Wedding Vows

As a silver tongued lawyer/author I wanted to write my own wedding vows. I figured it would be easy to describe how the dark places filled with light when Rebecca entered my life story. I was certain I could do this with style and grace, but as I sat in front of a blank page, the words escaped me.

Lao Tzu was right…”The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao.” Words can never really express the real thing. I wanted to eloquently express what I felt in my heart, but all I heard inside was keep it simple. Keep it real. Keep with tradition.

What can I possibly add to: “I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”

The only thing I can think to add is “from this day forward, for all of time.”

Rebecca and I were married today. This is the happiest day of my life. Peace out.

Tai Chi

The following is a passage about Tai Chi from Naked Tao.

Most martial arts make a show of being hard, strong, and fast. By contrast, Tai Chi is calm, centered, and peaceful. It is a mystery to most people how something so peaceful-looking can be used for self-defense purposes. Yet, in ancient China, it was revered as one of the most effective fighting styles. So what is the secret?

I first learned the secret of Tai Chi on my sixteenth birthday when Ch’ing tossed me the keys to his car and said, “Let’s try out that new learner’s permit.”

I jumped at the opportunity to get a driving lesson. A license is everything to a teenage boy. Without one, dating is impossible. Thinking we’d start slow, I asked, “Are we going to stay in the neighborhood?”

“Head to the Interstate,” he answered.

I felt my stomach flop. I’m not sure what I expected, but Ch’ing told me to relax and not overreact. “Just point it between the lines, Grant. If you remember to make small adjustments, then you’ll be okay.”

Gulping, I backed down the driveway and did what he said. I figured he’d offer more driving instruction, but instead, he talked about his life in the monastery.

“Once a year, the old monks descend the mountain with food, wine, and medicine,” Ch’ing said. “First, they tend to the sick. Afterwards, they throw a huge party for the villagers, entertaining them with stories and martial arts demonstrations.”

“I wish I could watch them do Kung Fu,” I said. “Ch’ing, what is the ultimate martial art?”

Without hesitation he answered, “Tai Chi.”

“Yea, right,” I said. “It’s so slow. How could anyone fight with that stuff? I mean, it’s for old men, isn’t it?”

He didn’t answer. Instead, he said we needed gas and told me to take the next exit. Ch’ing went inside to pay as I began pumping fuel into his old convertible Cadillac.

For the first time, I gave our surroundings a good look. It was a very rough area. The streets were empty. All the other businesses looked closed. Most of the buildings in the immediate area were boarded. Vacant structures were covered in gang graffiti. The convenience store windows were covered with bars. I realized this was a very scary place.

As I surveyed my surroundings, I saw something move in the shadows. I couldn’t quite make it out at first. Slowly, a sinister figure emerged and took shape. His face was hidden by a hooded sweatshirt. He paused for what seemed like an eternity, and then began to move in my direction.

I did not like the looks of this at all. I felt my heart start pounding and I couldn’t catch my breath. My blood pressure increased a notch with each menacing step. By the time he stopped a few feet in front of me, I was in a full blown fight or flight state.

Time slowed. Sweat trickled down the small of my back. He shifted his feet and mumbled something unintelligible. It was a strange garbled sound. I wasn’t even sure it was speech. So much information can be gained about a person in just a few sentences. If you listen carefully, you can read their intentions. I learned nothing from the garbled sounds coming from him. I was frozen. I waited.

I tried to see his face…read his eyes and expression. Even at close range, his face was still obscured. He was like a shadow and it totally creeped me out. He spoke again. I still didn’t understand him. This time I responded, but my voice cracked before coming out high and sharp. Damn, I didn’t mean to do that.

He snorted in disgust and reached for his pocket. He was going for a weapon. My only chance was to hit him hard and fast. I was a split second away from attacking when I heard Ch’ing say in a warm friendly voice, “What can we do for you friend?”

Ch’ing had appeared out of nowhere. He quietly sided up to the stranger and put his arm around him. His manner was friendly. The embrace was warm. He used the connection to trap the mugger’s arm against his body. The hand reaching for the weapon was immobilized in the thug’s pocket. Ch’ing’s smile never wavered. His kindness was genuine. His control of the situation was absolute.

The shadow turned to look at Ch’ing. For the first time, I could see the mugger’s face. It quickly shifted from hatred to shock and confusion. Ch’ing’s appearance had been so unexpected. His lighthearted and friendly demeanor was equally astonishing.

As I processed this unexpected turn of events, I witnessed the most amazing transformation. Slowly, the mugger’s face changed until it mirrored Ch’ing’s warmth and friendliness. He visibly relaxed. His eyes began to twinkle just like my teacher’s. Ch’ing repeated his question. This time more softly, “What can we do to help you friend?”

After handing him a couple of cigarettes, Ch’ing gave him a pat on the back and sent him off into the night. His parting words were, “Be careful my friend. It can be dangerous out there.”

We climbed into the car and started for home. Neither of us spoke for a while. I was thinking about what could have happened and my hands started shaking. I needed to talk about it so I asked Ch’ing, “What happened back there?”

“Tai Chi lesson,” he answered.

“Lesson?”

“It’s easy to hurt people,” said Ch’ing. “That takes little skill. The greater skill is to diffuse aggression without causing harm. The best way to do that is to win the fight before it begins. “Nip it in the bud,” to quote your great American philosopher, Barney Fife.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “That wasn’t a fight.”

He looked at me and said softly, “Then, why are your hands still shaking.”

I thought I had hidden it. I should have known better. Ch’ing doesn’t miss anything. I knew better than to give him a bullshit answer.

“I thought he was going to kill me,” I said. “It scared me.”

Ch’ing patted me on the shoulder.

“You did good,” said Ch’ing. “You stood in the face of danger and didn’t overreact.”

More honesty from me, “The truth is I was about to punch him when you appeared out of nowhere.”

“The better strategy is to embrace rather than destroy,” replied Ch’ing.

“How do I do that?” I asked.

“Join energy at the onset of conflict,” said Ch’ing.

“Huh?”

“Never run from conflict,” said Ch’ing. “Enter a dangerous situation and lead the attacker to safety. That is true martial mastery. Anything else falls short of the objective of an enlightened master.”

That’s exactly what Ch’ing did. If I had not seen it for myself, I would have thought he was talking about an unrealistic philosophy.

“Can you teach me Tai Chi?” I asked.

“Tai Chi is for living,” said Ch’ing. “It is about balance. The symbol people call the yin-yang symbol is a graphic representation of Tai Chi. It depicts opposites in balance. Opposites need each other. Light does not exist except in relationship to dark. Good and evil define one another. Grant, did you think that young man at the gas station was evil?”

“I thought he was bad guy,” I confessed.

Ch’ing pressed, “Do you wish there was no bad in the world, Grant?”

I answered without thinking. “Yes, I do. Then, we would have a perfect world, don’t you think?”

Ch’ing shook his head. “Good and bad define each other. If bad ceases to exist, then, so does good. When good and bad are out of balance, our life is filled with turmoil. The goal is to embrace life as it is. It does no good wishing things were different. If you can manage this, then you will be able to smile in the face of danger.”

Emptiness

Life is rich and full. Occasionally, the fullness of life gets to be a bit much. On these occasions it feels good to step back, take a deep breath and empty the vessel.  Rebecca and I are spending the weekend fasting…cleansing mind, body, and spirit of accumulated toxins.

The Tao is an empty vessel; it is used,
but never filled.
-Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu
translated by Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English
(A new updated version can be obtained at http://www.eheart.com/)

Naked Tao is an advanced mediation practice where Tao is experienced directly.  As wonderful as the old masters’ writings can be, the Tao that can be told is not the true Tao.

Change Your Water, Extend Your Life

Rebecca and I just returned from a backpacking trip in the Red River Gorge. While I’ve spent a great deal of time in the back country, it was her first trip. I wanted it to be a positive experience for her and spent a lot of time planning the trip. One of the things I love most about backpacking is you carry everything you need on your back.

Well sort of…I might have told Rebecca once or twice that water is heavy and it’s a lot easier to carry it inside of our bodies, than on our backs. Essentially, we are water bottles. The average adult is 65% water and staying hydrated is critical in the back country to avoid the ill effects of dehydration, such as, headaches, confusion, irritability, and fainting.

It just so happened to be the hottest weekend of the summer. We were tempted to postpone the trip, but we were excited and not sure when we’d get to reschedule. The heat concerned us, so on the drive to the mountains we drank lots of water.

I don’t know about you, but when I drink a lot of water, I feel better. I like to imagine it’s an internal shower washing away all of the grime from my insides. Another analogy I like to use is changing the oil in a car. If you’ve ever done it yourself, then the sludge that pours from the oil pan is much different than the fresh oil used to replace it. The owner’s manual that comes with your car urges you to change the oil on a regular basis to add life to your vehicle.

Water is freshest when it is moving. Like the mountain stream we camped near, it flows down and around obstacles. Think of a stagnant pool. It is not very attractive. Likewise, ask yourself if there are areas of your life that look and feel more like a stagnant pool than lively mountain stream. Sometimes we make the mistake of trying to move that obstacle out of our way, rather than flow around it. Flow like water and change your life.

Expiration Date

Life is resilient but comes with an expiration date. We enter this world supple and flexible, but leave it dried-up and stiff. If you’ve ever witnessed the birth of a child, as I have, then you know about flexibility. As we move through the stages of life, we tend to become rigid in body, thought, and spirit. If we aren’t careful, aspects of our lives become fossilized. This growing rigidity can move our expiration dates up. Of course, none of us want that.

Louisville was founded along the Ohio River at a series of rapids because the white water presented a navigational hazard for early explorers heading west. The Army Corps of Engineers later constructed a dam and locks to improve navigation on the river.

The Falls of the Ohio State Park was created to preserve a 390-million-year-old Devonian fossil bed. On a recent visit to the park, I was amazed by the fossil detail, but wondered what they really tell us about the lives those creatures lived. There are remnants of dinosaurs among us, and some are as common as a sparrow. As interesting as fossils may be, I prefer to observe life rather than an image impressed in stone.

The older I get, the more fascinating birds become. They remind me to remain light as the air I breathe and to adjust as necessary in mid-flight. I choose supple…flexible. I choose an open-mind. I choose life rather than death.

A New Journey

It is a well know Taoist proverb that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I don’t know about you, but such a long journey is not something I would undertake lightly. Before I take that first step, I want to be certain that the destination is worth it. Don’t you? So how do we do know our goal is a worthy one?

There was a time when you were fresh. The old masters call this the state of the “uncarved block”. What we have become was shaped by forces outside of ourselves. If we can remember who we were before we changed, then we may discover our true purpose in life. I don’t know about you but that is a goal I can get excited about.

So, how do we remember who we were before outside forces carved us into our present form? My favorite method is meditation. Fortunately, it’s very easy to learn

Choose a quiet comfortable place. Sit with your back straight. Drop your chin slightly. Stretch your spine by lifting the crown and simultaneously sinking your tail bone. Take long deep breaths, in your nose and out your mouth. Release your tension. Continue until your breath settles into its natural state. You will know when it happens. Trust yourself. Now, let your mind begin to wander through your unfulfilled desires, hopes, and dreams. Don’t judge yourself. Just remember.

Pay attention to anything you keep returning to. How would it feel to fulfill this dream? What would it take to realize it? Is it worth the effort? You will know when you have found a goal that is worthy of a thousand mile journey. Congratulations! Now take that first step.