Monday, August 28, 2017
Although disjointed and repetitive, lacking the grace and poetry of other chapters (some scholars think this chapter was corrupted somehow), we can nevertheless consider the basic message:
Weapons are tools of violence and fear
Wise people avoid them
Using them only when there is no other recourse
Never celebrating victory
Grieving for the fallen
As it says in The Art of War, the best battle is the one not fought. When I taught contract drafting in law school, my students would tell me that they wanted to draft a contract that would “win in court.” I always told them, “If your contract ends up in court, you have already lost. You are only in court when the purpose of the contract has failed. Even if you win in court, your original objective will not be achieved.”
Looking back at my personal life, I can’t think of one argument I’ve had with anyone that left me feeling good about fighting. Even if I got the desired outcome, I paid a price. I lost a friendship, perhaps, or hurt someone, or felt my energy drained. There was rarely pleasure in victory. In reviewing a dispute, I can often see something I could have done differently to still get the desired outcome or a reasonable compromise, and leave both sides feeling less battered by the process.
Having said all that, I confess that I do love martial arts weapons. I love the grace and skill involved, and yes, I also love the combat aspect, even though I have absolutely no desire to engage in actual combat. It seems contradictory, but I know that practicing martial arts over the years has taught me more about peace than about fighting.
So perhaps we can consider in our own lives what we really gain by fighting, and what we lose. And perhaps we can pause for a moment before engaging to see if there is a better way.
Don't fight a battle if you don't gain anything by winning. ~General Patton
Thursday, August 24, 2017
Like many who saw the solar eclipse in Portland, Oregon, I was surprised that it didn’t get darker. Not far to the south of us, people experienced the night darkness of the total eclipse. But in my location, it was like someone had turned the dimmer switch down just a little. Looking through my special glasses at the 99% eclipse, all I could see was a tiny sliver of sunlight around the dark moon. Yet that 1% of sunlight was still enough to light the earth and was still much too bright to look at without the protective glasses.
Even a little light is enough to dispel the darkness. Think about that.
And let your light shine.
It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness. ~Chinese proverb
Saturday, August 19, 2017
This continues and completes our series about the associations made in Chinese medicine and qigong between the five major organ systems and five elements. These associations are expanded to include associations with emotions, energies, animals, colors, sounds...and seasons. In this series, I’ve tried to highlight a few of the associations that you might enjoy contemplating.
Fall was the season of courage and gathering energy. Winter was the season of stillness and storing energy. Spring was the season of forgiveness and expanding energy. Summer was the season of joy and release.
And now...what? There is a fifth season? Yes, this is the season of late summer, the season of in between. The days are shortening yet still warm. The leaves are still green yet not as lush. Many are fitting in one more vacation while they are also in the process of gearing up for the new school year. It is a time of transition, as summer winds down and fall has not yet arrived.
In the West, at least in temperate climates, we think in terms of four seasons. The Chinese add this in between time as a fifth season, a season of balance.
The organ associated with late summer is the spleen and pancreas. Although separate anatomically, these are considered one organ system. The spleen serves multiple functions of filtering, recycling, and storing blood. The pancreas produces insulin to regulate the body’s glucose levels. All these functions are related to the energy of this season – balance. It is an energy of poise after the gathering of fall, the storing of winter, the expansion of spring, and the release of summer. Now there is a pause before the beginning the cycle again with the gathering harvest of autumn.
Just as the spleen/pancreas provides balance within our bodies, this in between season is a wonderful time to find balance in our lives. An instruction in meditation and in martial arts is “Not too tight, not too loose.” Balancing is a dynamic process, shifting moment to moment to maintain equilibrium.
The element associated with late summer is earth. We sometimes describe balance as being grounded, or we compliment someone by saying they have their feet on the ground. In Greek mythology, Antaeus was the son of Mother Earth. As long as he was in contact with the earth, his mother protected him and he could not be defeated in battle. (Hercules figured this out and killed him while holding him up in the air.) We think of the earth as nurturing, providing a bounty of beauty and blessings.
If we review the elements associated with the five seasons, we will see that they follow a creative cycle. Metal, associated with fall, “creates” water through condensation. Water in winter creates the wood of spring. Wood creates summer’s fire. And now the ashes after the fire return to nourish the earth. And earth, in turn, cradles metal. Each element in turn brings its gift to our lives and ushers in the next. So generous.
As stated before, the emotional associations are often categorized as positive or negative, but don’t think of this as good or bad, but more like a polarity, or a balance.
The negative emotion associated with this in between season is worry. I see that manifested all around me now for so many reasons, some national or global in scope, but also I hear worry in individual lives.
The positive emotions are fairness and compassion. I find it fascinating to contemplate the emotional pairings associated with the seasons. Some are easier to connect, like the anger and forgiveness of spring. But some are more subtle, like the sadness and courage of fall.
Fairness has an obvious relation to the balance energy of this season. But how does compassion balance worry? It seems to me that worry often involves judgment. Anticipated circumstances are good or bad, or we fret that we are somehow falling short. Compassion softens judgment. Compassion opens and connects. Compassion accepts. It finds the fairness and balance in the middle.
So, my friends, as we rest in this in between season, may we release all worry and find balance in our lives through compassion for ourselves and everyone.
If a problem has a solution, there is no need to worry. If a problem does not have a solution, there is no need to worry. ~the Dalai Lama
Thursday, August 17, 2017
Fighting will never bring peace
Ceasing to fight will never bring peace
Only ceasing to fear will bring peace
We will cease to fear
when we realize there is nothing to fear
We will realize there is nothing to fear
when we remember who we are
We will remember who we are
when we release everything we are not
We will release everything we are not
when we understand that everything we are not is...
Note: I posted this poem in February, but perhaps a reminder is timely.
Friday, August 11, 2017
Some have characterized the theme of this chapter as karma, or you reap what you sow. But I’m not sure this gives the whole picture. If I understand karma correctly, one can sow goodness instead of evil and thereby earn goodness in return. This chapter, however, seems to carry forward from the last chapter the idea that sowing anything from the ego self is an interference with the natural flow of the universe, and will lead to disharmony and misfortune. And perhaps this is a more fair characterization of karma than the one we often use.
We can see this in the context of well intentioned advances in science and technology that had unintended harmful consequences. Farming techniques, for example, that increase yield, providing more food for more people, have sometimes caused environmental damage. Medicines that seemed miraculous were later discovered to have dire side effects. We see it in our own lives as well. How many of us have tried to direct a particular outcome, believing it to be beneficial to someone we love, only to have our efforts backfire? (My hand is raised.)
The road to hell, as the saying goes, is paved with good intentions.
The point, I think, is not that we shouldn’t do good things, but rather that we should align ourselves with Tao (the Holy Spirit, cosmic energy, whatever name you prefer) and allow good things to naturally happen. When our thoughts, words, and actions are naturally attuned to the appropriate course, we don’t do good, as much as good happens through us. Everything remains in natural harmony and balance.
The chapter opens with a military analogy.
One who rules in accordance with Tao
Does not use force to conquer the world
Force turns back upon itself
Briars grow where the army camps
Great wars bring years of misery
As with all the ruling or military references in the Tao Te Ching, we can take them literally (perhaps a timely application given current world affairs), or consider them in the context of our personal lives. As another example, I was practicing push hands with my tai chi teacher this morning. He wanted to show me something that he had recently learned, but in order to show me, he needed me to push or advance towards him. I didn’t know this, though, and I hung back, staying loose and nonaggressive.
What was funny about this is that I am usually more likely to push forward, but because that rarely ends well for me (!), I was consciously trying this morning to be more neutral. In so doing, I unwittingly kept him from using his new technique. In fact, at one point, he got a bit off balance himself. When he complimented me on uprooting him, I realized that I really had done nothing; he had uprooted himself (a very rare occurrence!).
Since it is almost always me in that position of being uprooted, it was interesting to view it from the other perspective. I could see so clearly how my own efforts to direct or control my push hands partner were invariably to my disadvantage. And, like all the lessons I learn in martial arts, I could see just as clearly how this applies in my everyday life.
So perhaps we can all watch for those times in our lives when we want to “rule by force,” with or without good intentions. What that happens, perhaps we might pause, take a deep breath, and consider that we might not know the best course. Perhaps we can allow ourselves to be guided by a deeper wisdom, and trust, really trust, in the basic goodness of the universe.
Lean not on your own understanding, but yield yourself to divine guidance, and your paths will be made straight. ~paraphrase of Proverbs 3:5-6
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Friday, August 4, 2017
Here is a recent text exchange with a martial arts buddy. He and I usually go to the same tai chi class on Friday mornings, and then stay after class to practice swords. This exchange took place on Wednesday.
Me: Since you are not going to be there on Friday, do you want to go to tai chi in the morning and then play with swords after? If so, I’ll come in the morning instead of Friday morning.
Him: I have time for the swords but not the tai chi. Meet after class? We’re talking Thursday, right?
Me: Right I meant Thursday. Why have I been thinking today is Wednesday all day? Yes Thursday.
Him: It is Wednesday right?
Me: Stop it! What the heck is today?
Him: Wait, I’m serious. Today is Wednesday right? Oh man I’m laughing too hard to text.
Me: Oh that’s right. It is Wednesday today....isn’t it?
Good grief. Can anyone relate? Our brains like to keep us humble. At least my brain does. My daughter says I have the memory of a gnat. She says it with humor and affection, but it is nonetheless true.
Some people are upset about the muddled thinking that sometimes besets their brains, but really, what is there to be upset about? My brain and I have been through many decades together, and for the most part it has served me well. If it needs a break now and then, or if it just has its own devilish sense of humor, then that’s okay.
We can still be friends. Like all friends, we make mistakes. We are less than perfect. Sometimes we do something embarrassing. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes not.
This incident with my brain in this text exchange was insignificant in the big scheme of life, but I realized that most things I think are a big deal aren’t really a big deal.
I think my brain was reminding me to lighten up, laugh at myself, and enjoy.
The first step towards true enlightenment is to lighten up on yourself. ~Bashar