Category Archives: simple living

Breakthrough (repost)

Autumn Wind in Gemstone Trees, Tang Dynasty, China

In late summer, heaven’s breath is damply hot.
It smothers the earth with dullness.
Suddenly, thick clouds gather:
A wave of polar air passes like a frigid rake.
Acorns fall like bullets,
And a new wind breaks through.

When the air is hot and humid, there is a feeling of dullness and stagnation. Everyone is oppressed by lassitude. As the seasons begin changing, fresh air comes from the arctic. Clouds that have been building up begin to dispense rain, and damp air is exchanged for fresh, cool breezes. At night, the heavens are changing so quickly that lightening flashes from colliding clouds, and thunder heralds the revolving of the skies.

The same is true of human life. If the heavens cannot endure stagnation for long, how can stagnation last with us? If we find ourselves blocked and frustrated in life, we must look for the inevitable outlet. Nothing is permanent, so how can our obstacles last? We need to look for the first opportunity to set things moving again.

On the other hand, sometimes stagnation comes from our own laziness or incompetence. In this case, then it is we who must show initiative and stimulate a breakthrough in dull circumstances. As soon as we see a chance, we must act. Unless we engage ourselves and events fully, we cannot expect to act sufficiently.

Deng Ming Tao, 365 Tao

“What you really want for yourself is always trying to break through, just as a cooling breeze flows through an open window on a hot day. Your part is to open the windows of your mind.” — Vernon Howard

“Oh, my God, this amazing cool breeze is coming through my window and the sun is shining. I’m happy.” — Liv Tyler

“O sweet September, the first breezes bring the dry leaf’s rustle and the squirrel’s laughter, the cool fresh air whence health and vigor spring and promise of exceeding joy hereafter.” — George Arnold

“We spend most of our time and energy in a kind of horizontal thinking. We move along the surface of things… but there are times when we stop. We sit sill. We lose ourselves in a pile of leaves or its memory. We listen and breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper.” — James Carroll

“I learned what is obvious to a child. That life is simply a collection of little lives, each lived one day at a time. That each day should be spent finding beauty in flowers and poetry and talking to animals. That a day spent with dreaming and sunsets and refreshing breezes cannot be bettered.” — Nicholas Sparks

I’ve been fighting my obstacles and stagnation for a while now, waiting for this to happen and that to happen, to have time, I tell myself. For what, I don’t really know. But, I have time, I just don’t have motivation. I need to get back to my art, back to my reading projects and writing. Yes, I can open the windows now and feel the cool breezes of autumn beginning to blow, feel how refreshingly cool and crisp the air is becoming. And it is energizing, to some extent. I still seem stuck in my laziness, though, my tiredness. The mundane tasks of life get done, but not much else, nothing really grand or wonderful. But then, I have to come back to the Zen saying:

“Before enlightenment – eat rice, clean bowl.
After enlightenment – eat rice, clean bowl.”

Perhaps, like children, we simply need to realize the grand and wonderful in everyday things – the flowers, the animals, the poetry of life, our daydreams, the sunsets and breezes. Is there really anything so much more wonderful than that?

This is a poem I write a few years ago, inspired by my own children:


There isn’t black or white
Anymore today,
I suddenly woke up
To a thousand shades of gray.
I’ve lost the either/or,
And now forever more
I will know there is more
I have yet to explore.

I looked into your eyes
And I saw the past
And then I realized
It goes much too fast.
You’re not a child now
I’ll turn around and how
You’ll have grown
And have flown
And I’ll never have known.

I’ve got to find a way
To make this moment stay!
I’ve got to find the time
To really make it mine.
I look behind me and it’s gone
I’ve got to carry on
And find the path
That takes me back…

It’s there in your eyes
It’s such a surprise
To see the world again
As if it were new!
The joy that you show to me
Now you have set me free
And I see that at last
I can reach to the past.

And so I carry on
With the chores today,
But somehow now I know
There is more to say.
I’ll find my voice again
I’ll have a choice again
You have shown my how
I know even now.

That life is what you make it –
The chance is there so take it!
And when you turn around,
Then at last you’ve found
There’s an open door
Into nevermore …
But what you’ve done here
Will not disappear.


I learned these lessons when I lost my dad 15 years ago June 20th, again when I lost my mom 5 years ago. I actually found this on the Internet a couple years ago around this time of year, but never cross posted it then, since the blogger’s feelings then still seemed too raw to invade their private space, or as private as anything on the Internet ever is. They are no longer blogging, and that blog was deleted, but the words still speak to me.

I always get sad around this time of year, I always forget why and can’t figure it out, and then after a few days, it hits me. It’s that time of year again, when I faced the first major real loss of my life. And then, I always cry.


It’s an ignorant bliss if you’ve never yet lost someone close before. It’s not until a few weeks after that the reality soaks in. You think that you’re fine while the people visit and at the funeral, and then *cold slap* it’s not his booming voice saying, “hey!,” anxious energy, or pat on the back when they arrive through their front door or not that face that rounds the corner as expected. And all of the words that you ever read before about death and loss seem somehow not so cliche, less like rhetoric than before.

If you have experienced it before, you are forever after able to stand apart and feel almost removed from the situation, however compassionately, as you witness others being initiated as though it is a cruel hazing to make them hug and grieve their way up the line into this morose membership of “We Who Now ‘Get What Life is Really About’ Club.” Death reminds us that we are each a soul that comes in alone and departs the same. So there is a purpose to death, and that is to more fully love life.

Death of someone close opens one’s eyes. And it divides your life into two parts — that carefree and somewhat self-absorbed existence you knew before loss, and the now-imperfect one you are left with to more fully appreciate and parse through for little gems afterward, as though it is an endless beach from which you will forever be collecting special shells — you realize both mortality and immortality at the same time — what you lovingly place in your pocket while here (your earthly life), and what you can take in your heart when you transition to eternity. This is what my kids have learned from losing their Grandpa, my husband from losing his father.

I hurt for them and hate that they must now join the “club.” But I know Grandpa will leave them with this one last — and his best — lesson: to never take a day of your life for granted because you never know which will be your last day.


It occurred to me as I read this today that I have actually done all these things… how strange…
although I would also add the affection of dogs, cats and other small creatures into the mix…

“To have laughed often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know that one life has breathed easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

via Cabinet of Wonders (love this post today, go read, please!)

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”
— Albert Einstein

“There is only one success –to be able to spend your life in your own way.”
— Christopher Morley

“You are forgiven for your happiness and your successes only if you generously consent to share them.”
— Albert Camus

“What is success? It is a toy balloon among children armed with pins.” — Gene Fowler

“I dread success. To have succeeded is to have finished one’s business on earth, like the male spider, who is killed by the female the moment he has succeeded in courtship. I like a state of continual becoming, with a goal in front and not behind.” — George Bernard Shaw

“Success has made failures of many men.” — Cindy Adams

“The moral flabbiness born of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That – with the squalid interpretation put on the word success – is our national disease.” — William James

“How can they say my life is not a success? Have I not for more than sixty years got enough to eat and escaped being eaten?” — Logan Smith

Excess baggage

Standing on tiptoe, one is unsteady.
Taking long steps, one quickly tires.
Showing off, one shows un-enlightenment.
Displaying self-righteousness, one reveals vanity.
Praising the self, one earns no respect.
Exaggerating achievements, one cannot long endure.
Followers of the Way consider these
Extra food, unnecessary baggage.
They bring no happiness.
Therefore, followers of the Way
avoid them.

– Tao Te Ching, 24

If you aren’t going to do it, forget it

All those things you are intending to do, but have never got around to doing, another common source of extra ‘weight’. If you are honest with yourself, you know that you aren’t going to turn them into action. If you were, you would have done it by now.

I mean those expectations you formed once, long ago, and still carry about with you. Those plans you made, but never acted on. Those achievements you boasted you would deliver, but which proved more difficult—and far less interesting—the longer you lived with them.

I’m often amazed at how many of the so-called failures people feel bad about were never more than pipe-dreams. How often the gaps that depress them are only there because they made a statement of what they would do and could never bring themselves to admit it was a crazy idea, best set aside.

Life will bring you more than enough genuine failures and problems. Don’t add more by clinging to silly promises, just to avoid the embarrassment of admitting to a mistake.

Slow Leadership

“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else – we are the busiest people in the world.”
– Eric Hoffer

via Whiskey River

Getting ready for a trip to Paris soon, and trying to figure out how to pack and carry the things I want to bring. Spent yesterday finding a bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag but still provides enough protection for the camera, selecting some books for the plane ride, etc. But I’m, already starting to feel the pangs of excess baggage. I like to travel lightly and unencumbered, and almost always feel like I have way too much stuff, way too much extra weight just lugging myself around. I’m constantly trying to learn to live more simply, shed stuff, but it always seems to pile up again.

It’s sometimes hard to live in a culture of so much excess. Even those of us who have very little tend to hang on to everything, keeping old junk we may never use again. And then there are days I find myself missing something I had as a kid, or coming across things that I hadn’t used for a while and loving them all over again. It makes it hard to part with things, thinking we might have uses for them again. Or thinking if we got rid of it we would just have to replace it later on. And even within ourselves, it is so hard to shed non-productive thoughts, those old patterns of who we thought we might be, what we could have done, those relationships that failed that we need to let go of, but are unable to relinquish.

And as I think about what to get rid of, perhaps let go of, I notice hubby has decided to reorg the bookshelves and mess with my section of books, and it angers me that he put some of mine away in storage without telling me. Even there, even things I hadn’t read in ages, and yet it touches my frustrations. Ah, more to let go of.

Part-time crusader

“Sentiment without action…is the ruin of the soul” — Edward Abbey

“Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast, a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.

So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for awhile and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies — You will outlive the bastards.” — Edward Abbey

“Nature is self-organizing and resilient but, like any problem solver, needs options — lots and lots of players, from microbes to whales. The more potential options are available, the more likely new relationships can emerge to succeed or men those that have been disrupted and broken, and the more resilient a stressed ecosystem is likely to be.”

“Aldo Leopold…observed that the key to healing broken habitats was to save as many of the parts as possible. The processes that create and shape diversity — fires and floods, for example — are also important. An ecosystem that is shaped by occasional fires must be big enough to replace species that are lost to fires where they occur, or its diversity is vulnerable and temporary, perched on the edge of inevitable decline.” –Chip Ward, “Hope’s Horizon”

All (repost from 2004)

Jin. All, exhausted, completely, entirely, end. At the bottom of the symbol for all is an elevated dish or vessel. Above it, a hand is shown with a lid to the vessel. Nothing more is to be put in, so the task is complete and at an end.

Always complete your actions.

When you do something, don’t hold back. Shoot it all, go for it all. Don’t wait for “a better time,” because the better times are built on what you do today. Don’t be selfish with your skills, because the skills of tomorrow are built upon the performances of today.

It’s so tempting to say, “I’ll keep it for myself and build it up to something really big later.” Only later never comes. By waiting too long, the end catches up with you. You willl then be covered like the lid in Jin, ans you will never have had a chance to act.

To be with Tao is to live a creative life. To live a creative life always means that you express who you are. And expression is never helped by suppression. Expression always benefits from coming out. Then more inspiration will come from that source.

When you act, act completely. Follow through. Do everything that has to be done. Be like the fire that burns completely clean: only from that pure stage can you then take the next step.

Deng Ming Dao, Everyday Tao


One of the things that bothers me the most about my husband is he rarely finishes things. He will do about 90% of the task, then leave the rest. Tihs is far better than when I used to call him “Mr. 80 percent” though. (I was a meaner person then). A lot of the time it is not finishing up or cleaning up or putting tools away. The reason it bothers me is because it is one of the things that bothers me most in myself, of course. I remember to finish fully when I’m aware of it, but when I’m tired or not feeling well I tend to just leave things undone.

My dad always talked about what he would do when he retired — build a workshop and do woodworking and such. Except he never got to retire, he died of cancer before ever getting the chance. My mom used to talk about selling the house and living in a small apartment, maybe in Hawaii, but never did. She passed away in the same house, leaving me all the mess of the house and her papers and finances to clean up, and matters unsettled for my disabled sister and nephew. It’s been a year now and I’m still dealing with this mess of her estate. I’ve pretty much vowed not to do this to my own children.

I think it is hard for people to fully finish things or give their all to a task because they figure there will always be time to do things later. “Never enough time to do it right, always time to do it later” seems to be our motto. No wonder we admire fine craftsmanship so much — as long as others do the hard work.

I see this a lot right now in our disposable culture — people get something cheap because if it doesn’t work or breaks, they can always get another one. There isn’t the appreciation of fine work anymore. I recently spent my time to repaint several plastic chairs (yes, you can get paint for plastic) rather than buy new ones, because I wanted a certain color and I wanted to save the faded, scratched chairs. It would have been easy to just buy new chairs, but they wouldn’t have been the color I wanted and it would have been wasteful.

We value stuff over time, then complain because we spend all our time working to get cheap stuff we don’t even appreciate or enjoy. It seems crazy, but that is what Americans value. And then don’t understand when someone doesn’t want to buy into this culture, doesn’t want the bigger house or fancier car, but perhaps a smaller, more personal house and older car. People admire my garden, but don’t want to take the time to create one of their own. Little do they know it hardly takes any time at all, because they simply don’t want to find out. They don’t want to invest in learning what plants work well in their area and then plant those that take little maintenance, They would rather get what looks pretty now, and then complain about maintaining it later.

I spend a lot of time to do the things I do. It’s just that I look at that time as an investment, to make time for myself later to do other things. Not when I retire, or when I’m older, but when I want to do something else. Or, as W. S. Gilbert said, and the quote on my board here reminds me, “I do nothing in particular, but I do it very well!”



The highest motive is to be like water.
Water is essential to all life,
yet it does not demand a fee
or proclaim its importance.
Rather, it flows humbly to the lowest level,
and in so doing it is much like Tao.

In the home the truly wise love the humble earth,
the foundation on which the home is built.
In the heart they love what is genuine.
In friendship they are compassionate.
In words they are sincere.
In government they foster peace and goodwill.
In business they work with quiet efficiency.

Serenity is the goal of Tao.
Through it nothing is lost.

— Tao Te Ching, 8

“Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.”
— Thomas S. Szasz

“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, And all the sweet serenity of books.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity.”
— Lindley Karstens

“Appreciation, gratitude, affection-these are the qualities Parisians bestow on their parks. Beauty, serenity, tranquillity, majesty-these are the rewards they reap in return.” — Landt Dennis

“I had found a kind of serenity, a new maturity… I didn’t feel better or stronger than anyone else but it seemed no longer important whether everyone loved me or not–more important now was for me to love them. Feeling that way turns your whole life around; living becomes the act of giving.”
— Beverly Sills

“And you would accept the seasons of your heart just as you have always accepted that seasons pass over your fields and you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.”
— Kahlil Gibran

“When we sip tea, we are on our way to serenity.”
— Alexandra Stoddard

“Now you understand the Oriental passion for tea,” said Japhy. “Remember that book I told you about the first sip is joy, the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy.”
— Jack Kerouac

“I wouldn’t know how to handle serenity if somebody handed it to me on a plate.”– Dusty Springfield

“Curiosity … endows the people who have it with a generosity in argument and a serenity in their own mode of life which springs from their cheerful willingness to let life take the form it will.”– Alistair Cooke

“Here, with whitened hair, desires failing, strength ebbing out of him, with the sun gone down and with only the serenity and the calm warning of the evening star left to him, he drank to Life, to all it had been, to what it was, to what it would be.” — Sean O’Casey

“Whenever conscience speaks with a divided, uncertain, and disputed voice, it is not the voice of God. Descend still deeper into yourself, until you hear nothing but a clear, undivided voice, a voice which does away with doubt and brings with it persuasion, light, and serenity.”
— Henri Frederic Amiel

“The sole art that suits me is that which, rising from unrest, tends toward serenity.” — Andre Gide

Simplicity (repost)

Simple Pleasures, Albert Fennel

“Be aware of Tao.”
Isn’t that simple?
No — let’s reduce more :
“Be Tao.”

Why go through all this rigmarole? Why endlessly examine scriptures and debate obscure actions of long-dead saints and equally dead words? We need to affirm experience over words, individuality over dogma.

After all this study of Tao, there should only be this simple conclusion :

There is only us and Tao.

No, more simple still is to be Tao itself. Then everything that is Tao is us.

Those who follow Tao reduce everything in complexity until they reach the final irreducible conclusion : You are Tao. When you can be that without any contradictions, then you have truly achieved sublime simplicity.

Deng Ming Tao, 365 Tao

“Simplicity in conduct, in beliefs, and in environment brings an individual very close to the truth of reality. Individuals who practice simplicity cannot be used because they already have everything they need; they cannot be lied to because a lie merely reveals to them another aspect of reality. An attraction to simplicity is essentially an attraction to freedom – the highest expression of personal power. We are taught to think of freedom as something one has, but it is really the absence of things that brings freedom to the individual and meaning into life. To let go of things – unnecessary desires, superfluous possessions – is to have them. Lao Tzu believed that an individual life contains the whole universe, but when individuals develop fixations about certain parts of life they become narrow and shallow and uncentered. Fixations and desires create a crisis within the mind. As individuals let go of desires, feelings of freedom, security, independence, and power increase accordingly.”

— R.L. Wing, The Tao of Power

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
— Leonardo da Vinci

“Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge.”
— Winston Churchill

“Simplicity is the glory of expression”
— Walt Whitman

“Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough.”
— Charles Dudley Warner

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes

“From native simplicity we arrive at more profound simplicity.” — Albert Schweitzer

“Eliminate physical clutter. More importantly, eliminate spiritual clutter. ” — D.H. Mondfleur

“Live simply that others might simply live.” — Elizabeth Seaton

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” –Lin Yutang

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” — William Morris

“How many things are there which I do not want.” — Socrates

America is a difficult country for anyone trying to simplify their life. We complicate things endlessly and are relentlessly pushed to be more, do more, have more. Our lives become complex webs of work, relationships, and always, more stuff than we can handle.

Be Tao. It seems very simple, to realize one is simply a natural being that is a part of everything else. But our relationship to the real, natural world is so often cut off, our understanding of ourselves is cut off as well. Connecting the two things as one is not an easy or simple task.

Can we achieve the simplicity of knowing we are Tao? Sure. And then we’ll forget, and need to remind ourselves again. The less often we need reminding, the simpler and more fulfilling our lives will become.

A Sacred Space


Jessie’s post on “sacred” today reminded me of this posting from 2007, and how I need to restore the sacred space in my life:

Sarah Susanka – A Sacred Space: Home – Feature Article on Sacred Space, Architecture and Home

Joseph Campbell wrote of the need for such a place. He said, “You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so where you do not know what is in the morning paper. A place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. At first you may think nothing’s happening. But if you have a sacred space and take advantage of it and use it everyday, something will happen”. Such a place does not need to be large. It can be an alcove off a bedroom, an unused corner of the basement, or an attic, as in my own home. Take time to make it beautiful, make it an expression of who you are, whether simple and unadorned, or filled with treasures collected over a lifetime. And make it a pattern of your daily routine to spend time there each day, in meditation, in contemplation, or in creative exploration. We are amazing creatures, every one of us, but we forget so easily, when we don’t take the time to listen to our inner being.

Other posts centering on the word sacred here:



Dreaming freely

I dreamed I was getting my high school diploma again — including all kinds of weird symbology in the dream — but the ending was the best. Diploma in hand, knowing everything I know now, strolling into the late afternoon dappled sunshine streaming on me with all my knowledge and with my youth and with no obligations at all — it was a feeling of complete and total freedom. I had a few more dreams after that — it seems I was an amazing photographer who could show people visions with my pictures, and there was also a spider who laid golden and silver eggs, and lots more cool things.

And then of course I woke up to the house and the husband opening the door to let the cat in and walking in on me and shattering my peaceful feeling of happiness. Sigh.

I need to remember that freedom to just be myself when I’m awake, too.