Monthly Archives: February 2005



A green bird darting in the night.
Will you be able to see it?
Will you be able to catch it?

Cling to Tao like a shadow.
Move without a shadow.

Times of oppression and adversity cannot last forever. How is the transition made to new and better situations? In the midst of great difficulty, a tiny opportunity will open, if only by chance. You must be sharp enough to discern it, quick enough to catch it, and determined enough to do something with it. If you let it pass, you will be filled with regrets.

Stick to Tao like a shadow. Wherever it goes, you go. As soon as it throws something your way, catch it by sheer reflex. It is like the bird: If you try to catch it, you will miss. If you are always with it, moving at its speed as much a part of it as its own shadow, then it is easy to seize it.

When you act, however, you in turn must have no shadow. In other words, what you do must leave no messages, no leftover consequences, nothing that will haunt you later. That is one of the ways in which you avoid creating more bad situations for yourself: Your every movement is traceless.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

68. Opportunities

The greatest martial arts are the gentlest. They allow an attacker the opportunity to fall down. The greatest generals do not rush into every battle. They offer the enemy many opportunities to make self-defeating errors. The greatest administrators do not achieve production through constrainsts and limitations. They provide opportunities.

Good leadership consists of motivating people to their highest levels by offering them opportunities, not obligations. That is how things happen naturally. Life is an opportunity, not an obligation.

John Heider, The Tao of Leadership

No, the Chinese symbol for crisis is not the same as that for opportunity. See or
Straight Dope for the details. I’m really tired of this myth. But it is true that when things seem very difficult, you have to look for any opportunity to change how things are going, and be ready to act on it.

I’ve had many wonderful opportunities in my life. I have few regrets about not taking an opportunity, although leaving traces, messiness and consequences from my own actions has left me with regrets. That is a part of Tao where I still need to do much more work.



Those who follow Tao do so
From their own predilection.
There are no promises,
Yet the rewards are immeasurable.

Of all the spiritual traditions, following Tao is among the least popular. Its adherents are poor and veiled with humility. In comparison, many traditions offer heaven, forgiveness, comfort, ecstasy, belonging, power, and wealth. Tao offers only three things: sound health, a way through the bewilderment of life, and liberation from the fear of death.

That is why there are so few followers of Tao. There is no glamour, there is no congregation, there is no ranking. You are either in the state of Tao, or you are temporarily out of it. When you die, you die.

You have to be tough to follow Tao. If you can avoid being discouraged by poverty, isolation, and obscurity, you will find an unshakable devotion that will last your entire life, and rewards will come in slow and subtle ways. You may not be suddenly rich and influential, but you will discover, to your great delight, that there is a secret source of sustenance. Once you taste that, all your doubts will fade, and both poverty and loneliness will be easier to bear.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Main Entry: pre·di·lec·tion
Pronunciation: pre-d&l-‘ek-sh&n
Function: noun
Etymology: French prédilection, from Medieval Latin praediligere to love more, prefer, from Latin prae- + diligere to love — more at DILIGENT
: an established preference for something;
an attitude of mind that predisposes one to favor something. PREDILECTION implies a strong liking deriving from one’s temperament or experience


Predilection is a good word to apply to Tao, a diligent love. You have to be a bit diligent to get into a state where you feel Tao, but once you are there, it’s a wonderful feeling. It does make so many things in life easier to bear, and you feel much calmer and more able to cope with things.

When we were in Hawaii, one of the things we wanted to do was see the lava flow on the big island. We had to drive a long ways, then walk several miles over the lava to where it was flowing. There were places we could see the hot lava in cracks beneath our feet. But when we finally got out there to see the lava flowing into the sea, it was amazing. We sat for a long time just watching the glowing lava, watching new earth being created, seeing the water trying to extinguish the fire and rising off as steam. It was the coming together of earth, fire, water and air that made it so intriguing.

Tao is a lot like that. After a while, you begin to see the connections between things, the way that things change over time, new things being created as old things seem to die off. You know the cycles of plants and how they grow from a seed and return to many seeds. You wach your own kids grow up, yourself grow old, and all the changes of life, and are no longer afraid of changes, but come to embrace them.

Tao is spiritual, but it is not religious. There’s no dogma to learn, no promises of life after death or talk about gods and how we “know” they exist or any of that. There is only the observance of life and death and how it all works together, how the world around you changes. Science fits in beautifully with the Tao, with no contradictions. Tao fits with whatever you observe in life, and you can go back and find it in the Tao. Things you never understood seem to become clearer. You find yourself not striving for wealth anymore, because there’s little you can buy that you want or need. You don’t care about fame, because there isn’t anything you want from it. Loneliness isn’t a problem – you are always with Tao, unless you fall out of it for a bit. Usually that happens when someone or something interrupts you or distracts you. So it is a pretty happy state of mind, really.



A tree hemmed in by giants.
Requires tenacity to survive.

Times of adversity inevitably confront us all. We are denied influence, people will not listen to what we have to say, and we are restricted by circumstance. In this situation, followers of Tao must rely on their determination. Without that, they cannot emerge successfully from the danger.

During times of adversity, vision and determination decide the outcome. Mere doggedness never served anyone well. Observe carefully, and try to act. If you find yourself tested by the situation, take comfort in that fact that adversity frequently forces on to consolidate one’s resources. You can often emerge from adversity stronger than before. Don’t be overcome by fear. Take calculated risk if you must, or face danger if you have to. If your mind is focused to the utmost, you will triumph.

Without the difficulty of being hemmed in, the tree in the forest would not be forced to marshal its power to grow toward the light. It must truly bring forth all its inner strength to spread its branches. If it becomes grand, it is in part because of its suffering. Thus the times of adversity can be crucial to the development of one’s inner personality.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents
which in prosperous circumstances
would have lain dormant.

— Horace(Quintus Horatius Flaccus), Satires

Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are. — Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

Adversity is the state
in which man most easily
becomes acquainted with himself,
being especially free of admirers then.

— Samuel Johnson

People are like stained – glass windows.
They sparkle and shine when the sun is out,
but when the darkness sets in,
there true beauty is revealed
only if there is a light from within.

— Elizabeth Kubler Ross

There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity. — Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, 1820

One source I was reading today suggested we must deal with adversity like an oyster deals with a grain of sand, and turn it into a pearl. Perhaps this works for the small irritants in life. Take those things that grate on your nerves, and see if you can coat them in something beautiful, eventually making lovely pearls from them.

But what of those larger problems, too big to turn into pearls? Well, how big is the problem, really?

If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience. ~Robert Fulghum

I have a friend who broke her neck as a teen and spent months in bed. Nothing else seemed important during that time for me than supporting my friend, visiting her daily and keeping her spirits up. My own health has always been pretty good compared to that. Even in the worst of my mental health problems, I was loved and cared for. I’ve never been hungry for more than a day in my life. I have an artist friend whose home has burned down twice now. Watching her deal with it, I’ve learned possessions are not important, even those we have worked so hard to create. Her art still lives, even though every bit of it was destroyed, twice.

How big are your problems, really? Can’t most of them be turned into pearls?


Quotes on adversity



Sleepless nights.
Diet, mind, conditions.
Hold the possibility of correction.

Whenever you feel out of sorts, or cannot sleep, or find it hard to work and think, you are separated from Tao. If you want to get back i touch with it, ask yourself three questions: Am I eating right? Is my mind tamed? Is my world safe?

It is not facetious to look at the way you eat whenever you feel out of step with life. Many problems can be alleviated by feeling better physically, and even if this doesn’t remedy things, it will give you a good basis for coping. Eat a balanced diet rich in nutrients. Take the time to understand proper nutrition and eat a large variety of foods according to the seasons. The skillful use of foods is far superior to medicine.

Next is the difficult mind that seems to have its own interests, habits, and excesses. The only way to counter this is to guard against worry, stress, intellectualism, scheming, and desires. This can only happen through a strong philosophical grounding and by methodical meditation.

Finally, environmental factors such as weather, natural and man-made disasters, and socioeconomic problems can break our unity with Tao. To cope with this, gain as much control over your environment as possible. Keep your home a haven, have control over your work place, and be independent enough to face emergencies. It is inevitable that one will fall in and out of Tao. The wise arrange their lives so that they can always return to balance.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

The Tao is the One.
From the One come yin and yang;
From these two, creative energy (chi);
From energy, ten thousand things,
The forms of all creation.
All life embodies yin
And embraces yang,
Through their union
Achieving harmony.

– Tao Te Ching, Chapter 42

The Tao of heaven
Is like drawing a bow
Lower that which is high
Raise that which is low
Reduce that which is excessive
Add to that which is insufficient

– Tao Te Ching, Chapter 77

I’ve been very out of balance in the last few days. The kids have been off school, my husband off on a vacation day. It throws me off to not have time to be by myself, meditating or just being alone. The weather has been rainy and gray, which hasn’t helped. In good weather I can always escape into the garden. In the rain I’m stuck inside with everyone.

I like the feeling of being alone lately, more so than being around other people. Most people in our society are so out of balance that it can really throw me off to be around them. We had a friend over for dinner Sunday night who is leaving her job, and she seems so much happier and freer. When I’ve seen her before she was often stressed out, and now she smiles and laughs and seems so happy.

I don’t have the work stress right now, which is great. But dealing with two teenagers and a husband are stressful as well. The kids are learning independence, but are not able to be on their own yet, so it is a difficult time for them.

So, back to getting into balance again. Eating my omelets and salmon, getting my exercise, etc. And working on my mind, the perpetual challenge….


Lavender roses.
Incarnate fragrance,
Priestly hue of dawn,
Spirit unfolding.


Even on the road to hell, flowers can make you smile. They are fragile, ephemeral, uncompromising. No one can alter their nature. True, you can easily destroy them, but you will not gain anything; you cannot force them to submit to your will.

Flowers arouse in us an instinct to protect them, to appreciate them, and to shelter them. This world is too ugly, too violent. There should be something delicate to care about. To do so is to be lifted above the brute and to go toward the refined. When we offer flowers on our altar, we are offering a high gift. Money is too vulgar, food too pedestrian. Only flowers are unsullied. By offering them, we offer purity.

The tenderness of flowers arouses mercy, compassion, and understanding. If that beauty is delicate, so much the better. Life itself is fleeting. We should take the time to appreciate beauty in the midst of temporality.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

My golden retriever loves to eat my roses. If I’m in the yard pruning them, he will follow me around just so I’ll toss him the flowers and he can eat them. I love my roses, as I love all my plants, and I’m grateful to Laura who taught me I could grow them organically so I would be able to fit them into my organic garden. I think I have a couple dozen rose bushes now.

Flowers are important to me, as are all sources of beauty. They are indeed a reprieve from trouble and worry, and tending them has grown to be a joy for me. I hope I will always have a garden to tend, and a golden retriever to eat my roses.

It’s more than just math – knowledge vs. certainty

Pharyngula::It’s more than just math

“The real problem is that so many people want the shortcut to the “right” answer (although students will change their tune when it’s a matter of me going blind this weekend trying to decipher chicken scratches in blue books to give partial credit for applying the right method to a genetics problem, even if the final answer was off.) It’s Bronowski’s conflict between knowledge and certainty: most people prefer certainty, especially when knowledge might give them an answer they don’t like. And they especially favor certainty when it requires nothing more than learning a single datum, rather than the work it takes to do a calculation or derivation or document a chain of evidence.”

This is exactly the division in America right now between the left and the right. The right want to be certain of everything – God exists, he told us how to live, Keynes and Adam Smith told us all we need to know about economics, parenting is just a matter of telling your kids to just say no to sex, drugs and rock and roll. The left want to learn and want to know how things really work in the world. They are open to thought, to experimentation, to trying something and seeing if it works. Who is more adaptable to change? Who is more adaptable to the realities of the world? Who will be able to lead us into the future, where so many things are unknown and unknowable? I think that’s pretty clear.