mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: taoist

“the whole world” . . .

truro 30A few weeks ago, I came across a saying online:

“When you realize there is nothing lacking,

 the whole world belongs to you.”   (Lao Tzu)

I don’t know if this quote is attributable to Lao Tzu or not, but it sounds like him, doesn’t it?

A variation that might follow along that theme is this quotation:

“Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” 

I don’t know who said that, but it strikes close to home for me. Throughout many years, being out on my own from an early age, raising children during a long and unhappy first marriage, then patching together a life afterwards with a demanding career in mid-life, I’m habituated towards feeling like my glass was half empty even though my brain might tell me that it was probably more than half full, most of the time.

Yesterday, I don’t know how this happened, but I woke up from that errant dream of being vaguely unhappy. Here’s how it came about.

A ritual I’ve taken on every year after Christmas was to look for the perfect winter coat at the after-holiday discount sales: a puffy but fashionable shiny black down three-quarter length coat with a huge, luxurious coyote or fox fur hood (real) that I had glimpsed in the New York Times Style page years ago and carried the clipping around in my wallet. This hunt served as amusement (or served as withdrawal from holiday shopping,) with a succession of coats tried on, delivered and then, mostly returned to the seller. Sometimes, I would buy one, then give it away to one of my daughters when they needed one more than I did. And so, the elusive coat search continued, at least until now.

Over the weekend, I looked at Patagonia, North Face and Nordstroms before I somehow found myself looking at “vintage LL Bean” listings on Etsy yesterday. I’ve been a fan of LL Bean for their quality, classic stock, especially in decades past. On about the eighth page of listings, I came upon a 1970’s vintage duffle coat, size Medium, in a deep army green with a yoked back, hood and a blue/green woolen plaid lining. It hung gracefully on the model in the photo, not crumpled up and bedraggled like others that were also online. In any case, as soon as I saw it, I instantly felt that the grand hunt for my winter coat was over. It had no fur trim, no contemporary flourishes, just a plain woolen coat that reminded me of my youth, truth be known. I also happen to have a loden shearling hat that G. doesn’t use and a Barbour tan and forest green plaid scarf that matches the color of the coat. Turns out that I had the accessories before I found the coat.

I don’t know if I can convey the sense of home or grounding that I instinctively felt with this coat. Perhaps you know what I mean. It’s as though one goes out looking for something and it turns out to be hanging on the line in your backyard or in a wooden storage chest that you forgot about or something.The other thing that this coat has done is to bring me full circle “back to my beginning” (a la T.S. Eliot) from the extravagances of decorating, food, gifts and spending that the holidays entailed; including taking everything apart, repacking the stockings, the ornaments, replacing broken ones, saying farewell to the Frasier Fir tree that was still fragrant, its needles still fresh to the touch.

As a loner at heart, my interests have been pretty insular for the most part, which is to say that I do most things I enjoy by myself: read, play the piano, cook meals, clean the house, knit, and so on. I realized after finding that coat that I have everything that I have ever wanted (and struggled for) including the most important intangible ones that are not always just up to us. I also noticed that my former habitat of being not very happy for most of my life had shifted to being happy without my truly “getting it” until now. This is not as strange or peculiar as it may sound. In any event, I awakened from feeling unhappy, to understanding that there is nothing keeping me from being happy now, except for old habits I wasn’t that aware of.

“When you realize that there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

Thanks to the Helpers of the Universe who have shielded, guided and pushed me to this place. It feels as though it has been an enormous struggle but perhaps at least half of that burden might have been of my own making and wrestled within my own head. Attitude is everything and mine has been edified by finding an old duffle coat and a quotation that floated by my screen unbeknownst from wherever.

As noted,  the Sage, Helpers and the Cosmos have helped me create a soft landing for my life. I just haven’t felt it to its fullest until now. And I am thankful more than ever.

the middle way . . .

Have you ever overreacted to something and then felt sorry afterwards? I was thinking about this and have come to the conclusion that disappointment is directly proportional to expectation. And you know what a rocky road that can be, right? Sure, the Buddhists and the Taoists and just about everybody else, Zen and otherwise, caution us not to have expectations. To tamp down our ego so that we can take the middle way. That would be nice but difficult sometimes because we are also human. Oh yeah, I forgot about thatIMG_9691!

Being human, we get excited, pouring love into things that we give those whom we care about. Sometimes their reaction is lukewarm, or delayed or whatever it is that didn’t meet our anticipation of what we had hoped for as their joy.

I’ve learned an important lesson which is kind of embarrassing at this stage in my life. And that is, that other people are not like me. In other words, the way that I might react to things is not the way other people do for the simple reason that we are different. Or there are other things going on. Or, whatever. I wonder where my naivete came from and how it has lasted this long?

Acknowledging to myself that I can be human and that others can be human differently, expands my little window on life. Somewhere within, the middle way runs through it.

free at last . . .


When are we finally free of that period in our lives when we look back in order to look forward? I’m just about there, I think. Perhaps it’s because my next birthday is what they call a “milestone.” Or that everyone of us, at one time or another, goes through the Scrooge-like exercise of looking over our lives to see who we have really been so that we may muster up the will and willingness to live a “better life” or at least one that is truly our own.

The Taoist books, thin and succinct, make the argument to simplify our personality, to recognize that problems are mostly derived from our ego lurking around in the background, and to stop wanting things that we don’t need.

The other day, Bel Kaufman, the writer of the book “Up the Downstairs” turned 101. She was quoted as saying:

“I’ve lived a long time, a very long time, 101 years, and I’m still here. I’m done with the doubts and struggles and insecurities of youth. I’m finished with loss and guilt and regret. I’m very old, and nothing is expected of me. Now, provided good health continues, I can do what I want. I can write my memoirs. I can edit my works for future eBooks. I can even do nothing—what a luxury that is! I have new priorities and a new appreciation of time. I enjoy my family more than ever, and also a sunny day and a comfortable bed. I keep up my interest in books and theater and people, and when I’m tired, I rest. My former students write to me and visit me. I had many problems and disasters in my life; fortunately at my age, I don’t remember what they were. I’m glad I am 101.”

I also ran into this saying about change from William James, of all people:

To change one’s life:

Start immediately.

Do it flamboyantly.

No exceptions.

~William James

toeing the tao. . .


So what does it mean to live a taoist life? I added a new tagline to begin the new year: “one woman’s (taoist) way of life.”

Here’s how it happened. . .

While the bottom was falling out of my life over twenty-five years ago (see eggs in one basket), someone gave me the Book of Changes, or the I-Ching, translated by Richard Wilhelm. At first, I thought it was an Oracle book, readings sought by tossing coins to focus on hexagrams that might shed light and wisdom on conundrums facing me when there seemed to be no answers in sight.

I read a lot about the I-Ching and I read the book itself a lot by throwing hexagrams and writing down in spiral notebooks all the words that were intuitively meaningful to me so that I might be able to piece together what it seemed to be saying to me about my very uncertain future.

Over time, as I filled up notebook after notebook of what the hexagrams were relating to me, I began to see a pattern emerge:

a) my questions were often too specific because I was in a rush to learn what might happen to me (yes or no questions about what to do next) so I learned to form broader and more open-ended questions, such as: “what would be helpful for me to know, or understand in such-and-such a situation?” rather than, “will this or that happen?”

b) the majority of the time, I found that I missed nuances or misinterpreted unfavorableness for favorable outcomes that I hoped would come true. In hindsight, the misinterpretations contained some ambiguity to the situation, or some ambivalency within myself that I did not want to admit or to look at.

c) sometimes the I-Ching would ignore my question altogether. And instead, tell me what I really needed to know, even if I didn’t want to ask about a particular situation.

I found that consulting the I-Ching was the equivalent to accessing one’s inner wisdom, one’s higher self and the wisdom of the Cosmos, the Sage, or whatever higher power you believe or don’t believe exists in the Universe.

And because the I-Ching is the foundation of Taoism, with quite a bit of Confucian overlay in the Wilhelm edition, I started to read about the difference between these two ancient Chinese kinds of thought.

In a nutshell, Confucian thought values society over the individual and emphasizes the importance for the individual to be acceptable and recognized by the society in order to be worthwhile. In other words, you are defined only by the judgment and alliance with what others tell you to be or do. In some ways, I find Confucianism more like “Confuse-em ism” because who one becomes is interchangeable with what one thinks others expects of them, rather than being true to oneself. Importance in the community and what others think of you supercedes what you might want to be or do.

Taoism is the individual finding your own way–like Lao Tsu and the Tao te Ching writings in which whatever you do is to do nothing and to want nothing but to be yourself without attachment. Taoist hermits are reclusive and live in the moment for its own sake.

So, toeing the Tao is a way to describe letting one’s energy roam and attract like energy in synchronicity and serendipity. Something like the energy of writing about this here in today’s post.

Postscript: tonight, a new friend wrote to me about purchasing a book on the I-Ching and a number of other chance happenings, asking me what I thought the significance might be to them. My immediate reaction was to suggest that she learn how to consult the I-Ching hexagrams, and to utilize the events as a way of accessing this ancient book of wisdom. I hope that she will try it out. It is a good way to begin, and how it began for me years ago. So I wish her well. And you too.

a taoist hermit. . .

In “About” I write that I think I would like to be a Taoist Hermit. If you read Bill Porter’s books written under the name, Red Pine, he relates stories about looking for Taoist hermits in the wild mountains west of Sian. Sometimes the hermits are in plain sight in a village but there’s no way to truly identify them even if you are looking straight at them. There are stories about hermits who sit alone in their mountain hut on a moonless night, eating only pine needles and drinking drops of dew.

I have been a loner all my life but I don’t think that qualifies me as being a “hermit.”  Here are two definitions of “hermit” I found online:

her·mit:

1. A person who has withdrawn from society and lives a solitary existence; a recluse.

2. A spiced cookie made with molasses, raisins, and nuts.

My existence is pretty solitary which is why being able to write this blog is a way to share who I am and to becoming more known by my family and friends.
So the hermit/recluse part is pretty well established in my lifestyle. Following the Tao begins with a single step (Lao Tzu) and the rest of the journey is the way that I live my life.
Click here if you would like to read a well-written article about the difference between Taoism and Confucianism (or Confuse’em-ism)