The Soft Fish Hook

“… those who know well how to live meet no tigers or wild buffaloes on their road, and come out from the battle-ground untouched by the weapons of war.”   Lao Tau

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‘Ancient Chinese Wisdom’ can often sound hocus-pocus or even nonsensical until you sit with it. Tigers & Wild Buffaloes are easy threats to ignore when seated comfortably, wrapped in a blanket or shawl, but when the door to our imaginations are opened even a little, it is not much farther a distance before realizing how present the feelings of being threatened really are.

In my Book of Gardens, I look into the seeming abyss of behavioural economics, and just how pervasive the sensation of scarcity is, under our current version of economy. Constant Growth on a Finite Planet simply cannot add up to much else, and a reconciliation is forthcoming putting us all - psychologically at least - in potential positions of peril. 

Each morning during my Sit and Tea, I re-read a verse from the Tao Te Ching. I’m currently on #50 where Lao Tzu speaks of tigers and buffaloes (oh my!) 

Lao Tzu is arguably one of our species most prominent Teachers ever, keeping good and easy company with Socrates et al. - despite having penned so little himself. The Tao Te Ching consists of a mere 5000 Chinese characters (81 verses in English), which is the entirety of what he put to paper. That’s it. And yet the book is alive and well - and as relevant - as ever. Lao Tzu is a very subtle teacher. 

Despite having stepped through the Tao Te Ching about six or seven times, I still catch myself breezing over a sentence here and there - only to come back to that exact point for clarification. 

Such moments are like soft fish-hooks... 

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Given my current ‘obsession’ to fully understand the ramifications of growth-only economics, I found a ready comparison with Bear & Bull psychology, and Lao Tzu’s Tigers and Buffaloes. Both the bear and the tiger attack with their claws, both are large predators, capable of mischief, stealth, agility, and possess a fierce strength to pull down its prey. The bull and buffalo are herbivores, prefer the open calm of a field where they can observe anything coming their way, and similar to the degree of strength of the tiger and bear, become a frightening force to deal with once enraged.

Such pairings to my mind reflect back to me our sympathetic nervous responses; ones which invariably arise out of our current economic situation. I’m very excited to see Hollywood’s latest “The Wolf of Wall Street,” whose timeliness ought to be of no surprise given the long standing connection between Hollywood and Washington… However, I’m always rather amazed at what Scorsese ‘gets away with’ in terms of suggesting how things really-are.

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Playing with juxtaposition in meditation - pairing of things - is very beneficial and in fact quite fun. Our imagination gladly cork-screws toward an idea, passing its point through each side of a pairing, looking for the central root: between the tiger and buffalo, between the bear and the bull, between fight or flight… 

What is the lesson here...

Lao Tzu ever so gently draws you in toward his understanding. He is quite the timeless ghost in this regard, ever ready and glad to teach and help. I find it continually noteworthy that Lao Tzu - so far as I understand - refused many offers to be part of King Wen’s court… Such a way, suggests to me that he prized the open space of his autonomy so dearly, that no riches - even in name - were of greater value.

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It cannot be said enough today that what is taking place on Wall Street has very little benefit for Main Street. Without becoming too biblical about it, the sins of Pride and Greed readily come to mind. The path of Libertarianism dances somewhat dangerously with both of these - a strange three-some - but instead of becoming entangled by them, moves instead toward the purpose of an actuated freedom and autonomy: our status quo, regrettably, merely gives us the husk of such things. It strikes me that, to know autonomy and to possess freedom, one must know intimately what your enemy is.

The Bears of this world, which economically speaking I am currently quite glad to identify with, are for better or worse a rather proud bunch. They look at fundamentals. The lively cynicism in these circles puts the ‘fun’ in fundamental, with the ‘mental’ part trailing close behind, tripping upon the lack of restraint and reality our supposed ‘economic recovery’ is deemed to possess. There is an occasional sense of being the victim underneath that pride, as if the bullish enmity took a solid swipe out of their side, impinging their wind.

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Paradoxically then, the bulls and buffalos, the seeming innocuous herbivores, as they put their charge and horns into a thing, lifting it ever higher, have the quality of the addict - of greed - being given a window to express their otherwise dormant powers. It is also a kind of pride, ever-quick to invert into action. All of these qualities - pride, greed, victimhood, the addict - reside within our psyche moment to moment, and gently, it is up to  each of us to discern our direction. Such is the work of Emotional Resiliency, and the main offering throughout

 The Book of Gardens: A Lover's Manual for Planet Earth.

So a few questions come to mind. Mainly: What is it to be at Peace with Oneself... We understand such a statement, but what does it FEEL like? Why are such individuals, or moments, so rare? Why does our inner peace disappear? Have we not looked into that 'blind-spot' repeatedly? Why do we remain 'blind?'... And where then is the point of entry for this feeling? Such arises Lao Tzu’s concluding statement in his 50th verse:
“… a buffalo would find no butt for his horns, a tiger nothing to lay his claws upon, and a weapon of war no place to admit its point. How is this? Because there is no room for Death in him.”
In one of the poems in The Book of Gardens, (#26), I write “Being of no threat / how, can you be threatened?” And such is Lao Tzu’s lesson here: aware of one’s enemies - or rather, aware of enmity - one is not so passive as to lay oneself open for unwelcome and attack, and one is simultaneously not so defensive so as to become the cause of unwelcome and abuse. Walking such a path, there simply cannot be any room of Death…

The Entry The Balance Point

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Finding this entry point asks that we sit with ourselves in quiet for a little part of the day each day. I do recommend the early morning hours to be sure. The morning possesses an inherent peace worth capitalizing upon. The sensation of breadth, watching the light spread out into the time before you (I live somewhat in the North) is a wonderful thing to allow in to yourself. It is a place to rest one’s breathing - fully and freely.

Staying on that balance point is of course the challenge. Growth-Only Economics generally prohibit that, siphoning our time into the pursuit of a currency, keeping the ready bulk of us dancing to the tune of “more for you is less for me…”

In The Book of Gardens, I call this process, Crossing the Bridge, and Opening The Door. And I’ll conclude here with a selection from this point in the book. I give a very brief beginner-styled intro-to-meditation in the book before diving into the deep end of my take on today’s behavioural economics. Bringing out a truer understanding of how practical the study of Taoism actually-is, and the method of I-Ching is the soft fish hook I offer.

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to order a copy.

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“The traditions which have long addressed meditation in their pedigree are fantastic to their detail, yet I found many groups functioned best by an initial acceptance of the tradition at large before learning anything on the practice of meditation. I respect that the process a person need accept toward an embodied compassion is multi-faceted, and next to the fact that cultural or behavioural change is a gradual process, I continue to see a consistently growing, immediate, and intimately felt need for mindfulness on the steady increase. That is, our culture today is experiencing the pressures of an intrinsic change, and it is between this inward pressure and the externalities of our situations where I invite in your concentration here. Readied cultural change is rare, and making a behavioural shift becomes an overtly broad exercise to ones psychology when greeting something otherwise foreign. It can be difficult to begin, and if constantly propelled by the busyness of ones external situation, the intrinsic invitation for change often gets discarded. So the remainder of this Prelude is a primer toward a way of mindfulness through the lens of a cultural critique, reasoning out how mindfulness may well be the cultural salve to apply to our current ecological and economic confusion. If you find yourself in agreement that this is indeed a potential remedy, or a preparedness to bring forward into this rather intense predicament, you might then further explore cultural traditions should you be inspired to do so. 

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     Under the banner of Western psychology there are now many discoveries to be made on the subject of Mindfulness. Yet they come to us only after a considerable length of scientific resistance to apply scientific scrutiny toward things seemingly 'esoteric' and tricky to observe. And it is the resistance which is interesting to me here. I am finding it compelling to watch these seemingly disjunctive pursuits of religiosity and science come together, and I am of the opinion that my fellow Westerners will find less arising antagonism when meditation is presented in a form closer to that of an exercise. Which is not to lessen the thorough impact of meditation overall; under the banner of an exercise might its introduction and efficacy travel much farther. I had too often seen in our culture a general confusion between a seeming oblivion and the pursuit of enlightenment; and by such confusion, catalyzing a rather contentious, dark and culturally divisive mess toward something which is otherwise profound, beautiful, and reliable. Perhaps now the balance on this tips...

     Those already into a mindfulness practice may have found Part One as a kind of review, and I hope I didn't bore you to tears. There is always much to be said in any avenue of learning for sticking to the basics though. It is my hope here in 'Opening the Door' that my point of view on the economy will supply an interesting and pointed degree of awareness – an influence tucked neatly into a cultural blind-spot - by which one may find very practical, moment-to-moment, interpersonal applications for everyday decisions and conversation. 

It is my wish for us all to begin to see just how dominant of a factor the economy has become in how we are able to experience the fullness of our minds and our lives. Reducing the economy to a factor within a psychological landscape may be insulting for some – threatening certainly – however, I have not found this one element of human civility to reflect accurately Our Nature."