Confirmation Bias

When we forget who we truly are,
we turn to external rules
to define goodness and morality.
When we no longer live from our heart,
we search for clever strategies
to guide our actions.
This is only a pretense of life
Duty and loyalty become substitutes
for our inability to love ourselves
and others.
Then we insist our leaders heal the suffering
created by our own divided minds.

From The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 18 – in A Path and a Practice, by William Martin




We certainly know what divided minds are like, don’t we?  “Divided” is the primary descriptive our our society in these chaotic times. We don’t know where to turn or who to trust, so we end up turning to our own confirmation bias. That is, we seek out social media and sound-bite media that confirms our notions of “we’re right, they’re wrong” mindset so that we can feel some illusory sense of stability in the midst of seismic shifts in society. When we read or see “information” that reinforces our bias we naturally return to that information regardless of its foundation in responsible journalism or science. It may confirm our pessimism or our optimism; it may reinforce the righteousness and logic of our own opinions or ridicule and demean the opinions of others. Either way it is an addictive unhelpful behavior.

Most of you are too young to remember Walter Cronkite, the venerable news anchor of the CBS Evening News. I remember “Uncle Walter” in tears at the assassination of John Kennedy. I remember his uncontainable excitement at Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. It is not just nostalgia speaking when I say that I remember a time when both journalism and science was trusted as sources of information. No more. Without a fundamental trust in those institutions, where can we stand? Who will tell us what is real? Who will speak the truth without the agenda to sell us something?

My first and foremost foundation for reality is Nature. Step outside. Air, clouds, trees, streams, animals, birds, breezes on your skin, dirt under your feet – this is REAL. Without this foundation there can be no true perception of reality. From that point we are navigating the dangerous territory of opinion, bias, and agenda. It will take courage and honesty confrontation of our hearts and souls to find our way.

I have stopped participating in social media or sound-bite news media. I need to abstain from the addiction of confirmation bias. But I deliberately support my bias toward open-hearted compassion, joy, and understanding by placing myself in the company of friends and teachers who intentionally facilitate those qualities. The internet can be a weapon of mass distraction and bias, but it can also provide valuable support for a life of grace, compassion, and love. It contains many sites of teachers, do-it-yourselfers, support groups, and communities. It requires, however, a sober mind to navigate it.

It is important to recognize the addictive nature of confirmation bias and adopt an extremely cautious and mindful approach to the internet. I honestly believe that most of us need to abstain completely from many forms of internet technology. Saying that we can should just, “pick and choose what we see on the internet” is like telling an alcoholic that they should just, “drink responsibly.”

So I am learning to use the internet to support who I am, and more importantly, who I want to become. It matters who I listen to; who I choose to inform and teach me; what music, vistas, conversations, and perspectives I allow to permeate the membrane of my mind. There are thousands of teachers, support groups, and communities from which I can select input that will support my deepest and highest version of myself.

Right now I am enjoying a website called, COMMUNE to support myself. It is not expensive and features some brilliant teachers. YouTube is filled with the offerings of teachers but you know how dangerous that particular site is – talk about “weapon of mass distraction!” You probably know how to find support and teaching better than I do, but – doing it – that’s another thing. We are constantly making choices of who and what will set the direction for our life. Can we begin to do it consciously and with purpose?

We Are Her/She Is Us

Everything that exists was born
of the feminine principle within the Tao.
This mysterious principle can be called,
“the mother of All.”

There is no need
to weary ourselves in an effort to find her.
She is ever with us
because she is us.

From The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 6, interpretation by William Martin



 

I am quite familiar with the Zen quote that a man who is looking for the Divine is like a man riding on an ox, looking for an ox. I’ve used that quote often over the years. Yet still I have persisted in searching, looking, and in many ways, striving for a deeper spiritual experience of life. Why is it so difficult to get off the damn ox, open my eyes, and see it standing right in front of me?

Here’s the key – The Tao is impersonal – that is, it does not stand outside of us and relate to us as one person would relate to another, so we often miss the obvious. But in truth, we don’t really want a personal Deity – one that stands outside of our life and scrutinizes our actions, doling out or withholding favors on a whim. What we long for is true intimacy. How marvelous that this intimacy is the very nature of the Tao/Cosmos.

In human relationships, people can be kind or cruel, loving or hateful, caring or distant, empathetic or manipulative – hundreds and hundreds of “personal” qualities that are not really part of the Tao. The Tao does not relate to us in the way people relate to other people. It is, however, terribly intimate, more intimate than any human relationship could possibly be. It is us. It experiences every aspect of us. When we die, it knows that death, experiences that death, and in a sense dies with us; thus the Tao knows death. We are not alone at our death. The Tao is there. It is there at that moment, and at the next moment, whatever that moment might be. The dance never ends because it is the dance of the Eternal Now.

This intimacy transforms our relationship with nature. The extinction of the tiniest species in an intimate loss. The felling of a single pine tree is an event of importance because we are as close to that pine as we are to our breath. This is not to advocate a hyper-scrupulosity in which we wring our hands at every sparrow’s fall. (However didn’t Jesus say something once about the importance of a sparrow’s fall?) I don’t advocate a syrupy sentimentality. I’m talking about taking every life, every single life of every single being, with respect and honor, knowing the intimacy that is built into the fabric of Web of Life. By doing this, I find my own life experience to be deeper, more intense, and full of joy. Each moment is an intimate moment.

No tree, flower, weed, bird, vegetable, fruit, animal, or stone can be seen as a “resource” for human benefit. Every plowing and reaping, every excavation and construction, every life brought into being or taken away must be seen as an intimate act; must be approached with mindful gratitude and respect.

I kill ants when they invade my kitchen. I don’t poison the colony, but I wipe up those on my counter or shelves. I apologize when I do so. This apology is not a silly sentimental act. It is an act of respect and honor. The more we make such acts a part of our life, the more we experience the intimacy of the Tao.

Don’t take what’s going on in the world personally. But do savor the intense intimacy of it all. Even the viruses within us are us, in the most intimate manner imaginable. Like wiping the ants off my counter, care for your own life by neutralizing the harmful effects of disease wherever possible, but see it as a dance of intimacy and don’t take it personally.

Consider being with a small group of your friends in a space where you can gather with masks and/or face shields and adequate distancing and share tea, coffee, and conversation. It may not be as “personal” as we would like or we hope to have in the future, but it can be truly intimate if we remember just how deeply interconnected our lives actually are. Don’t let the circumstances of quarantine trick you into believing that you are not still a part of a marvelous intimate Cosmos.


 

Open Heart

Chapter 10 – According to Our Nature – Tao Te Ching, interpretation by William Martin

Can we embrace both the acceptable
and unacceptable parts of ourselves?
Can we breathe as easily as innocent babies?
Can we see the world clearly
and without judgment?
Can we act with loving-kindness
yet remain unknown and unsung?
Can we watch all things come and go,
yet remain undisturbed?
Can we accept our countless thoughts and opinions,
yet not take them seriously?

If we can do this we are acting
according to the virtue that is naturally ours;
nourishing all things, but possessing nothing;
enjoying all things, but clinging to nothing;
working diligently,
but claiming credit for nothing;
growing is wisdom, but controlling nothing.



Recently, while listening to the Plum Village chant, “Namo’avolo” I had an experience that is still too new and too personal to share in detail. But my heart opened. It wasn’t an intellectual breakthrough, it was a breaking of my heart. I realized that my whole life has been an attempt to armor against being vulnerable, against being “weak.” I have avoided “open-hearted” spiritual practices and kept my mind searching for more rational, intellectual, and armored paths. My ways of approaching Zen and Taoism have been precisely this.

The crux of this opening is the realization that I no longer have to be assured of being on the “winning side.” Humanity may crush its open-hearted members under a load of fear and illusion. But now I realize that, it doesn’t matter! I am not asked to save humanity. No one is asked to save humanity. “Humanity” may never become what it could have been, but – I want to become that! That is all that matters – my own humanity, my own heart, my own soul. I don’t want to succumb to a heart closed in fear and armored in rationality. If some Divine authority were to tell me, “Humanity will not, as a species, wake up and become what it could have been. It will perish.” I would still choose the open-hearted path and live as fully into that existence as I am able.

This is a raw and new sensation and I am sure my psyche will hurry in an attempt to repair the armor, but it’s too late. I’m no longer afraid, not like I have been. I’ve set my direction; and however I practice Taoism, Buddhism, shamanism, or any other “ism” from now on, it will be to keep my heart opening into ever more spaciousness and freedom from fear.


Energy From the Void

Walking this path,
we experience inexhaustible energy.
From what appears an empty void,
we find the bounty of life.

Our edginess, tension,
anger, and turmoil
begin to settle down.
In their place we find
a deep tranquility,
that has been here waiting
since before the beginning
of beginning-less time.    

Chapter 4 of The Tao Te Ching – trans. William Martin

We experience the “empty void” in many different ways. Some traditions call this experience, “the dark night of the soul.” It is sometimes an intense, seldom-repeated descent into the abyss of despair and hopelessness. It can often, however, be a periodic recurrence of doubt and angst, calling trust and assurance into question, pulling us off our center, and sapping our energy.

In one of its many paradoxes, the Tao uses these experiences to bring a renewal of energy that is yet more powerful than what we felt before the void appeared. Often the energy of the Tao becomes subtly replaced by an energy that is simply ego-generated. It is an, “I’ve got this now. Here we go!” sort of thing. This pseudo-energy soon exhausts itself because it has no eternal roots. We are left wondering, “What happened?”

A necessary period of withdrawal, surrender, and submission replaces the self-confident assurance we had enjoyed. This is a gift. Without it we would continue to become more and more separate from our Source, less and less humble and effective in our life. When energy returns we recognize its Source and feel our connection to the Tao in yet a greater depth and joy.

Self-generated tranquility, dependent on the arrangement of finances, relationships, and social norms cannot substitute for the real thing. True tranquility is a birthright of every being. It resides in the eternal nature of all beings. That nature is often called the Soul. Look there for the real deal when the substitute fails.

July 15, 2020 – Tao Chapter 2

Today I am working with the second chapter of The Tao Te Ching (from A Path and a Practice by William Martin)

Chapter 2 – Opposites

Beauty cannot exist
without ugliness.
Virtue cannot exist
without vice.
Living, we know death.
Struggling, we know ease.
Rising high, we know the depths.
Being quiet, we understand noise.

Everything gives rise to its opposite,
therefore we work without conscious effort
and teach without agenda.
We enjoy everything
and possess nothing.
Our accomplishments
do not emerge from our ego,
so we do not cling to them.
Thus they benefit all beings.

 

No Longer an Option

Circumstances beyond my control (as are all circumstances!) have led me to modify the parameters of my “retreat.” The Tipping Point which many have warned was approaching is no longer theoretical. It has come. And we must all find ways to return to the deeper and wiser angels of our souls in order to navigate an authentic, truthful, and honorable path through what lies ahead. I can no longer be silent. My nation and my culture have become a morass of insanity, hate, and delusion. There is no longer an option for restoration to what “used to be.” The United States will fall. Exactly how and when I don’t know, but much much sooner than I had expected.

neroDonald Trump is to the United States as Nero was to Rome. The seeds of decline had long been sprouting in the Roman Empire, but it took a succession of insane Emperors to cause the final eruption. Donald Trump is no longer an embarrassment and a joke. He is no longer a clown. He is a certifiably insane psychopath whose pathology echos and enables the psychopathy of our culture. If we vote him out of office, he will still be here, and the ignorance and hate he constellates will remain in the body of our culture until that culture dies and rises, like the Phoenix, from the ashes.

I am still in a sort of retreat, trying to experience my own spiritual path as best I can in the hopes that it will be of help to me and to those who are looking for some new  foundation for life. The old foundations, believe me, are no longer viable. Education, health care, career, community, economics, politics, and all other aspects of our common life will have to be rebuilt on the rubble of what is now falling down around our ears. We must learn to put our energy into the germination of the Phoenix. We won’t see it rise, not as the embodied creatures we now are. But I think we will see it somehow. And it will be glorious!

I am not going to try to rescue this short post with hopeful practices. I believe such practices exist and I will be exploring them in the coming days. I will be using video as my primary vehicle because things are changing in the blink of an eye and I want to respond quickly, authentically, honestly, and with a degree of intuitive emotion. I will not be polished or necessarily consistent. But I will try, sincerely try, to express my own discoveries of a life within the Tao, with the Unseen Cosmos, and with the deeper Realities of Life than I have ever experienced before. This is my only hope for the days ahead; my only possible reason for remaining alive. Bear with me. We’ll have to figure this out as we go along, but I will be here with you for whatever help that might provide.

I will be posting my video “chats” on my YouTube channel. I will be making other changes as we go along.
Hang on. Hold tight. Be at peace deep within your soul.

Love,

Bill

Cloud-Hidden

Hello friends,

I have always enjoyed the title of one of Alan Watts’ books – Cloud Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown. It speaks to me of the peace and rest that anonymity can bring. Public life holds a certain kind of helpfulness, however for an older person, public life can work contrary to the essences of that person’s journey. I believe the world is at a crisis point, a time when profound transition is possible – though not inevitable. I find that I must take a step through the Gate that these times have offered to me. I have taken several periods of “time off” over the years but none have lasted long enough for my silence to bear fruit.

I am going on an extended time of retreat and silence for the rest of the year 2020. Our simple home here in Mt. Shasta and the loving support of Nancy, provide the perfect setting for this retreat. When this unique year has past, I will reevaluate all of my options.

Nancy and I are fine. We are well, healthy, happy and at peace with our work. If you want to keep in touch, please go to Nancy’s blog – Earth Centered Living After 60  There you will find updates on our journey and a way of contacting Nancy. During this time I will not be receiving email. I will not be blogging.  I will be turning my attention to my life-long desire for an experiential, rather than merely intellectual, relationship with the Mystery, the Tao.

The flow of Tao is unpredictable, but I trust that when this exceptional year has past, we will find each other well, safe, and walking the path in peace and hope.

Blessings to us all.

Connected

During this time of health concerns most of us are more physically isolated than ever before in our experience, yet I notice an amazing paradox. In a deeper, more mysterious manner, we seem to be connecting at a deeper level with everything and everyone. connectionRelationships we took for granted are now precious and we are creating new ways of expressing that preciousness to each other. The world of nature which used to be mere b background to our lives, now offers new delight, comfort, and nurture. Social systems which used to inspire only cynicism, now are seen as comprised for the most part of good people trying to do their best for each other.

Nancy sits out in the meadow each evening at 8:00 and drums for ten or fifteen minutes. This is her solidarity with thousands of others who are either drumming or howling at this time. Who would have thought we sophisticated consumers would be doing that? Italians go out on their balconies each evening and play music and sing. Cynicism, though still alive, plays less and less of a role on social media. People are discovering music again as YouTube music videos are soaring in popularity. (My own favorites are on my “Things I Like” page.)

I don’t diminish the seriousness of this pandemic, but I truly believe that the changes it is bringing will be lasting and to our fundamental benefit. When it calms down we will find ourselves more appreciative of simple things, of family and friends, and of the Earth’s nurture. We will be better friends, lovers, and caretakers of the Earth. We will not return to consumption as usual, even if the economists want us to. We will have taken yet another step along the path of transformation and connection.

Bless us all!




 

Here is a short video on connection that might be helpful

Identity

We are not who we think we are. We are the one noticing the thinking, not the thinker of the thoughts. Thoughts think themselves and we mistake them for identity. Thoughts are simply “occurrences” like the motion of air molecules. We call the movement of air, “wind.” We call the movement of thoughts, “us.” When the air stops moving, the wind disappears. When my thoughts stop moving, do I disappear?

Is there “someone” here along with, or behind and beneath all the thoughts? I truly believe that there is, but I cannot name that “someone” because, as Lao-Tzu says, “The name that can be named is not the Eternal Name.” If I name it, that name would not be it. It would simply be another thought. Nevertheless, “he” is there. He is watching the thoughts. He is experiencing life as me. He is unafraid, soft, yielding, without agenda, without control needs. He is the one, and the only one, who actually accomplishes anything. He and the Tao are One.

When I spend too much time with the illusion that I am my thoughts, I naturally become afraid, tense, guarded, and separate – because my thoughts are isolated things, alone behind the wall of my skull. We are all afraid and tense right now because crises like we are facing tend to drive us to our thoughts – thoughts formed and informed by the constant barrage of all types of media.

When we are not controlled by our thoughts we are unafraid. We naturally act with effectiveness and compassion because that is who and what we really are. Let’s let our thoughts become instruments of the Tao. Hold them carefully like you would hold a delicate tool that can do damage if it slips. Don’t grasp them. Let the “real you” guide and use them but never believe that they are you.

One cannot name the Tao, but that does not negate its existence. In fact, the Tao is the essence of all existence. In the same way, I cannot name this “watcher” or “soul” which I claim to be my true identity, nevertheless it remains the essence of who I am – unnamable but real beyond all doubt.