Friday, December 27, 2019
In a recent post, I described my grandson’s loving acceptance of George the lemur who lost his tail. This morning, George was found with his hand resting on Chao Chao in what appears to be a gesture of kindness. (Everyone denies staging this scenario, so think what you will about how this came about.)
Chao Chao recently joined the family, brought home by my daughter (my grandson’s aunt) from her visit to China over Thanksgiving. He is a rat, symbolizing 2020, the year of the rat in Chinese astrology.
Perhaps George is inviting us to make 2020 the year of kindness and compassion, to encourage others rather than criticize, to accept rather than judge, to reach out rather than reject, to forgive rather than hate, to love rather than fear.
The Dalai Lama says that his religion is kindness. The Chinese goddess Guan Yin pours the nectar of compassion over the world. Jesus cautioned us to judge not, and commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Buddha taught that hatred ceases not by hatred but only by love.
All these great wisdom teachings have been modeled for me in the last few days by my grandson and his stuffed animal. “And a little child shall lead them,” says the Bible. Perhaps one of my last lessons this year is humility.
In a few days I will head up to my forest cabin for my year end retreat. On New Year’s Eve, I will sit in front of the fire. First I will write a letter to the year ending, thanking it for its lessons and blessings. Then I will write a letter to the new year, welcoming it with hospitality and openness. Finally I will burn both letters, offering all my gratitude and anticipation to the heavens and the earth.
We each choose what to pay forward in the next year. May we choose well.
Saturday, December 21, 2019
Darkness darkness, be my pillow
Take my head and let me sleep
In the coolness of your shadow
In the silence of your dream
Darkness darkness, hide my yearning
For the things that cannot be
Keep my mind from constant turning
Towards the things I cannot see
Today is the first day of winter, the season we associate with darkness. The song lyrics encourage us to rest, to cease our struggle, to accept what is, to enter the mystery.
In the Tao Te Ching, darkness is the metaphor for mystery, the essence of the Way. It is the origin of all creation. The Bible tells us that in the beginning, “the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” From this darkness, God brought forth the manifested universe, beginning with light.
It is within the darkness of this deep mystery that the light begins to return. After today’s winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, the light stays just a minute longer. And then another. We hardly notice its gradual approach as we wake in the darkness, shivering in the cold.
Then one day we notice the early morning sun sparkling on the frost. The light calls creation to awaken once again and we know that spring will come.
But for now, we prepare for the time of quiet, the time of unknowing, the season of stillness. The darkness is the gate to mystery. And it stands open, inviting us in, allowing us to sink deep inside ourselves, to listen...and wait...and watch. Within the darkness, if we are patient, we will see the light of truth, first as a tiny glimmer, then growing into a blazing light, consuming all illusion and doubt.
I said to my soul, be still, and wait.... So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. ~T.S. Eliot
Monday, December 16, 2019
My grandson came home from a shopping trip with his mom, eager to show me his great find from Goodwill. He called it a monkey, but we soon established that it is a lemur. He named it George.
Further inquiry led to internet searches and an entertaining and informative documentary about lemurs, who only live in Madagascar. Watching the beautifully filmed documentary, I noticed that all the lemurs had something that George does not – a tail. I examined George and discovered a little ripped place on his backside where at one time a tail was undoubtedly attached.
Instead of pointing this out, I went to the store the next day and bought what I would need to create a new tail for George. I thought my grandson would be pleased when I observed that George had lost his tail and that I could make him a new one. However, after considering this for a nanosecond, my grandson hugged George close and said, “That’s okay, Nana. George is fine the way he is.”
Whoa. I took a minute to let that sink in.
And away went George the tail-less lemur, bouncing happily in my grandson’s arms as they ran off to play.
To be fully seen by somebody and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous. ~Elizabeth Gilbert
Friday, December 13, 2019
Let it go
I love it
You love an illusion -- let it go
I will ... tomorrow
There is no tomorrow -- let it go now
If I let it go I will have nothing
You will have everything -- let it go
I am afraid
Yes, I know -- let the fear go too
Let it all go
You will see
Sunday, December 8, 2019
Like other chapters which address principles of governance, this chapter applies just as well, and perhaps with more relevance, to how we govern ourselves.
In ancient times rulers who followed Tao
Did not teach people to be clever
But rather encouraged people to follow their true nature
Governing by manipulation brought ruin
But governing in alignment with Tao brought good fortune
I have taken great liberty with the translation here because the use of certain characters in this particular chapter seems atypical in the context of the Tao Te Ching. I hope I have captured the essential meaning. I think the point, expressing a theme throughout the text, is that nature has its own wisdom that we cannot improve on. And when we try, our interference causes chaos and suffering.
To know the difference between these two (the natural way vs interference)
Is called mysterious Virtue (Te)
Mysterious Virtue reaches deep and far
Linking all things to the Source
In perfect harmony
As I’ve noted before, the “Te” of the Tao Te Ching is often translated as “Virtue.” However, this does not mean virtue in any moralistic sense, but rather means the expression of Tao in the manifested universe. I think it is comparable to the fruits of the spirit in Christianity, which are not moral rules but rather the natural expression of being filled with the holy spirit.
Maybe I’m just getting too tired as I get older to expend a lot of energy trying to force things to be a certain way. I find more and more that when I allow things to run their natural course, everything turns out all right. In hindsight I see the wisdom of how things unfold, even if at an earlier stage it seemed that everything was going the wrong way. “Wrong,” of course, according to me and my limited vision and anxiety at the time. I’m learning to suspend judgment and take the approach voiced by a friend. “Let’s just see what happens.”
When I’m able to do that, all the moving pieces do indeed seem to settle into harmonious resonance. And it is perfect.
Trust the process. ~Kyle Cline
Monday, December 2, 2019
I love maps. I love maps I can hold in my hand and unfold on a table. I love Rand McNally atlases. I love globes. I love the placemat maps I got for my grandson, so that we can move his plate aside and find where we live and explore the country or the world. I love maps in malls and hotels that say “you are here.” When I lived in Paris years ago, I didn’t go anywhere without my paperback street guide which included maps of the Metro and bus routes. I always knew where I was, where I was going, and how to get there.
I’ve had many occasions in recent years to ride in the car while one of my daughters is driving. When they get in the car, they automatically program the GPS for their destination, and follow the moving arrow along with the spoken directions. The directions lead them one step at a time, guiding them just as far as the next turn. Even when it is somewhere that, at least in my opinion, they should know how to get to, they turn over the directions to the GPS and trust that it will get them there. They are content to know only their immediate instruction and seem unperturbed that the rest of the route is a mystery, revealed only as needed. It is, I’ve come to appreciate, a lesson in faith.
Like walking a labyrinth. There is a lovely labyrinth not far from me, nestled among trees and bushes in a beautiful garden adjoining a monastery. It is open to the public and I have walked it many times in all seasons. A labyrinth, unlike a maze, has only one route to the center. You cannot make a wrong turn. However, it is impossible to stand at the entrance and see how you are going to get from point A to point B. The path turns and winds in such a way that you can only see the segment immediately in front of you.
Walking a labyrinth is a meditation in being present, trusting that no matter how many twists and turns you take, you are being led without mistake on the path to God (or the center, or your true being, or enlightenment, or whatever term you want to use). And once you reach the center, after resting in the power of its energy, you turn and walk back out, again trusting the path to lead you, this time back into the world, carrying the experience of truth with you.
So I’m not going to scoff at my daughters anymore for their reliance on and trust in that GPS. It might not be as infallible as the labyrinth, but perhaps it is their version of a practice in being present and trusting in the goodness of the universe.
I can appreciate that...and still like maps.
If we learn to love the earth, we will find labyrinths, gardens, fountains, and precious jewels! A whole new world will open itself to us. We will discover what it means to be truly alive. ~Teresa of Avila
Tuesday, November 26, 2019
Tuesday, November 19, 2019
The title to this post is more “religious” sounding than my usual writing. Yet this phrase came to me up at the cabin this last weekend and it has persistently stayed with me. So I, in turn, have persistently stayed with it! I meditated and asked this phrase to reveal to me its message. And the message came in the form of a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. So I will share it with you as it came to me.
Lord of glory
You have clothed me in divine raiment
I am magnified in your loving mercy
You have stretched forth your hand
And I take it gladly
Leaving all else behind
I walk into your embrace
Shedding all density
I am robed in your splendor
I am yours now and forever
Blessed in bounty
Loved into eternity
As I contemplated this message, I realized that indeed, the last two years have been intense years of shedding, letting go of everything I held onto – beliefs, illusions, hopes, expectations, fears, identities. The world is different to me now, and I am different in it. Everything is ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Mundane and magical. Every day is an adventure, every moment is a gift, every breath a liberation.
This is, I think, the meaning of living in grace, living in alignment with the energy of the universe, entering the realm of oneness with all creation. It is, as Buddha said, the power of being awake.
I wish I could tell you that I experience this all the time. I don’t. But I do more and more. And when I do, I’m aware that indeed, like the lilies of the field, I am clothed in the divine raiment of life. And I am grateful.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. ~Psalm 139:14
Friday, November 15, 2019
I cannot make a flower grow
But I can plant a seed
Where the sun shines warm
And rain falls soft
Then when the time is right
The flower blossoms beauty
Answering the call of its own nature
Revealing what it has always been
So it is with us, my friend
So it is with us
Monday, November 11, 2019
As part of her college ethics class, my daughter was asked to list the core values she was raised with. Here is her list:
Always tell the truth
Work hard for what you want
Wow, I thought, she really was paying attention when she was growing up! I was glad to see reflected back to me values that I hold dear in my own life, and glad that these were among the values she has carried with her into adulthood.
But what really stunned me was her answer when I asked her how she learned these values. She said that she remembers that this is how I behaved. She had some very specific memories as examples, especially of kindness. Some of the examples I didn’t even remember. But she was watching when she was a little girl, and learning not from what I said, but from what I did.
She told me that she sometimes thought my standards were unfair, especially when other kids were held to a lower bar. I remember one time when she was crying, asking me why I had such high expectations for her. I told her that these were just the basic expectations for being a decent human being – we had not gotten to the high expectations yet. Ha!
But now I see her teaching these same values to her children. And she says she is grateful that I taught her how to be a good person.
So this made me think about all the ways I model values for other people. Am I modeling kindness, compassion, honesty, integrity, courage, responsibility, accountability, tenderness, trustworthiness, understanding? Not all the time, I’m sure. But now, with a new generation coming up in the family, I’m more aware that little eyes are watching, and little ears are listening. And I am more careful.
Her list was an assignment for class, but I think I’m the one who learned the lesson!
Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. ~James Baldwin
Tuesday, November 5, 2019
A few days ago I woke up with a migraine. I took some medicine and went back to bed with a cold gel pack on my forehead. The headache did not subside. It got worse.
As I lay there, I became aware of the constant chatter going on in my mind. We all have that background thinking loop that plays and replays behind our conscious and directed thinking. My mind, when left to its own devices, explores the most random locations, relives the past, rehearses the future, ponders plots from TV shows, imagines dire events unlikely to ever happen, picks at emotional scabs until they bleed, considers strategies to manipulate uncontrollable people and circumstances, and basically never stops talking.
When the pain shut down my conscious thinking, my attention was free to observe what was really going on underneath. What I hadn’t realized before was how exhausting it is to run this ceaseless program in the background of our minds. It is like the drain on our electric power by leaving things plugged in that we aren’t using.
And even more surprising was how painful these thoughts were. It was like I could physically feel the impact that the thoughts had in my brain. With the hypersensitivity of the migraine, the thoughts felt like a little chain gang hammering tiny spikes for a miniature railroad.
Naturally, I wanted it to stop. I tried to make it stop. No luck. I felt a little panicky at the relentlessness of this habitual monologue. And then I heard a soft voice gently saying, “Rest.” For a moment, everything quieted. Relief.
It started back up almost immediately, but now I knew what to do. I stopped listening to it all, and silently whispered “rest.” Again, rest... rest... rest. Tenderly, lovingly, like a mother soothing a restless baby.
For moments at a time, my mind quieted. The pain of the migraine was still present, but there was a spaciousness about it, a peace. I rested with the pain, and with the reminders to my brain to rest with me.
Since then, I’ve been more aware of this chatter. During meditation I bring my wandering mind home with the mantra “rest.” When going through my day, as I start to get hooked by the drama of the moment, I can pause and remember to rest. Just rest.
I am fond of acronyms, so I’ll leave you with this one. You might come up with one of your own.
Friday, November 1, 2019
Are meaningless in the realm of truth
This belief or that one matters not
We seek truth where it cannot be found
And peace where it rests not
We cling to life where life has fled
And with hearts closed tightly shut
Hold fast to dreams of love
And most of all we run from death
Lest we catch its eye by chance
Such foolish antics
All in vain
And meanwhile our lives pass us by unseen
Friday, October 25, 2019
As I explained in Part 1, this unusually long chapter resembles a string of proverbs. Picking up from the earlier post, here are some key passages from the rest of the chapter.
Action leads to failure
Grasping leads to loss
Thus the sage refrains from action and does not fail
Refrains from grasping and does not lose
Once again we encounter this perplexing concept of non-action. Refraining from action to avoid failure reminds me of the athlete who said that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. We are encouraged to try and try again, to learn from our failures.
But remember that non-action in this context does not mean sitting around doing nothing in resignation or fear. It means not engaging in ego-driven action. It means allowing one’s actions to be guided by inner wisdom and alignment such that action is effortless and unforced.
And as we know from the Buddha’s teaching, grasping is at the root of suffering. Impermanence is the nature of the manifested universe. Our attempts to hold onto something that is changing create a struggle that we will inevitably lose.
Thus the sage desires no desire
Does not value material treasure
Allowing all things to return to their true nature
By not presuming to act
The Chinese characters for true nature are hard to translate. Literally, they mean “self so.” They sort of mean “what is so of itself” or “what is, as it is.” This pair of characters appear throughout the Tao Te Ching and, like non-action, represent a foundational concept in this ancient wisdom teaching.
When we refrain from ego-driven action or interference, and follow our inner guidance, then what is, as it is, naturally unfolds. We no longer create suffering with futile struggles with reality. We are aligned with the universal energy that manifests through us with effortless harmony.
Sounds too good to be true? It isn’t. It is who we are. It isn’t a matter of becoming. It’s a matter of remembering.
The Tao is not about grasping, but allowing, like water. ~Wayne Dyer
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
I was walking in my neighborhood this morning, strolling beneath a canopy of brilliant fall colors, kicking rainbow leaf confetti on the sidewalk. A breeze shook loose more leaves that swirled and drifted down.
Energetically, autumn is a time of gathering, bringing in the harvest, storing our resources for the winter. In the Chinese five element system, this season is associated with the lungs, and with the emotions of courage and grief. For some people it can be a time of melancholy, as the darkness overtakes the light. As we enjoy the fruits of summer’s labor, we also grieve the loss of summer’s frolic.
Each season, each cycle of our lives, is a letting go of what is past and a welcome of what is to come. Some of us, though, are reluctant to let go of what is no longer ours. We grasp at memories of the “good old days,” we cling to children who have grown, we mourn our youthful bodies, we yearn for love lost.
Letting go takes courage, the very courage that this season offers. We need look no further than the trees. Not only do the trees release the leaves that have served their purpose, but they do so with a dance of splendor to give thanks for blessings that the leaves bestowed.
So breathe in the courage of the trees, delight in the gifts of what is past even if there is a tear in the midst of gratitude. And like the trees, softly release the beauty of what has served us well.
And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees and changing leaves. ~Virginia Woolf
Friday, October 18, 2019
You are a gift to me
You might call me enemy
And ascribe all manner of thoughts and actions to me
All of which I do not find in my own heart
I see you only with love
And gratitude for what you teach
You challenge me to practice on the razor's edge
My faith grows deeper, stronger
So hate me if you will
It's all transformed to glory
I bow to you
Thursday, October 10, 2019
This uncharacteristically long chapter comprises several parts that may at one time have been separate. It reminds me of the book of Proverbs in the Bible, which contains many pearls of wisdom that can be considered as stand alone verses. Because of its length, I’m going to break discussion of this chapter into two posts.
Some key lines from the first part:
Peace is easily sustained
This is an interesting pronouncement in a world where peace has been elusive, from families to nations, across millennia. To me, this speaks to our natural state of alignment and harmony, easy to maintain if we refrain from interfering. The history of conflict at all levels and at all times in this world, has almost always been caused when we have shifted out of alignment because of fear. A Course in Miracles teaches that this fear results from our mistaken belief in separation, from each other and from God. Fear makes us want to control outside circumstances that are beyond our control. Inner conflict is then manifested externally.
What has not yet happened is easy to prepare for
Manage things before trouble arises
These lines remind me of the old adage “A stitch in time saves nine.” It also reminds me of how our practice prepares us for the unexpected. If my balance is improved by practicing tai chi, for example, I am less likely to fall if I miss a step or trip over something. If my inner alignment is rooted through practicing meditation, I’m less likely to be buffeted by an unanticipated challenge.
A long journey begins under the foot
This wisdom is often phrased as “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The character in this line, however, is actually the character for “foot” and the following character means “under.” This gives me a slightly different sense of this proverb. No matter where I’m headed, my present location is always exactly under my feet. No matter how many steps I take, I am always in the same “place,” that is, over my feet.
It’s like breathing. I will breathe my way all through my life’s journey, but the breath that matters is the one I’m taking right now.
No matter how you interpret this line, I think the point is that, to use another saying, “no matter where you go, there you are.” The present moment, standing on this ground, breathing this breath, is where I exist.
As I said, this chapter is more like pearls on a string rather than one big pearl. I hope these lines offer something helpful for your contemplation. I will continue the chapter in the next post.
Friday, October 4, 2019
Is a doorway
An open door into the infinite
An invitation to enter
The mystery of eternity
Time -- an endless hall of doors
We walk through ... or we don't
Either way there is another door
Until we leave time altogether
And see all doors as one
Disappearing as soon as we step through
Into the place we never left
Monday, September 30, 2019
Act without acting
Engage without engaging
Know without knowing
These opening lines present the paradox of Tao, especially the first line which returns to the theme of non-action. People sometimes misunderstand this concept to mean that we all should sit around binge watching our favorite show instead of going to work, taking care of the kids, paying bills, pursuing hobbies, and all the things that make up our day to day lives.
How do we act without acting? We act without acting when we have a sense that action is happening through us but not by us. When we are fully present and respond naturally to our circumstances rather than trying to force other people or circumstances to conform to how we think things should be. This ability to respond naturally results from an inner alignment and harmony with reality.
Big small many few
Respond to injury (hatred, bitterness) with Te
This, to me, is the central and essential practice of the Tao Te Ching. First, all injury (by whatever name you want to call it) is the same, in the sense that every injury gives us a choice of how to respond. Second, our response to any injury can be the same, meaning that no matter the nature of the injury, we can respond from that place of alignment and harmony. In that case, the response is not a reaction from a defensive/offensive perspective. Rather, our response is an allowing of grace (Te) to manifest through us.
A Course in Miracles teaches that everything we do or think or say is one of two things: an expression of love, or a call for love. Everything.
When we have misperceived ourselves as separate and in conflict, we often call for love through anger, judgment, fear, manipulation. When we correctly perceive ourselves as connected and in harmony, it is easier to allow love to express itself through us and out into the world.
Let me be clear. No, the Tao Te Ching is not teaching us to go hug a serial killer. It is teaching us to practice compassion as we make sane choices about our safety and boundaries. Then, just like the arrows Buddha turned into flowers, injury is transformed into the gift of grace. Effortlessly. Action without acting.
Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. ~Buddha
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
I was chatting with my martial arts teacher after class last week about how we learn in martial arts to deflect force rather than trying to overpower force with force. As with many lessons in martial arts, this one teaches us how to handle conflict in the rest of our lives as well. I related to him this story which he thought was a great example, so I will share it with you too.
A few years ago, I was walking along a neighborhood street after dark. Up ahead there was a group of young men. As I passed them, one of them said something vulgar and sexual to me. I walked on past without reacting, but they started to follow close behind me. They were looking for trouble. There was no one else on the street.
So I did what any self-respecting martial artist would do. I turned to face them. And I said,
“When an old lady like me gets a compliment from a handsome young fella like yourself, it’s a good day!” And I gave them a big smile.
Well, they weren’t expecting that. They all stopped in their tracks and looked confused. Then, after a pause, the one who had spoken to me softened his stance and simply said,
“God bless you.”
“God bless you too,” I replied.
All the tension evaporated. We all nodded at each other, turned, and went on our way.
Friday, September 20, 2019
Monday, September 16, 2019
When engaged with learning, every day something is acquired
When engaged with Tao, every day something is released
~Tao Te Ching
Learning in our everyday lives is a process of acquiring knowledge, information, skill. There is nothing wrong with that. “Learning” in our spiritual lives, however, is a process of “unlearning,” letting go of whatever it is that blocks our awareness of and engagement with the present moment. It’s not always easy. We can be very attached to the very things that hinder our full experience and enjoyment of life – for example, judgments, opinions, beliefs, stories.
For me, I can see that in the past, I became attached to identities. When I have gone through major life transitions, one of the hardest things has been giving up who I thought I was in whatever stage I’m transitioning out of. As I look back over my life, I can see how quickly I latched onto a new identity, a new story. This was especially true in my younger years.
Okay, if I’m not going to be a back to the land hippie, I’ll be a pianist. That didn’t work out, so I’ll be a lawyer. That worked out for many years, and along the way I added some other identities. I’m a mother, a teacher, a martial artist, a blogger, a grandmother, and more. Each one has a story. As I’ve gotten older, some have changed or dropped away. It’s not as traumatic as before because my attachment is not as deep rooted or desperate.
In addition to the external identities, I have had inner ones as well. I am a good person, an ethical person, an intelligent person, a spiritual person, a person who sometimes has mystical experiences. These identities all have stories too. These identities are all just stories.
We all function in the world in various roles. It can’t be otherwise. But when we hold onto these roles as identifying who we are, when we latch onto them because letting them go is terrifying, then we create our own closed universe within which we are trapped. Any perceived threat to our identities is then met with resistance and defensiveness. We can no longer engage with Tao because we are fully engaged with our self-created misperception of reality.
Who am I when I drop all the stories, when I release all the identities? Who am I when I quit judging, when I question my beliefs, when I cease to hold my opinions in such high regard?
I am you.
Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go. ~Hermann Hesse
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
Every other weekend, I leave my urban home to spend a few days at my forest cabin. Two weeks ago, I missed my usual weekend because I was sick. So when I went this last weekend I had been four weeks away.
I always savor the moment I arrive, stepping out of the car into the embrace of the trees, hearing the welcome song of the creek, marveling at all the shades of green, breathing the forest scented oxygen. This time, after several weeks’ absence, it was so intense I was downright giddy with gratitude and joy.
And I was struck by something else – I looked around and thought, there is so much earth here! Everywhere I looked, there was the forest floor, rich, fertile earth supporting cloud touching evergreens, smaller rhododendrons and maples, and a profusion of ferns and other plants.
My neighborhood at home is very green by most city standards, with large shade trees and lush gardens. But still, now that I thought about it, so much ground is covered up by buildings, sidewalks, streets, artificial grass, and yes Joni, parking lots. How often during the course of a normal day do I actually touch the earth?
In Greek mythology, Antaeus was the son of Mother Earth and was invincible in battle as long as he was in contact with her. He was killed only when Heracles figured out the source of his strength and held him in the air to finish him off.
I wonder if some part of my deep body, mind, and soul nurturing at the cabin is due to the amount of time I spend in direct connection to the earth. I wonder if I could be more mindful of that even in my urban life. My yard is not big, but I could practice taiji on my little patch of grass instead of on the carpet inside, for example. I could detour through a park on my walks with the dog. I don’t know if I will sense a difference but I’m curious.
Buddha sat on the earth under the bodhi tree waiting for enlightenment. And when awakening occurred, it is said that he touched the earth with his hand as his witness. The earth is mother to us all and bears witness to everything that happens.
What will the earth bear witness to in my life?
[W]e touch the ground by arriving, on the spot, in this moment. We touch the ground by directly connecting with the earth, the life of our bodies, our breath and our inner weather. We touch the ground by looking directly into the awareness that is the very source of our life. As we connect with what is right in front of us, we realize the true immensity of who we are. ~Tara Brach
Friday, September 6, 2019
Love like the sun
Dispelling all darkness
Toasting comfy the deepest chill
Love like the rain
Showering all without reservation
Slaking thirst and washing clean
Love like the wind
Free and fierce
Shaking loose what no longer serves
Love like the stars
Twinkling bright to delight the eye
To unerringly guide the lost
Love like the earth
Blessing with abundance
Love like the flowers
Happy to be alive
Offering beauty to all passersby
Love like the trees
Arms open wide
Giving shelter to all in need
Love like the ocean
Vast and deep
Calling all to home
Monday, September 2, 2019
Tao is the honored source of all creation
The awakened person treasures it
The unenlightened are protected by it
This chapter is an ode to the natural beauty and humble majesty of Tao. Similar to the Bible’s observation that the sun shines and the rain falls equally on the just and the unjust, here we are told that Tao gives life to all, without reference to worthiness. All are equal before the loving generosity of the universe. The only difference is between those who are aware and those who are yet in ignorance.
Greater than emperors and ministers
More valuable than precious jade
Is sitting quietly and offering Tao to the world
Wisdom teachings and wisdom teachers from all traditions and time periods offer a “better way” or a “different way.” All aspire to liberate us from the suffering we cause ourselves by our unenlightened thoughts, words, and actions. And all offer assurance that relief is ours for the asking.
From ancient times Tao is honored
For those who seek receive
And are freed from their mistakes
Thus is Tao treasured by all under heaven
When I consider the choice between holding onto the “precious jade” of my opinions, judgments, fears, resentments, anger, and unforgiveness, and the boundless riches of my natural inheritance, well, hmm....
Recently I became aware of resentment I was holding against someone. I knew that it was blocking my own joy and separating me from divine union, but still there was something about it I savored. I liked to talk about it with others, to get sympathy and to reinforce my righteous outrage. I would start to let it go and then snatch it back again, not quite done with feeling betrayed and hurt.
And then, sitting on my meditation cushion trying all the “techniques” I know to ease my grip on what I knew was causing my own suffering, I suddenly saw an image. In this image I was underwater, sinking with the weight of the rock I was grasping. I treasured this rock and did not want to let it go. But as I sank further from the surface, the value of the rock began to fade as my desire for the light and air above became more urgent.
Finally, as you can guess, I wanted to rise back to the surface and breathe that precious air more than I wanted anything else. The rock was killing me, and as much has I had valued it, I now cared not a jot what happened to it and let it go.
If we really understood what our choice is, we would drop like a hot potato anything that blocks our true and only real treasure. We would, as Pema Chodron say, practice like our hair is on fire. We would live in humble gratitude and deep joy.
So think carefully about what you value above all else.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. ~Matthew 6:21
Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Last week, I got a brutal stomach bug. The symptoms were intense but lasted only an afternoon and evening. However, it wiped me out so thoroughly that for the next three days all I could do was lie in bed eating ice chips. Even after I was sort of upright again, doing the simplest things wore me out.
When I finally returned to martial arts class, my teacher told me to take it easy and just do what I could. After sitting down for a few minutes, I joined the class in a standing meditation. As soon as I got myself properly aligned and relaxed into the posture, energy bubbled up inside me and blossomed like a flower. It was like I had a low battery and someone had plugged me into the charger. By the time the meditation ended I felt as close to normal as I had in days.
Later I told the teacher what had happened. “Sometimes doing nothing in the right way is the best thing,” he replied.
That is a pretty amazing statement, especially in our “do, do more, do better” culture. It made me think about other times when doing nothing in the right way is the best thing. Like when a friend needs me to listen, just listen, without offering advice or trying to fix things. Or when someone is rude or trying to pick a fight. Or when a child needs to learn about consequences and how to solve a problem independently.
My body taught me that pushing through, soldering on, or forcing is not always what is called for. Aligning myself in stillness allowed the energy to expand and move freely. I felt refreshed and renewed.
Can you think of some other examples where doing nothing in the right way is the best thing?
Don’t just do something. Sit there! ~Sylvia Boorstein
Friday, August 23, 2019
Oh look again
If you could see
All war would cease
For why would we fight
Our own reflection
So look again
Do you not see
In every face you fear
So who then is your enemy
Please look again
Until you see
The face of God
For none else exists
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
In my No Way Café contemplation group, we were joking about my “addiction” to acquiring even more translations and interpretations of the Tao Te Ching. This could prove to be a costly and cumbersome habit since the Tao Te Ching has been translated more than any other book in history except the Bible. How many do I need?
When billionaire John D. Rockefeller was asked how much money was enough, he answered, “Just a little more.” I can relate.
Someone joked that I should call the “non-action hotline,” referring to one of the basic principles of the Tao Te Ching. Another person picked up on the joke and added that when you call, all you hear is white noise. So funny.
But it got me to thinking more about this concept on non-action or wu wei, undoubtedly one of the more challenging concepts to understand and put into practice. We are a culture of overt doing – making our to do lists and checking off the items with smug satisfaction, or wilting in the face of all the things left undone. We set goals and make New Year resolutions, and measure our success or failure accordingly.
Many see our current national and global situation as a call to action. A woman I barely know came up to me before tai chi class and asked me what I was doing to address something that was recently in the news. When I agreed that the situation was tragic, she raised her voice and challenged me. “No, I mean what are you DOING?”
Understanding that no answer I could give her would be satisfactory, I just said quietly, “Probably not enough.”
A more accurate answer might have been, I’m doing what I am called to do. Or even better, I’m allowing what wants to manifest through me to manifest. Non-action doesn’t mean passivity or apathy. On the contrary, it is a dynamic and powerful principle. It means being in alignment with the natural energy of the universe such that necessary action happens, and unnecessary action doesn’t. That can look different for different people. It can look different for the same person at different times. But it all starts with internal harmony that then manifests outwardly in various forms.
In martial arts, we practice finding our internal alignment. All movement comes from this. All power comes from this. When I am aligned, I can feel the energy moving freely. I can sense in my body the truth of this teaching. It’s wonderful.
The Tao Te Ching assures us that when this principle of non-action is internalized and practiced, “nothing is left undone.” This is the paradox of wu wei. If nothing is done, how is nothing left undone? All I can say is that when I “surrender as general manager of the universe,” as the saying goes, I can experience the creative and dynamic power of the universe at work. Whatever I “accomplish” is then not anything that I have done, but it has happened through me. In that sense, nothing is done (by me) yet nothing is left undone (by the universe).
Maybe I don’t need any more translations of the Tao Te Ching ... at least today. I better call the hotline.
Friday, August 9, 2019
The wonders of this existence
Open your heart with the pain of loss
Each moment comes and then is gone
Its leaving is felt
Its loss is mourned
Even as we welcome the next precious moment
Life and death in each breath
Arms open wide
Sunday, August 4, 2019
This chapter address the theme of power in the context of the relationship between large and small countries. Like other chapters addressing nations and government, this chapter can also apply to individuals – how we govern ourselves and how we relate to others.
A large country is like a river delta
The lowest point where all streams converge
Manifesting the receptive stillness of the feminine
It absorbs the power of all the water that flows into it
The Tao Te Ching often uses the image of water to describe the natural movement and energy of Tao. Water naturally flows towards the lowest point. The character for low 下 is used nine times in this chapter and can also mean underneath or humble.
The chapter goes on to describe the relationship of large and small countries, explaining that harmony between them is fostered not by force but by mutual respect and humility. An image that comes to mind is the practice in some cultures of bowing, each party offering respect rather than demanding it.
Bowing is often a part of martial arts ritual. Teachers and students bow to each other. Higher and lower ranked students bow to each other. Sparring partners bow to each other before and after combat.
Humility is sometimes confused with weakness or passivity or being taken advantage of. Or humiliation, which is a function of ego, whereas humility is a relinquishment of ego.
As we see in this chapter, humility is a quality of strength and power, like the power of the ocean that lies below all the waters of the earth. True power comes not from force, as anyone who practices martial arts will tell you. There will always be someone stronger. True power comes from alignment with the natural energy of the universe, allowing that energy to flow unimpeded.
Humility is a quality we used to value. It is one of the fruits of the spirit listed in the Bible. But as we look at nations and world leaders today, as we look at those who excel in sports, and those who attain celebrity status for reasons no one can identify, it seems that self promotion and self aggrandizement are the coin of the realm.
This chapter has led me to contemplate the place of humility in my own life. Is this a quality of the people I admire? Do I catch myself when ego puffs up? Do I value the opportunities I have to learn from others and to be in caring relationships when I check my ego at the door of life and bow to the beauty of every moment’s blessing?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. ~Matthew 5:5
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Last weekend I was walking along a trail with a friend. We had our dogs with us – my little fur ball and her big Lab. We came to a small single plank bridge over a tiny creek. The plank was 12 inches wide. I started across. Just then her dog decided that she wanted to be in front. Before my friend could warn me, her dog came up behind me and in racing to get past, bumped into my left leg, knocking it upwards and spinning me sideways on the plank.
By all reason, I should have ended up in the creek, which was only a short drop and the worst result would have been wet shoes and maybe a wet rear. So not that big a deal. But somehow I didn’t fall. As I turned, I managed to maintain my balance, sinking smoothly into my right foot and bringing my arms up in a pose that looked something like the photo above.
Poised there as my mind took in what had happened, I felt sort of foolish and amazed at the same time. I slowly stood back up, looked at my friend, who was just staring at me, and said, “I have no idea how I did that.”
Perhaps that is not entirely true. My martial arts practice involves a lot of balance and responding to the unexpected. When the dog bumped me, my body just did what it is trained to do. I really had little to do with it in terms of analyzing the situation, making a plan, and executing it. It was over before my mind caught up and figured out what had happened.
In reflecting on it later, I understood that this is why we practice. We practice so that when needed, our training kicks in and operates without much conscious supervision. We internalize our practice and it becomes part of who we are.
Here’s the thing. We are always practicing something. I got to wondering what else I’m practicing. Am I practicing kindness or meanness? Compassion or judgment? Forgiveness or anger? Generosity or withholding? Connection or separation? Faith or fear?
We practice intentionally and consciously what we want to manifest when something catches us off guard, so that our training will kick in when needed, guiding us as we engage with others and the world around us.
So I’m going to be paying more attention to what I’m practicing as I go through my day. For example, thinking of some recent events, I want to practice not taking things personally. I could also use some brushing up on taking responsibility for my own feelings. I would like to practice taking the long view when considering my response to something in the moment. And I definitely need to fluff and buff my practice of maintaining good boundaries.
How about you? What would you like to practice?
An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory. ~E F Schumacher
Thursday, July 25, 2019
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
I’m reading a book titled “What is Mysticism” by Jon Mundy. Yesterday I read this passage:
Mostly, it’s a profound inner knowing and an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things – a sense that everything is perfect just the way it is.
When I read it, I got chills because I was blessed to experience this perfection once. Some of you know this story, but I haven’t written about it in a while, and reading this book has brought it back to the forefront of my consciousness.
I have a cabin in the mountains, my little forest retreat, with no phone, TV, or internet. It nestles under huge evergreens, on top of a small but steep rise overlooking a creek. One time, years ago, I left my kids with a trusted friend, and went up to the cabin for an overnight respite.
For some reason, I decided that I needed to clean all the little branches and pine needles off the roof. I stood on an extension ladder and raked the debris to the ground. After moving the ladder all around the cabin, I was on the last section. The base of the ladder was on the deck. There was one branch stuck further up on the roof. I leaned forward over the top rungs of the ladder and reached as far as I could with the rake. And then I felt the ladder slip.
My first frantic instinct was to grab for something. But there was only the slanted roof, with no gutters. In the next instant, I knew I was going to fall. And that is when everything changed.
I will try my best to describe what happened, knowing that I can’t. There are no words. So I will try to fail well, using words to do what words can never do.
The moment I understood that I was going to fall, the world changed. I did not leave my body. Indeed, I was very aware of being in my body as it bounced off the falling ladder. I felt my back land on the edge of the deck, and experienced the disorienting tumble as I flipped off the deck and rolled head over heels through the brush down the hill.
But that is not the story. The story is what was going on as all this was happening. At that exact instant when I surrendered to the fall, all fear evaporated. Arms of angels embraced me in peace and light. No, I didn’t see them, and “angel” is not even the right word, but I felt surrounded by unconditional love beyond anything you can imagine. Everything that I knew or thought I knew fell away.
Surprisingly, I did not sense that I was being protected from bodily harm. On the contrary, as I felt my body crash and tumble, I was quite sure something was going to break. The blow of my back on the edge of the deck might leave me paralyzed. I might even die. At the very least there was going to be a broken bone somewhere. And I was there by myself with no way to get help. All of this was floating through my mind, but totally, completely without fear.
Because none of that mattered. It didn’t matter because I was being held in the absolute certainty that whatever happened was perfect. I understood, not with my mind but with my entire being, that everything is perfect. That was the word I “heard” from the angels, or beings, or energy that surrounded me – perfect. Always. No matter what. Perfect. Just let that soak in for a minute.
Everything is perfect. Always. No matter what.
The sublime peace and exquisite joy of that moment was...ah, I can’t even try to express it. All I can say is that I knew it was real. That it was the only thing that is real.
I would like to tell you that this moment of awakening or enlightenment or whatever you want to call it lasted forever. At the time, it did seem like forever because time was suspended while I was falling. But I returned to the “ordinary” world. After my body came to a stop, I lay there on the side of the hill, fearing to move in case some part of me didn’t move! I started with my toes and moved on up, reassured that everything was functioning. Scraped and bleeding, and not yet feeling the bruising and soreness of the days to come, I crawled back up the hill and sat on the deck trying to process what had just happened.
As my thinking mind started to rev back up, all the “what if” thoughts started to dance a frantic, fearful dance, playing out scenarios that never happened, yet seemed real in my imagination. But I stopped them with a quick rebuke. I had been given a priceless treasure and I was loath to toss it aside in favor of worthless mind trinkets.
So I sat there, looking at the ladder lying innocently on the deck, tracing with my eyes the track my body took from the roof to the bottom of the hill, and giving up any effort to make what had happened make “sense.” I breathed in the smell of evergreen and listened to the creek, humbly grateful for this glimpse of...what? Heaven, truth, reality? The word doesn’t matter.
I might not have become an enlightened being that day, but I had an enlightened experience. Since then, especially in challenging times, I have drawn on the memory of what happened, reminding myself of what I learned that day. That things are not what they seem, that I understand very little, and know even less. And that no matter what happens, even if I can’t understand it, everything is perfect.
Nothing real can be threatened
Nothing unreal exists
Herein lies the peace of God
~A Course in Miracles
Friday, July 12, 2019
I want to understand
-- To understand what
What is the meaning of this suffering
-- Suffering has no meaning here. It does not exist
Where is here
I want to come home
-- You never left
Then why does it seem so far away
-- Because you have hidden yourself from love
How do I find love
-- You can't find love because you are love
-- To explain is to separate. Love cannot be explained
Then why are we talking
-- Who is talking
Wednesday, July 3, 2019
Governing a big country is like frying a small fish
Hmm, this sounds like a set up for a punch line in a bad joke. But the punch line is:
Thus use Dao to govern all under heaven
Okay, that’s better. Using Dao (Tao) as a governing principle is a theme of the Tao Te Ching. It can apply to actual government, and can apply just as well to how we govern ourselves. And as with cooking a small fish, less is more.
Think about the proliferation of laws we have in the United States at all levels of government. Our answer to many problems is to make up more rules and then try to enforce them. We do this in our legislatures, in our communities, in our families, and with ourselves. And how is that working for us?
I’m not suggesting that we toss out all the rules. I am wondering, though, if we look to rules to solve problems that rules can’t solve, or can’t solve well.
A friend related a story about leading a meeting during which a woman was being disruptive and obnoxious. Feeling responsible for the governance of the meeting, he approached her during a break, intending to confront her about her behavior and to insist that she change her behavior or leave. Instead, at the last minute, he shifted his perspective and asked her if she was all right. After a brief exchange, she broke down in tears and shared with him a challenge she was experiencing. Feeling heard, understood, and respected, she was able to release her combative stance and engage in a more productive way.
Either way, he would have prevented further disruption. But look at the different outcomes. He chose to focus on connection rather than content, on understanding rather than force, on relationship rather than judgment.
This chapter goes on to observe that “demons” have no power when Dao is the guiding principle. Force and resistance feed conflict and opposition. In contrast, Dao follows the natural flow of energy in the universe.
Thus harmony and peace are integrated and restored
This works just as well in our individual lives. Recently I was struggling with a situation that churned up a lot of emotion for me. My initial response was to try to control the situation, to direct an outcome of my choice, to force others to comply. Not surprisingly, I was not very successful, and even to the extent that I was, my emotional turmoil was not alleviated.
I’d like to say I got smart, but what I got was exhausted. And finally, I just stopped fighting. I let go of what I couldn’t control (most everything), and focused on regaining internal alignment and equanimity. And what do you know – once released from my desperate interference, everything began to unfold in a natural way. True, not entirely to my liking, but in a way I could see was inevitable and perhaps for the best.
I’m cooking a small fish for dinner.
For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe. ~Larry Eisenberg
Thursday, June 27, 2019
Birds singing the sun to rise
Crow wings fump fumping overhead
Dog's collar jangling
Bicycles whirring past
Flowers profusing on the corner
Squirrel scrabbling up the tree
and chirring fussily from a low branch
The symphony of morning
Daring another day to dance
Friday, June 21, 2019
I woke up this morning feeling so grateful, grateful for everything. Really, everything. If you follow this blog, then you know I’ve been through some challenging times in the last year and a half, and especially in the last few months. I became sorrow’s apprentice and learned to grieve (still learning). Along the way, amazing things happened. Amazing people happened. There was pain. And there were many times when, let’s just say, I did not feel grateful.
But, to quote one of my favorite Game of Thrones characters, “Not today.” Today I recognize everything as a blessing, everyone as a blessing. And I am grateful. So thank you. Thank you people. Thank you circumstances. Thank you universe.
Here is the refrain from a song guaranteed to lift your spirit today. Below the refrain is a link to the video. I hope you will watch it (watch it to the end!).
All that I am
All that I see
All that I’ve been
And all that I’ll ever be
Is a blessing
It’s so amazing
And I’m grateful for it all
For it all
Watch the video!
Friday, June 14, 2019
Saturday, June 8, 2019
At a meditation class last week, I was paired up with a young man for a time of sharing reflections. He told me this story.
When he was 19, he joined the army. During basic training, the drill sergeant would find some mistake every day and make his group do push ups as a consequence. Maybe a bed was not made properly, or shoes were not polished, or someone was a a nanosecond too slow in obeying an order. Every day they would strive mightily for perfection. Every day they would fail, and drop to the ground in frustration and despair to perform their punishment.
Finally, he realized that the point of this pattern was not the daily mistake; the point was the daily push ups. The drill sergeant was always going to find some excuse for push ups. He accepted the inevitable. There will be push ups. Every day. No matter what they did or didn’t do. He began to view the push ups not as punishment but as exercise. Difficult exercise, yes. But exercise that was a required part of their training.
The push ups were the same, but his experience of the push ups changed. He said that he suffered less than others in his group who continued to struggle to attain that magic perfection that would avoid the ordered push ups.
Our conversation generalized to life’s basic training. We strive for an ever elusive perfection that will avoid challenge, disappointment, distress, heartache. If I learn to meditate better, I will always be peaceful. If I practice martial arts long enough, I will never be afraid. If I pray hard enough, my prayers will be answered according to my wishes. If I love strongly enough, my heart will never be broken.
But here is life’s reality. There will be push ups. I will be fidgety during meditation. I will be frustrated when I don’t handle situations as well as I would like. I will be embarrassed by something that was misunderstood. I will be disappointed when I hoped for something different. I will be sad when I lose something important to me. I will be angry when I perceive being wronged.
Yes, there will be push ups. I can struggle to avoid them but I will fail. Or I can see them as a part of life, weaving them into a tapestry full of experiences and opportunities. I can embrace all that life brings me.
A moment of radical acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom. ~Tara Brach