Have you ever had a knot in your shoelace?
You have to bend down to untie it.
Difficulties in life confront us all; people respond in their own ways to adversity. Some succumb, some grow boisterous. Some marshall their determination, some respond with trickery. All too often, hardship will mow a person down.
When confronted with difficulty, those who follow Tao respond with modesty : they conform to the situation. They bow before it, and they concentrate upon it until they find a solution. They do not apply undue force; neither do they acquiesce meekly to fate. They examine the situation and carefully undo it. In the same way you bend down to untie a knot in your shoelace, they bend down to find guidance.
Even modesty can become an error if we become meek and insecure. Some people become so humble that they become self-defeating. They are talented but their personalities are so split that they cannot achieve their potential. Therefore, there must be limits even on modesty. It works. Like anything else, it must be applied in the right manner.
My back is stooped from scholarship,
My eyes are dimmed by history’s words.
Surrounded though I may be by learning,
I still cannot compare with nature’s perfection.
Learning is a passion shared by many of us. There is a great allure to education and a fascination with the accomplishments of civilization. We go to libraries and museums. We go to exhibits showing the diggings from royal tombs. We are enchanted with new inventions. And yet, if we look out our windows and see a tree in its perfection, or gaze into a tide pool, or watch a cat as it strolls its territory, or see the flash of a blue jay, we can see another order of beauty and intelligence in this life.
The works of humanity cannot compare to the works of nature. The works of civilization lack the balance and refinement of nature. Too many times, our accomplishments are tainted by impure motives : profit, hardship, desire for fame, simple greed. We achieve, but we cannot foresee the results because we are unable to place our actions into a greater context.
Nature is a conglomeration of contending forces, of tooth and claw, venom and perfume, mud and excrement, eggs and bones, lightning and lava. It seems chaotic. It seems terrible. And yet, for all its unfathomable workings, it far surpasses the business of our society.
Think about what you do. How much of it can compare to the perfection of nature?
An old man sits on a granite step.
He plucks a treasured guitar.
The strings throb with feeling;
He needs no audience to open his heart.
A boy enthusiastically wants to learn his style.
“Style?” asks the man slowly. “My style is made of
The long road of life, of heartbreak
And joy, and people loved, and loneliness.
Of war and its atrocities.
Of a baby born.
Of burying parents and friends.
My scale is the seven stars of the dipper.
The hollow of my guitar is the space between heaven and earth.
How can I show you my style?
You have your own young life.”
Everyone has their own style in life. The old have perspective. The young have vigor. We can learn from each other, but we cannot have what the other generations possess. We are each shaped by our generations, and to transcend the limitations of our time is a rare occurrence indeed.
The sun rose and set today in twelve hours.
We plucked golden pears from arching branches.
Climbing a thousand steps to a rustic temple,
We made our offerings to the gods.
At nightfall, we sat in warm companionship.
A crescent moon joined our circle.
Dipping water from the silver-braided stream,
We set it bubbling in an earthenware pot.
It’s not easy to brew good tea,
But this teapot has a venerable history:
A scholar once pawned all his books for it.
Now it imparts the flavor of antiquity.
Autumn equinox is the time to reflect upon life. If we have enjoyed a bountiful harvest, we express our thanks. If the year has been difficult so far, then we are happy for what we do have and resolve to do better once the chance comes. The appreciation of life does not require wealth or plenty. It requires only gratitude for the beauty of the world.
Black and orange butterfly —
Wings like a nun’s hands:
First folder in prayer,
Then open in offering.
The world moves toward war. Leaders increase their rhetoric. Armies mass along the border. The world, it seems, never tires of conflict.
We should remember the innocent in life. The delicate, the gossamer, the beautiful. A butterfly lives for a day. It comes into the world with very little reason except to fly and mate. It does not question its destiny. It does not engage in any alchemy to extend its lifespan or to change its lot. It goes about its brief life happily.
A butterfly is always attracted to the beautiful. Whether it is the sun on a blade of grass or the edge of a deep ruby rose, the butterfly spends its brief time dwelling on loveliness.
Even the angry and insane leave the butterfly alone. Why can we not learn to honor the innocence in one another? Maybe we spend too much time dwelling on the ugly. In the name of practicality and realism, we think about strategy, defense, territory, gain, and advantage. We are too late to be like the butterfly. But at least we can honor it, and move as closely as possible to its simple existence.
I love this lake,
Basin of heavenly tears,
Tilted from lunar pull
Jostling its shore.
I love these mountains,
Stark rock outcroppings,
Sculpted by the oceans,
Lifted at some unknown time,
Isolated in a field of vetch,
Cleaved by silver falls.
A sentinel owl regards me unblinkingly,
And beyond, alpine forests form a cadence
To a distant moon.
The earth is overrun by investigators and engineers. The wilderness is made vulgar with the noise of tourists. We don’t need their thermometers and saws. We don’t need bridges and monuments. In the context of Tao, this is to violate the earth with human ambition and to crawl over the landscape like flies over fresh fruit. Instead we should simply walk through this mysterious world without being a burden to it.