Friday, January 15, 2021

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 77

This chapter contrasts two cultural approaches to wealth. In a broader sense, it speaks to nature’s intrinsic seeking of balance and harmony. And in an individual sense, it speaks to our own internal alignment and equilibrium. 

The first approach is compared to stringing a bow. The top point of the bow is pulled down while the bottom point of the bow is drawn up. This allows the string to be looped over both ends of the bow, creating the balanced and uniform energy and alignment necessary to shoot the arrow. 

This reminds me of the instruction often repeated in martial arts – “not too tight, not too loose.” Or, as Goldilocks observed, “just right.” 

Some Native American cultures practice a tradition of ritual giving away of wealth. At certain times of the year, or at certain ceremonies or celebrations, those who have more give to those who have less. There is no fear of lack because the givers at another time will be receivers. Harmonious balance is valued and maintained. 

A different approach is followed in cultures that allow and even encourage individuals to accumulate unlimited wealth while others live in poverty. Imbalance necessarily results, and legal supports are applied to maintain the unequal structure.

This approach reminds me of the billionaire Rockefeller who was asked by an interviewer how much more money he needed before he would have enough. “Just a little more,” he replied. 

Without judging these two approaches as good or bad (especially in the simplistic way I’ve described them), we can still see that one is more closely aligned with nature. Certainly imbalances occur in nature, but eventually nature will self-correct and restore equilibrium. 

Because the Tao Te Ching aligns its teachings with nature, and values balance and harmony, the sage is described as one who would not hoard abundance but would offer her abundance to those who do not have enough. 

Because the sage does not desire more 
He thus sees what is truly valuable

Perhaps the message here is not so much about advocating a particular economic system, but rather suggesting that our own internal nature, like nature in the broader sense, seeks harmony and balance. Always wanting more leads to chronic discontent, and also anxiety about holding on to what we have. When we are out of alignment with our best values, we suffer internal conflict and stress. 

So the question for us is how to restore our internal balance and live in harmony and peace with who we are. This always starts, I think, with a willingness to observe ourselves honestly, to inquire within ourselves how our thoughts, words, and actions reflect internal harmony or imbalance. Internal harmony is characterized by peace and integrity, openness and expansion. Imbalance is characterized by struggle, contraction, separation, and tension. 

Cultivating internal awareness without judgment, and with compassion, allows our true nature to self-correct and then manifest in all its glory. We don’t need to fix ourselves; we just need to be ourselves. We are by nature light bearers, bringing love and healing to a fractured world. We are, as Barack Obama once said, the ones we’ve been waiting for.

So take a breath...and another. And remember who you are.

Practice remembering
One breath at a time
It is enough
 ~(this was dictated to me through non-dominant handwriting)

Monday, January 11, 2021

Another Way


There is another way
You won't find it in a book
Or at a workshop
You won't find it by following someone else
Because no one can take you there
There is no map and no direction
It can't be taught or learned
You cannot find it anywhere
Because there is nothing to be found
Yet the moment you give up 
     everything you want
          everything you hold onto
               everything you think you know
The moment you give up searching
At that moment of total surrender
It will find you

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Bringing Peace to Opposition

The world is divided into people who think they are right. ~Tara Brach

It took me a few seconds to understand that there was no more to this sentence. Each side of the divide claims the higher ground of being right, being righteous, being morally superior, being more ethical, being smarter, being better. 

This morning I drew three cards from a deck loosely based on the Yi Jing (I Ching), translated as the Book of Changes, a Chinese “oracle” that goes back thousands of years. I put oracle in quotation marks because we often think of the term oracle in connection to fortune telling. This is not a book that purports to tell the future as much as, at least to me, it sometimes offers insight into the movement and direction of energy in present circumstances.

The first card I drew is called Inner Truth, and is described as the wisdom of the heart, the wisdom that penetrates illusion. This wisdom draws us down from the busyness of thought in our mind, where illusion is generated, into the quiet intuitive awareness of awakened consciousness. Inner truth is revealed in stillness, a silence that allows us to hear the whispered guidance of spirit.

The second card is titled Peace. Peace results from inner alignment and balance, an attunement to the vibration and movement of creation. This inner alignment and balance is our natural state, which we experience when we cease to struggle and allow our natural harmony to emerge.

The third card is Opposition, which describes, as you would expect, conflict. This conflict could be external, between people, communities, nations. To me, however, the most basic and significant opposition or conflict, the one we most often overlook, is the one we experience within ourselves, which is then expanded and reflected by the conflict we experience with others and with our circumstances. 

What I see when I put these cards together is a way of approaching an experience of conflict or struggle. When I perceive a situation as a vying for rightness between competing sides, I have a choice. I can get drawn into the combative tension, or I can step back into a quiet place of stillness and listen for inner guidance. This inner wisdom can penetrate all illusion and align me in peace. From that state of peace, I can respond rather than react. What that looks like in any particular situation is unknowable in advance. I will speak or act (or not speak or not act, depending on the guidance) from an awakened heart of fearless compassion. 

I’m glad I drew these cards this morning. It seems like a good way to start the year, with a reminder that any resolution of conflict begins with an awareness of the struggle within, and ends with compassion, extended internally and externally, in whatever form that takes. I can allow inner truth to bring peace to opposition. I can be a repairer of the breach. 

You shall be like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called repairers of the breach. ~Isaiah 58:11-12

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Face to Face

For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. 1 Corinthians 13:12

When we read this verse, we might yearn for that time of seeing face to face, when all things become clear and we see things as they really are. We don’t often pause to wonder if we will like what we see. 

2020, the year of perfect 20/20 vision, is coming to a close. We have had the opportunity to look into that glass and see through the murky darkness. And what have we seen? 

We’ve all watched videos of animals seeing themselves in a mirror. Some are puzzled, tentatively reaching out to touch their reflection. Some are threatened and attack. Some are excited and offer to play. All of them think that they are seeing an “other,” separate from themselves. 

Is that what we see when we look at this year? This year has set the table with an unending buffet of “other” possibilities, so many “thems.” Thems of other race, gender, political party, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, age, economic status, education, and more. All the thems who are causing all the problems.

This year has brought us face to face. Do we recognize ourselves, or like the animals in the videos, do we mistake our reflections as “other,” as “them”? Are we willing to look in the mirror and see things as they really are? To see ourselves as we really are? 

When I look at my own reflection in the mirror of this year, I see some things I wanted to turn away from. It has been revealing, embarrassing, disappointing, frustrating, and most of all humbling. Very humbling. And in that, there has been some relief, shedding false images, releasing burdens of control (which I never really had anyway), grieving loss. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Gratitude. And that has been good.  

The Gospel of Thomas says that when we find what we are seeking, we will be disturbed, and that disturbance will lead to marvel. I love this verse because it promises that when we are willing to tolerate, even to embrace, the disturbance that comes from looking at ourselves honestly, individually and corporately, we will move through that disturbance to marvel at who we really are, jewels in the net of Indra, all connected, all reflecting the perfection of creation. 

In the No Way CafĂ© contemplation group, we often end a gathering by sharing what we can take from our time together as we go forward. Looking at this year as a gathering, I am taking so many things, but perhaps primarily some heightened awareness of race and privilege. As I go forward, I hope to be more self aware, to listen more and speak less, to look more deeply at assumptions, to inquire rather than suggest, to trust. 

What has this year reflected back to you? What will you take from this year as you go forward? 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Friend or Foe

The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe. ~Albert Einstein

What power we hold, and most of us don’t even know it. We mistake our lens of judgment for objective reality and fall victim to it. I remember a furious friend telling me that a particular person was a b- - -h and that a related situation was really f- - - -d up and that that was a FACT! At which point I confess I quit listening and started considering the implications of confusing judgment with fact. 

And of course, once we make that initial decision about the universe, then what we notice or see around us reinforces it, especially in today’s world of closed loop information. 

Today I went on YouTube for an experiment. I clicked on stories of the “three P’s” of this year – politics, pandemic, and protests. It’s hard to take in all these stories without experiencing a sense of frustration or despair. After a while, I switched and clicked on stories of random acts of kindness. If all you watch is news, which is so often skewed towards a particular bias, and to the negative aspects of that bias, you might be surprised by how many stories there are of people being kind, people being kind without regard to all the things that seem to so deeply divide us. I felt like I was bathing in these stories of kindness, drinking them, inhaling them. I felt uplifted and grateful, and inspired to look for opportunities to be kind.

How can I reconcile the two visions of the universe represented in these videos, one which seems friendly and the other than seems hostile? Do we believe in one only by denying evidence of the other? Are they mutually exclusive or can one include the other? If I make the decision to believe in a friendly universe, how do I explain such an overwhelming appearance of hostility? How do I include everything, denying nothing, and still choose to believe in a benign universe that is not out to get me? 

Perhaps the lens we choose is not about selective seeing and denying, but rather about orientation or perspective. If I choose to believe that I live in a friendly universe, then can I see everyone and everything with broader or deeper view? A view that connects us rather than divides us? A view that keeps my heart open even to those who act in ways that I find anathema to my own values? Can I protest without hatred? Can I advocate without condemnation? 

A Course in Miracles teaches that everything we do or think or say is either an expression of love, or a call for love. These are the only two choices, and there are no exceptions -- everything is one or the other. When I view my world through this lens, then actions that I find indefensible become calls for love, evoking not outrage, but sorrowful compassion. And while I might not consider some people to be friends I want to hang out with, and while I might stand against their agendas of hatred and division, I can still acknowledge our basic human connection and not reject them as foes.

A friendly universe can hold it all, including everything and everyone, like the sun that shines on the evil and the good, and the rain that falls on the just and the unjust. 

I can choose to see this differently. ~A Course in Miracles

Sunday, November 29, 2020

At Least There’s No Volcano

My grandson, who can sometimes be a glass half empty kind of kid, was telling me the other day that he had decided to look on the brighter side of life. 

“Yep,” he said, “if I’m feeling bad, I can just look out the window and think at least there’s no volcano.” 

There is that.

I read an article a few days ago about how it was okay this Thanksgiving season to give yourself permission to not feel very grateful. Hmm.... I can’t argue with the premise that we should feel our feelings, but is feeling ungrateful really helpful? 

A different approach was chosen by my friend, who has reason after a devastating year to not feel full of thanks. She said she was practicing “ruthless gratitude.” 

Wow, what a concept. It reminds me of “fierce grace,” something I am all too well acquainted with.

But ruthless gratitude. I had to think about that one. A deliberate and determined choice to be grateful no matter what. As the Bible teaches, to give thanks “in” all circumstances even when you are not grateful “for” the circumstances. 

What would that be like? 

Some years ago, I wrote a blog and published a book titled Ten Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There). Step 9 is to develop at attitude of gratitude. During the years I wrote and taught about this topic, I did a lot of reading and research. So many studies show that gratitude is one of the easiest habits to develop and one of the most beneficial, definitely a winner in any sort of cost/benefit analysis. 

In case you need some ideas about how to develop such a habit, I went to my old blog and linked all the posts about gratitude. There are a lot! No need to read them all, or any of them for that matter. But in case you are interested, here is the link. You might just skim through until one catches your attention and gives you an idea about something to try. 

Here is the refrain from a wonderful song about gratitude.

All that I am
All that I see
All that I’ve been 
And all that I’ll ever be
Is a blessing
It’s so amazing
And I’m grateful for it all
For it all
     ~Nimo Patel

Click here to watch a video of this song – guaranteed to lift your spirits and awaken gratitude.
And if that doesn’t work, you can always look out the window and be grateful that at least there’s no volcano! 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Autumn Beauty


Leaves paint autumn beauty
Yet trees still let them go
Knowing that life demands release
That breath cannot be held