Didn’t John Howard and George Bush know when it was time to ‘Retire’?

Image taken from The Age

John Howard

Image taken from the Age

9. Retire

Fill a cup to its brim and it is easily spilled

Temper a sword to its hardest and it is easily broken

Amass the greatest treasure and it is easily stolen

Claim credit and honour and you easily fall

Retire once your purpose is achieved – this is natural

Translation variously sourced and compiled at www.chinapage.com

I’ve noticed that weeds are just plants that have overgrown their welcome.  Know what I mean?  If they just knew when to stop, they could quite easily cohabit with other plants.  But unfortunately, they just don’t seem to get what Lao Tze is telling us here and so make a nuisance of themselves!

But plants are not the only weeds around.  I’m sure we’ve all encountered human ‘weeds’ too; people who just don’t know when to stop.  It may have been someone who literally overstayed their welcome whether in your home, organization or country.  I am thinking, for instance, of guests who have become too reliant on your hospitality or people in management roles who have stayed too long and have nothing fresh to offer their organization or prime ministers (see The Age report) or presidents (see this CNN poll) who have refused to give up their positions of power.

Now, whilst it’s easy to recognize weed-like behavior in others, what is less recognizable is our own weed-like behavior.  You see, I think that we too sometimes lack the awareness and the will to know when ‘enough is enough’, when we need to pull back and let things take their course.

Pulling back and letting go, or ‘retiring‘, as the Tao Te Ching describes it is not so easy to do especially when you feel you’ve invested so much into something.  It’s your ‘baby‘ and I mean that literally as well as metaphorically.  No one else knows it as well as you do.  No one else will care for it or manage it as successfully as you can.  And so, with this kind of thinking, we hold on tightly to the reins of our ‘baby’.

What we don’t realize is that the original creative energy that we had expanded into our ‘baby’ has reached its capacity and is starting to spill (disperse), break or get ‘stolen’, often by the very ‘baby’ itself.  The baby wants to use what you have invested in it to do its own creative work and understandably so.  If it was allowed to do this, it would not need to ‘steal’ from your investment.  Instead, it would acknowledge, use and build on what you have built freely and gratefully without shame or inhibition!    This is natural.  In fact, the creative work/output of your ‘baby’ is surely a testament to the great work that was put into it by you!

It’s not that by letting go of the reins we are admitting that we have nothing more to contribute and no more creative work left to do.  Hardly.  Rather, we are moving aside for fresh creative work by others and moving toward fresh creative work for ourselves somewhere else, in a different capacity perhaps or in a different environment.

Lao Tze also makes a point about claiming credit and honor, warning us that if we do, we will fall (flat on our face, I might add :-)).  Have you ever wondered why this is so?  Here is what I think.

When we try to claim credit and honor for ourselves, we fail to recognize the interconnected nature of our lives.  If you were to honestly ask yourself how you might be solely responsible for a particular outcome, you will find that there was never a point when you were ‘alone‘ in your creative work for there is an interconnectedness permeating our very existence.  Could you have done your creative work, for instance, without the particular circumstances at the time?  Could you have done it if not for all the experiences you’d had up till that point?  Could you have done it if not for all the people and things that were involved in those experiences?

At any given time, we are the product of all our history up until that point and it is on that history that we draw when we work towards our goals, often unconsciously.  To claim credit and honor for ourselves is to undermine the role of this history whether or not you believe your ability to do your creative work came about because or despite it! It also reinforces our erroneous perception of ‘separation‘ which in turn prevents us from drawing freely and fully from the Way, the source of all energy!

So, yes, we need to learn when to retire and we do that by recognizing when our purpose is fulfilled.  And when is that?  I’d like to take that point up in my next post.

Lucy Lopez

Learning to live the Wisdom of the Tao post by post!

How can I live without serving Myself?

cropped-hilliard-crk8-13jan07-1.jpg

7. Complete

Nature is complete because it does not serve itself

The Sage places himself after and finds himself before

Ignores his desire and finds himself content

He is complete because he does not serve himself

How do you ‘not serve yourself’ when, on some level at least, you have to?  I mean, you do have to look after your physical well being – have a roof above your head, food and clothing.

Perhaps the next verse from the Tao Te Ching might help:

8. Water

The best of man is like water

Which benefits all things and does not contend with them

Which flows in places that others disdain

Where it is with harmony with the Way

So the Sage

Lives within nature

Thinks within the deep

Gives within impartiality

Speaks within trust

Governs within order

Crafts within ability

Acts within opportunity

He does not contend and none contend against him

Translation variously sourced and compiled at www.chinapage.com

I don’t know about you, but these ideas strike such a beautiful chord within me.  I imagine myself being like water, benefiting all things without coming into any conflict.  I imagine what it would be like flowing effortlessly and joyously into places that I, as my conditioned, my ‘less than best’ self, would not want to go to.  I imagine myself being in complete harmony with the very source of life:

Living within nature (not at odds with it), thinking within the mind of unity (not the separatist ego-mind), giving without discrimination of any sort, speaking as if there was nothing but trust, governing within order since disorder can never be governed, crafting, working, producing within ability because disability or inability is unproductive and acting within opportunity, realizing that every situation, every moment is a moment of opportunity, of infinite possibility.

It is an amazingly powerful and liberating way to live.  How tremendously empowering it would be to start each day in this way, indeed in this Way, and to return to it often in the course of a day when the mind has likely slipped away from the Way i.e. a-Way!  It occurs to me that when one lives this way, serving one self is simply impossible, for everything that one does will, by default, provide for or benefit oneself even as it provides for or benefits all.

You might say it is a matter of consciousness – what consciousness do we live each moment in?  A single, separate mind/being consciousness or a unified, complete mind/being consciousness?  What are your thoughts?

Lucy Lopez

Learning to live the Wisdom of the Tao post by post!

Where is my Consciousness of Vigilance?

Image taken from CNN Heroes

Phymean Noun didn’t think twice about tossing the remnants of her lunch into the trash heap as she walked down a busy street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city.  But she certainly wasn’t prepared for what followed.  She witnessed several children fighting each other for her chicken bones.  It horrified her.  But it also motivated her so that six years later, Phymean Noun spent $30,000 of her own to feed, clothe, educate and provide health care to 240 children from a trash dump.

I heard today on some television program, the comment in the form of a question in relation to the Victorian bushfires: ‘Why does it take such extreme tragedies to motivate us to care and give?’

I’ll be honest.  Much as I am inclined to agree with the comment I cannot be sure if the assertion is valid.  It implies that we tend not to give unless there is a (much publicized) catastrophe.  In other words, it takes a lot to move us out of apathy or complacency to activate our charitable joints toward our fellow human beings.  It would seem that our tolerance for the hardship of others is increasing, while, dare I say it, our tolerance for our personal hardship keeps plummeting (consider the increasing number of people on anti-depressants, painkillers and other pharmacological modifiers).

That said, it is true that these sorts of events and, at least as importantly, the reporting of them, are able to attract mass and rapid reactions in the form of cash and kind.  In the meantime, however, silent and invisible tragedies happen throughout the world everyday:

“Imagine the horror of the world if a major earthquake were to occur and people stood by and watched without assisting the survivors! Yet every day, the equivalent of a major earthquake killing over 30,000 young children occurs to a disturbingly muted response. They die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

UNICEF, Progress of Nations, 2000

I think the words ‘scrutiny’ and ‘conscience’ are important for it seems to me that I, for one, am not preoccupied with maintaining a consciousness of vigilance over the welfare of my fellow human beings, particularly when I maintain an array of ‘local’ interests and responsibilities that justifiably claim all my energy and attention; interests and responsibilities that promise a return on investment for me, be they in the form of children, a career, a mortgage or financial security.

It is not because things are out of my sight that they stay out of my mind.  On the contrary, it is because they are out of my mind that they remain out of sight for if I did have a consciousness of vigilance, I would be actively seeking to identify my less fortunate brothers and sisters and find ways to help them.

I imagine there would be a sense of urgency and/or commitment, not unlike that of Phymean Noun‘s that would keep me restless until I gave it due attention, the kind that would leave me feeling as if there was still unfinished business to attend to as I went to bed each night.  Somehow, I don’t believe it would be a disturbing or anxiety causing sort of restlessness.  Rather, it would be a ‘restlessness’ or ‘experience’ of eagerness, of enthusiasm, a creative energy that would invigorate rather than tire me for there would certainly be no guilt around it!  And, if Lao Tze is right, this experience, despite being drawn upon, ‘will not run dry’.

6. Experience

Experience is a riverbed

Its source hidden, forever flowing

Its entrance, the root of the world

The Way moves within it

Draws upon it, it will not run dry.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at www.chinapage.com

What are your thoughts on this?  Do you feel you have become desensitized to the suffering of others?  Or are you ‘restless’ to seek and help them?

Lucy Lopez

Learning to live the Wisdom of the Tao post by post!

Nature? Who Me???

Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder.Photograph:

The Bridgeman art library/Getty from the Guardian

I confess.  The image above which I saw at the Guardian did get my attention.  I find the colors and the composition most appealing.  And in a rare moment, I did not react in revulsion at the sight of the serpent.  In fact, it hardly looks serpentine!  On the contrary, it appears as an innocuous bystander.  Nice change.

Yes, the image has all the elements of the Genesis/Creation story bar God of course.  A conspicuous absence.  Ah, trick, trick.  So, where is God?  Well, the answer I had as a child was:  God is everywhere.  I was raised Catholic and therefore Creationist by default.  I also did a degree in Science and felt compelled to embrace evolution/Darwinism.  Have I resolved the creation-evolution debate within me?  Absolutely.  My position is – I don’t know.

I mean, once you dispense with the anthropormorphic God, created in man’s own image, then it seems to me that anything is possible.  I mean, whatever position you may be in on the line of this debate, does it not make you ask the same question:  What is the source?  The ultimate reality?  I just happen to give that source, that ultimate reality the name ‘God’.  Actually, truth be told, I give it various names depending on whom I’m speaking to.  I want to give us a cognitive space which we can share and if that happens to be the word ‘God’ or ‘Brahman’ or  the ‘Nameless’ or ‘Allah’ or ‘Love’ or ‘Spirit’ or ‘Tao’ or the ‘Way’, so be it.

Lao Tze talks about this:

The Way is a limitless vessel

Used by the self, it is not filled by the world

It cannot be cut, knotted, dimmed or stilled

Its depths are hidden, ubiquitous and eternal;

I don’t know where it comes from

It comes before nature

And then he says in Verse 5

5. Nature

Nature is not kind

It treats all things impartially

The Sage is not kind

And treats all people impartially

Nature is like a bellows

Empty, yet never ceasing its supply

The more it moves, the more it yields

So the Sage draws upon experience

And cannot be exhausted.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at www.chinapage.com

Which prompted me to write this verse:

I look at a tree and I think

Nature

A bird

Nature

An ocean

Nature

A rainforest

Nature

A sunset

Nature

A mountain

Nature

I look at myself and I think

What a mess my hair is

God, I do look old!

I am not attractive

I am a failure

My kids have no interest in me

Why don’t I look at myself and think

Nature?

If I did look at myself and think ‘nature’, would it help me to be as ‘impartial’ as Nature, the way Lao Tze describes it?  Would it make me ‘not kind’?  And would it enable me to treat all things ‘impartially’?  And if so, would that be a good thing?  I mean to be ‘not kind’ still leaves room for being ‘gentle’ and ‘helpful’ and ‘loving’ and ‘thoughtful’ and ‘wise’ and ‘responsible’, or doesn’t it?  Matter of interpretation, would you say? 🙂

I know one thing from experience:  When I let go of any resistance, whether to an idea or to a person and their beliefs and actions, I find it freeing.   I find myself in a place where my behaviour is not contingent upon what is thought, believed, said or done.  Instead my words and actions spring from an undefined place…could it be that ‘limitless vessel’ that Lao Tze describes?

What is your Greatest Fear?

image097-1

I asked myself an important question today:

What are you most afraid of?

For some reason, I found myself imagining being in a great hall specially designed for people to admit to their greatest fear – the Great Hall of Greatest Fears!  For this momentous occasion, they could choose whether or not they wished to have an audience.

So there I was, preparing to enter the Great Hall of Greatest Fears, having asked myself this question but as yet having no answer.  I could feel myself begin to panic.  Yes, I was afraid of going in there and exposing my lack of awareness! But this was not my greatest fear.

As I felt the panic accelerate, I reminded myself that if I truly wanted to know, I would.  Even before I could complete that thought in my mind, I became aware of a soft, spacious mist from which the answer emerged.  No, it was not in writing and I certainly didn’t ‘hear’ it but it was there and did it surprise me!

You are afraid of not being afraid.

In that moment, it seemed like a ton of ‘stuff’ came cascading down, leaving my mind-space to vanish into nothingness. I felt lightened.

I am afraid of not being afraid.

Well, blow me down!  Where did that come from?  And was it just my mind trying to be clever?  I’ve noticed that when the mind is trying to be clever, it usually has to work hard, turning things over, scrounging for something to impress, rejecting things that are not original and so on.  But this response was spontaneous.  I was going to take it seriously especially because I felt it connect immediately with a spot in my heart somewhere.

I entered the Great Hall not having chosen to have an audience but somehow sensing one.  I took a deep breath, closed my eyes then opened them and spoke loudly:

I am afraid of not being afraid.

I heard a silence and then a gentle wave of laughter which seemed like it would never end.  But almost immediately, a chorus of deep gurgling voices said

Welcome home.

I had been tempted to stomp out of that Great Hall when I first heard the laughter but my feet would not budge acting as if they had been bolted to the ground. In a moment of awareness, I realized then that the Great Hall was my mind.  I realized that I had been conditioned into fear and that its familiarity was reassuring.  I felt safe in my fears.  To leave the prison of my fears felt daunting as I reflected on the many different things that I was afraid of, my lesser fears so to speak.  What might I do if I no longer feared?  Would I go completely out of control?

One of my great fears is to speak my mind, to say things that others might not want to hear.  It has sometimes stopped me from doing so but I realized now that I didn’t ever want to be afraid of this anymore.  I realized that I truly wanted to be free of this and other fears.

You see, I have used my fears to keep me in check, to enable me to be liked and respected.  But it was dawning on me that in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to be free and that means to be free from fear and that means to be natural.  For some reason this experience has drawn to this verse from the Tao Te Ching:

4. Limitless

The Way is a limitless vessel

Used by the self, it is not filled by the world

It cannot be cut, knotted, dimmed or stilled

Its depths are hidden, ubiquitous and eternal

I don’t know where it comes from

It comes before nature.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at www.chinapage.com

So, what’s your greatest fear?  Will your mind allow you to admit it?

Could St Mary’s follow the ‘Way’ of inaction?

100_09311Image taken from Workers Bush Telegraph

I got a little irate today. I received an email (sent to a list that I am on) in which the sender announced that the police would have to get past her to arrest our parish priest, Peter Kennedy. Right, I should hurry up and give you the context.

Our parish of St Mary’s South Brisbane has long been a refuge for many lapsed, disenchanted and dissenting Catholics. It has also been a thorn in the side of many Catholics who might be considered more traditional or more aligned with the official Roman Catholic Church.

Peter Kennedy, has been our leader for 28 years. Peter’s leadership has questioned and refuted fundamental tenets of the Catholic tradition, broken with traditional Catholic ritual and liturgy and established a local tradition of strong social justice advocacy and service.

For some time now and over a range of issues including the use of lay homilists and the admission of gay, lesbian and divorced people as fully participating members in our Eucharistic celebrations, the Archbishop, John Bathersby, has felt compelled to try and bring us in line. Well, this history of attempting to discipline the disobedient and defiant child has now come to a sort of show-down. Peter’s appointment as administrator of our community will terminate on the 21st of this month although he has been offered the options of resigning or retiring by then.

Peter has stated publicly that he will not be moved and that he will stage a sit-in together with those members of our community who wish to join him. Peter has many supporters who admire him for standing up for his beliefs and I am one of them. I am not sure how many of these supporters also fully back all of Peter’s actions but I feel there could be a significant number.

I have been inspired by Peter’s sincerity, his deep compassion, his sense of conviction and his readiness to take action despite the personal toll on him. I have not always agreed with him or his actions but that has never compromised the deep regard I have and will always have for him.

My irritation earlier today rose at the thought that flames were being recklessly fanned in an already tense situation. Why a sit-in, to start with? I mean was there any threat of Peter being forcibly removed from the church? I didn’t think that the Archbishop would have seen a need for that. Surely the termination of Peter’s appointment as administrator does not prevent him from being a member of our community? So why presume that he needs to be removed and forcibly at that?

I hadn’t at the time of my irritation read in the news that the Archbishop had sounded the possibility of the police being asked to remove Peter if he refused to leave voluntarily. Having not long read it, I can now understand the basis of the comments of the sender of the email.

I feel sad that matters have come to this. I feel uneasy too. To be honest, I feel hints of guilt arising every now and again. There are times when I wish I could give unquestioning support to Peter’s actions. I mean, why am I not prepared to do what the sender of the email and others like her are? Why am I not as fired up and passionate about the actions Peter and his advisors seem to be leading us into?

I remember being a lot more passionate about similar things when I was a lot younger. I also remember being a lot less happy and at peace than I am these days. On a deeper level, that sense of peace and joy or contentment remains untouched. On the surface, however, there is an enquiry that’s being conducted in my mind. So once again, I have looked into the Tao Te Ching for some wisdom. Here is what I’ve found in Chapter 3:

3.  Without Action

Not praising the worthy prevents contention

Not esteeming the valuable prevents theft

Not displaying the beautiful prevents desire

In this manner the sage governs people

Emptying their minds

Filling their bellies

Weakening their ambitions

And strengthening their bones

If people lack knowledge and desire

Then they cannot act

If no action is taken

Harmony remains

Translation variously sourced and compiled at www.chinapage.com

If you’ve ever had the impression that the teachings of Lao Tze are like warm honey flowing down an inflamed throat, you might be in for a bit of a shock.  You’d be better of preparing yourself for some serious indigestion for often times, his insights are hard to stomach.  I mean, is this chap truly advocating inaction? And let me tell you, he seems to do this often. For instance, in chapter 43 he says:

43.  Overcoming

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 practised by very few

And earlier  in Chapter 2:

The sage experiences without abstraction

And accomplishes without action

He accepts the ebb and flow of things

Nurtures them, but does not own them

And lives, but does not dwell

Translation variously sourced and compiled at www.chinapage.com

Initially and on the surface, this is disturbing. And yet, you know, it makes sense to me. I mean, so many of my actions are the outcome of a fear-conditioned, separatist mind even when those actions have been carefully reasoned. The problem I think is that, no matter how reasoned and reasonable, they still seem to be contaminated with history. Whereas the action that arises spontaneously, requiring no thought and propelled by the natural energy of love, of the Way, is really ‘beingness’ rather than ‘action’. Know what I mean?

I’m not playing with words here, at least I don’t mean to. I feel I am really getting into what Lao Tze is saying. Most of our action is really ‘reaction’. Something happens and we act based on our history of experiences. But when there is no history to inform us, what we ‘do’ is really just ‘being’, the ‘dance’ of the Presence!

I’ll tell you this. It’s not easy to shed years (or lifetimes) of conditioning which is why Lao Tze’s words may sound absurd and completely impractical. But listen to what he says and you begin to wonder if its truth hasn’t always been staring you in the face while you’ve been deftly avoiding eye contact!

NOT praising the worthy prevents contention

NOT esteeming the valuable prevents theft

NOT displaying the beautiful prevents desire

These are all forms of inaction. And without knowledge and desire, we are free from the need to act. So that we can be and ‘being’ is harmony which, in my experience, is also the seat of spontaneity!

When some of us believe that what we know is right or righter that what others know, we are compelled to take action to defend what we know. That’s how we’ve always done things. But is there a different way?  Perhaps the Way of inaction?

What do you think?

Michelle Obama and the beauty-free Tao

I happened to read a post on the CNN blog about Michelle Obama appearing in Vogue magazine. More interesting to me than the post itself, however, were the comments that followed and there were a lot of them.

Many said that MO is a beautiful, gorgeous, young and intelligent first lady. A few, however, stated in no uncertain terms that ‘beautiful’ she is not while several mentioned her inner beauty. One comment stood out from all the rest for me because it appeared to provide a compelling argument. The gist of it was this:

If you described MO as beautiful, then how would you describe the likes of Halle Barry? You’d have to go off the scale to find something beyond the superlatives for them.

Wow! What a clever argument! I mean, we don’t have the means, linguistic or imaginative, to accommodate every face in our current bandwidth of ‘beautiful’. And since we don’t, let’s just admit that some people are simply not beautiful.

Oops, now that I’ve said that, it does sound rather small-minded, doesn’t it? It sort of reflects my limitations in thinking and perceiving rather than the first lady’s beauty or lack of. I mean, seriously, it’s all happening in my mind, isn’t it, this business about whether she is beautiful or not? It’s my judgment, isn’t it? And quite independent of Michelle, I might add. I mean, do you think she’s aware that I’m sat here in my little apartment, continents apart, Down Under, looking out into a rainy morning, making judgments about her beauty or otherwise?

But hey, I know just where to turn to in moments like this, moments where I become blindingly aware of the limitations of my mind, conditioned as it has been by the capricious beliefs and values of its environment.  Here’s Verse 2 from the Tao Te Ching:

2. Abstraction

When beauty is abstracted
Then ugliness has been implied;
When good is abstracted
Then evil has been implied.

So alive and dead are abstracted from nature,
Difficult and easy abstracted from progress,
Long and short abstracted from contrast,
High and low abstracted from depth,
Song and speech abstracted from melody,
After and before abstracted from sequence.

The sage experiences without abstraction,
And accomplishes without action;
He accepts the ebb and flow of things,
Nurtures them, but does not own them,
And lives, but does not dwell.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at www.chinapage.com

You’ve got to hand it to Lao Tzu and others like him. It’s our tendency to discriminate through judgment that sets up the polarities/abstractions of good and bad, beauty and ugliness.

We have a habit of looking for differences within the immanent properties of naturally occurring things – nature, progress, contrast, depth, melody, sequence. We have this habit of abstracting, building ideas or concepts out of an event, an instance, a moment in time just as I was doing before with Michelle O.

But the sage, (and I am aspiring to sagacity me self J) doesn’t abstract. The sage simply experiences, accepting things as they occur. The sage has no need to see things in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. The sage ‘lives, but does not dwell’ which means she moves freely along with the life stream and is not stuck or attached to anything, physical, mental or emotional. How absolutely freeing that must be!

Michelle, I thank you for giving me cause to recognize my mental foibles. And you did this by simply being a thought in my mind…Power to You, I say! Actually, the thought was mine, in my head…you didn’t do anything at all apart from just being…hmmm…