TAO TE CHING TEACHINGS: Living in Stability

desolate

“The best places to live are level.”

This is also usually  translated as ‘the best place to live is the earth.’ Or ‘Where the Way dwells becomes good ground.’ Either way, it is not a literal teaching. Many Taoists favored living in difficult mountains and terrain that were anything but level! So what does this phrase mean?

In Taoist alchemy, Earth represents our centre, which, like the earth, should be stable and balanced. It becomes our internal crucible. A large portion of alchemy consists of generating and preserving energy or chi. If our centre is not stable, then as soon as we are upset, or our emotions arise, then our energy flies off. It is like pouring water into a cracked bowl – not matter how much we keep filling it up, energy will just keep leaking out of it. If we want to stop that energy from leaking, we must nurture our stability as much as possible.

What is stability? Stability is a harmonious state of inner strength. Remaining calm and placid at all times, we take precautions to prevent anything that could destabilize us. As Ancestor Lu taught:

“When you do not get confused,

Your nature naturally stabilizes;

When your nature naturally stabilizes

Energy naturally returns;

When energy naturally returns

The elixir spontaneously crystallizes

This is what we meant by living in stability

POEM: THE PEARL OF LIBERATION

pearl

The Greater your restraint
The greater your freedom
When you attain the pear of liberation
You are controlled by yourself
Not your circumstances

Don’t Poke the Boil!

Emotional-Trading-547x276

I take very good care of myself. So, I was quite surprised, yesterday, when I noticed I had what appeared to be a large sting on my bottom. I was so surprised, in fact, that I kept poking it, scratching it, and making it worse. Before I realized what a stupid thing that was to do, and resolved to stop.

It made me think about how many of us do the same with our other sources of suffering.

When we become aware that we’re feeling angry, irritable, horny, lonely, or sad, instead of leaving it alone, and letting it pass, we start poking the boil. We remind ourselves that we’re feeling lonely, angry, and unsatisfied. We tell others that we’re feeling that way. And instead of doing things that might resolve those emotions – (like meditation or something productive) – we practically make a comfortable environment for our frustrations and sorrows, so they’ll be more inclined to stick around for good.

But this is no good. It is like getting stung by a bee, but refusing to remove the stinger, pushing it in deeper. By holding onto our problems, and treating them like permanent things, they become just that – permanent problems.

We need to understand that all our negative emotions are temporary and without a permanent reality. They are not a product of our external environment, but originate entirely in the mind.

If we hold onto them, we create a distance between reality and our self. There is You – there is Your Anger – and then there is Reality. But if you take that negative emotion away, everything becomes reality again.

So, the next time you feel angry, lonely, sad, frustrated, or dissatisfied, remind yourself these feelings will end – that they are not permanent – and that they have no basis in reality. No one is to blame for these feelings. Any cause that you can find for them outside of yourself is illusory. It all starts within you, and must be solved within you too.

Tell yourself that you will overcome them. Tell yourself that peace, equanimity, and compassion are the only eternal parts of your being. These negative feelings are just like dust falling on a perfect mirror. Insignificant, tiny particles of non-truth, that can always be cleared away.

Meditation is the best way to keep the mirror clean.

Just stop poking the boil!

Lines Inspired by Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’

Sun Tzu

The true warrior

Abhors both fear and anger

Fear makes us tentative and uncertain;

Small distances becomes insurmountable obstacles

And mice and shadows morph into monsters

Anger promotes rashness

And violent action

The slightest momentary irritation

Can initiate a never-ending war

Both of them destroy clarity

And the perception of reality one needs

To ensure victory

The only victory

Is being peaceful

And if you are peaceful by nature

Then your every action is victorious

Poem: Killing your Hidden Hitler

Hitler

I don’t mean to be

Quite so severe

But sometimes

There is a little dictator

Who storms inside of me

Shoving aside all of my silent Buddhas

To judge the world with all the glistening severity

Of a pristine guillotine

Come here, let me weight your hearts

But you can never take a look at my own

Perfumed with maggots and hungry fungi

How can love creep out

So smothered with vines?

So I try and smother my general

Putting him behind prison bars

Endeavouring to starve him of hatred

By force-feeding him kind words and deeds

But, he still puts up a stubborn fight

Careening around the caverns of my skull, screaming:

“HATE, JEALOUSY, INTOLERANCE, CRUELTY”

As an intoxicating mantra of violence

Silly, silly, inner Hitler

Isn’t it about time for you

To go kill yourself in your bunker?

I don’t care how much of my body’s rent you pay

But if you want to remain

Cohabitant of my consciousness

Then you’re going to have to learn how to love

Accepting Obstacles: The Serendipity of Delay

Sisiphus

Mercury has been in retrograde for at least a week now, and Saturn has been sticking his disruptive fingers into all of my pies. Over the last two weeks, I been beset by constant delays, aberrations, changes of plan, cancellations, obstructions, and complications; and, I’ve no doubt, many of you reading this have been too.

But the serendipity of obstruction and misfortune should not be overlooked. It is very easy to meet frustrations by becoming frustrated; very easy to meet complications by allowing our thought patterns to become complex. What these trying times really demand are patience, fortitude, clarity, acceptance, and farsightedness. If you are able to cling to these five virtues, no matter what, then no disruption will be able to unbalance your stability, no delay will be able to obstruct the free-flow of your spirit.

Delays and obstructions only upset us because we get too attached to our self-created notions of how the future should be. We tend to order our idealized futures very precisely, like a Japanese Zen Rock Garden, with every event, occurrence, and happenstance in its perfect place. So, if something happens that we have not planned, we find it difficult to compute. Our minds struggle to comprehend it, because, logically, it goes against the structuring of our beautiful, perfect plans.

But nature is not structured. Or, at least, not structured in the way we think of structure. Nature moves at its own pace and by its own set of immutable laws. It understands the serendipity of destruction and delay; it knows that every event and occurrence has its part to play in the never-less unfolding of the cosmos.

If a tree grew to its full height in a day, it would likely be lacking in complete strength and stolidity, and tumble down as quickly as it arose.

Plans function in the same way. Very often, we are impatient, and as soon as we visualize a new plan or aim for ourselves, we want it to come into effect immediately. But just how think how dangerous it would be if our intentions worked that quickly!

Imagine you want to be a rock-star. How would you cope with the transition from being an unknown amateur playing empty pubs to performing for millions overnight, and being hounded everywhere you go? Or say it’s your ambition to be great businessman and entrepreneur running a global conglomerate. How you would deal with from being self-employed on a small basis, to suddenly being responsible for thousands of employees, and billions of dollars worth of investments and business transactions? Very likely you would be overwhelmed in a moment, and feel like shitting your pants. Dreams that haven’t been properly prepared for can often seem like nightmares. We need delays and slow developments sometimes so that we can mentally develop the patience, fortitude, and responsibility necessary to bring these long terms goals into fruition. It also gives us time to consider if we truly want the thing we believe we are striving for.

One good example is in a story from the Hare Krishna cannon, told to me by a monk friend of mine.

There was once a young prince who was the scion of a prestigious ruler. But his talents went largely unnoticed by his father, who much rather fancied his brother to be his kingly heir. Upset at being thwarted so, the prince renounced courtly life, and determined that he would one day become the ruler of his kingdom, and that it would be far greater than his brother’s or father’s ever was.

But first, he realized, if he was to be an effective ruler, in control of many people, then he would have to learn how to control his own mind.

So, he gave up his possessions, and disappeared into the forest to spend years meditating and practicing austerities. Eventually, his hardship and effort paid off, and he became enlightened. Krishna was so moved by his devotion, that he appeared to him personally, congratulated him, and gave him a kingdom of his own, even more glorious than that of his father’s.

But the young prince was enlightened now. He had no interest in becoming a ruler. He knew the external world was but an illusion and a fist full of dust. Why would he presume to have the wisdom and power to rule the lives of others?

But Krishna insisted, and he became his own king, imparting the lesson that: only once we have disciplined ourselves, and overcome all selfish ambitions and desires, are we truly in a fit state to live out our dreams.

So do not despair at delay. Accept it, and let it be the weight you lift to improve your strength and fortitude. If you ride it properly, things may turn out far more joyously than your mediocre and silly plans ever could have allowed.

I leave you with these words of Lao Tzu:

The way forward seems to retreat

The level road seems rough

The bright road seems dark

The Tao of Taming Emotions

Tao

I felt a resurgence of emotionality and sensitivity this morning now that Venus is in Cancer, which is something of an unavoidable necessity, after the detached, hyper-creativity of being in that wild, protean horse, Gemini. But while it is important to be aware of our emotions, we must recognize that emotions are but a single aspect of the dynamic interplay of the universe, and treat and use them accordingly. Too often people are heavily controlled and influenced by emotions which we really should not be seeking to give validity or physical expression to. As the Taoist Alchemists warn us, ‘we must not take the servant for the master, or a thief for our son – the consequences would be dire’. Remember who is the ruler in this game. You are the one having the emotions – not being had by the emotions.

Still, there is something of a tendency to worship emotions in The West. We go to the cinema or the theatre, and admire the actors who are most able to whip themselves into a frenzy of passion, love, or anger. But even Socrates, in Plato’s Republic, questioned whether this approach to artistic forms is really healthy for us. These emotionally unstable characters seldom appealed to me. It was the stolid men and women, Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart, Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant, who were always able to keep their cool, even in the wildest of scenarios, that captured my imagination. In this attraction, I can see some of the elements that first led me to Taoism: the emphasis on perseverance, equanimity, and staying centred, no matter which side of the wheel of fortune you happen to be. A true Taoist rises above emotions, circumstances, fortune, misfortune, and all transient things. He is only concerned with the immortal, and the eternal, the changeless and ever-creating but uncreated Tao. He sees emotions for what they are, fleeting clouds across an eternal sky – things to be aware of, not to be controlled by.

Overcoming emotions does not mean becoming austere, insensitive, uncaring, and dull. It means complete freedom. No more being seized by anger. No more being suffocated by sorrow. No more danger from being driven by volatile, selfish desires, or being restricted by groundless fear. Complete freedom, complete liberation. We think of happiness and romantic love as the highest states to which one can aspire. But there is something beyond happiness, something beyond romance.

Some have called this love, bliss, nirvana, enlightenment, God, the transcendent, peace, Heaven, the eternal. But words simply are not fit to describe it. When one attains this state through regular meditation, purification, and alchemical work, you realize that this bliss is liberating, because it is not dependent on anything. You feel happy because you are happiness. You feel loving because you are love. It does not arise because something good happened to you, or disappear because something bad happened to you. It transcends such mediocre considerations.

Even when we lose touch with it, there is no fear. Even when we feel we have lost track of The Way, we know it is always there. We know the sun hasn’t died when the night-time appears, or that the sky hasn’t been destroyed just because we are now under a roof. It is the same with the Tao. It is ever-present, always there, no mattered how obscured the lens of our organism might become.

As Liu-i-Ming often advised “Use the temporal to touch the primordial; use the transient to touch the eternal.” Use your emotions as prima materia that can be governed and transformed into something else. Do not be guided by your emotions; rather, guide your emotions to where you want to go. These are the true metals and chemicals of the alchemist, the base elements that he seeks to refine and purify. Harmonize them, and use them wisely, and you will truly be able to achieve what Chuang Tzu refers to as, ‘going beyond the gods’.