Monthly Archives: November 2009

What a difference a year makes

So, I turn 51 tomorrow. Hubby turns 50 on Wednesday. Last year for our birthdays, we got a new President. Best birthday present ever!

In the last year my mood has gone from hopeful to somewhat frustrated, as at times it seems nothing changed with the healthcare legislation crawling along. But everything did, really. It struck me watching Mad Men last night, where the episode focused on the Kennedy assassination (a great show if you don’t watch it, and their best episode ever last night.) The episode really brought out how everything changed in that moment, how people changed their minds about how safe the world was, about their own life goals, about what was important to them. Children learned their parents could not keep their world safe, watching the drama unfold on television. Like 9/11, like those few minutes last year hearing Obama had won, the world changed forever. I was working the polls last year, and they went from incredibly busy to completely empty almost in a few moments, as many who had eagerly sought to vote decided it was over when Pennsylvania was called. Which sadly probably really hurt the gay marriage issue in California. But those who still came, just to vote for Obama anyway, they warmed my heart, bringing their children in to watch them vote, to be part of that moment and that change.

The changes in our own lives seem to come in moments as well — weddings, birth, anniversaries, birthdays. And death, accidents, injuries, and illness on the other side. But they really take time and sometimes are a very long time in the making. I set goals for myself this last year: losing weight, getting in shape, the usual. I haven’t lost weight, but am in better shape and take better care of myself in many ways. Still, it seems that no big goals were reached for me personally. We celebrate the big changes, the big moments, not realizing how we are working towards our goals along the way. We fail to celebrate the little, small steps we make forward, and sometimes, we forget to focus on those moments in between, the space between the big events.

I think about where I will be next year at this time, wonder what changes will take place in that year. But really, I wonder what I need to do, moment to moment, to live my life as fully as possible and to be myself as completely as possible. Those moments are the ones that will lead me to wherever it is I end up next year. I sit right now in a golden sunbeam, looking at a sticker on my board next to the computer that says “Yes, We Did — Together We Made History.” I don’t know what my equivalent will be for next year. There are other things posted on my board — the photo of the beach in Kauai where I released my parents’ ashes, the photo of a hotel in Ireland where we spent a memorable vacation, cards and notes from friends, reminders to be compassionate, to be who I am, to believe in the possibilities, to be aware of my direction in life, to act from the heart. Two golden retrievers lay by my feet. Stacks of books are at hand, my computer, my camera, and a birthday card asking, “Is this the birthday when you start asking yourself life’s big questions?”

Yes, yes, it is.


Tao is the road up your spine.
Tao is the road of your life.
Tao is the road of the cosmos.

People are often confused about Tao because there are references to it on so many different levels. After all, it permeates all existence. Indeed it might be said that Tao is existence itself. It might seem odd that we can talk about Tao on a level so mundane as physical exercise and on a level as exalted as holiness itself. Those who follow Tao do not think of divinity as something “up there.” They think of it as everywhere.

Tao can be tangible when it wants and intangible when it wants to. One tangible aspect of Tao is the road in the very center of our spines. That is the path of Tao in us. It is the spirit road connecting the various power centers of our bodies.

On a philosophical level, Tao is the road through life. It is the change from one stage to another, the dealing with circumstances, the expression of your inner character against the background of nature and society. On a metaphysical level, it is the evolution and movement of the cosmos itself.

Now take these three levels — the movement of energy up the spine, the philosophical understanding of one’s own path in life, and the very progression of the universe — and meld them all into one combined concept. Then you will have a glimpse of the genius of Tao.

Deng Ming Tao, 365 Tao

Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where you backbone ought to be.” — Clementine Paddleford

“The best lightning rod for your protection is your own spine.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“To understand others you should get behind their eyes and walk down their spines” — Rod McKuen

“Most species do their own evolving, making it up as they go along, which is the way Nature intended. And this is all very natural and organic and in tune with mysterious cycles of the cosmos, which believes that there’s nothing like millions of years of really frustrating trial and error to give a species moral fiber and, in some cases, backbone.” — Terry Pratchett

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.
— Tao Te Ching, 11

Usually if I’m thinking about my spine, it’s because I need a visit to the chiropractor. Hmm, not a bad idea, actually. My neck is hurting, and I’ve been missing my pilates and yoga classes lately, and even my strength training sessions. So perhaps I’ll get to the chiro today.

But the thought that struck me as I was putting this together is that while our spines are firm and help hold us up, they are also hollow, and it is the space inside that makes them truly useful, since that space is filled with our spinal cord that connects our nerves to our brains. This is where Tao flows, in the space between.

Our lives are defined not so much by the events that occur, what happens to us, but by how we choose to think about those events. It is what happens within us, between the events of our lives, that determines the kind of life we will have. Unplanned events occur, people around us pass on, things don’t go as we may hope — but still, we carry on. And we call this having backbone, having the strength to persevere. And yes, the strength is important, but the other great thing about our spine is that it is flexible, and allows us to change direction. It is when we become too inflexible that we have problems moving.

The world around us has to be flexible and open as well. Trees and plants are designed to sway in the wind yet must be strong enough to bear their weight, and have hollow space to let the sap move freely. If we build buildings that cannot sway with an earthquake or stand the force of a hurricane, they will fall. If we neglect our bodies and fail to stay flexible, we will eventually become injured or ill. If we fail to allow there to be space within ourselves, we can’t make room for spirituality.

Sure, Tao is “up there”. And down there, and outside, and inside, and everywhere. It’s interesting that if you ask someone in an Eastern religion to point to heaven, they will point within themselves. Try asking a Westerner to point to heaven, and it’s “up there”.

No wonder we’re confused all the time.