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.

A Daily Dose of Tao

man-bloggingI have, for decades, taken regular journeys through the chapters of the Tao Te Ching, writing a daily personal journal of my travels. I have occasionally published some of these reflections (Day by Day With the Tao Te Ching, and 30 Days of Tao). Each time I do this I reinforce some some old understandings and discover many new ones.

During our recent months of transitions I neglected this practice, to my detriment. I have resumed my daily journal and feel as if it is yet another way in which I have returned “home.” It has also been my practice to share part of this continuing journey with those who might be interested in how I perceive the Tao working out in my daily life.

So, I have prepared an on-line version of my daily reflections. I call it, A Daily Dose of Tao. Each day contains a chapter from the Tao Te Ching in one of my own renditions, followed by a few paragraphs that reflect how I see that chapter at this particular point in my life.

If you are interested in sharing this walk, just sign up at the link below and I will send you a link to the page which contains these reflections. I will try to post a new one each day. Like everyone I will have days in which all intentions fall prey to my conditioned mind and I may miss a day now and then.

I do not charge for this daily sharing/study/reflection, but I do depend on my writing providing an income resource for our daily living expenses. Please donate whatever you feel is appropriate by using the donate link and filling in the amount when you are taken to PayPal – using your PayPal account or your credit/debit card. If you wish to send a check, send it to me at 5404 N. Old Stage Road, Mt. Shasta, CA 96067. Let your own financial circumstances and your generosity be your guide.

Sign up whenever you wish and jump into the stream with me. I invite you to email me with any comments or questions you may have regarding my ramblings. If you lose the link to the page, just let me know and I will send it again. I would enjoy having your company on my journey.

Blessings,

Bill

 

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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.