Saturday, July 30, 2016

You Are My Technique

I am attending a martial arts workshop this weekend with a teacher visiting our school from California. This teacher is a small, slightly stooped, Chinese man in his late sixties. (That’s his photo above.) He said something today that made a big impression on me. Hours later I’m still trying to wrap my head around this.

He was explaining to us the way he responds to someone who is attacking him. My paraphrasing won’t do him justice, but basically he said that he can “feel” an attacker’s energy and intention. He doesn’t try to meet force with force because there is always someone bigger, stronger, faster than you. Instead, he moves his own energy into the empty space around his attacker and is able redirect his attacker’s energy to neutralize him. Rather than trying to control the attacker head on, he controls all the space unoccupied by the attacker’s body.

That might not make much sense, I know. He demonstrated with a tall, heavy, muscular guy. Time and time again, the attack was deflected, and the attacker either fell backwards or fell past the teacher. The teacher didn’t seem to exert much effort or even move that much. A flip of the wrist, a slight turn of the hips was all it took to render his attacker harmless.

Naturally, we were all amazed and somewhat mystified. One student asked him, “What is your technique?” He looked puzzled for a moment and then replied, “You are my technique.” What he meant, I think, is that he does not have predetermined moves and countermoves. He remains empty and simply responds to what is presented to him.

The teacher’s response “You are my technique” excites me because it suggests a way to approach so many situations beyond martial arts. In a way, it is the art of listening.

Someone came to me recently, upset and needing to talk to me about something in his life that was causing much distress. Instead of jumping in with opinions and suggested actions, I stayed “empty,” listening not only to his words, but also to what was not said, and to the feelings underlying both. That allowed me to respond in a way that de-escalated the intensity of his distress, and gave him some breathing room to begin to sort out some things for himself.

“You are my technique” encourages us to pay attention to what is happening, and to work with circumstances in a natural, effortless way rather than trying to force them in a way that depletes our energy.

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

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Soul Peeks Out

In silence
The soul peeks out
To say hello
Waking in the quiet
It stretches
And steps forth
To greet the day
And marvel at the dawn

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Defeating Fear

Once a young warrior had to battle Fear.  She did not want to, but her teacher insisted.  On the appointed day, the young warrior stepped onto the field of battle, feeling small and unprepared. Fear stood on the other side, huge and fierce. Her knees shaking, the young warrior bowed respectfully and asked Fear, “How do I defeat you?”  Fear, surprised by her gesture, thanked her for showing respect and replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast and get in your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

I love this story, and it has guided me through many encounters with fear. However, no matter how many times fear’s advice has proven true, it remains a challenge to follow it.

Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m afraid. Fear wears many masks–anger, hatred, anxiety, judgment, for example. Can you think of others? We don’t always see fear behind these masks. When I’m afraid, I might feel weak or helpless. In contrast, when I’m angry, I feel strong and powerful. But underneath the anger, there is always fear.

I saw a powerful example of this the other day. A dad and young daughter were walking down the street. The daughter suddenly darted into the street in front of a car. Fortunately, the car was able to stop in time and the child made it safely to the other side of the street. But then the dad crossed over and began yelling at the child, who burst into tears. I knew that the dad was seismically jolted by the terrifying vision in his mind of his little girl being hit by the car. That horrible sense of helpless devastation flooded his soul and spilled out in anger directed at his child, but it was really unbearable fear of losing this precious daughter.

Indeed, fear is often so distressing that we are desperate to escape it. It is that desperation that fear counts on, because we are then willing to follow fear’s urging, thinking it will lead to relief. Southwest Airlines had a great series of commercials in which some hapless individual would be in a very embarrassing situation. The voice over would say, “Want to get away? Low fares to....” You knew that poor person would jump on the first plane to anywhere!

So fear sometimes tells us to run, or sometimes to attack (like the dad). And we are so frantic that we comply. But remember what fear said. If we don’t do what fear tells us to, fear has no power.

Sometimes, when I recognize that I’m afraid and I can identify what fear is telling me to do, I just...don’ I tell myself that the images or stories in my mind are not real. If I can breathe into the discomfort, stay still and present, and wait, then amazingly, I can sense fear’s power begin to fade. My thinking clears up, and I recognize that following fear’s direction would have led me astray. I often experience compassion soothing my troubled spirit, compassion for myself as well as for whomever or whatever I saw as the cause of my fear. It’s like a mother soothing a child waking up from a bad dream.

Can you give it a try? What happens if you don’t do what fear tells you to do?

[I hope everyone recognizes that I’m not speaking here of a situation where your physical or emotional safety is in immediate danger. But even then, I submit that it isn’t fear that enhances our survival, but rather an instinctual assessment of and response to a threat. But that’s a conversation for another day.]

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Way Down Deep

Way down deep
In the silence
Down down deep
In the glory place
O my soul

Sunday, July 17, 2016

In the Roar of Your Waterfalls

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have swept over me. ~Psalm 42:7

There are waterfalls roaring in the world right now. Hatred, terror, murder, rage–so much fighting, so many enemies, so much suffering, so much....

Too much. Breakers and waves sweep over the shores of all nations. We are overwhelmed.

Viktor Frankl wrote his book Man’s Search for Meaning after surviving the Holocaust in a Nazi concentration camp. What meaning would he find in today’s world?

A Course in Miracles says, “I could see peace instead of this.” Really? Where is peace?

In the deep. Peace is in the deep. Meaning is in the deep. Truth is in the deep. And love, too. Beneath the roar of the waterfalls, below the crashing breakers and sweeping waves, there is silence. And it calls to the silence in the deep of our souls, in the deep of all our souls.

And there, in the deep, all our souls answer as one.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Follow Up about Tao Te Ching Contemplation

Thanks to all who responded to the last post about an in depth contemplation of the Tao Te Ching. Although there are not enough people to form a separate study group, there was enough interest expressed for me to come up with an alternative.

Beginning in August, on this blog, I will start a series of posts on specific verses of the Tao Te Ching, taking them in order from 1 to 81. My aim will be to offer something for everyone in these posts.

If you are among those who wanted to participate in the in depth contemplation, I encourage you to get a copy of the book, if you haven’t already. Each post in this series will identify in the title which verse is under discussion. You can read the verse in your own translation and offer your own reflections on the text in the comments if you wish.

If you are not among those interested in the in depth study, these posts will continue to offer the same kind of reflections on the basic principles of Tao that I have already been addressing in other posts, as well as poetry and posts on other topics. In other words, you won’t really notice much difference. The only difference is that those wishing to go deeper will be able to, through having their own translations with which to consider these basic principles. (And if at any time, you decide you do want to go deeper, just get access to a translation in hard copy or online, and jump right in!)

How does that sound? Hopefully this will allow everyone to engage at whatever level of involvement they wish to have.

Some clarification–

A couple of folks thought I was proposing a study of the I Ching, which is not the same text as the Tao Te Ching. Easy to confuse, since they both end with Ching, which simply means book or text. If you are not sure what the Tao Te Ching is, then click here for some explanation.

Sometimes Tao Te Ching is spelled Dao De Jing. Same text, just a different romanization system. The correct pronunciation is closer to the second spelling, although the first spelling is more familiar, which is why I use it. Thus, you often hear Tao pronounced Dao.

And a logistics point–

If you want to be sure to receive all the posts in this series, you can sign up for email delivery of posts. Just enter your email in the box in the right column of the blog page. Or sign up for RSS feed just below the email box in the right column. You can also like my Facebook page, which will post links to the blog whenever there is a new post. However, if you want to leave comments, and I hope you do, you have to go to the blog site.

Okay, that’s it! Let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Special Post Requesting Ideas about an In Depth Contemplation of the Tao Te Ching


This is not the usual type of post. Instead it is a request for your ideas about ways to study and contemplate the Tao Te Ching for those who might be interested. This would be something separate from this blog, which is inspired in part by the Tao Te Ching, but doesn’t focus specifically or in depth on its verses.

This ancient text, comprising 81 short verses, is a classical Chinese wisdom teaching, inspiring Eastern culture, philosophy, martial arts, and religion for over 2,500 years. (I include religion in the list because although the text itself is not a religious text, and does not replace or negate any religious tradition, the Tao Te Ching is linked to Taoism, one of the major world religions.) Its influence is so widespread that it has been translated more than any writing in history except the Bible. Yet many of us in the West are unfamiliar with it.

I have loved the Tao Te Ching for decades. Two and a half years ago, after stepping back from writing and speaking and online activities, I was drawn more deeply into its wisdom and mystery. I set out with numerous translations to compare and contemplate the various interpretations. However, the translations were soon pushed aside in favor of going directly to the source, the original Chinese.

(No, I don’t speak or write Chinese, at least not well, and studying classical Chinese is not the way to become fluent in Chinese conversation. It would be like trying to learn English as a second language by studying Old English poetry.)

Taking a verse at a time, a line at a time, a character at a time, I delved into the rhythm and beauty of the fluid imagery, understanding before long the challenge faced by all the translators. The text is written in cryptic poetry, using characters embracing multiple meanings, defying clarity of meaning. Like the Tao itself, the text invites us to transcend our thinking, verbal minds and enter the “gateless gate” into mystery.

When I began in January 2014, I had no time line or agenda or even goal in mind. For me, this became a spiritual practice of contemplation. I didn’t know how long I would do it or where it would lead. Now, two and a half years later, I have come to the end of the last verse, and know that I am still at the beginning.

Along the way, I have been privileged to participate in some small gatherings, some one on one conversations, and this No Way CafĂ© blog, giving me the opportunity to share ideas and experiences. Some folks have encouraged me to offer some in depth discussion to those who might want to learn more about this ancient text. So this is what I’m proposing, and I’d like to know what you think about it.

If there is enough interest, I will form an online group to go through the text a verse at a time. No, you wouldn’t need to learn classical Chinese! But I will share information about some of the more significant characters, much as I have in some posts on this blog. Everyone will need access to a translation. There are many to choose from in various formats–hard copy books, ebooks, and online. We don’t all need the same translation. Indeed, the more variety, the more interesting our discussions will be.

If this piques your interest at all, please email me at with any comments, suggestions, questions. Expressing interest is not a commitment–it will just help me see if there is enough interest to proceed with the idea. I would like to get as much feedback as possible, so don’t be shy. I see if there is enough interest to sustain a group, we can work out the details and logistics. You are also welcome to leave a comment on this post, of course.

Whether you are interested or not, thanks for reading the invitation. Now back to our regular programming....

Wishing you all the best, as always,
Galen Pearl

Monday, July 4, 2016

Silent Flame

Shiny thoughts sparkle
In virtual reality
We are dazzled
While truth
Flames forever