Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Eternal Dance

You find me in the silence
The language only known to us
Creator and created
Dancing the eternal dance
In never ending harmony

Friday, January 22, 2016

Emptying Our Cups

One of my favorite zen stories goes something like this:

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor pontificated about Zen, holding himself forth as an expert on the topic. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The tea spilled onto the table and then to the floor. The master kept pouring. The professor watched until he could no longer restrain himself. "Stop! It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied. "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

Two years ago, I took this story to heart. I stopped writing my first blog, I dropped all the commitments I possibly could, and I cleared everything off my meditation altar except for the cup that you see in the photo above. And while not completely embracing the simplicity movement, I did clean out a lot of drawers and closets. 

And it was all good.

After two years of sitting in front of this cup every morning, though, I’ve come to understand the story at a different level, one perhaps more in keeping with the teaching of the zen master in the story. 

My cup can easily fill up and overflow with judgments, stories, expectations, opinions, worries, and all other manner of thoughts. However, when I become aware of the various thoughts, I find that very few of them are worth keeping. 

I can’t completely stop all these thoughts from occurring; after all, thinking is what brains do. Even the zen master didn’t say not to put anything in the cup at all; he just said to empty it. 

How do we do that? 

First, by becoming aware. Studies show that we think tens of thousands of thoughts a day, most of them habitual and below our level of conscious awareness. Pausing to see what’s going on in our busy brains can lead to some interesting discoveries. 

Second, by gentle questioning. It’s easy to start thinking about our thinking! Once we become aware of some of our thoughts, we can pile on more judgment, expectations, and worries. We criticize ourselves for holding certain judgments, or feel frustration at our lack of control over worries. Instead, we can begin to loosen them by being softly curious, by gently questioning. For example:

That judgment that is so entrenched–on what is it based? What does it cost me in terms of harmony with others to keep it?

The story I tell myself about a situation–do I know for a fact that it is true? What impact does it have on my response? 

That worry that keeps me up at night–how likely is it to become reality? Will my worrying prevent something or help me deal with it?

Finally, we empty our cups by openly releasing. We’ll find that most of these thoughts, when compassionately investigated, will naturally fall away. All we have to do is not hold on to them. 

With practice, this process becomes more natural and automatic. We become instinctively aware when we have attached to a particular thought, and without much effort, the thought is emptied from our cup. What flows in naturally flows out.

And meanwhile, we can relax and savor a cup of delicious tea!

In pursuing learning every day something is added. In pursuing Tao every day something is dropped. ~Tao Te Ching

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Long Winter's Nap

...mamma in her kerchief and I in my cap had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap... ~Clement Clarke Moore

Some of you might recognize that line from the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. As children we were focused, of course, on the visit from St. Nick with his bottomless bag of toys. But, with requests for indulgence to those whose cultures or climates involve neither Christmas nor winter, I’d like to reflect on this overlooked line about what the grownups were doing.

In the northern hemisphere, winter coincides with the calendar new year, a time when many of us gear up with resolutions and renewed resolve. Health clubs see a spike in membership, diet programs do a brisk business, closets and junk drawers are emptied and cleaned, and we go forth into the new year with determination to accomplish more, do better, be better. 

An odd choice of timing when everything in nature is quieting down and moving inside, literally and figuratively. The harvest is over and stored away to sustain us through the cold months. A perfect time to settle not only our bodies, but also our brains, as the poem says. Winter invites us to enter into the dark mystery, to sink into the stillness of our spirit. 

And to wait. Winter energy is conserved rather than expended. Life is suspended in the frozen night. Yet the first day of winter is also winter solstice, when the light secretly begins to return. Underneath the icy surface, the latent stored energy gestates and readies itself to burst forth when spring returns. 

Many of us have busy lives. Our work and our harvest are not seasonal but year round. Yet just like St. Nick’s bag of toys, winter’s wisdom has something for us all. An appreciation of timing, perhaps, and patience. Permission to rest our bodies and our minds, protecting the energy preparing to manifest in its season. Listening for the stillness to whisper its secrets in the silence. And trusting that the darkness is not the end but rather the beginning of something wonderful.  

Winter is when the earth is pregnant. ~Dave

Saturday, January 16, 2016


Snow falls pure
No footprints yet disturb its peace
Silent and still
It waits
In infinite possibility

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Doing Everything While Doing Nothing

The sage does nothing, yet nothing is left undone.  ~ Tao Te Ching

The concept of wu wei (non-action) is a theme throughout the Tao Te Ching, one that has had people scratching their heads for millennia. In our overscheduled, never caught up, always behind, time managed, too tired to relax way of life, we accept as normal, if unfortunate, a pervasive sense of never accomplishing enough or being good enough. The finish line is always just out of reach, no matter how fast or how far we run. It’s a trap, like a fixed game we keep trying to win but never will. Wu wei offers another way.

Taken literally, wu wei appears to grant us license to sit on the couch all day eating chips and ice cream while we watch NCIS marathons. The kids are hungry and the dog needs to go outside? Sorry, I’m too busy lounging around being enlightened.

Hmm, that doesn’t seem right. For one thing, it ignores the second part of the quote—nothing is left undone. So I can do nothing and all the items on my to do list will get checked off? It must be magic because most of us can’t even get through our to do lists when we’re frantically doing stuff nonstop till we drop.

So what’s the secret?

Todd Jackson, quoted in the blog description at the top of the page, is a healer. He practices several kinds of healing techniques. Once I was asking him about a particular technique that I hadn’t heard him mention for a long time. I asked him, “Do you still do X?” He smiled with a slight shrug and replied, “X still happens.”

That is what wu wei looks like in our daily lives, I think. When we act without identifying with our actions, when we refrain from claiming success or failure, when our egos are not invested in a particular outcome, we are able to see, really see, what is happening or not happening in the present moment. Then we can discern what is necessary or appropriate in any given situation. We can respond and adapt, or rather, responding and adapting "happen." We quit struggling with the natural pace and rhythm of our lives and move in harmony with what is happening right now.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t make plans or have routines or responsibilities. It means that we can attend to what is necessary without judgment or inner conflict, without the effort of trying to force things to be a certain way. Wu wei doesn’t mean that stuff doesn’t get done, but it changes our thinking about who is doing it and our relationship to what is being done. We think less about “I” until “I” simply fades into the flow of life, whether our lives flow like raging rapids or meandering streams.

Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9% of everything you think and of everything you do is for yourself—and there isn’t one. ~Wei Wu Wei

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Be Water

Don’t push the river. It flows by itself.  ~Fritz Perls

Water’s wisdom is its ability to respond effortlessly and appropriately to any situation. It flows around obstacles. It yields to an intrusion (think about trying to push water). It flows downhill in harmony with gravity. It takes the shape of whatever contains it. When there is nowhere to go, it rests in tranquility. It transforms in response to heat or cold. It fills the lowest places, yet nothing is more powerful. It nourishes all life without judgment or striving.

And it returns. It returns to the sea. The Chinese character for sea or ocean is which breaks down into “water mother.” The Tao Te Ching describes the Tao using many characters and references which relate to water. It compares the Tao’s presence in the world to streams flowing through valleys into rivers and on to the sea.

Water is the original practitioner of the way of no way!

We are made mostly of water (with a sprinkling of stardust), and so it is our nature to move through our lives effortlessly, and ultimately to return to our source. We don’t need to “do” anything. Our efforts and struggles slow us down (think about swimming upstream), but will not keep us from our destiny. Like water, we need only “allow.”

As we go through our day today, let us listen to water’s wisdom, for indeed it is our own.

Be water, my friend.  ~Bruce Lee

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


What, you might ask, is the No Way Café? Like any café, it is a place to relax, have some refreshment, visit with friends. The “way of no way” is what’s on the menu. As the name suggests, it cannot be clearly defined. Just as a basic ingredient can be used in many different dishes, the way of no way can be tasted in countless forms, although it itself is formless. Think of it as an opening, inviting us with our whole selves to be fully aware of and engaged in the present moment. 

For the last two years, I have enjoyed in person gatherings to explore the way of no way in discussion, body awareness, and silence. This blog is an invitation to expand the conversation to include anyone who would like to stop by.

So pull up a chair and enjoy the chef’s special of the day. You are always welcome here.

Note: Bruce Lee revolutionized martial arts by developing an approach he described as “having no way as way.” He believed that practicing one style exclusively, no matter how expert you become, limits your ability to respond to the immediate unpredictability of an actual situation–real life, in other words. The name of the No Way Café is inspired by his martial arts philosophy, which was deeply rooted in the Tao Te Ching.