I Belong to This

The universe appears as mostly empty space. 
Yet it is filled with a hidden
and inexhaustible energy
that has existed since before the beginning
of beginning-less time.
So we can relax and let our tension drain away, 
for we belong to this.

The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 4

Trust is becoming more central to my life.
It’s not that I think my every whim will be indulged,
it’s that I trust that I belong,
not as a coat belongs to its wearer,
but as a cell belongs to the body.
Life is really not my job, is it?
(though it seems so to my mind.)
The Tao is doing it all.
I can imagine the body saying to the cell,
“Relax, I’ve got this.”
More often now, I hear the Tao whisper,
“Relax, Bill, I’ve got this.”
I trust that when the time arrives
for me to let it go at last,
I’ll hear that gentle whisper yet again,
“Relax, Bill, I’ve got this.”

Winner

If you don't strive to be noticed,
no one will compete with you.

From The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 3

marathonI’ve never been a fan of competition, though I’ve competed in track and distance running in high school, university, and in several decades of my adult life. There’s a certain energy in striding alongside another runner, pushing and being pushed. I loved the feeling of running a marathon! I’ve always wondered, however, why that pleasure had to be usurped by winning and losing. Why medals, accolades, triumphs, and disappointments? Why not just run, play, and then forget it?

They say that competition made this country great. How’s that working for us?

Haven’t we all had enough of, “We’re number one?” Aren’t we sick of the word, “loser?” If we eliminated. “winner,” and, “loser,” from the dictionary wouldn’t we be better off?

The Tao knows nothing of winning and losing.

Showing the Colors

We can’t speak of beauty without knowing ugliness. 
We can’t speak of virtue without knowing vice.
We can’t speak of life without knowing death.
We can't achieve without knowing failure.
We can't find silence without knowing noise.

From The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 2

leavesThe colors of the autumn leaves,
a friend recently informed me,
have been there all along.
They’ve been waiting for the leaf
to loose the tightness of its grip
upon the tree, for the chlorophyl
to ease its constant effort to produce.
When that happens, they shine through at last.
I understand, I think.
I am healthy and happy, but no longer grip
my life as once I did.
Production isn’t a priority any more.
I think the beauty may be showing through,
no longer hidden by my ceaseless efforts.

Walk Instead of Talk

Talking about a path is not the same
as walking that path. 
The Tao contains both the talk, 
and the walk.

From the Tao Te Ching, CHapter 1

path in the woods

 

 

 

 

 

I’m starting once again, as I have countless times throughout my life,
to take a journey through the chapters of the Tao Te Ching.
Beginning at the beginning, with the usual single step,
in the thousand mile journey, I am reminded
of the amount of words that fill my life.
That’s fine. Words are part of my calling and gift,
but they are so dangerous.
I am known as an author, a wordsmith, a poet –
words that trap me and narrow my experience.

As I walk this never-ending path again,
I make a gentle intention to be more quiet
and let the experience of the moment settle
into a wordless appreciation;
a gratitude that needs no grateful words.
So I will stop now, and write again next week,
with words that might come from wordlessness.

Blessings,
Bill

It’s Harder Now

Winter is arriving early here in Shasta,
and I am finding it surprisingly difficult to face.
I know the wisdom of offering no resistance
to whatever comes and goes in life,
but it is harder now.

I am entering the winter of my life
and will not experience the spring of youth again.
Thus the yearly winter season looms a metaphor
for the dimming of the life I’ve known;
and also for the winds that shake society
as we all seek shelter from the storm.

For an old man, I am healthy,
but it is not the health that points its nose
into the storms and shouts to,
“Bring it on!”
I want to find a warm and cozy shelter
from the inner and outer weather.

I am going deeper into the Way of Tao.
It is the only shelter that can actually offer
comfort, peace, and the contentment of acceptance.
Wu-wei – the relaxed and gentle movement
that removes resistance and brings instead the comfort
of flowing with a Greater Power than my own.

I have been lived by Tao through all these years
and Tao will live me still, without my anxious thoughts
that spin a web of fear.
The cabin rocks with wind, and rain
pelts hard on tin roofing overhead.
It is to this power I belong
and as my thoughts wind down
the peace that lives beyond all reason waits,
and welcomes me once again.
No effort to resist.
No problem.

The Barn’s are Burning

“My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.” –Mizuta Masahide (17th century Japanese poet)

The barns seem to be aflame
everywhere I turn my gaze.
Our storehouses of what we think we need
are perhaps more fragile than we thought.
No one wants to lose the multitude of things
we’ve gathered against the threats we feel.
No one wants to be uncomfortable,
without the toys we play with.

But the price we paid for all the things
we think are bringing safety,
has been dearer than we thought.
We seldom see the moon,
or any of the wonder she reflects.
Our walls, and all they symbolize,
have separated us from life itself
and substituted videos and words.
Roofs have cut Divine light off
and cocooned us in a dark illusion.

Perhaps we should celebrate the burning,
frightening though it is at times.
It might bring hardship and discomfort.
It may require faith and trust and courage.
But we may again, when all is said and done,
see the Moon, stars, and recover wonder.
We may view each other fresh and new,
and find creative ways to see and be
the deeper life the Earth asks of us now.

Something Wrong Mind

When the smoke lays thick around the mountains
and obscures the view and clogs my sinuses,
my default mental setting is that, “something’s wrong.”

Of course a smoke-filled morning is of some concern,
as smoke and fire go together and fires are becoming
quite familiar in my changing world.
Of more concern to me is the way my mind reacts.
It takes the smoke and uses it to tell me stories
that do not relate to either smoke or fire.
The reflex feeling that, “something is wrong,”
contaminates my entire thinking process.

Once my mind is tuned to, “something’s wrong,”
the wrongness crops up everywhere I look.
COVID is raging. The climate is in crisis.
Politics are absurd and society is dumb as rocks.
Health care is in shambles and the rich get always richer.
Billionaires fly their rocket penises into space
and a billion poor walk miles to water.
Wrongness is rampant everywhere I turn
because my mind has been tuned to it.

“Something’s wrong,” controls our lives
and self-fulfills its own perverted views.
It worries and blames and does not change a thing.
It only saps our mental power
and drains our life force dry.

Then I flip a switch within my being
and tune instead to “Something’s right.”
and a new experience of life arises.
I am alive. I am here. I walk. I talk. I write these words.
I see. I hear. I feel the north breeze wafting through the pines.
I taste the spices in the soup. I touch the soft skin of my spouse.
Courageous men and women fight the fires day and night.
Compassionate and brilliant people are doing hidden work
in unseen worlds to sow the seeds of change.
The hare bounds across the field to find the moist grass
where we have taken care to water.
The stag wanders in and drinks from the bird bath.
The birds don’t mind.

Of these minds, which mind draws from the flow of Life?
Which mind will heal and tend the Earth?
Which mind will fuel the joyful dance again?
Which mind will make the crucial difference in these times?
Which mind is Tao?

Problems and Solutions

I’ve often heard the admonition;
“If you’re not part of the solution,
then you’re part of the problem.”
A bit arrogant, I’ve always thought.
As if the origins of the problem
were completely understood,
and the solutions were painfully obvious
to all right-minded people.
Trouble is, the patterns from which the problems
were slowly woven in the heedless dark,
are the same patterns to which we turn
to craft our bright solutions.

We will never find our way out until we step out;
of paradigms long past their expiration dates;
of assumptions that no longer hold;
of a culture war that has no end;
and of the belief that we can fix this.

(With apologies to the immortal Rumi.)
Beyond diversions and distractions;
beyond capitalism and religion;
beyond materialism and fear;
beyond complexity and confusion;
beyond blame and anger;
and beyond all need for self-protection
lies a field of simple living,
where the Unseen becomes the Seen.
Let’s meet each other there.

Perhaps we will become the solution
when we step out of the problem.

Survival or Self-Sacrifice

Apocalyptic times stir survival instincts.
A thick smoke blanket greets me every morning
and my first impulse is often, “Where can I be safe?”
There are survivalists around, up here in Siskiyou County,
but their stockpiled food and automatic weapons
will not slow an instant Nature’s cleansing power.
A mind bent on survival does not see beyond
the compulsion of the moment.
Options narrow into a corridor of self-protection,
and the essence of the human soul is lost.
and the answer to my question becomes, “Nowhere.”

The day unfolds, however;
and my thoughts begin to clear.
I find a calmness settling in.
Apocalyptic times do stir survival thoughts,
but deeper still they stir essential questions.
If all that we have known is falling,
how shall we respond?
Anger, despair, blame and frantic efforts to survive?
Or kindness, sacrifice, a willingness to stop clinging
to what once was, and step into the storm, aware,
of what is coming, and nonetheless keep speaking,
serving, saying what we have to say, loving what is ours to love
and binding up what wounds we can.
Perhaps to lay one small foundation stone
for what may be built in centuries to come.

“These are times that try men’s souls” for sure,
but souls are made of substantial stuff,
designed to come alive in just such times as these.

Along this theme I offer two compelling songs by two powerful women i encountered years ago whose songs I now return to for strength and encouragement.

Emigrate Within

To emigrate is to leave one’s current country
in search of a new land to call one’s home.
It is a painful, but often necessary, action.
It has been taken by peoples throughout history.
Sometimes it is a willing step into adventure.
Other times it is the last and final choice.
It is done, at times, in desperation.
At other times it is arises from a deep conviction.

The country that has been called by me, “my home,”
has reached a point of no return.
Were I younger, I would not hesitate
to join the honorable ranks of emigrants.
I would seek a simpler and less “prosperous” place.
I would learn a language not my native tongue.
I would find community in people bonded
by a love of ordinary life together,
of quiet pleasures and lots of earthy laughter.
It would not be perfect, not at all,
but it would be my way of stepping off
the plank that hovers over the abyss.

I am to old for that, I fear,
but not too old to be an inner emigrant.
There is a place within, a homeland waiting
that is guided by different ways and rules,
by assumptions that are congruent
with the heart’s authentic beats.
It is not an easy journey
and you can’t take much stuff with you.
Most of what you think you need
will have to lay beside the road.
You’ll need empty hands and spacious hearts
to learn to live anew, but it has been done before
by countless thousands of wandering seeking souls.
It can be done again.

Whether you’re young or old, my friend,
make your plans to leave.
Find the place you know your heart desires.
Emigrate within and find it waiting for you.
Don’t hesitate. There’s not much time.
Your life depends upon it.