The resistance I had to remove

627jan08-1

Have you had those days when you can’t help but feel a little defeated?  Maybe a lot defeated?  When almost everything you attempt just falls flat across you, obstructing your progress?  And sometimes, they might even get up and smack you one so hard you are convinced that there must be some evil omen around you or that Judgment day (even if you don’t normally believe in it) has finally arrived?

Well, I have been having a bunch of those days lately.  Let me see, to start with, it had been a couple of weeks since my telephone had stopped working.  Despite changing the batteries and getting a friend to look at it, it just would not go. People calling my number would hear it ring but at my end it remained silent. Consequently, people who needed to call me for long/longer chats had to resort to calling my mobile.  Not a cheap way of staying in touch and sure to deter many especially in these financially cautious times.

Next, I kept getting rejections or emails politely declining invitations I had sent out to a free and, what I thought was, an enchanting service.  And here I was thinking that I was going to be hit by an avalanche of eager and grateful notes of acceptance!

Late last week, the bank finally caught up with me.  I had been both dreading it and hoping it would happen.  The weight of my negative balance was getting too hard to bear.  So it was with as much regret as relief that I decided to close my account.

It wasn’t long before my body started expressing my sorry state of affairs.  My throat and nasal passage became sore and congested.  I felt a little feverish and weak.  I spent the weekend functioning on about 20% of my normal capacity.

Just yesterday, feeling a trifle better, I put a load of washing in the machine.  Some ten minutes later, a persistent beep told me something was amiss.  I checked the drum to see that no clothes were entangled in any way or that the load had not gone out of balance.  Everything seemed fine.  Well, I would have set and reset the machine at least 6 times to no avail.  I finally gave up.

This morning, I decided I would give it a fresh go.  Once again, the same thing.  This time, however, I decided to watch what was happening.  I noticed that the drum was not spinning in the final spin cycle.  I had run out of ideas now so decided I would get help.  I pulled out the warranty card for the machine realizing I had not registered it.  I thought it might be a good idea to register it first before calling for help.  Fortunately, I was able to register it online.  But first, I had to get the serial number and this required pulling the machine away from the wall to bring the number into view.

Having completed the registration, I decided to go over to my neighbor’s to make the phone call.  Something made me stop, however, and take another look at the washing machine.  For some reason, with the lid open, I ran my fingers along a plastic tube just under the back of the lid.  At this point, I noticed the drum starting to rotate.  “Well….” I thought as my face broke into a smile.  I kept running my fingers along that plastic tube ever so gently, wondering if it had anything to do with the spinning drum or if, in fact, it was the movement of the machine from the wall that might have ‘reset’ or realigned whatever had gone out of balance.  I eventually put the lid down and watched as the machine lustily spun its way to the end of the wash cycle.

It felt like a breakthrough, a critical one at that.  My body which had been racked with fever and discomfort now began to feel some relief.  Almost immediately, my thoughts went to my telephone.  I somehow sensed that I would now be able to get it working again but I decided I would take my time.  I put the washing out on the line, attended to some fresh gardening chores my Tibetan spaniel had thoughtfully left for me and then confidently picked up the phone and its rest.  I gave the rest a few taps and suddenly the whole unit sprung to life making familiar and much missed beeps and brrs.  I tested it by calling it from my mobile.  It sung out as sweetly as it had done a few weeks ago!

I knew I had come to a fresh place, a new door, a promising portal.  Well, here I am at that portal, writing this to share with you.  I’m beginning to wonder, and not for the first time in recent times, whether this aspect affectionately called ‘the universe’ by many, sometimes demands that we demonstrate our willingness to remove whatever resistance we have consciously or unconsciously placed in our own way.  In my case, I believe it was my willingness to complete a form (in order to register my washing machine).

Filling forms is something I have cultivated an unhealthy resistance to but perhaps it was this very resistance I had to remove!  It’s given me motivation to complete the sickening (figuratively and literally) backlog of forms that I have been avoiding for way too long!

Okay, it’s your turn.  Come on now, surely you have similar experiences to share?

How do you retire once your purpose has been fulfilled?

Image from Project Gutenherg

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 said I would take up the point about recognizing when our ‘purpose is fulfilled‘.  How do we do this?  What are the signs that we might look for to know that it is time to move on?

Many years ago, I had a well-paid job that I had carefully engineered my way into.  No, I did not do anything unethical to secure it.  I just happened to know how to put my best foot forward, so to speak, and match my qualifications and experience as tightly as I could with what the employer wanted.  It is a skill that I sill use when I help people put their resumes together and prepare for job interviews.

Without wanting to go into too many details here, I will say that I was desperately unhappy in this job.  One person in particular seemed to make my life miserable; at least that was what I believed.  Today, I realize that my misery was a choice I made, lacking in awareness as I did back then.  It was certainly not something that was forced upon me as if I were a helpless victim.

Anyway, I held on to that job because it paid well and it gave me a sense of power and purpose. Again, that was what I believed it did.  Things kept getting worse and the more I sought to retain control, the less I was able to.  It got so bad that my body started expressing my fears, my rapid loss of control and my increasing sense of resentment and injustice.  I would frequently feel nauseous and my skin broke out in what looked like blisters except that they were rather dense and could not be punctured.

I knew deep down that I should leave but I was afraid to.  I didn’t know if I would get another job like that. I was afraid to lose whatever it was I thought I had – financial security, prestige, power.  Each morning I went to bed with my bitter unhappiness and each morning I awoke with an anxiety and sense of doom that filled my chest and stomach.  Thoughts of resigning kept entering my mind but I still refused to let go of this ‘boulder’ that I was carrying even though  it kept getting heavier.

One day, literally ‘out of the blue’, a former colleague of mine called my mobile and asked if I would be interested in a job at his organization.  He needed someone to work alongside himm providing the sorts of skills and expertise that I had.  He even said that we could work out a salary package that would be no less than what I was currently earning mentioning a figure that corresponded with my current salary.   I could not believe what was happening.  I had not been in touch with this person for at least two years and as far as I knew, he did not know where I was working, in what capacity and how much I was earning.  It was all I needed to hand in my resignation which, by the way, I had already written!  So I did.

The following day was my last day at work and I could not wait to get back home and contact my ex-colleague.  Now this is the part that is going to sound bizarre.  All my attempts to contact him failed!  I could not get him by phone, email or mobile and despite leaving messages for him, I never heard from him again.  All these years later, I still haven’t!  I have to admit that there were times in the months that followed when I seriously doubted if I had actually received a call from him!  The whole episode certainly seemed inexplicable any other way and yet, I know I did get that call.

Looking back on that experience with the benefit of distance and time, it is easy to recognize the signs that were first hinting at, then encouraging and finally forcing me to move on.  I just refused to pay attention to them.  Clearly, I was not flowing with the Way.

If I had allowed myself to listen to my feelings and be guided by them, I would have acknowledged the intense unhappiness I was feeling instead of constantly trying to overcome it by dwelling on the injustice I perceived, a perception that came out of my ego-mind/thinking.  Having allowed myself to feel and explore that unhappiness, I would have then been able to come to a point of free choice – Would I stay and if I did, would I make the changes I needed to make rather than demand them of someone else or would I leave?

I would have further explored these options by observing how I intuitively felt about each one.  Neither was necessarily better than the other but it was important to allow myself to respond freely to each, acknowledging how ‘prepared’ I was for each option. I would have then confidently and lovingly made the choice that was most appropriate at the time, most closely aligned with the Way.

How do I know this?  Because since that experience many years ago, I have been learning and practicing being in the flow, in the Way, and making my decisions from this place.  And I have found this an incredibly easier and more peaceful way of making decisions.  I have also felt much more confident about my decisions.

Admittedly, people around me tend to get more anxious for me than I do myself, often causing them to want to hurry me along or force me into so-called rational or pragmatic decisions.  And admittedly, it is not always easy to avoid being sucked into this way of thinking and acting.  But, I realize that to make decisions or choices without being aligned with the Way, in other words, without being aware, is in the long term unhelpful both to me and to the other people involved.  (In fact, in this regard I have found it useful to seek my own inner wisdom rather than solicit advice from others, who, despite meaning well, may not themselves be aligned in awareness).

So, how does all of this line up with ‘retiring once your purpose is achieved’?  As I said in my previous post, there are two parts to this endeavor –  First, recognizing when your purpose is fulfilled and second,  retiring, moving on.

To recognize when your purpose has been fulfilled, it is necessary to go back to when you first considered doing whatever it was you undertook to do. You would need to honestly ask yourself:  Why did I do it?  What were your thoughts, feelings and intentions back then. Next, you would have to honestly ask yourself:  Has that been accomplished? If yes, then regardless of how much else has been achieved, you know it is time to move on.  You can acknowledge all the ‘extras’ as just that – extras.  But you can now move on without regret.

If, on the other hand, your purpose has not been achieved, then you can choose to stay on but only if you are prepared to make the changes necessary to help you continue where you are in a healthy and productive way.

What most of us find difficult to do is to ‘let go‘, to ‘move on’ (which I discussed in my previous post).  In my case, my initial purpose was to get a job in a field, which on the face of it, seemed far removed from all my previous work experience.  However, once that purpose had been fulfilled, I could not let go.  I stayed on for other reasons, reasons which in the long term caused me to behave in ways that hindered rather than aided my ability to bring the best to my job and to my life more generally.

Perhaps you have had a similar experience or are currently going through one.  Perhaps it relates to a relationship with another person or an object such as a house or car.  Perhaps it relates to a certain habit or activity such as watching the television or following a certain diet.  How did you handle it?  Were you able to retire when your purpose had been fulfilled?  What difficulties did you experience?  Or did you have to be forced out of it kicking and screaming?

Lucy Lopez

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

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?