Look at Where You Want to Go, Not Where You’ve Been.

There are times when the mind wants to return to a past that no longer exists because we are not spending enough time  journeying to the destination that does not yet have our attention, but that wants us as a tourist.
What happens on journeys? We travel and move and see things and get thrilled by the freedom and then suddenly…tired, exhausted, and weary, the hard stop on the side of the road arrives. And when we pull over, the road that was so exciting becomes deserted and lonely. The elation provided by movement evaporates and we are left with just the sound of the wind and the hiss of cars that are anonymous and devoid of companionship. Then it seems that no one will pull over to see if we need roadside assistance.
Where I have been traveling for almost three years is a  wide plateau like the Mojave Desert. Beautiful but stark. Colorful but prone to changes in weather that strip all the colors away and turn everything to low contrast black and white. Lifeless appearances that are actually vital but that require attention and clear vision to be truly observed. Long distances between places of refreshment in a vehicle that is perfectly capable of sustaining a happy life whether I know it or not.
Each day of this voyage the sun rises and falls, the horizon lights up and fades, the wind blows softly, and then severe rain falls without advance notice. And the whole time the landscape glows with a divinity that is easy to miss because the process of travel is so filled with mental processing, some of which is vital and some of which is mere distraction that takes us off course to highways that lead nowhere. Yet we can manage to get back to the main highway if we keep searching and wandering.
Eventually there is an end to the travels. We don’t know where and when. The doing is in itself the traveling. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the “not-doing” is the traveling. Lao-tzu would put it that way.
If we are traveling with a companion there is always the possibility that they may not be with us for the entire trip. And perhaps we bury them by the side of the trail and leave their bones to the sun and wind. And move on because there is nothing else we can do.
All of us on this planet are journeying whether we know it or not. Is it better to know? Perhaps. It gives us a chance to appreciate our authentic freedom when we take a moment to consider the journey objectively.
So consider these ideas:
There are those who travel without knowing it and who become disturbed with the discomfort of moving. So they stop, build little homes and slowly fade away, leaving their dreams to be picked apart by the vultures that keep the desert clean.
There are those who don’t travel at all. We meet them when we pull into the tiny towns where they live so we can gas up and take a break. Maybe they offer bad advice. If we listen credulously we receive inaccurate directions and end up in cul-de-sacs. Then we have to backtrack and find our way once more on our own. That takes up time that we may not have. Or we get stuck and die in a place that is not where we are supposed to finish.
But there are those who travel without moving. They are rare and far between but can give us directions and offer tips on the sights to see along the way. They are the helpers and the bodhisattvas, but they are not always obvious. In paying attention to the journey we will find them.
So keep your windshields clean and polished, friends. Never give up the path.


Thumping My Own Tub and Singing

Speaking of Chuang Tzu..,
After my wife passed away in March of 2014 I returned to the wisdom material that had influenced me when I was a young man. All of it was from the East. Very little of the Western tradition had ever resonated with me and a lot of it made no sense whatsoever when compared with my own life experience. But the Tao Te Ching, the I Ching (Book of Changes) and other Taoist and Buddhist writings matched up with my view of the world at that time, and have ever since. When I first began processing my grief those writings were the first thing I turned to.
But I had forgotten about Chuang Tzu. When compared with the soft wisdom of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu comes across as a crazy man. Most of his statements contain no obvious meaning. It’s not as if he is a wild, crazy sage or anything. It’s more a feeling of cantankerous willfulness, as if he is saying: “This is the way it is and if you don’t see that it’s not my problem.” There’s a little bit of the irritated Zen Master in his expression, but the basis of his thought isn’t exactly Buddhism as it would be for a master teacher. When I was young he was beyond my understanding, like the old man who shouts at the neighborhood kids who walk across his lawn.
For many years my go to edition of the Tao Te Ching was the translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, a large paperback that was beautifully designed. The companion volume of Chuang-Tzu’s Inner Chapters I read less often.
Occasionally it would be revealing, but I think I was too young and inexperienced to really understand it. Both of these books are still in my library. They are still in print in new editions and I recommend them. (Here and Here).
When I began putting the pieces of my life back together I purchased another translation of Chuang Tzu’s writings translated by Martin Palmer and several other people. As I began reading the introduction I found this story:
Chuang Tzu’s wife died and Hui Tzu came to console him, but Chuang Tzu was sitting, legs akimbo, bashing a battered tub and singing.
Hui Tzu said, ‘You lived as man and wife, she reared your children. At her death surely the least you should be doing is to be on the verge of weeping, rather than banging the tub and singing: this is not right!’
Chuang Tzu said, ‘Certainly not. When she first died, I certainly mourned just like everyone else! However, I then thought back to her birth and to the very roots of her being, before she was born. Indeed, not just before she was born but before the time when her body was created. Not just before her body was created but before the very origin of her life’s breath. Out of all of this, through the wonderful mystery of change she was given her life’s breath. Her life’s breath wrought a transformation and she had a body. Her body wrought a transformation and she was born. Now there is yet another transformation and she is dead. She is like the four seasons in the way that spring, summer, autumn and winter follow each other. She is now at peace, lying in her chamber, but if I were to sob and cry it would certainly appear that I could not comprehend the ways of destiny. This is why I stopped.’
Tzu, Chuang. The Book of Chuang Tzu (Penguin Classics) (Kindle Locations 245-254). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
I can’t even begin to describe how that story affected me. I knew that someday I would be like that old and cranky man, banging on a tub and singing, but that day I could not feel that way. The wound was too recent, the hurt was too deep, and I was in no normal state of mind. If there is anything that shakes your faith in any acquired spiritual wisdom greater than the passing of a loved one, I can’t imagine it. Yet I knew that there would be a time when I could start singing again and be in full acceptance of what had happened. And I knew when I reached that stage I could write this little post and place that wisdom out there so that anyone could read it and perhaps feel a bit calmer in the midst of whatever sadness they might be feeling.
That time is finally here.
This is not to say that I do not miss her. Far from it. I can’t help but carry her with me as I continue thumping my own tub and singing as loudly as I can with gratitude and joy.
As to the photograph, it was made on the same day as the one in my previous post. The same sunset, the same sky, the same sea and shore. My wife is looking out to the Pacific with our greyhound at her side. Staring at possibilities? The future? The Will of Heaven? There is a path of light leading from the figures to the edge of the horizon. There is always a path. And there is always a song.
(Photo information: Nikon D700, Nikkor 28-300mm at 62 mm, ISO 800, f8 at 1/8000 of a second, Lightroom, Color Efex Pro 3)

Sea and Shore Portfolio

Led on by the Light

I mentioned the other day that this has been a pretty crappy year for a lot of people. There’s been an onslaught of celebrity deaths that started with David Bowie and ended yesterday with the passing of Carrie Fisher (but there are a few more days left, so it could get worse!) And yes, there was that thing in November which is only going to get stupider (and that’s all I’ll say about that here). But for me, this year has been much better than 2014 or 2015.
My wife passed away unexpectedly in 2014, and in 2015 I was laid off from my job which ended my 30 year career in information technology.  But 2016 has been a year of transformation for me. I seem to have reinvented myself . I won’t go into the details but I feel filled with a confidence I have not experienced in a long time.
One of my favorite Chinese philosophers is Chang Tzu. He’s not as well-known as Confucius or Lao Tze, He was kind of a crank and railed against what he saw as the hierarchy that Confucius praised and which was built into ancient Imperial China. I suppose that’s why I like him so much; simply because of his curmudgeonly approach to things but still walking the path of Taoism and the natural world.
He said this: “Also, by the light shining out of chaos, the sage is guided; he does not make use of distinctions but is led on by the light.”
That’s important to me. It sums up many things and perhaps explains the totality of not only my visual art, but my entire life. When things are darkest that’s when they’ll return to daylight. Yin to Yang.
The photo in this post was taken at Sea Ranch on the Sonoma Coast north of San Francisco—one of my favorite places and a destination for many adventures with my wife. It was taken on her birthday in 2012. When I am out in the natural world observing the play of light and wind all my problems are put in perspective. They don’t really amount to much in comparison with those bigger things that occur without us having to do anything: sunrises and sunsets, and other processes and progressions that we cannot control. I solace in the fact that there are things I can do nothing about and that I can only experience. Even the terrible events that can send us whirling into grief and despair are so inevitable that we simply have to accept them and then pick up whatever pieces are left over after the storm passes.
Chang Tzu was right. There is always a light shining out of Chaos. It always shows the way out and into what happens next. Change is inevitable. We just have to roll with it rather than fighting it.
My favorite element of this photo is the small group of people at the bottom of the frame. The small size of the group and their anonymity in the midst of that huge sunset tells the story. Life goes on; that’s the theme. There is no use in making distinctions between happy or sad. They are simply one thing, and you can’t know one without bumping into the other.
(Photo notes: Nikon D700, Nikkor 28-300 mm at 180 mm, 1/4000 sec at f8. Lightroom and Color Efex Pro)