Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 78

Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water
Yet nothing is better for overcoming what is hard and stiff

As we approach the end of the Tao Te Ching’s 81 chapters, the text returns to the theme of water. Water is the most common metaphor for the energy of Tao. It flows naturally, humbly seeking the lowest level of the vast sea of unity. You cannot push it or grasp it. It yields to force, yet its power cannot be denied. It follows its own nature, moving effortlessly through its cycles of manifesting and returning, unconcerned with obstacles, sustaining and nurturing all life. 

Everyone knows this
But few can practice it

So if we all know this, that our best model for living is the nature of water, then why is it so hard to practice? In martial arts, one of the hardest things for me to learn has been to yield, to allow my partner to defeat himself with his own use of force. As the chapter says, I understand the principle of yielding to overcome, and yet in the moment, my instinct is to attack, to try to overpower. How well do you think that works for an old ninja granny? Even if I were a buff young martial arts master, there would always be someone stronger, more skilled in using force than I am.  

We can see how this instinct arises in all kinds of situations, not just martial arts. Think of all the times during the day when we experience the urge to control, to manipulate, to react, to coerce. As I sit here writing, I don’t have to look back very far to remember a moment of judgment, irritation, frustration, disappointment. And within all these moments is the desire for things to be different, the desire to make them different. 

What is it, then, driving that urge to use force, even when we know that it is not advantageous? Fear. Fear is what takes hold of us and leads us to abandon our greatest strength. Fear might be disguised as anger, righteous indignation, anxiety, duty, allegiance to a cause. Whatever its appearance, fear tells us to fix something outside of ourselves to feel better inside ourselves. 

Practicing the wisdom of this chapter asks us to breathe into the discomfort, to tolerate the distress, to be still when fear is telling us to react. To soften our hearts and yield in patience until our way is made clear to respond with integrity and compassion. To ask ourselves, “What would water do?” 

Be water, my friend. ~Bruce Lee

Friday, February 19, 2021

Bless and Release

Sometimes we have a challenging encounter with someone. Sometimes we have an ongoing challenging relationship with someone. It’s hard to be at peace or to keep an open heart when someone hurts us, irritates us, enrages us, or frightens us. It’s easy to justify our judgment, our feelings, our reactions. After all, this other person said or did (fill in the blank).

We want the other person to see things our way, to admit that they are wrong, and thus of course, to acknowledge that we are right. We want them to behave differently, to be different, to be better, to be the way we want them to be – and thus to alleviate our own discomfort and distress. 

We want them to see us the way we want to be seen, and to love us the way we want to be loved. And we blame them when they don’t. 

Sound familiar? It does to me. I don’t have to look very far to find someone who occupies my thoughts as I try to go to sleep, thoughts that spin off stories of past wrongs and rehearsals of future engagement. It’s exhausting. And distracting. It clouds my view, and pulls me out of balanced alignment. It disturbs my peace.

I just read something that helps me break through my own stuckness. The Way of Mastery reminds us that we cannot control what someone else thinks or says or does. We know that and yet....

Instead, we are encouraged to bless the other person and “release them to have the perceptions that they would choose.” It’s like the catch and release method of fishing. We “catch” the person on the hook of our judgment, and then “release” them with a blessing. Or we could flip that around because we are really catching ourselves on the hook of our judgment and releasing ourselves through offering a blessing!

And if we need some guidance about how to offer that blessing, The Way of Mastery suggests, “I love you always, in the ways that you will allow, and to the depth that you will accept.” 

This blessing has given me some relief in a relationship that I have found difficult over many years. It breaks the mental thought cycle of frustration and hurt feelings, and creates space to breathe. I feel liberated from my own habitual discontent and futile efforts to make things different, which of course means making the other person different. Instead it makes me different. It restores peace, if not between us, at least within my own spirit.

Until I’m caught again. Bless and release. As many times as it takes.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Love on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day. Flowers and candy. Balloons. Romantic gestures. Declarations of love. And then there was my day.

I woke up this morning to my nine year old grandson wishing me a Happy Valentine’s Day. He got snowed in with me on Friday. We have watched movies, played in the snow, baked cookies, read books, and played way too many games of Jumping Monkeys. 

Then I got a call telling me that the group home where my two autistic sons live has been without power for over 24 hours. My sons hadn’t been able to call me because their cordless phone wouldn’t work. The regular staff had not been able to get to work, and I could not get the relief staff on the phone. 

I checked the utility’s website – no power expected for two more days. Two more days in the dark with no heat. 

So love kicked in. I called my daughter who was just sitting down to breakfast. She dropped everything, dug her car out of the snow, and drove to my house to pick us up. We dropped her son off at a friend’s who was happy to help out, and headed to the group home. When we got there, we found the guys agitated but overall in good shape. 

I decided to bring them home with me. My daughter helped the relief staff find necessary items We packed them up and headed back. We had to stop at the store to get enough food for several days. One son was scared to walk on the ice in the parking lot. I watched as my daughter took her 35 year old brother’s hand in hers and guided him safely inside. She maneuvered everyone through the shopping and back out to the car. 

Returning to my house, she helped unload the car and get everything put away before going to get her son and driving home, now on roads icy with freezing rain. 

From the time she left her breakfast on the table until she was back home was over six hours. Not the way she planned to spend her day. But I heard not one word of complaint. Nothing except a willingness to help, with patience and grace and kindness.

Wow. That is love. Forget the flowers and candy. This is the love that counts, that makes my eyes tear up with relief, my heart break open in gratitude, and my knees weak with humble blessedness. 

May all of us give and receive love today and all days. Real love. Offering kindness to loved ones and strangers, receiving help when needed, remembering what is important, and appreciating all the ways that love shows up in our lives.

Monday, February 8, 2021

A Touch of Compassion

Touch. Many people are expressing a need for touch in this time of pandemic social distancing. We miss being touched. We miss touching others. 

We think of touch as an external, physical connection. But touch can also be internal, emotional, energetic. We can touch with the heart of compassion. Absolutely anything that arises in our field of awareness can be touched with compassion. 

This is easy when we are naturally drawn to an experience that “touches” our heart – a child in distress, a friend in need, an animal suffering. We instinctively reach out to comfort, to soothe, to support. But what happens when something does not attract our sympathy, when something arises that we draw away from or judge or fear? 

Can I touch with compassion someone who cuts me off in traffic, for example? Perhaps. How about someone who is mean to me or to someone I love? Harder. What if I am watching something on the news that leaves me in despair or sparks outrage? Sometimes impossible. What do I do when compassion is not forthcoming? 

Easy. I touch my resistance with compassion. I touch my judgment of others with compassion. 

Maybe I judge myself for my compassion fail. No problem. Touch that judgment with compassion. Our own hurt places, our shame, our insecurities, our painful memories, our regrets, our embarrassment, our self criticism, our anxieties and fears – yes, all these can be touched with compassion. Whatever arises is what is calling to us for acknowledgment, acceptance, compassion. 

And if I am unable to feel any compassion for these dark places? If I am unable to even look at them, much less touch them? Yes, you are catching on. Touch that inability with compassion. 

Touch. Touch connects, softens, comforts, heals. And it opens. It opens us to the next layer that asks for compassion. And the next. Until compassion pours forth from us like the gentle rain that falls on everything without regard to merit. Nourishing, cleansing, spurring growth and beauty. 

So give it a try. For five minutes watch comes into your awareness. Whatever it is, touch it with compassion. See what happens.

Compassion is revolution. ~bumper sticker

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Shadow Crows


Shadow crows
Darting through the fog
A raucous symphony
In the mist

Monday, February 1, 2021

There Is No How

[Note: I started to write a new blog post titled "There Is No How." After typing the title, I tried to save it, but my computer told me I already had a file by that name. Turns out I wrote a blog post by this title three years ago. I went back to read it and there was the post I was planning to write. Apparently I don't have any new ideas! So here it is again.]

Quit trying. Quit trying not to try. Quit quitting. ~zen saying

I want to be awakened. I want enlightenment. How do I get it? Where are the instructions? If I read this book, practice these techniques, listen to this podcast, attend this workshop, devote myself to this teacher, read another book, breathe a certain way, think a certain way, meditate a certain way, chant a mantra, go to a retreat, read another book – will I achieve my goal? Will I pass the test and get my certificate? Will I be enlightened then? 

How do I do this? Just tell me how. Please.

You want the secret? Okay, here it is. There is no how. Take it from one who has tried everything listed above. And more. 

But then how... 

There is no how. There is no way to get from here to there, because there is no there. There is no journey because there is nowhere to go. There is no technique, because there is nothing to do. There is no way of teaching because there is nothing to learn. 


I know. Right? The brain can’t grasp this. Truly, the brain can’t understand this, because our brains think. That’s what they do. Sometimes they do it really well. But you cannot think your way to enlightenment. Because enlightenment transcends thought. Oh, and also because enlightenment doesn’t exist. 


Well, it doesn’t exist in the sense of a static state. It is dynamic, offering an opportunity in every moment to enter, as A Course in Miracles calls it, the holy instant. The holy instant reveals all eternity to us in the perfect bliss of oneness. 

Missed it? That’s okay. Here is another moment. And another. 

I’m trying, but...

Don’t try. 

Then how...

Just allow. Take a deep breath and surrender. Let go of everything. It only takes a moment. Because a moment is all there is. 

Do or do not. There is no try. ~Yoda

Do or do not. There is no how.  ~Universe