Archives for posts with tag: philosophy

bambit

 

When we define some events as good and other events as bad, we instantly qualify them with merit (or demerit) that is really unnecessary and often incorrect. We often find ourselves mired in suffering, sadness and confusion and there’s nothing abnormal about this. It’s very easy to get knocked off-center and to find yourself trying to analyze events in terms of “blessing” or “disaster.”

 

A blog I read posted a “philosophical musing” the author found on Facebook. I don’t need to tell you that a lot of the material on Facebook is neither “deep” nor “thoughtful,” and the author was moved to write her own response, coming from her unique perspective, about the quote. The original phrase was meant to be uplifting or inspiration, but implies a lot of what Taoism (and Buddhism) avoid to begin with, so I thought I would share it here.

 

The quote she found:

There are things we don’t want to happen, but have to accept; things we don’t want to know, but have to learn; and people we can’t live without, but have to let go.”

 

My analytical break-down and  response (edited for space and continuity) from a Taoist perspective:

 

 

I feel that the quote shared on Facebook (as with many quotes on Facebook) is meant to be “deep” and thoughtful, but is really neither.

“There are things we don’t want to happen, but have to accept;”

This part of the quote instantly implies  that things we don’t want are negative, thus forcing us to “accept” these “bad” things when they do. Qualifying life events as good or bad tends to disturb the delicate flow and balance of things and is often unnecessary. From a Taoist perspective, we might say, “it may seem bad at first, but how do we know it’s not a good thing in the end?” rendering our subjugation to “acceptance” null.

We don’t need to accept it, because we are not expecting anything. Keeping a neutral, open mind allows us to let things come and go, even situations that cause pain, because we are not declaring them to be “bad” or “good.”

There’s a Taoist story about a farmer and his son who find a horse that describes this sense of neutrality and openness:

Among the people who lived close to the border, there was a man who led a righteous life. Without reason, his horse escaped, and fled into barbarian territory. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said : “what makes you think this is not a good thing?”

Several months later, his horse returned, accompanied by a superb barbarian stallion. Everyone congratulated him. But the old man said: “what makes you think this cannot be a bad thing?”

The family was richer from a good horse, his son enjoyed riding it, but the son fell off the horse and broke his hip. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said: “what makes you think this is not a good thing!”

One year later, a large party of barbarians entered the border. All the healthy men drew their bows and went to battle. From the people living around the border, nine out of ten died. But just because his son was lame, the old man and his son were both spared.”

A different way to start that the original inspirational quote might be–”there are things we wish would go differently, but we cannot always know what is really the best path for things in our lives until we have opened our mind and given things a chance.”

The next part:

“There are things we don’t want to know, but have to learn”

I wonder if they are trying to imply that there are things we don’t want to know ABOUT? Or are they saying that, “yeah, we know you hate taking calculus–but you still have to stick it out and learn it to become an engineer”? It’s unclear, but I will assume they mean that there are times we are forced to learn about something when we’d rather be doing, or learning, something else.

Learning is always healthy, as is knowing when to let learning go and just be natural without preconception.

In Taoism, we can find a lovely paradox that describes how “unlearning” is better than learning, while reading the Tao Teh Ching which is kindly teaching us. It’s one of the more beautiful (and confusing to some) moments in the Tao Teh Ching. How, after all, can learning cloud our mind while we sit here reading a book which allowed us to come to that understanding? Because learning is neither bad nor good. It is natural and healthy–yet should never be used as a replacement for real spiritual practice.

A good example of what I mean is this:

You could read every book in the library on horseback riding. It would be enjoyable and you would indeed learn things, but there is no substitute for getting in the saddle, on the horse, with reigns in hand.

I can’t imagine there being things I don’t want to learn about, even if they seem to be “terrible” things. And, I remember Lao Tzu’s warning about residing only in books and book learning. Learn and also be in the world.

Learning is magic, after all.

Last part:

“and people we can’t live without, but have to let go.”

In Taoism, we concentrate on the center, developing our internal world, our internal sense of balance and connection. It may sound You-centric, but it does not imply superiority, simply that you are you. You have to start with you. Though we are all connected, in this physical form you can really only approach the world from your physical standpoint (which is where meditation comes in, to expand this reach). All answers are already within.

The more centered your internal universe, the easier it is to take things we THINK we can’t live without.

Letting go IS healthy. But it’s not simply because we cannot live without something and, again, must force ourselves to let go. Letting go should come naturally.

From the Tao Teh Ching:

“Things arise and [the master] lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go. She has but doesn’t possess, acts but doesn’t expect.” (2)

Buddhism also discusses how unhealthy it is to be attached to other people, objects and places. You can be detached and loving. They are not mutually exclusive. “Detachment” is not negative, either. It is just the realistic centered-ness that comes from focusing on inner balance. You may love them, protect them, wish they could be around forever–(of course!) but you are never forced to let go of them because you never possessed them to begin with.

“The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
His heart is as open as the sky.”
(Tao Teh Ching, 12)

Of course we must endure sometimes–but it’s all about perspective.

 

The other blogger’s response to the quote, from a different spiritual perspective. Some of the parallels are interesting.

 

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Smoke Tree, Year 1, Spring 2006

The cycle of seasons is an everlasting circle.

Our ancestors observed the passages of each–relying on a natural calendar to plant, grow, harvest, and repose. Each season brings its own flora, fauna, weather, and personality. Some even compare the seasons to stages of life and growth–with spring usually seen as the young child, emerging from the death of winter.

I can usually “feel” spring well before the calendar clicks over. It sneaks in. Days are cool, but warm at the edges. There’s a subtle shift in smell–the crispness reveals an almost watery scent, like a fishing pond. The plants in my yard begin to put out leaves and buds.

Smoke Tree, Year 2, Spring 2007

In my fervor to move away from New Mexico–I pause now, wondering what might become of the trees and bushes I’ve planted and cared for while living here. Will the next family who moves in simply cut them down? I’ve seen that so many times before. Or will they also enjoy the tiny green leaf buds of my robust Smoke Tree, now over 8 feet tall (who started out the size of a pencil), or the fresh sappy perfume of the Arizona Cypress’ new growth? Maybe children will play near the Red Leaf Sand Cherry, admiring the white blossoms without having memory of the year the tree nearly died from strong, hot winds… I carefully brought it back from the brink and now it grows near the Smoke Tree, brave in the sandy soil. Every time I see the Sand Cherry, I’m reminded that the worse situations can always be put in perspective.

Two years ago, a tamarisk took root in the worst, sandiest part of our yard. Tamarisk, or Salt Cedar, are considered invasive if they get down into native areas–like along the Rio Grande or in tree preserves. However, trimmed and cared for as single specimens, they are beautiful and unafraid. The little tamarisk teased me its first year. I knew it wasn’t a weed. It had a rough, rooty stalk. It grew straight upright quickly–fearlessly. I trimmed branches to keep it from overgrowing nearby plants and watched it soar. Now, it’s well over 11 feet tall. It will outlive me, if my house’s future family doesn’t cut its life short.

Smoke Tree, Year 3, 2008

Spring brings about a fresh beginning–but it’s also like a family vacation back to the familiar personalities of nature.

What will happen to the family of trees in my yard when I’m gone? Nothing lasts forever.

My smoke tree, chronicled here with three years of photos (I will add more photos, I just need to pull out the files), grew from a tiny pencil purchased from the Arbor Day Foundation, into a tree taller than me, with a thick trunk and fluffy flowers. I had such high hopes for New Mexico. I had high hopes for my yard. I planted 10 trees and only two survived the nasty desert weather. Like my time here in New Mexico, I feel as though the trees were kicked around, struggled… and only the strongest survived.

Again, I wonder–what will happen to the smoke tree when I’m gone? What will happen to the juniper and the chaste tree? I’ll do what I can to help them grow and flourish as long as I’m here, but after that, it flows as it goes.

It’s like letting go of children, I think. At some point, I’ll have to trust them to the rest of the world. And when I let them go, it will be like another spring, starting brand new.

(I will take photos of the smoke tree tomorrow–for a 2010 update.)

Edited to add the newest photo of the Smoke Tree (6/12/2010):

Smoke Tree, May 2010

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.

#8
–Lao Tzu, Tao teh Ching

So often, people are caught up in the drama of the illusionary layer of life–forgetting what really matters, and most importantly, losing sight of their center.

The more you try to grasp, the more falls through your fingers. The more you rush ahead, the easier it is to trip. The more you try to reach and take, on tippy toes, the more unstable you are.

Can you forget the self while being yourself? It can easily be done. Respect yourself. Be who you are. Don’t be phony. Don’t try to be what other people think you should be. Don’t rank yourself according to social rules, or social status.

Just be.

It sounds simple, silly, crazy.

As Lao Tzu said, true progress seems like stagnation. True wisdom seems silly.

Be yourself. Hold onto the center.

Recommended Text: A Taoist Miscellany, compiled by Yuang Guang.

This fantastic, unassuming softcover volume is printed in China, and hard to find in the US (although I’ve found it for sale at East Earth Trade Winds). It contains a delightful, engaging assortment of traditional Taoist tales, stories, and anecdotes, culled from a variety of classical sources, including many texts that haven’t been fully translated into English. It also includes many of the more esoteric tales, which are harder to find in other collections.

Great reading!