Friday, July 31, 2009

Fifteen Two, Fifteen Four

A lot of people spend their lives searching for an epiphanic moment, a dramatic AHA! For me, this helps to explain why so many folks flock to religious revivals or travel great distances to sit at the foot of a guru. Too many seem to think that the answers to life's mysteries are too far away for them to grasp on their own and so they look incessantly to others to supply the elusive answers.

While there's no question that the totality of the answers we each seek are indeed elusive, the clues are all around us. We don't need to go somewhere else to find them. We simply need to meet life head on with open hearts, eyes and minds.

I've learned a great deal about life itself from playing the card game, Cribbage. (Note: If you are unfamiliar with this game, here's a link to the rules.) Not altogether unlike some aspects of poker, a major part of the game and how each hand is scored is determined by a random card (the "starter") utilized by each player.

Without question, there is a level of skill involved in this game. You need to be able to add correctly and to figure the level of probabilities of the cards held by your opponent and how the starter will impact the cards you hold and the cards you "throw away" into the crib.

But here's the lesson I've learned -- No matter how well you factor in the various probabilities, the starter can wreck what seemed to be a good hand or can make a nothing hand into a really good one. Sometimes, the starter is exactly what you were hoping for, but, as it turns out, it's also the card your opponent was hoping for and so, while you might have a better than average hand, your opponent winds up with a super hand.

And so it goes with life itself. There are times when we think through our decisions thoroughly -- correctly analyzing every tidbit of information available to us -- and then a variable we couldn't have known about or a circumstance we couldn't have foreseen in a million years -- makes a complete wreck of the situation. Conversely, there are just as many times that we make what appears to be a downright moronic decision that turns out well because of "luck" and/or unforeseen circumstances.

So, what does this tell us? For me, it reminds me that, while I need to be disciplined in all I think and do, I concurrently must understand that much of what happens to each of us in life is beyond our direct control. Making plans is not a bad thing in and of itself, but I need to be as flexible as a willow in a strong wind because we never know when the next gale will blow.

When I was younger, I used to get very frustrated when I thought I had a killer Cribbage hand and then the starter would mess things up. Today, however, I play the game and take it with a grain of salt. We never know which cards we will be dealt and how the starter will impact our play.

'Tis better to learn to go with the flow than to waste time and energy trying to control or fight against it because, in the end, the flow of life always holds the winning hand.

A Good Idea, But...

Only one week into a program that was ostensibly supposed to last into the fall, The Washington Post reports that the "Cash for Clunkers" bonanza may be already out of funds. This program -- which provides vouchers for consumers who trade in gas guzzling cars for new ones with far better gas mileage -- is one that sounds good on first mention, but isn't so great if you think about it.

As an avid environmentalist, I'm all for programs, policies and strategies that seek to move our nation in a more sustainable direction. Unfortunately, the "Cash for Clunkers" program only represents a tiny drop in the bucket. More importantly, it does nothing to help the majority of people who -- because of their financial standing -- drive the least gas efficient vehicles out there.

When you're financially poor, you don't have that many choices in the kind of vehicle you will purchase. Basically, your choices are centered on society's throwaways. In the current climate, that's trucks, SUVs and fuel-inefficient cars.

While a voucher of up to $4500 may sound significant, it means absolutely nothing to those who earn $30,000 per year or less. The price tag on a new fuel-efficient vehicle is prohibitive! Let's get real. If you make $25,000, you simply don't have the ongoing cash flow to afford a car that costs that same $25,000 -- even if $2000 - $4500 is shaved off the price.

So, in essence, all this program turns out to be is a transfer of public funds into the pockets of the well-to-do -- the people who need the money the least! The people who could benefit the most are the very same people left out in the cold again.

Verse 15: Uncarved Block

Verse Fifteen
The Sages of old were profound
and knew the ways of subtlety and discernment.
Their wisdom is beyond our comprehension.
Because their knowledge was so far superior
I can only give a poor description.

They were careful
as someone crossing a frozen stream in winter.
Alert as if surrounded on all sides by the enemy.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Whole as an uncarved block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Turbid as muddied water.

Who can be still
until their mud settles
and the water is cleared by itself?
Can you remain tranquil until right action occurs by itself?

The Master doesn't seek fulfillment.
For only those who are not full are able to be used
which brings the feeling of completeness.
~ John H. McDonald translation ~
I think it's a human trait to memorialize the past. Almost all of us can look to bygone days when things were "so much better than they are now". Aah yes, those simpler times of yesteryear when life didn't seem so chaotic and stressful...

In his own way, that's precisely what Lao Tzu is doing by heaping praise on the sages of old. As Kyle Walker writes on The Doubtful Tao,
We have a tendency to put people up on pedestals. This is very much the case in the way we think of wise people of the past... people like Lao-Tzu. When reading the Tao Te Ching and considering its author, we sometimes envision him as this half-divine master of enlightened wisdom whose understanding is beyond anything the modern mind can fathom. We can only grasp at the meaning of his nuggets of truth as they come toppling out at us, spilled from the pages of the little book he left behind.

And so I think it’s really funny that Lao-Tzu himself looked back on even earlier “wise men” in the same way we look back on him. In the 15th verse he praises these ancients for their wisdom which is beyond our ability to fathom. Wisdom so profound that it simply cannot be described.

Who were these remarkable guys? I have a good answer for you: They were guys who wiped their ancient butts just like you do.
Still, while the author of this verse waxes poetically of the days of yore, the main thrust of the message does ring true. It provides an inkling of how we might comport ourselves in the world of the here and now.

For me, one of the key concepts introduced in this verse is that of the uncarved block. This concept will reappear time and time again. Rather than provide you with my own clumsy definition of this term -- though I might attempt it at a later time -- I'll let Benjamin Hoff, author of The Tao of Pooh, explain it.
The essence of the principle of the Uncarved Block is that things in their original simplicity contain their own natural power, power that is easily spoiled and lost when that simplicity is changed. For the written character P'u, the typical Chinese dictionary will give a definition of "natural, simple, plain, honest." P'u is composed of two separate characters combined: the first, the "radical" or root-meaning one, is that for tree or wood; the second, the "phonetic" or sound-giving one, is the character for dense growth or thicket. So from "tree in a thicket" or "wood not cut" comes the meaning of "things in their natural state" -- what is generally represented in English versions of Taoist writing as the "uncarved block."

This basic Taoist principle applies not only to things in their natural beauty and function, but to people as well. Or bears. Which brings us to Pooh...
The other part of this verse that really speaks to me is the metaphor of mud and water. It provides an apt pictorial definition of the concept of wu wei. When we try to force things against their nature and through the force of our will, we're like a pool of muddy water. Our judgment is clouded and we often can't see things as they actually are.

As McDonald's translation indicates, it is only when we allow the mud to settle that we can embrace clarity. Clear minds make better decisions and are much better equipped to know when action is needed and when it is not.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Highway Robbery

It's rough being poor! My wife & I live month-to-month and, during the last few days of each month, we rarely have as much as $100 to our name. If a financial emergency arose, we would be in a pickle because we simply wouldn't have the money to cover it. And that potential can be a bit frightening.

Today we unwittingly have found ourselves in a bit of a mini-crisis. We traveled north to Aberdeen to do a little grocery shopping with our dwindling funds. Before leaving to head back south, we stopped at the Safeway gas pump for $10 in fuel. After spending that piddly amount through our credit/debit card, we thought we had left around $60 in our bank account.

However, upon returning home, I used Quicken to get our check register up to date and went online to insure my figuring reconciled with the bank's figures. When I checked our account balance, I was shocked to see NOT a $60 balance but a $17 balance!

Why the discrepancy, you ask? It's seems Safeway deducted $75 from our account to cover $10 in purchased gasoline!!!

This isn't the first time we've encountered this problem. In fact, it seems to be a rather routine business practice these days. We've been encouraged for years to do away with purchases by cash or check and to move to plastic. Now that a significant number of Americans have made the switch, business are changing the rules -- for their benefit, not ours.

I thought I understand this strange practice. I had learned through experience that most gas stations deduct the $75 from one's account when purchasing fuel by pinless debit card. The way around this, I had learned, was to use the debit card like a credit card. This tact has worked at the gas stations around South Bend, but it appears that Safeway does things the other way around.

I don't know about you, but this doesn't seem ethical to me. It's like these businesses are extracting unauthorized loans from us. I buy $10 worth of gas and they take $75 from my account. They use the excess $65 for a day or two and then, when the transaction is finalized, they give the $65 back.

If we were a middle class family with a few hundred dollars in monthly reserves, it might be annoying, but it wouldn't cause a problem. Unfortunately, for families like ours, this unauthorized $65 temporary loan represents about 80% of our available funds. In other words, it creates a B-I-G problem.

If anyone out there can explain to me why this makes good business sense, I'd like to hear it. Please explain to me why a company needs $75 of my money to insure they receive $10 (or $3 as it happened 2 months ago).

I'm all ears.

Verse 14: The Essence of Wisdom

Verse Fourteen
Look, and it can't be seen.
Listen, and it can't be heard.
Reach, and it can't be grasped.

Above, it isn't bright.
Below, it isn't dark.
Seamless, unnamable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.

Approach it and there is no beginning;
follow it and there is no end.
You can't know it, but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
Just realize where you come from:
this is the essence of wisdom.
~ Stephen Mitchell Translation ~
If you ask the average person in western society what constitutes wisdom, you're very apt to get a much different response than if you posed the same question to someone from the east. In our society, wisdom is too often considered the same thing as book knowledge. Consequently, we often look to political leaders, ministers, lawyers, doctors, college professors and teachers as the sages among us.

But, as the Tao Te Ching suggests, true wisdom is borne NOT by filling our heads with worldly things; it comes from emptying ourselves of our intellectual and emotional baggage and then allowing the truth of the universe to fill the void.

Now this is not to suggest that an individual from the above professions cannot be a person of wisdom; it is only to say that their sagacity is not derived from their level of graduate education nor their line of work.

Human brain power simply is not capable of approaching Tao head on. No amount of book learning, scientific analysis nor years of methodical study will allow us to penetrate the mystery of life.

As John Gathercole of The Layman's Tao points out, Verse 14 is
the first metaphysical passage other than Verse 1...It's clearly meant to be describing the Way, but what kind of attributes is it assigning to it? I think the descriptions here are remarkably consistent, and may all have been written by the same author at the same time. The Way is invisible, soundless, and formless; it can't be analyzed. This fits exactly with the claim of Verse 1 that the Way that be described is not the true Way.
So, if intellectual prowess can't move us any closer to genuine wisdom, what can? Diane Dreher states that
For centuries, Taoists have modeled their personal lives after the cycles of nature. In fact, the Chinese word tzu jan means not only the natural sciences but living in harmony with nature.

Tao people accept each season of life and the opportunities it offers. They don't try to fight the cycles by resisting or looking back. But our culture's strong emphasis on youth often obscures our perception of adulthood, making many people lose their balance.
In many ways, these are hard concepts for westerners to grasp since our overriding ethos focuses on domination and control. We are taught from the earliest age that we can control our destiny if we have the smarts, skill and determination. It seems to go against everything we think we know to seek communion with the world around us as opposed to mindfully subjugating it to our will.

The wise among us eventually come to the realization that we are part of this overall mystery and our best chance of finding peace of mind comes from allowing ourselves to be drawn into this process that we will never understand.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Best of...

As I travel around the internet, I frequently bump into lists. We've all seen them -- the ubiquitous Top Tens or x effective ways to find happiness, get rich or snag the best job. While I'm not one to use the word never very often, I don't anticipate a time when you will find such a list here.

I simply can't envision writing the Top Ten Methods to Safely Remove Nose Hair, My Top Fifteen Steps to Writing Effective Blog Posts or the Ten Best Ways to Discover Peace of Mind.

Now, I realize that this might sound like I have an aversion to lists, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I'm a list maven! Almost anytime I undertake a project, I make a list. When I grocery shop, I not only make a list of needed items, but I write the items down in the order I will move through the aisles in the store. For my ongoing series on the Tao Te Ching, I've created several lists of cited sources, key words, which translation/rendition is used for each verse, etc.

So, this begs the question: If I make use of lists all the time, why not feature some on this blog? And the answer has little to do with the concept of lists themselves; it's more bound up in my definitions for words like top, best, [most] effective and the like. To be blunt, for me, each of these words has a fluid definition.

What seems best to me at this very moment may not seem best by the end of this post! What may have proven most effective last week may be least effective this week. Consequently, I'm not the sort of person who would feel comfortable presenting something to you as a fixed set.

One thing I find very pleasurable is making soup. When I was younger, I used to painstakingly write down every ingredient used and in what amount because, if my creation turned out to a delicious concoction, this would afford me the opportunity to recreate the magic at a future date. However, along the way, I began to realize that what seemed like the most perfect soup on one day may not seem the same way the next time around.

So, these days I don't follow recipes or, if I do, not that closely. I make use of whatever ingredients are on hand. If the soup turns out well -- most of them do -- I celebrate the wonderful taste as long as the soup lasts. When the last drop is gone, I set my sights on creating another soup anew.

The same is true for most aspects of my life. Just because something worked yesterday that doesn't mean it will work the same today. A list of steps for an undertaking may have served me well 5 years ago, but that doesn't mean I will value that list in the same way now.

As we gain wisdom, the world around us changes. No, a tree doesn't become a lion nor does a river become a Ferrari -- but our perception of what matters and is important changes. The very nature of lists (particularly ordered lists) is that they are fixed and a fixed concept doesn't fit well with a constantly changing environment.

Who knows? Maybe tomorrow my frame of reference will change and I'll write a post lauding lists as manna from heaven. : )

Guest Post -- Tao Te Ching: The Master Appears

This is a guest post written by Richard Shelmerdine.

Tao Te Ching: The Master Appears

They say that the teacher appears when the student is ready and that always really confused me. But after going through a period of intense suffering after leaving home to live alone and falling into the wrong crowd, I found myself bored, browsing the Amazon bookstore one day and came across this book. It just jumped out at me and after reading some reviews I bought it immediately and greedily awaited its arrival. The book arrived and I started studying it. It was like nothing I'd read before. I knew there was truth in the teachings but did not know if I was ready for them yet. So I kept on studying.

Like all good spiritual teachings, they teach you something that cannot be expressed in words. It is more like a taking away of everything you think you know until you just understand. This is why the spiritual path must be walked alone and reading about it will only get you so far. You have to look inside. I think that the world is ready for spiritual teachings more than ever. After advancing so much in the world of form it is time we learnt about our true nature. I'm getting off topic here.

The concepts in the book were amazing and fresh to me but I knew that I already knew them deep down somewhere and they were just being bought out. Immediately I started to think how I could help others around me start on the path of the Tao so they could benefit from what I had. You can't read a spiritual book like you read a novel, it has to be breathed in and contemplated and not merely acknowledged by the mind. So I had a great idea.

What I would do is spend a month meditating and contemplating the Tao Te Ching and I could find people who were ready for the shift too and they could follow me. It would stay there forever as an inspiration for others too who wanted to see how it can change their lives. So I wrote an email to the author of the blog (Trey) that you are now reading as they are reaching my audience and we decided to collaborate.

You can follow me here.

(If you'd like to submit a Guest Post to The Rambling Taoist, send me an email.)

Your Words

I received an interesting email today. A gentleman asked if I accept guest posts for this blog. Well, to be quite frank, this issue has never come up before or, if it has, I don't remember it!

I thought about the idea for about 5 seconds and decided I have no problem with it. One of the many things I do here is to promote other Taoist and like-minded blogs. I have several large lists of links in the right sidebar and I write posts about new additions to the sidebar plus I frequently quote (with an accompanying link) from what my blogging compatriots are thinking and writing. Consequently, allowing guest posts would merely extend what I'm already trying to accomplish anyway.

For one thing it would probably help some start-up blogs -- those with very limited or no traffic. It might also assist some of you who have only a small following of dedicated readers.

Look, this blog is NOT a widely popular blog. I don't receive thousands of visitors per day, but my numbers have gone through my low roof in the past week or so because of two links from Zen Habits.

For example, before last week the most visitors to this blog in any one day was 128. A week ago today it hit 152. On Monday, it climbed to 278 and yesterday -- and this boggles my pea-sized brain -- I had 609 visitors. While I certainly don't expect to see a number like that again for a long, long time, as of 10:00 am PDT there have been 130 visitors; more than the previous record of 128. In addition to those numbers, there are also over 220 feed subscribers.

So, for those of you with a mere handful of daily visitors, writing a guest post here might help promote what you're writing on your blog. I'm more than willing to help out, particularly since my traffic increase is due entirely to someone else's efforts (Leo Babauta of Zen Habits) and not mine.

If you're interested, send me an email. Provided you don't physically threaten someone or write that Adolf Hitler or George W. Bush is the embodiment of the most perfect Tao, the only editing I will do is for punctuation and spelling. Beyond that, your words are your words. (This is the same tact I use as editor with the columnists for Greener Times.) Such posts will have a title that begins with "Guest Post -- The Title of Your Submission" and I will insert a paragraph at the beginning that states this is a guest post with your name in bold. I strongly suggest you place a link to your blog somewhere in your piece, but, if not, I will include it in the intro.

I'm a strong believer in the concept of paying it forward and, in this small way, I'm trying to do just that.

Verse 13: Aim for the Middle

Verse Thirteen
Winning can be just as bad as losing.
Confidence can mess you up
just as much as fear.

What does
"winning can be just as bad as losing" mean?

If you're down,
you might be able to get up.
But if you're up,
you can get knocked down real fast.
Don't worry about the score,
just do what you have to do.

What does
"confidence can mess you up
just as much as fear" mean?

Fear can keep you
from getting the job done,
but confidence
can get you in over your head.
Walk tall, but don't get cocky.

Know your limits,
and nothing can ever hold you back.
Deal with what you can.
The rest will follow.
~ Ron Hogan rendition ~
In many ways, this verse appears to be very paradoxical! It suggests that winning and losing plus confidence and lack of confidence are equally bad. This appears to go against all that we've learned in a society built upon competition.

However, as The Doubtful Taoist points out,
Verse 13 of the Tao Te Ching addresses the issue of being motivated by our fears and wants related to our social standing. It says that whether we are at the top of the social rung or at the bottom, we suffer from anxiety based on our position along that social ladder. If we’re at the bottom, we suffer from wanting to rise. If we’re at the top, we suffer from the fear of losing our position.

For many of us this is going on without our even realizing it. Others of us are keenly attentive of it. Either way, it’s to our advantage to step back and take stock of the situation so that we can minimize the power this kind of thinking has over us.
In essence, what Lao Tzu is warning us against is allowing our ego to reign supreme. When our ego is in the driver's seat, our lives are marked by extremes. We're always straining in one direction or the other and, when we strain toward something, it makes us unbalanced and generates stress.

However, when we aim for the middle ground between our penchant for extremes, we can stay centered and in balance.

Another point I'd like to draw out will be made easier to understand by quoting the last line of the Feng-English translation:
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things.
In some ways, this sounds very similar to the Biblical passage that urges us to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves. However, in my mind's eye, it goes much further. While the Christian version focuses exclusively on other people, Lao Tzu does not make this distinction at all! The "world" covers everything!

For me, this goes a long way toward identifying the chief reason why the Christian world has been, for the most part, so blase toward environmental issues. When you only see connections with those of your kind, then everything else is treated like an unwanted step-child.

Taoists, on the other hand, see the connections of all things. When everything is placed on equal footing, then every action is understood to positively or negatively impact different aspects of reality. It should cause one to be more mindful and to make decisions in a more comprehensive manner.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Old Fashioned Scorcher

A few days ago I wrote how the proverbial marine layer tends to protect South Bend from extreme high and low temperatures. While this is generally true, there are a few days each year when the clouds go into hiding. Today happens to be one of those days! Thus far, the temperature has topped out at 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

I realize that many locales across this globe experience such temps and higher on a regular or not infrequent basis. So, 100 degrees in and of itself is no biggie. However, in the context of weather in Southwest Washington, it would be like hitting 130 degrees in New York City.

Our average high this time of year is around 72 degrees. Up until this week, we have had no more than a handful of days when the temp topped out above 80. Anytime we have a high above 85 or so, it's big, BIG news here.

Of course, because of the general dearth of hot temps here, few people and businesses have air conditioning. We certainly don't have it here at Taoist Manor -- we're sweating are gills off! This heat wave should only last for another day or two before we get back to our seasonable 70s.

To help the body cope with the stress that comes from excessive heat, we're following the number one recommended course of action -- hydration. But we're not solely drinking water. Our fruit and vegetable juicer is getting quite a workout! In the heat of the day, we're drinking fresh cantaloupe juice -- a definite yin food -- and in the evening we're consuming cucumber juice.

According to the marvelous site, "Juicing Book",
Cucumbers contain a lot of water and the people of the Middle East and Central Asia are known for drinking Cucumber juice. In these countries, people drink Cucumber juice on hot days to help cool their body.
If people who really know a thing or two about extended hot weather drink this juice, that's good enough me.

Verse 12: Overload

Verse Twelve
Five colors blind the eye.
Five notes deafen the ear.
Five flavors make the palate go stale.
Too much activity deranges the mind.
Too much wealth causes crime.

The Master acts on what she feels and not what she sees.
She shuns the latter, and prefers to seek the former.
~ John H. McDonald translation ~
For most of us in the industrialized world, our lives pass us by in a frenzy. We're always on the go to here, to there, to everywhere. We rush to and from work. We rush to get our children to their various activities. We rush through meals because there's always somewhere else to go. We rush during vacations to make sure we get in all the sights. We even rush during sleep as a zillion thoughts, priorities and decisions race through our minds.

And why do we rush around like chickens with our heads cut off? Time! There are only so many hours in each day and we have far too many important things to do. Our schedules are completely booked up and, as soon as we check one activity off the list, there are ten more to replace it.

In an attempt to mitigate all this rushing around, we've invented a multitude of so-called "timesaving devices", but as Benjamin Hoff writes in the The Tao of Pooh,
...if timesaving devices really saved time, there would be more time available to us now than ever before in history. But, strangely enough, we seem to have less time than even a few years ago. It's really great fun to go someplace where there are no timesaving devices because, when you do, you find that you have lots of time. Elsewhere, you're too busy working to pay for machines to save you time so you won't have to work so hard.
So, one of the ways in which this verse can be interpreted is to suggest that we slow down. Rome wasn't built in a day or as John Gathercole writes on the blog The Layman's Tao,
When this verse says "The five colors blind the eye," it doesn't mean that looking at colors will make you blind. Rather, it's warning against over-stimulation, the same way we might tell someone to take it easy by saying "Slow and steady wins the race." We're not recommending the person do everything in her life slowly, just that she exercise moderation and make sure she's not going too fast.
There is another reason why slowing down will do us a great deal of good. When we rush to and fro, we tend to experience the world in a very superficial way. We quickly scan the horizon for potential problems and lightly peruse the people and situations around us. We simply don't have the time nor energy to experience life deeply because there's always someone else to meet or something else to do.

When we slow down, we afford ourselves the opportunity to smell the flowers and marvel at the beauty of a butterfly. We can think things through more clearly and genuinely get to know other people AND ourselves.

When we don't allow ourselves to travel through life at a more moderate pace, we set ourselves up for physical and emotional turmoil -- stress. This stress grows heavier and heavier as we struggle with our many self-imposed time constraints. No amount of accomplishment is ever enough because, for every one item completed, there are thousands more left to begin.

Diane Dreher underscores this point.
Modern life assaults our senses with noise, color, and ceaseless appeals to appetite. It's easy to lose our balance. As Lao Tzu said, "Chasing desire can drive us mad." Research has shown that sensory overload produces symptoms very much like schizophrenia. Too many people race off in a dozen directions at once. They eat, dress, work, and play with no center. Losing sight of the whole, they succumb to fragmentation, illness, and exhaustion.
There is another angle to this verse as well. It cautions us not to become overly enthralled with solely what we can see subjectively of the world around us. Dr. Jill Henry of the Mountain Valley Center writes that
The world tells us to trust only in our senses. To believe only what we see. The Tao guides us to trust our inner knowing, our feelings, and our connection to Source. It’s only be letting go of our obsessions with life – our repetitive thoughts, our constant acquisition of more things, that we can choose to live a life of central peace.
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

So Many Paths...Again

I'm not a big fan of reposting entries that have come before. That said, because of the current series on the Tao Te Ching, I think this one from May 2005 is most appropriate. The only change I'm making is that I'm including the entire lyrics, instead of merely the chorus.

Everywhere one looks, others are trying to tell us of the ONE RIGHT WAY. The right car. The right look. The right tampon. The right breakfast cereal. The right cause. The one true way to live our lives.

Back in the 1970s there was a pop group from Australia called the Little River Band. One of the tracks on their "Sleeper Catcher" album is called So Many Paths. The chorus from the song sums up the Taoist belief in the "right way" of anything:

The atmosphere is electric and the minds are on the move,
they all know where they're going but noone is too sure,
I've heard a lot of talking, I've nearly drowned in their words,
and my heart is full of answers just as the sky is full of birds.

There are so many paths up the mountain,
nobody knows all the ways,
there are so many paths up the mountain,
and the view from the top is still the same.

If you should stumble and fall down, people don't know what to do,
pretend that they didn't notice, they'll sidestep and walk around you,
don't let it be your worry, no, no don't let it get you concerned,
you've got to move on in your own direction, forget what you ever learned.

There are so many paths up the mountain,
nobody knows all the ways,
there are so many paths up the mountain,
and the view from the top is still the same.

Angry voices from the shadows,
in the valley, the sun don't shine,
make your mind up which way you're going,
there are ooh so many paths.

There are so many paths up the mountain,
nobody knows all the ways,
there are so many paths up the mountain,
and the view from the top is still the same.

Taoism recognizes that everybody is different. Each of us observes the world around us in different ways. What appears beautiful to one person, may be ugly to another. What seems direct to one person, may seem completely indirect to someone else.

Because our experiences in the world are unique, so too is our understanding. Consequently, as unique beings, we must necessarily ply our own path up the mountain. It's certainly okay to follow others -- if we so choose -- but WE must take each individual step ourselves.

Religion, by its very nature, teaches the opposite. It postulates that there is but one formula and each of us must replicate it precisely, lest we get lost on our journey. Religion treats people as unintelligent creatures who must be guided and prodded along the one true path.

Again, Taoism runs counter to this conception. Taoists believe that human beings are intuitively intelligent. If we allow ourselves to listen to our inner most voice, we will be able to navigate the terrain.

A river doesn't need a Messiah to tell it how to flow to the ocean. A kangaroo rat doesn't need a holy book to tell it to hide from the hawk. A caterpillar doesn't need to memorize creeds and rituals in order to know when it's time to become a butterfly.

If all these entities -- large and small -- can lead their lives without the need of an omnipotent guide, why can't you and I?

The key is to believe in the inner you, that part of you that is in common with all things. Then, like the river, the rat and the butterfly, you can make your own path up the mountain.

Remember, regardless of the path you choose, the "view from the top is still the same".

Verse 11: Much Ado About Nothing

Verse Eleven
We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.
~ Stephen Mitchell translation~
Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship...oh...wait a minute, wrong metaphor.

This verse does address the concept of space, but in a rather humorous way. As Ursula LeGuin remarks,
One of the things I like about Lao Tzu is he is so funny. He's explaining a profound and difficult truth here, one of those counterintuitive truths that, when the mind can accept them, suddenly double the size of the universe. He goes about it with this deadpan simplicity, talking about pots.
In western society, we view the space between things as emptiness or nothing at all. It is this nothingness that serves as a separator and causes each person, substance and concept to be isolated from all others.

Alan Watts points out that
We always think of space as separating, but remember that which separates also joins. This is why the word cleave is so interesting. It means both to stick to and to divide. We are cleaved by space. [emphasis added]
This perspective greatly influences the Taoist worldview. While the Abrahamic religions posit that we are each separate individuals who join together temporarily as a community in the church, Taoists see the interconnection of all things. Our only distinction is our concept of self and, when we are able to leave our self-ness behind, we recognize the oneness of all.

The other thrust of this verse is that space fills an important place in the utility of the world. More often than not, it is what is "not there" that makes something functional and useful. Alan Watts explains this idea in relation to music.
Most people imagine that in listening to music they hear simply a succession of tones, singly, or in clusters called chords. If that were true, as it is in the exceptional case of tone-deaf people, they would hear no music, no melody whatsoever -- only a succession of noises. Hearing melody is hearing the intervals between the tones, even though you may not realize it, and even though these particular intervals are not periods of silence but "steps" of varying length between points on a musical scale. These steps or intervals are auditory spaces...
In almost every aspect of life, space plays a pivotal role. If there were no spaces between these words I type right now, then this post would be made up entirely of letters and, chances are, you wouldn't be able to read nor understand it.

It is space that makes a cup or bowl functional; remove the space and you have a solid object that cannot be filled. And this brings us to the final point to be made regarding this verse.

While Lao Tzu is indeed speaking of wheels, pots and houses, he is also making a profound statement about each of us. As Alan Watts' son Mark writes in the introduction to Taoism: Way Beyond Seeking,
The strategic advantage of recognizing the value of space is not only practical, however, because the bowl, representing space, is also a metaphor for the vessel of consciousness, and what is true of a ceramic bowl is also true of the mind -- it works best when empty.
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Verse 10: Beyond Control

Verse Ten
Can you hold on to your ego
and still stay focused on Tao?

Can you relax your mind
and body and brace yourself for a new life?

Can you check yourself
and see past
what's in front of your eyes?

Can you be a leader
and not try to prove you're in charge?

Can you deal with what's happening
and let it happen?

Can you forget what you know
and understand what's real?

Start a job and see it through.
Have things
without holding on to them.
Do the job
without expectation of reward.
Lead people
without giving orders.
That's the way you do it.
~ Ron Hogan rendition ~
In our modern world, leaders tend to be people who give orders and make demands on others. It's a military-style mindset. Do what you're told and no questions!! This is as true in government and business as it is in religion.

On one level, it's all about hierarchy. Dig just a little and you realize it's about control. On a state level, the moneyed interests want to control the masses because uncontrolled masses might muck up the system of wealth and power that the moneyed interests benefit from.

On a more personal and individualistic level, we each desire to control our lives because we like it when things go the way we want them to!

But whichever level we point to, the underlying motivation for the desire to exert control is that we're scared of the unknown and the unexpected; just like when we were children, we're scared of the dark and the monsters that may be hiding under our bed or in the closet.

However, no matter how much control we try to take, we know that the unknown is lurking around the next corner. It's waiting there, biding its time, ready to throw a monkey wrench into our best laid plans.

And so, while we like to think that control is about relieving the stress that accompanies our fear of the darkness, in reality, it creates even more stress from the anxiety of potentially losing it. Since we can't account for every variable and every circumstance, we are in constant fear that something we didn't factor in will spoil the stew.

Life is about change and mystery. To be one with Tao, we need to embrace both and realize that, more often than not, the monster hiding under the bed or in the closet is our own self.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

New Voices Along the Path III

Here are seven more additions to the Fellow Wanderers section. Enjoy!

The Mountain Humanist
I’m a humanist who lives in the mountains of western North Carolina and dabbles some in Zen Buddhism and Taoism as well.

I hope this blog will launch many hearty and painless discussions about beliefs, “isms,” humanism and other humorous subjects.

The Slow Coach
What Is Slow? The term “slow” is shorthand for: A PHILOSOPHY

Recognising that time is precious, but rushing to try and fit more in is not the answer. That taking the time and effort to appreciate what is now will be much more fulfilling than filling your days and doing this just to get somewhere in the future. That leads to…

The Thoughtful Warrior
This blog explores and discusses the real and practical application of great Asian philosophies to business, strategy, leadership and life. These philosophies include Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Miamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu’s Taoism and others. The author, Lorne Gross MA, LLB, MBA, has extensive experience in both the field of Asian philosophy and business strategy and practice.

[Note: This blog is just starting up, so I've put it in this section and not Taoist Wanderers. In time, depending on the focus of the majority of posts, it may be moved to the Taoist section.]

Thoughts from a Sandwich
A deconverted atheist who sometimes discusses bits about theism. And sometimes does not. [Note: One of my favorite blogs of this genre!]

What's Left
Written by a friend of mine, Dr. Gary Murrell ran for Congress in 2008 and used to host a progressive talk radio program of the same name as his blog. He's a history prof at Grays Harbor College. If you want to read a "no holds barred" leftist perspective, then this is the place for you!

Why I Hate Jesus
The tag line really sums up this blogger's perspective: Because he isn't the son of God.

Zen Habits
Zen Habits is one of the Top 100 blogs on the Internet, and covers: achieving goals, productivity, being organized, GTD, motivation, eliminating debt, saving, getting a flat stomach, eating healthy, simplifying, living frugal, parenting, happiness, and successfully implementing good habits. [Note: Over 125,000 people subscribe to this blog's feed.]

More Than Two Simple Words

While much of the rest of Washington is basking in warm summer temperatures and sunny skies, that large orange ball has been having a hard time appearing in the sky over South Bend. For the first time in several days, we received a brief glimpse of it this afternoon before it disappeared again. The prime reason we're missing out on the fun and sun boils down to two words: marine layer.

If you don't live on the coast of an ocean or a large lake (e.g., the Great Lakes), you probably don't have much experience with the marine layer. Of all the various environmental and climatic factors that influences our weather, the marine layer plays one of the biggest roles. It helps to explain why our temperatures tend to be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than communities only a few miles inland.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about the marine layer:
A marine layer is an air mass which develops over the surface of a large body of water such as the ocean or large lake in the presence of a temperature inversion. The inversion itself is usually initiated by the cooling effect of the water on the surface layer of an otherwise warm air mass. As it cools, the surface air becomes denser than the warmer air above it, and thus becomes trapped below it. The layer may thicken through turbulence generated within the developing marine layer itself. It may also thicken if the warmer air above it is lifted by an approaching area of low pressure. The layer will also gradually increase its humidity by evaporation of the ocean or lake surface, as well as by the effect of cooling itself. Fog will form within a marine layer where the humidity is high enough and cooling sufficient to produce condensation. Stratus and stratocumulus will also form at the top of a marine layer in the presence of the same conditions there.
About one week ago, the marine layer made a significant difference in weather in a stretch of a mere 4 miles. In Raymond -- only 4 miles east of here -- the skies were clear and the temperature hovered around 70 degrees. On that same day, we were completely socked in by clouds and our temperature never made it out the 50s. This in the middle of July!!

What was really cool is that a very definitive dividing line could be seen from the highway. As I looked downriver, I saw the clouds dissipate about 1 1/2 miles to our east. Just beyond this line, one could see the shadows of the sun, but I was standing in misty fog. It was sort of surreal.

New Voices Along the Path II

Here is the first portion of the additions to the Fellow Wanderers section. There are so many that, as before, I will cover them in two separate posts. So, following this one will be part 3 of this recurring series.

A Complicated Salvation
I picture Eve a tad disorientated, becoming slowly conscious as Adam’s rib takes it’s new form. How does the first woman on the planet compute what’s going on around her? Welcome. I am God. He’s Adam. This is your garden. I love you. Eat this fruit and you’ll die.

Bruce Droppings
I currently live in the rural NW Ohio community of Ney. (population 360 or so) I’ve been married for 31 years and I have been blessed with six children and three grandchildren. I also live with three cats. I am a native Ohioan, having lived in Ohio most of my life. I have also lived in California, Texas, Arizona, and Michigan,

I attended Findlay High School, Findlay, Ohio and I dropped out of school after my 11th grade year. I took the GED test in 2004 and passed. I attended Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. My major was religious education. While I was at Midwestern I met the woman who was to be my wife.

I have pastored Baptist and non-denominational Churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. After 25+ years of ministry I have left the ministry and I am no longer a part of the organized Christian Church. I am now an agnostic and Bruce Droppings is my attempt to put the journey I am on into words.

Cosmic Gnostic Blog
This is the blog site and extension of the main Cosmic Gnostic website. Here we explore our adventures through writing and expression through this medium. Thanks for reading.

If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people - their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties - someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad; if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal." - John F. Kennedy

For Shelter, the World
I am a writer, editor, professional intuitive consultant, and "lawyer in recovery". As I've written about extensively in this blog, I relocated from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Northwest after Hurricane Katrina.

It's beginning to sink in that I have done that. Things are different, the old is gone, I am catching up to my life. Or letting it catch up to me.

Right to Think
The blog's tag line is: Because your brain is there for a reason... This is a great blog that focuses on the unbelief and illogical thinking regarding Christianity. It's in hiatus right now as the host is celebrating the birth of his first child. That said, the archives are worth a look-see. Who knows? He may be back quicker than he thinks!

New Voices Along the Path

As I've stated repeatedly, the purpose of this blog is twofold: 1) to share my thoughts and contemplations with the world; and 2) to share the thoughts and contemplations of others along a congruent or similar path. To this end, from time to time, I like to take the opportunity to introduce my readers to the new blogs and sites added to the right sidebar. The last time I did this was at the end of March. Since I've added numerous links since then, I thought it was high time for another edition of Voices Along the Path.

This post will cover those added to Taoists Wanderers. A subsequent post -- today or tomorrow -- will cover Fellow Wanderers. (If you want to view the March entries: I, II & III.)

Beyond the Fields We Know
These are the wandering journeys of a thoughtful mind, a passionate eye, a fey wit and an earth loving heart through the landscape with camera in hand.

Catherine (Cate) Kerr is a freelance photographer, writer, editor and graphic designer with her roots firmly planted in the good dark soil of the eastern Ontario highlands. She is an ardent seeker, a naturalist and a wordsmith, a student of deep ecology in this and many other lifetimes, a devotee of untrodden lands, of twilight, full moons, liminal places and the wild wisdom which sustains the cosmos.

Center for Taoist Thought and Fellowship
The Center For Taoist Thought And Fellowship, founded in 1982, is a California non-profit religious (Taoist) corporation.

Christian Taoism
This blog looks at what happens when you rub "Love thy neighbor" and Taoism together.

Ethereal Existentialism
I'm a former Baptist Pastor who has somehow escaped fundamentalism and I am now meandering through a blend of Christianity, Taoism, and Zen - though I've also explored several other faith traditions including Sufism, American Indian Spirituality, and a few Pagan and New Age ideas. It is what it is.

Health & Meditation Corner
I am also known online as Durkhrod Chogori and currently live in Brisbane, Australia. I have dedicated my life to pursue an active and healthy lifestyle using various health and meditative practices, which have enabled me to cope with the demands of modern life. You can also attain that level by following my recommendations. Remember: Never give up regardless of difficulties and challenges. All the best.

My Tai Chi Life
Mike Ferruggia is all about Tai Chi. He teaches Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan Long Form, Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Long Form, Chi Kung (qi gong) and Taoist Meditation and contemplation. He also writes a darn good blog!

Mountain Diamond Poetry
What else but a poem can strike you down and lift you up at the same time? Poems are the oxygen in the blood of being. Poesy is a way that reflects The Great Way of Dao – sometimes the reflection is dark, sometimes light. I will be posting Diamond Poems and/or other poetry weekly at this site and invite comments and posts of Diamond Poems from other poets and writers.

The Invisible Dragon
I’m Robert Williams creator and author of “The Invisible Dragon.” A blog of personal transition into the Tao Te Ching. I began blogging two years ago about my personal journey with depression. In 2008, I began to study the Tao and never looked back.

Growing up I had never heard of Tao Te Ching. Never heard of it as adult, nevertheless it appeared when I was ready. Its something one has to experience on ones own. The Tao Te Ching has principles (81 verses) that I’ve accepted that are fit to guide my life.

Taoism teaches that there is one undivided truth at the root of all things. There’s no intermediary needed. Living the Tao has become the way for me.

The Tao of Project Management
I am an old project manager working at the University of Exeter. I am the author of Project Management in easy steps and Project 2007 in easy steps. The blog is my attempt to observe project management life and how it maps onto Taoist philosophy and maybe learn some understanding of what happens in projects and life.

Verse 9: Too Much

Verse Nine
Better stop short than fill to the brim.
Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt.
Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.
Retire when the work is done.
This is the way of heaven.
~ Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English translation ~
The first time I read the Tao Te Ching I was struck by the amount of commonsense contained in these scant 81 verses. I think this verse, in particular, is a no-brainer. It cautions us how excess can lead to problems.

For example, who hasn't overfilled a cup with coffee or tea? You're in a hurry -- not paying as much attention as you should -- and you pour in way too much liquid so that your mug is absolutely full. Try walking back to your desk or couch without spilling a drop. While it's not impossible, it's also not very easy. More often than not, some or most of it ends up on the floor.

In present society, we always are urged to want more. It doesn't matter what we're talking about -- money, power, food, clothes, cars, gadgets, friends, etc. Enough never seems to be enough. So we pile our plate high with stuff we don't need and then we wonder why we're so stressed?

If we want to unburden our lives and live more in touch with Tao, we need to learn the simple lesson that sufficient is better than too much. The latter takes more time and energy to obtain, manage and protect. The former leads to healthier bodies and minds plus it frees up our energy to pursue more enjoyable and meaningful activities.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tao Te Ching Online

I've added a new category to the right sidebar: Tao Te Ching Online. Right now, it contains approximately one dozen different translations/versions. If you know of a translation/version not listed there, please let me know by leaving a comment or email me.

There are two reasons why I believe it's important to read more than one rendition of this ancient text. For starters, translating Chinese into English is no walk in the park. The former is not based on an alphabet. There are no articles (a, the, etc.) and often there are no units of measure (one, six, a few, etc.). There is very little shared vocabulary. Most importantly, because of different world views, concepts are expressed so differently that it can be very difficult to find the precise English words that will express the depth and meaning of a specific idea or passage.

The second reason is that the Tao Te Ching (TTC) is, in essence, a book of poetry. The imagery used elicits different responses in different people. Consequently, even if you lined up 20 people who agreed on the exact wording of a verse, there's a better than average chance you will get 20 different explanations of what that verse means!

This second factor is what differentiates the TTC from, say, the Christian Bible. The latter contains a history and the various rules and mores of a specific society. The TTC, on the other hand, contains neither. Also, the former is believed by many to be divinely-inspired or written. The TTC is human-based and it's readily acknowledged that the text congealed over a period of at least several hundred years.

Most of the controversies of the Bible are related to which version is the most orthodox -- which version represent the precise meaning of its author[s]. There is no "orthodox" version of the TTC in philosophical Taoism simply because each person must experience the text for themselves and draw their own meaning from it.

This is the reason why I'm working to include so many different voices in my series on the TTC. I don't want readers to be overly influenced by one solitary voice. It is my sincere hope that the many voices featured will help each of you to find your own voice.

In the end, that's what matters.

Verse 8: Flow Like Water

Verse Eight
True goodness
is like water.
Water's good
for everything.
It doesn't compete.

It goes right
to the low loathsome places,
and so finds the way.

For a house,
the good thing is level ground.
In thinking,
depth is good.
The good of giving is magnanimity;
of speaking, honesty;
of government, order.
The good of work is skill,
and of action, timing.

No competition,
so no blame.
~Ursula K. Le Guin rendition ~
Water. It's a metaphor used again and again in the Tao Te Ching.

In the comments section of Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English's translation, it is noted that
Water is one of Lao Tsu's principle symbols for the Tao...He who lives the Tao acts in his life and dealings as water acts in nature. Water does not resist, yet it conquers all; it is tasteless -- suggesting the invisibility of the Tao -- yet life-giving. It moves through all that lives and in movement remains clear and pure. It is supple, flexible, and humble; it does not compete...
Alan Watts reminds us that
...water always seeks the lowest level, which men abhor because we are always trying to play games of one-upmanship. But Lao-tzu explains that the top position is the most insecure. Everybody wants to get to the top of the tree, but if they do the tree will collapse.
When I was first becoming acquainted with Taoist philosophy, I thought a lot about this metaphor and how I could incorporate its message into my life. I realized that, in nature, when an obstruction impedes the flow of water in a river, the river simply cuts a new channel around it. While flowing through this new channel, the river is also slowly eroding the edges of the obstruction so that, in time, it melts away.

The message for me is clear -- don't force things. When we attempt to exert our will, we almost always meet with resistance which impedes the effort being expended. If, on the other hand, I can learn to behave as a river, then I can flow around obstacles and get more accomplished.

Another thing to keep in mind is that water is not always placid. A river can have lazy pools, a meandering current and also white water rapids. So, being like water should not be confused with passivity. When action is called for, act. When action is no longer needed, relax.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Clogged Stream

As I continue to post the daily verses and analysis of the Tao Te Ching, two of the recurrent themes are to flow like water and to lead a life of simplicity. Unfortunately, when we look at America's antiquated and inefficient health care system, it looks like a raging river strewn with boulders, submerged logs and mysterious undercurrents -- the very antithesis of a peaceful stream!

If an individual or family is lucky enough to have health insurance, they must wend their way through a labyrinth of exclusionary rules, complicated procedures, and forms to receive proper care. If the doctor indicates the patient needs a particular procedure, test or operation, this information often must be reviewed by the insurance company before being given the go ahead. If a person becomes seriously ill, some insurance companies deny particular forms of care or, even worse, decide to bump the person from coverage altogether!

If a person or family is not lucky enough to have health insurance and is not impoverished enough to qualify for Medicaid, then needed medical care is an iffy proposition, at best. Because the cost of medical care in this country has shot through the roof, it is not infrequent that the working poor and middle class simply forgo preventive and necessary care or go into bankruptcy securing it. Even worse, some clinics and facilities will turn you away if you don't have health insurance!

If Lao Tzu was in charge of revamping this nation's health care system, I have no doubt that he would favor some form of universal cradle-to-grave coverage. He would create a system that engendered an easy flow and simplicity, a system that held down administrative costs and favored preventive care.

But Lao Tzu isn't in charge; instead, it's the clever men who runs things and they run things as if we are stuck in a clogged stream with no way to get to shore.

Verse 7: No Rewards

Verse Seven
Death does not exist and only reveals nextness
Wisdom does not permit the end of itself
A man can only learn to move forward in any direction

Not being concerned with what went before
He should not care for the rewards of the day

Seeking only that which can enhance his own reality
He does not consider the rewards of his work
By not considering the results of his work
They are perfect and cannot be made better
~ Stephen F. Kaufman translation ~
One of the hallmarks of a capitalist society is "return on investment". Wealth should only be invested in those financial instruments which will produce the biggest bang for the buck. Community interests, the welfare of workers and the environment can take a backseat, thank you.

The problem with an ethos of this nature is that it ends up permeating every aspect of society. This helps to explain why "Looking out for #1" and "quid pro quo" are ubiquitous in today's world.

It's what Alan Watts in Taoism: Way Beyond Seeking termed as "commercial conscience":
It is amazing how we are conditioned to turn everything into profit, and to feel guilty if we do not, and that is a very dangerous idea to impose on children.
Lao Tzu offers an entirely different take. Rather than putting your all into your work and expecting to reap what you put in and then some, the Tao Te Ching recommends that you do your utmost best and that should be your sole reward in and of itself. In other words, give what you can give with no thought for what you might get back!

And it's not just about giving of yourself in a robotic-like fashion. The wellspring of your commitment and devotion toward doing your best in relationships, work, activism, volunteering, nurturing and/or philanthropy should be love.

As Diane Dreher expresses it,
The Way of Love is not the egotistical possessiveness which masquerades as love in too many relationships. Tz'u expresses itself by sharing joyously with no thought of return. Transcending our limited egos, it unites us with the good of all.

For Taoists, Tz'u is the natural expression of the balanced soul. If our energies are harmonious, we naturally reach out in benevolence toward all creation, creating harmonious new cycles.
When we promote the good of all, we concurrently promote the best in ourselves. More importantly, we often are able to push beyond our perceived limitations to map out new territories within this thing we call the self.

In essence, the sky is the limit when our wings are lifted by love.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tumbling Along

On a good day, I probably have between 50 - 70 visits to this blog (not counting feed readers). As far as I'm concerned, such stats are fine by me. The subject matter I write about tends towards philosophy and, let's face it, philosophy isn't that popular these days. But I didn't get into blogging to be popular; if that was my motivation, then I'm failing miserably! ; )

With this in mind, I think you can understand my shock this morning when, around 10 a.m., I checked my blog stats. I was expecting to find the typical 15 - 25 visits; what I found was over 70 visits. I thought to myself, "What in the heck is going on here?"

It seems that a site called Zen Habits has a Tumblr microblog that lists various blog entries that may be of interest to theirs readers. Smack dab on the top of the list was one of mine. That, my friends, is what has caused my site traffic to soar today.

Needless to say, I think this is a grand idea and so I've set up my own Tumblr blog for the exact same purpose. On my Tumblelog, you won't find any original writing on my part. It's sole purpose is to promote what YOU are writing. In essence, I will add those blog posts which speak to me -- the ones that make me cry, laugh uproariously, stamp my feet in affirmation or that resonate with me in the deepest way.

I will add a few feeds to the mix. Actually, I've already added one: Christian Taoism. So, here's a shout out to HK!

To find out what I'm reading and recommending, look for the link near the top of the left column.

The Sandwich King

There is a superb blog post from yesterday on Thoughts from a Sandwich. It discusses how Christians and Atheists interpret God in a far different ways. I'm not going to repost the whole thing because I want you to go there to read, Why Atheists would Disobey God, for yourselves. Here's a wee taste:
Think about the nicest, kindest person you know. The person who you would nominate as “Most Moral Person Alive.” The type of person who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Got that person in mind?

Imagine this person rushed up to you with a kitten and said, “Quick, bash this kitten on the ground, killing it!”

You would probably pause and a few questions would cross your mind. Sure, this is atypical and so out-of-character, you would think they MUST have a good reason for such a request. This is so unlike anything they have ever done, and this is the nicest person you know. To kill a kitten? Something doesn’t add up.

Secondly, you might ponder why they don’t do this deed themselves? Why do they need to involve you, as they seem perfectly capable of killing this kitten if it is so necessary?

Thirdly, you might question the rush. Why must this kitten die right now? Is there some disease? Is it rapid? Is it carrying the plague that will end the world?...

I Think I'll Pass

Did you know there is a silly notion called the National Blog Posting Month? The gimmick is that a blogger must commit to writing at least one post everyday for a month. The group or person hosting this weird idea is even willing to provide ideas for participants to write about and there are prizes to boot.

I'm sorry, but this sounds like a moronic idea to me. We live in a society with information overload. The last thing we need is to encourage people to write about something -- dammit anything! -- just to complete a silly assignment.

Besides, it just seems to defeat the whole idea behind blogging. Each of us develops different themes and purposes for our blogs. Some people -- like yours truly -- tend to write a lot. Other people write occasionally and some write infrequently. Why change your style because someone else suggests you do it?

As I'm sure you've guessed, I think I'll pass on this idea. I can't envision myself participating because it would fly in the face of a solid Taoist principle -- following one's own path and not one from an external source.

The ONLY reasons I can see why someone might want to jump on this bandwagon are 1) You have nothing else of much interest going on in your life, 2) You typically post a daily entry anyway and you crave attention or 3) You're desperate to drive more traffic to your blog. Short of these three reasons, I can't fathom why anyone would be the least bit interested.

But what do I know? Over 12,000 bloggers have already signed up. I am not and will not be one of them. : )

Verse 6: The Infinite

Verse Six
The Tao is the breath that never dies;
It is the Mother to All Creation.
It is the root and ground of every soul
-- the fountain of Heaven and Earth, laid open.

Endless source, endless river
River of no shape, river of no water
Drifting invisibly from place to never ends
and it never fails.
~ Man-Ho Kwok, Martin Palmer & Jay Ramsey translation ~
Try as we might,we simply do not possess the capability to understand the source of all things. It doesn't matter what we call it or how we try to define it, it eludes our ability to grasp every single time.

A lot of people spend their lives trying to catch a glimpse of it, never realizing that it permeates everything, including each of us! Rather than lifting our eyes to the sky, we stand a much better chance of getting an inkling of the mystery by simply looking inside ourselves. There, in the silence removed from self and ego, is Tao.

As Stephen F. Kaufman explains it,
The Infinite contains all. The more you take from It the more it has to give...Man can never understand the machinations of the universe and must always consider new truths to be learned.
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Yes, "It" Happens

When I go tootling around the blogosphere each day looking for references to Taoism, more often than not, I find it in relation to two reference points: 1) The BeliefNet religion quiz and 2) The ubiquitous "Shit Happens" poster.

If you've never visited -- I'm not necessarily recommending it either -- you can participate in a questionnaire entitled Belief-O-Matic to help determine which churches and/or philosophies match up with your answers on the quiz. I took the "test" years ago and wasn't thrilled with several of the questions and the multiple choice format. I suppose one could say it's mildly entertaining with emphasis placed on the word, mild.

The other point in which I often find the word Taoism referenced is in regards to the hilarious poster about how differing religions and philosophies interpret fecal matter. Here's one of many versions. What surprises me is that most folks who copy and paste this long list don't seem interested in analyzing it.

For my part, I think it's really accurate. Generally speaking, the first religion/philosophy on the list is Taoism: Shit happens. Those two words really sum it all up, don't you think?

That said, I can see why those from the Abrahamic religions might not find the list so funny!

Addendum: If you REALLY like the list, you can purchase a shorter version in T-Shirt form from Northern Sun for around $20.