Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 3, Part II

from Verse Three
The government of complete people abandons intellectualism and does away with showy adornment. Depending on the Way, it rejects cunning. It emerges from fairness, in unison with the people. It limits what is kept and minimizes what is sought. It gets rid of seductive longings, eliminates desire for valuables, and lessens ruminations.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
In discussing the second half of this verse, I could take one of two roads. I could talk about how the US federal government governs in a manner adverse to the Way. It would be a very simple thing to do. However, I've decided to traverse down the other road. While there is no question that this verse lends itself well to a discussion of national governments, I believe it is just as germane to look at it from the perspective of how each of us governs ourselves.

The first thing mentioned is the abandonment of intellectualism. I don't take this to mean that we should quit learning and then sit around as sleepy imbeciles; it's more that we should quit trying to force things to unfold in ways that satisfies our egos. Intellectual knowledge is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it becomes a negative force when we utilize it in the attempt to manipulate things in our favor. This, of course, goes hand in hand with cunning.

The abandonment of showy adornments is reminiscent of several verses in the Tao Te Ching. When we possess gaudy things to show off to others, we must concurrently be ever conscious of protecting our largess from theft and so we move away from Tao to protect our ego-infused lifestyle from the less fortunate.

The last two lines return to one of Lao Tzu's recurring themes -- knowing when enough is enough. When we have enough and no more, others aren't coveting what we have and we aren't constantly striving to possess more. Life becomes more tranquil when we decide to step off of the possession treadmill because we have removed the stress of obtaining and maintaining that which we don't really need in the first place.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 3, Part I

from Verse Three
Those who hold to the Way to guide the people go along with affairs as they occur and act in accord with what people do. They respond to developments in all beings and harmonize with changes in all events.

So the Way is empty and unreified, even and easy, clear and calm, flexible and yielding, unadulterated and pure, plain and simple. These are concrete images of the Way.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
There's a lot that can be said about these two short paragraphs. For starters, look at how the leadership of the nations of the western world are so different than what is described above. Instead of guiding by following the people, we live in a "wag the dog" world. This has led people of almost all political stripes to distrust the institution of government on each level and how it comports itself.

By the same token, few of the people follow the Way either! We spend our days trying to ram square pegs into round holes. Every moment is spent in striving, desiring and wanting. The very idea of allowing our lives to unfold naturally is so foreign that we scoff at the notion as being patently silly.

And, whether we speak of nations or people, we all seem far too concerned about our own kind, be it our species, nation, region, community, neighborhood, family or simply ourselves. We rarely take the time to consider how our thoughts and actions might impact others outside of our chosen sphere and, even when we might entertain the thought, it holds little sway over us.

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

Every Inch

I had planned to write verses 3 and 4 of the Wen Tzu last night, but every inch of my body is screaming in pain. Yesterday afternoon we received a cord of wood for our heating needs over the winter and, let me tell you, I didn't realize how much wood is in a cord!!

We store our wood under the house in a protected basement and, unfortunately, our fenced backyard does NOT allow easy access. Consequently, the fellows who sold us the wood parked their truck behind our back fence and chucked the wood over the fence into one humongous pile in the middle of our back yard.

Because heavy rain was in the forecast tonight -- and it's raining very hard right now -- we couldn't leave the pile there and it was far too large for our tarp. So, hobbled me and my wife spent 3 or 4 hours hauling the wood from the yard to the basement. Initially, I was wheeling it into the basement with a wheelbarrow, but I realized we weren't making enough progress, so I ditched the wheelbarrow and simply chucked piece after piece after piece from the middle of the yard through the open basement door.

After taking a thirty minute break, I spent another 90 minutes stacking most of the wood in the basement. We were able to get roughly 2/3 - 3/4 of it out of the elements and tarped the rest.

Of course, once I finally stopped for the day, every joint in my body started to tighten up. It's now very probable -- based on numerous past experiences -- that I will be virtually lame when I get up in the morning. On the bright side though, we have more than enough wood to get us through the entire winter and probably the spring too.

I'll try to keep this thought in mind when I'm bitching and moaning in the morning. : )

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 2

from Verse Two
Great people are peaceful and have no longings, they are calm and have no worries. They make the sky their canopy and the earth their car, they make the four seasons their horses and make dark and light their drivers. They travel where there is no road, roam where there is no weariness, depart through no gate.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
What beautiful imagery! For me, it illustrates a person who is in touch with the naturally occurring flow of one day to the next, one season to the next and one year to the next.

In many ways, this is what the Taoist perspective boils down to. Existence is predominated by cycles. Everything in this world is born, lives and dies. In death, life is reborn.

Much of our anxiety, stress and angst comes from fighting against these circular patterns. It's like we convince ourselves that we can burst beyond this cyclical nature and, when it becomes apparent that we cannot, we become frustrated and angry. We blame God, nature, fate or the luck of the draw.

But, if there is to be any blame, we must bear it ourselves because we're the ones creating all the illusions that bedevil us. In many ways, we become our own worst enemy!

It's only when we dispel our illusions and come to understand that the laws of the universe apply to everything equally -- including each of us -- that we can find peace of mind. Of course, few of us seem able to attain that!

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 1, Part II

from Verse One
The natural constant Way gives birth to beings but does not possess them, it produces evolution but does not rule it. All beings are born depending on it, yet none know to thank it, all die because of it, yet none can resent it. It is not enriched by storage and accumulation, nor is it impoverished by disbursement and enjoyment.

It is so ungraspable and undefinable that it cannot be imagined, yet while it is undefinable and ungraspable, its function is unlimited. Profound and mysterious, it responds to evolution without form, successful and effective, it does not act in vain. It rolls up and rolls out with firmness and flexibility, it contracts and expands with darkness and light.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
In reading these various ancient Taoist tracts, it's immediately apparent that the eastern view of the grand mystery is far different than the one proffered in the west via the Abrahamic religions. While the latter advance the notion that we can unlock some of the mystery by entering into a relationship with a specific entity, the creator, the Taoist sages of old see nothing to form such a relationship with!

As is written in the first verse of the Tao Te Ching, the Tao that can be named is not the Tao itself for Tao is "ungraspable and undefinable." We can't begin to comprehend it and, even to attempt to, is foolish because, however we describe it, will be so far off base as to make your head spin.

The best we can hope for is to learn from Tao's manifestations -- the beings, forms and pattens that surround and envelop us moment to moment. By watching the natural world, we can get a sense of the flow and rhythm of the universe. By looking within, we can see a microcosm of how everything else is.

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

What He Say?

I've been known to get things garbled from time to time and completely to misunderstand what someone is trying to tell me. This has been particularly true with popular songs through the years! There have been numerous times when I swear that an artist or group was singing a particular word or phrase only to find out later that it was something altogether different.

When the song featured below first came out in 1966 (I think), I was 9 years old. The first few times I heard it on the radio the lyrics befuddled me because I couldn't figure out why a "Secret Asian Man" would be assigned a number and not a name. More importantly, I couldn't fathom why an Asian man would want to keep his ethnicity secret in the first place!

Of course, I was very embarrassed when my classmates pointed out that the middle word in the song title was NOT "Asian". No, it was...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bummed Out

Here's a major difference between a neurotypical person and someone like me with Asperger's.

Late this afternoon I learned that the South Bend Food Mart will be shutdown no later than November 30. It seems that a malfunctioning gas tank below ground has been leaking and the state is ordering that it be fixed or shutdown. The owner of the station doesn't want to spend the money, so the local manager and the three other employees will be out of work soon.

As I've shared with all of you before, I don't go out much. My general "social circle" includes the grocery store, the library, the bakery and an almost daily visit with my friends at the food mart. In fact, in the evening, the only two that are open are the grocery store and the soon-to-be-closed food mart.

While most patrons -- and they have a loyal clientele -- will express sadness and concern for the employees, I'm completely freaked out and more than a little depressed. I hate having my routines altered and this will put a big crimp in one!

Not only am I bummed out for my own personal reasons, but this means our town's ONLY gas station will close down. So now the nearest fill up will be on the west side of Raymond, 4 miles to our east and their prices routinely have been as much as 10 - 20 cents higher! In this day and age, a lot of us are trying to cut down on our amount of driving -- both for environmental and financial reasons -- yet now we will be forced to drive farther to spend more.

I want to cry. : (

Wen Tzu - Verse 1, Part I

Life is a mystery. We don't understand it; we merely live it! There is something that binds everything together, but what?
There is something, an undifferentiated whole, that was born before heaven and earth. It has only abstract images, no concrete form. It is deep, dark, silent, undefined, we do not hear its voice. Assigning a name to it, I call it the Way.
We can't see or touch it, but it envelops our every breath. It's our constant companion, yet it is as elusive as a shadow.
The Way is infinitely high, unfathomably deep. Enclosing heaven and earth, receiving from the formless, it produces a stream running deep and wide without overflowing. Opaque, it uses gradual clarification by stillness. When it is applied, it is infinite and has no day or night, yet when it is represented, it does not even fill the hand.
I want to know it intimately and hold it close to my bosom. But where is it? How do I connect with the unseen?
It is restrained but can expand, it is dark but can illumine, it is flexible but can be firm. It absorbs the negative and emits the positive, thus displaying the lights of the sun, moon, and stars.
I only know its manifestations. I can't seem to wrap my brain around its vastness; but I intuitively understand its universality.
Mountains are high because of it, oceans are deep because of it, animals run because of it, birds fly because of it. Unicorns roam because of it, phoenixes soar because of it, the stars run their courses because of it.
I cannot rationally grasp its essence, but its spirit dances in my imagination. I reach out and it embraces me like a lover.
It secures survival by means of destruction, secures nobility by means of lowliness, and secures advancement by means of retirement.
I am in awe.

All selections from verse 1 of Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries. This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Introducing Wen Tzu

According to legend, Wen Tzu was a follower of Lao Tzu and he wrote down additional sayings and proverbs in a second book beyond the Tao Te Ching. However, as the translator Thomas Cleary* points out, this is most likely true only in a symbolic sense. For starters, there is no clear indication that Lao Tzu was an actual person, so it's kind of hard to be a disciple of a mythic figure. Secondly, Cleary argues that much evidence points to the fact the Wen Tzu was compiled during the first centuries of the Common Era (CE) and this is hundreds of years after the mythic figure of Lao Tzu walked the earth.

When I was first discovering philosophical Taoism, the chronology of works was presented as Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu, with no mention of the Hua Hu Ching and the Wen Tzu. However, Cleary and several others posit that the Chuang Tzu may have preceded the Tao Te Ching in the sequence and that the Wen Tzu makes use of all these works.

While some people may wish to debate the precise order that these books were written as well as which authors were real people and which were mythic characters, I frankly don't care that much. I agree with Cleary that each of the books more likely represents a school of thought within the Taoist perspective and, most likely, had many authors. What is important to me -- and has been/will be reflected on this blog -- are the themes and concepts of philosophical Taoism.

According to Cleary,
In terms of its contents, the Wen-Tzu presents a distillation of the teachings of its great predecessors the Tao Te Ching, Chuang-tzu, and the Huianan-tzu. It particularly follows the latter in its inclusion of selected material from Confucian, Legalist, and Naturalist schools of thought. In addition, the Wen-tzu also contains a tremendous amount of other proverbial and aphoristic lore that is not to be found in its predecessors.
Like the Chuang Tzu, the Wen Tzu is a long book. In this case, it spans 180 verses over more than 180 pages. Consequently, as I present each verse, some will be quoted in their entirety, some will be quoted partially (which will be so noted) and some will be summarized with quotations cited within the post itself. In addition, because some of the verses are rather long, I may break up the verse to present it in more than one post.

Unlike the Tao Te Ching, the Wen Tzu is not written as poetry. It more closely resembles the translated form of the Chuang Tzu in that it's presented in paragraph form.

Finally, because there are few, if any commentaries, on this work, please don't take what I write here as anything definitive. I'm certain I will have a lot to say on many of the verses, but I'm also certain there will be some in which I don't have a clue. From time to time, I may simply present the verse itself without any comments in the hope that one of you will provide an explanation or greater depth.

With all that said, this should be an interesting journey indeed!

To view an index of all the posts in this series, go here.

*Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries Further Teachings of Lao-Tzu by Thomas Cleary, (1991) Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

They're Here!!

I just received the two books I ordered through Wen-Tzu translated by Thomas Cleary and Learning the Tao: Chuang Tzu as Teacher by Keith Seddon. So, you can expect to see both books referenced in the coming weeks.

In fact, I'm going to try to break free of my patterned rut. Rather than featuring one series in its entirety and then moving on to the next, I will try to have several ongoing series and simply alternate amongst them all. For example, while not abandoning the Real Life Tao series, I also plan to start a new one on the Wen-Tzu -- write about it as I work my way through reading it. In time, I may add to these two by starting to feature more of the writings of Chuang Tzu.

It will be an interesting experience for me (as well as you) since I tend to shy away from multi-tasking. While this won't be quite the same thing, it's close enough for moi. I'm trying to take Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu more to heart by allowing myself to flow where I may.

Real Life Tao - The Peril

Today I thought I'd share a little tidbit from The Essential Chuang Tzu by Sam Hamill and JP Seaton. This passage comes from the first paragraph of chapter 3 of the Book of Chuang Tzu.
Life has a limit; knowledge has none. To seek what is limitless through what is limited is perilous. It is even more perilous to pursue knowledge with full knowledge of this fact.
As with many passages of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, here we find yet another that seems to indicate that the pursuit of knowledge, in and of itself, is a bad thing. It almost sounds like the great Taoist sages of old viewed ignorance as a virtue.

However, on a closer reading, that's not the point I think they are driving at.

To live in this world, we each need to be ever learning. We need to learn about ourselves, our family members, the community and the laws of nature. If we don't, then it would be impossible to form relationships, succeed in school, obtain and maintain a job, and find any modicum of happiness.

The pursuit of knowledge -- in all its forms -- is also an end unto itself. It deepens who we are and allows us to connect with people, other beings and ideas throughout the world. In fact, were it not for knowledge, no one could ever gain self-awareness, inspiration, experience, insight or wisdom. Put another way, where there is no knowledge, there is no life!

The problem we each run into time and time again is mistaking a sliver of knowledge for the whole enchilada. We humans have a penchant for becoming too full of ourselves!! And this is where the peril lies.

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Real Life Tao - The Search for Purpose

Seeking the purpose of one's being is something that has always plagued mankind. The sage avoids this difficulty by understanding that our life's purpose is whatever we choose it to be.
~ Today's Quote from The TaoWoods Center ~
At some point in every person's life, we ask, "Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life and life, in general?"

I believe that, more often than not, this question arises when things aren't going the way we expected or had planned. It's the kind of question that raises its ugly head after the breakup of a meaningful relationship, the sudden death of a loved one, being fired from a job, receiving bad marks in school, during a bout of loneliness/depression or for a myriad of other reasons. We lie awake in bed, staring at the ceiling. We find it very difficult to motivate ourselves to maintain our responsibilities or to engage in those types of activities that usually bring us great pleasure.

As the result of my physical infirmities and Asperger's tendencies, I will admit that this question has dogged me off and on for quite some time. Unlike many of you reading this right now, I lack many of the ready fall backs: 1) I'm disabled and I don't hold a job; 2) I'm neither a parent nor a grandparent; 3) I don't have a social circle (other than you folks); 4) I'm no longer involved in community groups and activities other than washing dishes once per month; and 5) I'm neither participating in school as a student or a teacher.

So, what in the hell is my reason for being?!?!?

Here's what I've come up with. First, my reason for being is the same as everybody else -- The purpose of my life is to be. Since I don't believe in the concept of reincarnation, this is my one shot at living a life as this thing I call my conscious self. Sometimes this life will be mundane. Sometimes it will be stimulating and sometimes it will be painful. But it's one life, nonetheless. And I should make the most of it in whatever way I choose.

My second reason for being is -- believe it or not -- this blog. My various infirmities have blessed me with a special gift: insight. Pain, both mental and physical, is a great teacher and I have learned much being it's unwilling student.

If a person is open, then the number one lesson that pain teaches is compassion. I'm certain my friend Gail (of the blog, Know Your "Its") will back me up on this 100%! This is not to say that every person who experiences pain learns this lesson well, but it's there for the taking.

Pain also teaches honesty. Most of us spend our lives trying to shape our public personas into forms that hide our personal blemishes. We want others to love us for who we are, but we carefully manipulate who we appear to be! Pain, however, has a way of cutting through all this hubris and bullshit. It wears no mask and shouts defiantly, "Here I am!"

Finally, armed with compassion and sometimes brutal honesty, I have one thing many of you simply don't have enough of -- time. I have the time to sit around to ponder life's great questions. Since I rarely having any place to be and I don't work, I have vastly more time than the average person to meditate, contemplate, read, philosophize and write.

So, that's what I've chosen do. I ponder the mysteries and share with you my reflections. I'm blessed by the fact that many of you respond and, in the interplay of our writings, we help each other and many more. Neither you nor I are sharing any absolute answers, but I hope we're sharing enough to spur others to examine their lives, ask the same questions and seek their own answers.

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

Keep the Home Fire Burning

Tomorrow has been marked on my calendar for the past three weeks. Though the temperatures have turned colder over this period, my wife and I have yet to start up the fireplace. To be certain, the temptation has been there, but our chimney hasn't been inspected for two years and that's, at least, one year too long.

But tomorrow night -- if all goes well -- we'll have a warm fire in the fireplace. The chimney sweep specialists will be here in less than 24 hours!

If you have a chimney in your house, here's some info about chimney fires. If you haven't had your chimney and/or flue inspected in over 1 year, now would be a good time to take care of it.

A fire in a fireplace or wood stove can be a romantic or family treat -- so long as it doesn't burn down the house! It's rather hard to enjoy the ambiance of roasted marshmallows when you're roasting too!!

Scrambled Eggs

This seems to be one of those free association days for yours truly. I got up this morning and started thinking about socks and union suits which led to Christmas and stockings hung by the fire which led to Trick or Treating. Bear with me; I think I can connect the disparate dots!

With my birthday money from my dad and stepmother, I purchased the following: 2 books on Taoism, 1 flannel shirt, 5 pairs of socks and 2 union suits. While I'm very pleased with my "haul" for this year, I did find it remarkable how times change!

I remember back when I was a mere lad that the thought of receiving a bunch of socks for a birthday or Christmas present was met with a big groan. I wanted books, sporting equipment or games, NOT SOCKS!!

My mom used to put socks into our Christmas stockings. Looking back in hindsight, I now realize that this was done for sound economic reasons. While we certainly would not have been considered poor, we weren't rich either. Socks took up a lot of space and made the stocking look fuller. And it didn't cost that much to boot!

However, finding a pair of socks in one's Christmas stocking was like receiving an apple or some other type of fruit while Trick or Treating. No self-respecting kid wanted fruit! We wanted chocolate 'n peanut butter 'n starbursts 'n gumdrops 'n jellybeans 'n any kind of sugar-laden treat that was certain to rot our teeth. Apples simply took up important space...unless, of course, you threw 'em at somebody!

But I don't eat candy anymore and I love buying or receiving socks for special occasions. Throw in the two union suits and, all I can say is, I'm sitting pretty.

For Me Dear 'Ol Pa

Today is my dad's 76th birthday. Instead of sending him some pre-printed card, I'm featuring one of his favorite songs, Baby the Rain Must Fall. So, this one's for you, dad!!

Real Life Tao - Without Fanfare

One of the themes of the Tao Te Ching that is really hard for many to put into practice is this idea of not seeking recognition or fanfare for our good works. We live in a world that often encourages, nay, requires a strong measure of accolades AND self-promotion to get ahead. The person who stays in the background stands a better than average chance of not being the shining star at school or the employee who snags the coveted promotion. So this Taoist principle seems to beat odds with our modern society.

Of course, Lao Tzu might counsel us that being the star student or employee is not half as much as it's cracked up to be. When we gain these types of accolades and rewards, we tend to do so by meeting other people's expectations. Often times, we don't really even give a hoot about such expectations ourselves, yet we do the needed work to ensure a fatter paycheck or to get our name on the honor roll.

As I've mentioned in this space before, for all my own idiosyncrasies and foibles, the rampant desire to stand out has not been one of them. For example, if I wanted to be a star blogger with thousands of followers, I could have chosen dozens of other focus topics instead of philosophical Taoism! By choosing to concentrate on this arcane subject -- in terms of western society -- I've all but guaranteed that I will never crack the top 10,000 list of blogs. I'm not losing any sleep over it either!

I've also discussed -- influenced by my social avoidance disorder and Asperger's Syndrome -- that my chief volunteer activity in the community is washing dishes for events at the United Church of Raymond. Such events could not be carried out without someone to wash dishes, but such volunteers rarely receive any recognition whatsoever (which is fine by me). No, the cooks, organizers and sponsors are the ones asked to come out to take a bow.

I don't deserve a pat on the back for my penchant for taking on the type of assignments that are so needed, yet rarely noticed. As mentioned above, I seek these kinds of tasks out due to my peculiar personality traits. But there are scores of people who don't have this type of avoidance issue who, like me, take on the needed background roles. They are the ones that should be honored. They are the ones who make this world a better place to live.

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

Monday, October 26, 2009

New Voices Along the Path X

Here are some recent links added to the right sidebar in sections others than "Taoist Wanderers".

Asperger Square 8
Talk about squares, Asperger syndrome and the number 8.

Confessions of an Aspergian
A look into the mind of someone with Aspergers Syndrome.

DQ's Windmill
Writing about life with a dusting of Dharma. A philosophy instructor wary of philosophy. A Zen practitioner and a Yoga teacher. A walker. A writer. An enthusiast of such diverse things as music, tea, and languages. An animal lover.

Pieces of Zen
Zen is certainly not for everyone. Its rewards are hard, and almost impossible to define with words. Zen communicates through experiential practices that words are inadequate to describe.

My writings here in my Zen blog, in themselves answer nothing. They come from my zazen (Zen meditation) and aim to pose more questions within each mind. I hope the words on my Zen blog help take the reader further down his/her path to enlightenment.

Polynomial, originally consisting of two friends, is currently just one person… Karl Richard. He is a futurist, plane warping, mind altering, tree hugging hippie who’s not so hip he has trouble seeing over his own pelvis. He resides with his feet firmly on the earth and his head in the clouds. Yet he’s still aware of the spaces in between and the beauties beyond. Some say he’s searching for an illusive “something”. But all he really does is look at the same things from all the infinite perspectives that the human condition affords him.

As for ever getting bored here on Earth… He reckons that there is simply too much to hear, see, do and think about to become bored. And, as if to provide a tonic to anyone’s own self imposed ennui, he wants us all to remember what we seem to so readily forget in the daily melodrama of human life… Namely how fortunate and improbable it is that we are all alive and here today.

Practically Zen
Almost zen, but there are too many other good pieces of testable philosophy out there to stick to the one path for now. I have always motivated to find trouble and then address it. This is good and helpful for problems involving things or data, but it doesn't apply to people. Especially to one's self. I studied psychology and sociology to learn about the underlying forces of how we act as animals and how we act as groups, but something was missing. Philosophy. [Note: Currently writing a verse-by-verse examination of the Tao Te Ching.]

Skeptic's Play
Critical thinking... for fun? Written by an undergraduate physics major. I like to think.

Sojourner Haven
A blog dedicated to the ideal of dispelling illusions.

Spiritual Drifts from the River Karma
A blog that captures the thoughts of an Energy Healer on his Spiritual path as he figures his place in the world, learning along the way how energy really does affect our lives, yoga practises all whilst doing his beloved religion justice. As such, the aim of this blog is to help other spiritualists on their part.

The Reason Project
The Reason Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. The foundation draws on the talents of prominent and creative thinkers in a wide range of disciplines to encourage critical thinking and erode the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world.

Walking in Stillness
This blog has a most simple (yet eloquent) tag line: I am ...

Weirdly Wonderful World!!!
Parenting, teaching, loving, and living with two children on the Autism spectrum. son has High Functioning Autism and my daughter was diagnosed recently with Asperger's Syndrome!!!!

Real Life Tao - An Empty Bowl

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu makes mention more than once about the importance of space and emptiness. A cup or a bowl has no utility nor definition if it simply is one solid mass. It is the void that we fill up with Corn Flakes, hot cocoa or water. Try doing the same thing with a block of wood or a lump of clay! There's no place for the new substance to go, so it spills on the floor.

While Lao Tzu may write about bowls and cups, he's really talking about our hearts and minds. When we fill ourselves to the brim with preconceived notions, self-inflated opinions and the pompous belief that we know it all, we are blocking our ability to learn and grow. We often end up behaving like children who clamp their hands over their ears and shout, "I'm not listening. I'm not listening."

I think I can well provide an apt illustration by telling you about an experience of mine which I've written about before.

As I think this blog will easily attest to, writing comes natural to me. While many people struggle mightily to put a few cogent thoughts on paper, mine come streaming out in torrents. In fact, I express myself far better in this written medium that I do when speaking!

By junior high school, I had two poems published in prestigious literary magazines. Throughout adolescence, I won speech writing contests, served as a reporter on several student newspapers and rather easily commanded top grades in English and writing classes. I was known by classmates and teachers alike as a top notch writer.

By the time I entered college, I was convinced several Pulitzer Prizes and other such awards lay in my bright future! I chose journalism as one of my undergraduate majors, both because I love writing and thought I could earn top grades with little effort.

The first class I enrolled in was Feature Writing (creative writing with a journalistic bent). The first assignment handed out was for students to write a 500-word humorous column. I chuckled. This was right up my alley! In less than one hour, I wrote my column on the often funny and confusing information on highway signs.

I perused my work once and signed my name. I knew in my heart of hearts that my paper would blow my professor away and he would fall all over himself telling me what an accomplished writer I was.

I'm sure you can imagine my utter dismay when my paper was given back to me with an initial grade of B-. He's giving me a B-?! Who in the hell does this guy think he is? Not only was a large B- on the top of the page 1, but he had scribbled several notes and questions throughout the paper. In class, he told us that we could each work to improve on our initials grades by turning in subsequent drafts.

So, I dutifully wrote a second draft which wasn't that different from the first draft. I thought, have can I improve on such genius?

When I received my paper back the second time, the B remained, only the "-" had been removed. What is this guy's problem? What does he want from me?

I went back and wrote a third draft. This time I incorporated one or two of his suggestions. OK, I thought, he can't have any problems with this one. I would finally receive the A I should have received in the first go around.

Well, my grade inched up to a B+, but no A. I asked for a conference. Because my long-term memory is fuzzy, at best, I don't remember any of the particulars of our meeting. However, I do remember the life long lessons received.

What Dr. Downs told me was that much is expected from people who have superior skills in a given area. Yes, we could skate by without much effort and perform better than the average person, but, if we don't apply ourselves, we're wasting our talents.

It was only when I emptied myself of my pomposity that I came to understand and be filled again with his message. In time, I completely rewrote my column two or three times and each time I scrutinized my writing even more. I received an A+ on my final draft.

This one episode represented a key turning point in my life as a writer. To this day, when I start to slide backwards and get a little too full of myself, I remember what Dr. Downs taught me. Even though writing comes easily to me, I put a lot of work into it because much is expected of any person with a special skill or aptitude.

I have become the writer than I am today because I allowed myself -- after a lot of resistance -- to be an empty bowl.

What about you?

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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Real Life Tao - The Wu Wei Way

Allowing things to unfold in a natural way seems so unnatural for most of us. In western society, we're taught from birth to take the bull by the horns, that decisiveness and aggressiveness will win the day. Conversely, we're taught that passivity and reflection will land us at the bottom of the societal heap and may well lead to victimization. So, we go charging off into the world in the vain attempt to try to mold it to our will.

Unfortunately, the more we try to force things to unfold into the shape we want, the more unhappy and stressed out we become. This causes us to try to force things even harder, yet the outcome tends to remain the same. Our lives become treadmills that we can't seem to slow down or jump off of.

What I find most interesting is that the result of the effort to force things doesn't seem to change our reaction. Whether these efforts are successful or not, we feel the same amount of discontent and imbalance.

If our efforts are successful, we're filled with anxiety and tension because we're ever mindful that things can change in an instant. So, we stress about keeping the status quo where we want it to stay. On the other hand, if our efforts are unsuccessful, we're filled with anxiety and tension because of our personal failure or people are out to get us or the stars are aligned against us.

It is ONLY when we quit trying to force our will that we are set free. We allow ourselves the freedom to flow which ever way the water moves us.

A pertinent example is right in front of your face. Anyone who has ever had a blog understands the notion of writer's block. Whether your general readership can be counted on one hand or on hundreds of thousands of hands, you will not be able to retain them (except for close friends and family) unless you post frequently.

However, we all go through times when life gets in the way or we simply don't have anything urgent to write. Maybe we're entering a reflective phase or we want to get out to hike rather than spend time staring at our keyboard. If a person's blog is important to them -- hey, mine is -- it's not uncommon to try to force yourself to write a post when you don't really feel like it.

I used to fall prey to this and I think it's rather easy to spot the posts that fit this description! Such entries are clunky and they don't flow. I don't know about you, but when I go back to read them, I can easily tell they were forced.

I don't suffer from this malady half as much as I used to. When I don't feel inspired to write, I go read a book, listen to music or engage in my own form of contemplative meditation. And, here's the interesting thing: When I quit thinking about the act of writing, something usually comes to me that I want to write about!

Anyhow, I will return to the concept of wu wei again and again throughout this series. There are so many examples that I could probably write for years and years on no other topic. :>)

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

Younger Day by Day

From the typical human standpoint, each day we're still alive means that we've grown one day older. As some people phrase it, we're one inch closer to the grave. It's easy to understand this perspective as we can plainly discern a starting point -- birth -- and every moment lived marches toward the finish line -- death.

But there is another way, just as viable, to understand this weird trip we call life.

As far as most of us can know regarding this plane of existence, each of us will die a physical death. As death is just as much a constant as is birth, we could easily swap their designations with death being the starting point (toward the next phase, maybe?) and birth being the finish line. From this vantage point then, each moment we inch toward death would be tantamount to growing YOUNGER by the day!

Of course, the problem with this type of formulation is that none of us knows when we will die. Consequently, it's impossible to affix a number to an anniversary date that we don't know of. Once we DO know it, then it's too late! ;>)

Suffice it to say, I'm x amount of days younger than I was previously. I can't say by how much because I don't know that yet.

Hua Hu Ching - Verses 48 and 51

This is a cross-post from the blog Tao Wow.
Verses 48 and 51 Hua Hu Ching - living
by Tao

The Rambling Taoist posting frequently on the Hua Hu Ching has lead me to re-read my copy again.

I was really hit by this final line to chapter 48

"Once you arrive there [spontaneous awareness of the Great Oneness], remember: it isn't necessary to struggle to maintain unity with it. All you have to do is participate in it."

Which really struck a chord with me as once we have our realization then it is simply a matter of remaining there in the center. Once you have recognized the true unity then you know you can not be separate from it and feeling so is a glitch, an error in perception or mind. If anything in life seems to be out of balance then just a simple self reminder should be enough to regain perspective and see things as they really are. Without this then it is easy in this world to lose touch with the truth and get whipped up by the seeming importance of minor aspects. Having once recognized your absolute unity with all things then it should not be work or effort to maintain it as it 'just is' so the tool is a long breath from the heels, a centering hand gesture, body motion or thought and to reaffirm unity.

So the master of Tao sees all but with the mind centered is not caught up in conflict with any passing action or emotion. A Hindu may compare a little act of selfishness that came there way to the motions of planets over several Kalpas, a Buddhist may say "nothing lasts" as recognition that this event is nothing to carry with you and will too pass. A Tao master would collect good from the bad by opening to the true balance of the situation. All very valid ways of remaining centered in truth as life bubbles away on her own path with you as the camera operator, afloat your boat, taking in the view.

Then this chapter 51:

"Those who want to know the truth of the universe should practice the four cardinal virtues. The first is reverence for all life; this manifests as unconditional love and respect for oneself and all other beings. The Second is natural sincerity; this manifests as honesty, simplicity, and faithfulness. The third is gentleness; this manifests as kindness, consideration for others, and sensitivity to spiritual truth. The fourth is supportiveness; this manifests as service to others without expectation of reward. The four virtues are not an external dogma but a part of your original nature. When practiced, they give birth to wisdom and evoke the five blessings: health, wealth, happiness, longevity, and peace."

This sort of language can have you feeling a bit like you're being told how to act with empty phrases such as "be virtuous" "be sincere" it may sound like religious dogma, but it is not at all. The idea is instead that "manifests as" and "not an external dogma but a part of your original nature"

Our original nature is that of the Tao, the mother of all of this, and that original nature is of course supportive to all life with no expectation of reward, of course it is kind and simple, of course she gives and gives with no prejudice to receiver, if tao were not like this she could not be infinitely creative and the source of all.

Taking that as our model shows us that when we give ourselves in line with that original nature we are right and when we hold back and allow reason to enter the equation we are instantly out of the flow. But why reason this? Just go with it, as when we do just flow then life is so perfect it needs no words to describe it, it is just magical and we all live blissfully in a way it was always supposed to be.

Acting naturally we are "blessed" with wealth, wisdom and so on. Of course we are not blessed in any materialistic "The Secret" way or blessed by any external source in quantifiable degrees of wisdom or finance but truly blessed with correct, simple, straightforward recognition of our true nature - that of Tao.
This post is part of a "miniseries". For an introduction, go here.

My Birthday Wish

Here's what I wrote in my column for this week's Greener Times:
Today is my 52nd birthday. Instead of sending me email well wishes, I have a simple request for everyone reading this week's GT. Do something nice for a stranger or the planet today. Feed someone who is hungry. Talk to someone who is lonely. Cheer up someone who is down. Warm someone who is cold. Love someone who is unloved. Provide food or water for a stray animal. Offer to take a neighbor's recyclables to a recycling center. Leave your car at home and go for a walk or ride a bicycle. Turn down the thermostat. The possibilities are endless.
This applies to everyone reading this blog entry too! :>)


Today is my 52nd birthday. Weeeeeeeeeee!

In a highly unusual step for this blog, comments are NOT enabled for this post. Why? Because I really don't want any of you to wish me happy birthday.

I've never figured out why the anniversary of one's birth should be a happy day more so than any other day. If today happens to be a piss poor day, but tomorrow is stupendous, what difference should it make?

I have nothing special planned for today. I will follow my usual routine -- ya know, preening myself in front of the mirror hour after hour, while gyrating around screaming, "You duh man! You duh man!" :>D

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Real Life Tao - Letting Go

In both the series on the Tao Te Ching and the Hua Hu Ching, one of the issues we encountered several times over was the human penchant of desiring control. Lao Tzu cautioned us that trying to control all the aspects of our lives is what brings about much of the tension and stress we each routinely face. It is only when we can let go to follow the flow of the universe that we can discover peace and contentment.

One of the chief problems with trying to control other people is that, when they are squashed under our thumb so completely and finally are able to break free, they often behave like a mutant bottle rocket -- shooting off in every direction imaginable and, sometimes, completely OUT of control.

I have a relative whose father was a stern taskmaster. His papa had a very narrow view of right versus wrong, proper versus improper. All throughout childhood into mid adolescence, my poor relative's life was controlled from sunrise to sunset. He could hardly go to the bathroom without checking in to see if daddy dearest would give him a green light.

When he set off for college, he went right passed it and road the rails as a hobo for nearly a year. He grew his hair long and became the exact opposite of what his father had intended. This relative is really a cool guy -- probably my favorite relative outside my immediate family. He turned out a-ok because he knew himself, but I've known many other relatives and friends who have not fared as well.

My best friend growing up also had a very domineering and controlling father. Unlike the fellow mentioned above, unfortunately, when Greg was finally able to break free, he fell apart. His life has been marked by inner demons, severe substance abuse and violent outbursts. Over the last 20 years, he's spent almost an equal amount of time on the streets as in jail or detox. His remaining future is dismal and bleak.

While my family had its own dysfunctions, my parents were NOT controlling. My mother, in particular, allowed my brother and I much freedom. We were encouraged to question and to explore. I feel very lucky that my mom understood the flow and rhythms of life and that we each must discover them for ourselves.

From my perspective, the reason that trying to control others generally is not a good idea can be best illustrated with the example of a metal spring. When the spring is pushed down hard, it compresses into a very small space and stores up a lot of dynamic energy. As long as the spring is kept under control in this way, it won't budge. That stored energy will only be dissipated IF we let up on the spring very slowly.

On the other hand, if we release the pressure all at once, the stored energy is allowed the space to spring back with great force. The spring will lift off the ground, shoot high in the air and go bouncing around all over the place. It may crash into objects so violently that it damages its coils and be rendered useless for the future.

When we try to control other people (or situations), we're pushing them down like the spring. Because we can't hold the spring down forever and the people being pushed down generally are looking for a way to escape, a point in time usually comes when they break from our control and, like the illustration above, they go bouncing around willy nilly.

Some eventually will find their center and turn out okay. However, many others will be forever damaged and never able to feel in balance. Even worse, because each of us tends to internalize our experiences, many of these damaged people will try to regain their lost sense of independence by trying to control others and, thereby, perpetuating the disharmonious cycle!

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

Real Life Tao - Nature and Path

Two concepts mentioned over and over again in Taoist texts are one's nature and one's path. For some people, these two words may appear to be restatements of the same basic idea, but, for me, they are complementary facets of the essence of Tao.

In trying to think of away to better explain the difference between the two, I've decided to use trees as my example. As this is not a science class, I will speak here in general terms. Deciduous trees shed their leaves, while evergreens do not. In most areas of the US, the former shed their leaves in autumn, while in other parts of the world, the leaves fall off entering the dry season.

This process represents part of the nature of deciduous trees, but it does not represent a specific path. It it did, then all trees of this kind would shed their leaves simultaneously and any casual observer will note that this does not happen.

Here in South Bend, autumn is underway. There are many deciduous trees in the forest behind my house. The leaves of one oak tree started to change color as early as mid-August, while most of the other deciduous trees' leaves remained green. As it now stands, some trees have almost shed all their leaves and some trees are just beginning the process. While each one shares the same nature, they exhibit this nature -- their own path -- in different ways.

Of course, we humans often have a great deal of trouble trying to ascertain what OUR nature is. Unlike plants and other animals, not as much is imprinted in our instincts and DNA. So, we must spend some time trying both to understand and to come to grips with our own individual natures.

Using myself as a prime example, I've spent a great deal of my 51+ years trying to figure out exactly who I am. I don't mean this in the way of trying to figure my philosophy on life or my bedrock ethical principles; that part was relatively easy! No, what I'm referring to is trying to understand the nature of my personality.

As I've recorded in great detail on this blog, I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome about one year ago. While this diagnosis simply is a label, it has helped me tremendously in finally figuring out several odd things about myself. It has helped me to understand better why I have always had such difficulty in social situations/relationships and I follow very routinized patterns in my everyday life.

After figuring much of this out, I realized the path I had been following for the past 15 years or so was flowing against my innate nature and, probably, has a lot to do with much of the stress and angst I felt. This explains why I've become something of a recluse as of late. I've simply decided to live a life more in keeping with my solitary nature and my stress level has dropped considerably since I moved away from my disharmonious path.

This process of figuring out one's innate nature is important for each of us. A gregarious and social gadfly would likely be miserable spending a summer alone as a lookout in forest service tower deep in the woods. Conversely, a shy person who likes nothing better than being alone with a good book would probably feel out of place working at a popular dance club.

When we don't spend the time to consider the most basic elements of our personality and emotional self, we will be far more apt to place ourselves in situations and circumstances that don't match up with our individual nature and, even worse, we will probably be absolutely clueless as to why we feel so miserable, out of balance and stressed.

Finally, some of you may ask: I thought one of the whole points of Taoism is to shed the self and yet here you are talking about understanding it instead! What's up with that?

As I've mentioned before, the idea of completely dissolving the self is an ideal. It's not something any of us will ever accomplish. However, even if it was possible, in order to shed something, you must first possess it. So, once you could come to grips with your self in all its grandeur, only then could you decide to give it up.

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

Real Life Tao

For the better part of the last four months, I've explored with you the themes and concepts of philosophical Taoism through the writings of Lao Tzu in the form of the Tao Te Ching and then the Hua Hu Ching. While I certainly hope you've gotten as much out of it as I have, there is only so much sterile philosophizing a person can do in any given stretch. After awhile, it begs the question: How can I apply these themes to my life?

That will be the focus of my next series: Real Life Tao.

So, how do I plan to tackle this assignment? I've mulled over several strategies in the last few days and I've decided that, rather than try to come up with a template beforehand, I'm going to go with the flow, so to speak. In essence, I'm going to allow this series to unfold as it will and follow it wherever it leads.

That said, some of the ways I hope to apply Taoist themes to everyday life will include observations from my own personal experiences and the experiences of other people I've known as well as utilizing hypothetical situations. Sometimes I will offer very clear examples of how I believe the utilization of a Taoist perspective has proven or could prove very beneficial. At other times, however, I may present situations in which I'm not altogether sure how best to proceed and will be looking to you, the reader, to offer your take.

As with all my writings on this blog, I sincerely hope it continues to be interactive. You can, of course, continue to offer your insights and thoughts in the form of comments on each post. If any of you are interested in writing a guest post, those will be welcome too. In fact, since this series will be more avant-garde than most, the subject matter and presentation style will be open. If you want to take a crack at this or you'd simply like to suggest a specific issue you would like to see presented, drop me an email.

Knowing my overall tendencies, you should expect to see a minimum of one post per day throughout this series. While this will not be a hard and fast rule, I'll probably stick to it most of the time. I don't know at this point if this will be a long or short series because I have yet to identity the various themes I may cover. As of right now, my list only has four themes on it, but I haven't really thought about it that much. This will certainly change once I'm underway!

To view an index for all the posts in this series, go here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reflections on the Hua Hu Ching

At this juncture, I'm going to sign off on the little trip through the Hua Hu Ching. Over the past 17 days, I've covered almost one-half of this work (40 of 81 verses). Throughout the coming days, weeks, months or years, I may return to it from time to time and -- who knows -- maybe at some point all 81 verses will be presented.

In my view, the HHC is a good compliment to the Tao Te Ching. It expands on many of the same themes and adds a few of its own. In my opinion, it places a bit too much emphasis on the issues of sexuality and immortality -- mainly in the verses I chose not to present at this time -- but overall it does provide a lot of good food for thought.

One thing I will say is that I'm not convinced that this is an ancient text. It reads to me like something someone conjured up more recently, but I don't see this as a problem at all. Like any other philosophic tradition, Taoism evolves with time. There are authors writing in the current generation that offer the same depth of insight that Lao Tzu or Chuang Tzu offered thousands of years ago.

One other note. Today I purchased the Book of Wen-Tzu via It is another work supposedly attributed to the mythic figure of Lao Tzu. It will be interesting to see how it compares to the TTC and the HHC.

Who knows? Maybe another series will be in the offing?

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

Hua Hu Ching - Verse 81

Verse Eighty-One
With all this talking, what has been said? The subtle truth can he pointed at with words, but it can't be contained by them. Take time to listen to what is said without words, to obey the law too subtle to be written, to worship the unnameable and to embrace the unformed. Love your life. Trust the Tao. Make love with the invisible subtle origin of the universe, and you will give yourself everything you need. You won't have to hide away forever in spiritual retreats. You can be a gentle, contemplative hermit right here in the middle of everything, utterly unaffected, thoroughly sustained and rewarded by your integral practices. Encouraging others, giving freely to all, awakening and purifying the world with each movement and action, you'll ascend to the divine realm in broad daylight. The breath of the Tao speaks, and those who are in harmony with it hear quite clearly.
~ Translated by Brian Walker ~
I'm not going to add anything to the final verse and will let it stand on its own.

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

Hua Hu Ching - Verse 30

Verse Thirty
Words can never convey the beauty of a tree; to understand it, you must see it with your own eyes. Language cannot capture the melody of a song; to understand it, you must hear it with your own ears. So it is with the Tao: the only way to understand it is to directly experience it. The subtle truth of the universe is unsayable and unthinkable. Therefore the highest teachings are wordless. My own words are not the medicine, but a prescription; not the destination, but a map to help you reach it. When you get there, quiet your mind and close your mouth. Don't analyze the Tao. Strive instead to live it: silently, undividedly, with your whole harmonious being.
~ Translated by Brian Walker ~
For a wordsmith like me, it's often hard to admit that words can be so limiting! If we could take ALL the languages of humankind and throw them into a huge barrel, there would be an almost infinite number of combinations. Even if we stuck to one modern language, the number of ways the words can be parsed together to form cogent ideas seems inexhaustible. Yet, for all this ability to pontificate, words only scratch the barest sheen of the surface of life.

How can a deep and enduring feeling of love be adequately expressed in words and sentences? How can the unbearable loss of a loved one be summed up in a paragraph or a song? How is it possible to explain the unexplainable so that it makes rational sense? The answer in each case points to the insufficiency of language.

We can describe aspects of a tree, sunset or child, but we can't delve into the essence of being for any of the three. About all that words can provide is a pale facsimile of the mystery.

So, while I'm happy that you have chosen to come here to read my words and thoughts, nothing I write can put YOU in touch with Tao. It doesn't matter how eloquently I describe things nor how poetically I may wax. It doesn't matter if you read the Tao Te Ching, Book of Chuang Tzu or the Hua Hu Ching or if you read each of them one thousand times.

If you wish to see Tao in your life, you must experience it for yourself.

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

Hua Hu Ching - Verse 27

Verse Twenty-Seven
Do not imagine that an integral being has the ambition of enlightening the unaware or raising worldly people to the divine realm. To her, there is no self and other, and hence no one to be raised; no heaven and hell, and hence no destination. Therefore her only concern is her own sincerity.
~ Translated by Brian Walker ~
This verse overtly underscores the difference between a belief system that posits a creator versus philosophical Taoism. While the Abrahamic religions -- I'm most familiar with these -- see a distinction between each human and everything else, including their deity, Taoists see connection.

Rather than being a specific entity, Tao is the essence that binds all things together. If we viewed the totality of existence as a body, Tao would be the blood that flows throughout. It does not possess feelings, emotions or intentions. It doesn't have the capability to form intimate relationships nor show concern for anyone or anything because it is part of everyone and everything and yet it has no sense of self.

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

Hua Hu Ching - Verse 42

Verse Forty-Two
Nothing in the realm of thoughts or ideologies is absolute. Lean on one for long, and it collapses. Because of this, there is nothing more futile and frustrating than relying on the mind. To arrive at the unshakable, you must befriend the Tao. To do this, quiet your thinking. Stop analyzing, dividing, making distinctions between one thing and another. Simply see that you are at the center of the universe, and accept all things and beings as parts of your infinite body. When you perceive that an act done to another is done to yourself, you have understood the great truth.
~ Translated by Brian Walker ~
When I first contemplated creating this blog, I acknowledged to myself that no one should take anything I write with more than a grain of salt. Nothing here would be absolute. There are no insoluble truths that would be presented. The best that I could offer people would be my meager contemplations on the Taoist philosophy and my cat scratchings on a bevy of concepts and issues.

I have stuck by this belief ever since. It's not because I don't have confidence in my analytical and writing abilities -- I do -- but it has dawned on me over the past few years that nothing is absolute, including anything I might say or write.

Serious students of science should understand this perspective. Every time someone declares that a particular fact or theory cannot be altered or improved upon, someone comes along to do just that! The history of science is strewn with absolutes that have since been chucked to the curb: the earth is flat, the earth is the center of the universe, no other animal has the ability to problem solve, disease is caused by evil spirits and the list goes on and on.

The only way ANY of us could know something with all certainty is IF we had all the information of existence available to us. We would have to know everything about the past, present and future. Since this will never happen, we will never know anything absolutely.

But remember, take everything I wrote above with a grain of salt!

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

Hua Hu Ching - Verse 50

Verse Fifty
What good is it to spend your life accumulating material things? It isn't in keeping with the Tao. What benefit in conforming your behavior to someone's conventions? It violates your nature and dissipates your energy. Why separate your spiritual life and your practical life? To an integral being, there is no such distinction. Live simply and virtuously, true to your nature, drawing no line between what is spiritual and what is not. Ignore time. Relinquish ideas and concepts. Embrace the Oneness. This is the Integral Way.
~ Translated by Brian Walker ~
Back in the days of yore when I was a Christian, one of the many things that bothered me about this faith was the abject separation of one's spiritual life from everything else. It seemed like adherents would spend 6 3/4 days per week violating every known commandment and social more possible only to arrive at church on Sunday morning to say their prayers and sing hymns to God. As soon as the service ended, they would immediately return to their hedonistic ways.

Actually, it was quite interesting to watch people in the church parking lot. As they arrived, almost everyone gunned for the best parking spots. If two or more cars spied one of the choice spots, it went to the person who was the fastest and most aggressive.

In addition to watching the jockeying of vehicles, I also noticed that it was not infrequent that individuals or whole families seemed to be in very foul moods. They would argue and snipe at each other all the way across the parking lot...until they arrived at the front door. At this juncture, it seemed like a fairy had sprinkled magic dust all over them and they would enter the building like smiling cherubs.

I rarely ever heard any arguments of any kind within the walls of the church. To be certain, there were disagreements, but, with God ever close by, most people tended to be on their best behavior. Then it was on to the sanctuary where everyone would confess their transgressions, repeat mindless affirmations of faith and the Lord's Prayer, listen to laborious sermons, and sing their little hearts out celebrating the glory of it all.

Once the weekly festivities ended, the magic dust would suddenly disappear. People would go racing out of the building and return to arguing and sniping at each other. The mad exodus of vehicles from the parking lot often was downright hilarious! Vehicles would cut in front of each other and you'd sometimes be treated to seeing or hearing someone cuss out that "damn SOB who cut me off!"

Now I'm certain there are some Christians and adherents from other religions who try to fuse their spiritual lives with the entire lives, but, from what I've experienced, this number is very scant indeed! I suppose this is natural for those who see a dualistic world wherever they look.

But, as this verse so aptly points out, there should be no such distinction. Whatever we are -- physical, chemical, emotional, physiological, mental, spiritual, etc. -- is part of us at all times. Try as we might, we can't compartmentalize or cordon off particular aspects of ourselves. When we try, we mess ourselves up and the result is stress and tension (disharmony).

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

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blood Spatter

So you're sitting in front of your television or computer. A program comes on in which the host or narrator extols the virtues of a particular gun or archery set. You're told how accurate it is and about its ease of use. More importantly, it is underscored that this item is a mean, green, killing machine.

To prove all these points, your attention is directed to a person (man, woman or child) many yards away. The host raises the weapon and shoots the unsuspecting victim straight through the heart. Letting out a wild yell, the host runs over to the kill and celebrates this fine example of sporting prowess.

How do you think you might react to such a scene?

But wait!! Before rendering your opinion, we need to get something straight. We're not talking about a theatrical performance replete with gaudy special effects and fake blood. The person our hunter is standing over is dead -- genuinely dead as a doornail.

Okay, what's your reaction to this episode?

My guess is that the vast majority of people would be aghast and outraged. I'm more than certain that local law enforcement would launch an immediate murder investigation. And the blogosphere would be electric with people commenting on and debating about this heinous program.

Yet, programs of this nature can be found on almost any given day. The only difference is that the hapless victim is not human. No, the victim of this random execution is a deer, elk, moose, bear or any of a wide assortment of other animals. And few people raise as much as an eyebrow about it.

Here are two questions: 1) Why do humans cringe at the indiscriminate killing of our own kind but not the indiscriminate killing of other beings? 2) Why is the actual murder of human beings not shown on TV, while the actual murder of animals is?

Hua Hu Ching - Verse 25

Verse Twenty-Five
Not all spiritual paths lead to the Harmonious Oneness. Indeed, most are detours and distractions, nothing more. Why not trust the plainness and simplicity of the Integral Way? Living with unconditional sincerity, eradicating all duality, celebrating the equality of things, your every moment will be in truth.
~ Translated by Brian Walker ~
One aspect of Taoism that seems to befuddle the western mind is the idea that each being must find its own path. For a lot of people, this sounds like a subversive concept. If there are no strict external standards, then anyone can choose any path and it should receive the Taoist seal of approval!

Unfortunately, such a formulation is too simplistic. While it is true that each of us must forge our path independently, this does not mean that every path will lead to the same source. Many paths lead away from Tao and toward nothing more than self-imposed stress and imbalance.

So, while no one else can tell us which path to take, the great Taoist sages CAN point at some of the lamp posts along the route. If we get right down to it, that's what these classic works and today's contemporary contemplations are all about -- helping each of us to identify the variables that we need to work into our own individual itineraries.

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

Hua Hu Ching - Verse 45

Verse Forty-Five
If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place. This is true because the mind is the governing aspect of a human life. If the river flows clearly and cleanly through the proper channel, all will be well along its banks. The Integral Way depends on decreasing, not increasing; To correct your mind, rely on not-doing. Stop thinking and clinging to complications; keep your mind detached and whole. Eliminate mental muddiness and obscurity; keep your mind crystal clear. Avoid daydreaming and allow your pure original insight to emerge. Quiet your emotions and abide in serenity. Don't go crazy with the worship of idols, images, and ideas; this is like putting a new head on top of the head you already have. Remember: if you can cease all restless activity, your integral nature will appear.
~ Translated by Brian Walker ~
Everything related to human life begins with our minds. It is what interprets all the stimuli and sensations around us. It warns us of danger and makes sense (well, sometimes) of great pleasure and ecstasy. It is what tells us that you are you and I am me.

In a manner of speaking, the mind is humankind's greatest achievement, yet it's also our collective downfall. The cultivation of mind has allowed us to create beautiful works of art, develop dazzling displays of technology, postulate complicated theorems and formulations, and build a world full of creature comforts.

But the mind is also that mechanism that gives each of us the illusion of disconnection. The concept of self is derived from it and perpetuates it throughout our lives. It sets us apart from each other, all life forms and the mysterious Oneness.

As long as we each remain cogent, this separation -- in some measure -- will remain. There's no way around it. While disciplines like meditation and Tai Chi can allow us brief glimpses beyond the veil, the vast majority of our lives will be lived in the land of self.

Since we are each burdened with this same yoke, we can mitigate it somewhat by keeping ourselves clear of unbridled desire and emotional complications. It is by leading a simple life in service to others that we can mentally bridge the chasm of separation.

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