• Tag Archives Tao
  • Moving forward by taking no action

    Imbolc                                                                   Valentine Moon

    This last week was a bust as far as Latin or the book.  It was spent in the emotional and rigorous task of restoration, order to books, objets d’art, the new furnace.  Hardly wasted effort, but the effect on forward progress was substantial.

    You may notice that I’ve added a quote by Lao-Tze over the weather.  In it he advises the way of wu wei, of non-action, or, better of going with the flow, following the path life offers rather than overburdening it with goals, timelines, projects.  It’s not a huge difference from the Dalai Lama’s notion that the world does not need more successful people.  This week I’ve allowed the pace of the week to set my pace.  The result has been less frustration, less impatience.

    When the way opens again for work with Latin and the novels, I will be ready to do that.

    Though.  There is that tiny, niggling fact that I have northern European roots, not Chinese. Wu wei to my Teutonic ancestors would not have made much sense.  Set the goal, plow ahead, damn the obstacles.  Blitzkrieg.  Dynamite. (Nobel) The onward rush of history, it’s progress through material reality.  These are not the thoughts or inventions of people who follow the Watercourse Way.

    Nor, for that matter, is the other ethnic blood in my veins, Celtic.  Hot-blooded, quick to laugh, quick to anger.  Impatient with oppression.  Creative and dreamy.  Living in this world and the other world.  In one case the rational tank rolls over barriers; in the other the emotional maelstrom cooks up revolution and poetry and love.

    Wu wei is a corrective, another way of being in the world.  And we need it.  It leavens our energetic attempts to mold the world with a willingness to listen to how the world might mold us.

    It’s for another time, but the long run application of Taoist and even Confucian principles have produced a moral and ethical sink in contemporary China.  They are not the whole way.  We need each other.


  • Light and Dark

    Samhain                                            Waxing Moon of the Winter Solstice

    The holidays.  Important for personal reflection, even have the ability to transform a life as we lay our lives alongside the possibilities suggested by Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, the Winter Solstice, New Years.  Birthdays, anniversaries, too, can reach into the deep part of your self, we can call it soul, and help you see yourself in the other.  Maybe, they let you see in there, too.  Holidays are a time out of time, a break in the straight ahead, up and at’em busyness of career, family, school.

    There is, though, a dark side to the holidays.  All moments of possibility contain paths that lead not to transformation but to destruction, temptation, agony and pain.  The dark paths often emerge when the vulnerability and self-intimacy of the holiday intersects old ways of being, often ways learned in family settings, banished most of the year; but, as family and holiday conjoin, the vulnerability allows the past to rise quickly, to overwhelm.

    This is as the Tao teaches us.  Even the dark side of the holidays offers a chance to become new, a chance to take the past and place it in a new frame, a way of understanding that puts the past in its own place and leaves the future open, perhaps even better for the relocation.

    Darkness is not, in itself, bad.  Nor is light, in itself, good.  Too much light prevents our ability to see.  “Light is the enemy of art,” as the curator of the Thaw wing of the Fenimore museum said.  Darkness nurtures and heals, is a time for sleep, for seeds to germinate.  The holidays bring a special charge to the light and the darkness in our lives.  Our task is to open ourselves to what each has to offer us; to take it in and accept the possibilities.

  • How We Discover Who We Are

    Summer                                         Waxing Grandchildren Moon

    Sl-o-w-i-n-g dowwwnn.  Ah. Life returns in the emptiness.  Doing gives us fuel, puts us in life, covers our lives with experience, action, momentum.  Without doing we would not live, not be different from the rock in the garden.  But.  Without emptiness, without ceasing from action, from planning, from expecting, from measuring ourselves against markers important only to us or, worse, to others, we will not see the experience, we will not see where our all our momentum and flurry takes us, we will have no way to tell the movement of heaven.

    On a blog about Taoism I read that Taoism says the universe is our body and the tao of the universe our nature.  I don’t know if this accurately reflects taoism–so much I birthplace-of-starsdon’t know–but no matter, it does speak a truth, at least a truth that speaks to me, to my journey.  This Hubble telescope photo of the birthplace of the stars–Star-Birth Clouds in M16: Stellar “Eggs” Emerge from Molecular Cloud–is our own fertile womb, our own site of elemental fecundity, our own inner world changing and becoming the outer reality, the 10,000 things.  Fertility lies at the heart of our nature, then, and we need not worry for our nature will see us born and reborn, this time as queens, that time as infant stars, the next time as stellar dust.

    Our purpose as humans lies not in the doing, but in the opening of ourselves to wonder, to the awesome majesty of our nature, letting it guide our being and our doing.  How?  By being still, by sitting in emptiness, by slowing down, by waiting, by humbly accepting the matters and tasks that come to us.

    The doorway and the window, the room and the tea cup are all useful because they are empty.  To discover our own way we need to become empty like the room in which we sit, the doorway through which we move, the tea cup from which we drink.

    This lesson has come, or should I say, comes, to me with some difficulty, born a man, a white man of privilege, a man of whom things are expected, for whom life has a path governed not by my nature but by accident of birth. Note that in this I differ from no one.  Each of us has a life path laid down by the circumstances of our family, the particularities of our person, the exigencies of our time, yet this path is not the way, it is not our way.  Our way lies in waiting upon our body, the whole universe, to reveal our nature, the nature of the whole universe, to us.  Then our life will unfold as a flower in the spring sun.

  • Right Regrets

    62  bar rises 29.84  0mpn NEE dew-point 61  sunrise 6:29  sunset 29.84  Lughnasa

    Waning Crescent of the Corn Moon

    “Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.” – Arthur Miller

    Arthur Miller.  Once married to Marilyn Monroe.  A right regret?  Who knows.

    His point seems apt.  Until scientists convince us we do not have free will (another time), all we have in life are the choices we make.  Since the world and its manifold dynamics function chaotically (thought not without a kind of order), making choices that reflect our true values and our authentic Selves are the best we can do.  Results have so much to do with accidents of birth, i.e. man, woman, white, black, Latino, Asian, African, poor parents, middle class parents, rich parents, country of origin:  USA, Namibia, Brazil, Bangladesh, France, Georgia, era: middle ages, reformation, 19th century, 23rd century, not to mention genetic endowments and psychological environment, the crucial forks in the road for each individual life.

    This reality gives Taoism a special resonance for me.  Conforming ourselves to the movement of heaven means recognizing all these various factors as they come to a point in an individual life, our life.  Attunement rather than atonement.  We scan the heavens, using the I Ching, the Tao Te Ching, our minds and discern where to adapt and where to use the times as leverage for our choices.  Even a perfectly attuned Taoist, a sage, may have no result in their life if the times and the heavens have no room for their ambitions.


    Thus, we can only choose.  Our choices, not the results, define our regrets.  If we choose paths consistent with our values and our authentic Selves, then we will have only the right regrets.   Why?  Because we will have not betrayed who we are and we  will not have betrayed those values we clasp to our hearts.  The results come from the movement of the heavens as  our choices either align with them or bump into their hard reality.

    It may be that I have added one step too many.  If we align ourselves with the Tao, the movement of heaven, then our values may be of no importance.  If a value serves to set one in conflict with the movement of heaven, then, if I understand the Tao, it can force one out of alignment with the Tao.  This can violates conforming ourselve to the movement of heaven.

    This is what I mean when I say life does not need meaning, it is meaning; life does not need purpose, it is purpose.

  • In Tutelage to My Self

    41  bar steady  29.41 4mph dewpoint 39 Beltane

               Waning Crescent Moon of Growing

    Wet.  Cold.  Dreary.  An inside day.  I was gonna plant beets and carrots outside, but not today.  Maybe Sunday.

    Lunch with Tom Crane.  We discussed the meeting at his house where I serve as his assistant.  The topic is mastery.  The word poses some problems for me because it is difficult, if not impossible, to extricate it from its linkage to subordination.  The idea that lurks behind it, though, is strong.  Somewhere in the terms Zen master or Taoist sage or master gardener, even master craftsperson lies a life time of practice, the honing of a skill or a life way on the hard stone of experience. 

    We had an interesting conversation about who we had come across in our lives we would consider masters.  I’ll get back to you, but no one leapt to mind.  We also discussed the possibility of naming for others where we see mastery in them.  This gets around the culture bound reticence we upper-middle class Midwesterners have to tooting our own horn.

    I admitted that I had not allowed anyone to mentor me, nor had I been willing to be anyone’s disciple.  This is a weakness, I believe, borne of a need to figure things out for myself, to do things on my own.  Tom had the same experience, but for a different reason.  He was thrust into responsibility and expected to survive.  And he has.

    This is, in part at least, a vulnerability question.  Can I make myself vulnerable enough to another person to become their student, their disciple.  The result of not doing that is, as Tom and I admitted, a sense that we have never quite arrived, not quite done enough.  A niggle of uncertainty that has no reference within us which we can use to dislodge it.

    We also spoke a bit about being in tutelage to the Self.  I said I have been willing to trace my own journey by the vague outlines I feel in that part of me that participates in the greater universe, and which calls me forward to my own destiny.  As a Taoist, I would call that my attunement to the Movement of Heaven, the Tao.  A good lunch on a wet day.

  • Kauai is Old. Old and Moody.

    8:53PM 73.  Night.  Clouds.  Surf back.  Strong, cool breeze off ocean.  Humid.

    Kauai is old.  Old and moody.  It goes from sunshine to dark clouds in a moment, from dry to cloudburst.  It’s peaks sharp and jagged, there are notches between mountains.  Valleys run away from the ocean in deep v’s ending in waterfalls. 

    A quarter of the island has no roads and no human habitation.  Only 58,000 people live on Kauai as residents, though many others come through from a few days to a few months.  Like me.

    High up on Mount Wai’aleale hundreds of inches rain fall each year.  The Polihale Beach and the area around it on the south west is arid, practically desert.  Great sea slides lie in the Pacific around Kauai, evidence of land that used to be above sea level.

    The longer I’m here, the more the land and the ocean speak.  The bays, the beaches, small lakes of freshwater.  The debris thrown up on the beach speaking of  what lies beneath the water.  The way vegetation and temperature change as elevation changes.  The breezes.  The fresh catch in the restaurants:  opah, ahi, marlin, ono.

    Somewhere under all this is a process so old, so mysterious that it leaves no trace, yet nothing here happened without it.  Or happens.  Maybe it’s not under, perhaps within or around and within is better. 

    Here’s the twist for me.  The more Kauai draws me in and makes me love her, the more I want to return to Minnesota, to our lakes, our rivers and streams.  The trees and shrubs and flowers on the land we care for in Andover.  I want to make another circle tour of Lake Superior, a slow one with time to listen to the lake.   Minnesota is old, too, and the process works there, too.  The same process.

    As Lao-Tze said, “Whenever I sit in a room, the universe is there.”

  • So, This Guy Trips and Falls in the Ocean

    7:12PM  Night.  Had the weird experience of seeing Oscar winners announced at 4:30PM. 

    Tripped and fell in the ocean.  Got wet. Of course.  Mumbled.  Then, ah, what would one expect when in the ocean.

    Have a burgeoning collection of coral, have found few shells here.  

    This morning on the way to Hanalei I had just passed the taro field after crossing the one-lane bridge and there in a field was a painted pony with an egret sitting happily on his back.  A few miles further on I noticed a field with horses had several egrets.  Is there something about their relationship? 

    It looked like a fable.

    The tao continues to make inroads into my thought process.  It’s almost Platonic, in that this feels like stuff I have always known.  My intuitive processes have led me here, in spite of my rational faculties which spent so many years concentrated on Christianity because I wanted to read religion in my own cultural idiom.  It didn’t occur to me that my own personal faith language may speak in a different tongue than the Judaeo-Christian.

    Here are a few things.  All things are one.  This means, in simplest terms, that things that may seem separate, light and dark, good and bad, men and women actually compose a whole when we realize each is necessary for the other to exist.  Without light, no dark.  Without women, no men.  Without bad, no good.  Those of us married to the Western logical paradigm which has the law of excluded middle, something is either this OR that, this concept may seem troubling, even scandalous.   As Alan Watts points out in Watercourse Way, our dichotomized thinking has lead to idealism which imagines that good must made bigger and bigger until there is no bad left in the world.

    As one whose path has followed that line of thought, it becomes clearer and clearer to me why Christianity surprised me with its intellectually sophisticated approach to reality.  Christianity linked up so well with my leftist politics because leftist politics are based on the linear view of time, a time that runs out and therefore seems to demand an ending; an ending which may be good or bad.  Yikes!  Better work for the good one. 

    All over Kauai there are churches with signs: Jesus Is Coming Soon.  If that’s your paradigm, that the big guy is on his way back and watch out, then you have to work on yourself and on your society to make sure that good triumphs over evil.  This is not true only of conservative Christians; it is true of liberals, too.  This thinking made me sick.

    How?  I began to see the world in black and white terms, with them over there and us over here.  Taoist thought helps me reintegrate myself, to find some of them here and some of us over there, until, gee, we all look like part of the same world.

    My first intuition of this came in high school when I wrote a bad poem, The Test.  In it I questioned the nature of a god who only gives a person 7o years plus or minus to determine how eternity will be spent.  The math didn’t work for me.  Not long after that I knew that if I could describe one flower I can describe the whole universe.  Today I discovered that Lao-Tze said, “If I sit in the house, I have the whole universe available to me.”  Hints of this way of seeing the world.  But I couldn’t put it together.

    So, I backed into it all by leaving Christianity, then becoming more and more Celtic.  When I found Unitarian-Universalism, I found Emerson.  His essay Nature demands that we find our own relationship with the gods today, rather than rely on the experience our ancestors.  Emerson and the Celtic embrace of cyclical time lead me further and further away from a progressive view of history, until it began to recede as the dominant view in my thinking.

    When I began to start art history, Chinese and Japanese art captivated me.  In studying them, I began to search in the various schools of thought that inspired the aesthetics of these two cultures.  The art that grabbed me had Taoist influences.  Song dynasty landscapes.  Chan Buddhism teaware.  Zen Buddhist prints. Chan Buddhism comes from Buddhism’s collision with Taoism in China. 

    As I do, I began to plow backwards, into Confucius and then more seriously into Taoism.  What had long attracted me finally began to occupy more and more of my thinking and, even more important, my heart.  Now I’m diving deep and it just may be I won’t come up at all this time.  At least not as the me I’ve come to know.

    Oh, well, if you read this far, it’s your own fault. I’m on a tear here, I know.