry is about creating healthier, happier egos. And that’s fine. My own 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place blog and book were part of that effort. And certainly a happy ego is better than a miserable one.

But that ego self is what blocks our awareness of our true nature as a sacred vessel of universal light and love. That doesn’t make the ego bad. It just recognizes the ego as limited and limiting. The ego doesn’t so much destroy our true nature as much as it prevents our experience of it, an ephemeral experience that cannot be held static, but must be allowed to flow from moment to moment.

In that sense, the last two lines above can also be interpreted as:

Your attempt to tamper will fail
Your attempt to grasp will miss

When we allow ourselves and our world to move freely, the natural movement of yin yang swirls in perfect balance.

So sometimes things are ahead, sometimes behind
Sometimes gentle, sometimes forceful
Sometimes strong, sometimes weak
Sometimes up, sometimes down

Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excess, and extravagance

The middle road is the way of no way, not directing, not controlling, not judging, not dominating. It is the way of allowing, flowing, being present, responding appropriately, being in harmony. It manifests as kindness, simplicity, humility, joy, compassion, gratitude, peace.

This closing quote says it all. And I can attest from personal experience that it is absolutely true. When I am not at peace, then I can be sure that I am trying to control something I can’t control, that I’m wanting reality to be something other than what it is. My efforts will fail, and in the process I will lose my awareness of the beauty and sacred perfection of, well, everything.

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe. ~Larry Eisenberg

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Only Then Is Grace


We cling
With such sweet believing
To our suffering
And call it brave
Until finally
There is nothing left
Sinking in surrender
Only then
Is grace

Monday, July 24, 2017

Revealing Gold


In 1954, an insignificant Buddha statue made of painted and decorated plaster was being moved in Bangkok from its modest shed to a new temple. Weighing over five tons, the statue was too heavy for the crane and it fell to the ground. A piece of plaster chipped off the base. When the workers examined the damage they saw something shiny underneath the plaster. That something shiny turned out to be gold. Removing all the plaster revealed an exquisite, solid gold Buddha.

Crafted centuries before, the statue was at some point hidden under the plaster, probably to protect it from invaders. Over the years, the true nature of the statue was forgotten, and the plaster statue was at various times housed in minor temples and even stored under a tin shed.

Imagine everyone’s surprise when they realized the existence of this priceless treasure, which was revealed by simply removing the false exterior. When I lived in Bangkok, I stood before this gleaming statue, marveling at its breathtaking beauty. I loved it even more, I think, because of its story.

Its story is our story. Hidden under our exterior ego selves is our true nature, our gleaming, pure, divine perfection. We search high and low, reading books, following teachers, worshiping at altars, trying ever more diligently, more frantically, to find that which we most desire. And all the while, it is right where it has always been, deep inside, waiting.

We have forgotten who we are. Like the people who believed for centuries that the plaster coating was the real statue, we have bought into the illusion that we are what we think ourselves to be, when in fact, we are more than our minds can possibly imagine or understand. But if we’re lucky, at some point life will drop us on the ground, and a little piece of our carefully constructed protective layer will chip off. If we dare to peek inside, we will see the glow of Truth. And it will be beautiful.

The kingdom of God is within you. ~Luke 17:21

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.