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!

‘The Way that can be experienced is not true’


I’ve noticed I get excited when I approach the Tao Te Ching. It’s because I know that I’m likely to encounter profound conundrums that have very practical implications. I mean, this is not esoteric stuff. It is hard-core reality!

For instance, Lao Tze says:

‘The Way that can be experienced is not true’

Huh?  Okay, after the initial koan-ic shock I relax and allow meaning to flow through.  So my first take on this is that my mind, conditioned by this life and possibly many others, typically experiences  ‘things’ as other, as separate from itself. I can assure you from years of personal human experience that it’s not the most useful way of perceiving things. It gives rise to all sorts of separation anxieties – too much separation from those people and things I love and not enough separation from those things I don’t. And it’s always comparing, comparing, comparing and judging, judging, judging, neither of which leaves me feeling particularly good about myself or others.

I mean, imagine one of my elbows comparing itself with one of my eyes.

“You’re luckier than me. You get to see so much more than I do. I’m always having to see things after you’ve had a first look in. And you don’t get nearly as many bruises and bumps as I do…”

“Are you kidding??!!” exclaims the eye with utter incredulity. “If you saw some of the things I did, you’d be more than grateful you had a rear seat facing backward! Besides, everyone’s always peering into me as if there was something wrong with me, not to mention how much harder I have to work especially when she lies or cries. That’s something you just don’t want to have to do…”

You get my point, I hope. I mean, they could see that they are all of the same body you know and just enjoy theirs and each other’s experiences instead of finding reasons to be dissatisfied. Actually, just enjoy regardless of whose experience it is.

So, yes, this mind of mine that sees you as separate from me and the people fighting in Gaza as even more separate isn’t doing me any real favors. I mean, I’m almost always preoccupied with looking after myself because if I don’t who will? And meanwhile a lot of people and things (plants, animals and the world in general) get hurt while I’m more concerned about my wellbeing than I am of theirs. I remember this line which I’ve been told is from a song:

When a mother sees her son as more important than another mother’s son, war happens.

I’m not sure if it’s the exact words, but that’s the gist of it.

So anyway, that’s one of the things about the mind seeing things as separate to itself. And it does that by being the ‘experiencer’ of that thing. But the Way or the Tao is beyond experiencing, so that anything that can be experienced is not the Way/Tao.

I get that. There’s another layer of reality, you know, that has no sense of separation, no sense of experiencer or experienced or experiencing. I think some people describe it as non-duality or some such stuff.

But get that as I might, there is something else about that line that really gets me excited. It really does. I mean, here it is. If what is being experienced is not true, then all the stuff that I do experience is not true! I mean just contemplate that possibility for a moment.

The implications are tremendous especially when it comes to all that awful stuff we experience. Briefly, and for some reason I think brevity is the only way one can deal with something so profound. I mean, I would even suggest silence but that would make this blog thing a bit of a waste of time, wouldn’t it? And we are here with some spare time on our hands right?

So, briefly, what it suggests to me is that there is a point or place or state of mind in which all the stuff of life is no longer true and that point or place or state is the Way!

Beyond the gate of experience flows the Way,
Which is ever greater and more subtle than the world.

Now all I need to do is to slip through that ‘gate of experience’ beyond which flows the Way and just flow with it. And you know what? I’m sure I’ve done it. Many times. It happens when I am present, aware, right in the moment. Trouble is, I keep slipping back into the land of nod, I mean experiences.

Thanks for reading and drop me a line won’t you? Oh by the way, here’s the entire verse from Chapter 1.

1. The Way

The Way that can be experienced is not true;
The world that can be constructed is not true.
The Way manifests all that happens and may happen;
The world represents all that exists and may exist.

To experience without intention is to sense the world;
To experience with intention is to anticipate the world.
These two experiences are indistinguishable;
Their construction differs but their effect is the same.

Beyond the gate of experience flows the Way,
Which is ever greater and more subtle than the world.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at www.chinapage.com