Nice Way to End the Year

There was a brief, but brilliant sun break here in Tacoma today, and I decided that I would end the Old Year doing what I love best, walking around taking pictures of birds in the sunshine.

Of course, I knew that since it was Christmas break and this was the first real sunshine we’ve had that there was going to be alot of people out and a lot less birds than usual. So, I was almost prepared for it when I went to nearby Titlow park and encountered two boys running a screaming racing car through the park trails.

Needless to say, ducks were even shyer than usual, and I didn’t see anything that I haven’t seen many times before. Still, I found it impossible to be disappointed by what I did see, including several pairs of Widgeons:

Pair of Widgeons

and several Hooded Mergansers. And the female Hooded Merganser still strikes me as a most elegant lady:

female Hooded Merganser

If You Can Dream It

Though I’m discovering why The Book of Lieh-tzu is generally not regarded as highly as the Taoteching or the Book of Chuang Tzu, it’s hard not appreciate he richness of the Taoist tradition.

When Graham points out that:

Unlike the Indian philosophies, neither of the great Chinese philosophies, Confucianism and Taoism, can be called pessimistic; both assume, not that life is misery, but that joy and misery alternate like day and night, each having its proper place in the world order. If ‘Life is a dream’ implies that no achievement is lasting, it also implies that life can be charged with the wonder of dreams, that we drift spontaneously through events which follow a logic different from that of everyday intelligence, that fears and regrets are as unreal as hopes and desires.

I realize why I’m more drawn to Taoism than to most of the other Eastern traditions I’ve studied.

In a chapter devoted to “dreams,” I found this dream particularly appealing:

Mr Yin of Chou ran a huge estate. The underlings who hurried to serve him never rested from dawn to dusk. There was an old servant with no more strength in his muscles, whom he drove all the harder. By day the servant went to work groaning, at night he slept soundly dulled by fatigue. Losing consciousness, every evening he dreamed that he was lord of the state, enthroned above the people, with all affairs of state under his control. He gave himself up to whatever pleased him, excursions and banquets, palaces and spectacles; his joy was incomparable. Waking, he was a servant again.

When someone condoled with him for having to work so hard, the servant said:

“Man’s term of life is a hundred years, divided between day and night. By day I am a bondman, and my life is bitter indeed; but at night I become a prince, and my joy is incomparable. Why should I complain?”

Mr Yin’s mind was vexed by worldly affairs, his thoughts occupied with the family inheritance, which exhausted him body and mind; and at night he too fell fast asleep dulled by fatigue. And every evening lit’ dreamed that he was harried by every conceivable task, scolded and beaten for every imaginable fault. He muttered and groaned in his sleep, and, there was no relief until dawn. Distressed by this, Mr Yin consulted a friend, who told him:

“With rank high enough to distinguish you, and more property than you need, you are too far above other men. Dreaming at night that you are a slave, reverting from ease to toil, is fortune righting itself. Can you reasonably expect to have it both ways, dreaming as well as awake?”

After hearing his friend’s advice, Mr Yin eased his demands on the servants and reduced the responsibilities which worried him. His ailment took a turn for the better.

Of course, it may be that I’m just suffering from an overload of Scrooge-derived movies that flood the Christmas Season and have molded my perception of the world, but I’d like to believe that a man’s conscience does affect his dreams, allowing him the chance to discover a better way.

Casino Nation Video

I found this video just before Christmas and was tempted to post it but am far too sentimental about Christmas to ruin the day for anyone who might have dropped into my site.

Nor do I want to ruin anyone’s New Year, so today seems like the appropriate day to post it, particularly because I spent a goodly number of hours the last few days upgrading Gallery when they posted a warning that they had discovered serious security flaws that needed to be addressed immediately.

P.S. Yes, I decided to purchase this album on iTunes. I’m glad Browne didn’t feel he had to get this recording deleted to protect his music.

Living in the Moment

Graham introduces chapter 2 of The Book of Lieh-tzu, The Yellow Emperor, thusly:

This chapter is concerned with the Taoist principle of action. Faced with an obstacle, the unenlightened man begins to think about possible benefit and injury, and ponder alternative courses of action. But this thinking does him harm instead of good. A gambler plays better for tiles than for money, because he does not bother to think; a good swimmer learns to handle a boat quickly, because he does not care if it turns over; a drunken man falling from a cart escapes with his life because, being unconscious, he does not stiffen himself before collision. It is especially dangerous to be conscious of oneself. A woman aware that she is beautiful ceases to be beautiful; teachers aware of their own merit soon degenerate.

When I read this, I knew instantly that I would love this chapter because it states a truth I’ve long felt. It’s probably the most important thing I ever learned from sports. I played basketball for nearly thirty years precisely to attain this feeling on a regular basis. Few things feel better than being “in the zone,” that moment when your game is going well and all your shots are dropping, or, in my case, you’re collecting all the rebounds and the player you’re guarding has barely scored. Unfortunately, the moment could easily be dispelled by the sudden THOUGHT that if you don’t make THIS shot your team will lose the game. There’s nothing worse than allowing thoughts of failure or doubt to enter your mind at such moments.

This is precisely the feeling that I attain when I’m practicing Tai Chi by myself and it seems like I’ve manage to master the form, it’s a feeling I’d like to attain when practicing in class.

For me, the actual passage that best exemplifies Graham’s introductory paragraph is this one:

Yen Hui asked Confucius a question:

‘Once I crossed the deep lake of Shang-shen; the ferryman handled the boat like a god. I asked him whether one can be taught to handle a boat. “Yes,” he told me, “anyone who can swim may be taught it; a good swimmer picks it up quickly; as for a diver, he could handle a boat even if he had never seen one before.” I questioned him further, but that was all he had to say. May I ask what he meant?’

‘Hmm. I have been playing with you on the surface for a long time, but we have never penetrated to the substance; have you really found the Way? Anyone who can swim may be taught it, because he takes water lightly. A good swimmer picks it up quickly, because he forgets the water altogether. As for a diver, he could handle a boat without ever having seen one before, because to him the depths seem like dry land, and a boat turning over seems no worse than a cart slipping backwards. Though ten thousand ways of slipping and overturning spread out before him, they cannot enter the doors of his mind; he is relaxed wherever he goes. Gamble for tiles, and you play skilfully; for the clasp of your belt, and you lose confidence; for gold, and you get flustered. You have not lost your skill; but if you hold yourself back, you give weight to something outside you; and whoever does that is inwardly clumsy.’

As Graham points out, it really isn’t Confucius offering this advice, but, rather, Lieh Tzu, or another Taoist writer, since it seems unlikely that Lieh Tzu wrote all of The Book of Lieh-Tzu, putting words in his character’s mouth, and what better character to use than the most revered of all Chinese writers/philosophers?

Still, that last line, “You have not lost your skill; but if you hold yourself back, you give weight to something outside you; and whoever does that is inwardly clumsy” seems remarkably wise. Doubts, in the guise of thoughts, too often make us question what we know to be true, and almost invariably we end up regretting not following our heart. I aspire to reaching a state where I can actually live my life without doubt, and certainly without regret.