Saturday, December 23, 2017

No Regrets, Coyote

Someone reminded me recently of how much I love Joni Mitchell’s music, although I haven’t listened to it in a long time. The last few days, a line from one of her songs keeps singing in my soul – No regrets, Coyote. It seems a perfect reflection on this year as it comes to a close.

Coyote has a prominent place in Native American mythology, often portrayed as a trickster, causing mischief and chaos wherever he goes. But his tricks are not necessarily malicious. They can serve to reveal to us our own illusions, our own vanities, our own humanity. They can shine light into our dark corners, expose what is hidden, and clean out old pain and shame.

Coyote has little respect for tradition and order and limitations. He crosses the boundaries of possibility and politeness with equal disregard. He is a crazy wisdom teacher.

And he came to visit me this year. He exploded my heart wide open and left me there –  hurt, confused, embarrassed, disappointed.

And purified, liberated, laughing, wholly alive, free. 

For that is Coyote’s gift, if we choose to accept it, the freedom of being wholly alive.

So as this year draws its final breaths, I ask myself – What will I leave behind this year? What will I carry with me into the new year? And what will I start fresh?

I will leave behind the stories that I tell myself about the past. I will carry with me an open heart. And I will start fresh with a willingness to say yes.

No regrets, Coyote.

For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes! ~Dag Hammarskjold

[Enjoy the song]

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 37

The chapter opens with the recurring theme of wu wei, or non-action.

Tao is ever without acting
Yet without not acting

Generally translated as “Tao does nothing yet nothing is left undone,” this concept causes much confusion when we interpret wu wei as static passivity. Rather, it is a dynamic energy of harmony with the basic order and nature of the universe.

Heroic actions are often manifestations of this energy. Ordinary people who do extraordinary things in a crisis sometimes describe what they did as happening without their thinking about it.

It can also manifest as creative inspiration, and yes, sometimes as stillness when action would be interfering with the natural order.

If princes and kings would abide by it
The ten thousand things will naturally develop or transform

The Tao Te Ching makes many references to ruling. These passages could apply to actual government, but can also be a self-referent, advising us on how to rule or govern ourselves. If we abide by the natural order of Tao, we are awakened as our true selves.

If there is still desire to act
One can return to the nameless simplicity of an uncarved block

Tao is without name. (“The name that can be named is not the eternal name.”) The uncarved block of wood is a perfect metaphor. In its natural simplicity there is unlimited potential, infinite possibilities. Once it is carved, it has a name, a purpose. It becomes this and not that.

Without desire there is tranquility
Everything below heaven is naturally at peace 

The link between desire and suffering is part of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths. I can see this in my own life. When I struggle by wanting the present moment to be something other than it is, I suffer. I am not tranquil.

Think of the words we use to describe this – out of sync, off my game, not comfortable in my skin, not in tune, out of sorts, churned up. We instinctively know, whether we consciously recognize it, when we are not in harmony with Tao’s natural rhythm.

And when we return to harmony, there is a sigh of relief. Even if there is a lot happening around us, we are at peace inside.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. ~John 14:27

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


The 1950 Japanese film Rashomon is the story of a murder told from the perspective of four witnesses, each of whom tells a very different tale. As you watch the movie, you are caught up in each version, thinking “Oh, this is what really happened.” But then a new witness begins to speak, and you are thrown back into the anxiety and frustration of uncertainty.

This film was the origin for the term “Rashomon effect,” used to describe the subjective nature of perception. As Anais Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” Most of us live our lives in the virtual reality of our thoughts, of the stories we tell ourselves – about ourselves and the world we live in and those who live in it with us.

When something happens, we immediately start telling ourselves a story about it. If what happened was confusing in some way, our stories seek to make sense of it so that we can find comfort in “knowing” what happened. The story often judges what happened as good or bad. Our stories generate feelings of desire or aversion, and are the basis of how we react to what happened. Our world becomes a closed loop of engaging with our own stories, stories that form our own “reality bubbles.”

Recently, some things have happened that have defied my attempts to explain and understand. Various stories swirl through my mind. Before one can really settle in, another one replaces it. I can’t seem to “catch” one and hold on to it. It’s like trying to control a room full of kittens on catnip. It has left me standing in the middle of the maelstrom as a befuddled witness, trying to pick out the “right” story.

Naturally, I prefer the stories that make me look good – the hero rather than the victim, the sage rather than the fool. I like the ones that make me feel transcendently serene rather than agitated and embarrassed. I reach for the ones that offer grand spiritual gifts rather than disappointment.

But here’s the thing – they are all just stories. What happens if I just let them all go?

Start with “I don’t know.” Why not just start where you’ll end up anyway? ~Adyashanti

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Heart Dragons

“Here there be dragons.” So say the old maps to designate areas beyond the known world, where only the most bold or the most foolhardy dare venture.

Dragons live there. Dragons breathing fire. Fire, the element of the heart.

Hearts are by nature bold and foolhardy adventurers, and if freed from fear’s mooring, will sail straight into the uncharted sea of dragons, where the water turns to fire. Hearts, like dragon eggs, break open in the flames. And only then is their true magnificence revealed, hot and blinding as the sun, purifying our souls, and blessing all the world with their infinite love.

It isn’t always pleasant. It is not serene. It is sometimes brutal. We are stripped bare of our defenses, exposing our deepest vulnerability. But when we surrender the struggle, and offer our hearts to the dragon’s fiery breath, we find the true peace and power of awakening. We taste the full flavor of life, and find it...delicious.

It’s worth risking everything for.

Now I know I have a heart, because it’s breaking. ~Tin Man, The Wizard of Oz

Monday, December 4, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 36

My tai chi teacher is fond of saying, “If something goes up, something comes down.” This is how he explains the exchange of energy between yin and yang. If one is filling, the other is emptying. We draw in to manifest out. We yield to overcome force.

This chapter repeats a theme in the Tao Te Ching of the interdependence and creative energy of opposites.

If you want to receive 
You must first give
This is the mystery of enlightenment

The character for mystery describes the thin place between the emptiness of Tao and the manifestation of the ten thousand things, the liminal space between form and formlessness. At this point of intersection, the energy of what appears as two opposites swirls together, generating the creative power of the universe.

The “magic” of this creative power is nowhere more evident than in the realm of the heart. When we think in finite terms of limitation, it is obvious that if I give you something I have less. But in the heart realm, giving begins the dance of creation as the two sides join to give birth to more than themselves.

As Shakespeare’s Juliet observed to Romeo, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep. The more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”

This is not something to understand or analyze. We need only experience it to grasp its truth. Once, when I was so depleted of energy and joy in my life, when things seemed the hardest, and despair rode heavily on my shoulder, all I could think of was that I needed help.

Somehow, as counterintuitive as it seemed, I was led to enter a training program to help others. I couldn’t imagine how I could summon even the tiniest bit of openness or generosity in my heart, which felt so completely drained. And yet I drew strength and healing from giving what I didn’t even think I had, to others who were hurting.

Like my favorite commercial (click here to watch it) said, like magic...only real.

Once we have emptied ourselves of all that we think we know and are, we will find the hidden gem of our own Tao nature, deep within the cloud of our unknowing. ~Solala Towler