Much as I admire and base my actions on Master Lao Tzu, there’s only so much banging on about life in a Taoist stylee you can do before you start to repeat yourself. I’ve decided to open up my Sunday thread, which will henceforth be retitled The Sunday Spiritual, to other voices, opinions and philosophies. Possibly even some I don’t agree with, so that you can have the edifying experience of watching Yours Truly arguing with himself.

Meanwhile, the last couple of weekends have been spent with the extended family, celebrating birthdays and generally enjoying the rare occasion of everyone getting together. Both sides of our clan are equidistant, meaning that visits are bookended with two-hour car rides. Another reason, I guess, for the rarity of family reunions. There are only so many Saturday mornings that you can spend on motorways.

The meet-ups have had a couple of unexpected benefits. I have an evil plan that may turn into an biography, and another that is likely to lead to a regular blogging gig separate from X&HT. Neither of which I can really talk about yet.

Meanwhile, I and another group of friends that don’t get together often enough will be meeting tomorrow, following which there may be more news. And it looks as if another piece written a while back will be making an appearance in print very soon. But again, I can’t really talk about these yet either.

In other words, although I’m bubbling over with excitement about events in the latter half of the year, I can’t do more than hint and tease. Which makes this whole post a bit redundant, really.

Oh well. Dance me off, Mulder and Scully…

They're doing the twist to the theme from "The Munsters", you know.

The Sunday Buddha: Storm

(The most appropriate quote I could find from Master Lao this week was used a couple of weeks ago. So, for one week only, please welcome our guest speaker, the Buddha.)

“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What’s the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood?”

For the third year in a row, there have been redundancies at the company for which I work. This time around, I was not in the frame. People that I have worked with for many years were not so lucky.

Losing a long-held job can be a lot like losing a loved one, and will leave you subject to the same feelings of helpless loss. No matter how much you rationalise it as a chance to start again, to try something new, the kick in the gut when you’re told there’s not a place for you is a terrible blow.

We’re all subject to the cruel vagaries of fate, and to forces that are very much above and beyond our control. It can feel as if we are buffeted by a storm, clinging to any piece of flotsam we can find to keep our heads above water. It doesn’t have to be like that, and the simple recognition that we are all drifting together can, I hope, bring some measure of comfort. If we treat each other as equals under the storm, then there is the possibility of everyone finding their way to higher ground together.

The Sunday Lao Tzu: The Future

Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.

It’s a beautiful spring day in England. The kind of day fir which, if you are religiously inclined, you would want to offer thanks to whatever deity you have chosen to worship. The predictions of a deluded old man have been blown away in the fresh wind, insubstantial and dead as dust, vanishing like broken promises into a clean blue sky.

Let’s not waste our pity on Harold Camping. He is at best a fool, at worst a charlatan and thief. He spent a hundred million dollars on an exercise in self-promotion. Hardly the most Christian use of such a large sum.

Worse, his followers are waking up this morning to realise that they have blown life savings and mortgages to pass his message along.

We all need a sage, a mentor, a muse to help guide us down the road. Sadly, we could also use some advice on choosing that wise man or woman, and it’s all too easy to listen to the wrong person. I choose to be guided by the precepts of Master Lao, but I understand that he too can be contradictory. For example, I offer the quote above, but he has also said:

The sage does not hoard. The more he helps others, the more he benefits himself, The more he gives to others, the more he gets himself. The Way of Heaven does one good but never does one harm. The Way of the sage is to act but not to compete.

…which, you could argue, is perhaps what Camping thought he was doing. Nevertheless, two opposing koans on the same subject, allowing me to put my own perspective onto a text. Which is exactly what Camping did.

Any reading of a text is subject to the reader’s interpretations and bias. As a writer, I understand that clearly. As does Master Lao, who says:

The words of truth are always paradoxical.

…which is just so incredibly helpful.

It’s very likely that Camping will regroup, rejig his numbers and come up with a new date for the heavens to fall. This is the fifth time he’s done this, and as long as his followers give him money, he will continue to do so. This saddens me, but it’s their choice, and there is nothing I can do to change their minds. I simply hope that at least some of them will wake up in every sense of the phrase today, and take joy and comfort in the precious gift that is the first day of the rest of their lives.

The Sunday Lao Tzu: Change

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

It’s been a tough week for TLC and I. We’ve had to deal with change and loss. it would be very easy to crawl under the duvet and not come out for a while. Our world has been canted away from the usual even keel, and it’s taken a while for things to settle.

Change is the only thing we can reliably expect to happen, and yet we are rarely prepared for it. It would be wonderful to accept it and flow on through, but this is the point where I dare to disagree with master Lao, and instead turn to the wisdom of Steve Earle. He defines transcendence as “the art of going through things. Like a divorce. Like a plate glass window.”

Life can sometimes have harsh lessons for us, but lessons they are, and we would be poor students not to pay attention. Even the tough times have their worth, although it often takes the gift of hindsight to figure it out.

The Sunday Lao Tzu: Worship

I do not concern myself with gods and spirits either good or evil nor do I serve any.

For a large proportion of the world’s population, today is a day of special significance, of worship and celebration. For many, it’s an excuse to eat chocolate. For everyone else, it’s just another day. I, like master Lao, choose not to ally myself to any deity or higher ruling power (prayers to the Gods of the London Orbital for safe passage not withstanding). This makes me no more or less right than those of you who will be in church today, or facing east, or lighting insence.

Faith is an essential part of the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, and it would be churlish of me to sneer at them for their beliefs. If worship gives your life structure, a sense of significance and meaning, then so be it. Religion can give explanation, community, and comfort. I fully understand that. All I would ask is that you treat my worldset with the same respect. It’s an unfortunate fact that the simple inability of one religious group to respect the bounds and traditions of another has caused more strife and bloodshed then any other factor in the history of conflict on our angry little planet. That should not be the case.

The right to choose how you worship should never be subject to another’s opprobrium. If you choose not to be bound to any particular god, that too is a choice that is yours, yours alone, and one that should be universally respected. We live in a world too filled with wonders to be bogged down in petty disputes over liturgy, ritual or methods of prayer.

However you’re spending this glorious April day, may your gods be with you.

The Sunday Lao Tzu: Travel

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.

I’ve thought a lot over the last few days about Gimpo, Iain Sinclair and the M25. By viewing the London Orbital less as a way to get from one place to the other, and more as a space in which you can explore other, less defined territories, it can lead you on a journey where the destination becomes a sense of inner understanding.

Gimpo has often said that he wants to find out where the M25 goes. It’s a less foolish question than it sounds. His trips around the road can be very clearly seen as a vision quest, as a route into the dreamtime. Once you ignore the exits, once you shrug off the distractions, then your true path can become much clearer.

The Sunday Lao Tzu: Creative

Great indeed is the sublimity of the Creative, to which all beings owe their beginning and which permeates all heaven.

I choose to misinterpret the koan above, which might also be subject to a mistranslation. The Creative, to my mind, is the urge to create. If you tap into The Creative, then your life is irrevocably changed for the better. You access something greater than you know, and become capable of feats that are frankly astonishing. The Creative is the reason I write every day, and feel tetchy and nervous if I somehow skip the task. I am guided towards friendships and relationships with people who have also tasted the Creative: film-makers, artists, musicians. Being one with the Creative opens your eyes and heart to a bigger, brighter world.

Maybe I didn’t misinterpret master Lao after all.

The Sunday Lao Tzu: Sowing The Seeds

He who obtains has little. He who scatters has much.

It’s a day for planting. The early garlic and shallots that I put into the ground last month will be joined in my little plot today by potatoes, cauliflower and salad crops. I am no gardener. But I enjoy the idea of a deal where a tiny amount of work can be rewarded with fresh food. Esoteric salad leaves in particular are cheap in seed form, easy to grow and infinitely preferable to supermarket pillow packs. A herb patch will give and keep on giving.

A little love now will mean I can harvest great rewards in a couple of months. And planting is a calm and meditative way to spend a Sunday morning. I wonder if Master Lao was a gardener. I like to think that he was.


The Sunday Lao Tzu: A Journey

Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

Lao Tzu has certain themes that he returns to over and again from different perspectives and viewpoints. Self-mastery is one of them. The ability to conquer your own doubts and shortcomings is a vital part of achieving enlightenment, but it is equally important in your daily life.

You can use many of his teachings as guidance while planning a tough endeavour such as running a marathon. Training is best accomplished little and often, building up slowly and carefully, aware at all times of the lessons and warnings that your body is giving you. Running is a perfect opportunity to empty your mind of worry and care; to simply be in and of the moment. It can be a deeply meditative time.

I hope that everyone who has run the Reading Half-Marathon today has succeeded in their goals, and that the experience has helped them in all the ways they hoped, and some that they never expected. I would especially like to send warm good wishes to X&HTeam-mate Paul Staples, for whom this race is just another milestone on the road to the London Marathon in May. To him, and all the other brave and noble souls joining him, may the road rise up to meet you.