Monthly Archives: September 2009

Validity (repost from 2005)

A river new–
Ancient words unneeded.
See, touch, rushing beauty,
Drink crystal flow.

When we stand on the banks of a river, we must realize that it is constantly new. Although we might say that it was running long before we were born, its exact configuration — the particular currents, the way it flows around rocks, the shape of its banks, the paths of fish in its depths,– is subtly unique at any given moment. To know the river, we only need to experience it directly: to touch it, to swim it, to contemplate it, to drink it. The same is true of Tao.

Tao is ever flowing. Although it was present since the beginning of time and though many have experienced it, it is here for us to explore today. Touch it. Swim it. Contemplate it. Drink it. If you have touched Tao, you should harbor no doubt about it, nor should you wonder that you need scripture to confirm it.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principals of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There never has been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) ‘ideologies,’ all consist of fragments of the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess.”

— C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man (1943)

I think most of us know, somewhere inside ourselves, when what we are feeling and thinking is truly valid or not. It seems strange, but if you lose your connection to what we know as reality, the world doesn’t really become a strange place, you just start interpreting it in different ways. When you come out of this state, should you be fortunate enough to do so, there is another realization: that much of what we interpret as “reality” in our daily lives is just as unreal as those strange thoughts you believed when you were delusional. Is there really any reason you “must have” that new car, that bigger house, that shiny new thing in the store? Is there really any reason that one particular belief system has more value than another?

Walk outside and smell the air, listen to the birds, enjoy the coolness of the grass under your feet. Visit a river, and feel the flow of its cool waters. Or, just close your eyes and feel the coolness of your breath as it enters and the warmth as it leaves.

What is it that you need to know about the Tao? That it is here, that it is real, that it surrounds you and is you and contains you. If something is true for you, feels real to you, is valid to you, it is the right thing in your life. If it feels untrue, if it feels invalid, if you think it isn’t for you, then it isn’t the right thing in your life. You can choose to believe in Tao or not, you can choose to believe in a spiritual system or not. You can follow the beliefs of whatever spiritual system or religion you want to, or not. But inside, you will know if what you are doing is valid. When it isn’t valid, when it doesn’t feel true, that is your signal to let go of that thing, that feeling, that thought, that need, that desire. But if that internal barometer gets out of whack, don’t worry — other people will probably tell you that. Often in ways that are most unpleasant. The river flows, and if you swim against its’ current, you will feel it. If you flow with it, the journey is much more pleasant.

Matt Kapp on Health-Care Profiteering

Think Wall Street’s titans are the highest paid C.E.O.’s in the land? Think again. With median annual compensation of more than $12 million, medical moguls take the pay prize, even as the quality of care we receive falls to embarrassing lows. As the debate over health-care reform intensifies, the author catalogues the industry’s unbridled profiteering.

via Matt Kapp on Health-Care Profiteering |

Just in case you needed some extra outrage for your weekend…

Commitment (repost from 2005)

Maxfield Parrish, The Lute Players 1922

Maiden plucks folk tune on steel strings,
Crickets chant like monks.
I’ve walked into autumnal contentment,
Yet a young boy seeks guidance.

One may be quite far along on the path, but if one meets a beginner who sincerely seeks guidance, then one should help without reservation. If such a beginner were to come to you, what would you say? This is what I said to someone today :

“The time of beginning is one of the most precious times of all. It can be very exciting and full of wonderful growth. The first thing to do is to make up your mind that you are going to go the distance.

“When I first began, I made a lifelong commitment. I determined that I would learn from my teacher for at least seven years. Now, it has been much longer than that, but the essential element is still the same : commitment.

“But commitment needs something else in order to be perpetuated. It needs discipline. This is the perseverance to keep on when things are tough. Adversity is life’s way of testing and perfecting a person. Without that, we would never develop character.

“Rice suffers when it is milled. Jade must suffer when it is polished. But what emerges is something special. If you want to be special too, then you have to be able to stick to things even when they are difficult.”

Commitment and discipline — these are two of the most precious words for those who would seek Tao.

Deng Ming Tao, 365 Tao

Know the masculine,
but keep to the feminine:
and become a watershed to the world.
If you embrace the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you become as a little child.

Know the white,
yet keep to the black:
be a model for the world.
If you are a model for the world,
the Tao inside you will strengthen
and you will return whole to your eternal beginning.

Know the honorable,
but do not shun the disgraced:
embracing the world as it is.
If you embrace the world with compassion,
then your virtue will return you to the uncarved block.

The block of wood is carved into utensils
by carving void into the wood.
The Master uses the utensils, yet prefers to keep to the block
because of its limitless possibilities.
Great works do not involve discarding substance.

— Tao Te Ching, 28

“The acorn becomes an oak by means of automatic growth; no commitment is necessary. The kitten similarly becomes a cat on the basis of instinct. Nature and being are identical in creatures like them. But a man or woman becomes fully human only by his or her choices and his or her commitment to them. People attain worth and dignity by the multitude of decisions they make from day by day. These decisions require courage.” — Rollo May

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

— Margery Williams, “The Velveteen Rabbit”

“Once you are Real, you can’t become unreal again”. The people and things we are most truly committed to are those that are real to us. We make them Real through our love for them and our commitment to them. And they make us Real in return…

The Joy of Service

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy…my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment; and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” — George Bernard Shaw (via Whiskey River)

“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” — Ben Sweetland

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” — Rabindranath Tagore

“Consciously or unconsciously, everyone of us does render some service or another. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and it will make not only for our own happiness, but that of the world at large.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness” — Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

“Whoever renders service to many puts himself in line for greatness — great wealth, great return, great satisfaction, great reputation, and great joy.” — Jim Rohn

“The Master of Life’s been good to me. He has given me strength to face past illnesses, and victory in the face of defeat. He has given me life and joy where other saw oblivion. He Has given new purpose to live for, new services to render and old wounds to heal.

Life and love go on, let the music play.” — Johnny Cash

Appreciation (repost, with updates)

YiXing Teapots’ Great Grandmother

In all the stories of the origin of YiXing teapots, only this teapot has its undoubtable identity. It’s the great grandmother of YiXing teapots.

This earliest of all YiXing teapot is dated back to 1533. It was excavated in NanJing from the Ming Dynasty eunuch (palace servant) Wu Jing’s tomb. It is THE oldest solid evidence of YiXing teapots.

This particular teapot is, however, not a YiXing teapot by strict definition. Firstly, it is not made of pure Zisha. Secondly, it’s making process differs slightly form that of YiXing teapots. Thirdly, this teapot was used for boiling instead of brewing Chinese tea.

Although this teapot is not a 100% YiXing teapot, it marked the transition of Chinese tea from being boiled to being brewed (process completed during 1531 – 1595). It is indubitably the earliest piece of YiXing Zisha ware. It carries with it perhaps the most important artistic and archeological value for YiXing teapots.

Teapot is now a collection of the NanJing Museum.

The sun rose and set today in twelve hours.
We plucked golden pears from arching branches.
Climbing a thousand steps to a rustic temple,
We made our offerings to the gods.
At nightfall, we sat in warm companionship.
A crescent moon joined our circle.
Dipping water from the silver-braided stream,
We set it bubbling in an earthenware pot.
It’s not easy to brew good tea,
But this teapot has a venerable history:
A scholar once pawned all his books for it.
Now it imparts the flavor of antiquity.

Autumn equinox is the time to reflect upon life. If we have enjoyed a bountiful harvest, we express our thanks. If the year has been difficult so far, then we are happy for what we do have and resolve to do better once the chance comes. The appreciation of life does not require wealth or plenty. It requires only gratitude for the beauty of the world.

Deng Ming Tao, 365 Tao

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” — John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of this world’s happiness now. How? By giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.” — Dale Carnegie

“Appreciation of life itself, becoming suddenly aware of the miracle of being alive, on this planet, can turn what we call ordinary life into a miracle.” — Dan Wakefield

My year has been a good one, full of a great deal of bounty and a good harvest. I very much appreciate where I am now, entering the autumn period of my life. I have two wonderful sons, a great husband, a small house I enjoy and a garden, two beautiful golden retrievers and a lovely furry cat. Twenty-five years of marriage were marked with a wonderful anniversary trip to Paris.

And I’m grateful that I’ve finally woken up to see the beauty of the world, and to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures of a good cup of tea, companionship, and crescent moons.

It’s a tough time of year for me. Six years ago on September 25th, my mother passed away, and this time of year brings up many of those memories. Passing into autumn now feels like truly passing into the autumn of my life, bringing with it those feelings of losing my parents. I retreat into myself, and am sad and quiet, contemplating, and others don’t see why, so I prefer to be alone when I am feeling this way. But I also appreciate the many good memories, the wonderful examples of life I learned from my parents, and that I can carry on some of their work in my own way, through my pet therapy work and helping my kids become bright, creative scientists and computer geeks. I think my parents would appreciate who I have become, and who they are as well.

What is art journaling?

As good a definition as any….

“I should advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can — in some beautifully bound book,” Jung instructed. “It will seem as if you were making the visions banal — but then you need to do that — then you are freed from the power of them. . . . Then when these things are in some precious book you can go to the book & turn over the pages & for you it will be your church — your cathedral — the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal. If anyone tells you that it is morbid or neurotic and you listen to them — then you will lose your soul — for in that book is your soul.”

via Carl Jung and the Holy Grail of the Unconscious –

Fashion and the Slavery of Self-Imagery | Daily Renewal: Freethinking Bipartisanship

Thoughts and words can do more damage than many of us imagine. A number of my counseling clients found that they had been held back or obstructed in their natural psychological development by a single sentence, phrase, or idea from their youngest years, which had entered their minds at a critical moment of fear, exposure, or self-consciousness, and become stuck there, like a computer virus on a hard drive, repeating its insane demand or neurotic claim. Every one of us has the wherewithal to become free of such ideological microbes; all we need do is commit ourselves to the quest.

via Fashion and the Slavery of Self-Imagery | Daily Renewal: Freethinking Bipartisanship.

Matrix (repost from 2005, with updates)

Susan Kaprov, Puzzle Matrix

This fragile body
Is matrix
For mind and soul.

We cannot afford to neglect our bodies, even if we recognize that we must not identify with them exclusively. Actually, in our search for our true selves, our physical existence is the best place to start. We can alter our lives by how we eat and exercise, and we can expedite our search by keeping ourselves healthy. If we are free of physical blockages and pain, we can identify our inner selves much better.

In the search for the mind and soul, it is wise to understand that the body is not the true self, but it is also wise to maintain the body. There should be neither denial nor mortification of the flesh, but it takes a wise person to both maintain the body and look beyond it.

Deng Ming Tao, 365 Tao

“All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.” — Max Planck

Neo: What is the Matrix?
Trinity: The answer is out there, Neo, and it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.

Morpheus: If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

Morpheus: Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize just as I did that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

Whatever you feel about the reality of this world, or the possibility of there existing any other, we live in the here and now, and we have to deal with where we are here and now. Taking care of yourself is essential. We all know we ought to eat right and exercise, that we need to take good care of ourselves. But we don’t always do it.

American culture is one that praises excess, not restraint. Most of our wealth now goes to the people in the top income group. Everyone wants huge SUVs and big houses that are far more than they need, which led to our financial crisis as people bought homes they could not really afford. Our food portions are huge. It’s not surprising that so many find it hard to restrain themselves. Even those who do exercise often do it to an extreme, and our female icons starve themselves into skeletons. Where is the call to be both fit and to be healthy? Not to excess, but to a level that everyone can do, and to maintain our mental fitness as well? To be moderate in our work but not abandon it entirely?

My husband and I work out with a trainer once a week, and are fortunate to be able to afford ourselves this luxury. But why should it have to be a luxury in our society to be able to afford a place a place to work out and someone to help us achieve our goals? I do pilates and yoga at the gym, and take long walks with friends. My husband and I sometimes take our dogs on long walks in the evening. We could still be more active than we are, but at least we are making the effort to stay healthy. My diet isn’t always perfect, though. I don’t really believe in doing anything to an extreme.

But most of us feel we are more than our bodies, perhaps even more than our minds, that there is something else within us that is separate from these things. And it is important to nourish that part of ourselves as well, whether through religion, art and creativity, or whatever means we find to spiritually enrich ourselves. Some look beyond themselves, but I find it more important to look within, to acknowledge my own spirit in ways that connect me with the all things. That way, I can also acknowledge it within others as well, rather than thinking I alone am “saved” or somehow special to whatever God is out there. And it is important to realize that all of us are a part of this world together, in body, mind — and spirit. We create the matrix, and we decide how to use it — selfishly, or together.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed” — Mahatma Gandhi

You must be the change you want to see in the world. — Mahatma Gandhi

Neo: I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.

Sorrow (repost from 2005, with some updates)


Van Gogh, Sorrow, 1882

Rain scatters plum petals;
Weeping stains the earth.
One can only take shelter
And wait for clearing.

When sorrow comes, its bitterness soaks everything. The sages say that life is illusion, but does that change its poignancy? Let us be sad; it is feeling that makes us human. If we gain enlightenment, understanding all life to be a dream, sadness and happiness will fall away soon enough.

The greatest sorrow of life is witnessing. Experiencing our own sufferings is not as difficult as watching others held in fate’s mighty grip. Bearing our own problems is easier because we are always aware that we can exercise other options — up to the final one. However, it hurts the most when we can do nothing for others. The greatest sorrow is to see those we love suffer helplessly.

When faced with a sad situation, it is best not to languish in it. We can change things by being with different people, moving to other places, or, if all else fails, adjusting our own attitudes to take the initiative. Sadness is transitory, like everything else. If we want to deflect it, we need only alter its context and allow it to be subsumed back into Tao.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.  — Henri Nouwen

The Last Best Book of Everything

I dreamed of the ending
An end-of-the-universe dream
We wrote a book called
“The Last Best Book of Everything”
It was full of jokes and stories
Full of love
Poems and flowers and more
It was sad, losing everything.
But it was joyous, remembering
What we had.

— Donna Woodka

The Uses of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

— Mary Oliver (via Whiskey River)

My flowering plum has died, after being so gorgeous for so many years. Now other plants must move into the spotlight. I grow many flowers, so I almost always have something blooming. But I do feel a tinge of sadness whenever something dies and I have to remove it from the garden. I console myself that they are making room for new things to grow, or stepping aside so other blooms can be the star for a while.

It’s a lot harder to feel that way about the sorrows that befall us in life. It’s hard to to watch loved ones’ health failing, and see the dramatic changes it brings not only to their health, but to how they can live. It’s hard to watch our society struggle with change, and to see so many fall into poverty or bankruptcy because of health care costs. The best of our politicians fight just to try and make the changes we need, while others argue against basic humanity and caring for the sake of profit.

My nephew is bipolar, and had chosen to be off his medication and doing drugs. It’s hard to watch him make mistakes in his life, harder still that I can’t fix it for him. This year, he decided to go to rehab, and is now celebrating eight months of sobriety. I’m proud of him for that, but it is still a struggle every day for him.

Witnessing the sorrow of others is definitely harder than the sorrow I have felt over my own losses in life. I spent many years fighting depression before being properly medicated; I know very well the feelings of deep sorrow. I know that those times do indeed pass, eventually. But that is small comfort when you are going through those sorrowful times yourself.

But the saddest thing for me, really, has been witnessing what happens with those who will not express their feelings. Those people who have cut me off from their lives, not even speaking to me anymore. They didn’t care how much that hurt me, how deep my sorrow was at losing them. They couldn’t express their own feelings of loss to me, even to tell me that they too, felt deeply hurt at what had passed between us, and missed me or regretted their actions. They couldn’t express their own feelings. That is, indeed sorrowful. And I mourned more for them than for those people who are gone from my life to death, because I knew how those who died felt about me, their love for me, the passions and joys and sorrows of their lives.

To anyone you have differences with or feel sorrow for, let them know. Even if they choose not to accept what you say, you will reconcile your own feelings in your own spirit, and no longer be tormented by those feelings. Closure is a very important thing, and all people need to feel it when a life or relationship ends. Go to the funerals of your friends and loved ones, even if you hate funerals (we all do, really). Send a card to someone you haven’t been speaking to. It will make a difference to them. Or, if not, it will make a difference to you.

Sadness is transitory. So is life. And isn’t it better to make life more pleasant for those around you, to be there to comfort those who need it, to say, “I’m really sorry for what happened and I regret that I can’t have you in my life” and to find meaning and expression in sorrow, rather than merely letting it pass without a poem, a tree planted, or just a soft prayer to whatever god happens to be around, or to the Tao itself.