Monday, April 30, 2012

A Complaint Free World

Recently I heard about an organization known as Complaint Free World, their website isn't totally functional at the moment, but its enough to give you the gist. 

Most people realize that complaining isn't a good thing, but this organization is dedicated to creating a world where complaining is no longer the norm.  I picked up Will Bowen's audio book on the subject, and I decided I was going to go for it.

The challenge is this.  Put a bracelet (they sell purple bracelets for the purpose but any will do) on either wrist.  Each time you catch yourself complaining, criticizing or gossiping, switch the bracelet to the other hand.  This will make you aware of just how much of this negative activity you participate in.  The goal is to make it 21 days with the bracelet remaining on the same wrist, meaning not a single complaint in that entire time.  The reason is, it takes 21 days to make a habit, so if you succeed, you have broken the habit of complaining.

I haven't purchased one of their bracelets (thought being purple makes me more likely to) so I opted for a blue Ravenclaw bracelet that I got at the release of the final Harry Potter book.  It's made of the same material, so I figure it will serve the purpose well enough.  If I see a purple one for sale at a gas station or something, I may pick it up, but the bracelet's not really the point.

The people who have succeeded in this challenge, are happier, more peaceful, and more content than they were when they started.  I'm hoping if this challenge works for me, it will also work for others whom I care about.

Wish me luck!

Day 1.

Day 17: A Way You Try to Exemplify Simplicity

Simplicity can be taken into every aspect of your life.  For me, there are a few distinct categories that simplicity is key: food, home, and time.

For food, I have really come to believe that the less processing a food has, the better it is for me.  This results in a lot of raw fruits and veggies, but also in simplified cooking.  I drink more water than any  other beverage, or sometimes tea because they are simply made and my body uses them effectively.  The more processing a food goes through, the farther it gets from the way nature made it, and that, in my opinion, is a very bad thing.  Nature knows what she is doing, always making food in the perfect proportions.

Keeping home simple has become so easy in the new house.  We live out in the country, where life is peaceful and nature is all around us.  I spend every morning watching the birds in our yard, or just enjoying their songs before I wake for the day.  Everyone who visits our place compliments us on the house (it is a beautiful house) but they almost always mention the serenity they feel when they are here.  Most may dismiss this as easy since we have no children to liven up the place.  It was interesting though, that recently we had 21 people here (including 5 kids) at the same time, and still there were comments about the peacefulness.  Some people may not see how this relates to simplicity, but for me, it is.

Time is something that can be very difficult to manage, and most tend to guard their time away from work.  The Captain and I don't like to over plan things.  It happens, mind you, like this weekend where we have many different demands on our time that all happen to fall at once.  But in general, we never plan more than one thing (besides work) a day.  This allows us to pay proper attention to the thing we have planned, but also usually gives us time to relax together in the evenings.  Again, some will say this is easily done without kids, but I have a feeling there is more to it than that.  Captain and I have spent 10 years developing our own lifestyle, and I think a child will fit well into that lifestyle, rather than it changing everything about how we do things.  Don't get me wrong, I know adjustments will have to be made, but I know people that were able to keep themselves while being parents so I feel it's possible for us to.  Remaining flexible is the key to it all.

For me, simplicity is appreciating nature in all its glory and not becoming so hurried that I miss the truly important things in life.  I won't just stop and smell the roses one time, I want to smell them each time I walk by.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Day 16: A Way You Try to Exemplify Compassion

The three treasures of Lao Tzu are often translated as compassion, simplicity, and humility.

Because compassion tends to come naturally to me, I probably don't try as much as I should to exemplify it.  My greatest tool in compassion is empathy.  I am really good at understanding how another is feeling, or at least given them the benefit of the doubt when needed.  Trying not to judge others is the key for my compassion. 

There is a part of me that has recently realized that I tend to have more compassion for those that I don't know than for some that I do know.  There are people in my life I've known for years, and others my entire life.  I think I tend to lack compassion for those whose journey I have shared in such a way.  I judge myself with a harsh microscope most of the time, and those closest to me are likely to also receive such unscrupulous judgement.  This is a flaw in myself that I hope to rectify soon.  My friends and family deserve the best of me, not the least compassionate side of me.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Day 15: Taoist Artwork

Here are some pieces of art which inspire the cultivation of Tao for me.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Day 14: Your Chinese Astrological Sign

Although not strictly a Taoist activity, I am very fascinated by the Chinese astrology, and thought it would be fun to explore it a little more.

I am a white monkey.  Monkeys are problem solves, though they don't seek power.  Then tend to be charismatic and fun, always the life of the party.  They combine cunning like the snake and sturdiness like the ox.  In love, monkeys are known to have steamy love affairs and long epic marriages of the "plate throwing variety".   (Not sure my love life is dramatic enough to qualify for this one.)  The white stands for the element of metal.  Metal people are orderly and calculating.  They live by their principles and should avoid dry places.

I don't really feel like the general monkey description fits me, but I'm sure there are some similarities there somewhere (I don't match my Zodiac sign either).

So, how does the white monkey fare in the year of the blue dragon (2012)?  Dragons and monkeys are very attracted to each other, meaning this will likely be a good year for the monkey.  Many career ideas are in store for the monkey this year (that fits totally!) while arrogance needs to be avoided or loneliness will occur.  In love, the year of the dragon shows single monkey's attracting good mates, however married monkeys should beware of potential trouble causers.  Health wise, monkey's need to be aware of potential problems this year, especially taking care to avoid bloody accidents.  (Always a good idea).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day 13: Favorite Taoist Song

I'm not sure I know a song that is completely Taoist, but several have the leanings, and I do have my favorites.

"Let It Be" will always be a favorite, I loved it before I knew anything about Taoism, and it speaks volumes more to me now.

"Bare Necessities" I love the subtle minimalist messages in this song from The Jungle Book.

"The River" by Garth Brooks is another song that I have always loved.  In fact, I did my final lyrical dance number to this song back in the day.

A couple of newer songs are by Plain White T's: "Rhythm of Love" & "Welcome to Mystery" or Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten".

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Day 12: Favorite Chuang-Tzu Quotes

Ready for some great Chuang-Tzu (Zhuangzi) quotes?  While Lao-Tzu wrote an instruction manual of sorts, Chuang-Tzu teaches through story.

"Where you sit affects the show you see."

"Those who search for absolutes or perfection are on the wrong side of the choice about conventions."

“Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.”

“Life comes from the earth and life returns to the earth.”

 “To be truly ignorant, be content with your own knowledge.”

Day 11: An I-Ching Reading

Today I am supposed to do an I-Ching reading, I'm glad because I've been nervous about something and would not mind consulting the ancient wisdom.

Line 6: __  __ (8)
Line 5: _____ (7)     > K'AN  (water)
Line 4: __  __ (8)
Line 3: _____ (7)
Line 2: _____ (7)     > SUN  (wind)
Line 1: __  __ (8)

K'AN over SUN is hexagram 48: Ching

48. Ching / The Well
Return to the well of goodness.
This hexagram reminds us that we have two wells, one is an external source of guidance like the I-Ching, the other an internal source of guidance that is our own character.  It encourages you to concentrate on developing, purifying, and utilizing both of your wells.  It also encourages you not to muddy the well of your good character in any way now, advising you to forgive others their faults and realize that a clear well exists inside them.

I interpret this as reminding me, while this summer I will be focused on certain physical aspects of my life, that I must remember to replenish the spiritual well at the same time.  The line about seeing beyond the "muddiness" of others and remembering they have a clear well within them hits home as well.

I had no changing lines in this reading, a rarity for me.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Day 10: A Taoist Tale

In order to choose a tale to share I looked at my favorite stories from 101 Lessons of Tao by Luke Chan.  It has many fable style tales with Chan's thoughts at the end helping the reader apply the lessons.
I chose two that mean something to me today, I'm going to paraphrase to save space and avoid plagiarism.

A Charging Bull's Tail
     In this tale, a rich man is bragging about his paintings, claiming one to be the most accurate painting of a bull he had ever seen.  When a boy raised around buffalo comes to run an errand for the rich man, he laughs at the sight of the painting.  The rich man bristles, claiming the boy obviously knows nothing about painting.  The boy agrees, but states that he does know about buffalo, and the position of the bull's tail in the painting was wrong, and indicated a weak animal.  The rich man was embarrassed and stopped bragging about his paintings.

The lesson here is that humility will allow us to learn from everyone, and even those of seemingly lower status have something they can teach us.

     This is the story of a teacher and student talking about the importance of speaking concisely.  The teacher asks the student to think of animals that make a lot of noise that no one pays attention to.  The student accurately names crickets and toads.  Then the teacher asks for an animal that people do pay attention to.  The student suggests a rooster, as the village wakes up at its crow. 
     The teacher then asks the student which he would rather be, a cricket that nobody listened to, or a rooster that speaks once and commands attention.

The lesson here is choose our words wisely, as the more we talk, the less people tend to listen.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Day 09: Favorite Meditation Spot

Generally, my favorite places to meditate involve bodies of water.  Near any lake, river, or especially the ocean.  I love the feel of sand on my toes and water lapping over them.  I think it's a real connection with nature, pure power emanating from water.  I've never been to a waterfall that was peaceful enough to get a chance to meditate, but that is totally on my bucket list.

At home, there is no water, so I simulate it and more in my meditation corner.
I generally turn the chair to the left and stare into this corner when I meditate.  I turn on the water fountain which my mother gave to us.  The large doll was given by my father in law from his time in the military overseas.  The beautiful brass table (part of a set) and right wall artwork were gifts from Captains grandmother that mean a lot to us.  My two best friends are responsible for the 5 elements artwork and the bamboo plant.  The fan was given by my good friends from college from Japan.

I also have a singing bowl which I employ when meditation is particularly difficult.  I try not to use it too often, though, because it seems to bother my cats. 

Meditation is becoming very important to me.  I've been warned by the doctor that stress is manifesting itself in my health.  I need to relax!

Day 08: An Inspiring Yin Yang Picture

I love any yin yang pictures, here's a few I'm fond of. 

Not strictly a yin yang, but inspires me in the same way.

And this one, while maybe not as inspiring, does speak to my geeky side.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Day 07: How You Discovered the Tao

The Tao came into my life from a couple of directions.  My search for spiritual fulfillment took me to .  If you've never looked at the many sacred texts of this planet, I would suggest a perusal.  It's fascinating to see the differences but also the commonalities that humans tend to cherish above all others.  They have many different texts on there, which was a bit overwhelming, but I started with Tao Te Ching, and though it was a bit cryptic, I loved the style and content of the translation. 

Deciding I wanted to know more about this intriguing belief called Taoism, I searched the local library and was very happy to find two books containing information.  I also went to the local book store and found the only book they had which referenced Taoism - Wayne Dyer's Change Your Thoughts Change Your Life.  While I would not recommend this as an accurate translation of the Tao Te Ching, it has wonderful life insights and commentary.  The little book I got from the library called Simply Taoism was what clinched it for me.  It describes some of the central concepts of Taoism such as Yin/Yang and Wu-Wei. 

One of my issues with every belief system I had come across had to do with suffering.  I cannot understand how a benevolent God would allow horrific things to happen to innocent children and the like.  Taoism introduced me to the concept that suffering is subjective, and there must be suffering to be non-suffering.  Mind-Blown.

I have been cultivating the Tao ever since :D

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Day 06: Taoist Trait that Doesn't Come Easily to You

This one is tougher because there are many traits I wish I were better at exemplifying.  I think perhaps the biggest one I've noticed as of late is difficulty remaining detached, especially from outcomes.  Because I am currently seeking employment, I find myself constantly seeking approval and validation that I have done the right things or am making the right decisions.

I also suffer from what the Tao Te Ching refers to as "high etiquette" meaning that I often present myself in a false way, being overly polite when I am not feeling like being that way and not stating my true feelings.  This all stems from the need for people to like me, a concept I am VERY attached to.  I also feel the need to be right, being attached to the notion of never appearing foolish or stupid.

I have been working on some of these, hoping that through Tao cultivation I can master the trait of detachment in a way that moves me closer to the Tao.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Day 05: Taoist Trait that Comes Easily to You

Of all the traits that are encouraged when cultivating the Tao, the one that comes very naturally to me most often is compassion.

Compassion is one of Lao Tzu's three treasures and a very important part of the Tao.  Sometimes I get called naive or unrealistic because I want very much to believe the best in people.  But I'm okay with that, I'd rather view others from a place of compassion than be jaded or pessimistic about interactions.  When someone treats me badly, I try to remember that I've had a bad day before and probably treated people badly too.  Instead of being upset with this person, I try to be compassionate and do what I can to make their day better.  Inevitably, I get a smile out of the surly waitress, or compliment from the obviously overworked store clerk who is just grateful I'm not berating them or acting unreasonably.

When people talk of their problems, I genuinely want to help them, and if nothing else act as a listener.  Sometimes, all a person needs is a little empathy.  I am not claiming that it always happens this way, as I said, I have bad days also.  But in general, compassion is just within me, it's something that I don't have to try to keep or remember.

Day 04: Taoist Bible Quote

One of my favorite aspects of Taoism is how it manages to work with many different concepts as opposed to contradicting them.  It may sound blasphemous to some, but Christianity has many similar teachings to Taoism (there are many no so Taoist teachings as well, mind you).  Here are some interesting quotes from the Holy Bible that are Taoist in nature.

"Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." - Matthew 19:30

"For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?" - Luke 9:25

"He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal." - John 12:25

Much of Jesus' well known Sermon on the Mount have similar teachings, though too lengthy to begin quoting.

"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." - Matthew 5:5

I notice that much of the teachings learned from Jesus Christ himself are similar to the teaches of Lao Tzu.  I am happy to have this commonality with the most common religion in the Western world.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Day 03: Favorite Taoist Movie Moment

There are several movies that have Taoist moments.  The most notable films with Taoist influence include Star Wars (think the force), the Matrix, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  Please note that many Eastern made movies are full of Taoist messages, but I'm trying to stick to ones that became popular here in the West and most people have heard of.

Many include The Tao of Steve on this list, but I found that movie hard to get through, and most people I know aren't familiar with it, so I tend to leave it out.

My favorite moment in a movie recently that felt Taoist was in Avatar: the Last Air Bender when he visits the water bending palace.  I knew as soon as they arrived that if I lived in their world, I would be at home there. 

Other movies I found Taoist moments in include:
What Dreams May Come
Kung Fu Panda
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Winnie the Pooh
Any Bruce Lee produced movie

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Day 02: Favorite Lao-Tzu Quotes

Day 02: Favorite Lao-Tzu Quotes

This is a tough one, because there are so many quotes from the author of the Tao Te Ching that have so much meaning to me.  I will do my best to use the ones that I have personal connection with.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
One of my favorites and one of the most famous.  Interestingly enough, this is not the most accurate translation even if it is the most poetic.  The actual quote has the journey beginning beneath your feet, which is meaningful in its own right.  I have this quote tagged as a potential tattoo in my future, not because I want to show it to others, but because I need the reminder for myself that even the biggest obstacle can be overcome if you just take a step in the right direction.

"Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river."
Taoism is often inspired by nature such as in this quote.  I take this as an instruction to know when to stand your ground (like an unmoving mountain) and to know when it is best to be flexible (flow like a river).  It also refers to the serenity of a mountain and the constant change of a river.

“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”  
I did not find this in my documentation as being said by Lao-Tzu, however it is often attributed to him, so perhaps I am just not looking in the right place.  Whether he said it or not, this quote is at the core of my struggles with social anxiety.  When I succumb to SA I am indeed held prisoner by the thoughts of others.  My every action becomes dictated by what I guess others to be thinking.  I am very happy to have overcome the majority of my issues involving social anxiety, however it is a constant battle to keep it that way.  This quote reminds me of why I must stop worrying about what others think.

“Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”
 It says volumes.  A profound way of saying that actions speak louder than words.

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
Yet again, I have no documentation of where this quote came from.  I don't find it in the Tao Te Ching translated in this way, but the theme is definitely present throughout.  Our society is obsessed with labels especially in connecting what you do for a job to who you are.  Recently I decided to start calling myself an author.  I have written three novels, one of which is self published, yet I still didn't feel I could label myself as such.  I may not make the most money doing it, but I write books which is the most rudimentary definition of author.  This is just an example of how I can get caught up in the labeling of things, forgetting that none of that matters at all.  Let go of who I am, and become what I might be, free from any restricting labels.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” 
We have all experienced it.  When you are in a hurry because you are running late, everything that can go wrong does, and you realize that the simple act of rushing actually causes you more time in the long run.  I try to live life unrushed.  If I am late, that is unfortunate and never my desire, but I will be in a far better mood when I get where I'm going if I don't pressure myself to get there faster than possible.  I don't believe in rushing to the point that life is not fun, slow down and enjoy the ride!

There are a million more quotes I could put, but I'll leave it here for now.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Day 01: Taoist Book You Are Reading Right Now

Okay, I was struggling with when to start my 30 day challenge, what with all the distractions described previously.  I really didn't want to wait until next month, I'm clinging to the Tao right now with all that is happening in my life, so it feels like a good time to be doing this.  So I decided, now is as good a time as any, and here we go with day 1.

Day 01: Taoist book you are reading right now.

The Tao of Success
By Derek Lin

First of all, let me say this.  I am a new but big fan of Derek Lin.  He is a presenter at the virtual temple I attend each week.  I call it temple for lack of a better term (I don't have it in me to call it church) but really it is a meeting of the minds where those interested in Taoism meet and discuss presentations giving by those willing to share knowledge.  Through his books and personal correspondence at temple, I am of the opinion that Mr. Lin is the most "sage" like person I have ever encountered.  He truly embodies what I envision a Taoist master to be.  He also speaks both Chinese and English, giving him the ability to translate ancient writings himself, rather than being dependent on translations by others.  I believe he's the real deal, so to speak.  So, I've probably gushed about him enough, on to talk about the book.

On the surface, the title of this work may seem a bit questionable.  It's important to realize that Lin is not talking about success in terms of career or finances, but rather success in terms of fulfilling one's destiny.    This book introduces the reader to the five rings of life, otherwise known as the five ancient rings of destiny.  These rings begin at the very heart of a person, and ripple outward like a pebble in a pond, meaning the inner most rings will effect every other ring.  The rings starting with the inner most are: Spirituality, Mind, Relationships, World, and Destiny.

After cultivating each of these aspects, one can truly undergo a life transformation.  I haven't finished the book yet, but one of my favorite things about it is the stories.  Rather than bog you down with too much instruction, Lin uses stories to illustrate the points being made.  The writing is very accessible and enlightening.  I have enjoyed it enough that I purchased several of Lin's other works including The Tao of Daily Life, The Tao of Joy Every Day and an annotated version of the Tao Te Ching.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Unexpected Delay

I must apologize for not beginning my 30 day challenge when I had said I would.  Unfortunately, last week, my grandmother passed away.  I have spent the time since then gathering with family, hosting six house guests from Florida (2 of whom are under the age of 4) and working on projects for the service.

The loss is not entirely unexpected, I was fortunate enough to get a chance to tell her I loved her and see her one last time before she passed.  I am one of three people that can say that.  She was a terrific woman, and I loved her great qualities and I loved her flaws.  She enriched the lives of everyone around her, while not being afraid to tell you to your face if she thought you were messing up.  I really admire that quality about her.  She believed in living life to the fullest, for her life was like one great party and she wasn't about to miss it. 

This event has me mulling around in my head a lot, we'll see that comes of it...