Tuesday, May 29, 2018


I just realized that my comment notification is not working. I usually get an email notification that I have a comment awaiting moderation, but after not getting any email notices for a while, I went to my comment moderation page and found a lot of comments! Oh dear. 

I have now published all of those, and I will go back and respond right now. I'm so sorry for the delay. 

Meanwhile, I have heard from a blog buddy that my site is not allowing her to comment. Another oh dear. If you are having similar problems, will you please email me at galenpearl@gmail.com and let me know.

If you are a Blogger blogger and are having similar problems, do you know how to fix this? Again, please email (or try to comment!) and let me know. 

I did get a notice from Blogger about OpenID changes. I have no idea what this means.

Again, please excuse my blog blips. Your comments are always valued and I'm sorry I didn't realize faster that there was a problem.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Lost in Translation

The Tao Te Ching has been a source of inspiration in my life for many years. I don’t remember how I first encountered it in my young life, but I do remember that its simple wisdom resonated in my soul and I have loved it ever since.

Several years ago, I gathered various translations with the intention of taking one chapter at a time and comparing the different interpretations. However, I quickly saw that this was not enough. I needed to go to the source. And so I began a journey into the original ancient Chinese text. It was like finding a door hidden in the overgrowth to a secret garden of unimaginable beauty.

“Here there be dragons,” say the old maps designating uncharted areas at the edge of the known world. Dragons indeed, bursting from the depths of the sea, water diamonds cascading from their wings, dancing in the air, their form too brilliant to behold, then disappearing in a puff of smoke. I had no idea.

And that is the point perhaps. Having no idea.

The Chinese text dances like those dragons, defying analysis or intellectual understanding. It is poetic, with rhythm and music to delight the soul. The characters are cryptic, with multiple meanings swirling in fluid mystery. Trying to pin down a single meaning is like trying to catch with your bare hands a single slippery fish in a vast school of fish. Better to float in the water, watching the colorful fish dart and twirl. I quit trying to understand and just immersed myself in the experience.

We see such variations in translation, not because one is right and one is wrong, but because translators by necessity must dip their net into the water and catch a single meaning to put into language that we recognize. We form ideas about the meaning so that we can use words to share our ideas with each other.

My daughter grew up in China with Chinese as her first language. When I shared with her my exploration of the Chinese text of the Tao Te Ching, she brushed her hand through the air and shrugged. “No one understands this,” she said dismissively.

I had to laugh. But her response gave me a deeper insight. Even if we were native Chinese speakers, we would have to form ideas and use words to communicate with each other about the meaning of this wisdom teaching that defies explanation in any language!

Expanding even more, we can include all of life in this process. All of us, all the time, are “translating” our experience into ideas, concepts, beliefs. And using words to communicate these to each other. That’s not bad. Or good for that matter. It is a necessary process for us as embodied separate individuals. Our ideas, beliefs, and concepts then in turn shape our experience because we will only recognize what comports with the internal structure we have built. We create a loop of what we call reality through what we create and perceive.

Meanwhile, our direct experience of true realty has been “lost in translation.” To me, this is what the Tao Te Ching teaches. If I can embrace all the possible meanings in the mystery of the text, then I can appreciate the various translations without judging them as right or wrong, good or bad. Likewise, if we can embrace the direct experience of what is, then we can engage in and enjoy the dialogue of human-ness without the added suffering of attachment. We can dance with dragons.

Any belief limits my reality, because any belief is a prejudice. Any belief imposes an artificial structure on the free flow of experience. ~Paul Ferrini

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 43

This short chapter highlights a theme that runs through the Tao Te Ching.

What is most soft
Overcomes what is most hard

Two characters are used for “overcome,” literally meaning to gallop on horseback. Having grown up riding horses, I have wonderful memories of galloping bareback across meadows, hands entwined in flowing mane, hanging on as my horse ran free. It was exhilarating and powerful.

The horse’s strength came from being supple, its speed from finding its rhythm. This is the image I have of softness overcoming rigidity.

The next line uses a different image.

What is without form or substance can enter the impenetrable

While not exactly on point, I am distracted by a memory of being inadvertently caught in a revolution in another country. With just minutes of warning, I and some fellow travelers crowded into a hotel room as chaos erupted in the streets below. When we saw the tear gas canisters exploding, we began stuffing wet towels around the windows, hoping to seal them. But within moments, our eyes were stinging red and watery as we looked at each other helplessly.

Flipping to the other side of the concept, much of what I practice in martial arts is about not being stiff or forceful. As one teacher says, “I know you, but you don’t know me.” He means that he can sense where our resistance is, where his advantage is, while we are unable to find any vulnerability on his part. If I push, I meet nothing and suddenly my own effort is my defeat.

“I’m trying...,” I begin. “That is your problem,” he laughs in response.

Just like in life. I’ve learned with my grandchildren something I never mastered with my strong-willed children. Don’t meet force with force, but rather yield and overcome. Deflect and redirect!

I’m reminded of the fable about the wind and the sun arguing about who is stronger. They agree to decide the question by competing to see which one can remove the coat of a person walking along the road. The wind blows as hard as it can, but the person grips her coat and wraps it tightly around her body. The sun shines gently and soon the person removes her coat to bask in the sun’s warmth.

The chapter ends with a lament that few people understand this principle. So true, isn’t it? We exhaust ourselves with our force and resistance, trying to make the present moment something other than what it is.  But each new moment gives us another opportunity to mount up and go for the galloping ride.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Not That, Not That – This Too, This Too

These apparently contradictory statements are at the heart of spiritual awakening, representing the two practices of release and acceptance.

“Neti, neti” is a Sanskrit expression from ancient Hindu texts. It can be translated as “Not that, not that.” It reminds me to not grasp onto my beliefs and opinions, my judgments and fears.

“This too, this too” is a phrase I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh, teaching me to accept what is, whether that is my circumstances or my feelings or yes, even those opinions and judgments.

I find that acceptance rather than resistance is what allows me to soften my grip and release whatever binds me. If I make a mistake, as I did recently, I can replay the situation endlessly, feeling worse and worse. But no matter how wise I am in hindsight about what I should have done, or wish I had done, I can’t change what I did. I try to deny, rationalize, justify, reframe, tell a different story – anything other than just acknowledging that I made a mistake. So now not only have I made a mistake, but I have created a story about it evoking feelings of shame, embarrassment, anger (at myself), and judgment.

So I quit fighting with reality and accept what happened, without embellishment. This too, this too. And I accept my feelings of regret and sadness. This too, this too.

Everything is workable, everything becomes my teacher, everything has a place in my life.

And when I can accept my circumstances and myself, as is, the thoughts that torment me begin to fade. I can see through them. They are not real. Neti, neti. They do not bind me. They have no power over me. They no longer separate me from others. I need not defend my position, nor impose my views. I don’t need to be right. Not that, not that.

Harmony is restored.

Years ago when I was in therapy, my therapist would respond to my frequent descriptions of how I had somehow fallen short, or not been my best, with a tilt of her head and a little smile. “Welcome to the human race,” she would say. I hated that. I held myself to a higher standard. Than being human? “And how is that working for you?” was another one of her standard lines. I hated that too.

But now I am older, and if not wiser, certainly more tired. Too tired to struggle against what is. Too tired to pretend. Too tired to carry the heavy baggage of a lifetime of judgments and failings. Too tired to do anything other than the best I can do in this moment.

What a relief.

No wonder sages are most often portrayed as old ... or as Yoda.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Organizing Water

You can’t organize truth. That’s like trying to shape a pound of water in wrapping paper. ~Bruce Lee

I was having a discussion with a friend about a particular theological concept, one that has defied any sort of sensible explanation for centuries. We had read various scholars’ analyses; we had listened to podcasts interviewing well respected teachers and experts. I listened as my friend tried various approaches to understanding, until she finally threw up her hands in unhappy defeat.

Then she asked what I thought. Hmm....

I think that what I think doesn’t really matter. As Adyashanti says, we cannot think our way to truth. We are so wired to analyze, to categorize, to explain, and by so doing, to understand. Our sweet little brains just cannot stand to not know. It’s like a toothache that we keep probing with our tongue. Relief comes only when we have an answer, and we are so relieved to have one that we are loath to question it in case we find it lacking and have to start again.

But our answer is not truth. I can put water in a cup, but the water is not the cup. I can put truth into a belief or a concept or some sort of thinking structure, but truth is not that structure.

So is there a test for truth? Maybe...

Can you explain it? It’s not truth.

Can you describe it? It’s not truth.

Can you disagree with someone about it? It’s not truth.

Can you understand it? It’s definitely not truth.

The Sanskrit expression “neti, neti” meaning “not this, not this,” is a practice or meditation to reveal truth by identifying what is not truth. It is comparable to the via negativa or apophetic theology, which seeks to remove all blocks from direct experience of the divine.

We don’t find truth. We don’t need to find it because it was never lost. We live in truth the way a fish lives in water. Its eternal presence is revealed when we drop all the barriers we have put up with our beliefs.

If you can understand it, it’s not God. ~St. Augustine

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Longing Soul

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls. ~Psalm 42:7

For the last six weeks, my usually busy schedule has been emptied. I suspended my martial arts classes, my piano lessons, my Chinese tutor. I made a choice to devote my mornings to a writing project. (Mornings, I’ve discovered, are really the only time I have even the slightest bit of self-discipline and productive energy.)

So I cleared my calendar and set to it. Coincidentally, I also found myself temporarily without a TV, and then decided to not replace it for the time being.

That’s a lot of alone time with less distraction than usual. After a couple of weeks, I began to experience an inner discomfort, a restlessness, a vague dissatisfaction. I wanted something. But what was it?

My typical approach to such a question is to think about it. So I thought ... and thought. But got no answer, proving once again that thinking is highly overrated. Nothing seemed quite right, like when you’re starving and standing in front of the open refrigerator but nothing looks good.

Meanwhile, this undefined feeling was expanding, like a spring welling up and spreading over the ground, like a wave swelling as it rolls toward the shore. It was painful, and a little scary. But there was no escape. It was inside me, calling me, touching my heart, drawing me deep.

Longing. My soul was longing. As all souls do. We long for home, for awakening, for remembering who we are, for union. Like salmon returning from the sea, this is the longing of creation, to manifest into form and then return to the formlessness from which it is birthed. We miss its quiet beckoning in the roar of our lives.

But now I heard it, unmistakable and compelling. I was distressed because I was resisting, wanting the familiarity of my distractions, the comfort of certainty, the safety of understanding.

This longing of the soul brings none of those. It is a call back into the mystery, unknown and unknowable. It is terrifying, and ultimately irresistible. We all hear it. We hear it in the beat of our hearts, in the rhythm of our breath, in the silence of our souls. Deep calls to us, and what is deep within us answers.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. ~Psalm 42:1