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‘Tis a Gift

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 75

 

Why do the poor lack what they need?
Because the rich consume too much.
Why do people become restless and discontent?
Because those in power try to control every aspect of their lives.

Everyone is so concerned
with getting and keeping
that no one learns to really live
before they die.

To follow this path
we must abandon overconsumption
and embrace true simplicity.

 
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Lao-Tzu does not equivocate about simple living. He does not define it in detail, but insists that it is an essential part of the Tao. Without it, the gap between poor and rich will expand until societies self-destruct. Power and wealth will be used to control and dominate.

I can’t define simplicity for another person, but I know that my own life has been set free and empowered by it. Embracing simplicity is not just a “good” thing to do. It is a “natural” thing to do. Greed and overconsumption are not natural to humanity but are qualities that have been conditioned into us by economic and political systems over the past few thousand years.

Deep within my nature, this longing for authentic simple living has kept me somewhat on track, despite the circuitous detours. It has been a touchstone for my happiness. As the old Shaker hymn says, “’Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free. ’Tis a gift to come down where we want to be. To turn, turn, will be our delight, ‘till by turning, turning, we come out right.”

Sum of All Fears

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 74

Our true nature does not fear death.
Our conditioned mind creates this fear
in a futile attempt to control events
and keep people in line.

Death is a natural part of this path.
An unnatural fear of death leads only to killing.
It is like trying to use the intricate tools of a master craftsman.
We will surely cut ourselves.

 
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When I think about it, it really is an unnatural fear of death that gives our destructive economy and dysfunctional government its power. It finances our trillion dollar insurance/health/pharmaceutical industry. It fuels our wars. (Kill them before they kill us!) It keeps us buying our toys and diversions. My conditioned mind is filled with anxieties that have their origin in this fundamental fear. It really is the “sum of all fears” isn’t it? If I didn’t fear death, what power would anyone have over me? What reason would I have to hate or to separate myself from others? If this fear were removed from our psyches, our economy and culture would collapse and transform.

It’s not that I seek death. That’s just the other side of the coin. The natural integration of death into life allows me to see the beauty and mystery more clearly. The days dawn in precious wonder and cycle through their rhythms without clinging. There is no need to turn my head away, thus I get to see real life rather than the imitation my culture offers me. This is true freedom, authentic joy.

Who Knows?

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 73

 

We do the best we can,
yet sometimes our actions seem harmful.
At other times they seem beneficial.
We find no answer as to why this is so.
We are only shown the way to walk,
one step at a time,
accepting both harm and benefit as essential parts of life.
We are shown how to remain quiet,
yet respond to every situation.
We are shown how to be present,
even before being called.
We are shown how to be patient,
yet accomplish everything.

The mysteries and unknowns along this path are many,
yet on it we never lose our way.
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I’m not even sure I can be clear about my intentions. Hidden behind an altruistic act may lurk a subconscious desire for gain. And the best of intentions can end up in overtly harmful results. It is reassuring that even Lao-Tzu allowed these things to remain a mystery.

Rather than perseverate about motives and results, I find it more helpful to just keep taking the classic next step along the way, accepting results as temporary things that may change in the next moment. I don’t know, really, what is best. All of my great accomplishments may mean nothing in the fabric of time. All of my mistakes may work together for some greater good beyond my own lifetime. Who knows?

I won’t lose my way if I just let the unknowns remain unknown, and the mysteries remain mysteries. I do know what comes next this morning – posting this little journal and pouring another cup of coffee while I sit by a warming fire and wait for Nancy to wake up.

Real Information

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 72

 

If we have no awe of the mystery,
we are easily controlled by fear.
We constrict ourselves with self-hate
and become the willing victims of other people.

Knowing our true nature,
we see ourselves clearly,
but do not become arrogant.
We cherish ourselves
but not as separate from all other beings.
Our external identity
is nourished by our inner reality.

 
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My media fast is truly helping me see life more clearly and gradually untying the knots of fear that my cultural conditioning has used to control me for so many decades. The “information” I receive is carried by the sights and sounds, aromas and textures of my immediate environment. The temperature on the porch this morning was 28 degrees – important information for one who is settling into winter living. Gas prices are rising – information that determines our driving schedule. The pine needles are turning brown on the inner branches, getting ready to drop – a good time to prune the low-hanging branches.

I don’t need any more stories and half-truths, delivered in alarming and manipulative ways, to know how I want to live in relationship with the Earth and all Her life. A person has to pay close attention and take great care in order to know where to find “actionable” information amidst the propaganda, economic pressure, and fear that fills our media and lives.

I am finding “my Self” and, from that discovery, all else falls into place. Right action emerges naturally and life lives itself. That’s what I’m focusing on today.

Awareness

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 71

 

If we pretend to be aware
but do not recognize
our own suffering,
we remain ignorant.

The fundamental joy of this path is the awareness
of the suffering caused by our own mind.
Knowing its origin,
we know its ending.
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It’s all here in my mind this morning – joy and suffering mixed. First a thought of peace and contentment; then a contrary thought of what’s “wrong” and needs fixing. Does it have to be this way? Does every thought of joy have to be negated by a counter-voice of how it’s wrong, or can go wrong? I don’t believe so. I believe that the Natural Mind, or Tao Mind, of contentment and joy exists below and beyond this dualistic dance. The practice of the day; actually the practice of the moment, is to keep my attention on this deeper Awareness.

Things in the outer world still need my notice and care, but they don’t have to be the bedrock of my attention. Awareness of the depth of existence can come to be a continuous flow in my life and the details can float on top of this flow, handled with ease and without strain. The question today is: What will be the focus of my attention? Can I keep it resting in Awareness and let the rest dance about without causing me anxiety or discontent?

My Choice

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 70

 

Our conditioned ways of seeing things and doing things
make it hard for us to understand,
but this path is easy to find
and easy to follow.

This path arises from the source of all.
Its power enlivens all things.
If we learn to know this source,
we learn to know ourselves.

Following this path we are led to the inner treasure of our being.
Our outer trappings remain simple
so we are free to cherish our inner joy.

 
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The idiosyncrasies of an ancient cabin push hard against my conditioning. I’m a “modern man” and everything around me is supposed to be efficient and problem-free. Plumbing is supposed to remain hidden and do its job without fail. Hot water is not supposed to come out of the cold setting in the kitchen sink. Faucets should not need replacing.

Because of this conditioning, I feel like I am “off the path” when things go awry. When everything goes as it is “supposed” to go, then my conditioning tells me that I am, “on the path.” This, of course, insures that I am seldom “on the path.”

In fact, I am never off the path. I only suffer when I fall into the illusion that such can happen. That is why this path is, “easy.” Today Nancy is traveling to visit a friend on the coast for a few days and I will be alone with my thoughts. Plumbing needs investigating and winter preparations need to continue. On the path? Off the path? The choice is mine alone.

Division

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 69

 

Military strategists agree.
They would rather defend
than make a foolish attack.
They would rather consolidate than overextend.

So we move forward
without conquering anyone.
We gain without anyone losing.
We confront obstacles
without using weapons.

We call no one enemy,
for to call someone enemy
is to lose our inner unity.
We become divided against ourselves
and everyone suffers.

When conflict arises
we refuse to separate ourselves.
This is how we remain at peace.

 
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A very important chapter for our divided culture. It goes in a dangerous circle, it seems. We are divided within ourselves so we see the world through that divided lens – friend and enemy. The more we see the world that way, the more fragmented within we become and the outer world fragments even more.

The climate crisis comes to mind. I understand the science involved in the crisis and can hardly believe the denial that permeates leadership. However, making these people my enemy solves nothing. It only continues the polarization and divides me inside myself, leading to internal angry conversations. If I don’t divide myself by the too-easy act of blaming, I can see my way more clearly today. How do I consolidate my energy into helpful action? How do I continue to take individual steps toward solutions? How do I communicate with others, as friend to friend, my feelings?