Archives for posts with tag: zen



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.



Mint, year 2

I met her in spring.

She moved into an adjoining studio at the art space we rented–her space transformed into rows of books and curios. A quirky table supported her laptop and the walls became creative collages and paintings. Ken met her first–and said, “you’ve got to meet her! You’re going to love her.” He was excited–hoping she and I would bump into each other sooner rather than later.

We instantly hit it off. She was an artist and writer–vibrant, in touch, full of energy. Gardening was one of her expressive connections to the world, having owned a nursery, and plants just seemed to leap into being at her touch. She turned the sandy yard around her adobe house into a bounty of vegetables and fruit–Moonflowers clinging to the fences and corners. A few native silver nightshade cultivated to add punctuation.

She shared seeds and mint cuttings with me the following year. They were from plants she’d cultivated herself. Beans, peppers, tomatoes, hollyhocks. The mint arrived in a glass Pepsi bottle, fluffy and bright green–ready for transport. New roots suspended in clear water. I planted everything. The seeds went from seedlings to plants, to fruit and beans–from which I again saved seeds to grow the next year. Mingled with seeds my dad had sent me, that year my garden thrived–even in the poor, alkaline, sandy soil that I had to work with.

I planted the mint at 5 locations in the yard and carefully tended it.

Mint, year 2

In mid-summer, we had a falling out. The ebb and flow of human connection. The mint seemed to suffer briefly–curling back a bit, but every time I saw them and the young plants, I thought fondly of her, and of all of the plant ancestors from which the seeds and cuttings had come. We had participated in an age-old technique, growing and sharing seeds, so that if we could pull the camera back past our present day, we could see the connections between all of the plants and seeds in our area, our state, our country, the world. A hundred seed traders, a hundred thousand plants, a hundred thousand years.

Winter came, the plants died back. The mint curled in on itself, waiting for spring. I saved seeds again.

This year, the garden is growing again. Funded now, at least partially, by second generation seeds from our original share. The mint is back in full force, bigger, bolder, healthier, more green than ever. The hollyhock seeds that she shared, while silent last year, have now popped up–rising, renewing.

And I hope to keep it going for as long as it’s willing to provide.

The roots and seeds we lay down are forever.

Planted, they grow and change–descended from the original gesture. Plant kind seeds, kindness grows.

Though we may move around and change, the roots and seeds we put down leave a trace. Seeds form such a simple, kindly gesture are now deeply rooted in the earth. After I move, the mint will still be established. The hollyhocks will still grow. The legacy is there.

The roots, underground, will return to share again.

Whoever is planted in the Tao
will not be rooted up.
Whoever embraces the Tao
will not slip away.
Her name will be held in honor
from generation to generation.

Let the Tao be present in your life
and you will become genuine.
Let it be present in your family
and your family will flourish.
Let it be present in your country
and your country will be an example
to all countries in the world.
Let it be present in the universe
and the universe will sing.

How do I know this is true?
By looking inside myself.

–from the Tao Teh Ching, Stephen Mitchell translation.

Beans, second year

posted on my main blog –

Stolen camera, pawnbrokers, and Tao.

Monday Morning–crisp, cold, refreshing.

When there are Mondays like this, where the grass and cottonwood leaves are encrusted in a crackling shell, you can’t imagine or remember that only a short time earlier, the weather was greasy-hot, permeating everything like the sticky black tar that liquifies in the cracks of parking lots. You can’t fathom that you were walking around, a few limp pieces of clothing clinging, in the hot-dread of late August. And yet, here it is–fresh, cold. Your breath materializes. You feel alive. The annuals are bowing down, returning to the ground. The perennials are buckling in for the ride. Your favorite tree emerges as a silent, hibernating skeleton. Arm-wave branches bear only a few little yellow medallions and the sky becomes San Francisco.

The progression of the seasons. The endless cycle of life. Before you know it, the icy ground will be giving way to shoots and spring crocus. People begin washing their cars in their driveways–it won’t be too cold to splash and foam. Home Dept will lay out flats of new plants. The gray sky will give slowly to a light warm which is cool at the edges.

And you’ll wonder where you will be that summer, that winter.

And you’ll wonder why you never told that secret high school crush that the thought of them made a candle light somewhere.

And you’ll wonder what you might do this year, next year, how much bigger that favorite tree will grow, and how your car–your trusty car–will eventually meet its end. How you might look, where your hairline will go.

And, you’ll find yourself having to find creative places to stash and stack your wardrobe from the previous season.

The day after tomorrow, and more days after tomorrow.

The same moon Lao Tzu, Julius Caesar, Livia, Rumi, Socrates, and Hatshepsut all saw, the same moon you see, we see, that poets and painters and writers have hailed and railed, will continue rising, moving closer, pulling farther away with each cycle, each rythm. A perfect dance.

From the 4th floor Fine Arts Library, the southern part of the city spreads out like a brick and treetop blanket, dipping here and there, allowing apartments and powerlines and flapping laundry on balconies to peek through. As the sun is slipping low in the sky, the desert is wide and far. As if it has no end. The edge of the curving planet.

I can see the divet the Rio Grande has punched into the valley’s base through the side-front windows. Cottonwoods punctuate the red banks and mountains formed during volcanic disturbances arch and curve; a misty backdrop. The mist, likely dirt. Coyotes, road runners, prarie dogs, wind scorpions inhabit the flat gray-yellow of the desert farther beyond.

I can see onto the tops of buildings. Granulated roof-stuff, like granola and cinnamon sugar, decorate the flat, human-tended surfaces. You can imagine hopping from one rooftop to another, light-footed, so the inhabitants don’t even know you’re there, yet you might be able to catch the scent of simmering spaghetti from a cocked kitchen window if you leapt to the right spot.

Seeing the mix of human-made and nautral is eye-opening from this height. Many of these buildings and plants are new, erected only a decade or so ago. Some are much older, having seen entire generations pad past on sidewalks flecked and cracked. I think of how the trees and buildings and streets will grow, change, morph, evolve over time–how they have since they began, how they will continue after I’m gone, how they have always continued in some form. How the natural flow and flux is the most innate thing there is.

Like Shiprock, which will one day be eroded down to dust, all of these things will change–yet the process of change remains the same.