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.
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.
When the relevance of numbers disappears, that’s oneness.
I thought of this while walking a path bathed in yellow pine needles. With the word “bathed”, I’m trying to express the expanse of the needles. Pressed under my feet, stretching behind me and ahead. Blanketing the woods to either side. Stretching in every direction beyond my view.
I think of the process of counting each one. I try to glimpse meaning beyond the absurdity of the task. Absurd because how long would it take to even count the number in ten square feet, never mind the huge expanse in Great Pond State Forest?
When the relevance of numbers disappears, that’s oneness.
The idea is attempting to express the woven unity of this carpet of needles. A vast, interlinked skein. Yes, made of individual shafts, but the repetition speaks to me a giant tan fabric. Is not fabric made of many connected threads?
Envisioning this helps me better understand the Taoist concept of merging the truth of individuality within the connection of totality. Losing numbers in this small world of pine needles, that are losing their color and returning to the earth, connects me to the immense unity that I am apart from and a part of.
I was going through my book looking for good passages that I will use in a philosophy unit in one of my classes. This passage stood out to me:
We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities.
We loiter in winter while it is already spring.
Earlier, Thoreau warned not to try to turn spring into summer; here he warns not to obsess on the past. Lao Tzu said:
Why was it that the ancients prized this Tao so much? Because it could be got by seeking for it, and the guilty could use it to escape the stain of guilt. This is the reason that all under heaven consider it a valuable thing.
Learn from mistakes and missed opportunities and apply this learning going forward. Practice forgiving yourself, especially if you have accepted the lessons from your mistakes.
If you are interested in buying my book, click this link.
I have to say, this brings me a lot of pride and joy. I’ve said before that it was a tough decision for me to self-publish. Not just because it felt like a defeat to not get accepted by a publisher, but more importantly I realized that I would have to promote the book myself.
I guess I’m doing a pretty good job!
I was thinking today about the rejection letters that I received when I submitted Tao of Thoreau for publication. Two of them were real disappointments because they expressed interest at first: I really thought the dream would come true. Due to those near successes, I held on to the idea of being published, until I finally made the decision to give it a go.
Now, I’m thinking of each of those books as an acceptance letter. And that’s a good feeling!
I think I’ve turned a mental corner about my writing. I feel more like an accomplished author every day, and the wannabee dreamer is being put behind.
A year ago I received my proof copy of Tao of Thoreau. It’s still a very cool moment and memory. I continue to try to appreciate every step on this journey.
I wondered then how many books I would sell. I frankly wondered if I’d sell any after friends and family bought theirs. As I write this, I have sold 495 books. A big number beckons, and 500 seems like a real milestone.
Though this is not the big dream I began in childhood, as I have said here before, it is better. It is reality. Instead of fantasizing about future success, I am planning ways to promote the book and get it to as wide an audience as possible.
If you’re interested in finding out more about my book, this page will give you some background and links to purchase on Amazon.