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Preferences

August 2, 2019

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 5

Life has no preferences.
Every manifestation has its place
and lives its life under the sun.
Therefore we welcome
everything and everyone
without distinction.

Life continuously breathes
its forms into existence,
never depleting itself,
always replenishing itself.

Clinging to our preferences,
we separate ourselves from life and suffer exhaustion.
Sitting still and following our breath,
we find renewal.
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Of course I have preferences. I naturally prefer some foods over others; some environments over others; even some people over others. The problem arises when I take these preferences seriously, as if they were an actual true understanding of, “the way the world should be!”

Well, Bill, the world is what it is. Life is what life is. The Mystery of Life has arisen as dolphins and mosquitoes; strawberries and poison oak; the Dali Lama and Donald Trump. The Tao doesn’t say to itself, “Oops, sorry, shouldn’t have done that. Donald Trump, poison oak, and mosquitoes were a mistake. My bad.”

Welcoming means that I acknowledge the reality and presence of all forms and events. It does not mean that I do not act to alleviate pain, suffering, and injustice wherever I am able. It means that I admit that I do not understand the intricate interweaving of forms and events and accept that Something Bigger than my own ignorance is at work. This is a relief. It allows me to sit still and see more clearly what I might do to help rather than rushing about imposing my preferences on the landscape.

I will always, by definition, prefer my preferences. It is satisfying and comforting to know that the circle of preferences can continually expand, including more and more of the contradictory, paradoxical, and marvelous wonder of Life.

Belonging

August 1, 2019

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 4

Walking this path,
we experience inexhaustible energy.
From what appears an empty void,
we find the bounty of life.

Our edginess, tension,
anger, and turmoil
begin to settle down.
In their place we find
a deep tranquility
that has been here waiting
since before the beginning
of beginning-less time.

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I experience two primary sources of energy. One, the most familiar source, seems to be generated in my head, the product of my thoughts. Another, more subtle but vastly more powerful, source is located in that seemingly empty place that we are reluctant to approach. People sense it in different ways. I tend to be aware of it in my “Hara”- that place that Taoists call the “Tantien” or the “Field of Energy” located in the abdomen. However we sense it, it is the connection to the Mystery, the Void, the Divine Womb. It is from this place that the Life Force that animates us emerges.

Because it is an unfamiliar place, I am reluctant to allow my attention to dwell within it. Therefore I move through the day from my “head energy” and am always a bit off-balance, tight of shoulder and brow, leaning into the moments as if trying to get them over with as quickly as possible and on to… well, to whatever’s next. When I sink my attention to this deeper, less defined, less “rational” place, my perspective on life changes. I no longer have to struggle to find a place to belong because I realize that I have always, throughout eternity, Belonged.

Achievement

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 3

If achievement is valued,
jealousy will result.
If possessions are valued,
hoarding and stealing will result.

Therefore this path is one
of contentment and simplicity.
It empties the mind of its chattering,
and fills the soul with truth.
It frees us from our wanting
and returns us to our passion.

No longer needing to have our own way,
we are not fooled by clever plots and plans.
Our actions become focused, pure, and effortless.

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Of course it is difficult to remain focused. Culture is build upon the premise that we don’t yet have everything that we want. If we think that we do, we must be quickly disabused of that heretical thought. Political polemics are based on our dissatisfaction. “Vote for me and I will make it better!” (How’s that working for us?) Our economic truism states that the consumer must be constantly stimulated to want something else, something more. It is this wanting that keeps us falling victim to the latest schemes of con artists. (Including 99% of political voices and 90% of all advertising)

Honestly, all I want is a simple life of genuine contentment; to be happy, sad, sick, well, working, resting, and ultimately dying – all in a natural, un-selfconscious way. What could I possibly purchase that would bring me this? What could I possibly achieve outside of my self that would guarantee me this? On the other hand, what could possibly keep me from this, other than my conditioned mind? I have it all already.

Flux

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 2

Beauty cannot exist
without ugliness.
Virtue cannot exist
without vice.
Living, we know death.
Struggling, we know ease.
Rising high, we know the depths.
Being quiet, we understand noise.

Everything gives rise to its opposite,
therefore we work without conscious effort,
and teach without agenda.
We enjoy everything
and possess nothing.
Our accomplishments
do not emerge from our ego
so we do not cling to them.
Thus they benefit all beings.

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Life is flux. Everything is always changing into something else. It seems so solid and real, but that is just the way my mind (which is also always changing) constructs the data from my perceptive organs. I will likely awake tomorrow morning in the same bed in which I fell asleep. But everything will be different. Millions of cells in my body will have died and been replaced. I will have dreamed and the neuron networks in my brain will have shifted. Mount Shasta, that Queen of Mountains near my home, will look the same but it will not be the same. Snow will have melted. Winds will have shifted soil and plant matter. Plants will have died and seeds will have germinated. Birds and animals will have eaten seeds, insects, and each other. This process is happening in every micro-instant of the process of life.

The “me” that writes … this word… if different from the “me” that writes… this word. A deep understanding of this truth helps me not fall victim to clinging. Everything, my “self” included, is the River of Tao flowing and cannot be grasped. This is a frightening, yet freeing, realization. I don’t have to hold on to any of it, my “self” included.

Can I let that awareness affect my moods and actions today?

Thinking

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 1

Talking about a path
is not walking that path.
Thinking about life
is not living.

Directly experiencing life
brings unconditional appreciation and unity.
Thinking about life
brings conditional judgments and separation.

Free of conditioned thinking, we experience our true nature.
Caught in conditioned thinking, we experience only who we think we are.

Yet both our conditioned nature and our true nature are part of life itself.
Our conditioned experience of living is a gateway to unconditional life.

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I am not who I think I am. Yet my thinking mind has created such an illusion of solidity, permanence, and reality that to conceive of myself as anything else is to venture into the realm of metaphysics and flounder around. I don’t think metaphysics is going to help me. That seems just another way of using the conditioned mind to try to solve a conundrum that it itself has created.

In the type of meditation I practice, rooted in the Taoist tradition, there is no attempt to stop the thinking mind, nor is there any attempt to attach to and use the thinking mind. I simply sit still, keep all my perceptive senses open, including my eyes, and imagine myself outside of, at a distance from the thoughts. It is as if they were a train of boxcars going by on a railroad. When I notice that I have hopped the train and am suddenly miles down the track, I simply imagine myself off the train and back in my body’s center – my heart, or my lower stomach, and return to simply watching. This process helps me realize that, though I have thoughts, I am not those thoughts.

This meditative process carries over into all of my life and helps me spend more and more of my time in the direct experience of my life. I still think thoughts, but they are not nearly as problematic as they used to be and I am open to Wonder and Joy far more often.