March 31 – April 6:
The Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, wrote in the Tao Te Ching:
True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
yet it is fully present.
True straightness seems crooked.
True wisdom seems foolish.
True art seems artless.
The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way and lets the Tao [the Way] speak for itself.
— Tao Te Ching, Chapter 45
Often when we are practicing yoga postures, it is easy to find one’s self seeking perfection in the execution of them. Yet, truly, there has to be a “stepping aside” quality … a “staying out of one’s own way” quality … in each posture we execute. It is only when we step out of our own way and let go of trying to be perfect that the Tao or “the Way” can work its magic through us.
Back in 2000, I acted in a production of The Teahouse of the August Moon with Pan Asian Rep. It takes place after World War II at a time when Okinawa was occupied by the U.S. Military. I remember a scene where a U.S. officer saw a one-of-a-kind wooden tea cup that was crafted by an old Okinawan wood carving artisan. The Okinawan artisan describes how it took him many years to learn how to paint a flower on the inside of the cup like his father used to. Still, though it took a lot of effort and time, he said in the end, “it’s imperfect.” The point the artisan was trying to make is that something is perfect in and of itself because it has imperfections.
The Tao, the Way, cannot work through us unless we change our idea of what perfection truly is.
I know what it feels like to overwork a project in my attempts to make it perfect. But, with the “overworking” comes additional stress and thus, the easeful path of “The Way” can easily elude me. Sometimes, I just have to step back and say, “it’s perfect, as is” and move on.
May I stay out of my own way. May my perfectly imperfect perfections … somehow benefit all beings everywhere.
April 7 – 13:
Lao Tzu also wrote:
All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power.
If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.
If you want to lead the people,
you must learn how to follow them.
The Master is above the people,
and no one feels oppressed.
She goes ahead of the people,
and no one feels manipulated.
The whole world is grateful to her.
Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.
— Tao Te Ching, Chapter 66
Often in our quest for more power, we only look upwards and strive higher. Perhaps, attaining power has more to do with having the humility to understand better who and what is beneath us.
In striving for more power in our yoga practice, perhaps we attain more by having more compassion for our very own weaknesses.
Always keep your ego below your heart.
Have compassion for the weak link in your body in every yoga asana.
Strive higher by experiencing the lower.
May I know humility. May my powers attained somehow benefit all beings everywhere.
April 14 – 27:
Again, from Lao Tzu:
Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
— Tao Te Ching, Chapter 67
In yoga, we simply return to the breath, over and over again. We find the simplest postures where we can breathe fully. Doing so, we return to our source of being.
In yoga, we practice patience, knowing that Self-Realization takes a long time to achieve. Doing so helps us to accept our friends and enemies, just as they are. In not trying to change others, others are changed.
In yoga, we practice compassion for ourselves, knowing that it is the key to healing the mind and the heart. When we can have compassion for our own suffering, truly we can understand just how all beings struggle to make sense of the human condition they find themselves in.
May you hold onto your three greatest treasures.
May I remember simplicity, patience and compassion. May I remember these three for the benefit of all beings everywhere.
April 28 – May 4:
Lao Tzu suggested:
The generals have a saying:
“Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.”
This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.
There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.
When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.
— Tao Te Ching, Chapter 69
In each yoga asana, there is going to be tension between opposing forces. In order to lift our spine to the heavens, we have to strongly root our feet deep down into the earth. To find the right balance requires engaging muscular effort. If you’re losing your balance, it might be because one force is overpowering the opposing one. Victory, in yoga, comes to us when we can cultivate a yielding quality in each asana.
In life, too, victory can be ours when we can practice yielding. In NYC, we are constantly experiencing opposing forces coming at us. Rather than giving in to a knee-jerk, habitual reaction when we feel we have been assailed, perhaps it is better to take a breath and yield. Likely, one will emerge victorious for having done so.
May I yield. May I yield, … for my benefit and the benefit of all beings.