Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Doing Nothing in the Right Way

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

Look Again

It's here
Right here
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

The Non-Action Hotline

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

Arms Open Wide

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

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 61

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?

I’m practicing....

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. ~Matthew 5:5