Archives for posts with tag: Taoism

Be water, my friend. Water can crash, or it can flow. – Bruce Lee 

In Colorado, we have been rewarded with a glorious clear sky to view the entire full moon process since Wednesday night. It feels like the most bounteous gift.

I have been experiencing this moon at a very deep, primeval level due to the floods so near to me. The full moon indicates so very much when it comes to water and tides. While I was idly contemplating the things I have been birthing in my life, I was all too aware of the waters rushing down the South Platte, demolishing other plans for other people as the tide crested.

A few months ago, I wrote about the Taoist idea of staying low, being like water. At that time, I visualized a peaceful stream meandering around the countryside; or a river rapid, cutting and crashing to a waterfall. After the storms, I now see the destructive side of water much differently. Water in a reservoir can look peaceful and calm. When the reservoir is topped or compromised, that water, formerly held back and tamed, transforms into a driving wall that flattens and destroys. It is patient, but when it is time, it is anything but. This was also seen with the films of the tidal wave in Japan a few years ago. Nothing is spared.

This particular storm taught me about water in a couple of different ways. The night it began, I was attending my first tai’chi class. I had to catch a bus or two to get there, and walk a fair distance. It began to rain almost as soon as I left work. I discovered to my displeasure that I had forgotten my umbrella. I dodged the raindrops during the first part of the trip, but by the second transfer, the rain was coming down in torrents. Running 50 feet to hide under a tree left me drenched from head to toe.

At that time, I amused myself with the thought that I was learning a water discipline, after all. Tai’chi is known as a water form in the martial arts, along with wushu. It seemed somehow appropriate that the gods were soaking me through as some sort of bizarre hazing ritual.

By the third transfer, I discovered that it was rather fun being all wet. I tried to remember the last time I was wet from head to toe. I’m pretty sure I was 10 years old or younger. It was cleansing too – starting fresh.

When I finally opened the door of the Tai’chi center, I was practically giggling. An auspicious beginning, to be sure.

The following afternoon, I was bailing water out of my back yard. I was not enjoying the storm as much by then. And it was about this time that creeks and streams overflowed and took out hunks of road. Drainage systems clogged, and water began to overwhelm everything. Large reservoirs broke down; major highways collapsed… All from water.

Water is far more than bucolic babbling brooks. It will wear down anything in its path, given enough time. The Grand Canyon was made in exactly that way. Most of us don’t have an inkling of that kind of power. To witness it in action is humbling and terrifying.

The moon bears witness, aids and abets that power. Rolling water to shore with a churning surf, or pushing water down a hill or gradient, it controls the cycles of life we all know but seldom take the time to observe.

On this particular full moon, the harvest seems close… but for now, all we witness is the force of water.

It will be up to us to harvest what we can by the next full moon.

harvestmoon

I’m Chi.  You might remember me from the last time I snuck into my human’s office and wrote a letter to all of you. I’m back! I’m sorry I was gone so long. It’s not easy sneaking into her office a second time, you know. Plus, I’ve had a lot to contend with these past couple weeks… like my shaved butt.

Yeah, they shaved my butt. And I like it when people play with me, but that was not cool. Mom took me into the vet’s office one day when I thought we were just going out together someplace special. She left me there! Alone! I made sure I pouted at her for the whole time she walked away. Don’t tell her, but I saw my human looked kinda sad and scared. I don’t like to see her look that way.

So then, they took me back into this room and they poked me with something. It made me yelp, and then I got really sleepy. The last thing I remember is the nice lady in the white coat saying she was going to take my picture… I like pictures…

Then, everything was spinning. Spin, spin, kinda like when I chase my tail — only I couldn’t figure out which way was up. And then I woke up really thirsty and I was in a cage thing. I really wanted my humans a lot. I went back to sleep cause I couldn’t do much else.

behindbars

I guess I had stitches and things, and it hurt a lot for a while. I hated the big white pills and I spit them out cause it made my humans mad when I did that. Serves them right. Then maybe a week ago, they were talking to someone on the phone and Mom got really happy and squeezed me real tight and everyone got excited. I thought I was going to get some cheese or something. The humans did sneak me some banana. That was ok.

So ever since they have been telling people I am be-nighn, whatever that is. I’m a pug, not this other thing. I think they are confused. My dad looks at me and laughs and says I have a wart on my ass. Well, that’s rude….

You’d think my story was over, but nooooo. Then it started to rain. And it rained, and it rained, and it rained some more. You have to understand that I hate walking in the rain. It makes my big paddle feet wet. And I just don’t like it and I try to find the dry spot near the house or wherever I am so I don’t get wet. It was terrible. One day Mom came home after getting stranded without an umbrella and she was soaked to the skin. The next day she came home early with a bucket and threw water all down the driveway. I really appreciated that she wanted to get rid of the puddle of water so I didn’t have to get my paddles wet.

Later that night and the next day, my humans seemed very upset, and sad. I guess there was so much water that people could not get out and no buckets were enough. They had to get their paddles wet. I am so sad for them. They even told me about a story where a dog like me saved a man from going under the water. I really hope everyone is ok out there…

I better go for now. Bye bye and remember to keep your paddlefeet dry!

Photo disclaimer: Is this yours? Please let us know so we can give appropriate credit!

Always from the days of old men has it been this way

And none born can escape this thing.

–Miu Hsi, “Bearer’s Song”

 

Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans. This saying is not Taoist, but it’s still true. The morning dawned bright and warm, and all indications pointed to a fine day. We were in the vet’s office with Chi to make sure he had all his shots up to date. Chi was enjoying interacting with dogs and humans alike. The exam started off normally enough. Chi was healthy, happy. All these things we knew. The vet’s smile faded as she explored Chi.

The sun passed behind a cloud as soon as she uttered the word. It was just a bump, probably nothing. Chi was taken to the back area of the clinic. An aspiration was done. It’s nothing, we all said to each other.

Several days passed, and finally the results came. Mast cells in the blood — not good news. Words like surgery and excision were mentioned. Other words like incontinence, and worse, were also bandied about. More blood tests. Discussions about chest x-rays and paths of treatment… and when not to treat. Surgery was scheduled and it was decided an x-ray would be taken before anything was actually done. If the cancer had spread, we wanted Chi to live a happy rest of his life with us. It was decided that I should take him in and take care of the paperwork and the front-end stuff, and my husband would pick him up after the surgery in the afternoon.

The morning of the surgery, Chi was unusually affectionate, nuzzling my shoulder and offering kisses. The vet met me on the way in, and grinned down at Chi. “Wild man,” she called him. She disappeared behind a door, and soon the vet tech was weighing the pug, and going over instructions. I signed the forms and handed Chi’s leash over to her. I will never forget Chi’s eyes watching me as I left the clinic and headed for the car.

About 30 minutes after I left, my cell phone rang. The x ray had been done. Nothing had spread. Even so, I went about the day’s business on autopilot. Keeping routine and living in the moment were some of the best Lessons Chi had taught me, and I worked them.  I couldn’t relax until he was safely out of surgery. Around noon, it was all over. The vet reported Chi was awake and resting comfortably.

Chi, in essence, had a cancerous bump on his ass. It appears they got it all, and very early. Life has never been so good.

Chi, for his part, milked the occasion as much as he could. The vet techs spoke of his eyes following them back and forth when he came out of anesthesia. He could not really lift his head, but his eyes followed them and he made a game attempt to beg for treats. “I’m so pitiful,” his eyes told us as he walked unsteadily back into the house. With a deep sigh he sank onto the cushions of the loveseat and promptly fell asleep.

sickychismall

Experience is a riverbed,
Its source hidden, forever flowing:
Its entrance, the root of the world,
The Way moves within it:
Draw upon it; it will not run dry.

— Tao te Ching adaptation by Peter Merel

Chi has a thing for the neighbor over the back fence.  It may have always been so. The neighbor is a kindly old man, rather like the Sage in the stories. He spends endless hours in his yard perfecting the grass, the beautiful flowers. Each tree is cared for and pruned with exquisite attention.

This care extends to Chi. As long as I can remember, the man has called Chi to come to him; preening, mugging, cajoling, teasing. And, as long as I can remember, Chi has had nothing to do with it. Chi runs to the fence like a sentry, barking, hairs standing at attention.  The dance goes back and forth between the two.

I’ve tried to help the old man. Surely, this man would have a treat for Chi. I greet the man, tell Chi the man is a friend. I tap my foot and look annoyed. I yell at our poor pugalicious. Normally, any of these things would stop Chi in mid-bark.  Not this situation; not this neighbor; not this day.

This ritual was playing itself out for the umpteenth time last weekend when a new thought emerged. Maybe this dance, this back-and-forth, was exactly the point. Both seem to enjoy it, no matter how noisy or frustrating it might appear to outsiders. It perfectly illustrates the endless spin of yin and yang, both circling, one sharp, one gentle, The play IS the point.

And, once again, I find Chi teaching me. Humans talk on and on about living life. But those damned rules sometimes stop us from experience. Don’t bark, don’t trample the flowers, don’t be rude, don’t, don’t, don’t.

Getting to the root, the essence of life, IS life. And sometimes, it’s loud and messy.

OUTSIDE VOICES, EVERYONE!

goodluckwiththat

Photo by Rick Harris.

Photo by Rick Harris.

“… I’m afraid a boat

so small would sink

with the weight

of all my sorrow.”

Li Qingzhao, “Spring at Wu-Ling”

Sometimes we must walk through life as solitary creatures. We may have companions, but, in essence, we are born alone, and die alone… with the exception of the Divine, if you believe in such.

This week just past was one of those times. A cherished friend passed away unexpectedly last Monday evening or Tuesday morning. Funny my choice of topic last time. One could almost infer I knew something was about to happen, but I did not. Maybe it would have been easier if I had.

Chi was always by my side, for he could feel things were “off” somehow, and would curl up on the back of the sofa by my head, or at my side, or somewhere nearby. Even so, this was one of those journeys I felt I had to take alone.

Loss is never easy. In this case it was an invitation to look deeply into the things that make life tick. Friends, small pleasures, moments caught in shards of glass within time. And it was a good chance to practice the Lessons of Chi. I took many walks along shaded, tree-lined parks and sidewalks. I wrote love letters. I sat and reflected on my friend and the ephemeral, fragile nature of this life we lead. I prayed; I cried; I spoke with this one who had finally moved beyond the veil. I played sad songs – mostly for me, not for my friend. I shared many hugs with other friends and acquaintances doing much the same thing. We spoke about our friend and realized, as we shared, that maybe we were all linked more closely than we realized. Complete strangers came to share their thoughts, love, prayers, and energy.

As we walked through the process together, we realized our small boats were, in reality, not so small. There are a lot of boats out there, all sinking under the weight of so much grief. And yet, if you join boats, the boat gets progressively larger and more buoyant.

This event of loss became something much larger, and more life-affirming. We all have this chance to pilot our ship, be it a rowboat, a canoe, a yacht, a cruise liner, or speedboat. It’s up to each of us to make it count.

I am grateful for all who reached out in ways large or small. I am grateful to be sharing this experience of life with each of you. Let us choose to enjoy this grand tour, wherever it leads.

This morning my quarters were so cold
I suddenly thought of my friend in the mountains
gathering firewood down by the creek
lugging it back to boil white rocks
I wish I could bring him a gourd full of wine
to drive off the wind and rain at night
but fallen leaves cover the deserted slopes
and how could I find the trail

Wei Ying-wu

[Translated by Red Pine, from the book, ‘In Such Hard Times: The Poetry of Wei Ying-wu’. Copper Canyon Press]

A Scholar's Retreat amidst Autumn Trees, Ming dynasty (1368-1644) Wang Fu (Chinese, 1362-1416)

A Scholar’s Retreat amidst Autumn Trees, Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Wang Fu (Chinese, 1362-1416)

This lovely poem speaks of a truth in many of our lives. How many times have we thought of a friend, just out of the blue. How nice it would be to see them. Then, the various problems associated with seeing this friend ensue.

Too snowy. Too rainy. Too hot. Too cold. Too busy. Too broke. Not enough time. Always something.

And then, there are the friends who are not embodied. The friends long since departed, gone to some distant coast, or perhaps location unknown. We think about the memories we shared, the times we wish we could have again. Our selves which always seem somehow better through the lens of time and distance.

Maybe what we truly miss is an ideal. A thought. A time we felt strong, or wise, or vital. It’s always in the past, or the future, or somewhere other than here.

How could I find the trail?

Many times the truth, sensation or experience we seek is deceptively near. Our brains search everywhere for this ephemeral thing called now. Maybe you can pick your way amongst the fallen leaves and find the trail to your friend’s house by taking a detour. Perhaps wandering with no destination will bring you home.

Allowing yourself the time and space to explore in the present moment is key.

Recently I’ve talked a lot about my experiences with recuperating from a neck injury. During one of these experiences with my acupuncturist, Stephanie, we were talking about the lovely Chi. Stephanie asked if Chi had ever received acupuncture. Of course! What self-respecting Chinese dog has not, especially with one with a name like Chi?

It happened about 5 years ago.

Chi, like many pugs, gets excitable at times. He’s not always the most graceful. Occasionally, he’ll trundle into serious trouble. On this particular day, he was playing with a stuffed ball on an elastic band. And he’d shake, and shake, and whack himself in the head with it. Over and over he would repeat this with no ill effect. He was really getting into it that day. He took one careless step, fell forward, and slammed headfirst into a wooden tv cart.

Poor baby cried, and snuffled, and was completely miserable. Chi would not allow anyone to touch his neck, or console him. We took him to the vet early the next morning. Luckily, he hadn’t broken or ruptured anything. Still, he had a slipped disc and was pretty wonky. One of the staff vets had experience with acupuncture for animals. At the time it seemed a natural thing to do.

Acupuncture being performed on Wallie Fitzpatrick, an 11-year-old pug.

Sadly, we didn’t think to have a camera in the vet’s office way back then. This is acupuncture being performed on Wallie Fitzpatrick, an 11-year-old pug.

One of us held him while the vet began placing the needles. This really wasn’t necessary, although it’s something most acupuncturists would probably prefer just in case. Chi didn’t flinch or make any indication that the needles were troublesome. The vet put in about 10 to 12 needles, clustered around the ruff near the site of the injury and then extending all the way down the spine. After that, the vet left us all to relax for about 15 to 20 minutes. Chi was not restless or in any way bothered. It was something to see. The vet returned, removed the needles, and sent us off with a small prescription of valium in case he became agitated during the healing process.

The prescription was nice, but Chi didn’t need them. He healed completely naturally on his own. He slept most of that first day, and exhibited some stiffness over the following 48 hours or so.

Skeptics may respond that natural healing time is around the same. I’m not a vet, and can’t really respond to that. I can say without any reservation that Chi’s level of discomfort went way down almost immediately.

So, if your adult pug or animal is showing signs of arthritis, pain, or other issues, acupuncture may be for you. Check with your vet.

Water overcomes the stone;

Without substance it requires no opening;

This is the benefit of taking no action.

 

Yet benefit without action,

And experience without abstraction,

Are practiced by very few.

TTC 43

Interpreted by Peter Merel

I learn a lot when I sit and watch Chi interact with his sisters. His sisters are two rambunctious Manchester Terriers. He lacks their energy and their speed. He cannot outrace them in one of their dizzying races around the yard. He can’t jump so fast and high that he almost catches a squirrel by the tail.

Still, Chi has something the flashier pair lack, and he uses it — often without fanfare. He can lie quiet and motionless. When they crawl all over him, he sinks into himself with a deep sigh. He’ll close his eyes and pretend he’s asleep. They will paw at him, push him, lick him. None of it matters. He’s oblivious. Sometimes, he seems longsuffering. Other times, he seems stubborn.

He uses this with his humans as well. If we want to put him in the kennel, and he doesn’t want to be there, he refuses to move. Quite literally, he becomes as water. Completely limp. The effects are comical as we drag him (gently) across the bed or the sofa or the floor. He is a conscientious objector. He is passive resistance incarnate. If you try to pick him up, his limp dead weight is hard to lift. If he slips from your grasp, he sinks back into the sofa, only for the cycle to begin again.

Chi is illustrating the overcoming of adversity with the humor of a sage. Water has no real substance; it flows, it moves, it molds to hard substances. And, over time, it carves stone. Water is the ultimate example of acting without acting. We can do the same, by flowing through difficult situations. If chaos is exploding around you, remaining low to the ground and flowing with the tide will serve you well. You can observe, witness from this place.

All this, from “doing nothing.”

be water

You ask for what reason I stay on the green mountain,
I smile, but do not answer, my heart is at leisure.
Peach blossom is carried far off by flowing water,
Apart, I have heaven and earth in the human world.

Question and Answer on the Mountain — Li Bai

 

Li Bai’s famous poem speaks to the heart of what leads people to live apart — whether it is in the wilderness, in a monastery, or simply in isolation from others for large periods of time. Artists are particularly likely to need this kind of space, as are sensitives of all stripes.

Many have pointed to the fear of being alone as the root of much of modern society’s malaise. We must have noise; we must have activity. Electronic gizmos and gadgets. The better iPhone. It hurts to be alone. Find someone to be with. Love the one you’re with… well, yes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When I was a child, I used to spend many hours in the woods across the street. I’d pack a peanut butter or cheese sandwich, grab a book, and sit there reading for hours. I had a favorite tree trunk, and I’d settle by that trunk and be completely alone. At that time, I hadn’t been properly socialized that it was a bad thing for a woman to be alone. No one told me there were bogeymen and rapists and aliens and so forth. There were monsters, but those were under my bed at home – never outside.

Most of us can relay similar stories. We had invisible friends, secret hiding places. Some of the best hiding places were in our own homes, or in school or a friend’s back yard. These spaces are now found in video games and movies… but they are still there. The busier we get with things to keep us distracted on the outside, the more out of balance we become within ourselves. Balance is that most sacred of things we must find and preserve for ourselves. For many of us, this means time alone… in meditation, hiking in nature, listening to music, soaking in a hot bath.

Ironically, once we reconnect to that space, many of us find we need to spend significant time there. it is home, it is our Center. 

If you feel a little disjointed, a little off kilter… take a walk. Drive to the most beautiful park in your immediate surroundings. Then just get out, wander, and listen. Sit by that babbling brook. Watch that doe in the distance. If you have a dog friend like Chi, take them along. They can help you reconnect to that as well.

You may soon find yourself just like the Taoist poet Li Bai — blessed with heaven and earth and your heart at leisure.

Image

At times, everyone needs that little “bump” life brings. Maybe we have gone stale through routine; maybe we have gotten lost through grief. Whatever the reason, life has a way of bringing opportunity to our doors.  It encourages us to dip a toe back in the collective pool, as it were.

For me, life used dogs to remind me of innocence, to show me how simple it really can be. For me, I’ll even say it was God. I now understand why people say God = dog! It’s not as denigrating as some people like to make it.

Sometimes our human minds get all tied up in complexities. In my case, it was a broken heart. Life bumped me around a bit. I was depressed, and badly so. My mother and God seemed to abandon me at the same time. There was little point. I was scared of the world and unable to relax into outside life any longer. I barricaded myself into my house, resolutely staying away from the outside world. I was locked up tight, blocking the tiniest hint of Light from entering my world. God had little option but to bring something to break through the thousand layers of resistance. And thus, God = dog.

Chi arrived a little damaged as well. We understood each other, despite his peeing on my blanket. If he made the wrong move and sensed he’d displeased us, he’d cringe and hide. It took a while to coax Chi out of his darkness…. And, over time, I found myself being coaxed out of my darkness as well. Occasionally I’d get in a space where I would not want any attention from anyone, human or canine. Chi would stubbornly insist on coming wherever I was at those moments. When I would allow him next to me at those times, we would both benefit.

Eventually, looking back, I had to ask whom was healing whom. For a while I resented “life energy” being present. It was infinitely easier remaining in my comfortable husk of a life. Inevitably, just as the Tao te Ching says, the repeated presence and love of Yin wore its way through the rocks blocking the river of my heart. If it was so with the Grand Canyon, then it’s definitely so with lesser rock structures like the human heart.

To end our time today, I would ask you this question: What makes you come alive?

Now, go do it.

comealive

Blogger’s note: While there is some question of the attribution of this quote to Howard Thurman, it would appear the quote did occur in conversation with Thurman. Thus, I am using it.