Posted on September 21, 2013
Years ago, my Dad and I were sitting in a duck blind in Eastern Oregon prior to dawn and I mentioned how much I wanted to live near the Oregon Coast. The gist of my reasoning was that the Oregon Coast is beautiful, and having water around was comforting.
There is nothing quite like the sight and sound of water; roar of an ocean or babble of brook. The response from my Dad surprised me; he preferred the high desert and mountains…
It was not the first time I have been surprised by such a response, as my ex- felt the same way, where I always envisioned a place on the water, she felt the opposite.
My dad laughed at my incredulous look, and said he loves being at the pond (one of his favorite places on earth), and it is made better because it is located in Eastern Oregon (which is why he chose Pendleton). He also laughed at the situation with my ex-, saying that my Mom’s thought on the subject is also the opposite of his and, like me, she would rather live next to the ocean.
Why I bring this up, is that there is a special connection to water that inspires me, calms me. I will not think twice to pay more for a sea view room, while others cringe at the thought as they do not see the same value: some people can’t believe someone else would pay so much more for a house (or flat) with a water view, while others cannot comprehend why not.
The beauty of differences in human nature.
Among us all, however, is a tremendous respect for water, and it is an inherent respect as we flowed like water from conception onwards. Beyond the most obvious reason that the majority of our body is made up of the stuff, it is the nature of water that intrigues.
Water is pure: two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. It has no desire other than to be itself.
Natural properties that we should emulate.
Water is resilient. Soft yet incredibly strong. An analogy which is often repeated, is how over time water can turn stone into sand with its relentless flow, creating such marvels as the Grand Canyon. Water never ceases in its pursuit of life…it just keeps on flowing, bending when necessary, and without question follows its nature.
My favorite verse from the Dao de Jing is number eight which parallels water with human nature. If I had to summarize the words of this verse it is: be true to who you are, keep it simple and kind, and flow with your work and in life, without expectations, and you will not be disappointed.
Simple thoughts. Whenever life throws something at me, a trip to the coast (or a creek) is all I need to gain perspective.
As with all words of Lao-zi, they are words of poetry…which makes translation by any non-native speaker close to impossible. Below is the Chinese, and an old translation I made 15 years ago with a lot of help.
The greatest good is like water. Nourishing all in our world without effort, flowing to depths we ignore. Water is therefore like the Dao.
In living, be close to the land
In thinking, be simple from the heart
In dealing with others, be kind with sincere words
In politics and business, do not manipulate
In life, be effective and completely present
When you are content being yourself, your flow gains the respect of those around you.
I do remember when I was studying Chinese and the Dao de Jing, I asked many questions about this verse and finally the person I was studying with said the meaning of the verse “is just like a brook in the mountains: travels from high to low, nourishing, sincere, humble and true to itself…and most of all it sounds beautiful if you shut-up and take time to listen.”
Take the time to listen to what the water (and the world) is saying.
Posted on August 10, 2013
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
This ancient wisdom by Lao-zi is one of the most famous pieces of advice from the Dao de Jing. No matter where you are in life or what difficulties you face, the philosophy is simple: begin resolving the issue by taking that first step.
The smallest of efforts, if consistently taken over time, can have unimaginable results, just as a tiny seed of rice can one day become a great field of grain able to feed a village.
As someone who would rather stay at home and read a good book versus going out to a club or party, I could easily spend my days sitting back over a cup of coffee to contemplate and dream.
Taking that first ‘single step’ is easy in dreams. To actually make an effort is another story. It is easier to keep the dreams internalized, until one day they vanish and are replaced by regret. That is the danger.
Not fun. I’m guessing everyone has experienced such moments to some extent.
Prior to my first trip to China, I received a journal from my sister that had a quote from Joseph Campbell:
“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path.
Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path.
You are not on your own path.
If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.”
Words that are a perfect complement to Lao-zi’s advice at the beginning of this post.
Forging your way through a dense, dark forest has many similarities with forging your way through life: bugs and mosquitoes buzzing around all the time, the occasional leech taking more than they give, but the reward of the adventure is the discovery of beauties that unfold and make life shine.
Creating a path will bring fear and uncertainty, but without those spices of life, is life really worth living?
These quotes of Lao-zi and Campbell rang true during my continued travel in Guilin, where I met people who lived life through those very words.
The previous days along the Li River, reliving the past with the mystical ‘Chinese Fisherman of Folklore’ had me in a reflective mood of the past and the present. Entering the Li River valley and agricultural lands, I began to see people who looked as though they were simply making it day-by-day.
Part of the population left behind during China’s rapid ascension to modernity and wealth. Hearing their stories was the highlight of the trip.
The stories all involved some description of their hardships in one manner or another and all ended with some variation of “we all must keep moving forward – each day, life’s journey begins with the first step.”
While I enjoyed these discussions, as with most older Chinese, it was impossible not to see in their eyes something they were holding back: dark times of the Cultural Revolution. Times I have never heard discussed.
Today is where they are, and in their control.
One strength of people I admire, is the ability to react and thrive in a crisis. No false bravado or panic, but their ability to find the opportunity imbedded in the crisis and move forward.
When John F. Kennedy was asked about his heroism in World War II, he simply said: “It was involuntary, they sank my boat.” He had to find a way to save both himself and his crew; to understand the crisis and take the necessary action to achieve the best resolution possible.
Every crisis brings stress and danger and, while cliché, it also provides opportunity.
As my friends have told me, focus only on ‘wei’ (危), and you will miss the ‘ji’ (机), and the crisis can begin a downward spiral.
The people I met in the Guilin countryside seem to understand this concept of crisis quite well, and adhere to its philosophy. They can control “the now”, and therefore shut-off the worry of what has happened so they can take that fresh first step in their journey through life.
Often it is fear of this first step that is hardest to conquer. To forge ahead knowing you are facing the unknown. Much like finding a place in the forest, where it is most mysterious and dark, but the perfect spot to forge your own path.
There will be danger, yet take that first step and find the opportunities.