July 13, 2012 § 27 Comments
I’m driving into town for an early morning breakfast with my friend. Traffic is thick. I see an opening in the lane next to me and start to accelerate into the space but then see that the car directly in front of me has simply stopped. I’m able to brake and avoid the collision. I travel on.
At breakfast a drop of syrup falls from my fork, landing exactly in the center of my wrist and not in my lap. With my finger I bring the spilled syrup to my lips.
I’m writing now in my friend’s offices in the midst of the city. The sky is gray, the air is cool. The window beside me is open to the urban landscape. I am surrounded by old buildings, rust and weeds, wildflowers and gardens. I hear the symphony of sounds- dripping water, traffic humming, the quiet murmurs of the people at their desks. All so evocative, so beautiful.
We hear so often that we should feel gratitude for each precious moment and for all the great blessings we have received. But too often, this conception exists for us only in the abstract. Worse yet, we often feel as though we are somehow obliged to possess this feeling and so, when we inevitably fall into some negative place, we feel guilty.
Appreciating the wonder and goodness of life is not an obligation. And it’s not just an abstraction. All that it requires is to be present in your moment- open and ready to feel and see what is right there. The lucky fortuity of an accident averted or a drop of syrup falling in just the right way or the stunning imagery that’s just outside your window.
I am beyond blessed. And even in those moments of struggle, I possess the capacity to struggle. Lucky me.
The Only Path to Serenity
July 9, 2012 § 14 Comments
I love the simplicity, the rhythm, and the depth of this passage.
Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
Tao te Ching, Chap. 9 (Stephen Mitchell translation)
Out of Control
June 13, 2012 § 12 Comments
Feeling unable to control what is happening around us can make us crazy in our heads. We cannot make our children do what we know they should. We cannot influence our political leaders to act responsibly and fairly. We cannot stop the degradation of our planet by the forces of rapacious greed.
The same is true in our day-to-day existence. Traffic jams, flight delays, barking dogs, broken appliances. Relentless chaos.
We often say we feel “out of control” or that we have “lost control.” But this is all a big mistake.
The truth is that we didn’t “lose control” over things; we never possessed it to begin with. We control nothing except how we choose to exist in our place and moment- right here and right now. Everyone else, everything else, exists beyond the perimeters of our capacities.
This is not a recipe for giving up or indifference. We must act and care. As we model the life we choose to live, our children watch us. As we act in the spirit of public service, we may inspire our neighbors. Attending to another person with love and care is a very powerful thing.
What we do matters. Each of us changes the world by our existence. Just not according to some design or plan.
If we can give up our illusions of control, we might then devote ourselves to the one thing that is within our grasp- the opportunity to live with strength, focus, and a sure sense of self- moment to moment.
That’s all there is. But it’s more than enough.
June 8, 2012 § 9 Comments
What I pursue eludes me. What I treasure simply comes to me.
We lead driven lives. Driven to succeed, driven to achieve our objectives.
We know that this way of living is stressful. But worse yet, it is also pointless. What we chase seems always to elude us- even when we succeed.
Whenever we separate our sense of self from the thing we chase, we create an object of our desire. The object might be a new job, a romantic conquest, or the acquisition of some material thing.
When we don’t get that thing we covet, we of course feel a sense of failure. But even when we do succeed, when the job comes our way or we acquire that sleek new car, it often feels less glorious than we had hoped for or imagined. We feel unsatisfied.
Only when we stop pursuing things or external objectives do we have the chance for a sense of true fulfillment and wholeness. The deep satisfaction that comes from a good day’s work to which we committed ourselves, the sense of connection with someone we love, those moments of real significance to us- these all simply came to us. We didn’t target them as objectives; we didn’t grasp for them as objects. The moments that mattered came to us because we were open, ready, and present.
And so I recall the deep sense of fulfillment in writing a passage that was true and truly put, the transcendently peaceful moments with my family on a Lake Michigan beach, the sense of spirituality that came upon me standing alone in the mist on a remote Austrian mountain. Not objects, not achievements. Just precious moments.
Be Like the Wind
June 6, 2012 § 4 Comments
This is one of my most treasured passages from the Tao.
Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
when it blows, there is only wind;
when it rains, there is only rain;
when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.
Tao te Ching, Chapter 23 (Stephen Mitchell translation)
A simple thought, a source of strength.
May 2, 2012 § 3 Comments
Each action, each choice, each aspect of our lives possesses a deep simplicity. What we see as the complexity of things only serves to obscure that simplicity. If we can keep to the simple, we will be better off.
Okay, that sounds good and when you are sitting peacefully reading this passage, it even seems possibly true. But then you turn away and the world comes crashing in. You begin to plan your day, the mental list of important tasks arises and grows. As you turn to the first thing at hand, another thing interrupts you. You get busier and busier, the pace of life accelerates, plans come undone. Pretty soon, the crush of cascading events and obligations washes away that conception of simplicity.
In our personal relationships, a similar process arises. “It’s complicated” has become a common description of our relationships with others. Thus, we question our relationships, we wonder why the person we care about seems often so maddening to us, we wonder about their feelings toward us. But here too we will be better to keep to the simple. Underneath what seems a complex and changing set of emotions is the simple essence of love.
We manufacture the complexity we see in the world. We create the sense of busyness and frustration in our lives, as we create the idea of complication in our personal relationships. Even the most task-filled day consists of only one thing at a time. Even what seems a difficult relationship is grounded in the feeling that you care about the other person. Simple.
Even knowing this, we will still often feel anxiety about the busy day ahead and may sometimes have moments of doubt about our relationships with those we love, of course. But if we can recall that those emotions are a product of our busy minds and that they obscure the essential simplicity, we may yet return to the simple, where we belong.