May 1



Great art seems ordinary and plain.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 41



“Wabi-Sabi” is a term

for the plain and natural beauty

of weathered wood,

wrinkled faces of elders,

well-used and beloved objects,

and gnarled old trees.

The flow of nature produces beauty

that art can only poorly imitate.

If my life is my art,

why would I make it showy and bright?



Taoist expressions, literary and artistic, throughout the centuries have valued natural and unforced beauty. Taoist arts and crafts have been based on wood, clay, stone, ink, and other earthy materials, and have been esteemed for their blend of form and function.  The ornate and elaborate, in art, craft, and life, is not the way of the Tao. The natural beauty inherent in an object or a person is something quite different from what we have been conditioned to notice and appreciate.  As Alan Watts (and many others) once said, “There are no straight lines in nature.” Let’s turn our appreciation to the people, things, and surroundings that nurture the innate and organic essence of life rather than the ostentatious and flashy.



May 2



Great love seems uncaring.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 41



“Don’t you love us?”

the voices whine,

guilting us and shaming us

into acting for their benefit.

Should we withhold from them

a dram of toxic liquid

though they desire it greatly,

we become uncaring, heartless,

brutish people.

Should we speak a severe truth,

though with gentle words,

we become hateful, monstrous.

evil people.

Love must be defined

from the depth of our own heart,

not from social pressure.



Love, as we all have discovered, is a slippery concept in our world. Sentiment, infatuation, obligation, obsession, and desire are just some of the myriad imitators of the deepest kind of love. Social conditioning creates an artificial kind of love that serves to grease the wheels of commerce, urging us to indulge ourselves and others with the satisfaction of every whim. It’s difficult to know when denial of self or of others is simply cruel, or the strongest kind of love. It’s difficult to have the courage for certain acts of love that leave us labeled cruel by those we care the most about.


May 3


Even truth itself seems false.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 41



In a world of “alternate facts,”

there seems no place to turn

for something true,

some place to stand

that doesn’t shift like sand.

Surely the truth within the Tao

seems untrue to most of us.

Change, flow, transition,

transformation, and balancing

are not the “facts”

we want to hear.

Let’s pin things down

and get on with business.



As I write these words I am on hold with customer “service” for an internet hosting company. We are in a discussion over two different versions of “truth.” I understood one thing, they charged me for another. I’m not really upset as the flow will be what it is today. (Although the hold “music” is taxing my nerves.) I’m just aware of how fluid life really is and how commerce endeavors to solidify and commodify it.  It is interesting, and helpful, to be writing about something as I am experiencing it. I was going to be outside this morning to work with wood and stone. Something else happened.



May 4

From within the One Tao

came the Yin and the Yang.

Yin and Yang together

produce the energy of the Cosmos,

and give all things their form.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 42



The first great act of Creation

was the interaction of quantum flux;

the dance of Yin and Yang,

an energy and its partner

playing together to make

the very structure of nature.

Positive and negative:

what seems to be the opposite

is actually the necessary

thing that makes the Whole.



I live in a dualistic world. This seems to oppose that in every aspect of experience because we never look closely enough at the dance. At a quantum level the parameters of space and time, so necessary to our existence, disappear. The Yin and Yang interact in a perfect balance and - wonder of wonders - the universe appears. Of course at the level of everyday living it is hard to say that ignorance and bigotry are part of the overall flow of the Tao, but that just might be the case. We are not “artificial intelligence.” We are the real thing and the real thing is a complex interaction of mysterious and unfathomable energies. It’s a marvel, it really is. I don’t understand it, but I celebrate it.




May 5



We feel Yin and Yang together

in the simple act of breathing

in and out.

There is no gain without loss.

There is no life without death.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 42



Try breathing in.

Now do it again,

and again…

only in,

never out.

Fill those lungs,

then fill them even more.

You will soon discover

that only the empty

can be filled.


__


As I watch things come and go I get a bit confused. Blessings appear and I immediately attach to them and want them to remain forever, or at least a long long while. Trials appear and I want them to disappear immediately, or at least very very quickly. It is hard to see the trials as a way of emptying and making space for new and unforeseen blessings. Who doesn’t want a life to be a string of uninterrupted blessings? That is like wanting to take only inhalations, never exhaling. It is important to remember that every inhalation leads to an exhalation… and every exhalation leads to another inhalation! I want to watch life breathe in me, in…out… in…out… and delight in the process.



May 6


No one knows how or when

Yin gives way to Yang and back again,

so don’t force your way upon the world.

Stay at the center

and trust events.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 42



It seems I’m always wanting things to stay

when they are leaving,

and to leave,

when they are staying.

This way I’m never working

with the reality of my life;

only with an idea of it.

An idea of my life

is not the same as life itself.

Clinging to the idea means that

I may miss the real thing

as it flows through.



Flow is perhaps one of the primary descriptive words within Taoist thought. The image of life as a flowing river is appealing, but sometimes hard to feel in our rigid society. The gentle, yet powerfully energetic, movements of Qigong are a wonderful practice for my life. They help me feel the ebb and flow, surge and retreat, and expansion and contraction that are constantly occurring in my body, in my mind, and in my environment. As my arms rise and fall, my weight shifts back and forth, and my breath flows easily in and out I lose the sense of struggle that my conditioned mind has formed. Life smooths out a bit. (There are many forms of Qigong. I recommend the work of Lee Holden.)




May 7



That which is fluid and flexible

will always overcome

that which is rigid and stiff.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 43



I watch water cascade over rocks

and hear the sound it makes,

like the roar of a speeding train

that echoes through the little canyon

where I walk.

The rocks seem to murmur,

“We will stand firm…we will stand firm,”

and their solid forms seem

to give their murmurs credence.

But were I to wait a hundred years -

a nanosecond on the Earths calendar -

and return to this river canyon,

those murmurs would be gone -

replaced by others vowing to

“stand firm.”

And the river would continue to flow.



It has been a heavy winter here in the Northern California mountains. Spring has finally arrived but the snow pack on Mount Shasta is deeper than it has been in decades. As the melt-off gains in strength the rivers and waterfalls of the area take on an awesome power. Nancy and I walked along one of our favorite trails yesterday - along the McCloud River up to what is named, “Middle Falls.” The din of water falling filled the air and the mist greeted us a quarter mile down the trail. I have no doubt of the truth of these verses from Chapter 43.





May 8



An empty vessel is more potent and creative

than one which is filled to the brim.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 43



From an overlook to the Grand Canyon I wonder:

Would the infinite varieties of color and light exist

without the empty depth that stretches down

and down?

An unscheduled day invites creative action

and limitless possibilities.

The rub, however, is the fear

that rushes in to fill the space.

The myriad voices clamor for attention;

“Me!” … “No, me! Do what I say to do!”

So the space gets packed with oughts and shoulds

and inspired work retreats again.

Mother culture fears the empty spaces

within the human mind.



As a product of my culture, I find myself anxious when presented with spaciousness. I speak of valuing this fertile emptiness, but I so often veer away from it. This avoidance is supported by a society full of every kind of noise and distraction. There is always something available at the push of a button that can fill the space before its blessings can be felt. Perhaps some of my most courageous moments are those in which I refrain from pushing the button and instead wait in discomfort, anxiety, and wonder to see what is really here. It is without exception something full of a mysterious energy I would otherwise never experience.




May 9



We act from stillness.

We talk from silence.

In a world of clamor and aggression

this is not a popular way,

yet it is the only way to happiness.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 43



A Blue Heron standing by the stream

is still and silent.

The wind ruffles an out-of-place

feather on his breast

but no other movement,

no other action disturbs the scene

as minutes pass.

His total being is aware

of the movement all about

but he, himself, is still.

Until… he moves,

faster than my eye can follow…

dinner.

Then he spreads his wings

and gracefully, without effort,

soars, circles, and disappears.



Lao-Tzu watched the natural world as intently as the Heron watches the stream. This is how the truth of “effortless effort” arose. Streams and rivers, breezes and storms, forests and mountains, animals small and large all express their power without conscious effort. Stillness is the state from which they all arise and to which they all return. Their action is simply a moving expression of their stillness. It is difficult to remember the importance, the imperative, of stillness in a world of perpetual effort. When I do remember, I watch the actions of my day emerge as if by magic, energetic and productive but returning again and again to stillness.



May 10



How others perceive you is of no concern.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 44



I can never know another’s perception of me.

I can only project my own mind’s image,

filtered, massaged, tweaked, and processed,

and then I give this fiction

an overlay of importance.

It circles round and round,

“what they think I think they think…”

and creates an illusion of life.

This illusion says that I must have

your approval and admiration

in order to be safe.

So I live the dance of pleasing another

and wonder why I don’t find peace.



Certainly we are social creatures and are involved in complex and intimate relationships with other human beings. The “rules” for these relationships are determined by cultural conditioning that involves a myriad of conscious and unconscious interactions. We depend upon each other for so many things, but ultimately this dependence cannot support our deepest identity; our deepest sense of purpose and satisfaction. If we forget this we will always be looking in the wrong place for the real answers.




May 11


How much wealth you have is of no concern.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 44



Are you financially secure?

Can you retire and enjoy

the lifestyle you want

to become accustomed to?

Do you have a safety net

to catch any slip of any sort?

Is your life insurance up to date?

Will your health insurance

cover any possible trouble?

Is your estate in order?

These are the questions deemed important

by the gurus of our culture.

When the Tao says that

they are of no importance,

it’s hard to believe.



This is the point where I always start to temporize my answer; where I am led to say, “Of course there is a place for a certain amount of concern about finances.” But the Tao, in this and many other verses, is clear that these things are of no concern. So I want to be careful that I don’t slip right back into the economic morass of today’s culture. Just as more primitive societies were dependent on the weather and other environmental factors, so most of us are dependent on a market-place economy for food and shelter. But recognizing my dependence on these factors is not the same as “being concerned” about them. They are incidental. They come and go. The idea that we can control them is a vast illusion. The nurture of the Tao flows continually, in and through our lives. Trust it and pick from it the fruit you need as it passes.



May 12



When we understand that we are capable

for our lives, no matter what,

we will cease exhausting ourselves

and begin enjoying ourselves.

     From The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 44



That nagging nattering little feeling

way in the back of the brain,

you know, the one that suggests

life might be too much

for us to handle?

It’s a fallacy and has no understanding

of life at all.

Life is not something to be handled.

It is a flow of experience

encompassing every emotion,

joy, sorrow, gain, loss,

comfort and pain

we can imagine.

We don’t need to make it

anything other than what it is.



I get tied up in knots when I try to pit myself against life; when I see it as an opponent to be vanquished, subdued, and mastered. I judge my own competence and capabilities by how well I’m “handling” the vicissitudes of life, when in fact my competence is never on the line. Despite what we have been told, life is neither a challenge to prove our worth nor a test to pass or fail. It is simply a complex, multi-faceted, and inexplicable gift. It is the mysterious concentration of consciousness into a particular form in space and time; an unfolding experience. It is not meant to be fought or controlled. We are the Flow of Tao through this construct we have labeled “our life.” Go with the flow.



May 13


True perfection is not concerned

with appearing to be perfect.

     From The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 45



We have learned a great masquerade:

Appearance is everything.

Mistakes are denied.

Flaws are covered up.

Usefulness is judged by commerce.

Beauty is determined by fashion.

Success is defined by wealth.

Truth is decided by public opinion.

In the midst of this vast deception

the winding, twisting, multi-colored

perfection of the Tao is lost.



Now that spring is here, a multitude of what my mind calls, “weeds,” is emerging in the small area I call, “back yard.” (As if this yard were somehow separate from the forest all around.) A voice begins to natter that I need to mow, chop, and winnow until the yard achieves some semblance of “perfection.” (As if the forest all around is somehow imperfect.) I want to be careful and kind with myself this season. There is nothing wrong with cultivating a certain ambiance in my surroundings, but I don’t want to strive for a masquerade of perfection in my back yard or in my life. The perfection of the Tao is something far more natural and is easily missed in my conditioned strivings. There is nothing wrong in tinkering with things if it pleases me, but perfection exists in the very nature of life itself. It doesn’t need my tinkering.



May 14


We want the Tao to be direct,

but it seems to twist and wind about.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 45



The shortest distance, it is said,

between two points is a line that’s straight,

no twists, turns or unexpected detours.

So freeways grid the landscape

and airplanes bisect the heavens.

If we could teleport ourselves,

we probably would; go here

to there with nothing in between.

But the Tao is all about the in between;

it is the journey, not the destination;

the process, not the product.

The twists are essential to the trip.



Long ago I read a compelling book by William Least Heat Moon titled, “Blue Highways.” Roads that are not expressways, the older less-used roads show up in blue on highway maps. (Remember those?) The protagonist of the story takes a journey of discovery through America on the back roads. Such a journey is possibly only on “blue highways” that wind their way through the actually territory of a place. Between our house and the county seat town of Yreka where we often shop is 28 miles of Interstate 5. Alternately there is 35 miles of the old “blue highway” through the ranch land and rolling hills of Little Shasta Valley. We never take the Interstate. Because so much of human experience has been “smoothed out,” we presume that the rough roads and sidetracks in life are the indication that something is wrong, when in fact they are the real “stuff” of being alive.



May 15



We want the Tao to be clear and predictable,

but it seems confusing and obscure.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 45



My brain likes patterns,

maps of reality so to speak,

that are plain and straightforward.

It doesn’t like loose ends

that dangle in space,

or trails that disappear

into blank areas beyond which,

“there be dragons.”

I like to know where the rest areas

are situated and where one

can safely spend the night.

In all my years, however,

I’ve never found a map

of the Tao.



Many philosophies and religions have everything pinned down tight. You have a question? They have an answer. The Tao has been a wonderful metaphor and guide for my life, but it has seldom answered my questions; especially the “important questions.” When I ask it, “Where is my life headed?” and, “What’s it all about?” it smiles and sends a breeze through the tree tops and swirls a bit of campfire smoke into my eyes. “That’s no answer,” I growl. “Did I promise you an answer?” it laughs. I fume a moment and then join in the laughter.


May 16



Since the Tao does not meet our expectations,

what are we to do?

Breathe in and out as the trees breathe.

Simply be alive and pay attention,

nothing more is needed.

     From The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 45



It is natural for human beings to project;

to expect the world outside ourselves

to reflect our own desires,

to love what we love,

want what we want,

and hate what we hate.

Since the Tao does not comply

and will not wear our projections,

it seems wise to withdraw them;

to own them as our own unique conditioning,

and learn to let life be

just what it is.



The concept of “letting life be” has a built-in conundrum: Does it mean that we therefore take no action to refine and enhance our experience? No. We have desires and aspirations and they are an innate aspect of our existence. We naturally take actions to satisfy these desires and meet these aspirations. The answer to the conundrum is to be as clear as possible about the flow and nature

of the Tao - of the Life around and within us - rather than expect it to bend to our will. When our desires and aspirations emerge from this clarity they are imbued with tremendous power and energy. What is Life doing? How can I cooperate with it? How can I merge my aspirations with Its flow?



May 17



When a culture knows the Tao,

it creates beautiful and useful things.

Each person contributes what is natural

and nothing is left undone.

Contentment is the normal state of things.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 46



I get stymied when I try to imagine

how such a culture would appear.

How would the economic system function?

How would housing be handled?

What sort of government would work?

People more creative than I

are working on the details

even as I write these words.

No one notices them

because they are far outside the norm.

Will such a culture emerge?

I do not know.

I will not live to see it,

but I know inside how it will feel.


__


I remain what might be called a romantic idealist. We have within us a blueprint for a different way of living; a way we lost somewhere in the eons past. We didn’t lose it because we are bad or because we are flawed. We simply lost our way in the complexities of life. We began to see ourselves as separate from the Tao and that caused us to become afraid. Our fear led us to turn our creative genius to an attempt to control life in all of its aspects. This separated us even more from our natural state and has led us to our current chaotic crisis. Somehow we will have to return to a focus on beautiful, useful, and creative work. Contentment rather than progress must become our most important product. I may not be able to envision the new forms, but I can certainly focus on beautiful, useful, creative work and let myself become content in all circumstances. So can you.



May 18



When a culture does not know the Tao

it produces useless trinkets and distractions.

It stockpiles weapons of every sort

and people live in fear.

No one finds contentment.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 46



The future of humanity is in my hands.

I’m the one who has settled for trinkets

instead of treasures.

I’m the one who musters my defenses

and lives in fear.

I’m the one who chooses distractions over contentment.

When I change these choices

I change the direction of society.

I heal a tiny part of culture’s heart.

This is a difficult truth,

because it is far easier to complain

than to choose.



The essence of a culture is seen in what it produces and in what the people experience. On the other hand, what people experience tends to determine the essence of a culture. I see my culture as unhealthy and unwholesome. How might I heal it? By experiencing, moment by moment, in my own life, the contentment, creativity and simplicity of the Tao. Chapter 46 - today and yesterday - show the sharp contrast between the two choices; between the two ways of living. The future is in our choices.



May 19



One does not have to wander the earth

in search of the treasures of Tao.

It is not even necessary

to go out the front door.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 47



Wandering the earth is fine,

as long as one finds joy

in simply wandering.

Wandering in search of Tao, however,

is a fruitless waste of time.

Where I am sitting at this moment

is the hiding place

of the secret of the Tao.

What is with you at this moment

is what you have been seeking

all of your life.



As Jon Kabat-Zin’s wonderful book title says, “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” Occasionally it may be of benefit to change scenery so that the mind stops following its habitual grooves, but usually the mind is well defended against change and takes its grooves along when we travel. We often focus our eyes far down the road in anticipation of something new, and all the while that which we seek is right beneath our feet. So travel if you enjoy it, but don’t go looking for the Tao. It has always been, and will always be, your traveling companion.



May 20



Travel and exploration may be exciting

but it will not take us to the Tao,

which lies within our hearts,

waiting for us to notice.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 47



I love that it lies within my heart.

My heart is a complex,

and sometimes lonely place.

It is comforting to know

that I am never truly alone there.

The unexplored country,

the true frontier,

is waiting across the border of the heart.

To step into this unknown country

is perhaps the greatest challenge of my life.

I don’t have to take that step.

I can finish out my years

and remain this side of the border.

But that’s not what life is for.

Here goes.



There are so many excuses and rationalizations that keep me confined inside the boundaries of the known, the expected, the safe, the comfortable and the “civilized.” The heart is a wilderness of untamed beauty and energy. To venture into this territory requires a willingness to, “leave home,” and die in a far country. Amazing though; this far country turns out to be the home I have been homesick for all of my life.



May 21



We can sit in our own backyard

and see the farthest reaches of heaven.

We can stop all striving

and accomplish everything.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 47



Lazy undisciplined idler!

Get that shoulder to the wheel

and that nose to the grindstone.

(Anatomically impossible notwithstanding)

No strain, no gain, buddy

so buckle down …

Ah, but the opposite of striving

is not idling.

It is relaxed and flowing movement doing

what is needed;

without wasting effort

on what is not.



The ability to know what is truly needed, helpful, and worthwhile is the essence of wisdom in today’s driven stress-filled society. The obvious external signs of burn-out, anxiety, and overwork are apparent everywhere, but I sense that much of our useless striving is internal and not as readily seen. It is the grinding and scraping of a divided mind that never rests. If we’re not literally multi-tasking, our mind is whirling on a dozen different tasks and priorities. This overwhelmed mind is insisting that each and all of these are essential and urgent. Yet much of what is labeled essential and urgent is actually needless and wasteful. What is truly necessary? I mean truly necessary? Is that what we are using our energy and life being about?




May 22



The more information we gain,

the more we assume we know.

The more we assume we know,

the less we see clearly.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 48



What I suppose to be the case

creates a groove in which I live.

Unexpected events and unforeseen actions

leave me flatfooted and flabbergasted.

I assume that people will see what I see

if they just look carefully enough.

I assume that a course of action

will, of course, be the proper one.

It happened this way before,

it surely will again.

It seems “evident” to me.



Blind spots are, of course, problematic to discuss. By definition I can not “see” them. In my experience, however, they abound. The whole universe is composed mostly of blind spots - energies, happenings, and processes I have no ability to perceive. I can only infer them. To infer is an improvement on assuming. To infer means that I draw a conclusion based on observation and evidence. It could still be totally in error, but I hopefully am aware of that possibility. But assumptions keep the blind spots in place, unseen and unknown. It is important to be aware that I am blind to most of what is real - in people, events, and life in general - and therefore to walk carefully.



May 23



In the practice of Tao

we rely less and less

on what is called“information,”

until our actions arise from emptiness,

and everything is done naturally.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 48



“Keep informed” the media bleats

its constant cacophonous warnings into the air.

“Here’s what’s trending now,”

the sidebars pop into my vision.

Knowledge of a thousand stories

is supposed to somehow keep me safe.

Yet the upshot of our “information age,”

turns out to be immobilization

or frenetic running round in anxious circles.

What do I really need to know, I wonder,

in order to live in the flow of Tao?

Where do I turn to find the knowledge

carried by the gentle breezes and subtle whispers

of sources forgotten by our manic times?



I do not have a television and have not watched a “news” program in years. Now my computer keeps me “connected” to the world wide web of trivia and misinformation. I can’t turn the darn thing on without confronting someone’s agenda for me to read about, be afraid of, or buy something. I’m gradually learning how to use the technology in mindful ways, but boy-oh-boy is it a maze of enervating sidetracks. I’m beginning to trust that, if I pay attention to the sights, sounds, and sensations of life here on the forest hillside, I will be given all I really need to know; and the action that arises from that knowledge will be exactly what I’m supposed to do.



May 24



If our being is formed by the Tao,

we hold no fixed opinions of other people,

seeing them as we see ourselves.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 49



They seem completely different, foreign,

and so totally “other” than I.

They can’t be facing internal struggles,

experiencing fears and desires,

driven by needs and formed

by conditions outside their control,

Can they?

They can’t be lying awake at night

wondering what it’s all about

and why it passes so quickly,

Can they?

They can’t be searching for love,

community, and for being part

of something more.

Can they?


__


Sometimes I read of people who seem so horrible that my answer to the above questions is, “No, of course they can’t.” But deeper than that reaction is an awareness that no one can stand outside of the human condition. The most deeply damaged psyche remains within the Tao. Even if a given person has lost all touch with what might be called human qualities, I have not. If he or she can no longer see through eyes of empathy, I still can. If they cannot remember their humanity, I can remember it for them. I may have to protect myself from them, but I can still see them as my own wounded self.




May 25



In tune with the Tao, we are kind

to those who are kind;

and kind to those

who are unkind.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 49



Why does the behavior of another person

so affect my own behavior?

When shouted at,

I tend to shout.

When criticized,

I take offense.

When cared for

I care in return.

This makes me a puppet

to the whims, moods, and character

of those around me.

The natural goodness within me

is available to one and all,

why do I restrict its flow?


__


Kindness to the unkind is seen by conditioned society as a sign of weakness and a lack of conviction. The perverse twist on the Golden Rule says that I should treat others as they treat me.  But the test of true kindness, or goodness as it is often translated, is whether or not it is present in the face of its opposite. My conditioned mind would say this leaves me in danger of being a “doormat.” Nothing is farther from the truth. Kindness can be firm, clear, assertive, and resolute in its application. But it is never mean, vindictive, vengeful, cruel, spiteful, or unfair. It does not demand correct behavior but by its very nature allows correct behavior to emerge. This natural kindness is not generated by moral will-power or by rigorous discipline. It is a reservoir within, waiting to be tapped.



May 26



In tune with the Tao,

we do not seek advantage over others;

therefore others feel safe with us.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 49



Do I really need a, “competitive edge,”

to make my business thrive?

Is “driving a hard bargain”

really the sign of prowess?

Must I search for signs of weakness

that I can exploit in others?

These are qualities that ultimately

bring destruction to a culture.

When we are safe to be with,

talk to, deal with, and trust;

we will become the refuge

we ourselves are seeking.


__


With whom do you truly feel safe? What makes that person safe? For me it is a sense that this person needs nothing from me except that I be who I naturally am. They don’t need my money and are not trying to sell me something. They don’t need me to be either strong or weak in order to satisfy their agendas. A safe person radiates contentment in simple things and is not looking to advance their position or gain more wealth. They listen more than talk. They have a sense of competence and adequacy that does not need to feed on my weaknesses. In fact, in their presence I feel completely competent and adequate myself. Can we be safe people? Might we be able to create safe communities?



May 27



Some think of life and ignore death.

Some think of death and ignore life.

The follower of the Tao knows death will come,

therefore knows how to live:

without illusions, without fear,
without resistance, and without suffering.

Neither life nor death can disturb this one.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 50



My conditioned mind cannot comprehend death,

except as s boogeyman to frighten me

into compliance with its demands.

This same mind declares it wants to live,

but has no idea what life means

except to survive from one distraction

to the next.

Death and life, I think, are equally essential;

each presupposing the other.

It’s an formula that includes sadness, loss, grief,

appreciation, wonder, gratitude, mindfulness,

and acceptance.

All in all an elegant equation.



I minored in mathematics as an undergraduate and still remember a sense of wonder as I watched a page, half-filled with a complex set of numbers and symbols, suddenly make sense. On one side of an almost hidden “equals” sign was one elaborate grouping; on the other side a similar grouping … and they balanced! Take away the smallest symbol, a single letter or number, and the whole thing fell apart. Perhaps the life/death equation is that delicate. If I tinker with it too much I may miss the fundamental elegance woven into it since the beginning of beginningless time.


May  28



Honoring the Tao is neither a duty

nor a test of loyalty.

Every form in the Cosmos honors the Tao

in the simple act of being.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 51


__



I am so grateful not to spend a moment

trying to discern what the Tao expects.

It expects nothing, wants nothing,

needs nothing from me.

I can succeed or fail

with no fear of eternal blame.

My whole life is accepted

and all the light and dark threads

are woven into the tapestry of Tao.

And if a life is spent without a thought

of being part of Tao;

that life is accepted just as well

for being what it was.


__


The Dali Lama is a brilliant and compassionate man, but his being is no more nor less a part of Tao than Donald Trump’s. I value one expression over the other, but the Tao does not. Each is being who and what they are. In my misanthropic moods, when it seems as if humanity is going to the well known hand-basket destination, it helps me to remember that we are all simply living in the illusion that we are separate from one another. Some of us believe the illusion so deeply that we cause great harm, but the Tao will always find ways of bringing balance without ever resorting to punishment or retribution.  



May 29



The Tao guides without controlling.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 51



The guidance of the Tao

is not the kind of guidance I am used to.

I’ve been trained to look for right roads

and wrong roads.

Guidance is supposed to keep my feet

firmly planted on the right ones.

The ever-present guidance of the Tao

is far more subtle, and ultimately

far more useful.

It speaks through every living thing

in every moment of my life,

whispering wisdom my ears

are ill-equipped to hear.

If I truly want this guidance,

I’ll have to pay better attention.



We’re not used to finding guidance in the passing of a young deer through the underbrush or in the morning visit of a pair of Ravens. The movement of clouds across the sky or the flow of traffic on the county road are simply background events to our minds. Yet every word, encounter, and event that flows through our day is part of the web of life. Tune in to this web. It’s vibrations are filled with information and wisdom that help us make choices with greater clarity. Whatever path we choose is connected to every other path and guidance is always available if we learn to see and hear.




May 30



The Tao nurtures us without owning us.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 51



A river does not own the fertile valley

through which its path meanders.

The spring rain does not own

the lilies which spring from its presence.

The entire Cosmos showers me

with blessings akin to the river and rain.

It is a paradox:

I belong to the Earth,

to the Tao,

and to the Cosmos;

yet they claim no ownership.

My belonging is something far deeper

than ideas of possession and title deeds,

controls and claims.

It is the interdependent nature of existence itself.



Ownership is an economic fiction of human civilization. It gives us the comfort found in the illusion of control, something we presume we can depend upon. Perhaps this invention has a limited function in the gears of modern society, but it has done untold harm to our psyches. It has separated us from the inherent belonging our ancestors felt as they walked the forests, fished the streams, and knew that they were born “of all this,” and would always be a part of it. We can employ the limited idea of ownership if it seems useful, but always remember that it is pure fiction. Don’t take it seriously.



May 31



We are all forms

of the formless mystery of Tao.

We are nurtured and sustained by it,

and our form will return to it.

     From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 51



The old Zen question,

“What was your form

before you were born?”

Has no logical answer.

My conditioned mind

works its way back in time,

and hits a place beyond which

it cannot go.

The same mind works its way forward,

and again hits a place it cannot go.

But the idea that the consciousness

I see as me, began at birth and will end at death

has no real logic either.

So the answer to the question is…?



So many of our conditioned beliefs about what’s after death, come from the mind’s attempt to project our present experience of life into places the projection will not go. But that does not mean there is no answer to these eternal conundrums. It simply means that the answer is not available to my conditioned mind. Even my glimpses of the deeper, “Tao Mind,” do not provide a logical linear answer. This deeper Mind does however tell me that the conceit that consciousness begins and ends with this form called, “Bill,” is in error. Ancient mariners used maps that showed uncharted waters as, “Beyond here there be dragons!” That’s what my conditioned mind sees when it attempts to go where it can never venture. We’ll see some day.