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.



“Therefore the people act, but do not force; they teach without agenda and let freedom emerge without conscious effort.”                 From The Activist’s Tao Te Ching, Chapter 2

Can you sense how desperately our species is searching for a way to regain “control” of things? The unknown future frightens us to the core. For millennia we as a species have been assuaging our fears by an ever-increasing separation from the life around us; by controlbuilding physical, emotional, and spiritual walls around ourselves; and by intense attempts to bring everything that is “not us” into the sphere of our control and exploitation.

Ever since the agricultural revolution, thousands of years ago, we have increasingly separated life into “mine” and “not mine” – into “me” and “out there.” This has caused a fundamental split in our true nature. We are designed to be a compassionate and integral part of the Tao, but we have separated ourselves and are therefore suffering from an existential anxiety that is destroying the Earth in its fear. The more we feel separate, the more we try to control and exploit. The more we try to control and exploit, the more dangerous our world becomes and the more separate we feel. What is going to reverse this suicidal cycle?

The Tao. Even in the midst of the current crisis, many people are finding, to their surprise, a deep security that has always been there; a security that does not reside in control efforts but rather in an awareness that we truly are a part of All. The anxiety settles down and we discover, in retrospect, that we’ve been misguided and lost. Deeper spiritual truths begin to emerge and we slowly, painfully at times, but surely start to recover our forgotten nature. This will be our hope and the energy of our transformed future.

I continue to use my The Activist’s Tao Te Ching – Ancient Advice for a Modern Revolution as my offering to the world. In the video below I am reading from Chapter 2 – “A Quiet Revolution.” I hope my intention to continue giving this gift will be of help; will be connective; will present a vision for a restoration of our true nature that we have forgotten.

Just a 2% Shift!

chimpAs the solstice arrives with a gentle falling of snow, I rejoice at the warmth of our little cabin home and send gratitude to the spirits of the Earth for their eons-long nurture of life. My thoughts turn to intentions for the coming seasons with a mixture of grief and hope. Grief is the reasonable response to a culture which has lost its way, yet hope remains if I take the long-term view that Taoist thought recommends. (I have always said that a Taoist is a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist.)

The chimpanzee differs from the human by a tiny 2% of its DNA, yet what a difference it makes. We marvel at the most intelligent chimps who are able to communicate at a rudimentary level, use tools, solve simple problems, and feel empathy – basically the things a human toddler can do.

When I try to envision what an evolved humanity might be capable of, I am limited by what is essentially a chimp-like perspective compared with that future human. If a human pre-schooler of today were asked to envision his or her ideal future it might be composed of more nap time, more chocolate at lunch, and bigger Lego blocks. To the human of the future, my imaginings might seem as child-like. I have no choice but envision the future using concepts that are familiar to me, but I recognize that these concepts may be quite simplistic in the context of possible transformational evolution.

What if I imagine a DNA shift of 2% in the human species? What if I remind myself that we might be at the very beginning of an evolutionary journey that, if we don’t destroy ourselves, will make our distant progeny as different from us as we are from chimpanzees? Granted, self-destruction is a distinct possibility, but not at all a certainty. The species has adapted to cataclysmic change before and may well adapt again, though not without a period of destruction and chaos. The current period of idiocy, moronic leadership, and insane economic separation between the very rich and the rest of humanity my be seen as a necessary step in the journey – a fever-like symptom of a disease that will eventually be cured.

So, as I envision my own future I want to hold to a sowing the small seeds of my words into the soil of human experience. I want to dream, not of my own desire for the equivalent of bigger Lego blocks and more chocolate, but to envision a symbolic image of a truly transformed future – a 2% transformation that will renew the possibilities of joy and peace on Earth. What might it look like? What might we be like?

Here’s to the 2% Shift!

Which Flow?

salmonMy spouse, Nancy, recently shared an image that came to her in a shamanic meditation – that of conversing with Salmon, who shared wisdom about the “elder” stage of life. In a seeming contrast to popular interpretations of Taoist thinking, the later journey of the salmon is a concentrated, focused imperative to swim upstream in order to get “home.”

This brought to mind that the popular Taoist, “go with the flow” idea has some important caveats. Just which “flow” are we to go with? Is the cultural rush toward oblivion and meaninglessness to be interpreted as the main “flow” of Tao? Or does the Tao actually have a deeper and more powerful current flowing in another direction. Is the current of Tao difficult to discern because it is flowing in this more mysterious place, under the seeming rush of culture?

The stream of culture is shallow and noisy, rushing over rocks and falls and gathering our attention. Where is the deeper stream? And do we have to let some of the imperatives that salmon feel arise to our awareness in order to discover it? There are two paradoxical processes: One – seeming to swim “up stream” against the shallow current of culture. And two – going “with the flow” of the deeper, more powerful and eternal current of Tao.

All the surface streams find their way to the ocean, where the power of water becomes turtlemultiplied a thousandfold. Sea turtles find these immense flows and allow them to facilitate long migrations. These deep currents are so powerful that all surface weather is formed by their action. Does the salmon have an intuitive memory of these depths that allows it to face into the surface current regardless of cost? Has the time spent in the depth of the ocean given it the strength for this journey? Perhaps, in order to find the flow of Tao at this point in my life I must seek out these deeper currents.

The analogy of the salmon isn’t totally applicable to my life, but it has enough resonance to provide me with some wonderful lessons. Culturally speaking, I am swimming upstream on an extremely difficult journey. Like the salmon, I have to touch the deep conviction that I am on a journey home and let nothing interfere with that journey. I cannot stop and let the shallow stream of culture carry me backwards. But, unlike the salmon, perhaps more like the Sea turtle, I have access to a deeper current which I can trust to carry me along this path.

Which flow shall we go with? The conditioned mind says that going with the surface stream of culture is far easier, more entertaining, and full of toys, trinkets, and so-called safety nets. But where will it lead? Home? Hardly. There is an instinct in each of us as powerful as that in the home-bound salmon. But few are willing to heed its imperative. “Futile!” our conditioning says. “Go with the flow,” it insists. But if we want to truly find home, we must swim upstream, all the while gathering our trust, hope, and strength from the Deep Current of Tao that enlivens us, the Earth, and the Cosmos.

Wu-Wei Mind

clutteredmindLife does not have to be as effortful as I make it. When presented with a “difficulty” – that is, anything slightly different from the anticipated smooth and successful navigation of the river of my life – my mind leaps into action. It worries. It imagines scenarios and plans responses. It holds imaginary conversations with real and imaginary people. It argues with itself. It draws fears around itself like a shroud. It whispers demonically how things are all my fault. It whispers self-righteously that things are all somebody else’s fault. In short, it acts as a perpetual motion machine, burning mental energy at an exhausting pace, leaving itself without the resources to respond naturally and appropriately to an actual situation.

At the heart of Taoist philosophy is the idea of wu-wei – a combination of Chinese characters that literally mean, “not-doing” or “non-action.” This phrase is an expression of the Way the Tao, as it moves in all its Cosmic manifestations and responds to situations without undue strain or conscious effort. It is behind the idea of Flow – of the way water moves with fluid power over, under, around, and through obstacles.

I have always been an advocate of wu-wei but not always a very skillful practitioner of that process. I use Qigong and Taiji to assist my body in remaining relaxed, fluid and flexible. I’m not as attentive to keeping my mind relaxed, fluid, and flexible. I realize now that wu-wei must begin in my mind or it will not truly manifest in my external world. This means that I must return to Lao-Tzu’s advice in The Tao Te Ching of, “Can you wait for the mud to settle and the water to clear and right action emerges by itself?”

My mind is not used to waiting. It is conditioned to be impatient and to see the almost infinite stimuli it receives as, “extremely urgent.” To just sit without imaginary conversations, scenarios, and alternative plans until I see clearly, drives my conditioned mind crazy. This practice, however, is the only way for effective action to occur. Action without clarity is the norm in my culture and is the way I have learned to respond. Clarity is almost unknown because it requires hours, days, even months of calmly waiting for the conditioned mind to quiet and for the Tao Mind to see, know, and act. The conditioned mind wants to act immediately and the tragic results fill our world with violence, pain, and ecocide.

When I enter a situation having rehearsed countless scenarios, conversations, and responses I am unable to see and respond to what is actually happening in the moment. I superimpose my projections on the situation or person and respond to that projection. I miss the reality of the person and of the context. My actions are seldom helpful and lead my conditioned mind right back to the, “I should have said …” or, “I should have done …” process and the cycle begins anew, only now reinforced by yet another layer of self-punishment.

I can’t use the same process to quiet my mind that is used to clutter it. That strategy ends up with imaginary conversations and plans about being still and quiet. The classic advice is to patiently wait and the mind will naturally quiet itself. As frustrating as it might seem, it is the only effective way to a wu-wei mind because quiet mindfulness is the natural state of the mind. It has taken us a lifetime to be trained to forget this truth. It will take great patience to return to it. I find that meditative sounds and mantras can help, but all techniques require a quiet accepting patience. If we learn to let the mind quiet for a few seconds we are on our way. Then we’ll find that we can be still for a minute or two. Eventually we will be able to enjoy wu-wei stillness as a habit Then we will find that our mind is ecstatic with relief at finally being itself again and our actions and words will emerge from a place of quiet competence.