Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 40

This lovely little four line verse has been described as the “Tao Te Ching’s theology in a nutshell.”

Returning is Tao’s motion
By means of supple tenderness
All under heaven is born of being
Being is born of non-being

I have always interpreted the first line as referring to the return of the manifested universe back to its source in formless Tao. It recently came to my attention that this line could also mean the other side of the cycle. That is, it could refer to the return of formless Tao into form once again in the ten thousand things of the maniested universe.

Interesting to see it both ways. Form and formlessness, being and non-being, the named and the nameless, in an eternal dance of tender exchange. So beautiful. As near to us as our breath.

The Tantric sages tell us that our in-breath and out-breath actually mirror the divine creative gesture. ~Sally Kempton

Saturday, March 17, 2018

When We Walked with God

The Garden of Eden story fascinates me. I’m going to ask you, just for purposes of this post, to take the story out of Biblical context. Put aside all the theology, all your beliefs and opinions, whatever they are, about the Bible and religion. Just for a few minutes, consider this story without any preconceived notions. Disregard for the moment issues about obedience, sin, and punishment. Please understand that I am not challenging or disrespecting anyone’s beliefs. And I’m not asking anyone to change what they believe. This is just an invitation to look at the story itself without any additional context to see what we notice.

Okay, so you have the first people living in this beautiful place, where they have a life of ease, with plenty of food. The weather must have been pleasant because they were without clothing. They walked in the garden with God, in whose image they were created.

There are many trees in this garden paradise, but only two are named – the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The people are free to eat the fruit of any tree, presumably including the tree of life, but they are warned not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for if they do, they will “surely die.”

Let’s pause right here. One of my first questions is why, if a tree is forbidden, would it be in the garden in the first place? Is that entrapment? When you tell a child “Whatever you do, DON’T do that!” what is the first thing that child wants to do?

And why do these two trees, the only two named trees in the garden, stand in contrast to each other? The tree of life gives immortality, but the tree of knowledge of good and evil gives death. What is it about the knowledge of good and evil that is incompatible with life? It might be easier to understand if the forbidden tree was the tree of evil. But it seems like knowing the difference between good and evil would be a good thing. Why isn’t it?

One way to think about it might be that knowledge of good and evil created duality. Before this knowledge, there was un-self conscious harmony with God.

What is the first thing that happens after they eat the fruit? They become aware that they are naked and they are ashamed. They try to cover themselves up literally with leaves. And figuratively, they try to cover up what they have done by hiding from God.

So in effect, they become self conscious in a way they weren’t before, and separate from God. They are afraid.

The Tao Te Ching says that we only know goodness because of evil, and that goodness only comes into existence when we have lost Tao. So when we are living in harmony with Tao, concepts of goodness/evil, kindness/cruelty, and justice/injustice are meaningless, because Tao transcends duality. Everything happens naturally and without effort. There is nothing to fear because there is acceptance of what is without struggle.

Putting this back in the context of the Eden story, good and evil had no existence or meaning when we walked in harmony with God. By introducing the duality of good and evil, we also created the cycle of life and death. We separated unity into conflicting opposites. We labeled them good and bad. We tried to hold onto the good and reject the bad. We began to struggle with what is. And we suffered.

So what do we do now? How do we restore unity and harmony? Again, leaving aside religious doctrine for the moment, the generic answer is that we repair the breach in our own selves. Where do I struggle in my life against what is? What do I judge as good or bad? What do I desire or reject? In what ways do I separate myself from others through judgment, unforgiveness, fear?

We might have specific answers to these questions, but we can go deeper by contemplating the nature of what creates the breach. If I am angry, for example, I can get stuck in the story I’m telling myself about why I’m angry. Of course, my story will justify my anger, and will probably blame someone else or some outside circumstances for causing the anger. I will be right and the other person will be wrong.

But what if I put the story aside and just observe the nature of this anger? What does it feel like in my body? How does it shape my experience of myself, my relationships with others, my view of the world? What can I learn from anger? How can it lead me back to harmony?

In contemplating this in my own life recently, I realized that I was judging myself for being angry. As I offered myself compassion instead of judgment, the anger softened and I could see that under the anger was pain, pain that I blamed someone else for. When I looked closer, I could acknowledge that what I was blaming the other person for was something that I either had done or was capable of doing myself. I could see that the other person was in pain too. My compassion expanded to include the other person.

My breathing slowed and sank into my belly. I felt lighter. Free. Without forcing anything, I easily released the anger I had been holding onto. I accepted what had happened as well as my reaction to it. I let it all go.

And I went for a stroll with God in the garden.

[Note: The painting above is by my awesomely talented sister, Susan E. Inman.]

Sunday, March 4, 2018

It’s Not Always Kumbaya

People think that when you live a spiritually awakened life, you are always serene, always la la happy, always wise.

But that’s not true.

First of all, spiritual awakening is not a one time thing. As Adyashanti says, there is no such thing as enlightenment. There are only enlightened moments, because enlightenment, or awakening, can only happen in this moment. And this one.

Second, even enlightened moments are not always kumbaya. Enlightened moments are those in which we are fully engaged with what is, directly experiencing the present moment. Without the filter of our judgments and stories about what is happening. Without the desire to hold onto or change or avoid reality. Without the refuge of alternative facts. Just realizing and accepting that what is, simply is.

Sometimes what is happening is hard, or sad, or unpleasant. We might have a variety of feelings, including some we might label as “bad.” Perhaps I am angry. I can try to deny it and hide it, especially from myself. Or I might try to transform it into something more lofty, more spiritually acceptable.

Or I can just let it be, knowing that without my adding energy to it through struggle, it will soon dissipate on its own. I need not express it outwardly towards others, but I can acknowledge it with compassion and hold it tenderly like a cranky baby until it is soothed. I can refrain from adding judgment to whatever is happening and however I’m handling it.

One time something happened that was so startling and frightening, I was immediately thrown into my reactive, reptile brain. I lashed out in a violent response that later, when the adrenaline was spent, seemed like a humiliating abandonment of all my “inner work.”

Pouring out my misery to my qigong teacher, I bemoaned my lack of spiritual fortitude. I felt like a fraud, preaching what I utterly failed to practice in the moment of testing. He listened patiently, his face open but neutral. When I finally wound down, I looked to him, seeking guidance, penance, redemption. I expected he would tell me where I went wrong and how to do better. I wanted to do better.

He didn’t say anything for what seemed like a long time but was probably just seconds. Then he leaned forward and said gently, “How do you know that what you did wasn’t exactly what was called for in that moment?”


Our notions of how we “should” act, our efforts to mold ourselves into some walk-on-water guru, our judgments of how we always fall short, all do violence to ourselves by perpetuating the very separation that we seek to heal.

What we yearn for is right here, in this moment, in plain view if we look with unclouded eyes and embrace what we see with the arms of compassion. And while it might not always be kumbaya, it is always perfect.

I am what I am, and that’s all that I am. ~Popeye the sailor man

Thursday, March 1, 2018

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. 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, there will always be 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 opening a door rather than closing one.

Give it a try. And have fun!

You shall be called repairers of the breach. ~Isaiah 58:12