I received this email and it definitely made my day.
To have the word “masterpiece” associated with my book is hard to take in. Of course, it fills me with pride. “Simplicity and wisdom” is exactly what I was going for, so to have a reader recognize that and take time out to comment on it is amazing.
This won’t go to my head, though. I am humbled by the presence of two luminous philosophies in my book. That I was bright enough to find the connection between the two of them says something about me, for sure, but Thoreau and Taoism deserve almost all the credit if this is indeed a masterpiece.
Have you checked out my book? This link will lead you to the Amazon order page where you can read more about it and perhaps make a purchase: Tao of Thoreau
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
(Translation by Stephen Mitchell, 1995)
This passage is such an incredible guide, as is the whole of that remarkable, ancient book. These words constantly return me to the lessons they teach, which are both straightforward and difficult to practice continuously.
Simplicity is something I do attempt to practice, and it has helped me control my desires and work on my dreams without being let down when they don’t work out exactly the way I want them to.
Patience is probably my strongest attribute: after all, I am a 7th grade teacher! I have learned to be more patient with my dreams, understanding that I must continue to put in the work as they grow and come true.
I have worked on being compassionate with myself. I used to have a lot of negative self-talk. This came from a period when I was unreliable and irresponsible. It has been a long time since I was like that, but the negative thoughts were powerful, because they were once necessary. Since I have changed, I have worked on replacing them with positive words, and it has helped me to stay on track and learn lessons without beating myself up.
Simplicity, patience, compassion: three powerful words that taken together form a path for a healthy life.
A few years ago, I was sitting in my backyard. It was summertime, and I noticed the four neighborhood crows wheeling around in the sky. Then the largest one cawed, and they all flew into a single tree.
Crows aren’t usually that interesting, so I was about to turn away when one launched from a high branch. It flew straight toward a powerline pole. It dove, then banked an extreme turn around the pole. Churning its wings, it flew back up to the branch, greeted by a cacophony from its fellows.
Then, one by one, each did the same. They continued this for a while, and I was enraptured. Their cawing, usually grating, became the sounds of encouragement and enthusiasm.
They must be playing, I thought at first. And I think they were. But I also think that they were doing drills, practicing difficult maneuvers that would be useful in tight forest spaces.
I gained a great respect for crows that day, and the experience stripped away the biases often associated with these sophisticated carrion birds.
The emphasis on “POW” in the title is a bit of a joke, but also reveals what I want to say about Nature’s profound strength.
This picture shows that so effectively. Yes, this sprout did not shoot up with a comic book “POW!!!” Instead, what is revealed is the slow, implacable ability for this single green plant to break through a layer of asphalt. What a profound example of how persistently following the path of growth makes a being nearly irresistible.
Thoreau and the Taoists both talk about this strength. Thoreau wanted “to travel the only path I can, and that on which no power can resist me.” Asphalt is poured so its elements melt together and harden. They should stop a mere plant from sprouting. But that plant is doing what it must, what Nature demands of it, and no mere human concoction is going to stop its growth.
Today I am going to think with my sprout mind, and I am going to find the barriers that are stopping my growth. Then I’m going to find the natural path to overcome them.
Giggling begins. It starts with one student, but it spreads like a yawn. The laughers lose control, their bodies shaking and the sound taking on the edge of mania. Some put their heads down on their arms, shoulders pulsing even as they muffle the sound.
I remember teenage emotions. The laughter, the heartache, the love, the tears. How much emotional intensity is due to newness, the personal inexperience with life, with feelings?
Experience is a wonderful teacher, but it also wears down the extremes. Though I’m glad I no longer feel the intensity of hurt that came with the disappointments and tragedies of youth, experience also takes away some of that perfect joy.
I still feel the edges of it sometimes. The laughter will linger, approaching that barrier, but there is too much control now. Is it about learning to let go, or remembering how to?
Teaching young people does keep you young, partly because it reminds you of what being young is like. But while most experiences build our capacities, observing youth reminds you of how much is taken away by the years.
Last weekend we got about 4 inches of rain overnight. When I went on a hike, and saw what’s in this video, I thought “Funny how the water followed the path.”
My mind immediately alerted me to a potential fallacy. A “which came first” idea presented itself. Isn’t it more likely that water made this path? Rain overflow creates little streams, especially in the spring. Some are freshets, have a relatively deep bed, and can run for months if its a wet season. Not great for a path.
But a lot of time there are washes for when a big storm overflows the system of ponds and streams and rivulets, and more water runs off. As water always does, it tends to gather and find a way to flow down. I’m thinking these are the path makers: yes they get wet, but only briefly, and dry fairly quickly, which means we can walk on them most of the time.
Humans are smart, and you can also say we’re either thrifty or a bit lazy. It is far easier to follow a path given to us by nature than to have to hack a new path through its bushes, trees and tangles.
So my new thought is: “Look how we follow that path of water.”