Tuesday, May 30, 2017
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
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 混 . 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
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 法 , 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
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.
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.
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...
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
Sunday, May 21, 2017
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
With me there is beauty
In me there is beauty
From me beauty radiates
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
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
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
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