Monthly Archives: November 2008

Changing it up

The blogroll will be changing again as political stuff falls by the wayside and I find new interests to pursue. I’m going back to some old interests as well — you’ll see more artists linked here, and hopefully more of my own art popping up again. I’m going to restart the art journaling and try to bring back some of my creative spirit, which has lain dormant for some time while I helped to create our new political change. Whatever small part I did in keeping people focused and informed on politics, it seems to have been enough, along with the work of so many others who did way more than I did.

Also of course a big return to the Tao focus. I’ll be looking for more new sources of inspiration, more Tao bloggers, and maybe reposting the older Tao posts. Return being, after all, one of the major themes of Tao philosophy.

Let me know if there are things you would like to see here, too. I’m more than happy to research areas of interest for anyone, and post what I find here. I seem to be great at finding things of all sorts. Never figured out what to do with that skill, but I has it. Would’ve made a terrific researcher, I suppose, in just about any field.

Road Trip

Yep, on the road to Arizona again today, this week it’s Tucson for Thanksgiving and eldest son’s birthday, which this year, is also on Thanksgiving.

I swear I’m staying home for Christmas!

But on to today’s theme, which is inspired by Quotesqueen, who is keeping a gratitude journal.

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.” ~Meister Eckhart

“Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow.” ~Edward Sandford Martin

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~Melody Beattie

Traveler (repost)

The Sand Traveler is a rendering of 1,000 traveling particles, each in pursuit of another. Over time, patterns of travel are exposed as sweeping paths of color. — j. tarbell

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, however intelligent you are. It is the great secret.
— Tao Te Ching, 27 (Mitchell)

The traveler is always leaving town
He never has the time to turn around
And if the road he’s taken isn’t leading anywhere
He seems to be completely unaware

The traveler is always leaving home
The only kind of life he’s ever known
When every moment seems to be
A race against the time
There’s always one more mountain left to climb

Days are numbers
Watch the stars
We can only see so far
Someday, you’ll know where you are
Days are numbers
Count the stars
We can only go so far
One day, you’ll know where you are…

— Days are Numbers, Alan Parsons Project

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” — Martin Buber

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” — Paul Theroux

‘While armchair travelers dream of going places, traveling armchairs dream of staying put.” — Anne Tyler

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

“Life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations.” — Oliver Goldsmith

“Throw away all ambition beyond that of doing the day’s work well. The travelers on the road to success live in the present, heedless of taking thought for the morrow. Live neither in the past nor in the future, but let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your wildest ambition.” — William Osler

“I said to my longing heart,
What is this river you want to cross?
There are no travelers before you, there is no road.
Do you see anyone moving or resting on that bank?” — Kabir


I’m off to Scottsdale this week to visit friends and family and spend some time in post-election, post-surgery recovery. (The surgery was minor, no worries). See you all soon.

The Shallowest Generation

One of the best rants I’ve read in ages. Of course it isn’t all the boomers fault, but the ones I know are certainly the worst offenders. Go read the whole thing, it’s worth it. I don’t agree with his final conclusion, though. Government spending is needed to pull us out of the mess, but on the right things, not just giveaways to corrupt companies and consumer stimulus packages. We need infrastructure, a conversion of our economy off the oil teat and to sustainable energy, and education spending. I’m furious at Arnie right now for cutting education spending just when we need it the most in our state. A record number of “boomlet” kids hitting our colleges and they cut college funding? WTF? So my kids end up out of state and gee, even less money in California’s coffers, go figure.

I hope we can start to turn things around in the next few years.


Now that I have laid out our bleak future, I can tell you that, like Dickens’ Christmas Carol, this is only a vision of what might be. There is time to change our course before our ship wrecks on a jagged reef. David M. Walker, former Comptroller of the United States, at a recent Fiscal Wake Up Tour at the University of Pennsylvania, described what has been happening in this country for the last 25 years in one word – laggardship. The last six months have been a perfect example of laggardship. Our leaders have floundered from crisis to crisis, overreacting and blustering rather than leading. True leaders are proactive, not reactive. After not addressing our energy policy for decades, as soon as oil reached $140 a barrel, Congress lurched into action so their constituents would think they were leading. As our financial system has imploded, government “leaders” have flailed about with one rescue package after another and Congress looks for scapegoats. Meddling, tinkering, and non-enforcement of rules by Congress and other government bureaucracies caused the crisis that they are reacting to. Government creates the problems and then assumes even more power over our lives with their ridiculous “solutions”.
No one in Washington has shown an ounce of leadership in decades. True leadership requires strength of character, clear vision to see the future as it is, the bravery to make unpopular decisions, and the honesty to tell the public the unvarnished truth based on the facts.

The facts are: we have a $10.5 trillion national debt; $53 trillion of unfunded liabilities; a military empire that has U.S. troops in 117 countries and has spent $700 billion on a pre-emptive war that has killed over 4,000 Americans; a $60 billion trade deficit; an annual budget deficit that will exceed $1 trillion in the next year; a crumbling infrastructure with 156,000 structurally deficient bridges; almost total dependence on foreign oil; and an educational system that is failing miserably. We can not fund guns, butter, banks and now car companies without collapsing our system.

I truly hope that President Obama can rise to the occasion and become a true statesman and leader. David Walker lays out our dilemma:

“The regular order in Washington is broken. We must move beyond crisis management approaches and start to address some of the key fiscal and other challenges facing this country if we want our future to be better than our past. Our fiscal time bomb is ticking, and the time for action is now!”

Ultimately, it is up to the Baby Boom generation to change our country’s course. The oldest Boomer is 62 years old and the youngest 45 years old. It is time for Boomers to take a hard look in the mirror and rethink their priorities. It is time to cast aside the $88,000 Range Rovers, $1,200 Jimmy Choo boots, $5,000 Rolex watches and daily double lattes at Starbucks. It is time to live within your means, distinguish between needs and wants, reduce debt, save 10% of your income, make sure your kids get a good education, not try and keep up with the Jones’, show compassion for your fellow man, and possibly pay more taxes and get less benefits, for the good of the country.

True Strength

“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”
– Carlos Castaneda

“Much of our energy goes into upholding our importance. If we were capable of losing some of that importance, two extraordinary things would happen to us. One, we would free our energy from trying to maintain the illusory idea of our grandeur; and two, we would provide ourselves with enough energy to catch a glimpse of the actual grandeur of the universe.” — Carlos Castenada

Here is the essence of aparigraha, the yama that invites us to let go of the false self and all its symbols. As long as we are holding onto the thoughts and symbols of the false self, we are blocked from the sunlight of the spirit. — Rolf Gates, Meditations from the Mat

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”
— Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)

The sage never tries to store things up.
The more he does for others, the more he has.
The more he gives to others, the greater his abundance.

— Tao Te Ching, Eighty-one

Note to self today:

Our real strength is not in what we have or what we can obtain, but in what we give. Not just to others, but what we give to ourselves as well. Do we give ourselves the time we need to rest, to recover, to regain our strength after a surgery or illness? Or do we charge on, working through our days until there is nothing left of us?

Take time for you today, to become strong. Stop making yourself miserable.

Love After Love


Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

— Derek Walcott

Positioning (repost)

Heron stands in the blue estuary,
Solitary, white, unmoving for hours.
A fish! Quick avian darting;
The prey is captured.

People always ask how to follow Tao. It is as easy and natural as the heron standing in the water. The bird moves when it must; it does not move when stillness is appropriate.

The secret of its serenity is a type of vigilance, a contemplative state. The heron is not in mere dumbness or sleep. It knows a lucid stillness. It stands unmoving in the flow of the water. It gazes unperturbed and is aware. When Tao brings it something that it needs, it seizes the opportunity without hesitation or deliberation. Then it goes back to its quiescence without disturbing itself or its surroundings. Unless it found the right position in the water’s flow and remained patient, it would not have succeeded.

Actions in life can be reduced to two factors: positioning and timing. If we are not in the right place at the right time, we cannot possibly take advantage of what life has to offer us. Almost anything is appropriate if an action is in accord with the time and the place. But we must be vigilant and prepared. Even if the time and the place are right, we can still miss our chance if we do not notice the moment, if we act inadequately, or if we hamper ourselves with doubts and second thoughts. When life presents an opportunity, we must be ready to seize it without hesitation or inhibition. Position is useless without awareness. If we have both, we make no mistakes.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

I’ve been thinking a lot about this one. One of the comments my yoga teacher often makes is that yoga is about creating “steadyness of mind”. I think this is what this passage means. We have to steady and quiet our minds, creating awareness. Then, when opportunities are presented to us, we can easily know what needs to be done and take action.When your mind is confused or distracted with conflicting ideas or feelings, it can be impossible to know what to do. But Tao trains us in quieting and steadying the mind, just as yoga does. The two are very effective together.

I think I would like to learn other techniques for this as well. I know the medications I take have a great effect on steadying and quieting my mind and my thoughts, which is very helpful. My gardening becomes like this for me as well, as I get into an almost zen-like state of seeing what needs to be done and doing it, without doing so much that the overall effect is ruined. Not that I have a zen garden, it’s far more of a cottage garden. I don’t care for the over-manicured look of most meditative gardens, really. I prefer a natural look.

People often remark these days on how calm I am; how so little seems to upset me. Oh, sure, I can get upset when it matters. But little things don’t bother me. I am learning to trust Tao to work things out, and start to look for what comes to me when my plans are upset. Often I’ll find just what I’m looking for when things seem to have gone awry. So I’ve learned that sometimes Tao is telling me that what I need may be different from what I have planned, and learn to be less upset.

I suppose a lot of people would say their belief in their God is like this, but it’s different for me. I don’t look to a god, unless you could consider everything in life some part of god. For me, it is all a connected whole. I don’t see myself as separate from god, or other people as any better or worse for what they believe in. Perhaps I’m more Hindu in that, just accepting all gods as part of the pantheon. But I go further in accepting all spirituality as basically the same. What I don’t accept in religion is the imposing of one’s beliefs on others.

So, I guess I am learning to stand more quietly in the stream, hoping to catch more fish. Hey, last night I caught a pretty great salmon, all nice and cooked and brought to my table in a tasty sauce. The fishing doesn’t get much better than that.

(originally posted on Friday, January 14th, 2005 )

'Wabi Sabi,' by Mark Reibstein


Children’s Books – Book Review – ‘Wabi Sabi,’ by Mark Reibstein – Review –

Mark Reibstein’s “Wabi Sabi” — chosen this fall as a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book — has a familiar scenario: a cat named Wabi Sabi seeks her name’s meaning, elicits various responses and comes home wiser. From P. D. Eastman’s “Are You My Mother?” to J. R. R. Tolkien’s hobbits, it’s a reliable formula, famously summarized in T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”: “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.”

But while the plot of “Wabi Sabi” is simple, its purpose is demanding: to present an elusive concept with origins “in ancient Chinese ways of understanding and living, known as Taoism and Zen Buddhism.” As Reibstein puts it: “Wabi sabi is a way of seeing the world that is at the heart of Japanese culture. It finds beauty and harmony in what is simple, imperfect, natural, modest and mysterious. . . . It may best be understood as a feeling, rather than as an idea.” Remarkably, Reibstein and Young capture the essence of all of this with clarity, elegance and a kind of indirection that seems intrinsic to the subject.

The book’s structure is intricate. Young responds to three different strands of text. The first — the prose narrative — is direct and informal (“It had never occurred to her before that wabi sabi was anything more than her name”). Then each episode concludes with a haiku — an oblique glimpse of what the animal characters call “hard to explain.” (“The pale moon resting / on foggy water. Hear that / splash? A frog’s jumped in.”)On each spread there’s another haiku, a decorative grace note in delicate Japanese characters (translations appear at the end, along with transliterations of these classics by Basho and Shiki).

Wabi Sabi’s quest and the splendid pictures will please younger children (though probably not as young as the publisher’s recommended range of 3 to 6). The rest of us will be better prepared to appreciate the subtle interconnections among dialogue, poetry and collages fashioned from “time-worn human-made as well as natural materials.” Even this medium is a metaphor for the gentle philosophy explored here. The art is rich in leaf greens and glowing reds; in the textures of hair, straw, crazed paint or rough paper. Young captures moments of transcendent beauty — a frog visible through moon-struck water (crumpled, iridescent paper) — and his art incorporates traditional haiku references (a pale moon, symbol of autumn).

Life-size, the cat invites us in, peering intently from the large, square jacket. Opening it, we find that she’s among pine trees, which (since the book is hinged at the top) are now above her. That top hinge is brilliant. It recalls Japanese wall hangings, and it reinforces the theme by compelling us to see this familiar object from a new angle. Also, like many a cat intent on her own agenda, this book’s no lap sitter. It’s a challenge to hold and angle it comfortably, to turn pages with hands accustomed to accessible right-hand corners.

Wabi Sabi completes her quest after several small, satisfying epiphanies. Meanwhile, the lovely illustrations grow less detailed until, home at last, the cat is simply silhouetted on white, the single, freely brushed character above her declaring, “Free of possessions.” If wabi sabi is “a feeling, rather than an idea,” this outcome feels just right.

Excellence through Simplicity | D*I*Y Planner

Via DIY Planner:

Excellence through Simplicity | D*I*Y Planner

In my life, what are the “specific requirements” that I have? What is it, in my personal life, that effectively blocks simplification? Unless I understand those, I cannot achieve excellence through simplicity — I will simply divest myself of “stuff”. And if I do not take into account my beloved spouse’s requirements, I risk far worse consequences. It is life itself that I seek, not mere existence. Trying to reduce my “specific requirements” has been a difficult, on-going, task. Here I found help in another kinsman of the shelf, David Whyte (The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America) who wrote this:

If we have little idea of what we really want from our lives, or what a soulful approach to our work might mean, then often the only entrance we have into soul comes from the ability to say a firm no to those things we intuit lead to a loss of vitality. This way is traditionally known as the via negativa, or negative road…. The via negativa is the discipline of saying ‘no’ when we have as yet no clarity about those things to which we can say yes

Douglas Adams wrote much about the great question of life, the universe and everything (the question whose answer is 42) in his Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series. When dealing with the quandary of this answer, Adams has his advanced computer explain: “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is… so once you know what the question actually is, you’ll know what the answer means.”

It seems, whether a nineteenth century philosopher or a twentieth century science fiction writer or a corporate poet – all circle around the same fact that Alice faced before the Cheshire Cat. If you don’t know where you want to end up, then it doesn’t matter which direction you go. Until I know what my “specific requirements” are, I cannot reduce the non-value added activities….

* Making something simple is very difficult.
* Making my life simple is even more difficult.

But the true point of beginning seems to be: knowing what I want out of life. For me, that process has included the saying “no” when I lack clarity about those things to which I can say “yes” to. This has been a difficult transition, an incomplete (as yet) transition. Have I “missed out” on occasion? Yes — a glorious yes, a resounding yes, and even a simple yes. But it has eliminated a lot of pointless busyness out of my life. It has allowed me to slow down.

Our beautiful University campus has a rose garden (with a $50 fine for cutting a rose!). The rose garden has several pathways through it. I decided to literally take the time to “smell the roses” as I journey across campus whether it is to a meeting or a pleasure walk. Last week I was walking with a group from our office when I stopped in the rose garden, a wonderful aroma! I declared the lavender rose to be my favorite, soon the others were smelling roses too. Simple pleasures can be contagious! One staff person has worked at the University for seven years, walked through the rose garden many, many times – and had never smelt a single flower until that day.

I open my Levinger’s catalog and covet. I open my Office Depot flyer and covet. I visit Barnes and Noble and drool as well as covet. My process is not complete for there is still the coveting. But I make no purchases based upon my coveting. I wait at least 24 hours. I have discovered I really can live without “that” – the last 24 hours proved I can in fact “live without it”. This past spring and early summer, each Monday evening a friend and I would go to Barnes and Noble for hot chocolate. We would visit together, and we would visit with our friends on the shelf. There were many times I would resolve I wanted to purchase something, determine to do so the next Monday, and by the next Monday wondered why I was so intrigued by that object just the week before. Perhaps that is why my garage had originally filled up with “stuff” purchased for $10 and sold in a yard sale for $2. As I have intentionally sought to simplify my life, both the material “stuff” of life and the immaterial “stuff” of life, I have discovered that I enjoy my present possessions more. The pursuit of simplicity is reorienting my life so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying me.

In my introspection I’ve determined that what I want most is a rich soul life. I wish to nourish my soul. The puritans had a saying, “Acquire thy soul with patience.” That is what I have been in process of doing. Even before I knew it had a name. David Whyte wrote: “.… we understand that though the world will never be simple, a life that honors the soul seems to have a kind of radical simplicity at the center of it.”

I like that expression “radical simplicity”. I am in process. Simplicity is not the goal, it is the means to the goal of a rich and fulfilling soul life. Excellence of life is the goal, excellence through simplicity.