Monday, August 31, 2009

Missing in Translation

Have you ever been in a situation in which two or more people are speaking in a language you don't understand? They are just chattering away and yet you don't have a clue what they are talking about? Well, if you've been in such a situation, then this should give you a good idea of the way I feel every single day!

You see, there is a language used all around me that I don't comprehend at all -- body language. It's a bit unnerving to know that people are using this mode of communication all the time and yet I can't see it. Believe you me, I try so hard to pick up on it, but I simply can't decode it.

Today I had to go to the local print shop to get some copies made. The proprietor, Michelle, is a very nice woman and we often get into interesting conversations. The last time I was there we had talked a bit about Asperger's Syndrome and today we picked up where we left off.

Well, we had talked for about 20 minutes -- me doing most of the talking -- when all of a sudden I began to feel very uncomfortable. I realized that I might be keeping her from her work, so as I talked I tried to see if I could read her body language. Alas, it provided me with no clues at all!

At this juncture, some of you might ask why I didn't simply ask her if I was keeping her from her work. I've learned that direct questions such as that don't really help. Many times people will respond, "Oh no, I'm fine," but I later learn from someone else that the person was just being polite. The person was utilizing body language to give me the hint to stop talking and go away, but I completely missed it.

As I grew more uncomfortable by the second, I abruptly ended the conversation and left. I don't know if my abruptness rubbed her the wrong way or if she was merely glad that I had finally shut-up. Since I didn't have my social translator with me (my dear wife), I have no idea if I did the right thing or not.

This whole deal is very maddening because I'm a very articulate person. I actually like blogging far better than face-to-face conversations because they are, in truth, one-sided. I write down my thoughts, then post them. I don't have to try to figure out what the people around me are indicating or not indicating because no one else is here.

My wife was telling me today that she misses the more confident me, the person who would go charging into a wall, if the situation called for it. I'm still that same confident fellow when I write, but I'm no longer that person in social situations. It's next too impossible to be confident when you know that everybody else is speaking a language you don't understand and never will.

There's one other facet of this problem I realize I didn't address. When a person speaks to you in a language that you don't understand, it is readily apparent to both participants. One person says something and the other person looks completely bewildered.

But body language doesn't work that way! The default position is that people assume you are fluent in it. However, if you're unable to see it or decode it, you simply go on as if it's not there. Later, you find out that people think either you selfishly don't care about their feelings or you're seen as arrogant and pompous.

If you happen to be a considerate and compassionate person, such opinions are very frustrating. There's no real way to deflect them.

If You're Interested...

If you're interested, I can send to anyone who requests it an excel file with all the "Taoist Wanderers" listed in the right sidebar. Said file features the name of the blog/website and the appropriate url. Ya know, this isn't "proprietary information" or something like that.

Why might anyone be interested in such a list? For starters, you might wish to add some Taoist links to your blog and this could save you quite a bit of time. I've amassed this list of 107 links over several months of web searching. Me thinks there's no reason why others should need to reinvent the wheel!

Some people might also be interested simply to a have a handy reference of Taoist sites to checkout at their leisure.

Anyhoo, I just wanted to let you know that this resource is available...if anyone is interested.

Heart and Soul

When many people think about what makes me, me (or them, them), it's all bound up in their mind and soul. The very essence of who and what each person is can be found in our intellectual and spiritual constitutions. This essence is tied to a body, but we often think of the body as merely an accessory.

Yet, we cannot exist without the body. Bodies can continue to live without any intellectual activity (i.e., people in a vegetative state). As far as we know, there may not be any spiritual activity either. The opposite cannot be proven. While there are many theories that a person can live once a body dies, there isn't any substantive proof that this belief is well-founded.

So, while we think of the soul as the central aspect of ourselves, the only thing we know for sure is that it's our body -- including our brains -- that makes you and and me.

It's ironic, then, that we too often treat the body as a distant relative.

Declining the Word, Atheist

I don't believe in one God or many Gods. My life is godless. But I don't refer to myself as an atheist -- I don't accept the word.

When first used eons ago, it was an insult one Christian might lob at another in an ecclesiastical debate. Later on, it became an even more derogatory term used by Christians to define someone who didn't believe in their brand of Christianity or someone who held firm to a different religion or...gasp...someone who disdained religion altogether. Today, of course, it refers to those people either who don't believe in the concept of God at all or who feel that there is no proof for a God or Gods.

Mind you, I have no issue whatsoever with a Christian adherent using this word. It's part of their terminology. But I'm NOT a Christian and so I don't feel bound by their phraseology. I choose to refer to myself as a philosophical Taoist instead.

Throughout human history many groups have gotten stuck with a name conferred upon them by their enemies. For example, the American Indian tribe known today as the Apaches (enemy) were so named by the Zuni nation. The Gros Ventre (big bellies) were given their names by the French. Often, names of this nature mean simple things like foreigners, people who live south of the river or people who speak with a funny accent.

I realize that many godless people today have decided to take on the mantel of atheist and turn it into a positive word -- sort of wrest it away from the religious folks. For those who have adopted this strategy, I have no qualms. That simply isn't MY strategy.

Personally, I don't want any part of Christendom's word and I refuse to define myself by it. My life is not about negating their beliefs; it's about defining my own.


Like most everyone I know, there are times that I eat too much or the wrong things. There are times when I overexert or I don't get enough sleep. Simply put, like the rest of you, there are times I don't take as good care of myself as I should and my body lets me know.

Each time something of this nature occurs, there is a lesson to be learned. Usually, the lesson is to cut back on my excesses and to center myself to find balance. As I've aged and matured, I don't have to keep relearning this lesson as often as in my youth. Ah, one sign of wisdom!

Unfortunately, being that I'm a person afflicted with Fibromyalgia and Klinefelter's Syndrome, there are many times when my body goes into revolt and there is no direct lesson involved. There's nothing I can do to ward off the pain and discomfort because it is an internal infirmity. I can follow all the dietary and exercise rules I've come to live by and yet the flare-ups still come whenever they feel like it.

Yet, while there isn't a direct lesson involved, every experience in life can teach each of us a thing or two, if we are open to learning. Out of my chronic pain, I think I've learned to be more compassionate. I don't necessarily show it very well because of my Asperger's, but I think I've learned the lesson, nonetheless.

I've also learned to think and contemplate the world around me more. When a person is feeling really raunchy a good deal of the time, you have a tendency to feel sorry for yourself. You can have excessive pity parties. I've been there. However, once I came to grips with the fact that I'm stuck with these infirmities for life and working a regular job is no longer in the cards, I realized that this freed up my time to become a philosopher of sorts -- to spend a lot of time pondering those fundamental questions that most people simply don't have the time nor energy to ponder.

And so, in many ways, this blog is made possible by my chronic pain. If it didn't have such a big hold on me, I would lead a more normal lifestyle and I would be far more busy which would mean less time to blog.

The big lesson for me is that pain and my weird neurological wiring have upsides as well as downsides. You're looking at one of the former. : )

Verse 46: Way-Making

Verse Forty-Six
When way-making (dao) prevails in the world,
The finest racing steeds are used to provide manure for the fields;
But when way-making does not prevail in the world,
Warhorses are bred just outside the city walls.

There is no crime more onerous than greed,
No misfortune more devastating than avarice.
And no calamity that brings with it more grief than insatiability.

Thus, knowing when enough is enough
Is really satisfying.

~ Roger Ames and David Hall translation ~
Again, we return to two recurrent themes in the TTC: 1) The importance of balance and 2) The problems that excess (imbalance) cause. In terms of nation-states, the picture drawn here is clear -- a country out of balance too often is involved in warfare.

As Ames and Hall state in the commentary for this verse,
One of the central themes of the Daodejing is how the human need to own, to get, to possess, throws the natural rhythms of life into convulsions. While the horror of war is perhaps the most dramatic consequence of wanting what you do not have, words such as "crime," "misfortune," and "calamity" are all common consequences of greed and avarice.
It is important to note that, while this verse may appear to be referring solely to nations and governments, it really applies to each and every one of us. One could easily make the argument that the warhorses could be a metaphor for our own skills and talents. When we're at peace with the world, we use our abilities to benefit ourselves, our family and our community. When we're angry or embroiled in a conflict, we're more apt to utilize our abilities for conniving and deceitful purposes.

As Diane Dreher points out, when balance in life is missing, it has a tendency to perpetuate endless cycles of extremes.
Twenty-five centuries ago, Lao Tzu realized the dangers of excess, both individually and collectively. For individuals, excess causes sensory overload, imbalance, disease. Collectively, excess consumption by some causes deficiency for others, perpetuating cycles of poverty, injustice and warfare. Extreme yang leads to yin, excess to deficiency.

...The Chinese character for wisdom, hui, shows a broom held over the mind-heart. For the Chinese, wisdom literally means sweeping away clutter.
It is this ego-based clutter that constantly affects our sense of internal harmony. Every time it shifts its weight, we become imbalanced. To compensate, we shift the weight back toward the other extreme only to find ourselves still out of balance in a different way.

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

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Center of the Universe

Don't you just hate being around a person that is stuck on themselves? We each know people like this. Almost every other word out of their mouths is the word "I". They've never seen a mirror they didn't like. They expect everything in their lives to go according to their plans and, when things don't go that way, they pitch a fit that would put any two year old to shame!

I'm talking about the kind of individuals who never think to see something from any other point of view except their own. They often step on other people's toes because they didn't even look to see if another person was present. Every aspect of their lives is all about them, them, them.

What kind of people are this egotistical? Sadly, the answer is most of us. While it's certainly true that some folks take it to the ultimate extreme, almost all of us exhibit these sorts of traits from time to time.

Why is this? As Alan Watts writes in Taoism: Way Beyond Seeking it's because we each experience the world as at the center of our own universe.
Wherever you are and whoever you are and whatever you are, you are in the middle. When you stand on the deck of a ship and you see the horizon all around you at exactly the same distance, you are in the center of a circle, and your senses extend a certain range in all directions and give you the impression of being in the middle. Everything in the world feels just like that!
This may not be simply a human foible. I suspect, as does Watts, that all entities view life in this way. Wherever consciousness exists, it begins from its own frame of reference -- what we call I.

While Christians will tell you that the center of life is God (for Muslims, Allah; for Jews, Yahweh; for Taoists, Tao), such a belief only is held in the abstract. In reality, our intellect and perceptions radiate outward from ourselves. We are the center of all we know.

Verse 45: Great Accomplishments

Verse Forty-Five
A great accomplishment might seem to be lacking - its usefulness hasn't declined.
A great fullness might seem to be washed away in an instant - its usefulness hasn't ended.
Great skill might seem to be awkward.
Great gains might seem like retreats.
Great straightforwardness might seem distorted.

Moving quickly overcomes the cold.
Keeping still overcomes the heat.
A clarifying stillness occurs when everything in the world has been settled.

~ Nina Correa translation ~
In today's society, there is no shortage of people who will tell you how great they are. You can see this mentality at work on scores of blogs in which the author spends an inordinate amount of words detailing their many accomplishments and amazing feats. Then there are the various athletes and entertainment celebrities who promote themselves and their lifestyles whenever and wherever they can find a microphone and a camera.

People seeking political office are sometimes the worst of the lot! Their campaign ads attempt to make us believe these people are saints.

But truly great people don't need the hype. They do what needs to be done without fanfare. They don't need your praise to feel good about themselves. They don't crave standing ovations and plaudits. They don't want statutes built in their likeness nor awards presented for their compassion. It is precisely because they shun the label of greatness that they are, in deed, great.

While surfing the internet earlier today, I found an orphaned blog, The Categories Within, which provided a brief analysis of Verse 45. Part of what this fellow wrote is:
If you are great, then there is no need to advertise. The people behind the products don't trust our judgment, so they make it for us. That's the commercial world we live in. How much greatness is contained in our commercial world? Not much.

Most greatness is contained in our spiritual world. But we don't "see" people attracted to it because it doesn't advertise. The opposite of advertisement is discovery. Greatness is found from within. Our heart or soul recognizes greatness, and when it tells the brain, the brain realizes its been duped the whole time in the commercial/material world.
I really like the way he differentiated between advertising and discovery. The former is a means of conveying "information" to you (external); the latter is something you do yourself (internal).

So, my hope for today is that we can discover the greatness that resides within each of us. It's there underneath our all pretenses and hubris. It can be very difficult to find because, unlike our egos, it doesn't run around announcing itself screaming, "Look at me! Look at me!"

We can only find it and allow it to nurture us when we are still. It is only when we can cast aside our cravings for recognition, status, and self-importance that we are ready to claim greatness.

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

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Myths of Creation

I picked up a small book at the library today entitled, Chinese Mythology: Stories of Creation and Invention. It tells of the hows and whys the earth and humanity were created from the ancient Chinese point of view. While it's not that much different than Greek or Roman mythology, it does provide a bit of background into the cultural aspects from which the Tao Te Ching, I Ching, and the Book of Chuang Tzu later came forth.

To be perfectly honest, while many of my compatriots loved studying Roman & Greek mythology in school, I found the entire topic a bit boring. I read just enough to pass the quizzes and tests, but I have retained very little of the information. If this book on the Chinese version of mythology had been large, I would have left it on the shelf. However, since it's less than 80 pages and only one-half the physical size of a normal book, I decided I could finish it off in a scant hour or two.

One of the things I really like about it is that the final three pages feature Chinese calligraphy replete with a pronunciation guide. I'm fascinated by this different form of written language. In fact, I recently changed my Blogger profile icon to the written form of the word, Tao.

A Follow-Up on "This or That"

I've noticed that many people confuse the word acceptance with the word approval. While it's not uncommon to see these words interchanged in common parlance, they don't mean the same thing. The latter involves a value judgment. Somebody does or does not do something and we give them the thumbs up. True acceptance, on the other hand, does not involve a valuation of the thought or action. It's merely the ability to understand what is, is.

A good example of acceptance might be how we behave towards others -- particularly close family members -- who have committed a heinous or, what we might consider, a bad act. In Christian circles, believers are taught to hate the sin, not the sinner. Many non-Christians follow this same tact, albeit with different terminology.

When a child misbehaves, the good parent doesn't stop loving the child. The parent may be quite upset at the child's words and/or actions, but the anger is not be directed toward the core being of the child her/himself.

I hope this puts the concept of contentment -- embracing the yin and yang of life -- in a better light. It's not that the contented person enjoys or relishes pain, sadness and hardship, far from it. But the contented individual accepts that pain, sadness and hardship are normal elements of life as a human being. He or she deals with these aspects as best he or she can, knowing that joy eventually will replace the sadness or pain.

Verse 44: This or That

Verse Forty-Four
Fame or self: Which matters more?
Self or wealth: Which is more precious?
Gain or loss: Which is more painful?
He who is attached to things will suffer much.
He who saves will suffer heavy loss.
A contented man is never disappointed.
He who knows when to stop does not find himself in trouble.
He will stay forever safe.
~ Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation ~
For too many of us, our lives are marked by unquenchable desires. Whatever we have or we've been blessed with is never enough. We're always on the lookout for something bigger, better or more sensational.

It's like an addiction. In the beginning, little things excite us and bring great happiness. After awhile, the small things lose their luster and we need more numerous and exotic things to sustain the good vibes. And so, we keep amassing more doodads, gizmos, gadgets and people -- trying in vain to recapture the happiness high of our infancy. In time, no amount of possessions, fame, popularity, or fortune will do the trick. We end up drowning in a sea of accumulation, yet there's a deep hole in our hearts and souls.

For me, this is the great drawback to a life set on the pursuit of happiness. Laughter and smiles are not sustainable. For every mountain we scale, there is a valley beyond. For every stupendous joy, there is also pain and sadness. Happiness is but one facet of the roller coaster of life.

This is not to say that we shouldn't embrace happiness and good feelings when the opportunity presents itself. I am no nihilist. Being able to laugh, smile and find joy in this constant river of change is a healthy part of living. But a difficulty arises when the pursuit of happiness becomes the be-all, end-all of existence. It's a method to set anyone up for ultimate failure.

Contentment, on the other hand, IS sustainable. The contented person readily acknowledges that this life is filled with ups and downs, laughter and tears, yin and yang. Such a person embraces the entire panorama by accepting it for what it is.

When a person is content, there is no room for disappointment because every aspect this life has to offer is accepted like a long lost friend or relative.

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

Friday, August 28, 2009

Filthy, Stinking Rich

I was at the local market today and people were buying Mega Millions lottery tickets hand over fist. With our economy in such sad shape, it's not unremarkable to find so many people dreaming of a $333 million payout over 26 years or a one-time payday of $204 million.

I did not purchase a ticket because, frankly, it's too much money. Look, like many people, I often dream what it would be like to win a million or two, but one-third of a billion is far more than I need or want.

Money, like anything else, changes people. I don't care how well-grounded a person is. I don't care if your parents brought you up the right way (whatever that is). I don't care if you say that you will be the same person as before, albeit one with more money. We can each mouth these kinds of platitudes, but if a windfall should fall into our laps, our entire perspective on life will change and probably not for the better!

Do you ever wonder why most of our elected leaders turn a deaf ear to the concerns of the people? It's because they live in a different world. Most have no idea what it's like to live on the edge from month to to month or what it's like to be one health care crisis away from bankruptcy. They can't fathom the critical need for adequate public transportation or how important the monthly allotment of food stamps can be.

And, if you or I won $333 million, we would soon become as clueless as they are. Maybe not initially. The first few weeks or months we would remember what it was like to be financially poor or middle class. However, as time moved forward and far beyond those days of struggle, the memory would begin to fade. In time, we wouldn't remember it all or we would remember it in a very distorted way.

It's difficult to understand aspects of life outside of one's frame of reference. As a male, I can read all about child birth. I can watch videos. I can be there with a loved one going through the process. I can sympathize and empathize, but for all my efforts, I can't understand it in the core of my being because it's not something I can ever experience directly.

Being like a child in a candy store with an unlimited allowance puts anyone out of touch with the life experience of those who can only look in the window and dream of the day when he or she can afford one small piece of candy.

Tao Books: Six by Alan Watts

If you're interested in exploring the ways of Tao or Zen, you could find no better author than Alan Watts. According to Wikipedia,
Alan Wilson Watts (January 6, 1915 – November 16, 1973) was a British philosopher, writer, speaker, who held both a master's degree in theology and a doctorate of divinity. Famous for his research on comparative religion, he was best known as an interpreter and popularizer of Asian philosophies for a Western audience.

He wrote more than 25 books and numerous articles on subjects such as personal identity, the true nature of reality, higher consciousness, meaning of life, concepts and images of God and the non-material pursuit of happiness. In his books he relates his experience to scientific knowledge and to the teachings of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy.
I happen to have 6 of his books in my personal library:
Of all the various book I've read on Taoism over the last decade, the ones by Watts have caused me to look at the world anew. He asks many hard questions about our everyday existence and understanding of who we are and how we understand ourselves. To give you a taste of what I'm referring to, here's a video I found on YouTube.

For me, Watts is funny, irreverent, mystical, probing and intellectual. I've thoroughly enjoyed every book by him that I've read and, in fact, have read each of them at least twice. Each of his works is an experience to behold!

The only people who I believe would not understand the benefit of reading Watts are those who steadfastly refuse to think outside the box. Such individuals would be terrified each time he pushes the envelope of consciousness to its furthest extremes. It certainly might do such folks some good, but they might just self-combust in the process!

If you're interested in seeing yourself and the world around you in a new light, I can think of no better guide than Alan Watts!!!

Verse 43: Just a Little

Verse Forty-Three
Gentle interventions, if they are clear, overcome rigid resistances.
If gentleness fails, try yielding or stepping back altogether.
When the leader yields, resistances relax.

Generally speaking, the leader's consciousness sheds
more light on what is happening than any number of
interventions or explanations.

Few leaders realize how much how little will do.
~ John Heider rendition ~
I chose Heider's rendition of Verse Forty-Three because it underscores two important messages: 1) Stepping Back and 2) How much how little will do.

The typical style of leadership in western society -- particularly in the U.S. -- centers around barking orders at people and threatening them with sanctions if they don't comply or don't comply fast enough. It's an in-you-face or "my way or the highway" mentality. This strategy may work in the short-term, but it has a tendency to breed resentment, anger and hatred which can create negative long-term ramifications.

Nobody likes to be forced into doing things. When someone is pulling and pushing us in a specific direction, even if we eventually acquiesce, the natural reaction is to resist. It doesn't really matter if we're being pushed and pulled in a good direction; our initial inclination is to dig in our heels and refuse to budge.

So much time, energy and money is wasted each day as we participate in such antics. Much of this could easily be avoid, as Roger Ames and David Hall point out, if more people understood the efficacy of wu wei.
The way to optimize the creative possibilities of all the elements in any particular situation is to allow them to collaborate in doing what they do noncoercively (wu wei). These participating elements are constituted relationally, and their most productive relationships are those in which they are able to contribute themselves fully to the shared nexus without being diminished by the friction of contentiousness.
The leader who can stand back and not attempt to exercise his/her will stands a far better chance of getting the most out of a group and achieving objectives. In essence, by doing as little as is needed, the group can accomplish much.

This is not to suggest that a wise leader is passive. There are times when direct action is needed. However, rather than try to force the action by cleverness or manipulation, the wise leader utilizes the strengths of the group's members and nudges the group forward in a non-threatening manner.

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

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Vantage Point

How we each view the world is dependent on our vantage point. Most of the disagreements and conflict we find ourselves in with our partners, children, parents, friends, neighbors or co-workers revolves around the fact that how we view a given conversation or circumstance is not the way others view the same.

This is an ever-present problem with living a life with an ego. Most of us have a strong tendency to think that how we view a given situation mirrors objective reality -- that the way we see things is the way all others see things. We're often flummoxed when we discover that this isn't so!

I really got to thinking about this topic after penning yesterday's post, "From the Teeniest Drops". In said post, I wrote that "My guess is that each drop of water doesn't care. Each finds its meaning and purpose in the marriage of the individual with the whole and, in time, it comes to view itself as the whole, not as one separate individual." I realized later that I really don't know what I'm talking about!

My supposition is based solely on MY vantage point. Since I view water as a fluid whole, I have surmised that each drop of water has no issue with merging with other such drops to create a unified substance. Who knows? Maybe these droplets view the world just like people do.

As I sit here before my computer, my eyes and mind can see a lot of separation. I'm sitting in a chair and it's obvious that my body and the chair neither are the same entity nor fused together. The computer is a separate object as is the keyboard I'm pecking on, the desk my computer sits upon, and the mug of chocolate milk I'm sipping. From the vantage point of my ego, all that is in this room is separate and distinct from this being I call me.

Conversely, who is to say that droplets of water don't experience the same feelings of separation? Each one may see (ok, using the word "see" is a metaphor as there's no way to know if water droplets have an ego) thousands of separate droplets around them plus the space between each and other microscopic elements that are separate from it.

In other words, what looks like unity from my vantage point may not seem like unity at all from a closer vantage point. In this same vein, the world of separation that my ego experiences may appear as a unified whole to some higher being from a more expansive point of reference.

For example, if there is an entity called God, does she/he view each person as a distinct entity OR does she/he view all of humanity as one unified organism OR does she/he view all of creation as one unified substance? Of course, none of us can answer this question because of our limited vantage points.

I realize that for some of you such metaphysical ponderings may seem whimsical, at best, and bordering on insanity, at worst. There's no way we can answer any of the questions I've posed, so why even bring them up. But whimsical thinking can underscore points that affect everyday life and, in this instance, my chief motivation is to draw out the importance of how each person's unique vantage point influences how we think, act, experience and interpret the world around us.

At the end of the day, I think we must each admit that we genuinely don't know very much about ourselves, the varying aspects of our world and about our gods -- if any even exist -- at all. For each advancement in knowledge, consciousness and technology, in many ways, we're still as clueless as our ancestors who drew pictures in caves.

About the only difference I can discern -- of course, this too is based on my unique vantage point -- is that modern humankind simply is a bit more full of itself. We THINK we know so damn much when, in truth, we know so very little.

Mixed Message

Let me just state at the outset that I've come to the point in which I don't trust ANYTHING our government says. If the president -- any of 'em -- came on television to announce the sky is blue, I would immediately assume it was any color BUT blue. It seems that almost any announcement or pronouncement is drenched in spin, half-truths and, often, downright dishonesty.

This is a lead-in to a report released by the White House yesterday. Here's the story from The Washington Post.
Government health officials are urging people not to panic over estimates of 90,000 people dying of swine flu this fall.

"Everything we've seen in the U.S. and everything we've seen around the world suggests we won't see that kind of number if the virus doesn't change," Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a C-SPAN interview taped Wednesday.

On Monday the White House released a report from a group of presidential advisers that included a scenario in which as much as half the population could catch the H1N1 virus, and death possibilities ranged from 30,000 to 90,000.

"We don't think that's the most likely scenario," CDC flu specialist Anne Schuchat said of the presidential advisers' high-end tally. What is likely: A busy flu season that starts earlier than usual, Schuchat told the Associated Press.

The H1N1 virus so far has been no more deadly than the flu strains seen every fall and winter. And close genetic tracking of the new virus as it circled the globe in the past five months has shown no sign that it is mutating to become more virulent.
If all the evidence collected to date indicates that the swine flu is no more virulent than the typical annual flu, why release a report that is bound to frighten a good deal of the public? What purpose could be afoot in this situation?

I'm sure we all remember the Bush administration releasing their rainbow-colored security alerts. Time and time again we were informed that the level had risen (danger Will Robinson, danger Will Robinson), but we were to go on about our business as if there was nothing to worry about. And, of course, these kinds of mixed messages worked just as the Bush team wanted: People were so busy fretting over imminent "terrorist" attacks that few people noticed what was really going on behind the curtain.

Now Bush is gone and we have our brand new charismatic president. Yet, I see the same kind of shenanigans going on here. My guess is that the Obama White House wants to get everybody worried about the swine flu so that we don't pay close attention to the hatchet job being done on health care reform!

Let's see if the mainstream media performs its part of the act -- mindless hours and hours of programming spent analyzing the swine flu up one side and down the other. Experts engaged in endless debates. Pie charts. Graphics. Extra-special reports.

Really. If you genuinely don't want to get people worked up, a report like this would never have been released.

Verse 42: One, Two, Three

Verse Forty-Two
Dao sprouted as one.
One sprouted into two.
Two sprouted into three.
Three sprouted into all the living things in the universe.

All living things suffer through darkness and embrace the light.
In the middle, life's energy finds a way to act from the harmony of both.

A person's stance might be to really hate being "alone, isolated and One Without Grain".
Yet the nobility choose to call themselves by that title.

A living thing may be damaged by increase; or may profit by decrease.
Therefore, if a person realizes that their attitude can teach others,
In the evening they will consider and discuss things, teaching each other.

Therefore those who are aggressive and violent will die incomplete.
I'll take these lessons as though they came from my father.
~ Nina Correa translation ~
Everything in this life is derived from the same source. It doesn't matter what you want to call it. It doesn't matter if you worship it or ignore it. It doesn't even matter if your recognize it for what it is because it simply IS.

For Taoists, we call this it, Tao. John Lash explains the opening portion of this verse this way:
From the Tao came existence. Existence was manifested in the Yin and Yang Chi. From the combination of Yin and Yang Chi came heaven, earth, and humanity. All that exists is the creation of heaven, earth, or human beings.
Lao Tzu contends that all existence is manifested by two opposing forces -- yin and yang -- and the default position of the universe is a balance or harmony between the two. Sometimes yang takes precedence, but yin is waiting in the wings. Sometimes yin is dominant, but yang is ready to spring into action.

But, in Diane Dreher's view, Americans, in particular, seem to value yang over yin. This leads to imbalance and disharmony.
...the western mind too often poses dilemmas, forcing us to choose one extreme over the other: day or night, male or female, action or repose.With our preference for yang over yin, American culture equates a successful life with day ("early to bed and early to rise"), the masculine stereotype, and the Puritan work ethic.

In the wisdom of Tao, one extreme complements the other. Action and repose seem opposite, but wise action includes rest, reflection and inner guidance, avoiding the extremes of compulsiveness (excessive yang) or passivity (excessive yin). In our lives and our world, the dynamic balance of these forces bring harmony.
I know that in my life this dichotomy plays itself out quite often. I sometimes have a problem with finding a balance between these two poles. I tend to run either very hot or very cold, very busy or not busy at all. In the last year or so, I've been working hard to avoid the usual peaks and valleys -- but it's definitely a work in progress!

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Getting Creative in a Unique Sort of Way

I really like Blogger. I'm comfortable with it. I still use the classic template because I like to have the opportunity seamlessly to check and rewrite the html, when needed. But for all the pluses I see with using Blogger, one aspect really bugs me -- the inability to create static pages!

As a short-term measure, I started creating pseudo-static pages by backdating posts to when this blog first began in 2005. By doing this, a post that serves as an index for all the Asperger's tagged entries or my "about" page wouldn't show up on the main page on the day I created it. It might not be the best solution, but it's the only thing I could think of at the time.

The other day I came up with a different solution. I'm certain this will be an odd way to deal with this issue, but I created a shadow blog on Wordpress. There's only one entry on the main page and the plan is that this will be the ONLY entry. The main purpose for the shadow blog is to house static pages, something Wordpress allows.

For example, I wanted to create an index page for all the books on Taoism I have or will review. So, if you select the "Tao Book Reviews" link in the left sidebar, you will be transported magically to the shadow blog and, when you select a link to one of the book reviews, you'll just as magically be transported back here!

I plan to move my Asperger's index page to the shadow blog this week and create an index page for the Tao Te Ching series sometime soon. I'm sure I'll add a few others along the way.

I realize that one question that may be popping up in your head right now is: Why don't you simply move the entire blog to Wordpress? Yes, that might seem logical, but I don't like wholesale change. : )

As indicated above, I'm very content with most of the features Blogger offers me. Therefore, I just wanted to find a suitable workaround for the one feature NOT offered. And this is how I've decided to handle it.

From the Teeniest Drops

Over at I Write..., Leon posted a really neat entry on a subject I talk about a lot myself -- water.
Move as water. Let thoughts of ocean waves; show you the way to understand yourself. It becomes easier the more you do it of course. It becomes second nature and you could benefit in many ways. When life has you down, remember how the ocean waves flow. It moves slowly, at times, but then gains speed at times as well. It always moves in and out. Let any negative thoughts come in and out of your mind. You do not have to meditate in order to get your mind clear. You could be doing whatever. It will work no matter what. The simple form of letting things come in and out will work. It could be a thought about your car breaking down; a cable bill or even you forget to feed your cat. There is no way to turn the time back. Therefore, you have to let the thoughts come in and out. It really is that simple. Why make things any more complicated?
Here's the comment I left on his blog:
Water is a most interesting element. We talk about it like it is a singular thing, when it is not. Water is a collection of drops. But when we gaze into a river, the ocean or a puddle, we don't see the individual drops; we simply see this one fluid substance. Consequently, each drop begins as an individual entity, but, when joined with other such entities, it loses its individual nature and becomes a flow of all.

I've often wondered, if alien beings look down on this little orb, what do they see? Do they see the mass of humanity like a river or do they see us as individual drops of water?
Even further, I wonder if each drop of water suffers great angst because it has lost its individual identity? It's no longer recognized for itself; it's only viewed by humans in the aggregate form.

My guess is that each drop of water doesn't care. Each finds its meaning and purpose in the marriage of the individual with the whole and, in time, it comes to view itself as the whole, not as one separate individual.

Could this be a lesson for humanity?

Change Your Life

Many years ago my mother had a book by a guy named Dr. Wayne Dyer on foot reflexology. It showed how massaging various points on a person's foot could alleviate pain in various parts of the body. We both tried it and I can't say I noticed any substantive results -- but foot massages sure felt good!

It's been a decade or two since I saw Dyer's name attached to a book. In recent years, it seems that Dr. Dyer has discovered Taoism and this resulted in the book, Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao. I haven't read it, but the YouTube video below has me a bit intrigued.

Have any of you read this book? If so, please leave a short or long review in the comments section. It might be another book to add to my growing Taoist library.

Verse 41: No Corners

Verse Forty-One
When the wisest student hears about the Tao,
He follows it without ceasing

When the average student hears about it
He follows too, but not all the time . . .

And when the poor student gets wind of it
he laughs at it like an idiot!
And if he didn't, then it wouldn't be the Tao!

That is why the ancient ones said:

The path that is bright seems dull,
And the one who is going towards the Tao
Seems, in fact, to be going backwards -
And those who think that the Way is easy
Will find it extremely hard.

The greatest virtue is to be empty like a valley.
Those who think they are perfect never are -
those who feel that they are feel inadequate to the task,
and morals seem to be no more than a contrivance.

A great square has no corners:
A great work is never done with;
A great shout comes from a whisper,
And the greatest of forms
is beyond shape.

Tao without substance -
Invisible -

Forever creating.
~ Man-Ho Kwok, Martin Palmer & Jay Ramsey translation ~
Again and again, the TTC returns to this idea of circles and cyclical patterns. We've visited these concepts before and we will find them again later.

So many human-developed things have precise points of start and end -- but so many of us refuse to understand that these definitive points are artificial contrivances (i.e., a human convenience). In nature, they simply don't exist.

I live in a small town next to the Willapa River (here's a link to a map of the area on Google). I can see it from both my front and back yards. A few miles west of here the river flows into a bay and, a few miles further west, the bay empties into the Pacific Ocean.

If you look at a map, there is a specific point in which the stream becomes a river and then becomes a bay and then becomes the ocean. However, if you were to walk the shoreline from the stream's source to the ocean, I bet you wouldn't be able to discern ANY precise points at all.

For instance, at what juncture does the river transform into a bay? The river channel gradually widens. Salt water mixes with fresh water. There's an overlap of the various ecosystems. There is no one singular place where one transforms into the other.

In essence, we have a genuine physical embodiment of the yin yang symbol. The river and bay each contain elements of the other and, with the tides, each flows into the other. And the same thing is true of the bay and the ocean itself. There is no one segment of the water that you or I can point to and say, "This is bay water and this is ocean water."

But oh, how we humans try to demarcate things that can't be demarcated!

Another grand example is the line between day and night. It's beginning the slow process here in South Bend right now of moving from daylight to dusk. However, if I go sit on my front porch for the next hour or so, there will not be a precise second when I exclaim, "Daytime just finished; it is now night." The process is too gradual to discern one from the other until we've gone long past the point of transition.

Of course, much of western society would scoff at this discussion. Such folks are the poor students that Lao Tzu refers to in this verse. They will continue to lead lives that run counter to the natural rhythms and will spend inordinate amounts of time drawing lines in the sand. And they will never understand why their lives are consumed by stress and a feeling of alienation -- alienated both from the world and themselves.

But even for those of us who better understand the natural rhythms and the interconnected web of life, it's still a struggle. It's not the easiest thing to wrap our minds around. We've been socialized within a different methodology and it's hard to unlearn all that we've been taught. Too often, our [learned] automatic thoughts kick in before we realize it and we must knowingly turn around to look at things a different way.

The Way is not easy and yet, it's easy as pie.

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tao Books: The Tao is Silent

Up until this juncture, all the books on Taoism I've reviewed either have been poetic or philosophical. Raymond M. Smullyan's book, The Tao Is Silent, is both of those PLUS it's damn funny too! When I say funny, I mean it's the kind of book that, from time to time, will cause you to fall out of your chair laughing hysterically. It's sort of like a fusion of Bill Maher, Ellen DeGeneris, George Carlin and Aristotle, if that makes any sense.

A mathematician by trade, Smullyan is the Oscar Ewing Professor of Philosophy at Indiana University and Professor Emeritus of the City University of New York-Lehman College and Graduate Center. As far as I know, this book is the only one he ever wrote on Taoism.

I haven't reference this book directly very often in my series on the TTC because a good deal of it involves imaginary conversations between moralists and Taoists or God and Mortals. To give you a taste of the latter, here's a snippet from the chapter, Is God a Taoist.
Mortal: And therefore, O God, I pray thee, if thou hast one ounce of mercy for this thy suffering creature, absolve me of having to have free will!
God: You reject the greatest gift I have given thee?
Mortal: How can you call that which was forced on me a gift? I have free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not!
God: Why would you wish not to have free will?
Mortal: Because free will means moral responsibility, and moral responsibility is more than I can bear!
God: Why do you find moral responsibility so unbearable?
Mortal: Why? I honestly can't analyze why; all I know is that I do.
God: All right, in that case suppose I absolve you from all moral responsibility but leave you still with free will. Will this be satisfactory?
Mortal (after a pause): No, I am afraid not.
God: Ah, just as I thought! So moral responsibility is not the only aspect of free will to which you object. What else about free will is bothering you?
Mortal: With free will I am capable of sinning, and I don't want to sin!
God: If you don't want to sin, then why do you?

You'll have to the read the book, to find out the answer!
Via, here's one brief editorial review:
Much more than a book on Chinese philosophy, THE TAO IS SILENT is a series of ideas inspired by Taoism that treats a wide variety of subjects about life in general. Readers will be charmed and inspired by this witty, sophisticated, yet deeply religious author, whether he is discussing gardening, dogs, the art of napping, or computers who dream that they're human.
If you'd like to read a biography of Smullyan, go here.

If I haven't whetted your appetite for this wonderful book yet, here's another snippet of whimsical dialog.
Chinese Sage: Laotse said, "The good man does not argue; he who argues is not good."
Western Logician: I disagree!
Sage: You disagree with what?
Logician: With what you said!
Sage: And what was that?
Logician: That the good man does not argue.
Sage: Wrong!
Logician: What do you mean "wrong"?
Sage: I never said the good man does not argue.

You'll have to read the book to find out what he did or did not say.
What can I say? I LOVE this book. That said, it's not a good introductory one if you don't know a thing about Taoism. It's more of a companion piece once you have the basic philosophy down. It will help you take a look at most of the basic concepts in a new light and your understanding will be deeper for the experience.

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

The Mother Tongue

My various tracking software indicates that people from across the globe read TRT at one time or another. It's a bit humbling, to say the least!

The only language I speak and write well is English. (I know a bit of Spanish and German, but not THAT much of either.) However, I sincerely want anyone from any corner of this orb to feel welcome here. So, while I won't be routinely translating this blog into various other languages, I did want to lay out the welcome mat.

So, please choose the mother tongue below that is your own. (Note: I used BabelFish and Google Translator. I realize that not all the translations may be spot on.)
The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

Der Tao, der gesprochen werden kann, ist nicht der ewige Tao.
Der Name, der genannt werden kann, ist nicht der ewige Name.

Tao die kan worden gesproken is niet eeuwige Tao.
De naam die kan worden genoemd is niet de eeuwige naam.

El Tao que puede ser hablado no es el Tao eterno.
El nombre que puede ser nombrado no es el nombre eterno.

Le Tao qui peut être parlé n'est pas le Tao éternel.
Le nom qui peut être appelé n'est pas le nom éternel.

Το Tao που μπορεί να μιληθεί δεν είναι το αιώνιο Tao.
Το όνομα που μπορεί να ονομαστεί δεν είναι το αιώνιο όνομα.

Il Tao che può essere parlato non è il Tao eterno.
Il nome che può essere chiamato non è il nome eterno.

O Tao que pode ser falado não é o Tao eterno.
O nome que pode ser nomeado não é o nome eterno.

Tao который можно поговорить нет вечного Tao.
Имя которое можно назвать нет вечного имени.

Tao, että voidaan puhua ei ole ikuinen Tao.
Nimi, joka voidaan nimetä ei ole ikuinen nimeä.

Tao që mund të flitet Tao nuk është i përjetshëm.
Emri që mund të quhet nuk është emri i përjetshëm.

Ang mga Tao na maaaring ginagamit ay hindi ang walang hanggan Tao.
Ang pangalan na maaaring pinangalanan ay hindi ang walang hanggang pangalan.

Níl an TAO is féidir a labhartha an TAO eternal.
An t-ainm is féidir a bheith ainmnithe nach bhfuil an t-ainm eternal.

The Tao som kan snakkes ikke er den evige Tao.
De navn som kan nevnes er ikke det evige navnet.

Tao bu sözlü olabilir ebedi Tao değildir.
Bu ebedi adı değil adlandırılmış olabilir adı.

Nid yw'r TAO ellir ei siarad yn y TAO tragwyddol.
Mae'r enw y gellir ei enw yw nad yw'r enw tragwyddol.

The Tao ambayo yanaweza amesema si Tao milele.
Jina ambayo yanaweza jina ni jina si wa milele.

تاو التي يمكن أن تحدث ليست أبدية تاو.
الاسم الذي يمكن أن اسمه لم يرد فيه اسم الأبدية.

טאו שניתן המדוברת אינו טאו נצחי.
השם שניתן ששמו אינו שם נצחי.

Các Tao có thể nói không phải là Tao vĩnh cửu.
Tên gọi có thể được đặt theo tên không phải là tên vĩnh cửu.

Tao som kan talas är inte det eviga Tao.
Det namn som kan nämnas är inte det eviga namnet.

Taoist Sex Secrets

Whoa! I'm sure that title caught a lot of people's attention. It's one of the many topics I find on the web during my daily searches for blogs discussing Taoism.

So, are you ready to hear the number one secret for having a stupendous sex life?

Here it is -- there is NO secret! Nada. Zilch. Zero. Pfftt.............

The sex act is like anything else in life. You learn by trial and error. What might work for 100 people may not work as well for you or it might work for you, but be a complete turn off to your partner.

This is not to suggest that a person can't gain some insight from talking to others, reading a book or watching a video. You can pick up some great tips from watching The Food Network, but you can't consider yourself a chef until you've spent some time in the kitchen!

So, if somebody tells you they have a surefire method of improving your performance in the bedroom, be very suspicious. Like with everything else in your life, you must follow your own path. As long as that path harms no one and is between you and another consenting adult, the two of you will out to figure out what works best for your relationship or situation.

Verse 40: Born of Being

Verse Forty
Return is how the Way moves.
Weakness is how the Way works.

Heaven and earth and the ten thousand things
are born of being.
Being is born of nothing.
~ Ursula LeGuin rendition ~
In western society, we're taught to look at time in straight lines. There is a distinct start and finish to all things, a definitive beginning and ending.

But as Taoist thought underscores again and again, this preoccupation with time -- particularly this idea of always looking forward -- runs counter to nature. As Nina Correa explains,
We tend to think of life as moving forward - leaving behind the past and moving into the future. That thought process may be because we've learned a sense of time based on calendars and clocks. All of our days are based on numbers: minutes and hours, days, weeks, years, etc. We also tend to think we've left behind the past in our minds as well - we "get over" one experience in order to progress to the next. However, when we observe nature we can see that there's no sense of time in that way. A day doesn't "end", but progresses through the cycle to the next. Seasons recur like a revolving door, moving in a circular fashion.
As I've written in this space several times before, the world around us is predominated by circles, yet most of human society sees squares, right angles and lines on a straight continuum. The universe is highly flexible and moves in waves and cycles; we humans tend to be rigid and march in a straight line with our heads down. Is it any wonder that so many of us feel alienated and separate?

It's like we've been invited to a dance. The music is eclectic and all that is called for is for each of us to sway with the music. Unfortunately, all we know how to do is square dance! So, while the rest of the universe engages in a free flow of moment, here we are going through a set of measured steps that, of course, aren't congruent with the music at all!!

Even worse, as Diane Dreher tells it, we don't even recognize most of the movement that surrounds us in every moment.
The oak table, the walls around you, the roof overhead -- may appear solid, but are actually composed of billions of tiny particles whirling in cycles of incessant energy, tiny universes unto themselves, continuously evolving. Similarly, every cell in our bodies is constantly changing. We are not the same person we once were. Each year much of our body tissue is renewed through metabolic change. The dance of life goes on within and around us. Nothing in the universe stands still.
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Struggle to Think

Let me tell you, I've been really struggling with this ongoing series on the Tao Te Ching! I was enjoying it immensely for the first 3 - 4 weeks -- I couldn't wait to research and write the next day's verse. However, now that I'm struggling with one of my routine flare-ups from fibromyalgia, my ability in regards to concentration has been greatly impaired.

Most days I wake up in a fog that doesn't want to clear. I have a few more lucid moments here and there, but focusing on anything for more than 30 minutes is difficult.

I'm not sharing this info because I want to have a pity party. While dealing with fibro ain't fun, there are millions of people around the world who have issues far greater than mine. Even if my fibro was the worse case the world over, feeling sorry for oneself doesn't do me a lick of good. It is what it is and I simply have to learn to live with it and work around it.

So, if I don't want your pity (and I REALLY don't), why am I sharing this info with you? I just want you all to understand why the recent posts for each day's verse have not been as threshed out as in the weeks before. I'm going to continue to muddle through this as best I can and I'm determined to post a verse per day through October 5.

Hopefully, my fog will clear sometime between now and then. ; )

Today's Treat

Earlier today I was whacking down a medium size patch of the invasive monkey weed. As it was starting to get a bit hot, I sat down under a tree and spent the next 30 minutes or so watching all the various bugs and insects in my vicinity (very few mosquitoes, though).

No metaphors here. No deep analysis. It was simply neat sitting there watching vast civilizations going about their daily routine. It's at quiet times like these that I really sense the oneness of it all.

The Tao and the Mosquito

Despite the fact it's a pleasant summer morning, we quickly pulled shut all of our windows. We knew this was necessary as the weird whirring sound slowly proceeded up our street. In a few moments, there he was -- probably getting paid minimum wage to spray a veil of poison all over the neighborhood!

In specific parts of South Bend -- including our neighborhood atop Nob Hill -- mosquitoes are a persistent problem come July and August. Try to go outside in the morning or near dusk and you'll be attacked by swarms of these disease carrying insects. Care to venture out unprotected and you can have hundreds of bites in short order.

To combat this problem each year, the City of South Bend takes the low road; they pay people to spray permethrin all over the place. This insecticide is a proven mosquito killer...sort of. It only works for a few days and is rendered ineffective by precipitation -- something we get a lot of here.

According to the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides,
Permethrin, like all synthetic pyrethroids, is a neurotoxin. Symptoms include tremors, incoordination, elevated body temperature, increased aggressive behavior, and disruption of learning. Laboratory tests suggest that permethrin is more acutely toxic to children than to adults.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified permethrin as a carcinogen because it causes lung tumors in female mice and liver tumors in mice of both sexes. Permethrin inhibits the activity of the immune system in laboratory tests, and also binds to the receptors for a male sex hormone. It causes chromosome aberrations in human and hamster cells.

Permethrin is toxic to honey bees and other beneficial insects, fish, aquatic insects, crayfish, and shrimp. For many species, concentrations of less than one part per billion are lethal. Permethrin causes deformities and other developmental problems in tadpoles, and reduces the number of oxygen-carrying cells in the blood of birds.

Look. I realize the city must do SOMETHING. All the hype centered on West Nile Virus mandates that the city take action. Unfortunately, as is all too often, the strategy of killing adult bugs doesn't get at the root cause of the problem. It's nothing more than a toxic band-aid. It's a temporary fix that must be reapplied again and again and again.

If our dear city government was smart, they would attack this annual problem at its source -- the ponds near the affected neighborhoods. It is these ponds that serve as the breeding ground for this most pesky insect.

So, what strategies could the city employ to minimize the number of mosquitoes present while not harming the other critters and flora in the area? The most obvious strategy would be to use mosquito dunks.
A Natural Organic Ingredient Kills Mosquito Larvae That Feeds On It, Contains No Poisons. Will Continue To Kill For 30 Days, Completely Biodegradable, Place 1 Dunk Wherever Water Collects: Flower Pots, Overgrown Ponds, Gutters, Bird Baths, Will Not Harm Fish Or Other Animals, Each Dunk Covers 100 sq. ft. Of Water Surface Regardless Of Depth.
Of course, the city would need to buy several hundreds of the dunks and apply them once per month. Since they spend nearly $6,500/mo. to have young men spray permethrin all over the place, they would realize a substantial cost savings AND the poor blokes wouldn't be exposed to carcinogens!

In addition, they could stock the ponds with native fish that feed on mosquito larvae, place some nontoxic pheromone-based mosquito traps around the area to catch the few adult mosquitoes that survive the dunks and they could plant marigolds and other such plants that mosquitoes don't like around the ponds.

I've tried to discuss these many strategies with city staff, but they look at me as if I'm explaining calculus in Chinese. It's sad to say that Americans have been so weaned on the breast milk of pesticides that to suggest a different strategy makes far to many people suspect that I must be a card-carrying communist or, even worse, a treehugger.

So, each year we will continue to perform this grotesque dance. We will continue to poison the neighborhood, while killing a very small portion of the biting mosquitoes. In less than one week, you won't even know that anything was done today because the swarms will return in full force.

The only thing that can save us now is...the arrival of autumn!