The seasons do more than simply change, here in my mountain home. Spring is giving way to summer, but each time round now brings a subtle signal that all is not well with the world that I have always known. Each summer is hotter, dryer, and longer. Each spring and fall are shorter. Each winter brings less snowfall.
There are micro-cycles and macro-cycles in the ever flowing Way of life. The micro-cycles I can flow with. The macro-cycles are more difficult. Each, of course, is circling according to its nature.
Just as I wish my body were still forty-five, so I wish the Earth were still the gentle, healthy, and dependable self it used to be. But we are both changing, my old friend Earth and I. Neither of us can go back to what we were. We can only go ahead to what we will become.
It won’t be the same will it, my friend? We are both going somewhere we have never been before. I can’t save you and keep you as you used to be, nor can you save me and keep me as I was. But we can both take comfort from our long friendship, When I finally return to be with you in union once again, we will go on and find out together what is next. Thank you, my old friend.
The perception of my conditioned mind is a constricted narrow thing, a set of sensory inputs fitting within a carefully crafted interpretation.
The Milky Way, for instance, an all-to-seldom seen celestial display, to my unaided eye is indeed a milky thing, a blur across the sky.
On a clear night, however, with only a set of binoculars to aid my vision, the splash of milk becomes an exuberant array. Pin points of light by the thousands fill my field of view, and if I let my mind unguard its gates a moment, Wonder fills the space within me.
By the time I write these words about it, the Wonder is a lingering memory, hardly felt amidst the daily thoughts that seem right now as numerous as the stars themselves. The memory, however, remains and I know beyond all doubt that the Wonder of it all is Real, and these daily thoughts are small and transient illusions.
A person in pain does not need philosophy. Philosophy keeps us safe, we think. We do not want to wail and weep, so instead we philosophize and say, “there must be answers somewhere, somehow, help me, please, to find them.” And philosophers in their towers ponder and fill shelves with their learned tomes that bring no help to anyone. Is there an answer anywhere that can bring an end to sorrow?
When sorrow comes, it’s best to wail and weep. If one can wail and weep with others, even better. Don’t try to find the answers. Let the sorrow fill you to the brim and overflow, but when the sorrow passes, let it go. It will return, and pass again, and return again, and pass again. Each time it returns, greet it gently, “Hello sorrow, I recognize you. Come on in. You are welcome here. Let us weep together.”
Time passes and it drops in less and less, and eventually simply goes by on the path and nods a greeting as it passes. In the meantime compassion sprouts and grows and soon it fills our hearts completely. It is in the muddy soil of pain that the seeds of true compassion spring. As a teacher wisely said, “The mud is in the Lotus, the Lotus is in the mud.”
In this divided world, how does one take action without opposing, judging, and trying always to fix the others? Getting “them” to behave as I would wish by argument, shame, or force of law is futile. When polarities exist (and in the world of form they always do) we must move and act in another way, and that “way” is “wu.”
“Wu-wei,” the Tao Te Ching reveals, is an effortless way of living that does not let the poles demand a response of either “this,” or, “that.” It is another way of being. “Wu” means “not” and “Wei” means “action, doing.” So, “not doing, doing” is the way.
Sounds crazy, no? But in our crazy world there is but one way out and that, “wei” is “wu.” Authentic action flows and slaloms its path along a course of least resistance, never constellating the polarities to such a degree that suffering and resistance drag us down.
So I don’t attack the problem. I sit and wait, and watch, and open that part of my mind that does not think or problem-solve, but simply sees with clarity, with ease, and without urgency, without attachment. The “wei” reveals itself, and surprise! It also does itself.
When someone tells me to, “pay attention,” I am immediately confused. To what am I to pay this attention? And just what is this attention I am to pay? If I turn to a sound or a sight and ‘attend” my mind upon it, a myriad other sights and sounds no longer constellate within me. The very quality of my experience is formed by the focus of this mysterious process. My attention creates my life. So the command to pay attention and the question of to what, are perhaps the keys to happiness.
A narrow focus of attention on an object of desire, may bring me what I think I want, while cutting me off completely from a broader and more wondrous world. An open, diffuse, and spacious attending may fill my heart with awe and joy, while leaving me hungry for a sandwich.
I’ve learned this from my practice: that narrow focus is a helpful tool, best used infrequently and mindfully. Life itself is lived most fully out in the open field where narrow worries and concerns float like insubstantial wisps carried by the fresh breezes of existence.
The things my culture says should be my focus have led me down a path of fear and strife and cut me off from life. I’ve set a bell sound on my phone that rings each hour, a clear bright tone. When I hear it I stop and ask, “To what am I attending?”
I will be hosting a Zoom meeting on Sunday, June 6, at 10:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time (US and Canada). I would like to use this meeting as a chance for us to connect after such a long period of being out of touch. As I continue to explore the work of my deeper Soul during my elder years, I want to be in community with my fellow travelers along this Tao/Way – for my own Spirit’s peace and joy, and also for whatever contribution I might still make to a culture in chaos.
I will be exploring the use of the Tao Te Ching as guidance for this journey. In this first meeting there will be time for sharing experiences and for asking questions. We will also explore what continuing connections we might want to build.
I’m a beginner at Zoom meetings, so I ask for your patience and assistance as I navigate, what are for me uncharted (also nerve-wracking) technological waters.
If you would like to participate, drop an email to me at email@example.com and I will send you an invitation containing the links you will need. In your email, please include any questions and/or subjects you would like me to explore.
Everything that makes up that which I call, “me,” is not-me. It is stardust, sunlight, and rain. It is manure, seed, and plant. It is animal, vegetable, and mineral. These elements dance together for awhile and from their dance comes, “me.” I am only and ever the dance whose rhythms and melodies flow in constant interchange of sounds and silence, andante and allegro, pianissimo and fortissimo, always changing, never ending.
If I try to cling to, “me,” I stop the song and end the dance. When I understand that I’m not, “me,” I find the dance will never end and that I will always be.
Trust is elusive, to say the least. I trust in something Whole that may be called the Tao, the Ultimate, or God. I confess though, I don’t trust the separate parts. The components, so to speak, are insubstantial and cannot bear my weight. For instance: I don’t trust that life will always bring what I assume that it has promised, not because life is somehow bent, but because so many factors hide between the promise and my idea of how it should be kept. “I’ll be there in the morning,” is sincerely spoken, but it may be this morning, or tomorrow, or next week, or maybe never. I don’t trust events to unfold according to some plan of mine, born within the synapses of my brain. How, then, do I find a place for trust to rest?
The Tao Te Ching asks me: “Can you wait patiently for the dust to settle so the way ahead comes clear?” This is trust – to sit and wait. Wu-wei – “letting life live itself,” requires patience. Not to do; not to fix; not to force… I can hold out for a while, but soon, I jump back into the fray, for, if I don’t, what then becomes of me? Ah, there is the question. There is the key.
If I wait for long enough, I sink into the flow that does not simply carry me, but envelops me, infuses me, and becomes me. Trust, then, becomes the very nature of my being. What else, who else could I be?
The Great Way of Tao is not a way of getting what I want.
Sometimes I struggle so with life, that I neglect to live. I try so hard to have my way, that I forget to play. I mistake events that daily come as stumbling blocks to be avoided, or as knots to be untied. Yet an ordinary day is filled with wonders concealed by my conditioned way of thinking. Each moment contains a buried treasure awaiting my discovery. Even when my psyche aches within the dark and painful passages of life, a hidden gem anticipates revealing in a blinding flash of light.
Adversity becomes an opportunity, and adversaries are revealed as friends. Gratitude blossoms in my being. Tiny cracks appear in my facade of doubting melancholy. A playful mood insists on coming in no matter how I try to stop it, and soon I smile. I just can’t help it.