Have you ever sensed the difference between breathing in a dusty space and one not so? This human realm is filled with dust, to use a Taoist image for the noisiness and fussiness going on. Dust is directed at us constantly, now through the chatter flowing profusely from our electronic devices, such as television, internet, and phones. We are being told, thereby, that it is normal for us to breathe in steadily this haze of dust; if we breathe it in, we will breathe it out. Yet, to live in peace within ourselves is to invite others to live in peace within themselves. We need to breathe in and out of peace. In this, the world is less dusty. We feel more the natural freshness all around us, within ourselves. A peaceful presence invites to peace, by first being peace, no words spoken. For peace within and without, we choose to return home, to our own selves. Returning home, we are in harmony both with others and ourselves, even when others choose not to be in harmony with us. We learn to say "No" to the dust. We can be in harmony like this, for we are in harmony with Life. And to say "Life" is to say "My Self." So, the split between Nature and self is no more, when really it was never present in the first place, except in the mind. For all of this, we each choose as much as possible dust-free places to be and alike actions to involve ourselves in. We need time set aside in peaceful places, time to relax, enjoy breathing, connect with Nature, so with ourselves. Even a few moments of quietly, gently breathing in and breathing out, this is a gift to the world, to Life. Even a silent, kind gesture to a stranger, this is an invitation to peace. In our gentling ourselves, the world becomes a more gentle place for everyone. We can breathe more easily, joyfully, together. This presentation, today, is about this primal unity of self and action and Life.
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A young woman came to the Sage, she asked, "I've been told to just be myself, that that's how I can best help others. Can you help me with that?"
The young woman, surprised, responded, "Why not?"
"Can you help the Sun be the Sun?"
"No," came the reply.
"Then, neither can I help you be you."
"Then, how can you help me, for I truly wish to be a blessing for others?"
"I can assist you in relearning what you have forgotten, how to allow yourself to express yourself and, thereby, bless others."
"Is this self that you refer to what many call my True Self?"
"No, how can there be a true or a false self? Self is self. You are you."
"When did I know how to do that, I mean express myself?"
"Long before you were told that you need to be yourself. When you say "Yes" to what you are, you are again like the Wind."
Even the thought of expressing ourselves is a step from expressing ourselves.
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A man was so good that the angels asked God to give him the gift of miracles. God told them to ask him if that is what he would wish.
The angels visited this good man and offered him, first, the gift of healing with his hands. He declined the offer. Next, they offered him the gift of converting souls to God. He, again, refused the offer. Last, the angels offered him the gift of great virtue. He said, "No, thanks." The man greatly surprised them by refusing all three gifts.
The angels insisted the good man choose a gift. "Otherwise," they said, "we will choose for you." “Very well,” he said, “I ask that I might do much good without ever knowing it.” This perplexed the angels. They talked among themselves and decided on a plan. Every time the man’s shadow fell behind him, it would have the power to cure disease, soothe pain, and bring comfort.
Henceforth, while the man walked, his shadow made dry paths green, caused withered plants to bloom, gave clear water to dried-up brooks, and turned polluted water to fresh for children to drink of. Men and women, and boys and girls, even animals, became happy when touched by the shadow. The man simply went about blessing everyone as the stars diffuse light and the flowers offer their scent. He never knew the gifts he was giving.
The people so respected the man's kind humbleness that they walked behind him silently, not wanting to disturb him. They never dared speak to him about the miracles. Soon, they forgot his name and began referring to him as ‘the Holy Shadow.’
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Speaking with a friend recently, I referred to the bestseller book The Purpose Driven Life. How sad that one would feel a need to be driven by a purpose, so live a driven life. This is a reason I discontinued being a clergyperson in Christian churches; the leadership beyond the local church seemed unable to allow churches to enjoy being together and living out naturally that loving, joyful togetherness. We had always to be doing something apparently very important as decided by the higher-ups and reporting it to demonstrate we were successful. We were pressured to be purpose-driven, rather than Spirit-led. How could we live out the Scriptural wisdom, "Rest in the Lord, patiently wait upon the Lord"? And I had been vowed to a contemplative life, with silence, waiting, and receptivity to the inner Voice central, not the voices of the so-esteemed denominational experts. No one can live well a spiritual pilgrimage and be driven at the same time, driven by oneself or driven by anyone. We cannot push ourselves or be pushed along the Way. Nothing in Nature naturally pushes itself, nothing driven from some impulse outside its own nature.
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A sense of purpose can sever us from the kind humbleness of 'the Holy Shadow.' That is, one does not trust the natural goodness to manifest itself, freely and timely. Purpose can separate us from the spontaneity of the Way, and we become lived by our plans rather than making plans out of the silence. Alan Watts posited this wisdom, even if one can argue he goes too far in denying any good in setting goals...
Paradoxical as it may seem, the purposeful life has no content, no point. It hurries on and on, and misses everything. Not hurrying, the purposeless life misses nothing, for it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world.
The key, for me, in Watt's words, refers to openness to receive the world. If I attach to purpose, to goals, this imposes a secondary on the primary of Life. The intent I cling to easily shuts out the spontaneous emergence of all other potential intents. This is like concentration, in which one so focuses that only what he or she focuses on is experienced, all else is shut out from awareness. Persons or whole systems can enact this narrow, rigid sightedness, which we could conclude is not seeing at all.
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Contrast this narrow-mindedness, this purpose-drivenness, with Nature. Again, Watts on the Way...
What are plants doing? What are plants all about? They serve human beings by being decorative, but what is it from its own point of view? ... here's this whole vegetable world, cactus plants, trees, roses, tulips, and edible vegetables, like cabbages, celery, lettuce ~ they're all doing this dance.
I recall as a young boy, my first time dancing. I was at a 4H camp. The music was playing. I approached a much-older female, a camp counselor, a lovely woman in her 20s. I was only age 15. We started dancing together. I did not know anything about dancing, except for seeing persons dance on television. I had never been to a dance. I danced, she danced, we danced. There was really no purpose but to dance. All Nature is doing that. Why, then, do we humans feel discontent when not driven to do this and that? Or discontent when doing something, for we are trying to finish it, or get it right, or prove something to someone else? Why do we live this insanity, forsaking the Way? We have been socialized, have we not, to live unnaturally? Nature teaches us how to live, but we do not listen in our sense of superiority to Nature. We have forgotten we are Nature. Have we not been trained, then, to deny our own natural goodness, to perpetuate this social insanity that separates from the very Universe we arise from and to live in harmony together within? How can I live in peace, if I am not in friendship with that I belong to and with?
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So, 'the Holy Shadow' offers us a lesson in humbleness. And is this humbleness not the willingness to trust our naturalness to touch the lives of others, apart from our needing even to plan to do so, live in any conscious effort to do so, or decide the how of it?
The stream is humble, doing what it does, no separation exists between what it is and what it does. What it does is what it is. Cannot we do what we do, for that is what we are, with no disconnection between who we are and what flows in accord with our being? Does this not mean being true to ourselves? This being true to ourselves not meaning to try to be ourselves or need to show others who we are. An oak tree is an oak tree, it is what it is, seen or unseen by others. So, you. Is that not enough? What we are is all we will have when our body says "Goodbye," even as that is all we had when the body was born, and that is all we have now, each step of the Way.
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(C)Brian Wilcox, 2020
*Quotes of Watts, from Akṣapāda. Tao of Alan Watts: 444 Expressions of Zen.