The Right Thing

I enjoyed Boldt’s chapter entitled “The Ease of Abundance” as much as I’ve enjoyed the rest of his work so far. Simply stated, he makes the argument that most of us have everything we need to be happy; all we need to do is to accept that and to overcome the ego’s constant worries.

This passage seems to echo Dave’s comments in the last few days:

There is a Chinese proverb that goes, “If l keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.” The simple message: Be happy and you attract good fortune. Life is much easier, must less of a struggle when we meet it with a smile. Prepare yourself for success. If you ask for success but prepare for failure, you will get failure. You will get the situation you expect, the one you have prepared yourself for. Expect to receive what you require, even when there’s not the slightest sign of it in sight, and act on that expectation. The universe is an abundant place. It’s natural for you to have plenty. Don’t make a virtue out of poverty or struggle. The Taoists reject the belief that poverty is a sign of holiness. They tell us life is to be enjoyed.

{The man of Tao] does not struggle to make money
And does not make a virtue of poverty.


This chapter reminded me of a Roethke poem that I’ve cited earlier in a different context:


Let others probe the mystery if they can.
Time-harried prisoners of Shall and Will-
The right thing happens to the happy man.

The bird flies out, the bird flies back again;
The hill becomes the valley, and is still;
Let others delve that mystery if they can.

God bless the roots! -Body and soul are one
The small become the great, the great the small;
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Child of the dark, he can out leap the sun,
His being single, and that being all:
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Or he sits still, a solid figure when
The self-destructive shake the common wall;
Takes to himself what mystery he can,

And, praising change as the slow night comes on,
Wills what he would, surrendering his will
Till mystery is no more: No more he can.
The right thing happens to the happy man.

As I noted in my original discussion, I happened to reread this poem right after my divorce from my first wife and a turbulent time in my life. In the midst of all that anger, this poem helped me to regain my natural tendency to find joy in my everyday life, for I realized the truth of it immediately.

The Nature of Abundance

There were far more intriguing ideas in Boldt’s chapter entitled “The Nature of Abundance,” than I have time to discuss. Some of the most interesting ideas have to to with the acceptance of the Yin, or feminine, receptive side of our nature. He made me re-examine my willingness to accept from others rather than just wanting to give to others. You’ll have to read the book yourself, though, to explore those ideas.

No, in the middle of Christmas season, and the constant barrage of advertising, I was more impressed with the wisdom found in these ideas:

In modern commercial culture, the excitement of these artificial desires is indispensable to the endless quest to “develop new markets” and keep the economy booming. As Akio Morita, founder of the Sony corporation, put it, “We do not market a product that has been developed already, but develop a market for the product we make.”‘ In other words, first create a desire, then build a product that will seem to fulfill it. This kind of market development relies on what Lao Tzu called the “incitement to envy,” which he decried as the worst of all sins:

No sin can exceed
Incitement to envy;
No calamity’s worse
Than to be discontented.

-Lao Tzu

Of course, I used to teach this concept when I taught mass media many years ago, but when you’re constantly barraged by advertising it’s easy to lose sight of just how manipulative large companies are. You only have to listen to your children or grandchildren, though, to rediscover the extent that advertisers undermine our feelings that we have everything we need to be happy, everything that is except a new Intel-powered Mac Pro. Perhaps we should start a non-profit organization to sponsor ads featuring these lines from Lao Tzu during every Christmas season.

Worst of all, Boldt argues that this approach makes it impossible to feel satisfied even if we buy the products advertised:

It is the avowed mission of the commercial advertiser to insure that we are never content with what we have. While ego desires have been around for as long as human beings, never before in human history has there been such a massive and organized effort to promote them. Anyone who doubts the impact of advertising in shaping world culture simply needs to travel more. The large corporations who fund it certainly believe they are getting their money’s worth. Recently, it was reported that one large manufacturer of athletic shoes paid more to a single celebrity athlete who endorsed its products than it did to its entire third world workforce who actually made the shoes. While the world of advertising and commercial television offers an abundant array of material objects, it relies on a psychology of lack to promote and sell them. The message is clear: without the products being sold, you are not enough, your life is incomplete. Each time we buy something on this basis, we reinforce the feeling of lack. We can never get to a feeling of abundance starting from a feeling of lack. To free ourselves from this kind of influence, it isn’t necessary to reject the material objects themselves, only the idea that we aren’t good enough without them.

If you buy into the idea that you must have certain things to maintain your status among your friends or community, it’s impossible to ever feel secure about the status you’ve attained because you constantly have to buy the latest thing in order to maintain that status. Who can ever have “enough” with that kind of mind state?

Let the Reader Beware

I’ll have to admit that as I got further and further into The Taos of Abundance I discovered that it’s not really the book I thought I was buying. I thought I was buying a book that would offer a different perspective on “consumption,” a sort of how-to-live-life with a different perspective. It is that, but it’s also something more.

In fact, I like the chapter called “The Unity of the Taos” enough that I started checking out the book on line. First I went to Boldt’s web site, and wasn’t particularly attracted by what I found there, as he seems to be licensing people to teach a series of classes based on his ideas. I also found his book discussed on several New Age sites, which throws up many more warning signals.

Gurus, particularly unknown, “New Age” gurus make me extremely nervous. By nature I’m not a “joiner.” That said, I liked an awful lot of what Boldt had to say in this chapter because he drew examples from Buddhism and Taoism that allowed me to better understand some concepts that I’ve encountered in my wide-ranging reading but haven’t been able to integrate with other ideas I’ve read.

More importantly, at least at this point I tend to agree with most of what he has to say, as summarized at the end of this rather long, complicated chapter:

The key to an “enlightened” approach is to be found, not in the literal renunciation of money or things, but in psychological disengagement from the concept of ownership of them. Just as I may employ an ego to function in society, without believing that I ultimately “am” one, so I may employ the things in my care without believing that I, in fact, own them. Even as we may employ an ego identity for purposes of social engagement, so we can use money and things for purposes of creative action.

The critical question and one that warrants continued awareness and self-examination is: What is the motivation behind my desire to acquire money and the things that come with it? The motivation behind any action determines its ultimate effect, which is to say, whether that action will serve to free or enslave us. With respect to the acquisition and spending of money, there are two motivations that bring happiness: pure enjoyment and the desire to serve or help others.

Now, I’m not at all sure that a true Taoist would agree that it’s not necessary to have a “ literal renunciation of money or things,” since many of them seemed to do precisely that, but I’d like to HOPE that that’s true, or it’s too late for me to ever reach an “enlightened approach.”

I also like to think that Boldt is also correct when he argues that there are two motivations that bring happiness. I’ve certainly found the first to be true:

Pure Enjoyment: By pure enjoyment we mean, as Leonardo da Vinci put it, “to love a thing for its own sake and no other reason.” What makes enjoyment less than pure is “the other reasons,” in others words, ulterior motives. Will Rogers described just such a motive when he said, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” On the other hand, any true enjoyment serves to make us feel more deeply connected with everything else.

I like to think that I’ve learned how to do this as I’ve matured though it’s certainly not the way I started out in life. But my experiences have led me in this direction. Though I’ll have to admit that I appreciate it when other’s praise my photos, I take photos because I love taking them. It’s been a constant in my life since I purchased my first Minolta SLR while on duty in Vietnam. Most of my photos have never been seen by anyone but me, and never will be. In other words, I’d be taking photos just like I am even I didn’t have this web page, though probably not as often. As I said when I began blogging, having an audience probably helps me to do better job of what I’d be doing anyway, whether it’s reading poetry or taking photographs.

If you’d told me when I first went to college that I would become a caseworker and then a teacher, I could have only laughed. No, it wasn’t until Vietnam that I decided I wanted to do something more in my life than just make money, which explains why I turned down the Bank of America training and the job at Dun and Bradstreet.

I’m probably more selfish after 30 years of teaching and less willing to personally go out and volunteer, but I continue to contribute to others. I believe my life has been greatly enriched by helping others, that I’ve gotten more back than I gave:

Service to Others: The other motive that brings happiness is the desire to benefit others. In the Hua Hu Ching, Lao Tzu describes it as one of the four cardinal virtues. “The fourth [virtue) is supportiveness; this manifests as service to others without expectation of reward.” This, as he put it, is not an external dogma, but a part of your original nature.

I’m a bit of a loner in nature, an INTP. Perhaps that explains why I was quite impressed with the last sentence in this chapter:

The test of any desire is: Does it serve to make you feel more isolated or more connected with all of life?

A Walk at Titlow Park

When I came out of the YMCA today after my 6:30 Tai Chi class and my 8:00 Pilates class, I was shocked to be greeted by sunshine. Since rain was predicted, I didn’t think it would last long and headed home for Skye’s walk. By the time I finished that I was feeling rather sore, probably the result of not having had a class since last Tuesday.

When the sunshine hung around ‘til after lunch, I decided to recheck the forecast. It still said it was supposed to be mainly rainy, until Friday. Looking out the window suggested otherwise, though. I knew I was too tired to walk either Nisqually or Belfair, but I decided I could handle a short walk at Titlow Park.

So, about 1:30 I headed out to get more pictures. I figured it might be my lucky day since the resident kingfisher actually sat in the tree when I approached rather than flying away. Of course, I didn’t really get close, but it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to this one.

Belted Kingfisher

I managed to get even closer to this cormorant, who was sitting on a branch on the edge of the pond. It was so close, that I couldn’t get it all in the frame at one time. It’s the kind of shot you can only hope to get at a zoo. I had a hard time choosing which of the many shots I liked best, but this was definitely one of them:

Cormorant Up Close

Finally, I spotted a Eurasion Widgeon for the first time ever, even though I published an earlier shot that a bird watcher had identified as a Eurasian Widgeon. Looking at this one, though, I’m sure the other one wasn’t a Eurasian Widgeon.

He’s the male on the right, next to the more familiar male American Widgeon on the left. No mistaking them.

 male Eurasian Widgeon