Archive for October, 2009

Tao 45/Day 106 “She steps out of the way and lets the Tao speak for itself.”

October 30, 2009

On one of my recent trips by ferry to the mainland, I sat beside and struck up a conversation with a young man named Myke who turned out to be an ultra-marathon runner.  Inspired by his accounts of regularly running fifty miles at a stretch — often through breathtakingly pristine wilderness — I’ve decided that today I’m going to break down and buy myself a really good pair of running shoes.  Peninsula Runners is down on Shelbourne Street.  David, the owner, clearly knows what he is doing.  He pulls out four pairs of shoes and studies my gait in each of them.  He also notices my ‘accent’, and when I tell him that I grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he shocks me by revealing that he attended Middle Tennessee State University there on a track scholarship!

We talk for the better part of an hour.  He’s getting married next month, he trained for the Olympics before injuries sidelined his hopes, etc.  He also shares with me why he left MTSU after his first semester.  “The vibe was just so different.  There weren’t any trails, so my buddy and I would run through town.  We had beer bottles thrown at us, trucks would buzz us – we were just six feet off the road in the ditch, you know? – I just wasn’t used to it.”  I feel bad that his experiences of my beloved home town are mostly negative, so I manage to help him recall several positive aspects of his time there before settling on a pair of Aasics and setting off for the path.

The weather is made-to-order for a run.  I settle into a comfortable pace, and quickly another meditation on attachment surfaces.  What is it about us human beings that makes us think we have to defend our own ideas and beliefs so aggressively?  How many of us, when confronted by what we perceive to be a slight – no matter how small – are able to truly step out of the way and let the Tao speak for itself?  For example, was David really putting down the place of my birth?  Or was he merely giving an accurate account of his own experiences?  Did my hometown need defending?  Did it need to be apologized for?  Or did I just need to step out of the way of my own attachments?

Accounts of Jesus’ behavior certainly offer several examples of this kind of stepping out of the way.  Not only did he teach his followers to ‘turn the other cheek’, but he practiced what he preached when was betrayed and arrested.  There he is said to have told his disciple Peter to put down a sword Peter had used to cut off the ear of an arresting soldier.  Jesus then is reported to have restored the ear to that same soldier before being led away.  – Nevertheless, as Joseph Campbell pointed out in an interview with Bill Moyers over twenty years ago, the Peters of the world have been picking up their swords ever since – regardless of their religious affiliation.

These reflections take me all the way around the lakes, and leave me wanting more.  I stop for some water, down a gel pack, and am off again – eventually completing 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) in my new shoes.  If I can double my mileage in a new pair of shoes, imagine how much my peace will increase if I start really putting myself in others’ shoes, and allowing them to have their experience of Life without insisting that I’ve got to correct them as part of a defense of my preferences, or my attachments, or my God.  In the same manner I’m able to lightly step around the magic path now, let me lightly step out of the way of such temptation, and let God/the Tao/Reality speak for Itself.

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Tao 45/Day 106 “She steps out of the way and lets the Tao speak for itself.”

October 30, 2009

On one of my recent trips by ferry to the mainland, I sat beside and struck up a conversation with a young man named Myke who turned out to be an ultra-marathon runner.  Inspired by his accounts of regularly running fifty miles at a stretch — often through breathtakingly pristine wilderness — I’ve decided that today I’m going to break down and buy myself a really good pair of running shoes.  Peninsula Runners is down on Shelbourne Street.  David, the owner, clearly knows what he is doing.  He pulls out four pairs of shoes and studies my gait in each of them.  He also notices my ‘accent’, and when I tell him that I grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he shocks me by revealing that he attended Middle Tennessee State University there on a track scholarship!

We talk for the better part of an hour.  He’s getting married next month, he trained for the Olympics before injuries sidelined his hopes, etc.  He also shares with me why he left MTSU after his first semester.  “The vibe was just so different.  There weren’t any trails, so my buddy and I would run through town.  We had beer bottles thrown at us, trucks would buzz us – we were just six feet off the road in the ditch, you know? – I just wasn’t used to it.”  I feel bad that his experiences of my beloved home town are mostly negative, so I manage to help him recall several positive aspects of his time there before settling on a pair of Aasics and setting off for the path.

The weather is made-to-order for a run.  I settle into a comfortable pace, and quickly another meditation on attachment surfaces.  What is it about us human beings that makes us think we have to defend our own ideas and beliefs so aggressively?  How many of us, when confronted by what we perceive to be a slight – no matter how small – are able to truly step out of the way and let the Tao speak for itself?  For example, was David really putting down the place of my birth?  Or was he merely giving an accurate account of his own experiences?  Did my hometown need defending?  Did it need to be apologized for?  Or did I just need to step out of the way of my own attachments?

Accounts of Jesus’ behavior certainly offer several examples of this kind of stepping out of the way.  Not only did he teach his followers to ‘turn the other cheek’, but he practiced what he preached when was betrayed and arrested.  There he is said to have told his disciple Peter to put down a sword Peter had used to cut off the ear of an arresting soldier.  Jesus then is reported to have restored the ear to that same soldier before being led away.  – Nevertheless, as Joseph Campbell pointed out in an interview with Bill Moyers over twenty years ago, the Peters of the world have been picking up their swords ever since – regardless of their religious affiliation.

These reflections take me all the way around the lakes, and leave me wanting more.  I stop for some water, down a gel pack, and am off again – eventually completing 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) in my new shoes.  If I can double my mileage in a new pair of shoes, imagine how much my peace will increase if I start really putting myself in others’ shoes, and allowing them to have their experience of Life without insisting that I’ve got to correct them as part of a defense of my preferences, or my attachments, or my God.  In the same manner I’m able to lightly step around the magic path now, let me lightly step out of the way of such temptation, and let God/the Tao/Reality speak for Itself.

Tao 59/Day 105 “The mark of a moderate man is freedom from his own ideas.”

October 29, 2009

My father once told me that, “If you start with a false premise, you will end up with a false conclusion – no matter how much true logic you use to justify it.”  I’ve never forgotten these words.  Their implications are enormous.  They suggest that my starting point for any endeavor is of critical importance.  For example, my starting point, physically speaking, for the run at hand is quite favorable.  Ideal temperature.  Not a cloud in the sky.  I’m with Maureen and the boys and we’re having a lakeside picnic.  After eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I take the little guys out into Beaver Lake while mama minds the towels and the leftovers.  When the boys’ interest seems to wane, I decide to hit the trail – but not before loading tricycles and tennis racket ‘guitars’ back into the minivan and strapping Liam and Logan into their seats for the quick drive home.              The extra rest I’ve had since my last time on the path leaves me feeling strong as I crest the first hill.  A part of me even flirts briefly with the thought of what it would be like to run a half marathon.  So again, physically speaking, I’m cruising.  HOWEVER —

My mental and emotional starting points are not nearly so serene.  Maureen needs my help to clean the house.  I find vacuuming carpets and scrubbing tubs and toilets nearly as challenging as raising kids – and I’ve had one excuse after another for not doing them for the better part of a week.  She’s tried to hold her tongue, but that’s not her strong suit, and we actually had a heated argument before the picnic revolving around whether the housework could get done apart from her controlling both of our schedules.  Part of the reason then that I’m running so ‘well’ is due to insisting that I could meet all my responsibilities without her interference, thank you very much – which means I have to make it home sooner rather than later.  – Not exactly the mindset for meditation, if you know what I mean.

The reason I bring up this benign example (I finished the run in a much better frame of mind, by the way) is to highlight a simple but profound truth:  Very few of us have any idea how attached we are to our beliefs and ideas, and therefore very few of us realize how often we start from a false premise.  My belief that housework is a drudge – and my ATTACHMENT to that belief – is a source of conflict in our home on a regular basis.  It doesn’t matter how much logic I use to justify why such a belief is true.  The premise is ultimately false precisely because of my attachment to it.  If I could ever release my attachment to this belief, I would find the exact same house cleaning behavior required and occurring in my household – minus all the conflict surrounding it.

This principle holds true regardless of the premise.  If friends email me to smirk that the mild summer (where they live) proves global warming is a hoax and Al Gore is a ‘baffoon’, it’s clear such ‘logic’ stems from a premise quite attached to a political stance.  If similar logic is employed to defend a particular religious belief, it’s clear such logic is preceded by a strong attachment to that belief.  – But logic contesting such attachments also goes astray via identical attachments — with conflict still being the inevitable result.

The only peaceful solution, according to the Tao te Ching, is moderation, and the mark of such moderation is freedom – freedom from attachment.  This freedom is the most critical starting point of all…even for vacuuming (with attachments, of course).

Tao 1/Day 96 “The tao that can be expressed is not the eternal Tao.”

October 28, 2009

I’m feeling some pressure today.  My call time to work in Vancouver on a t.v. show called ‘Smallville’ has been changed from tomorrow to today at four p.m.  I need to catch the noon ferry to guarantee I’ll be there early, so I’ve got to get moving if I’m going to get in a run before departing.  For some reason, I feel as if I should keep my glasses on this time around the lakes.  As I finish a stretching sequence and ease into today’s journey, I immediately cross paths with a student from a weekend workshop I taught in June at the Screen Actors Studio in downtown Victoria.  The brief pleasantries we exchange serve as a positive omen, and somehow boost my confidence both that today’s work will go well and that teaching another workshop this fall is a good idea.  – I never would have seen her if my glasses were in my pocket instead of on my face.

As the kilometers click by, I’m struck by how much I’m missing by not being better able to visually take in the beauty that surrounds me.  For a time, I needed to ‘soften my glare’, because I was allowing myself to become distracted, but now I feel like my connection with the present moment is going to be amplified by all this splendor.   However, when I wear my glasses while running, I’m constantly having to push them back up my sweaty nose because the kids have tugged on them til they don’t fit so snug anymore.  Likewise, contact lenses are a distraction because they tend to dry my eyes out.  Lasik surgery is getting less expensive all the time, but still doesn’t seem like a sure thing even though millions of people swear by it.  – Guess when it comes to eyesight I’ll just have to keep picking my distraction for the time being, and then practicing not being distracted by it.

This petty sequence of mind-stuff drops away quickly enough, and – without deserving it – I drop in to a ‘no-mind’ state that’s hard to describe.  Mind is still present, it’s just not generating any superfluous thoughts that aren’t pertinent to the task at hand.  The day gets quieter even as my hearing improves, and the resulting sense of well-being feels like my heart is at — peace.

I don’t know how long I’m running this way (not that long) when all of a sudden an impulse comes to me that almost stops me in my tracks:  “There’s no such thing as thoughts.  They are articulated feelings – a sophisticated play around desires and fears.”  – Could this be?!  I spend the rest of the run contemplating the possibility of such a radical notion.  Is it possible to think, or to communicate a thought to others or ourselves – without some sort of language?  What is it that’s actually being created and expressed?  We’ve been told that ‘thoughts are things”, and that by changing our thoughts we can change our lives – but is that kind of re-languaging actually superior to a silence that allows an experience beyond even well-intended words to arise?

Thoughts are tools just like words are tools just like my computer is a tool just like the electricity to power my computer is a tool.  As a menu isn’t the meal, and a map is not the actual territory, so tools are not the Tao.  As I finish my time on the magic path, it is with a level of understanding of today’s couplet that I’ve never experienced before.  As Stephen Mitchell states in the commentary of his translation of the Tao te Ching, “There is no God when there is nothing BUT God.”  The insight takes my breath away.

Tao 63/Day 96 “accomplish the great task by a series of small acts.”

October 26, 2009

My old black cross-trainer shoes are close to biting the proverbial dust.  I’ve put more miles on them in the past two and a half months than they’ve seen in any capacity in the past two and a half years combined.  Heading for the lakes today, my mind’s a little worn out too. Like a random CD player that can’t find the next song, it’s quiet, but still spinning.    After a couple of miles, I start thinking about a guy I knew growing up named David Arnold.  He was quiet, and funny, and didn’t seem particularly athletic – certainly not in the big team sports kind of way that dominated our high school.  He came up on my computer screen this week via Facebook.

What I saw when I visited his home page blew me away.  His bio told of a fifteen year stint as a competitive triathlete, as well as a twenty-five year study and practice of martial arts that currently has him holding the rank of fifth degree black belt in the Wadu Ryu tradition.  As if that wasn’t enough, there were photos and comments confirming his passion for gardening, including the announcement that he had just received a master gardener certificate from the University of Tennessee.

For a moment, I’m almost as green as these lush surroundings with envy.  Here is a man who has stayed put in the same soil I left nearly thirty years ago.  He has grown where he has been planted, and is now manifesting a textbook-perfect demonstration of inner and outer fitness.  I quickly drop the jealousy, but proceed to pick up today’s pace as if I can reach his milestones merely by shaving half a minute off my time around the lakes today.  Of course, it takes only a couple hundred yards to reveal the folly of such thinking.  – But a wonderful serenity soon follows.

I suddenly realize that David’s example perfectly mirrors the deepest lessons of my acting training, my writing, and today’s Tao-insight as well.  I can’t sum up on this page my entire process as an actor any more than David can sum up the practice of martial arts in the same amount of space, but what I can say is that trying to achieve a great task by grand gestures never works as well as paying attention to ‘truths’ with a small ‘t’ that are close at hand.  It’s much easier to take action using these seemingly smaller/less significant elements of reality, and let the bigger themes take care of themselves.  For example, the best way for me to manifest my life as a writer is to pay attention to finishing this current sentence, without trying to make it ‘important’ because it’s about the Tao or whatever.  Words – like garden tools, or bicycles, or old running shoes – are just something to be used to do whatever it is that you’re doing.  The moment I start thinking about black belts, or blue ribbons, or Oscars or ‘Truth’ with a capital ‘T’ is the moment I start failing to accomplish whatever my ‘great’ task is, because I’m trying to do so via a great ACT rather than a series of small acts.  Such a way goes against the Tao.

And so I relax into the rest of today’s run, knowing that – whether it’s fifteen years, twenty-five years, the rest of my life, or tomorrow – the only way to allow the greatness within to come forward is to stay with the steps at hand, not those a thousand miles down the road – no matter how many new pairs of shoes it may take me to get there.

Tao 24/Day 90 “He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures.”

October 25, 2009

I’ve been out of sorts all week.  You’d think the opposite would be true.  I booked another acting job, and I’ve begun to get some encouraging feedback about these writing efforts.  My sister has been particularly encouraging.  She convinces me to begin the process of getting on Facebook, starting an internet blog, and figuring out how to create multiple income streams from all the books, cd’s, seminars, webinars, speaking engagements, etc. that she’s sure will follow from ‘Running with the Tao’.  – Hey, I’ve got a wife and kids to feed, right?  What could possibly be the harm in figuring out how to make some extra dollars as I’m figuring out how to make some extra sense?

The problem is, the second I throw myself into the world of social networking with a profit motive, my ability to manifest a single coherent insight comes to a grinding halt.  Not only that, I find myself frustrated with family, aggravated with the internet, and incapable of getting to the path.  It is with a sense of quiet heaviness and confusion that I’m finally able to haul all this negative mojo back to the lakes — hoping to end my creative sterility by literally running it into the ground.

The afternoon is endlessly beautiful, and as I get going a shift does occur.  “He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures.”  I’m clinging, I know it, and I know I’ve got to let go of this work for it to have a chance of impacting others on the path, whoever, wherever, and whenever they may be.  The moment I realize that now is not the time to concern myself with anything other than ‘getting it out there’, I feel a tremendous weight lifted.  The magic path again reveals its pleasures, and running with the Tao becomes a joy once more.

This is a tough issue though.  The problem of knowing how to ‘render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’ is a hard one to figure out in our modern culture.  On some level I know that every spiritual tradition on the planet insists on not storing up your treasures on earth, but in heaven, yet I’m also aware of the economic system under which I live, and at least some of its comparative benefits.  The way modern religion tends to bridge this contradiction is to either tell me to have nothing to do with the world, or tell me that material success is a blessing that comes from ‘putting God first’ – even though such success wasn’t sought by the spiritual masters credited with showing us all how to put God first in the first place.  They were un-attached to such results.  Lao Tzu, for example, certainly didn’t stick around to negotiate a book deal once his masterpiece was completed.  – And yet, the couplet above doesn’t suggest that he would have necessarily been at odds with the Tao if he had.  It only suggests that his work might not have endured.  Seen in this light, one of the simple questions I should be asking myself is, “Do I want my work to endure?”  If I don’t care, the Tao is capable of handling my ego-attachments to the short-term pursuit of material outcomes.  IT isn’t affected.  What is affected is me, and my ability to do enduring work.  If running is showing my outer fitness, and running with the Tao is manifesting my inner fitness, and this work is about that inner fitness, then I have to let this work go – at least for now — in order to be able to keep writing it.  Thankfully, if I can do that, and let the results speak for themselves, I know they eventually will.  And, when they do, there’ll be far more to show for this adventure than can be manifested in even a lifetime of abundance — for those results…will also…endure…

Tao 15/Day 90 “(The ancient masters) were careful as someone crossing an iced-over stream. Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.”

October 24, 2009

The only verse that makes sense for today’s run is from the same stanza I started this whole process with.  Ninety days in, and I’m now being asked to let go of even the tiniest conceit of wanting to use a different stanza for each enttry. Who knows where the writing road will wind?  Perhaps in the very same way it has til now, save this one ‘hiccup’.  But it’s a hiccup that again shows me not to take anything for granted in this unfolding process – nor in anything else in life…

I get a late start today, and when my car passes a sign on the way to a parking spot which reads, “Park closed from sunset to sunrise”, I wonder aloud whether it’s going to be possible to make the full circuit before the sun disappears.  This tiny anxiety increases slightly as I take off at a healthy clip and discover few fellow travelers on the magic path with me this evening.  I try to stay within myself and enjoy the journey, but thoughts of gates closing and me being potentially stranded in the park persist.  I know deep down it could never actually happen, but nevertheless I start a game of running down and passing those in front of me, ala ‘last one in the parking lot is a rotten egg’.  Adding fuel to my fire is the recollection that there have occasionally been cougar sightings in the peninsula’s parks.  While part of me wants to downplay the notion that a big cat could cross my beloved path with me still on it, another part of me is starting to suspect that today’s running with the Tao is becoming more akin to running for my life.

“Run for your lives!”  “Run for the hills!”  “Running on empty” – my metaphoric mind begins to recall all the ways that running and the language surrounding it are employed in the service of desperate circumstances.  It’s a supreme challenge NOT to resist these thoughts, and instead let them serve whatever purpose they might have before discarding them.  The effort to stay present in the midst of such mental goings-on eventually results in a realization I don’t think I could have accessed any other way:  There is a difference between being present and being FULLY present, and it involves an almost alchemical process of transmuting fear into ALERTNESS.  In other words, if I had truly been afraid – of the dark, of locked gates, of wild animals – I would have shut down the run almost before it had begun, and the story of what had transpired would have consisted entirely of my fears.  As it so happened, I was able to recall the Tao-description of a master’s demeanor at the top of this page in time to transform the race while it was still being run from one of fear into one of alertness.  By so doing, an added dimension became available to me.

To be ‘fully’ present is to acknowledge not only the creative and sustaining forces of reality, but also its destructive aspects.  This is the notion summed up in the classic Native American battle cry, “Today is a great day to die!”  The quality of presence in such a statement goes beyond ego and mental gymnastics.  It even goes beyond the full surrender of one’s ego-life – past St. Paul’s statement of, “Not I who live, but Christ who lives in me”.  Such a realization as Paul’s may indeed also be ready for whatever Life brings, but ‘today is a great day to die’ is ready for whatever Life brings RIGHT NOW.  The energy of THAT alertness is what allows me to finish in record time.

Tao 79/Day 83 “If you blame someone else, there is no end to the blame.”

October 23, 2009

It’s a flawless afternoon.  The boys and I have already been ‘swimming’ at Commonwealth (they splash, I watch, we laugh) and now they are making zucchini muffins with their Mommy as I make my way back to the gym and then to the path.  I feel strong, and end up working harder and longer than I thought my energy would allow when I began.  Today’s meditation has been lurking for awhile in the back of my mind, waiting for the right opportunity to come to the fore.  A tiny incident – I started to silently blame Maureen for my not having enough time to lift AND run, only to have her totally support both efforts – has been the catalyst.  And boy does it take off the moment I take off around the lakes.

Are you familiar with the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ in the Bible?  Just prior to it, Jesus states that all the law and all the prophets can be distilled into two themes:  love God, and love your neighbor – to which someone in the listening audience retorts, “Who’s my neighbor?”  Jesus then inserts the word ‘Samaritan’ into the slot previously occupied by the word ‘neighbor’ in a story about a man beaten, robbed and left for dead on the side of the road.  He seeks help from the pious and his kinsmen, but receives it instead from a ‘half-breed’ he has been taught to hate.  This ‘neighbor’ shows mercy, at great personal cost, to a stranger he too is supposed to despise – and Jesus exhorts the crowd to go and do likewise.

I get two things from this that pertain to my Tao-dash today:  mercy eliminates blame, and inserting specific words for general ones often illuminates concepts in a way that even the retort-prone (like me) can’t ignore.  With humility, I start inserting specifics into the Tao-couplet above, starting with folks close at hand and working my way out.  “If I blame my kids, there is no end to the blame.  If I blame my wife, there is no end to the blame.  If I blame my parents, there is no end to the blame.  If I blame my job, there is no end to the blame.  If I blame my circumstances, there is no end to the blame.  If I blame the government, there is no end to the blame.  If I blame a disorder or a disease, there is no end to the blame.  If the Protestants blame the Catholics, there is no end to the blame.  If the Israelis blame the Palestiniams. there is no end to the blame.  If the Muslims blame the infidels, there is no end to the blame.  If the human race blames God, there is no end to the blame.  If the human race blames itself, and creates its God as a projection of the judgement it feels it therefore deserves because of that blame…”

However, blame and responsibility are two different things, even though they are bound together in most of us.  Uncoupling them can have as radical an effect on my relationship to the Tao as uncoupling pain from suffering, or lessons from judgement-feelings.  The Tao te Ching says that the Master takes complete responsibility for the only thing he truly can —  himself – but it never states that blame is to accompany that work. Likewise, it states that the Master is indifferent to the blame – or praise – of others.  By staying “serenely in herself” (Stanza 26), blame cannot gain a foothold in her thinking. – I’ve still got tons of energy when I stop running.  I start to blame myself for not going further, then decide it’s time to take responsibility, show some mercy (in this case, to myself), and put an end to that kind of response.  – Now on to the rest of the world…

Tao 55/Day 81 “He is never disappointed, thus his spirit never grows old.”

October 22, 2009

Another breakthrough.  The above Tao-meditation finds me at high noon, just before my only opening to run the magic path today.  I start inhaling ‘never disappointed’ and exhaling ‘never growing old’ while doing some warm up stretches, and play with different breathing rhythms around different versions of this mantra the entire run.

How astonishing would it be to live life without disappointment?  How energized could my body become if my spirit continuously experienced its true state of agelessness?  I never will forget when I first moved to Los Angeles and got to attend my first professional basketball game.  Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers put on a dazzling display that was aptly dubbed ‘Showtime’ by the local press.  The thing that stood out in my mind though was not the skill or intensity of such gifted players, but rather what happened each time Magic missed an assignment or made a mistake:  absolutely nothing.  Maybe it was different in the huddle, but during game time I never saw anyone express less disappointment when he messed up.  If his man scored a basket, he would just inbound the ball as fast as he could and streak to the other end of the court for his own lay up or beautiful assist – followed by a smile or a wave to the crowd.  Here was someone who – at least by all outward appearances – had somehow learned to uncouple the lessons to be learned from the game’s setbacks from how most of us have been taught we’re supposed to FEEL about those setbacks and those lessons.

Isn’t this the essence of non-attachment when it comes to the game of life?  Why am I still wasting so much energy being attached and disappointed?  All it does is age my spirit, without producing any better results!  Wayne Dyer’s work references another author’s definition of such useless beliefs and behaviors as ‘viruses of the mind’.  That’s how disappointment feels to me now as I quicken my pace around the path.

For the rest of the run, I look for opportunities to push myself.  Each time I do, I reach a point of failing to sustain that push.  At each failure, I check my feeling state.  Am I purely learning and making subtle adjustments, or am I including on some level a sense of disappointment that I haven’t measured up to the task at hand?  If that disappointment is there, can I step back from using it as my motivation – as I might have done in the past – and focus awareness instead on dropping it in order to more completely learn whatever lesson is actually present?

It’s hard to describe the additional energy that becomes available to me as I continue the rest of the run and the rest of my day this way.  I don’t get faster so much as I get freer.  I stop getting disappointed by the boys’ behavior, and – since my spirit has stopped growing older – I start playing more tennis-racket guitar with them when they ask me to join their ‘band’.  I stop being disappointed at my recent lack of auditions and – since a fearless spirit doesn’t recognize anything but abundance — start appreciating how great Maureen is at finding bargains, and how she has created a truly wonderful family situation that allows me the freedom to run and write like this.  I stop being disappointed with the world and all its vexing, violent ‘problems’, and — since only an ageless spirit can truly recognize reality — I see its perfection…and my own, as if for the first time.

Tao 61 and Tao 32/Day 79 “The more powerful a country grows, the greater the need for humility.”

October 21, 2009

As I run today, I start to receive half-formulated snippets about the relationship between physical weakness and spiritual strength.  Most of them are versions of Bible stories from my Judeo-Christian upbringing – “I am weak but HE is strong” kinds of things.  Not all that different in substance than the ‘Tao is inexhaustible’ outlook, really.  Both traditions also stress the need for personal humility, either to avoid having to be defensive (the Tao te Ching), or to avoid negative consequences ala “Pride goeth before a fall” (the Bible).

As I contemplate such similarities, as well as differences, my mind returns to recent conversations with friends and family about the state of world affairs – particularly regarding the ‘bailing out’ of multinational corporations that has taken place in the name of ‘saving the economy’ and ‘preventing financial Armaggedon’.     Those on the right of the political spectrum are complaining about the bailing out of General Motors.  “Why did we bail them out, when they declared bankruptcy anyway?  It’s the unions that are the problem – they’ve gotten to where they think they’re too big to fail.  – Them, and all the illegal immigrants that keep coming in.  Democracy gets ruined when you get too many people who want services but don’t have to pay the taxes to support them.”

Those on the other side tend to vent over the bailing out of the world’s financial institutions.  “How can the institutions that caused this mess get trillions in taxpayer money?  How can they turn around and report that money as profit, and pay themselves huge bonuses?!   How can taxpayers get nothing in return — other than the cold comfort that these institutions are too big to fail and it would’ve been worse to do nothing?

This feels like the strangest inner landscape during a run yet, even though I know the Tao te Ching actually has quite a lot to say about governing – whether it involves oneself or one’s country or any entity in between.  I run to within four hundred meters of today’s ‘finish line’ before the clarity comes pouring in.  What is not in keeping with the Tao is the notion of anything in human affairs being ‘too big to fail’.  Was the Roman Empire too big to fail?  Was the British Empire too big to fail?  If not, is General Motors or Goldman Sachs or any other multinational icon really entitled to greater guarantees?

These are not ‘political’ questions in this context.  Rather, they are questions to test my inner fitness in relation to outer events – even those on the scale of something as big as the ‘global economy’.  Where is a powerful democratic country’s humility in the notion that people are expendable but institutions are not?  What are the true functions of such institutions — and where should their functions end?  And, perhaps most importantly, how can such determinations even be attempted without individuals possessing sufficient humility to entertain the questions without defensiveness?  If that quality is absent, then what is left is truly pride on a massive scale – perhaps to the degree that the Western spiritual perspective triumphs, and a massive fall results from such a massive pride.  – May humility inform all our steps – regardless of where they fall, whether on this path, or on any point of the political spectrum.  – I humbly head home.