Saturday, June 24, 2017

Waxing into the Sacred Feminine

     With the summer solstice past, we now enter the time when the nights gradually get longer and longer until the time of the winter solstice.  In ancient cultures, this is the time when the sacred feminine, as represented by the night and the moon, increases in strength.  Let us welcome that sacred feminine -- her receptivity, her nurturing, her profound wisdom -- into our lives.

(illustration courtesy of

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Mind-Expanding Book, Part 2

     Last week I was extolling the wonders of Edward Slingerland's book Trying Not to Try: The Ancient Art of Effortlessness and the Surprising Power of Spontaneity.  Here are some quotes that might give you a taste:
I've argued in this book that the phenomena of wu-wei [effortlessness, flow, spontaneity] and de [the charismatic power that comes from being in that state] are central to human flourishing and cooperation.  The only reason we need to be told that is that recent Western thought has been so obsessed with disembodied rationality that embodied spontaneity -- along with the unique tensions it presents -- has fallen off the radar.  Thinking of moral perfection as a matter of following rules or calculating utility certainly simplifies things.  Reason carefully, throw in a bit of willpower, and you're done.  The problem is that this model is deeply wrong.  It's psychologically unworkable, given what we know about the way the human body-mind operates.  Moreover, it completely fails to reflect how we actually experience our lives.
. . . .
[Scientists] are coming to recognize that the sort of knowledge that we rely on most heavily is hot, emotionally grounded "knowing how" rather than cold, dispassionate "knowing that."  We're made for doing, not thinking.  This has significant implications for everything from how we educate people to how we conduct public debates, make public policy decisions, and think about our personal relationships.
. . . .
Our modern conception of human excellence is too often impoverished, cold, and bloodless.  Success does not always come from thinking more rigorously or striving harder.  In a world increasingly dominated by cram schools, treadmills (literal or otherwise), 24/7 connectivity, and punishing amounts of stress, seeing the world in terms of the power and grace of spontaneity can help us to make better sense of our work, our goals, and our relationships.
This is an important book.  Get it.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Mind-Expanding Book

     Every once in a while comes a book which puts everything into a new perspective.  Edward Slingerland's Trying Not to Try: The Ancient Art of Effortlessness and the Surprising Power of Spontaneity is just that book, at least for me. 

     Dr. Slingerland, professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia, walks the fine line between presenting the potentially dry philosophical history of Asian thought and irreverent humor.  I believe he widely succeeds.

     Slingerland discusses how we can achieve that feeling of flow -- the feeling that things are effortless, without too much thought, that results in bliss and satisfaction.  He then details how the ancient Chinese philosophers sought to achieve that effortlessness -- either by training the self through strict adherence to the Way as in Confucianism, by throwing off societal expectations and following the natural self as in Taoism, by reorganizing society along rational lines as the Mohists advocated, or to escape the domination of the conscious mind by listening to the qi as Zhuangzi taught. 

     In addition to explaining these lines of thought, Slingerland brings in relevant findings from the field of cognitive science and neurology, and peppers it with pithy stories from the ancients.

     This book helped explain why I've long been drawn to the simplicity of Taoism and had trouble with the five-this and eight-that of Confucianism and its relative, Buddhism (not to criticize -- it's just how my brain works, I guess).  Put into practice, this book is potentially life-changing.  Run, do not walk, and get this book.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Wonderful Book, Part 2

     Last week I was describing the scope of Thich Nhat Hanh's book For a Future to be Possible.  While he details the five mindfulness trainings as ethics codes of the highest ideals but realizes that we are human.  Here are a couple of quotes:
The direction of the Five Mindfulness Trainings is the direction of beauty, goodness, and truth.  To transform our collective consciousness into beauty, goodness, and truth, we move in that direction, as we would go in the direction of the sun.  We cannot climb onto the sun, and we don't need to.  To move in that direction is good enough.
And . . .
The situation of the world today is so violent and confused that for a future to be possible, not only individuals, but even nations need to take the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
     A highly recommended book.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Wonderful Book

     A while ago I was listening to an audio program on meditation and the author mentioned a book called For a Future to be Possibleby Thich Nhat Hanh.  It took me some time, but I finally bought the book and read a little bit every night before bed.  I found that it is dense, thoughtful writing that is best taken a little at a time. 

     The author, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh, takes each of the five mindfulness trainings to expound on what each training means.  He answers the questions:  What does it mean to be compassionate and not kill?  What does it mean to be kind and avoid causing suffering?  What does it mean to respect commitments and not engage in sexual misconduct?  What does it mean to speak truthfully and avoid speech that will cause hurt or discord?  What does it mean to ingest only healthful things and avoid things that will cause damage to the body, the mind, the soul, one's relationships, society, and the planet? 

     The author believes that our world is hanging in balance and that to avoid societal catastrophe, we need to reacquaint ourselves with the basics and commit to living by them. 

     [Just a word about the edition -- the only edition that I could find in print was a large-print version (hey, no reading glasses needed!).  If you hunt around you may find a different edition.]

Saturday, May 20, 2017

When I Pray

     Every day when I pray for the leaders of my country and the countries of our world, I always get an image in my mind of those leaders.  But that image isn't what you might expect.  It's not of famous people who grace the news every day.  It's not of wealthy business leaders who try to run more than their businesses.  It's not of religious leaders or philosophers, writers or singers, movie stars or celebrities.

     No, the image is of the common folk.  People like you and I.  We are the leaders of this world.

     Never forget that.  Never lose hope.  Keep leading. 

(image courtesy of

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Fabulous Book, Part 2

     Last week we were discussing the wonderful writer Mary Oliver and her newest collection of essays, Upstream: Selected Essays.  Here's a delicious quote that gives good insight into her impetus for writing:
Knowledge has entertained me and it has shaped me and it has failed me.  Something in me still starves.  In what is probably the most serious inquiry of my life, I have begun to look past reason, past the provable, in other directions.  Now I think there is only one subject worth my attention and that is the precognition of the spiritual side of the world and, within this recognition, the condition of my own spiritual state.  I am not talking about having faith necessarily, although one hopes to.  What I mean by spirituality is not theology, but attitude.  Such interest nourishes me beyond the finest compendium of facts.  In my mind now, in any comparison of demonstrated truths and unproven but vivid intuitions, the truths lose.
     Get this book.