Archive for January, 2010

Tao 42/Day 234 “Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole universe.”

January 26, 2010

Tomorrow is my birthday.  Not much planned for this one.  Last year Maureen surprised me – along with about eighty friends and family members – by turning the house in Alabama into a Hawaiian luau for my fiftieth.  Everyone was dressed in island attire, the food, the fun and the karaoke were rockin’, and the celebrating continued well past the midnight hour – even as the boys slept like rocks upstairs.  Friends flew in from as far away as Los Angeles, and the love and camaraderie we all shared was palpable…This year, of course, I’m living in another country, and it is the feeling of aloneness that is palpable.  There is the solitude of being physically further away from those same family members and friends.  There is the nature of these solitary pursuits – of running, and writing, and of auditioning for people with whom I have no history that might bolster the prospects of landing the next gig.  And there is the solitude evoked in me by the natural landscape here – ocean and forest and snow-capped mountains all conspiring to seal me off from the places and spaces I’ve known before…Yet, if I’m being honest, I’ve never felt more connected to life in my life.  I have embraced this aloneness.  Cultivated it.  Sought it out.  Valued it above all the activities deemed worthier by the ordinary world.  And – without making any claim to mastery whatsoever – I have realized glimpses of my oneness with this universe to a greater degree than ever before.  Such glimpses are what I attempt to share in these entries, and it is amidst them that I finish my work on the yoga mat and head for the magic path once more…The lakes are smooth as glass.  As I ease onto the trail surrounding them, I find a mantra instantly and naturally arising.  It’s the word ‘idealism’, and I speak it silently with every exhale.  It is so easy to allow cynicism to become my primary armor against all the slings and arrows I encounter in the world.  But it is an armor that severs my experience of connection, and it truly is not worth the cost.  Ideals – of love, of sacrifice, of bliss, of equality, of presence, of justice, of the nature of God and the Tao and Reality – are what connect me to the world at the level of inspiration.  If I lose that inspiration, in a real sense I lose my connection to life…I happened to catch a program on Michelangelo last night, and it comes to me now as I breathe into a quickened pace and receptive space.  One point I found fascinating was how much scientific knowledge – specifically of anatomy – that the great artist possessed.  Yet his work took this knowledge of the human body and saturated it in idealism.  Michelangelo, according to the narrator, wanted viewers of his work to be able not just to see the particular figure in front of them, but to see themselves in that figure, and by doing so see too their connection to all people…I’m no student of art history.  Neither am I an expert on the Renaissance.  I have no idea how many ‘new movements’ have come and gone since Michelangelo’s day. But for some reason his example inspires me now as I fashion my own path in solitude.  The mastery he displayed was not simply a mastery of painting or sculpting, but a mastery of using the Tao.  What better Tao-equation for artists – of all stripes — than, “Art = Science in the service of human ideals”?  As I celebrate another trip around the magic path (and around the sun), I choose to celebrate my idealism…and my inspiring connection…to YOU.

Tao 75/Day 232 “Act for the people’s benefit. Trust them; leave them alone.”

January 24, 2010

Note to self:  Keep this place a secret.  Mid-January and it feels like it’s in the mid-fifties today.  In Canada!  Are you kidding me?!?  No way I’m not getting outside, if it’s at all possible…The opening comes mid-afternoon.  We’re neck-deep on the home front in all things autism – the fifth day of therapy this week, Maureen’s autism visuals-supplies-and-services business gaining steam, etc. – so a trip to the magic path is a welcome respite.  I don’t feel especially energetic, but I’m taking what I experienced last time around to heart and establishing a much quicker pace — if only to see if it really does help my knees (it does – don’t ask me why)…As I puff and churn past familiar scenes made new by the light of the present moment, my awareness rummages over the remaining stanzas in the Tao te Ching that have yet to receive any air time in these entries.  Today’s meditation stands out from the rest, so I breathe and release and allow it to tell me whatever it will…It’s sometimes taken for granted that the Tao te Ching is always more ‘progressive’ than our ‘western’ wisdom texts – specifically those originating in the nomadic desert tribes of the Middle East (ie – the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran). Whether this is due in part to the Tao te Ching seeming more ‘feminine’ than these patriarchal counterparts, or because its writings were initially embraced more readily here by those who might be classified as somewhere between ‘left-of-center’ and ‘a buncha dang hippies’, I don’t know.  But the fact of the matter is that, when it comes to many of Lao Tzu’s pronouncements on using the Tao in relation to governmental affairs, the tone is actually conservative to the point of what we might call ‘libertarian’…For example, the words that precede today’s couplet in the very brief stanza 75 state, “When taxes are too high, people go hungry.  When the government is too intrusive, people lose their spirit.”  – The whole stanza could be mistaken as a manifesto for political conservatism.  Like many passages for believers in the Bible, ‘believers’ in the Tao te Ching tend to conveniently overlook some of these passages when the words don’t seem to support a particularly cherished outlook or agenda…I have to slow down.  I’m more than half way around the lakes and my breathing is too hard and too fast. – But after a brief cool-down, I’m back at it, renewed.  My lungs and legs are being truly tested by this trek, and, for today at least, they are passing with flying colors…I don’t have any particular lightbulb moment as continue to run with the Tao in this now.  People have always used the words in wisdom texts any way that suited their particular agenda – and I don’t have an agenda today.  Whether I should adopt a more conservative outlook on the role of government in the 21st century because of the language of stanza 75, whether I should provide additional historic or linguistic context to suggest that Lao Tzu wasn’t really advocating being hands off in all situations – these would only be the same tricks used by countless apologists of every stripe, eastern or western.  What I’m left with is to contemplate how, when it’s clearly appropriate, can I or anyone else in today’s environment make the case that the best way to act for the people’s benefit is to trust them and leave them alone.  We’re in such a culture of expediency that ‘doing not-doing’ is always seen as worse than ‘doing something, even if it’s wrong’…I head home from a fast run committed to spiritually slowing down, and trusting people – even when it’s not the popular thing to do – regardless of my politics.

Tao 76/Day 230 “Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.”

January 23, 2010

I don’t know where to start.  A couple of auditions in Vancouver have taken up the majority of both yesterday and the day before, and I’m stiff as a board from two round trips in as many days of ferrying and driving and sitting and driving and ferrying.  The roles are light years apart.  One is a comedic bit part — a multi-divorced dad tipsily toasting his daughter at a rehearsal dinner before her wedding the following day.  The other is a dramatic guest-starring turn as a high profile judge trying to cover up an incestuous and finally murderous relationship with his daughter, a high-priced ‘escort’.  – Wow, what a job, eh?  My feelings around such work defy easy categorization.  On the one hand, neither role resonates deeply with my own personal reality, nor with the reflections I’m attempting to mirror in these pages.  On the other hand, both are opportunities to practice exactly the kind of psychological flexibility required to be a disciple of life, according to the Tao te Ching.  I guess — at least until the role the Tao is giving me here finds a larger audience – I’ll keep practicing being both soft and yielding to whatever roles life brings my way…I’ve got an extended opening, and I decide to spend some time on the yoga mat before heading to the gym and then the magic path.  Some of my knee pain has been the result of tight illius-tibia (or ‘I-T’) bands, which run from the hip along the outer thigh to the knee.  It’s common in runners, and is eased by hip-opening asanas such as ‘pigeon pose’.  Whether I’ve done enough to counteract my sedentary stiffness remains to be seen…My time at the gym is an exercise in humility.  It’s amazing how quickly the lack of a regular practice – in any area of life – shows up as a lack of progress in that area.  Setting goals isn’t nearly so important a first step as consistently showing up.  The more I show up, the more likely I’ll actually have a chance to allow something extraordinary to manifest.  Until then, I’m kidding myself…The run starts out pleasantly enough, but it’s immediately apparent I don’t have the ‘spark’ of my previous outing.  I choose to practice presence rather than discouragement, and soon I’m revisiting this notion of stiffness versus flexibility, in all its guises…Why is it that our culture seems so committed to inflexibility as a superior stance for securing success?   Is such a stance sustainable?  I think of the glory given young people who participate in violent games, or volunteer for war, or express with absolute certainty their convictions about God’s will and God’s judgement in this world.  These are a lot of the same young people who show up in mid-life with prematurely broken bodies and broken hearts and broken spirits, who will either be healed via the adoption of a softer approach to life, or will become the stiff, hard, embittered ambassadors of a perpetual culture of violence – lest their terrible sacrifice will have been in vain.  It is not a sustainable stance, and I am living proof.  My body endured many broken bones playing violent games in the hope of fleeting glory.  My hard heart has been broken many times trying to inflexibly enforce how those around me ‘should’ be acting and feeling.  My stiff, dogmatic spirit suffered many breaks in a losing game of judging my fellow earth-citizens in the name of ‘love’…My knees start aching at my jogging pace, but are okay when I sprint or when I walk.  I finish my run by therefore alternating sprints and walks – alternating freedom and brokenness.  It’s the way a ‘stiff’ like me finds his way back to the Way – because even though human knowledge continues to make huge strides, when it comes to human nature, at least my human nature — sometimes it’s giant steps, sometimes it’s baby ones.

Tao 40/Day 226 “Return is the movement of the Tao. Yielding is the way of the Tao.”

January 17, 2010

Beautiful spring-like sunshine, after yet another deluge of winter rain, has left the air sparkling and the magic path a muddy mess today.  As I come to a full stop in order to wade through a particularly nasty stretch of lakeside goo, I encounter a mother and her teenage daughter stepping aside at the other end of the long puddle.  “Aren’t you the one who was skipping the other day?” Mom asks as I tip-toe past.  “I told her about you as soon as I got home!”  I plead guilty with a laugh, and we end up talking for a moment about how becoming present is a great foundation for becoming fit, among other things.  When I bid them adieu and resume my run, my steps and my heart are both light as a feather from the connection we’ve made  – ‘Connection’ fascinates me.   At this stage of life I’m definitely on the ‘return’ portion of my round-trip ticket.  But only recently have I begun to truly feel the journey as one resembling a circle.  A circle is always returning, its trajectory constantly curving — yielding, if you will, to the invisible force at its center.  – Perhaps that force is the only true Reality…Spiritual Gravity…the Way…the Tao…and ‘I’ am just a voice confirming the view from Here…from Now…a hearty, full-throated ‘Yes to Life’!  When I encounter another ‘Yes’ like this – whether as a question or an answer or merely an echo — I feel this sense of connection to the ‘other’.  It doesn’t matter whether I locate its origin in a life-long love, a Facebook friend, a chance encounter or one of these two hundred foot tall trees I pass on a regular basis – the connection is made, and once made can never be lost, even if it seems to sometimes ‘end’.  This is the play that the Self must delight in – hiding and seeking and finding itself, over and over again…I pass the halfway point on the path, still feeling fantastic, and still making frequent stops to navigate the trail.  An older gentleman ‘just happens’ to walk up to me from the opposite direction during one of these slowdowns.  When out of nowhere he observes with a smile that being out here today “is the exact right time on the one hand, and the exact wrong time on the other”, I happily concur.  Just depends on which hand I choose…For some reason my grandmother again enters my awareness.  She was full of life, but in her later years she suffered from congestive heart failure, and required constant medication.  I remember a period of time when — every time the phone would ring — I’d instantly think, “They’re calling to tell me she’s died.”  When that thought would arise, I would consciously follow it up with, “My thinking it does not make it so.”  Eventually, of course, a call like that did come, but my ‘magical’ thinking about the event prior to its actual occurrence only resembled reality in the most superficial of ways.  – What I mean is:  Is my subjective experience of connection, of ‘timelessness’, of ‘the eternal now’ really indicative of an ultimate, unknowable aspect of empirical reality?  Or is it just a part of our common human consciousness that allows us to give a meaning to our experience of being alive, without which we would surely kill each other and ourselves for lack of a sense of ‘connection’ to anyone or anything?  I don’t really know whether life is like a circle or a box of chocolates.  I don’t know what the invisible force is, or if the Self really does ‘delight’ in anything, or whether such imagery is merely a product of brain neurons firing in a particular sequence.  All I know is, without that connection, that love, the universe of my experience comes apart at the seams.  – I finish with gratitude for all my human capacities, and a prayer:  May we never become so smart…that we stop returning, and yielding, to the music of our hearts.

Tao 46/Day 223 “When a country goes counter to the Tao, warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.”

January 13, 2010

Wow.  What a week it’s been since I last set foot on the magic path.  Between the still-soggy weather, the creation and launch of an audio Podcast site for these entries, Maureen being offered a position and then deciding to start her own business creating visuals for kids on the autism spectrum (she’s done such a fantastic job creating them for our guys) – I feel so far removed from the running highs of recent weeks that I can’t wait to get back out to the lakes today to clear both my lungs and my head.  The temperature is surprisingly mild for mid-January – so much so that I opt for gym shorts and a light sweatshirt.  The car has a dead battery – the result of letting the boys use it for their ‘space ship’ yesterday and then forgetting to check to see if they’d left any interior lights on (they did) – so I start from my doorstep like I used to back during the summer.

I REALLY need this today.  I feel that I’m like that country the Tao te Ching is talking about — that I’m going counter to the Tao right now.  This still happens sometimes — usually when I start feeling the ego-pressure to take care of my family by producing results quicker than what is organically occurring on the Tao’s timetable.  If I let myself get this way, I start expecting those around me – especially my family — to start becoming people they aren’t so that I can start becoming someone I’m not and ‘save the day’ (for them, of course – ego is so altruistic!).  When, naturally, they don’t cooperate with this scam, I start resenting all the mundane responsibilities of my everyday life as a husband and father that ‘keep’ me from accomplishing, and enjoying, ‘more’ – whatever that is.  As I then get crankier and crankier about this ‘loss’, my closest kin begin adding lots of increasing resistance to the household mix.  It’s a perfectly normal response — but to my ego it seems as if they can sense my ‘wounds’, and are becoming ever-more-sinister by selecting salt rather than salve to rub on them.

If I don’t watch out – If I don’t step away from my ego, come to my senses, and get back to operating in harmony with the Tao – I too, like that country mentioned above, will start stockpiling ‘warheads’ on the edges of the ‘city’ that has now become my ‘inner home’ – my egoic mind.  Warheads of anger, sarcasm, indifference and — that nuclear warhead — a judgmental attitude will start piling up as I suddenly find myself effortlessly able to keep score of how many offenses are being committed against poor little ‘me’, day after day after day, by the likes of uncaring companions and thoughtless three year-olds.  Thank God I can get away from them now, and run til I find me some peace!…

So what happens?  I don’t get five minutes onto the trail before my right knee starts killing me.  I don’t know if it was all that stupid skipping last time out, or the layoff in-between, or that damn ergonomic chair I’ve been sitting in while staring at my computer screen for hours on end trying to create those audio podcasts or WHAT, but it soon becomes apparent that this is a day I’ll be forced to just walk with the Tao…Which is exactly what I proceed to do…and exactly the remedy required to get my foot off my ego’s gas pedal…As ego’s dogma subsides, critical thinking and consciousness return to the fore, exposing the real me from my crown to my root…Compassion slowly usurps blame, and I dismantle those warheads, one by one…Communication becomes clear, and I return home an ambassador of peace, seeking to serve rather than save…And I wonder – what would it take?  What would it really take – for all countries to do the same?…

Tao 26/Day 216 “Thus the Master travels all day without leaving home.”

January 6, 2010

Sometimes I still take myself too seriously.  For example, I’ll get caught up in the ‘importance’ of getting another one of these entries done, and I’ll ‘forget’ that inner fitness always trends toward joy.  And inspiration.  And enthusiasm.  And a kind of happy, curious awe about life.  And a sense of feeling ‘at home’ regardless of miles covered or circumstances encountered.  – Today must be one of those times, because I’m arriving at the trail without any of these attributes being particularly present or prominent.  …For some reason, I begin my journey by skipping and loping along – kind of like you might see ballplayers do to begin to warm up before a game.  Without intending it, I’m immediately transported to my childhood by this simple physical expression.  I’ve always known beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s impossible to skip and be ‘too serious’ at the same time, but the reminder right now in my body is startling.  I decide to stay with it for a while – ignoring, for the moment, the notion that others on the trail might eventually find this all a bit odd…As I continue to alternately ‘skip and lope’, I notice that my gaze lifts as well as my spirits.  Treetops and clouds are suddenly the most fascinating things in the world.  A little further on, and I’m hearing a yoga teacher in Mr. Iyengar’s tradition asserting that it is impossible to stay depressed if one will just throw their shoulders back, lift their chest and open their heart while standing in samasthitihi (a basic standing asana/pose).  Sounds like good advice about right now, so I throw and lift and open with increasing abandon…One by one the kilometers start to click by.  I lose almost all sense of time –or maybe my sense of time expands.  I strongly feel the presence of my maternal grandparents.  They would go dancing nine times a week while courting, and continued to love to polka well into their eighties.  I throw in some polka-stepping around several mud puddles in their honor.  Most of the people I’m dancing with on this magic path are non-committal about my antics, but their dogs are a different story.  Although a few give me a “what’s up with that” kind of energy, most suddenly want to lick my hand and play.  A few even decide they’d rather run with me than with their regular human companions.  They don’t follow through, but they do gaze longingly after me as if to say, “Do you think you could get my guy to do that too?”  When a cross-country team thunders by from the opposite direction, I wonder whether their coach would ever consider a day of skipping as part of the team’s training regimen.  If nothing else, someone might reconnect with the joy of moving through space and time just for the fun of it, and that might be something that young person could draw on while digging down deep when a race was on the line…I keep watching my breathing to see if this effort is creating any challenges, but it’s never an issue.  I can’t believe I’m almost all the way around without ever coming to my senses and ‘acting like a fifty year old for goodness’ sake’.  Where’s the guy from the Guiness Book of World Records when you need him?…The two lines in the Tao te Ching that follow those at the top of this page state, “However splendid the views, she stays serenely within herself”.   As I complete ten kilometers of skipping, and continue doing it all the way to my car door, I wonder – Am I crazy?  Am I just happy?  Or, maybe, have I just found a new way to travel all day – while finding my way calmly home?  – Now that I’ve found it once more, may I always be open to trusting the Tao to providing a path to its door…the door to my home that is this present moment.

Tao 35/Day 214 “When you look for it, there is nothing to see. When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear. When you use it, it is inexhaustible.”

January 4, 2010

Here are a couple of inexhaustible uses that you may find helpful, depending on where you are in your life.  If they don’t do anything for you, either now or in the future, this page (like all the others) is also suitable for the bottom of your birdcage.  🙂

1.     Don’t allow your particular religion to rule your reason.  Don’t allow your reason to foul your faith.  Don’t allow your faith to limit your love.  Don’t allow your love to cloud your consciousness.  Don’t allow your consciousness to neglect the Now.  Don’t allow the Now to permanently purge your particular place in it.  Don’t allow your particular place in it to produce a particular religion about it.  But if it does…

2.      Get a piece of paper and draw a series of four or five concentric circles, each new one slightly larger than the one before, and each new one completely containing all the previous circles.  Now picture these circles as the development of your consciousness as you’ve gone through your life thus far. When you were ‘in’ the smallest circle, you said ‘yes’ to everything within your circle, and ‘no’ to everything outside of it.  Each time your consciousness expanded, your circle got bigger, as did your ability to say ‘yes’ to a larger round of Reality.  Now picture and draw a “God Circle”, or, if you’re able, a “Tao Circle”.  It would be the largest circle on the page, encompassing all the other circles and, for our purposes, all of Reality.  Such a circle would require a ‘Yes-saying’ to all that is, without exception.  – That is what your consciousness is expanding toward.  Now release any judging of your smaller circles.  They are still within your larger circle, and just as much a part of you as the rest of your current circle. Also now release any judging of others who may still currently be operating exclusively out of those smaller circles – particularly family members.  Remember, from their vantage point, everything outside their circle has to be said ‘no’ to.  Not only that, but everything outside their circle feels like it is saying ‘no’ to them – negating them as well as that part of your circle which you also are.  Whenever you are with them, find the place in your circle where they also are, rather than constantly trying to point out how small their circle is.  In this way, the ‘yes-saying’ that you do together will soften the boundaries of both your circles, and both of your circles will expand – theirs via validation, and yours via compassion.  Finally, remember that, in Reality, our ‘circles of consciousness’ are at least three-dimensional, and often intersecting rather than encompassing each other– meaning that just because your consciousness has expanded beyond your neighbor’s in one area does not mean that it is larger in all areas.  Everyone you meet is potentially your perfect teacher – even (perhaps especially) someone unconsciously causing harm with the narrower, more limited aspects of their consciousness.  Find where you intersect, soften your boundary, and watch what opens up in both of you.

Tao 43/Day 210 “The gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing in the world.”

January 1, 2010

Last day of the year.  Pouring rain.  I’m feeling a bit cabin-feverish as I realize I won’t make it to either the magic path or the early-closing gym before the clock strikes twelve.  I guess, if I’m going to run with the Tao today, it’ll have to be as a toilet trainer and peanut butter and jelly sandwich maker amidst scattered toys and the incessant hum of whatever’s playing on PBS Kids.  – Speaking of PBS, they broadcast a documentary the other night that blew me away.  Wish I knew whom to credit here, but it was a true story about one of the hardest things in the world – the murder of a child by another child.  Specifically, a fourteen year old boy shot and killed a college student delivering pizzas to earn extra money.  The younger kid had been abandoned by his parents and was being raised by a loving grandfather who himself had been raised as a Southern Baptist.  The older boy was the light of a loving Sufi Muslim family.   The focus of the story was on the forgiveness the murdered boy’s father extended to the guilt-ridden grandfather and grandson.  The Sufi and the Southern Baptist became best friends, and began touring schools and talking to other kids about the alternatives to revenge that love and forgiveness can bring.  The grandson is a changed person, with a job waiting for him at the foundation established in memory of the boy he killed.  The grandfather has been given a reason for living, and the Sufi-dad has seen the power of his consciousness multiplied far beyond its previous circle of impact.

It strikes me that none of this required anyone involved to trumpet a unique spiritual understanding, condemn another’s faith, or renounce their own.  The father even made sure that people watching the documentary knew that, “Hey, this isn’t Rumi and Mother Teresa getting together here.  If we can do it, anyone can.”  As I sit with the power of that statement, I know that, for many people, this past year has seen many ‘hardest things in the world’.  Death, illness, financial ruin, betrayal, dreams unfulfilled, mountains that seem too hard to keep climbing – the list goes on.  Maybe someone reading this right now is facing the prospect of a new year with nothing but the breath they are breathing to convince them that they’re still alive.  I am here to affirm that giving attention and value to that breath, and the next one as it comes and goes, and the next one…is the starting point for overcoming whatever remains unsolvable or unforgivable going forward.  The breath we are breathing right now is the foundation that allows the love and forgiveness we want to see in the world to flow through us.  Each of us – regardless of our heritage or faith or absence thereof – is connected to this present moment, and therefore to each other, by this most gentle and precious gift.  It’s funny how even the gentle breathing of others has often brought me to my senses.  Drinking in the breath of my two boys as they sleep has washed away many a hard feeling still harbored from the day.  Maureen is blissful every time a puppy’s breath kisses her senses, and there’s nothing like a gentle breeze blowing through an orange grove to wipe my ego-slate clean, if only for a moment.  – As I face the new year, I resolve to resist framing any insight as ever requiring anyone to let go of anything but their preconceived notions. I also resolve to find my breath as the first step toward finding a solution whenver the ‘hard’ things of life arise.  If I can allow just these two resolutions to find a home in my heart, love and forgiveness will always have a fighting chance to break through — first into my awareness…and then into my world.