Saturday, July 6, 2013

Life's Little Tests

My online temple had a very interesting discussion last week.  While discussing a verse of the Tao Te Ching, the talk turned to tests that life may give you.

A test of adversity is tough, no doubt about it.  Many turn to faith in these times, and offer support to others in a similar situation.  It's true that for many, their adverse times are truly character building.

What of the opposite though?  The Tao proposes that there is an equal and opposite test we all face (yin yang anyone?). 

A test of prosperity seems like a test we'd all be glad to take.  The trouble is, it may not be as easy as it sounds.  When things are going well in your life, it becomes easy to take things for granted, to get priorities mixed up, and many other unwanted outcomes. 

I feel as though I am experiencing such a test right now.  After almost 5 years of adversity, things are really going well for me now.  It's strange, I almost don't know how to act.  I had almost made infertility a part of my persona.  Now I'm switching that persona to pregnant, and eventually to mom.  It's surreal, as I spent so much time dreaming about it, and here it is. 

I have vowed not to take it for granted.  I am so happy to have my little man growing inside me.  I love him with all of my heart already, and am thankful for his growth and health every day.  I have also continued to reach out to my fellow infertile community.  A success story alone can be a great source of hope to many. 

I am also making sure to reconnect with the Tao.  Focus on the three treasures of compassion, humility, and simplicity.

I have to admit, I do prefer this test of prosperity.  But it helps to take a step back and remember that it too is a test.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My Nephew the Chicken Whisperer

Yesterday my brother paid us an impromptu visit.  This doesn't happen very often.  He brought one of my nephews with him this time.  It's the first time any of his younger kids have been here since we got the chickens in October of last year.

Nephew had to stop and say hello to the cats, his mom was a cat hoarder before moving in with my brother so he has lots for kitties.  Then it was immediately, "I want to see the chickens."

We headed outside.  They'd already been on their walk for the day (what we call letting them out to roam free for awhile) but I opted to let them out again so he could really see them at their best.  The chickens were confused but delighted at their second chance for freedom.  They immediately came out and began exploring, offering nephew plenty of chances to interact.

It was fun watching him play with them.  He's older so there wasn't much chasing.  But he would mimic their sounds and they would return them.  After herding them back in the coop, the adults stood around talking about boring stuff like gardens and solar panels.  When we looked back, nephew had sat in front of the coop and had all the chicken's attention.

He was squawking at them and they were squawking back, it was a very entertaining sight.

It strikes me how naturally in tune with nature this kid was.  I never told him how to interact with the chickens, he just started doing it in his own way, and it worked well.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A short rant

I try not to rant to much here on my blog, and instead bring you informed and thoughtful posts that relate to the Tao. I'm afraid this is one exception, I will keep it short, though.

I was asked yesterday if I would be attending my nephew's graduation. This seems like a simple question, what could be wrong with that? The problem is, my nephew is 5 years old and "graduating" from pre-school. I was baffled. I innocently asked, "What was the criteria for them to graduate?" The answer was a simple, "Nothing, he's 5, what do you expect?"

I am all for celebrating accomplishments, achievements, etc. But I cannot imagine sending my kid through this ceremony where they had all the typical graduation ceremony fare. I didn't go, but I've seen pictures. They were all dressed up, lined up and received a diploma, giving their teacher a hug. Perhaps someone can tell me the positives of something like this. My nephew did not have to accomplish anything in particular, did not have to be able prove what he learned. Not a single student failed to "graduate." Some of these parents had parties, gave gifts and did all the typical graduation things.

Call me cynical, but I can't help but think that celebrations like this might be contributing to the bloated sense of entitlement I see running rampant in younger generations. Webster defines graduation as, "the award or acceptance of an academic degree or diploma" and I just don't think this qualifies. What must my nephew think of the fact that his dad recently graduated college?

Okay, I'm done. Sorry for those who love these things, it just bothers me. Now that I have a little one on the way, I wonder how I will handle this type of thing.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Forgive me

I hope you will all forgive the indulgence, but I'd like to have a countdown to my due date.  I was trying to find one that would go on the side bar, for so far this is the best I could do.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Learning to Let Go

It may not be the central theme of the Tao Te Ching, but learning to let things go is certainly a topic of choice throughout the pages.

I will offer a few examples from the popular Stephen Mitchell translation:

"The Master stays behind; that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things; that is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself, she is perfectly fulfilled."
                                                            ~ Verse 7 Excerpt

"If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go."
                                                            ~ Verse 24 Excerpt

“If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have, the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law, and people become honest.
I let go of economics, and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion, and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good, and the good becomes common as grass.”
~ Verse 57

“Nothing is impossible for him.
Because he has let go, he can care for the people's welfare as a mother cares for her child.”
~ Verse 59 Excerpt

Now with all that being said, it is clear to me how important learning to let things go is to the process of Tao cultivation.  Unfortunately, this is one thing I struggle with on a daily basis.  I have attempted meditation, which works for some things.  Practicing Tai Chi seems to help me center and be in the moment.  Unfortunately, it seems everything I have let go comes crashing back eventually.

Because I believe this is important, when I saw a tool that was designed to help me let go, I had to have one.  The tool is called a Buddha Board.  It is simple, yet so profound.

The main idea is that you may use water to paint on the canvas.  It creates a lovely ink style brush stroke that can create beautiful pictures.  Being a quote unquote “art person”, this is right up my alley.  Here’s the trick though: That masterpiece disappears just minutes later, revealing another blank canvas.  It’s poetic, and I find myself using it often.

When something is bothering me, I either paint a symbolic representation of my troubles or just write out a word.  I watch the canvas and think about whatever it is.  In that moment, I allow myself to obsess.  But then, as the ink fades, I also allow it to fade from my mind.  It’s the ultimate in visualization of a complex concept and I absolutely love it!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Pitter Patter of Little Feet

Well, bloggers.  The time has finally come.

Many of you have been following my trials with infertility for some time.  I opted to share this journey in my blog because it is not spoken of much among any but the closest of friends.  But the blog gave me a place to vent and document the trials, though I still kept things vague.

I am so happy to tell you all that my journey with infertility is finally at an end.  I am pleased to announce that I am currently 11 weeks pregnant.  We opted to wait to tell people, because we've had some issues we wanted to be sure everything was alright.  Our estimated due date is November 10, 2013.

I have used Taoism to help me through the tough times infertility brought me, and I am really looking forward to using the teachings to help me be the best parent I can be.  I am in awe of the miracle that is growing inside me, an amazing illustration of nature at its finest.  I try to stay positive, though morning (noon and night) sickness hit pretty hard at 6 weeks and the fatigue is unparallelled.  Luckily the nausea has eased up and I'm beginning to feel myself again.

Thank you to all of you who supported us through this journey, I feel so lucky to count you among my friends.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Roaming Free

We are new to the chicken raising thing, and boy has it been a learning experience. 

Our girls are doing well.  All 9 survived the winter and seem happy to bask in the new found sunlight.  We are doing some thinking about how well the tractor coop works.  The idea is sound, the chickens always have new ground, so they can hunt, dig and peck to their hearts content.  There was something I just wasn't happy with, though.

One day, I accidentally left the coop top open when I went to get more feed and such.  When I came back three chickens had hopped out and were foraging around in the nearby leaves.  Rather than being frustrated that they got out, I sat on the steps and watched them.  This was natural, chickens being chickens.  The behavior was different than any I had seen in the coop though.  Then I decided to try and put them back in the coop.  Two went rather easily, but one, who I have nicknamed Queenie because she is obviously at the top of the pecking order, took off.

She ran circles around the coop with me stalking after her.  She clucked and ruffled her wings as she ran.  I grew tired and stopped to catch my breath.  I almost burst out laughing when she looked behind her and stopped and waited for me.  Then it hit me, she wasn't running from me out of fear, or even because she was avoiding being put back in the coop.  This was a game, and she was enjoying every minute of our chase. 

Chickens like to run and play, and our girls were not really afforded that opportunity in the small area we were giving them to graze on.  Over the winter the tractor served us well, but I decided that day that I needed to afford them more space on a regular basis. 

A few days ago, I fashioned a ramp (we intend to put a more permanent door in soon) to allow the chickens an easy in and out of the coop.  Once a day, after the eggs are laid, I go and open it up.  Slowly the girls hop out and begin to explore.  At first, they stuck really close to me.  But on the second day, they got a little braver and ran around in two groups.  By the weekend, we let them out and they traveled halfway across the yard to the other side of the shop just to see what we were doing.

I have no doubt that they are happier.  I was a little shocked that egg production went up almost immediately.  They are a bit nosier when first put back in the coop, but not for very long.  I love sitting and watching them running around, though.  They really are chickens being chickens, and I love being witness to nature at its finest.

Now if only we could figure out a safe way to get those peepers off...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An old wive's tale

After attending a lengthy and insightful talk about Feng Shui, I have been evaluating my own views a little.  This talk, based in Taoism, explained that Feng Shui is far less mystical than it is practical.  The rules line up with logic that would have been used at the time.

For example, much of Feng Shui is concerned with good flow in the space.  Logically, in the days before air conditioning, the flow in the house would have been vital to keeping the dwelling at a manageable temperature, thus improving the comfort and even health of those within.  This is a very broad example, but the talk went into great detail about how practical the ideas of Feng Shui really were. 

This got me thinking.  Many people scoff at ideas such as Feng Shui as complete nonsense for the weak of mind.  They easily dismiss old wives' tales as unproven, unscientific hokum.  I must admit that I count myself among them, as someone who easily dismisses many things that have no scientific backing and always insist on sources for arguments. 

The talk of Feng Shui got me thinking though.  Perhaps it is nearsighted to simply dismiss an idea that is not proven.  Perhaps we should keep an open mind about traditional ways of thinking.  We may not agree with the logic behind it, but perhaps there is still something to learn, a basis in truth if you will.

For example, the superstition of not walking under a ladder, is at its heart, pretty logical.  Will it bring you terrible luck?  Most likely not, but it will put you in danger of falling tools, or increase your chances of knocking over a person standing on said ladder.  So while the superstition itself is a bit silly, the practice is somewhat understandable, just for a different reason. 

I read once that ancient peoples soaked their beans overnight to ward off the evil spirits contained within (perhaps a metaphor for the gaseous emissions beans are known for?).  Indeed, for centuries our ancestors soaked their beans, perhaps for similar reasons, or perhaps simply because they were taught that way.  In modern times, research has shown that not only does soaking the beans deactivate many of the chemicals that cause noxious gas, it also makes the nutrients more bio-available and it's really the healthiest way to prepare them.

How interesting that the reason ancient people soaked the beans is easy to dismiss, however the practice turns out to be very valuable.  I wonder what other traditions, ancient wisdoms, or practices have been similarly dismissed.

I will still place value on science, evidence, and logic, however I will attempt to keep my mind open to ideas, and think more deeply about the possibilities of a piece of truth in the most unlikely places.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Year of the Black Snake

The Chinese New Year celebrations begin today.  2013 is the year of the black snake.
The influence of water continues this year, and the snake brings steady progress with focus and discipline. Known as the "little dragon" the snake is enigmatic, introspective, and intuitive.

For the first time, my husband and I will be celebrating the Chinese New Year together.  We have started observing traditions from both of our belief systems this year.  I find these observances help me to bring my spiritual side forward, even if only for a few moments.

We are going to make traditional style dumplings, which is said to bring prosperity through the new year.  We have already observed the tradition of cleaning house beforehand by tidying up our place to clean out the old year and welcome in the new.  We will discuss the many meanings of the year of the black snake over our dumpling dinner (and maybe add some wonton soup and fish).  Here is a compilation of what I have found so far.

The 2012 water dragon makes way for the 2013 water snake.  The snake is akin to a fire sign in traditional astrology.  This puts it at odds with the water influence of this year, but the Taoist knows that these opposites are complimentary rather than contradictory.  The two elemental influences will balance each other nicely ensuring the year will be full of both highs and lows.  

The snake is calm, inward directed and even shy.  It never attacks unprovoked.  Because snake is the 6th sign of the Chinese Zodiac, it is considered to be yin in nature.  This is generally shown by portraying the snake as a female, the gender most associated with yin.  The snake is a financial wizard, and brings strong business and financial influences for the year.

Wishing you all the best for the year of the black snake!

Monday, January 28, 2013

The elusive inner peace

Inner Peace
Could there be a more lofty goal?  Could there be a more worthwhile one?

A true cultivator of the Tao has unparallelled inner peace.  Today I have been contemplating what it will take for me to obtain inner peace.  Obviously this is a long and intensive process, as I'm not feeling very peaceful at the moment.  I think striving for this kind of peace during turbulent times in my life is quite valuable.  If I can keep some semblance of it now, then I can have confidence that I can find inner peace any time in my life.

Here are the steps I'm currently working on:

~ Embrace Change
     It is a very difficult thing to do, as we humans are hard wired to resist change.  Remaining flexible (flowing like a river) allows inner peace to flourish because the struggle to resist change is let go.

~ Detach from Outcomes
    Not being attached to outcomes is something the Tao talks of often.  My actions should come from within, not based on the potential outcomes I see.  I should be motivated by simplicity, compassion, and humility in all that I do.  By letting go of perceived "correct reactions" to my actions, I can keep inner peace regardless of the outcome of any situation.

~ See Truth
     This is perhaps the one that I struggle with the most.  I recently asked a Taoist master how I could work on my confidence.  He answered simply, "See the authentic truth."  This means looking at myself in a truly honest and objective manner.  I tend to be quite hard on myself in all aspects, boarding on self-loathing.  My husband often points out that I think everyone is better than me, even people I've never met.  If I look at myself from an authentic truth, however, I know that I am no more or less worthy of anything than someone else is.  Seeing truth erases judgements and allows me to accept everyone and everything as it is, even myself. 

I decided that these three things will be the first steps of my thousand mile journey to inner peace.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


I recently got started attending temple again, and boy am I glad.  It seems that I get pulled away from my path more easily than I would like to admit.  I've been going through some tough times, and sometimes it's easier to feel sorry for myself instead of work through it.  Undoubtedly, every time I log into temple (its a physical group in California that also broadcasts online) the topic is something that hits home. 

Here are a few things that have really gotten me thinking recently. 

The yin/yang partner of love is not hate, but fear.
This is something that really speaks to me, as someone who has battled anxiety for some time, fear is a very real emotion that is felt every day.  The point was made that hate almost always comes from fear in some way, which I find mostly true as well.  It really got me thinking because if I am fearing something, I am doing the opposite of loving it.  I try to walk a path of love, so this is jarring, thinking that I am perpetuating the opposite.

The Tao Te Ching can be interpreted in a personal manner.
On the surface, this is something I already knew, but hadn't thought of in this specific context.  They took the first verse of the Tao Te Ching and applied it directly to you as an individual.  This is possible because the book is about the Tao, and the Tao is part of all of us, therefore each statement is about us.  Pretty deep, I know, so it got me thinking.

You are responsible for everything that happens to you.
This one is really hard for me to swallow, mainly because of the tough times I am experiencing with starting a family.  I feel so incredibly helpless in this area, it seems preposterous to say I am responsible for what is happening to me.  They explained that it is not so much that I am always in control, because some things are out of my control.  The thing I can control is my reaction to what happens, therefore I am responsible for that.

So these are the things I'm thinking about at the moment.  Feeling very contemplative.