Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 39

This long chapter is divided into two parts that mirror each other followed by a “coda.” The theme is Oneness. When we are in sync with the oneness of the universe, everything is as it should be – effortless, in harmony, sacred, full of life. When we are out of sync, life becomes a struggle, and our life force becomes depleted.

In the first section, we see how various aspects of the universe manifest Oneness:

Heaven is clear and pure
Earth is serene
The soul is divine
Valleys are full and abundant
Creation (the ten thousand things) is alive
Rulers are virtuous and honorable

But if these aspects lose their connection to Oneness:

Heaven without clarity would split open
Earth without tranquility would collapse
The soul without divinity would wither away
Valleys without abundance would be exhausted 
Creation without life force would become extinct
Rulers without virtue and honor would fall

The chapter ends with an admonishment against vanity:

Embrace humility as your foundation
Do not shine or tinkle like jade
Rather chime like stones

These last two lines can be understood a different way:

Do not shine or tinkle like jade 
Or clatter like stones

Either way, we are being warned against thinking ourselves special or superior. Instead, when we see ourselves as part of the vast Oneness of the universe, we are part of something much more vast, more beautiful, more perfect, than our individual egos could ever attain.

This chapter reminds me of a poem by Emily Dickinson. In it, there seems to be a delicious secret in recognizing our inherent oneness and connection to each other.


I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

At the Gate

One of my favorite movies of all time is King of Hearts, a 1960s film starring Alan Bates and a young Genevieve Bujold. The story takes place in a French village during WWI. The inhabitants flee the town, leaving behind the inmates of an asylum with the gate open. They filter out into the empty town and take on the roles of normal life, full of joie de vive, such that a Scottish soldier (Bates) sent into the town is unaware of the situation, with hilarious and profound results. 

This brief description does no justice to this gem of a movie, but sets the stage for the final scene. After opposing armies meet and kill each other off in the town square, the inmates realize that the villagers will be returning. They quietly abandon their adventure and return to the asylum. 

Finally understanding what has happened, Bates reluctantly rejoins his unit and prepares to move out. But at the very end, he returns and walks towards the asylum, shedding his uniform along the way, until he stands before the gate, stark naked, asking to be admitted. 

The people we find most appealing in the movie are those who have been judged insane – the ones who seem to appreciate life, reveling in the present moment, with open hearts and flashes of deep wisdom. When confronted by the dismal reality of the life he had never up to that moment questioned, Bates, along with the viewer, is led to consider that the inmates of the asylum might understand more about the precious nature of life than those who so thoughtlessly cast it aside. 

His walk towards the gate, to me, represents the process of awakening. It requires utter surrender, leaving behind everything we use to clothe ourselves – our beliefs, our judgments, our shame, our stories, our hopes, our fears. We must be willing to let it all go, layer by layer, like the uniform left strewn behind him. 

Until we stand at the door naked, with nothing to offer except ourselves, asking to come in. And we will be welcomed, because we are standing at the gate of home. And as the saying goes, home is where they have to let you in.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. ~Matthew 7:7

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Only Way

There is another way
The only way
Some think it secret
Yet it beckons all
Some think it leads afar
Yet it leads nowhere else but here
Some think it hard to follow
Yet it asks no sacrifice and requires no effort
Your soul's deep yearning
Your heart's desire
Is already yours
Now and always
Just let go of everything that is not it
And you will see

Sunday, February 4, 2018

I Just Like To Do Things My Own Way

My son James is autistic. For those familiar with the spectrum, he would probably fall somewhere at the very low end of high functioning. Several years ago, I had a conversation with him about his adult life. I was trying to ask in a sensitive, diplomatic way how he felt about not being able to do some things that he might see other adults doing. I was trying to understand if he saw himself as different, and if so, how he felt about it. 

James thought for a minute and then he shrugged. “I just like to do things my own way.” 

So true. He does. He has always marched to the beat of his own drum, and happily, at least when allowed to march unimpeded. 

When he was a boy, I once asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. 

“A deer!” he said. Not the sort of career choice answer I was expecting.

“Hmm, I’m pretty sure you are going to be a man when you grow up,” I replied. 


Looking back, I can see so many times along the way when I tried to make James fit into a mold. I believed that being a good mother to James meant trying to help him overcome the difficulties that I saw facing him. It meant making him more like everyone else.  

Then one day, I was passing close enough to hear James talking to himself in the mirror. 

“It’s great to be James!” 


I regret now all the ways that I became the impediment to James’s happy life dance. 

As I look around I see that this is not an isolated example. How many ways do I do this to others? To myself? How many ways have I tried to mold myself into the person I thought I should be at the expense of person within longing to be free? 

We want others to agree with us, to act like we think they should act, to believe what we believe. We hold others and most of all ourselves to a standard ideal. And meanwhile, the natural universe of beauty and energy and wild variation longs to express itself through all of us and each of us. 

The universe just likes to do things its own way. And who are we to stand in its way?

The universe is saying: “Allow me to flow through you unrestricted, and you will see the greatest magic you have ever seen.” ~ Klaus Joehle