Monday, August 27, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 48

Increase is the way of learning
Decrease is the way of Tao

The opening lines of this chapter perfectly capture my current perspective. This year presented several opportunities for me to learn something that I was very drawn to – a new sword form, a new style of tai chi, advancing my study of Chinese language, playing the piano.

In each instance I was initially very motivated. I eagerly sought instruction and diligently practiced. But my energy soon flagged and I realized, with some frustration and disappointment, that my heart just wasn’t in it. I finally admitted to a friend that “I just don’t want to learn anything right now.”

A remarkable confession from a person who has always loved learning. I was the nerd who loved school, at least until my rebellious days of high school. I thrived in law school. As a professor I had the luxury of getting paid to learn and to share what excited me about my chosen subjects. As a martial artist I reveled in increased skill and knowledge.

So why couldn’t I summon the energy and excitement to pursue these opportunities? There may not be a single explanation, but on some deep level my spirit seeks to rest quietly. And while resting, to allow a shedding, a falling away.

My canary Henry is molting, as he does every late summer and early fall. He doesn’t have to do anything. He just sits there and allows his old feathers to release, covering the cage and the surrounding floor with downy softness and small quills. He quits singing during this period. He is less active. He rests and waits. Like me.

The rest of the chapter returns to a theme throughout the Tao Te Ching – that of wu wei, or non-action.

Decrease until non-action is reached
Not acting allows all to be done
Without interference everything is accomplished
With interference there is never enough 

The Tao Te Ching envisions a universe that is self regulating, with a rhythm and harmony that is inherent in existence. This is opposite from a perspective that suggests we can and should improve on nature. In our over-scheduled, never enough time, always behind world, it seems crazy to think that doing less will actually accomplish more. Perhaps we simply discover that less really needs to be accomplished in the first place. Either way, life seems more spacious, more delightful, more serene when we are not battling against it all the time.

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe.  ~Larry Eisenberg

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Into the Dark

Babes in the womb
Seeds underground
Life begins in darkness
Do not fear it
Shine no light into the shadows
For there in the arms of night
Come mysteries to dance

Friday, August 17, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 47

There is a lot packed into this short chapter, which makes clear that we need not look anywhere outside ourselves for the answers we seek. In fact, we need not look at all.

Without going out the door, one knows everything under heaven
Without looking out the window, one sees heaven’s Tao
The further away one goes, the less one knows
Thus the sage knows without going anywhere
Recognizes without looking
Accomplishes without doing

We read of wise hermits living for decades in caves and cloistered mystics. Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz learned that everything she wanted was in her own back yard back in Kansas. My Aunt Bernice never strayed far from home, yet understood more about life than most people with more education and worldly experience.

We can read this chapter in a literal sense and let our passports expire. However, I don’t think the caution here is against travel per se, but against looking outside of our own selves to find truth.

To go even further (pun intended), it is the very concept of seeking, whether out there or within, that frustrates our aspirations. Seeking suggests that there is something to find. But what if what we are seeking can’t be found because it was never lost? If I cover my eyes with my hands, I don’t need to find the light; I just need to remove what blocks my vision of the light that is all around me.

We embrace the idea that what we seek isn’t out there, but within, but we then continue the same search just in a different direction. Oh, it’s within me! Where is it? I search the inner terrain with the same determination as I searched the world over. It’s right here. I just need to meditate more (chant, pray, beat drums, walk labyrinths, do yoga, whatever). I know it’s close. But I can’t see it. Damn.

What happens if I quit searching? What happens if I just live fully present in this moment? And this one? We see heaven’s Tao. It looks just like life. And it’s marvelous.

Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ For you see, the kingdom of God is within you. ~Luke 17:21

Monday, August 13, 2018

Living Fiction

You are the author of your own life story. ~Unknown

Someone asked me if I write fiction. No, I replied, and thought to myself, I don’t write fiction. I live it.

We all do. We tell ourselves stories and then believe them. Our emotions are rooted in the narrative. We react and make choices, live and love, fear and hate, enter into relationships and leave them – all based on what we have told ourselves about what is happening.

We rewrite history many times over, to punish ourselves over what we regret, to reward ourselves for good deeds that grow more heroic in the retelling, to hide our shame.

And we believe. My sister and I used to joke that our mother could have passed a lie detector test on some of the whoppers she told. She was her own most gullible audience.

Our most cherished tale is of course the most fundamental one – about our own identity. “I am the one who ....” Think of the instructions that give us a list of answers and tell us to check all that apply. All those checked answers make up the image I have of myself. Several images perhaps: the one I present to the world, the one I wish to be, the one I fear I really am.

We were asked in a spiritual direction group to “tell our story” and to listen with an open heart to others tell theirs. Revealing and tender. But still ... stories. The deeper question is who are we when we drop all our stories.

Try it. Who am I? See every answer as the story it is. Go deeper still.

Who am I?

Until finally, you inevitably arrive and the only possible ultimate answer.

I don’t know.

And now we live truth.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

This Time

You are unknown
Yet familiar
I have known you before
I was your mother
     your brother
     your friend
     your lover
We lived and laughed
We cried ... and died
Now here we are again
Who are we this time

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Prescription: Compassion for Self

I went to see my naturopath yesterday. We talked as we usually do, she checked my pulses and my tongue, and made some suggestions for diet and supplements. She wrote down her instructions and handed me the page.

When I got home, I reviewed her list of instructions. The last item said:

4. Compassion for self

I laughed out loud. What kind of prescription was this? What sort of doctor does this, I asked myself.

Apparently a doctor who cares about her whole patient, who wants her patient to be whole, to feel whole. A doctor who knows that without compassion, all the supplements in the world will still leave her patient lacking. And unless the patient can open her heart to her own self, then all the doctor’s care will be for naught.

How many millions are spent every year on self improvement? We want to do better. We want to be better. What violence do we do to ourselves by judging ourselves as always falling short, never being good enough as we are?

I have listened to people in recent discussions speak of themselves with such self-criticism, such disappointment, such hatred. Condemning themselves to eternal inadequacy, they desperately search for some external answer to their distress, for someone to tell them what to do.

So here is the answer, right on the prescription paper – compassion for self. Just for one moment, take a deep breath, drop all the judgment, and give yourself a smile. Doctor's orders.

You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens. ~Louise L. Hay