by: solala towler
I found this attractive little coffee table book several months ago and picked it up on a whim. I read it this weekend and found it to be utterly delightful, along with Diet Coke with Lime! The author, a self-described musician, poet, and teacher, is the editor of The Empty Vessel, A Journal of Contemporary Toaism.
I love conversations, writings, and experiences that cause us to reflect on our life experiences from new and untried perspectives. Some, I have come to understand, become fearful of such experiences. I, however, have long been fascinated by eastern thought, which seems to me to more emphasize how things are alike than western thought which tends to dissect, categorize, compartmentalize, and define reality based on how things differ. I also grow increasingly distressed over our nation’s materialistic culture which seems to value things, possessions, more than people, who are increasingly becoming a means to more things.
I have been pondering lately that even our long-standing denominations of conservative faith and values are so deeply rooted in the protection of materialism in very holy ways. For example: those who have not do not deserve, because they…[blah, blah, blah…fill in the blank with a morally defensible reason] But I digress. [Note to self: explore this in a later entry]
The author starts his little book by asking this simple question: What is the true nature of happiness? Quotations from the text follow… But just in case you don’t read the entry that follows, you must think this beautiful thought that ends the book, By going slowly, watching the timing, and remembering that all life is change, that each unfolding moment is a gift and an opportunity for transformation, we can live a life of richness, completeness, and happiness. Enjoy…
“The Chinese say work on the foundation of your chi first, then all other endeavors will unfold easily and harmoniously. By being still, quiet, and in harmony with our emotions and our thoughts, we strengthen our chi. … By taking charge of our own chi, or vital energy, we can feel more empowered, fulfilled, creative, and in control of our own lives and destinies.”
“Chi is the Chinese word for energy, life force, the animating spirit that is in all things. … Everything that lives contains chi, including plants, trees, animals, oceans, rivers, and people. Chi is what gives things life. Where there is no chi, there is no life. At our death, chi leaves our bodies to mingle with the original source of all life, the Tao.”
The author then discuses the five major organs in Chinese medicine and the positive and negative energies or emotional states that flow from them. He also mentions prenatal chi, jing, which is a fascinating concept. When our organs and their corresponding emotional states are in balance, we live happy, healthy and strong lives.
“When flowing water comes up against a natural dam that is too high for it to surpass, it must simply stand and create a beautiful, peaceful lake. Eventually, when the water level rises above the dam, it can continue on its way. In a similar way, when we are stopped in our tracks by some kind of obstruction in our lives, if we simply stop, pool our resources, and wait patiently until the level of chi rises again, we will be able to overcome the obstruction and continue on our way.”
“When we are filled with chi, we glow and are attractive to others. Our good chi will inspire others to be happy, too. When we have a strong flow of the chi in our bodies, it is easier to find true happiness. We welcome challenges and our joy is contagious—-we feel like we might take over the world! Even our thought processes work better when our chi is strong.”
In the final three chapters of the book, Towler discusses building a strong foundation of chi, emotional fulfillment, and spiritual cultivation, giving specific exercises, which are just wonderful, in each chapter. In the chapter on spiritual cultivation, Solala talks about suffering as part of the balanced ebb and flow of life.
“The ancient Taoists often compared the Tao, or spiritual reality, to water. Water is humble; it always seeks the lowest level. Water conforms to whatever shape it finds itself in. Though soft, water will in time carve through solid rock. In the same way, if we are humble, adaptable, and patient, we can cut through the obstacles in our lives and discover the flow of Tao.”
“If we build our happiness on simple things like love, friendship, good health, and spirit, we can build a sense of happiness that will endure the challenges that life gives us. … The Chinese have a term, wu wei, which means “not doing,” or rather “not doing anything outside the natural flow.”
“To live our lives according to the principle of wu wei, we must learn to slow down and become sensitive to the currents of change in each moment. Thereby, we will always know the correct thing to do or not to do. Wu wei means being able to understand how each action defines or shapes the one coming after it. With this knowledge, we can then best judge what the correct response to any given situation should be.”
“If we are being true to our essential nature, we can always respond in an authentic, spontaneous, and direct manner. Wu wei can also be taken to mean “don’t push the river.”
“Often any one decision we make will have various ramifications further down the line. If we pay attention to our actions at the beginning, we can often save ourselves from problems at the end. Wu wei can also mean “not taking credit for one’s actions.”
“When we do things in a selfless fashion, unattached to a particular outcome, we free ourselves from self-blame or disappointment.”
This reminds me of a line from the movie Big Kahuna. Danny Devito plays a washed up salesman, responding to a young man, one of his business partners in the engineering department. The young man looks down on Danny and a third partner as drunk dissipates. The young engineer knows “the truth.”
He is full of very honest and sincere religious zeal and a rigorous desire to evangelize the “lost.” Danny Devito says to the young naive engineer “the moment you lay your hands on a conversation to mold it, to cause it to flow the way you want it to be, you have ceased to have an authentic experience with another human being. You have taken charge. You have selfishly taken control to manipulate toward an objective. You have become nothing more than a two bit salesman.”
“By paying attention to the details of timing, we can know better how to act in any situation. Thus we can know what to do or “not do” at any time. This knowledge can lead to success, accomplishment, and a sense of happiness that comes from doing each thing in its right time and in the right way.
Wu wei means not doing anything that is against our true nature. When we pretend or attempt to be someone we are not in order to impress or fool other people, nine times out of ten it will backfire on us. But if we just present ourselves naturally, warts and all, we can have an authentic experience and lead a richer, more satisfying life.”
“By going slowly, watching the timing, and remembering that all life is change, that each unfolding moment is a gift and an opportunity for transformation, we can live a life of richness, completeness, and happiness.”