Monday, November 30, 2009

Two Whole Feet

Not that it really matters...

...but we received 24.15 inches of rain for the month of November here in South Bend -- over 2 frick'n feet of liquid heaven. That's almost 11.5" ABOVE normal (12.67"). In fact, we only need 1.3" of the wet stuff in December to equal the average amount of rain we receive in this two month period.

Of course, I'm confident we will receive far more than that. December IS, on average, our wettest month of the year.

Good thing I like rain. :>)

Wen Tzu - Verse 42, Part I

from Verse Forty-Two
Those who are known as real people are united in essence with the Way, so they have endowments yet appear to have none; they are full yet appear to be empty. They govern the inside, not the outside. Clear and pure, utterly plain, they do not contrive artificialities but return to simplicity.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
For those of you who are trying to find a way to reconcile your interest in philosophical Taoism with Christianity, some might suggest the above passage offers an apt description of the life of Jesus. While I can see how some parallels might be raised in this context, I think the better example would be John the Baptist.

As the story goes, John lived out in the wilderness close to nature. His clothes were rough and his diet was simple. To many, he appeared like a wild man, yet he concurrently possessed a kind of charisma that drew people to him, including the Jewish carpenter. While he appeared to have nothing -- few creature comforts -- he was filled with the spirit of his beliefs. Most importantly, just like Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, he challenged the conventional thinking of the time and literally lost his head in the process.

Seems to me this is an example of a person united with the Way.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 41, Part IV

from Verse Forty-One
The body is the house of life, energy is the basis of life, spirit is the controller of life: if one loses its position, all three are injured. Therefore when the spirit is in the lead, the body follows it, with beneficial results; when the body is in the lead, the spirit follows it, with harmful results.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
It's often been written that no person can serve two masters. In his own way, Lao Tzu says much the same thing. In this instance, however, we must understand that the term "body" constitutes not only our physical forms, but also our emotional selves.

When we allow our emotions to take the reigns, we flip and flop all over the place. Small slights become huge mountains or glaring omissions. Simple joys get blown out of proportion. We cascade from one extreme to the other and finding balance becomes next too impossible.

This is not to say that there is something inherently evil about emotions themselves. Our emotive states are part of who we are and often motivate us to ascend great heights, put the needs of others before our own or flee from dangerous situations. The problem comes when we allow our emotions to run unfettered.

The centered individual -- the sage -- experiences all the emotions that the rest of us experience; the difference is that their emotions aren't behind the wheel -- they are in the back seat!

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

His Plan

According to adherents of the Christian faith -- particularly those of a fundamentalist bent -- there's this supreme fellow named God who has a plan for the entire world. Everything that happens to any of us is part of this predestined blueprint. When we're born and how and when we die is already listed in its table of contents.

I suppose this might prove uplifting to some when things go well. When one of us wins the lottery or wrangles the sought after promotion or purchases our dream home, we can thank God for smiling on our lives and, possibly, answering our prayers. Our friends and neighbors shouldn't be envious or jealous's part of God's plan.

But this odd belief sort of breaks down when tragedy strikes (see God is Imaginary, Proof #6). As horrendous as yesterday's slaying of 4 police officers was, if God has a plan for us all, this too must be part of it. So, while I'm certainly not arguing that people should not grieve for the families and friends of these murdered individuals, they should take some solace from the fact that it's all part of the divine plan.

In this same vein, many of those calling for the capture and execution of the perpetrator should reexamine their anger. If this master plan exists, then the gunman too was exercising God's will. God, in his infinite wisdom, directed the gunman to shoot the four officers and something good must come out of this tragedy because God is goodness.

Needless to say, I find this whole idea of a divine plan misguided. If it truly exists, then it contradicts another principle of the Christian faith -- free will. How could anyone freely do this or freely not do that if everything is already predestined?

Just asking.

Wen Tzu - Verse 41, Part III

from Verse Forty-One
So those who understand the logic of mental functions regard desires, cravings, likes, and dislikes as externals...they do not need authority to be noble, they do not need riches to be wealthy, they do not need strength to be powerful; they do not exploit materials goods, do not crave social reputation, do not consider high social status to be safe, and do not consider low social status to be dangerous...
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
The above passage makes a point similar to many religions and other philosophies -- what most determines the character of each of us is that which is derived from our essence, core or center. The person whose life is built on a strong foundation of love and compassion can withstand any storm and will not be duped by the lies and manipulations of society.

Our worth as life forms cannot be defined by external sources. The definitions we seek are inside of each of us. The big question we each face is: Do we have the courage to look?

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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lost Along the Way

I've read a couple of online news sites about today's tragedy in Parkwood, Washington (see previous post). While the story itself is shocking, the comments left by readers are even more so! I can certainly understand the feelings of anger, dismay and fear -- I've felt all three and more myself today. Unfortunately, from my perspective, many of the so-called solutions proffered are worse than the disease they seek to heal.

The first type of comment making the rounds is that events like this only underscore the need for the death penalty. The thinking here is that, if the death penalty was utilized more frequently and for a larger number of crimes, then people wouldn't commit them.

In the abstract, it seems to make sense. If people are scared of a certain type of punishment, they will be less likely to commit acts that invoke said punishments. In reality, however, history has shown that most of the folks who perpetrate these sorts of acts aren't in their "right mind". Their thinking is irrational and some commit these acts at the behest of voices in their heads.

So, while capital punishment may well be the ultimate act of revenge imposed by society, the chances that it will prevent such carnage in the future is minimal. Many such gunmen expect to die -- by their own hands or at the hands of the authorities. It's like threatening a potential suicide bomber with death (which is not much of a threat, in that case.)

However, the second type of prevalent comment is the one that worries me far more. A lot of people believe that events such as these represent a clarion call for citizens to arm ourselves to teeth. However, this line of reasoning makes no sense in terms of what played out this morning.

The four officers shot were in full uniform, preparing to start their patrol shifts. I strongly suspect that "full uniform" means that each was packing their service weapons. So, despite the fact that each officer was armed and trained in the use of heavy force, they were each taken down by the element of surprise.

It should be noted that, from eyewitness accounts, the gunman focused SOLELY on the police officers and did not aim his gun at anyone else present. However, if citizens were today armed to the teeth (meaning that the assumption would be that most people were carrying a gun), the gunman might have attempted to shoot everyone in the coffee shop to ensure that none of the civilians produced a weapon.

For me, events like these only underscore how far society as a whole has gotten far off the path of Tao. More guns and more violence will not bring greater security and peace. Each will only beget more of the same.

Bang! Bang! You're Dead!

A lot of people believe we're entering the preliminary stages of the demise of American society. Initially, I thought they were overstating things a bit, but I'm now beginning to wonder if they indeed are correct.

This morning, in a suburb of Tacoma, four police officers were gunned down in a coffee shop. This comes on the heels of last month's execution-style shooting of a police officer in Seattle. Here's some information regarding today's shooting:
Four uniformed police officers were shot and killed in a bloody Sunday morning ambush at a Lakewood-area coffee shop, officials said.

Pierce County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ed Troyer called the ambush "a targeted attack" on the four Lakewood police officers as they were preparing to start their shifts at about 8:15 a.m.

Officials at the scene said a lone gunmen burst into the Forza Coffee Co. outlet at 11401 Steele St. South, shot the four uniformed officers as they were working on their laptop computers, then fled the scene.

Two baristas and a handful of other customers were inside the coffee shop at the time of the attack, but none of them were shot or injured. The suspect fled without taking any money.
In performing a quick scan of the internet, I've noted that quite a few members of law enforcement have been killed this year in similar types of incidents. This is not a good sign of things to come at all!

My heart certainly goes out to the loved ones and colleagues of the slain officers. I may offer some more comments on this event later today or tomorrow. Right now, I'm in a bit of shock at the continued carnage that keeps playing itself out in the streets of my country.

The Long Mile

Another century come to past, but I've... I've had to see my friends and loved ones die off through the years... Hal and Melinda... Brutus Howell... my wife... my boy. And you Elaine... you'll die too, and my curse is knowing that I'll be there to see it. It's my torment you see; it's my punishment, for letting John Coffey ride the lightning; for killing a miracle of God. You'll be gone like all the others. I'll have to stay. I'll die eventually, that I'm sure. I have no illusions of immortality, but I will await your death... long before death finds me. In truth, I wish for it already. We each owe a death - there are no exceptions - but sometimes, oh God, the Green Mile seems so long.
~ last lines spoken by old Paul Edgecomb (Dabbs Greer) in The Green Mile ~
As I've mentioned in this space before, I have this innate penchant for obsessing on certain things, movies among them. Almost every time The Green Mile is shown on TV, I feel compelled to watch it. Each time I do, I get a bit more philosophical than usual because this movie speaks to me on so many different levels.

In particular, the last three lines speak my heart. It's not that I have a death wish per se; it's more that time doesn't seem to move for me like most people tell me it does for them!

"Time just flies by" is a comment I hear from people from all walks of life. Comments from seniors or middle-aged folks typically reference the fact that their youth seems like just the other day. I know my late grandpa use to talk about his childhood like it happened only a few years prior and this was when he was in his late 80s.

While time may appear to shoot by for the vast majority, time for me seems to drag on endlessly. I feel like I've been alive for millions of years! My childhood is only a vague and distant memory. Hell, my forties seem like several centuries ago.

It has nothing to do with the fact that I no longer work and rarely socialize. Back in the day when I was fully employed and much more connected, I felt the same way. I don't know why the experience of the concept of time is so different for me; I only know that it is. And I must admit that I'm jealous of all you folks who experience it in a much faster time frame!!

As it is, I will continue to trudge ever so slowly on my own mile.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 41, Part II

from Verse Forty-One
They use the inner to make the external enjoyable and do not use externals to make the inner enjoyable; therefore they have spontaneous enjoyment in themselves and so have their own will, which is esteemed by the world...It is not up to another, but up to oneself; it is not up to anyone but the individual.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
How often do we say, "HE made me so mad" or "SHE brought a smile to my face"? We like to think that our moods and emotions are determined and controlled by outside stimuli. Deep down, most of us know this is not true. We determine how we will react to any given situation. We alone decide if we choose to become annoyed, angry, outraged, tickled or giddy.

While some people like to point to supernatural entities to explain why they think and act in particular ways, the Taoist sages point inward. If your life is marked by disharmony and strife, look in the mirror. If you always seem to get into one scrape after another, look in the mirror. And if you seem to have a "devil may care" attitude and find humor in unlikely places, look in the mirror.

Who we are and how we comport ourselves is our responsibility solely.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 41, Part I

from Verse Forty-One
Sages close up together with darkness and open up together with light. Able to reach the point where there is no enjoyment, they find there is nothing they do not enjoy. Since there is nothing they do not enjoy, they reach the pinnacle of enjoyment.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
The Christmas season is almost upon us. One of the great ironies of this time of year in the western world is that it can be both a time of boundless joy and wrenching depression. Many individuals experience both in a short period of time.

One of the reasons for these polar (pun!) opposites is the unrealistic build-up to Christmas Day. The hype can be so overdrawn that the event itself is anticlimactic! People can get so imbued with hope and excitement that, when the reality doesn't match up, their mood drops like a stone from a high cliff.

I can certainly relate to this. Sometimes, when I was a wee lad, Christmas Day paled in comparison to my anticipation of the opening of presents that morning. I had spent the better part of the month dreaming about all the goodies Santa would leave for me and, in the course of an hour or so, the event was over and done with. I often felt nothing but numb and empty afterwords.

I now realize that my over-hyped anticipation is what did me in. If I had treated Christmas Day as a surprise happening (rather than spending every waking hour thinking about it), then I bet I would have reveled in enjoyment. In other words, by not seeking the ultimate enjoyment I would have found it.

When we can meet each moment as a freshly opened gift, the unexpected joys we discover are boundless.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 40, Part II

from Verse Forty
So sages emulate heaven, achieving without striving, attaining without grasping. They have the same senses as other people but are on a different path; therefore they can survive long.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
For me, this small snippet from Verse 40 speaks volumes. Often, when we read of the characters posed by Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, it almost sounds like they're referencing beings that possess supernatural powers. Sort of like Superman -- faster than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!

But sages aren't any different than anyone else. They breath the same air, eat the same food and, just like the rest of us, they wipe their butts after going to the bathroom! Such people must wrestle with the same ego manifestations as anyone else. What truly differentiates the wise from the foolish are the paths in life chosen.

I believe this is a crucial point. When the so-called perfect people are held to be different from the rest of us, it provides each of us with a ready-made excuse to allow our egos to operate from the driver's seat. As we fritter our lives away, we can simply throw up our hands and mutter something about being a mere human incapable of anything better.

But, when the emphasis is switched to the paths we choose, then our ready-made excuses vanish. We must then take responsibility for choosing inharmonious journeys. More importantly, the person who chooses the wrong path can always change course along the way.

This is what I remind myself of frequently. If I notice that I'm traveling down the wrong road, then the power is within me -- here and now -- to right the situation by choosing a different path.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 40, Part I

from Verse Forty
It is in the nature of human feelings that everyone likes to be in high positions and dislikes to be in low positions; everyone likes gain and dislikes loss; everyone likes advantage and dislikes affliction; everyone likes honor and dislikes lowliness. Ordinary people strive for this reason and therefore cannot succeed; because they grasp something they cannot master it.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
Have you ever tried to grasp water? You stick your hand into a stream or pail and when you pull your hand out, if you squeeze your fingers around the liquid, it vanishes before your eyes. You can see some of it seep through your clenched fist, but most of it simply seems to disappear!

That is how most of the elements in our lives go. The tighter we try to hold onto them, the more they seem to evade us.

The only way to grasp water is to cup our hands, to make them like a bowl. It is by being submissive and receptive -- rather than aggressive and forceful -- that we can then drink the water to quench our thirst.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 39, Part V

from Verse Thirty-Nine
The proud do not succeed, the extravagant do not last; the powerful die, those who fill their days perish. A gusty wind or a violent storm does not last all day, a ravine cannot be filled in an instant. Gusty winds and violent storms act forcefully, so they cannot last long before they die out.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries~
The cheetah is reputed to be the fastest land animal. It can motor at up to 75 mph, but ONLY over short distances. If it tried to maintain this high speed over a wide distance, it would collapse in exhaustion and, probably, die.

I'm sure that we've all known people -- famous and not -- who have lived their lives like a candle lit at both ends. They burn bright for a short amount of time, then the flame is snuffed out.

There will always be times in our lives when quick and decisive yang action is needed, but it is yin energy that endures. No matter what we are called on to do, we must balance fervent activity with rest and repose.

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 39, Part IV

from Verse Thirty-Nine
The way of heaven is to lower the elevated and raise the depressed, to reduce the excessive and augment the insufficient. River and seas are located where there is a lack of earth, and so the world resorts to them and honors them.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
There is no way any of us can fully understand the vital essence of the One. It is simply too broad and too vast for our feeble minds to comprehend. Understanding this fact, the Taoist sages realized that one of the best methods to catch significant glimpses into the workings of Tao was by simply observing the natural world around us. Free of the ego that entraps and enslaves humans, nature provides a conceptual manifestation of the workings of the Way.

Unlike our societies which elevate the high and lowers the rest, nature works the opposite way. When one species of flora or fauna becomes too predominant, nature has a way of regaining balance.

If there are too many predators and not enough prey, the predators start to die off to bring the ecosystem back into harmony. If there is too much prey and not enough predators, the latter begin to produce more young so that the numbers begin to balance themselves out again.

If forests and the understory become too lush, fire (through lightening strikes) scorches the earth. If forests and the understory become too sparse, life-giving rain ushers in a new period of growth.

Sometimes an entire species dies off to the point of extinction, yet nature has a way of replacing the extinct species with another. All the while, a delicate balance is maintained which supports and nurtures the life force.

If nature has existed for billions of years utilizing the principles of balance and harmony, doesn't that suggest that each of our lives could be lived to the fullest by adopting the same principles?

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 39, Part III

from Verse Thirty-Nine
Being as a female to the world, they are able to avoid spiritual death.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
We live in a male-dominated society. The supposed traits of males -- strong, assertive, aggressive, protecting, etc. -- traditionally are valued more than the supposed traits of females -- submissive, receptive, nurturing, etc. Yet, in Taoist philosophy, the traits identified as female are the ones that typically bring us closer to the Way.

In the passage above, the trait highlighted is receptiveness. When we are open to what Tao has to offer, we are more alive. When we can cast aside rigidity and embrace flexibility, then we can deal with whatever life dishes out -- We can handle every situation that presents itself.

When nothing can faze you and you can welcome all the pleasure and pain in equal measure, your spirit soars to unknown heights. At some point, your body will fail you, but the essence of what makes you YOU will live on in the hearts of others.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 39, Part II

from Verse Thirty-Nine
To use the mind for purposes of pride and aggrandizement is like a gusty wind or a violent storm; it cannot last long. Therefore sages control this by means of the Way, holding to unity, contriving nothing, and thus not diminishing harmonious energy.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
I'm certain every one of us knows at least one person who spends every waking hour telling everyone else how powerful, rich, better looking, smart or influential they are. Often, such individuals need to announce their prowess to everyone else as a way of convincing themselves they matter and that their singular life has meaning.

But we all know that people such as this are not team players. He or she will stab you in the back the moment it appears they can exact some advantage from it. At best, such people are nothing more than fair-weather friends!

Not only are such individuals annoying as hell, but their very presence in any family or group causes instant disharmony. Since they can't be trusted, almost everyone else feels the need to keep looking over their shoulder. Nothing they say can be taken at face value because everyone else is trying to figure out the pompous individual's angle.

In many ways, it's like being caught unprotected in a violent thunderstorm. You must fight and claw your way to safety. In fact, because it's such a struggle to get away from the wind, rain, hail and/or lightening, once the storm has passed, you usually are too frazzled to get much of anything accomplished.

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

The Difference

I often describe Asperger's to people in the following way: Imagine that you are dropped into an alien society in which the language is completely different than what you're used to and the mores and world views are radically different too. Not only do you feel bewildered by your surroundings, but you soon come to realize that the people of this foreign land expect you immediately to understand the language and culture. When you don't understand their ways, they do their best to communicate with you in some manner that you must either be stupid, lazy or completely arrogant.

That's what people with Asperger's face daily.

Many believe that the aspie merely is trying to draw attention to her or himself and that nothing is different about the way they view and interact with the world...well nothing that a little effort couldn't cure. Some people acknowledge that there might be something to this diagnosis, but this agreement is only on a theoretical level. It doesn't seem to affect the manner in which they relate to the aspie.

Look, those of us who have been identified as being aspies can't tell you definitively what it is about us that is so strikingly dissimilar to the vast majority. We can certainly describe things, but we don't know precisely what causes it any more than you do.

One current theory is that it's neurological. It is theorized that the person with Asperger's has a brain that is wired differently than most people. Another theory is that the range of characteristics are due to developmental issues. Some people think the root may be environmental and others simply view it as a mental health issue.

While the neurological explanation makes the most sense to me, I don't doubt that the other explanations may play a role as well. It may well be that it's some strange combination of all such explanations!

All I do know is that, throughout my life, almost every single person who has met me in person will tell you that there is something decidedly different about me. A significant number of those people won't be able to tell you precisely what this difference entails; they just know that I'm exceedingly odd.

Not only have other people noticed this underlying difference, but I've been aware of it (sometimes painfully so) since I was a wee lad.

I have never had good relationships with my same-age peers. When I was a youth, I seemed to get along much better with adults or other kids far younger than I. As a young adult, I got along better with middle-age and older adults or teenagers and younger. And now that I'm at the back end of middle age, I seem to get along better with senior citizens or young adults.

Since as early as I can remember, I have loathed crowds (almost anything above 5 or 6 people). I've never been told a story from my childhood about being left someplace or getting lost in a crowd, so it doesn't seem to be a characteristic borne of a bad childhood experience.

It doesn't even matter the identities of the individuals who make up the "crowd". I get just as discombobulated in large family gatherings (ones in which I know every single person) as I do in crowds in which I know no other person.

I have never been able accurately to read body language. Most of the time, I'm not even aware that it exists. What may be blatantly obvious to every other single person in the room simply doesn't register in my brain at all. There are times, however, when I am aware of it, but time and time again I completely misread it or, even worse, I seem to focus on something that might not be present at all.

More than anything else, my life is ruled by patterns and routines. I do things in very odd (and often, illogical) ways and I do them the same way each time. If circumstances don't allow me to follow my routines, I get really freaked out -- panic attacks, depression and even odder behavior than usual!

As a sentient being, I've sometimes tried to take the advice of well-meaning friends and loved ones by trying to break away from my established routines. More often than not, unfortunately, the new routine feels all wrong and I get mad at myself for heeding the well-intentioned advice. At the next opportunity, I revert back to what feels more comfortable.

As I've shared with you before, this whole scenario is that much more difficult to deal with because I'm a highly rational and intelligent person. (When I was very young, I tested out as a near genius, for what it's worth.) I have the capability to analyze my weird behaviors and to understand how illogical many of them are. Yet, despite my intellectual prowess, I seem completely powerless to alter who and what I am!

I am a highly intelligent gentleman who is congenitally bereft of the necessary social skills to navigate effectively in the world of human society. That is my internal nature and that is what I am now learning to live with.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 39, Part I

from Verse Thirty-Nine
Emperors and lords consider the whole empire or the entire nation to be their house, and all things their belongings. If they take to heart the greatness of the land and are possessive of the multitude of people and things in it, then they become full of energy and unrestrained in their ambitions. The larger ones launch armed invasions of the smaller ones, the smaller ones haughtily look down upon their subjects.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
Don't let the words "emperors" and "lords" throw you off; I believe the above passage is more about possessiveness than anything else. When we claim possession of something -- ideas, thoughts, concepts, emotions, objects and people -- we each tend to behave like an emperor or a lord.

For me, seeking to claim possession of something is a form of power. We want to be able to monopolize and control it. We want to be able to direct how it is used and who can use it. At the root of the problem is fear.

I know this principle well in my own life. As I've detailed here, I like established patterns and routines. In essence, I like to have control over situations because I fear the unexpected and the primary reason I fear the unexpected is that I tend to react very slowly. Often times, a slow reaction means mucking everything up or missing out on wonderful opportunities.

So, to keep from messing things up, I like for most aspects of my life to stay within comfortable parameters -- ones that I already know how to react to. This is a trait very common to aspies.

Of course, almost everyone likes to control certain parts of their lives. In many ways, it almost seems natural. I say almost because we all know that the more we try to control things, the more they slip through our fingers!

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

The Day the Music Died

For Don McLean, the music died on a cold February night in 1959 when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper's tiny chartered plane did a nosedive into a frozen Iowa cornfield (see the story below). The music died for me much later -- though I no longer remember the exact year -- when my maternal grandmother (Floy Danforth Sparling) died of an aneurysm right before my eyes. When she took her last breath, the holiday season (for me) lost a lot of its luster.

I muddled on, though. We still gathered at the lake house in Hot Springs, Arkansas for almost every holiday family get together. Then grandpa (Eugene McKinley Sparling) died. That took even more of the wind out of my sails. The final nail in the coffin, so to speak, came on an August morning in 1992, when my dear mother (Jane Isles Sparling Smith) succumbed to cancer. At that point, the music completely died for me.

As I've related in this space countless times before, one of the hallmarks of Asperger's Syndrome is the craving for patterned routines. We aspies get very set in our ways and, when life interrupts or shreds said routines, many of us have a great deal of trouble establishing new ones. Regarding holiday celebrations, the patterned routine was to celebrate such with and at my grandparent's home on Lake Hamilton.

Of course, since I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, we couldn't always make it down to Arkansas for every holiday. We celebrated many of them in our home. However, I always knew that the time wouldn't be long until we could celebrate the next one in its rightful place, so this thought held me and allowed me to sort of get into the holiday spirit.

When grandma and grandpa plus my mother died, it meant that the rightful place was gone forever and so, for better or worse, my holiday spirit went with them. Over the years I've tried hard to get it back, but it simply won't budge.

I realized after writing the above post this morning that, while I understand the point I was trying to get across, it may not come across to most people in the way I intended.

Many people may think that the primary reason the holidays have lost their luster for me is due to the loss of important loved ones. While I'm sure that plays a part, albeit a small one, it's more that the deaths of these key people in my life destroyed the framework and the setting -- the pattern.

As I've related to you all before, I don't remember people and faces as much as I remember locations and objects. So, with the deaths of these three loved ones, the lake house and all its trappings went away. As strange as it may sound, that's the part that grieves me the most, not the people.

If back then I had the financial wherewithal to purchase my grandparent's home, all the furnishings and the adjacent property, then only a part of the holiday season would have died in me. I would have grieved for the lost framework -- the people -- but I would have rejoiced at retaining the setting and my guess is that each holiday season would have served as my way of trying to keep the memories alive.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that what really killed my festive holiday spirit was seeing the lake house and its furnishings pass into other hands. That is what drove home the point to me that there is no going back.

Reflections on Thankfulness

Whether a person is religious, spiritual, rational and/or philosophical, a common sentiment expressed today is that we should each be thankful for the loving people and good things in our lives. We should also be cognizant of the fact that there are a lot of people the world over who live lives much worse than we do and so, I suppose, we should be grateful that we aren't them!

In taking a look at this word, thankful, we find that it means to be appreciative (to admire greatly; value) and grateful (Appreciative of benefits received; Affording pleasure or comfort; agreeable). It would appear to be a word that most usually is associated with happiness and good feelings.

Unfortunately, I find this connotation to be a bit problematic.

For starters, if you believe in an invisible man in the sky or some other such place, you may well believe that this supernatural entity has a specific plan for your life. If your life is predicated on this divine plan, then everything that happens to you -- good and bad, loving and hateful, beautiful and ugly -- is part of the master blueprint.

Consequently, from my perspective, if you truly desire to be thankful, then you've got to be thankful for the whole shebang. That means you must be thankful for all the good fortune you've experienced throughout the past year as well as all the downright shitty and excruciatingly painful times.

But how realistic is that? In years past, I don't recall attending a family Thanksgiving feast in which the festivities were launched by chronicling all the misfortune everyone around the table had suffered through. Can you imagine Uncle Bob raising a glass of wine to say, "Today we give thanks to God for all he has provided this year. We thank him for sister Debbie's stillborn child, cousin Tommie's death from a heroin overdose, Aunt Delores's amputated left leg from cancer, grandpa Steve's bankruptcy and let's not forget about my divorce in which the ex took me to the cleaners! All praise to God."

No, that's not the kind of thing most people hear around the table. Rather than list off all the negative circumstances of the last twelve months, we hear about all the good fortune and favorable situations. We hear about the births, marriages, graduations, raises, promotions and anything else slightly positive and pleasurable.

It would seem that such people are thankful only for those aspects of the master plan that make them feel good about themselves.

A Taoist Thanksgiving would encounter a similar problem. Since most of us don't believe in a supernatural entity, who exactly do we thank? One really can't thank Tao because the Way is impersonal and impartial. It has no designs on anyone's life and thanking it makes no difference to it one way or the other.

Taoists realize that each life will have its good times and bad times, so if we choose to be thankful, we too should be thankful for our lives in their entirety.

Of course, since this particular Taoist doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving Day, it's not a problem for me. I'm not particularly thankful for anything and I don't mean this in a negative vein. I'm learning to accept life -- the good AND the bad -- for what it is; part of the journey that each of us must tread.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Dreams

For those of you planning a big family confab for Thanksgiving Day and who are falling asleep with dreams of a festive and joyful event, just beware: The Dream Police are coming for you!!

Wen Tzu - Verse 38

from Verse Thirty-Eight
The highest sages emulate natural law, the next best esteem wisdom, the lowest leave things to ministers. Leaving things to ministers is a way to danger and destruction, esteeming the wise is a source of folly and confusion, emulating natural law is the way to govern heaven and earth.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
On the surface, this appears to be one of those passages that speaks to the governing of people and nations. To be certain, I wouldn't argue that it does indeed contain this element. That said, I believe the message is more personal -- one aimed at each of us.

When we rely on the dictates of others, we live lives that are not thoroughly of our own nature. We often abandon what we know to be true within ourselves to follow the popular fads and contours of society. We then find ourselves in trouble when we encounter crossroads because, without our own foundation, we truly don't know which way to go. So, we often follow wherever the herd is going, even if it is headed off a cliff!

When we rely too much on wisdom, we also can find ourselves in a heap of trouble. Wisdom is borne from our egos and is subjective. Since we don't always know all the variables involved in any given situation, what seems like the wise thing to do may, in fact, be the stupidest choice of all!

While making use of others (ministers) and wisdom are fraught with problems, trusting the Way is trouble free. When we allow ourselves to flow with the circumstances, we embody Tao in every thought and action.

Yes, it's so easy to write; so difficult to do!!

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

Is Blogging Antithetical to Taoism?

Over the past year, I've noticed an alarming trend -- more and more Taoist blogs seem to be disappearing altogether or going dormant. This disturbs me because, as I look out over the landscape of the world today, I think the philosophy of Taoism is needed now more than ever! We live in societies that extract untold amounts of the earth's bounty to try to satisfy egotistical desires and yet more and more people feel disconnected, isolated and alienated.

So, it seems to me that the words of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu are just as needed today as they were thousands of years ago. In fact, they may be more needed today.

At the same time, this creates sort of a dilemma. While words and thoughts certainly serve an important purpose, the underlying emphasis in Taoist thought is personal experience. No matter how many words are thrown on a page (or a computer monitor), all they represent are the proverbial fingers pointing at the moon or a series of light posts illuminating the terrain through the forest.

In other words, no matter what I or any other Taoist writes, you shouldn't accept it as truth unless you experience truth in your own way at your own time for yourself.

This is not to suggest that I plan to follow suit by shutting down this blog. While I realize it offers nothing more than a pale facsimile of the Way, I shall continue to peck out posts simply because I want to expose others to a way of interacting with the world that falls outside of mainstream western thought.

In the end, that's my simplistic goal -- to motivate whatever folks happen by to look at the world with a different set of eyes and to contemplate the mysteries from a different frame of reference.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Have a Confession...

...I actually became interested in this year's Dancing with the Stars on ABC. If that's not bad enough, I've been rooting for Donny Osmond the whole way. Tonight Osmond took home the trophy!!

I find this whole thing very bizarre for a number of reasons. First, I generally loathe these so-called reality-based programs and contests. I realize that most of it is contrived and it irritates the heck out of me that the networks try to sell it as being anything but contrived.

Second, I hate dancing. It's never been a hot interest of mine. I personally don't dance and I generally don't like to watch other people dance, yet here I am tuning in each week to watch a number of washed up and/or little known celebrities engaging in formal dance routines.

Third, I'm not a big fan of Mormonism and Donny is a true blue Mormon. He's one of a handful of celebrities and entertainers who wear their religious beliefs on their sleeves. In addition, Mormons tend to be very conservative and I'm a radical lefty.

Despite all these reasons, I've always liked Donny Osmond and I'm thrilled that he took home the first place ribbon.

Heck, I might even do a jig. :>)

Lost in Translation

Once or twice every winter we lose electrical power as the result of a storm. So most people in this area stock up on batteries to power their flashlights and radios. While we too have a few similar needs, I've been slowly buying various wind-up devices which are more environmentally-friendly.

Today, I purchased an Environmental Protection Illuminant. According to the package's product description, the illuminant "adopt mechanical electricity generating with hand-wind, which has patent technique. precise structure, efficiency is 80% higher that the traditional one/changing products, green environmental protection."

Are you with me so far?

According to the Changing Method, "Drive for ten seconds, it can light for 5 minutes."

Finally, here's one more lovely sentence: "Precise structure, avoidance of felling from the high place during using it and avoidance of being affected with damp and water going in it, so as not to spoil the product."

Have you been able to figure out what I purchased? It's a wind-up flashlight! It's painfully obvious that this particular product was manufactured somewhere other than the US and that the product information was written by someone with a very loose grasp of the English language.

The illuminant itself seems to work well, but the product description and instructions had Della and I in hysterics.

Wen Tzu - Verse 37, Part III

from Verse Thirty-Seven
Like a bowl of water, the vital spirit in human beings is hard to clarify and easy to muddle.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
One of the most amazing aspects of this life is how the briefest of distractions can turn a routine or successful moment into a failure or, even worse, a tragedy. One second everything is going along fine and dandy; the next second all hell has broken loose!

To offer one example, consider the number of fatal vehicle accidents that are caused by one driver losing their concentration for just a moment. This could be caused by talking on a cell phone, spilling coffee on themselves, daydreaming or yelling at the kids in the backseat. Up until that moment, the driver is fully aware and focused. Then their attention shifts elsewhere and a horrific crash ensues.

We each have moments like this everyday, though most do not involve vehicles and the loss of life. They can occur while talking with another in a conversation or while we're engaged in a productive activity or in thousands of routine ways. Simply put, we humans find it hard to keep ourselves focused on the matter at hand.

It only takes a flicker of time to muddle the water.

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tofurky, Anyone?

It's been nearly a quarter century since I sat down to a traditional Thanksgiving Day meal of a dead turkey. Over these past twenty-five years, we've struggled with establishing our own holiday menu. For one thing, Della has often worked on Thanksgiving Day and I, of course, treat it like any other Thursday in the year.

Initially, we tried vegetarian lasagna, but that's a lot of work and it never seemed to come out as well as we would like. When Della had to work that day, I established my own tradition -- a Black Bean Enchilada Whole Meal from Amy's Kitchen. Yes, it's a frozen dinner!! But almost ANY frozen dinner from Amy's Kitchen is delicious, organic and vegetarian.

One year -- when Della actually got the day off -- we came up with a compromise. Since she is still a meat-eater and I am not, we met each other halfway by dining on a Tofurky. What is a tofurky, you ask? It's a meat substitute made out of seitan (wheat gluten) and tofu. Amazingly enough, it really tastes like turkey!

However, we only featured a Tofurky once or twice because, to be quite frank, since I don't eat meat, I'm really not interested in eating something that tastes like it!! Really, if I craved that kind of taste, then I'd eat turkey rather than fake turkey.

I really don't understand why so many people are interested in eating something that tastes like something else. I suppose the various varieties of meat substitutes are aimed at those individuals who are just starting out as vegetarians, but still haven't lost their appetite for dead flesh.

Della is working this Thanksgiving and will be gone all day, so my Thursday menu is completely up to me. I'll probably just make some soup. :)

Real Life Tao - Against the Grain

I'm sure almost everyone is familiar with the saying "going against the grain." Its meaning is derived from the idea that planing a piece of wood against its grain leaves a ragged finish and is far more labor-intensive that planing with the grain. When used these days, it fits in nicely with Taoist thought because it is commonly utilized to indicate that someone is going against their own nature.

I think I can best illustrate this concept by showing how it manifests itself in the splitting of wood.

This year my wife and I were able to purchase a cord of seasoned firewood for our fireplace. The wood is from timber blown down during our December 2007 hurricane-like storm. It's composed of western hemlock, douglas fir, silver fir and alder. Most of the logs have been split once, but since we have a smaller than average fireplace, this necessitates the need to further split the vast majority of pieces in the cord.

While many people split wood using an axe, I have chosen to do so with a maul (a sledgehammer with a wedged cutting edge). In my experience, a maul is far more effective than an axe because the latter tends to get stuck in the wood far more often.

I split the wood in our basement. This keeps my sometimes fragile body out of the elements, but it also means I can't raise the maul over my head, lest I hit the ceiling! The technique for splitting the most wood with the least amount of energy is to split it along the grain. When I am successful in determining the direction of the grain, a half-swing tends to cause the wood to fly apart.

Sometimes, however, I'll take a whack and barely a dent is made in the top of the wood. I usually give it a second whack and, if I meet with a similar result, I reposition the wood so that I will strike it at a different entry point. In most cases, this repositioning is all that is needed and the piece flies apart.

The point here is that, when I strike the wood against its grain, it offers much resistance and it takes far more effort to get the job done. However, when I strike the wood WITH the grain, it splits easily.

There have been times -- back when I was a young and ignorant lad -- when I would struggle with a large log for several minutes because I knew nothing about the grain of wood. I'd hack and whack and hack, yet I seemed to make little progress. If only I had known then what I know now, I would have saved myself a lot of energy...and aggravation.

Whether we're speaking of splitting wood or any other human endeavor, the lesson is the same. When we ignorantly go against or own internal nature or the flow of any given situation, we immediately encounter resistance which makes the activity more stressful and difficult. We expend a lot of energy for results we aren't satisfied with.

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

Real Life Tao - Flirtin' With Disaster

Flirtin' with disaster, baby,
Ya'll know what I mean.
You know the way we run our lives,
It makes no sense to me.
I don't know about yourself or,
What you plan to be - Yea!!
When we gamble with our time,
We choose our destiny.

~ lyrics from the song, Flirtin' With Disaster by Molly Hatchet ~
As touched on in the previous post -- Wen Tzu - Verse 37, Part II -- the way we choose to live our lives plays a crucial role in the health and longevity of our bodies. For far too many of us, Flirtin' With Disaster seems to be our anthem!

When our minds and bodies constantly are out of sync, we generate undue amounts of stress and tension that affects both. Stress is the great enemy of any machine. An overstressed mechanism wears out before its time and is prone to breakdowns along the way.

I can certainly attest to this fact in my life. As I've detailed in many posts on this blog, I tend to be a very anxious person. Anxiety creates tremendous amounts of stress and all my stress seems to settle in my colon. The result is that I've had a lifelong battle with chronic constipation.

Being constipated fuels a seemingly endless cycle. Waste is held in my body longer than it should which causes the overall system to feel sluggish. My colon becomes very tight which causes pressure on my diseased left hip and discs in my lower back. The muscles and nerves around the hip and discs become inflamed which exerts more pressure on the lower third of my colon and this pressure backs up my digestive system even more! Round and round it goes!!!

The worst part of this whole scenario is that, even though I am learning now to lessen my overall anxiety, it doesn't seem to be translating into better colon elasticity. I'm afraid that I've waited too long to make needed changes in my life because my body appears to have set down its own protocol as to how it will function. In other words, I forced the flow of my colon to alter its course and it now seems to have become comfortable in its own channel. :(

Since that's probably more information then you wanted to know about my digestive system, here's a video of Flirtin' With Disaster!

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 37, Part II

from Verse Thirty-Seven
If you always nurture life and embrace virtue, this can be called ability to understand and embody the Way.

When that is the case, there is no stagnating blockage in the blood vessels, no accumulated energies in the organs; neither calamity nor fortune can upset you, neither censure or praise can defile you.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
In the last few decades, western science has caught on to what the Chinese metaphysicians have known for thousands of years -- our spiritual and emotional selves play a huge role in the well-being (or lack thereof) of our physical forms, our bodies.

People who are more at peace with themselves and the world around them tend to be healthier. Conversely, people who are angry and filled with hate tend to be less healthy.

This is not to say that folks with a positive outlook don't face the same difficulties as the rest of us; they do indeed! What is different is how they react. While a person like yours truly frequently will fret and become anxious, people with a more balanced outlook tend to take things more in stride. Because they stay on a more even keel, their bodies don't become reservoirs for stress and tension.

The less stress and tension the body must endure, the better and longer it tends to work which, by the way, helps to put the mind and spirit more at ease.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 37, Part I

from Verse Thirty-Seven
When externals do not disturb you within, then your nature finds what suits it; when quietude does not affect harmony, then virtue rests in its place.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
I'm sure it's been true since almost the beginning of time, but we humans seem to love to tell everybody else how to live! Surf the internet for just a few scant minutes or peruse the best sellers list and you can find a plethora of blogs, books and various other types of resources which will tell you the best way to lose fifty pounds, secure the next big job, put up with annoying people, simplify your life or become the king or queen of sexual prowess!

To be certain, a person can learn a thing or two from material of this ilk. However, the methods or strategies that work for one person -- the author -- may or may not work for anyone else.

I would have less of a problem with these sorts of materials IF most weren't so over-the-top with their mindless guarantees. It's this incessant belief that one size fits all and, if it worked for me, it's gotta work for you!

We each have different ways of doing things. Some people are hands-on, while others need step-by-step instructions. Some people excel when the process is explained verbally, while others need to see it in writing. No method is superior to any other; whatever works to get you from point A to point B is the way you should go.

Unfortunately, too many of us, consciously or subconsciously, buy into the one size fits all mantra. So we go running down the most popular path and then beat ourselves up if our results fall outside the norm. All the while, the chosen strategy may run against our nature and keep us on a course in which we're perpetually unbalanced.

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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 36, Part II

from Verse Thirty-Six
If there is nothing shrouding the spirit, and nothing burdening the mind, you are completely clear and thoroughly in tune, peaceful and unconcerned. Power and profit cannot tempt you, sound and form cannot seduce you; speechmakers cannot sway you, intellectuals cannot move you, warriors cannot frighten you. This is the freedom of real people.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
One point made over and over again in the works of Lao Tzu is that each of us must ply our own path and this passage addresses this concept directly. When we are able to shed all distractions and manifestations of ego to find Tao within us -- our center -- nothing anyone else says, does or offers us will affect us.

No one else can know your nature better than you. No minister, priest, elected official, supervisor or teacher can know the best path for you to traverse. When we look to external sources to discover the journey each of us must make, we immediately leave the center to travel on the outer edge and, when we travel on the outer edges, we're far more likely to fall because we aren't in balance.

As social beings, we must interact with the world around us. The Taoist sages certainly aren't suggesting otherwise. But these interactions will prove more beneficial to all concerned -- ourselves and others -- if they start from the core. When we know who we are and where we must walk, then undue influences cannot tempt, seduce, sway, move or frighten us.

Hold to the center.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 36, Part I

from Verse Thirty-Six
So to be able to rule the world it is essential to have nothing to do with the world. To be able to handle fame it is essential to do nothing excessive to get it. When you arrive in truth at the real condition of nature and life, humanity and justice will come along.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
If I was giving individual titles to each post of the Wen Tzu, I would have called this one, "Fox Guarding the Henhouse." That phrase is often utilized when describing the ineffectiveness of regulatory agencies of government, particularly here in the US of A.

It is not uncommon for the head of regulatory agencies to be chosen bigwigs from the industries or companies said agency supposedly regulates. This, of course, creates an immediate conflict of interest, especially since the individual most likely will leave government service at some point and return from whence they came!

For example, if the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) comes from a company that desires weak regulations so that their profit margin won't be impinged upon in ANY way, it is not surprising in the least when that EPA Director then opposes more stringent regulations and/or lax enforcement of regulations already on the books. It's merely a case of a fox guarding the henhouse.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 35, Part II

from Verse Thirty-Five
The reason people use limpid water for a mirror, not a moving stream, is that it is clear and still. Thus when the spirit is clear and the attention is even, it is then possible to discern people's true conditions...When a mirror is clear, dust does not dirty it; when the spirit is clear, habitual cravings do not delude it.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
The above passage speaks to me profoundly. For years, my mind was like a raging river with few, if any, tranquil pools. Whether awake or asleep, at work or on vacation, thoughts raced through my mind at a dizzying rate. It was like I had left the spigot on full force and the handle was stuck in the on position.

Needless to say, despite this constant mental activity, many of my decisions weren't all that well thought out. It wasn't that I wasn't thinking; it's more than I was thinking too much! When a person processes too much information at one time, important facts and perspectives get lost in the mix.

It is only when I found the ability to still my mind that sleep came more readily and decisions were made more clearly. The river of my thoughts flow at a more lazily rate these days and it's made a tremendous difference in my life. I'm far less manic and I've found a level of contentment that had eluded me for years.

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

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 35, Part I

from Verse Thirty-Five
The energy that people receive from nature is one in terms of the feelings of the senses toward sound, form, scent, and temperature. But the way in which it is managed differs, in that some die thereby, and some live thereby; some become exemplary people, some become petty people.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
The Way is available to all beings at all times. It smiles on the good, the bad, and the ugly. It reaches out to both male and female, young and old, rich and poor, powerful and impotent, human and nonhuman alike. It is ever present for those who feel it and for those who don't. No one can escape it because it is everything.

The differences and distinctions we recognize are not borne by the source of life; it is due to how each recipient accepts that which is poured out. If we embrace the One and try to live our lives in balance with the Way, our lives can be exemplary. If we push the One away and live our lives as slaves to our egos and desires, our lives will be petty, unbalanced and stressful.

We are each provided with an equal measure; it's what we do with it that determines the kind of person we each shall become. In other words, the onus solely is on each of us. If we shun our own nature and refuse to walk our own path, we punish ourselves.

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

Real Life Tao - Trees in the Wind

As I've indicated over the past few days, we've been dealing with some stormy weather here. This weather, however, has provided me with an abject lesson in Taoist principles. Such lessons are available to each of us in the routine mundaneness of every day life...if we are open to seeing what is right there in front of us.

Behind my house are several majestic trees. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not particularly adept at estimating the size of things, but one of my neighbors thinks that these evergreens are nearly 100 feet tall.

During our fierce windstorms here on the coast, the wind can be quite savage. It's not uncommon for gusts to reach 50, 60, 70 or more miles per hour. The sound of it blowing through the forest is akin to a freight train!!

What amazes me time and time again is that these giant trees have weathered so many storms. When the wind is at its fiercest, these mighty trees bend in ways I would not think possible. They shiver as if to shake off old man winter. They often look like they are within a breath of breaking in two, yet, between the strong gusts, they return to their upright position.

What saves them and allows them to flourish is their ability to be flexible.

Standing at the base of one of these giants, they look anything but flexible! Their massive trunks appear rock solid and, if someone decided to cut one down with a hand axe, it would literally take a good deal of time. Yet, when storms roll in, they less resemble strong rigid objects and move and behave more like Gumby.

This is an apt lesson in survival for each of us. Too often, we look at flexibility as being the opposite of strength. However, it's possible to be strong AND flexible -- to stand tall when circumstances dictate and to be flexible when circumstances change. If any of these trees only possessed one of these attributes, not a one of them would have survived for as long as they have.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 34

from Verse Thirty-Four
[Sages] considered the world extra and did not try to possess it; they left everyone and everything to themselves and did not seek profit. How could they lose their essential life because of poverty or riches, high or low social status?
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
The two sentences above introduce a revolutionary concept of existence. If there is something eternal and/or spiritual housed within this framework we call a body, then the world we live in is of no great value because it is transient, in nature. It will change, bend, switch and die away, while our essence will continue on.

It would be like setting off on a long hike that would span several weeks. Who would take with them refrigerated food and that which tends to spoil quickly? If that is what you filled your knapsack with, all it would do is weigh you down and it wouldn't provide you with much nourishment beyond the first day or two.

In this same vein, our journey is a long or never-ending one. Whatever we pick up in this life on earth spoils quickly and won't be with us far along the trail. So, why weigh ourselves down in the beginning with baubles, trinkets and desires that will be discarded as we progress?

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

Real Life Tao - Too Much

In discussing Verse 33 of the Wen Tzu, I focused on the passages that spoke of profit or seeking an advantage as being adverse to Tao. It's rather easy to see this principle at work in the sphere of economics. It's also easy when we talk of the captains of industry or government leaders. What is far more difficult is when we aim the lens at ourselves to see where we each attempt to profit from the everyday situations in life.

Have you ever been at a gathering and desired a bigger share of the main course or dessert? The host brings out the Thanksgiving turkey or a scrumptious pumpkin pie. If you are an aggressive sort, you can heap upon your plate two or three servings. However, when there are many mouths to feed and you take more than your equal share, it means that others will be forced to split a smaller amount. So, while your belly is stuffed to the gills, others will leave the table hungry.

But it's not just material things in which we seek to take undue advantage. I remember when Della and I were dating; our expectations of the initial phase of our relationship were quite different. In the tradition of the American South, Della expected that she would become the center of my world. She expected -- in some cases, demanded -- that she deserved the vast majority of my attention. The problem with such a demand is that others -- friends, family, work, etc. -- will receive far less than they might expect.

Much to her consternation, I gave somewhat equal attention to her, my mother and my aging grandparents. In fact, there were several dates that either were postponed or canceled outright when my grandparents or mother needed my assistance in some way. This caused a few arguments between us. In time, fortunately, she began to understand that while she had to share me with several other loved ones, it in no way diminished my devotion to our budding relationship.

In its simplest form, any time we take or demand more of something, it generally means that someone else will receive less. It's our way of saying that we believe we are more important or worthy than others and so we deserve more.

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