June 1

Since the Tao gave birth to the Cosmos

She may truly be called, “Mother,”

and everything we see around us

may be called Her children.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 52

“Making” the universe and,

“birthing” the universe

are different acts entirely.

If I am made and set in motion

by some external god,

I am forever something separate.

If, however, I am birthed by Tao,

I am forever part of Her.

Her rhythms are my own

and her energy fills my atoms.

I honor Mother Earth

and the Earth honors Mother Tao.

We are Hers

and she is ours.

Metaphors such as “birthing” have a limited application. The unfathomable mystery of existence will not succumb to a single metaphor. Being born of Tao does, however, bring me a sense of belonging that other metaphors have failed to do. Lao-Tzu was one of the few sages of his era who consistently used feminine images for Tao. He seemed to be striving to express the close connection that exists between mother and child as similar to the connection he felt with the Tao. On the one hand he saw the Tao is inexpressible, vague, and distant. In many other verses similar to the one above, though, he felt its presence and nurture in tangible, tender, and affecting ways.

June 2

If we recognize the Tao’s children,

we recognize her,

for She and her children

are one.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 52

Seeking the Tao is unnecessary.

Whatever I see is Tao.

Whatever I touch is Tao.

All that is inside me is Tao.

All that is outside me is Tao.

The Andromeda galaxy is Tao

and the eye that views it in wonder

is Tao.

The light years between

that galaxy and me

are also Tao.

So separation is an illusion.

One of my favorite books for children is by Chara Curtis and is titled, All I See Is Part Of Me. That title can be used as a helpful mantra for those times when I feel lost and separated. It reminds me that anything and everything I perceive is a part of me and, conversely, I am a part of everything I perceive. The illusion of separation remains a “real” illusion for me and I seldom feel, really feel, myself as a part of All That Is. No matter. The inability of my conditioned mind to feel this truth does not alter its reality. It is a truth that I must practice until it permeates the quantum nature of my body and the very neurons of my brain begin to reprogram my awareness until I actually know that all I see is part of me, and I am part of all I see.

June 3

A chaotic mind is focused

on opinions and anxieties.

A mind at rest in Tao

is quiet and free of fear.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 52

I’m astonished, when I observe my thoughts,

to find that most are mere opinions;

feelings and beliefs

about this or that;

viewpoints to be defended

against different-minded people;

or simple judgments about trivia -

too hot, too big, too small, too far…

The more opinions bounce around,

the greater the anxiety,

for the world will not conform,

insists on remaining different

from my opinions about it.

One of the reasons I limit my exposure to cultural and social media is because most of what is presented is asking me to have an opinion; to like, dislike, agree, disagree, be outraged, be pacified, etc. A quiet mind seems to be unacceptable. The mind must be constantly scanning the limitless landscape of opinion in a futile attempt to find a place to feel at home, secure, and safe. A mind that oscillates like this is never free of anxiety and has a diminished ability to respond to life. As the opinion machine in my head slows down, my mind approaches its natural state of rest. Contrary to the popular belief that we must be constantly stirred in order to survive, the truth is that a quiet mind is more receptive to deeper guidance, authentic insight, and creative constructive action.

June 4

We are tender hearted by nature.

Deep within us is a place of peace.

    From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 52

I play a game of hide and seek

with that place of peace.

It seems we take turns hiding.

Alternating who is, “It.”

But it’s really me who’s hiding,

scurrying from cover to cover

lest tranquility overtake me.

I’m afraid to stop and wait

in the open long enough.

So I pretend it’s me who’s seeking

as I dart from hole to hole.

Why, I wonder, do I play this silly game? Probably because I don’t trust that, somewhere deep inside I am, in reality, the person I keep trying to make myself be. There must be something I have to improve before I can be at peace. If I don’t have to improve, what else is there to do? I might find out the answer to that question if I stop long enough. It’s possible that there is a whole world of creative action to which I am self-blinded. I may as well take the chance and stop the frantic game. What do I have to lose? But it’s scary out here in the open.


June 5

Our hearts and minds have

a natural harmony with the Tao;

but distractions are everywhere,

pushing, pulling, shoving,

clamoring for attention.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 53

Not one more thing to add

to an overcrowded mind;

not another rung

on the ladder of achievement;

not something else affixed

to the spiritual aura;

not a conquest,

not a victory,

not a mastery.

The Tao is what is there

when these things

have lost their luster.

The paradox I have faced throughout my life is the effortless effort necessary for a life of natural joy. Spiritual practices abound. Many lifetimes can be spent on so-called mastery of a practice or a path. It’s seems foolish to believe that the Taoist path is easy, but it is. Yet the paradox arises when I realize just how enormous is the accumulation of crap in the synapses of my brain, and how much willingness is required to patiently release, one by one, the stories, desires, and fears. I begin to see the courage required for me to spend a day, and hour, or even a minute without a conditioned thought to distract me from my natural, easy, joyous path. A paradox indeed. A wu-wei path; a path of effortless effort.

June 6

When the rich invest in amusements,

and governments invest in weapons;

when the fields grow money

and jobs create wealth

for the very few;

the Tao is forgotten

and certainly misery

will follow.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 53

Power and wealth have been the benchmarks

for so long that I can hardly imagine

what a culture might become

without these aspirations.

If the benchmark became the Tao

wealth might be measured

by happiness and contentment.

Governments might invest in the health

and well-being of all people.

Fields might grow food again

and work might once more produce

lovely and useful things.

The silent suffering we try to hide

might be ended at last.

There truly is a silent suffering that circulates through my culture. There is a loud and overt dissatisfaction as well, but is the subterranean fear and sorrow that fuels the greed and violence we see manifest in our public life. From Lao-Tzu’s perspective, governments should not be the domain of the powerful, but of the self-giving; wealth should never be hoarded but distributed; and daily work should be to provide sustenance, delight, and contentment for the whole community.

June 7

What is true, is true

and cannot be made false,

however hard we try.

What we learn of the Tao,

can never be taken from us.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 54

The truth of who and what I am

has been with me since the beginning.

I sometimes glimpse its existence,

and quickly forget what I saw.

I catch hints of it, waiting

beside me with patient humor.

I feel it within me in moments

of silent peace and also

in the welling up of sobs

at unexpected times and places.

It comes in songs and dances,

visions and sensations,

and declares “True.”

These brief experiences of Self-awareness may pass quickly and be replaced by the hundreds of conditioned ideas of who I am, what I want, and how I feel. The truth remains that I know these things that have come to me in such transient seeming ways. They can not be taken from me no matter how vehemently my mind tries to deny them. I am these things, these few unassailable things, and I am not the myriad other things I think, or thought, I was.

June 8

When we see a person,

the Tao is that person.

When we see a mountain,

the Tao is that mountain.

Whatever we see,

the Tao is that.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 54

I can believe the Tao is my spouse,

or the magnificent mountain

rising to the sky just east of here.

I can believe the Tao is beautiful.

It’s harder to believe

that the Tao is Donald Trump,

or a meadow strewn with rusted cars

and cast-off refrigerators.

The practice asked of me

is to pay close attention,

look carefully and patiently,

and see the Tao in people

that I do not like,

and in places I would rather

never go.

I don’t have to like everything I see or approve of every happening. I am free to oppose that which seems unjust and to support what seems to me to be helpful and compassionate. It all remains the Tao. Nothing stands outside the Tao, therefore nothing can oppose it. This gives me a strange sense of peace. I could, if certain circumstances arose, die fighting against oppression and still understand that both the oppression and my opposition of it are the infinite, ever-changing, dance that is the Tao. I am free to support or to oppose. I am not free, however, to stand outside the Tao to do it.

June 9

How do we know the Tao is true?

We see it within our selves.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 54

Looking within myself to see the Tao

is a perplexing experience.

There is so much conditioned crap

that masquerades as me,

that I easily become confused.

Any number of voices

clamor for my attention,

each insisting that it, alone,

is the truth.

All are lying.

All are illusion.

When I finally see the Tao in me,

it is silent and smiling,

and I know it’s true.

Introspection is a dangerous practice. It so easily becomes absorption in all the illusory “selves” within us - believing their dramas, trying to fix them, attempting to make them play nice with each other and stay in line. Perhaps “mindful self-awareness” is a better term. With practice, we learn to recognize the conditioned dramas, stop believing them, and then see past them, penetrating into a deeper place where the ego-selves no longer dominate. It is a life-long practice that requires patience and willingness, but I can’t imagine a more rewarding undertaking. It is the  adventure in search of the Soul. What could be more central to life?

June 10

In harmony with the Tao, we are like an infant

who has not yet stiffened against life;

whose body is soft but whose spirit is powerful.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 55

The infant has not yet learned

to feel separate and afraid.

Hunger and discomfort may arise,

but fear has not yet entered

to constrict the muscles

and infect the mind.

The sage is like an infant.

Illness and death may come,

but the spirit is soft

and the mind is supple

and free of fear.

Qigong and stretching exercises help me stay reasonably soft in my body, despite the inevitable stiffening of age. It is my spirit that truly needs to find the “sage inside.” A brittle fearful mind is the where the real ravages of age manifest themselves. An infant has no capacity to control the environment and insure safety and nurture. It is completely dependent on the parent and therefore does not waste energy stiffening against life. The sage must have some of the same quality. Age dispels the life-long illusion of control and returns us to the knowledge that we are completely dependent on the Tao, therefore we are invited not to waste energy in mental and physical constrictions. If the conditioned fears of life can be released as we age we may find we are entering a period of immense spiritual power, manifested through a flexible and sensitive spirit.

June 11

In harmony with the Tao, we resist nothing,

therefore conquer everything.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 55

If I don’t resist, won’t I be a victim

of every plot and scheme?

Shouldn’t I be always on my guard

lest corrupt and evil people

take advantage of me?

Or shall I stay balanced

and let the energy that would be used against me,

flow around me and expend itself?

Then, when the time is right,

let action flow from the center of my being

sweeping away the obstacles.

and restoring balance and peace.

At the moment I am feeling a bit under the weather, a slight headache and some stuffy sinuses. Shall I resist the symptoms, not let illness have the upper hand, soldier on through? Or shall I accept the rhythms of my body and cooperate with its healing work? I decided to take a nap. This is, of course, a somewhat trivial example of non-resistance, but it is illustrative of the main point. Taking a nap was not a capitulation to infectious forces in my body. It was a considered strategy of balance and cooperation with the healing nature of life. Everything that happens is part of a infinitely complex interaction of energies. Non-resistance means accepting this interaction and seeking to find the center point in the midst of it all from which to take the most effective action.

June 12

In harmony with the Tao

there is no need for force.

Life arises without effort

in the present moment

and actions produce

lasting results.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 55

If I pay attention to the present moment

I find information and counsel

from deeper wells of wisdom

than the usual blathering

that flows out from my fears

and my desires.

When my fears and desires are hooked

the action that ensues produces little more

than sound and fury,

attempts to control the uncontrollable,

and structures that must be held in place

by constant vigilance and effort.

When I heed the natural wisdom of the moment

my actions become more helpful and enduring;

and I remain at peace.

To live “effortlessly” is not to live without thinking or planning. It is to live without the resistance and strain of what S. Suzuki, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, called “second thoughts,” as distinguished from “first thoughts.” First thoughts are the natural and helpful impressions that arise in the brain in the present moment. Second thoughts are the rabbit trails of associative thinking that dominate our mental habits. Second thoughts are not wrong and associative thinking is sometimes helpful. But the majority of my second thoughts are simply diversions and expressions of fear - not a stable platform from which to take action.

June 13

Those who speak, don’t know.

Those who know, don’t speak.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 56

Oh my, oh my.

Each time I meet this verse,

and look back at the mountains of words

I’ve spoken and written

about the Tao,

I cringe.

But writing is what I do

and I may as well continue.

You and I might well consider though,

that I am sharing my journey,

not my expertise;

my exploration,

not my knowing.

I have explored the Tao for four decades and written about it for more than two decades. One could assume that this is ample demonstration that I know nothing about it whatsoever. Yet Lao-Tzu himself spoke of and wrote of his Tao. He didn’t write many words, however, and I discover that the more I try to explain it, the more elusive it gets. Whether I’m trying to explain it to you or to myself, the explanation quickly substitutes for the Thing Itself. Perhaps this is why poetry is the basic language of Taoist thought. As the Buddha said, words are fingers pointing at the moon. It is the moon itself that satisfies, not the fingers. If my words can somehow enable you and me to see the moon, I will keep on writing.

June 14

Stay silent.

Stop listening to trivia.

Stop taking offense.

Stop over-thinking.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 56

Silence is an inside job.

The stillest morning in the forest

is filled with rustles, chirps, and whispers.

The refrigerator drones in the quiet.

The fabric in my pants swishes against itself

as I walk up the hallway.

Life is not a quiet experience,

but the mind can be the still point

about which it all turns.

This still point cannot be found

through words, thoughts, or information.

It waits for all of these to fade away.

I had a tooth pulled yesterday and spent the afternoon in considerable discomfort. The dentist supplied me with a few codeine-laced pills that I decided to use. They indeed helped ease the pain, but the pain relief is not what makes them dangerously addictive. My racing thoughts settled down and my mind became sweetly quiet, like a still pond on a breezeless day. We accuse addicts of looking for a “high,” but it is the stillness that would hook me. The engine of my culture depends on the fuel of noisy minds. That is the reason trivia, fear, and conflict fill every media source from entertainment to sports to politics. I can’t depend on little white pills so Lao-Tzu’s advice in chapter 56 becomes a foundation stone for my practice.

June 15

The life our heart desires

is undisturbed by thoughts

of success or failure,

and simply takes its place

as part of All That Is.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 56

The two-sided coin called “success or failure”

has been minted by our collective mind

and put in circulation by our fears and desires.

It is “phony money”

that we now believe has actual worth.

It substitutes for the rewards we truly want:

doing the work that is ours to do;

seeing the world in simple splendor;

loving and being loved

without conditions;

and never doubting

that we belong.

A voice inside my head asserts that everyone wants to be successful; that it is a natural human quality and leads to advancement of the economy and improvement of the quality of life. But we have so twisted the word that exactly the opposite results now ensue. In the Tao, success is a community experience that arises when people pursue simplicity, service, and compassion. All enjoy success together, and all suffer hardship together. When it becomes an individual pursuit the Tao is lost, community is lost, and happiness is lost. To find our way back home it will be essential that we each patiently redefine the term, “success,” as we consider our own lives and the lives of others.

June 16

People use plans in an attempt

to gain their objectives.

But true success arises

from letting go of plans.

Life lives itself.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 57

Life lives itself through me -

neither haphazardly

nor according to my plans -

but by the eternal creative

flow of Tao.

The same Life that carves canyons

and fills up oceans,

sustains me without effort,

and I live according to my nature

the way the bear who lives unseen

on the hill behind my home

lives according to his nature.


A house might benefit from a plan, at least one that exists in the mind of the builder. But the most beautiful and functional homes arise from flexible and open-ended plans, and are created by builders who let the form emerge from a blend of materials and imagination. A house should be built according to its own nature. Any creative form should be built according to its own nature. Look around and notice a human society consisting primarily of forms and products built according to someone’s “plan.” Then look at the mountains, forests, and lakes that exist, not according to plan, but according to their own nature. As a forest has its own nature, so does our individual life. Don’t spoil it with a plan.

June 17

Weapons destroy life.

Rules constrict life.

Cunning plots complicate life.

Striving weakens life.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 57

All the strategies I’ve been taught

to make my life safe and happy

have turned out to be

misguided illusions.

Weapons have never kept us safe;

Rules have failed to make us happy;

Plots boomerang on us every time;

and all our effort gains us nothing.

Why do we keep believing lies?

Why do we increase our speed

when heading for a cliff?

Why do we follow voices

whose intent is to crush our spirit

and control our every action?

Lao-Tzu continues to amaze me with advice that is completely counter to my conditioned mind. Someone inside me still believes that weapons can keep me safe; that I must follow other people’s rules in order to survive; and that I must try harder and harder to achieve whatever in the hell it is we’re all striving for. This cultural conditioning is more than just a little voice inside my own head. It is the driving energy of the deep currents of violence, misery, and chaos that my world faces today. We can do our part to balance this energy by ceasing to believe this voice. It’s always lied to us and its lies are destroying us.

June 18

Stop trying to improve yourself

and find that you naturally improve.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 57

Self-improvement is an oxymoron

designed to keep an illusion alive

by insisting that it keep improving.

Who is this “self”

and why does it need “improving?”

I’d like to keep learning and discovering

new wonders in the corners of my life.

I’d like to see more clearly

into the reality of existence.

But I think for this to happen

I’ll have to stop tending to this self

and its demands for improvement.

Of course I enjoy learning, growing, and discovering new depths of myself and of the cosmos in which I live. To use the concept of improvement to characterize this enjoyment is, at least within my culture, unhelpful. Improvement tends to imply a standard by which to measure myself, an “ideal me” for which to strive. Innovation is simply thinking of something new and giving it a try. Creativity is the helpful use of imagination. Exploration is the willingness to venture into new territory, relationships, and world views. These things can flow naturally within my life without being contaminated by the conditioned desire to, “improve.”

June 19

Stop trying to change the world

and find that it naturally changes.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 57

I want so many things to change:

I want intelligent leaders,

dedicated to service,

instead of megalomaniacs

dedicated to themselves;

I want the Earth to be sustained

and appreciated,

instead of exploited

and abused;

I want an abundance of healthy food

available to all,

instead of factory food

available at market-driven prices;

I want health care…

I want so many things to change.

What am I to do?


I think perhaps that “trying” is the key to Lao-Tzu’s thought. Action toward change that arises out of creative awareness of my non-separate state unfolds naturally and is likely to be helpful in the long term. Action that arises from the fearful place of feeling separate from the world - standing outside of it trying to “fix” it - is seldom wise and is so often contaminated by my unconscious fears, desires, and opinions. No harm at all in taking action. I just want to let my ideas and actions be part of the natural change the Tao is always about, rather than part of my conditioned mind’s “better ideas.” It’s a subtle difference, I know, but I can feel that difference when I pay attention.

June 20

Stop trying to be good and holy,

and find that your heart is pure.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 57

“Be good!” has echoed

down the corridors of my mind

as long as I can remember.

It was the imperative of imperatives;

the sine qua non of all commands -

as if the basic quality of my being

were a matter of my moral choice.

“Be holy” adds yet another layer of suffering.

Now it is some god out there

whose expectations I must meet

in order to be acceptable.

To know that my heart is naturally pure -

whole, clear, genuine, and real -

that is happiness.

The problem lies in the slippery usage of the words.  The admonition to “be good,” implies a degree of forced morality, either by an external or an internal judge.  If it were phrased as, “learn to act with compassion,” I could understand it as a sage and helpful guideline. Guidelines are helpful in steering our inherent goodness along wise and mindful pathways. Assuming that I am basically, “good,” allows me to learn and mature in my choices without the pressure of being either bad or good. But believing that goodness is some sort of moral achievement puts me always at the mercy of the voices, internal and external, that want me to behave a certain way for their own ends. Perhaps a gentle admonition might be best stated, “Continue to grow in wisdom and compassion because your heart is good and pure!

June 21

Stop trying to gather things

and find that you already have everything.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 57

A few things are fun to have,

but carrying all this stuff through life

brings  a certain weariness;

and, thing is, I’m told

the newest Amazon gadget

will really help that weariness -

make my life easier,

save me time,

free me up -

I’m so relieved to find

that help is only a click away.

Excuse me now,

I need to check it out.

The weariness of possessions builds up surreptitiously over a lifetime. I don’t consciously load myself down with trinkets and stuff. It just sort of, you know, “appears.” Once it’s here it seems to take too much effort to throw it out, so I’ll stuff it in the closet or the corner of the garage and maybe, someday, I’ll do something with it. We live in a heavily forested area and Cal Fire, the primary state forest fire protection agency, has just distributed their “evacuation preparedness” leaflets to the residents as a reminder for the coming fire season. It is enlightening to note that we could in fact put everything we truly need into our car in about ten minutes. I’m going to keep that fact in mind as I go about my life and hold everything else very lightly. I’m also going to keep in mind that half the world’s population doesn’t have a car and must evacuate with what they can carry. The refugee crisis in today’s world makes my evacuation scenario a real “first world issue,” doesn’t it?

June 22

When people interfere in the lives of others

everyone is restless, discontent, and fearful.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 58

Social creatures that we are,

we love to dabble in the affairs of others.

It is clear to me,

what you should do.

I could help you

if you would only listen.

I have your best interests in mind.

Pay attention, now,

and I will make your life

oh, so much better.

You’ll make more money;

be more successful;

live more comfortably.

No need to be grateful.

It was my pleasure to be of help.

Does this mean I should never offer help? Of course not. Helping others is part of being human. We indeed are social creatures and depend upon each other in so many ways. Helping others, though, is a delicate practice - one that is easily misused. My view of another person’s life is always a projection, filtered through my own history, experience, and emotion. So, in fact, no one really knows the best path for another person at any given moment. We can’t foresee the ultimate implications of our desire to be of help. All we can do is open our heart in compassionate acceptance and let whatever help we give be gentle, non-interfering, and without strings.

June 23

Trying to make others happy leads to frustration,

for happiness arises from within.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 58

I’d like to make you happy,

I really truly would.

But if you depend on me

to be your source of joy,

we are both imprisoned.

Oh, we can enjoy each other

if that joy arises freely from our hearts.

We can encourage each other

to follow paths that bring delight.

We can celebrate with each other

the bliss and thrill of being alive.

What we can’t do

is make each other happy.

For that, when all is said and done,

is simply using and being used,

controlling and being controlled.

I delight in being with my spouse, Nancy. I value her being and rejoice in her existence. I am grateful beyond words for having married her. I am happy to share life with her. But she doesn’t make me happy. What a burden that would be for us - to feel that, “I am here to make Bill happy,” or, “I am here to make Nancy happy.” The joy we feel arises from the opportunity to share our happiness or sorrow with another person. So I do not look to Nancy to make me happy. I cultivate happiness as a spiritual practice and then share it with her. She does the same for me.

June 24

Trying to make others behave is futile.

It only breeds resentment and resistance.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 58

Behavior can be coerced in others

if enough power and control is applied.

Eventually, however, resistance grows

and manifests in rebellion.

A culture of a million different laws

creates ten million law-breakers.

The fewer laws,

the fewer criminals.

Find what people naturally want to do

and structure laws that help them

do just that.

Yes, we need certain protections for order and safety, but no amount of legal pressure will ever create a spirit of cooperation within a person’s heart. That cooperative spirit is inherent in human nature, but is often extinguished before it grows to maturity because of legal systems that are primarily concerned with property and wealth. The inevitable push-back causes people to become resistant and self-protective against being “told what to do and not do.” Coercion never works in the long run. The only way out of the trap is to acknowledge and cultivate the natural cooperative spirit whatever ways we can.

June 25

Follow the Tao as you see it

unfold itself before you;

but don’t impose what you see

upon the lives of others.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 58

I want you to see what I see

because I don’t trust my own seeing.

I want you to understand what I say

because I don’t trust my own understanding.

I want you to walk the path I walk

because I don’t trust my footing.

I argue, not because I know

that you are misguided.

I argue because I do not trust

my own internal guide.

It is not mistrust of you

that makes me so afraid.

It is that I have never learned

to truly trust myself.

All the argument and fuss in our society arises from the inability to trust our innermost guidance. It seems like the pulpit-pounding preacher is convinced of his own self-righteousness, but he is actually deluding himself. The conviction that must be forced upon another person does not arise from the center of our being. In today’s polarized society it is almost impossible to discern the guidance that speaks quietly within our center. It takes silence, stillness, and patience to hear this guide. If we can stop and listen in this manner, we will find our way through the chaos and the shouting - we really will. If we don’t find a way to heed this quiet voice, we will become “true believers” and lose ourselves entirely.  

June 26

Be a simple companion to people

instead of trying to dazzle them

with your enlightenment and wisdom.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 58

I have been conditioned by a culture

in which dazzling and astounding others

is the preferred way to life’s success.

If I don’t dazzle and astound,

how will I stand out from the crowd?

Who will love me

if I am not special and remarkable?

Who will pay attention?

Who will affirm and appreciate?

How will I survive if you are not aware

of just how wonderful I really am?

One of the reasons I am experimenting with fiction writing at this stage in my life is an attempt, I think, to drop the wise and sagacious persona by which I have received affirmation and livelihood over the years. It is not that I don’t value my books and poems, nor do I dismiss my ability to be a craftsman of words. Nothing I’ve written, however, can carry the weight of expectation that my conditioned mind has placed upon me. The more I try to be wise the more ignorant I feel and sound. The more I try to lead, the more adrift and off track I become. I have to find the courage to step away from the personas of a lifetime; to find my own unique way while continuing to contribute what I can as a companion and fellow-traveler on the Tao.

June 27

When our affairs are guided by humility

our power is not wasted in efforts to control.

Our roots are deep in Mother Tao

and events never overwhelm us.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 59

Feeling overwhelmed by outside events -

by forces outside of our control -

is certainly a common human trait.

When this feeling comes to me

I remember, if I can,

that nothing is really outside.

Everything is inside,

growing as a tree grows

reaching toward the sun.

Emerging as a mountain emerges

pushing into the sky.

Flowing as a river flows

unfailing to the ocean.

So I unfold as well,

expressing the life of Earth

as the Earth expresses

the life of Tao.

Lao-Tzu often uses the feminine principle to describe aspects of the Tao. The word, “Mother.” indicates the natural and unforced quality of giving birth and nurturing as opposed to controlling and molding people and events. This attribute of the Tao is similar to the indigenous peoples use of “Mother Earth” to indicate reverence for the source of our life and sustenance. All life emerges from the Earth, from its elements and its energies, in an unforced and organic manner. Since I am an expression of this same inherent power, it seems only logical that my life is at its best when it also flows naturally and unselfconsciously. Perhaps this is the deepest meaning of “humility” - Earthy, natural, and unforced.

June 28

Guided by humility, we hold our goals lightly,

and never punish ourselves or others

if they do not bear fruit.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 59

At their best,

goals are temporary guidelines.

At their worst,

goals become gods,

meting out reward and punishment

according to their pleasure.

As tools they must be used

with great skill and patience,

lest they turn on us.

They provide a direction

in which we might walk,

but do not constrain us

should the time come when we

must walk a different path.

Raised in an achievement-obsessed culture, I have to ask some questions about the way I judge myself. Am I ticking off a list of goals in an attempt to give form and meaning to my life? Is that the path I want to walk? Is there one great achievement that will bring completion and wholeness to my life? Really? What am I trying to achieve? Why? What is the difference between a guidepost and a destination? I think guideposts are helpful, but destinations are illusions. There is no destination, only the Path. I just keep walking and experiencing my life until it ends. And this so-called end itself is not a destination but simply another marker on a never-ending road.

June 29

Guided by humility, we make use

of whatever arises in life.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 59

The raw material of my life

is presented day by day.

This is the stuff

from which I sculpt

whatever form I can.

I do not choose the stuff.

I only choose the shape

that might be formed

by the combination of my skill,

my willingness,

and the flow of Tao.

The stuff of each day includes, of course, my learnings, skills, and imagination. But the material itself is seldom, if ever, exactly what I want. I would like to carve a beautiful desk from exotic woods, but I have not learned that skill nor do I have the tools and wood. Most of what is presented day by day is mundane and ordinary, sometimes painful and irritating, and always not exactly what my conditioned mind insists it wants. When I focus my willingness and combine it with the so-called ordinary stuff of the day, I find that I can sculpt a useful, helpful, and even beautiful day out of what seemed to be a real jumble of debris and waste.

June 30

If you keep poking the fish you’re frying,

you will ruin your dinner.
If you keep poking at your life,
you will ruin it as well.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 60

Check the “likes” on Facebook.

Check the emails.

Check the news.

Step on the scale again.

Find out how I’m doing.

Listen to the little inner voices

running through their lists

of all the awful things that happened,

or might someday happen.

If I’m not distraught enough,

I could read the latest tweet from Trump.

Poke, poke, poke,

and the fears will always win.

There are countless ways of poking at our lives. Our conditioned minds, in fact, are doing that pretty much all the time. Instead of letting energy flow clear and fresh into our brain from the boundless store of the Universe, we cycle worn-out thoughts and fears, making one day seem like the next in the never-ending stream of poking. Plato (Socrates) insisted that, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” There may be some value in that thought, but Lao-Tzu, in his usual contrary Taoist manner, might say that, “The unlived life is not worth examining.” Let’s  let our lives be lived with ease and freedom. Let what examining is done be gentle and sensitive, with great care taken not to ruin things.