Monday, September 30, 2019

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 63

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

Deflecting Conflict

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

In the Mercy Seat

The forest welcomes me
With energy delight
Joy in the green
Thunder speaks of God
As rain embraces me
I am in the mercy seat
I am in the mercy seat

Monday, September 16, 2019

Releasing Something Every Day

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

Touch the Earth

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
~Joni Mitchell

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

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
Fecund forgiving
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 Te Ching – Chapter 62

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