Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ducks at Play

As I walked across a bridge over a small river, I noticed some wild ducks below. They were gathered in a shallow, quiet eddy in the curve of a faster current. I paused to watch.

Pretty soon I noticed a pattern. A few ducks would move to the top of the curve and enter the fast current. The rapids would rush them around to the bottom of the curve where they would exit the current, returning to the calm shallows. Meanwhile, some other ducks entered the rapids at the top, quacking and flapping as they were swept to the bottom of the curve.

They moved in this circle, making their way to the top of the curve, entering the rapids for the rush to the bottom, waiting their turn to ride again.

What were they doing? They didn’t appear to be looking for food. I think they were just having a good time. The scene reminded me of a children’s playground, with a line of kids climbing up the ladder, laughing down the slide, and returning to the ladder to climb up and repeat.

Ducks at play. Simple pleasures.

It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all. ~Laura Ingalls Wilder

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Sitting in the Rain

I’m singing in the rain
Just singing in the rain
What a glorious feeling
I’m happy again
~lyrics by Arthur Freed

The rain came. Lots of it. A steady downpour. Too much even for intrepid all weather walkers like myself and the dog, at least when we’re at the cabin (we are sort of wimpy city walkers). But this last weekend at the cabin, we stayed in as the rain kept the day dark and the forest drenched. By Saturday afternoon, we needed some outside time. So I put a chair under the tiny covered area in front of the door, wrapped up in a blanket with Rosie bundled on my lap and...sat.

We sat and listened to all the rain sounds–drops splish splashing on the deck, tip tapping in the trees, roaring in the swollen creek. The air was fragrant with wet pine, and chilly but we were hunkered warm in our soft shelter. The golden maple leaves danced brightly in the misty shadows.

It was all so achingly beautiful, so exquisitely transcendent, like a shower cleansing my soul of anything that was not pure, perfect light. I cried in sheer, surrendered joy. My heart rained tears in sweet harmony with nature’s song.

I was sitting in the rain
Just sitting in the rain
What a glorious feeling...

Here is the view from my chair.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Heart Listens

The heart listens
At the speed of light
Where time stands still
And thus has no need
Of memory

The heart hears 
Only truth
Which is beyond thought
And thus has no need
Of words

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Everything You Need is Nothing

In pursuit of knowledge, every day something is acquired
In pursuit of Tao, every day something is released
~Tao Te Ching

We read or listen to the words of spiritual teachers. We takes notes. We study. We try to remember, hoping that the memory of words spoken or written in the past will somehow lead to awakening in the future.

And all the while we are ignoring the only possible time that awakening can happen – the present moment. And we are doing the opposite of what most teachers teach – to release. Instead we are trying our best to accumulate and retain information about a concept that we reach for as it dances just beyond our grasp.

It is never enough. We are never enough. If only I read one more book, listen to one more podcast, attend one more workshop, do more, try harder, be better....

I get that, as my shelves full of books attest. But just as you can’t learn to ride a bicycle from reading or talking about it, you will never be able to think your way to awakening. Because it isn’t a thought.

It is simply our natural state. It is who we are. Its eternal flame is obscured by our effort, by our thoughts, by our stories. But it shines on without regard for our determined quest to find it. The comparison is sometimes made to a fish in the ocean looking for water. But it is even more basic than that. It is like the ocean itself looking for water, unaware of its own nature.

We think it grand, but it is quite ordinary. It is not an escape from reality. Escaping is what we are trying to do as we search for it. It is reality, and when we finally exhaust ourselves and stop looking for it, it is revealed. We are revealed.

And what can we do then but laugh and go on with our day, our ordinary, marvelous, amazing day.

Before enlightenment, chop wood carry water
After enlightenment, chop wood carry water
~zen saying

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 34

This is a beautiful little chapter about the relationship between Tao and the ten thousand things. (The “ten thousand things” is a poetic name for the manifested universe.) It begins with another water image for Tao. As we have already seen, water is the most often used metaphor for the nature of Tao. 

Great Tao flows everywhere
The ten thousand things depend on it
It gives birth and rejects nothing 

The character for “flows”   has a water radical on the left (those three little lines). The right side of the character means to spring forth, so there is a sense here of water welling up and overflowing, giving life and nourishment to all existence. Despite its infinite creative manifestations...

Tao never acts as ruler
Ever without desire it seems very small
Yet all things return home to Tao
So it is very great
Because it claims no greatness
It completes its work without self awareness
And thus is truly great

Although this last part does not expressly use the characters 无为 for wu wei or non-action, the concept of wu wei is present here. When we allow things to manifest and move according to their nature, Tao’s creative energy is expressed through us. These last three lines, in fact, are sometimes translated as referring to a wise person instead of Tao.

Have you ever been amazed at something you easily accomplished and wondered, “How did that happen?” Perhaps it seemed like you were just along for the ride while marvels unfolded. To me, that is what this chapter describes. When we surrender our own agenda and our own need for recognition, the true power of the universe moves all around us and through us. And miracles happen.

I am realistic – I expect miracles. ~Wayne Dyer

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Hold My Hand

Hold my hand
Don't let me get lost
Lead me through the darkness
Carry me when I get tired
Keep me safe
Let me sleep in your arms
Till the warm light of home
Bathes my fuzzy eyes
And smiles me awake

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Season of Courage

[I'm reposting this article from last autumn. For those who have enjoyed the series on seasons, this will hopefully be a nice reminder.]

Autumn...the year's last, loveliest smile. ~William Cullen Bryant

I wrote recently about courage and also about surrender. These two concepts come together perfectly in the season of autumn, dancing with each other as the wind dances with falling leaves.

In Chinese medicine and qigong practice, there are certain associations made between the five major organ systems and five elements. These associations are expanded to include associations with emotions, energies, animals, colors, sounds...and seasons.

I thought you might enjoy knowing some of the associations of autumn. Let’s start with two of the things we most often think about when we think about this season. Harvest, a time of gathering the fruits of summer’s labor to store for winter. And leaves, turning color and falling from the trees. Now let’s see how these two aspects are reflected in the Chinese system of associations.


Autumn is associated with the lungs. The lungs are linked in the Chinese system with the large intestine. Together they create a balance of pure energy being drawn into the body through the breath and of waste being released. Autumn is a time of gathering the energy we need to sustain us through the winter, and also invites us to release whatever we no longer need. This could be a literal release, like finally cleaning out that junk drawer (!), or a figurative one, like releasing judgments or resentments. Like the trees dropping their leaves, we don’t need to force anything. We can just let them go.


The element associated with the lungs is metal. I was surprised by this, because I think of lungs as being very “air-y” and light, while metal is heavy and found deep in the earth. Then I thought about how we value metal. Think about gold, for example. For a long time, our economy was based on the gold standard, making gold not only a thing of beauty, but a measure of value essential to our financial health, just like the lungs bring in air, our most essential necessity for life.


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. For the lungs, the negative emotions are sadness and grief. The positive ones are surrender and courage.

Sadness and grief are a normal part of life. Sometimes people experience these emotions in the autumn, as the light fades, the rain comes (in the Pacific Northwest at least), and the lush green vibrancy of summer gets swept into piles of brown leaves in the street.

Sadness and grief are not “bad.” On the contrary, they can open our hearts and connect us to others by stripping away our facades. But they can become debilitating and unhealthy if they become stuck. This can happen when we try to deny or avoid emotions that feel painful or uncomfortable. This is the beauty of the positive (again think polarity and balance) emotions of surrender and courage. Courage allows us to surrender to the experience of our sadness or grief, and this allows it to move through us and be released, in its own time like the leaves falling.

There are other associations, but these, I think, are the ones that give us the most to think about. Any thoughts on these? What do you think about when you think about autumn? What associations do you have?