The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky,
all-pervading like sunlight,
firm like a mountain,
supple like a tree in the wind,
he has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, 59, translated Stephen Mitchell
I was reminded of these texts – one Christian, one zen – driving to work on Monday and seeing the blossoms and buds return to the trees. Both speak of profound inner experiences – one when just 18, the other after 30 years of searching – just on seeing the blossoms bloom, the leaves fall, the branches grow, and the new leaves appearing. Miracles in everyday life which we rush past each day.
In the winter I saw a tree stripped of its leaves and I knew that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and that afterwards the flowers and the fruit would appear. From this I received a profound view of the care of God which has never since left my soul. The view I grasped that day freed me completely and kindled in me such a love for God that I cannot say that it has increased during the more than forty years since that time.
Brother Lawrence, 1693, The Practice of the Presence of God.
For thirty years, I have been looking for the sword,
How many times have the leaves fallen and the branches grown anew?
But then once I saw the peach blossoms,
and from then up to now, I have never had any more doubts.
Lingyun Zhiqin, dates unknown, Searching for Thirty Years
Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you. No one ever died saying, “I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life I lived.”
Offer yourself to the world — your energies, your gifts, your visions, your heart — with open-hearted generosity. But understand that when you live that way you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail.
To grow in love and service, you — I, all of us — must value ignorance as much as knowledge and failure as much as success… Clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life. So, cultivate beginner’s mind, walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and falling again and again, then getting up again and again to learn — that’s the path to a life lived large, in service of love, truth, and justice.
Parker Palmer, The Six Pillars of the Wholehearted Life, Commencement Address, Naropa University
Incredibly warm Spring weather here these days, signs of growth all round
It’s the beauty within us that makes it possible for us to recognize the beauty around us.
The question is not what you look at but what you see.
Henry David Thoreau
No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
Wendell Berry, Sabbaths – 1993, I
This poem is not first and foremost about aging and dying. It’s about generosity, one of the most life-giving of all virtues. Generosity does not require material abundance. When I think back on the many people who have been so generous toward me, I never think of money or “things.” Instead, I think of the way they gave me their presence, their confidence, their affirmation, support, and blessing — all gifts of “self” that any of us can give.
And where does generosity come from? Perhaps from another life-giving virtue, the one called gratitude. When I take the time to breathe in my life and breathe out my gratitude for the gifts I’ve been given, only one question arises: “How can I keep these gifts alive?”
I know only one answer: “Become a giver yourself, pass your gifts along, and do it extravagantly!” As Wendell Berry says, “Every day you have less reason/not to give yourself away.”
Parker Palmer, Breathe In My Life, Breathe Out My Gratitude
God, rest in my heart
and fortify me,
take away my hunger for answers,
let the hours play upon my body like the hands of my beloved.
Mary Oliver, Sometimes.