Returning

Returning from the well.jpg

Frederick Goodall, Returning from the well
Watercolor, 1867

Angles against lavender sky
Flung far across heaven’s vault.
Unfettered, swallows
Circle back to the nest.

Swallows are famous for their daring speed and the unpredictable path that they take in flight. Yet no matter how far they fly, they circle back to their nests.

The idea of returning is significant for all of us. We must work, explore, travel, and make our achievements in life. No matter how much we strain and how wide we wander, we all need some lodestone, some center from which to operate. For some of us, this is a place, a home. For others, it is merely withdrawal into our own hearts.

Followers of Tao believe that there is a core spirit to which each of us should return. This core spirit is increasingly obscured by our own thoughts and the complexity of civilization. All education, while a necessary evil, is a stain upon the primal soul. Therefore, returning is a process of simplification that throws off the unnecessary problems of socialization. One gradually peels back the layers and makes one’s way back to the unsullied, pure inner person. The time to do this is long, and one needs a great deal of guidance and self-cultivation to achieve it, but until one returns to the natural state, one cannot truly hope to be one with Tao.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Today is indeed a day of returning for me. We’ve returned to our home to San Diego, after getting my sister-in-law and her husband movied in to their new home in Tucson. I get to return to my blog posting and my normal daily rtoutines. Spring is returning to San Diego, bringing out all the flowers. So I’ll be out in my garden, which is one of my ways of returning to a more natural state.

I started reading Antonio Damasio’s The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness” on the trip home. In it he talks about core consciousness and the core self, as opposed to the autobiographical self. He describes the core self as “a transient entity, carelessly re-created for each and every object with which the brain interacts.” I read that and thought that is the Tao way of seeing, where we see each object we come into contact with as if we are seeing it for the first time. And I think of T.S. Eliot’s poem:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot — “Little Gidding” (the last of his Four Quartets)

I think what Tao is about is returning to the core self, the real self that exists without all the crap day to day living piles on top of us. To live without regrets about the past, without expectations about the future, just enjoying where we are now, being content with who we are and what we are doing, no matter what that is. That is the goal of studying Tao, for me, for now.