The Wandering Monk

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Eastern Philosophy: Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu, in a nutshell, is the father of Daoism/Taoism.  This week, I’d like to talk about the great philosopher and founder of the Dao.  Lao Tzu, sometimes called Laozi, or Lao-Tze, which all literally translate into “Old Master”, was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. He is known as the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching, the founder of philosophical Taoism, and a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions.

Although a legendary figure, Laozi is usually dated to around the 6th century BCE and reckoned a contemporary of Confucius, but some historians contend that he actually lived during the Warring States period of the 5th or 4th century BCE. A central figure in Chinese culture, Laozi is claimed by both the emperors of the Tang dynasty and modern people of the Li surname as a founder of their lineage. Laozi’s work has been embraced by various anti-authoritarian movements as well as Chinese legalism.

Laozi is traditionally regarded as the author of the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching), though the identity of its author(s) or compiler(s) has been debated throughout history. It is one of the most significant treatises in Chinese cosmogony. As with most other ancient Chinese philosophers, Laozi often explains his ideas by way of paradox, analogy, appropriation of ancient sayings, repetition, symmetry, rhyme, and rhythm. In fact, the whole book can be read as an analogy – the ruler is the awareness, or self, in meditation and the myriad creatures or empire is the experience of the body, senses and desires.

The Tao Te Ching, often called simply Laozi after its reputed author, describes the Dao (or Tao) as the source and ideal of all existence: it is unseen, but not transcendent, immensely powerful yet supremely humble, being the root of all things. People have desires and free will (and thus are able to alter their own nature). Many act “unnaturally”, upsetting the natural balance of the Dao. The Daodejing intends to lead students to a “return” to their natural state, in harmony with Dao. Language and conventional wisdom are critically assessed. Taoism views them as inherently biased and artificial, widely using paradoxes to sharpen the point.

Lao Tzu is credited as saying:

Watch your thoughts;
they become words.

Watch your words;
they become actions.

Watch your actions;
they become habits.

Watch your habits;
they become character.

Watch your character;
it becomes your destiny.

The Dao is literally a translation for the ‘way’, and it is a method for behavior.  It asks us to see the natural beauty in all things, not despite their imperfections but because of them.  It asks us to fundamentally challenge ourselves and our ideals to think critically about ourselves fundamentally.  After all, if watch what we think, we change our destinies.  This is instrumental in our ability to function in the modern world.

Interestingly, much of the Eastern Philosophical world has philosophies that transcend time.  It’s as though the scholars of the time knew our plight, hundreds or thousands of years later, and wrote these words for us.  In reality, they were incredibly wise men who knew that the truest sense of human existence would always be fundamentally the same.  They knew that there would always be human beings that suffer and that live in unnatural ways and that this method of living would generate their means for suffering and that there would always be a need for cultivating a better world through systems of thought.

Daoism is one such system.  It creates in us a sense of following the way.  This shouldn’t be confused with laziness, because it’s merely following the ebb and flow of the world.

Think about your life for a moment — in what you do for work or for your occupation (school, play, living, etc.) Don’t you find that when you adapt to the change of the universe and of your environment, you’re far more successful than if you tighten the grip of control around it?

Such is the way of the Dao, in its truest form.  I’m reminded of the story of the Oak and the Reed.  The oak stood strong against the winds of change and the reed bent freely.  Eventually winds came that broke the Oak, yet the Reed always stood against them, despite being far weaker in sheer strength.

It means we must learn how to bend in our lives.  We must master our adaptation of situations we find ourselves.  In Kung Fu, this is a fundamental concept and, too, in life, it should be too.  We must always bend to the blows of life, or it will knock us off of our feet.

Special thanks again to School of Life for posting the video.  Please check out their channel.


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Eastern Philosophy: Kintsugi


This week, I’d like to talk about Kintsugi, also called Kintsukuroi, again accompanied by a video from The School of Life YouTube channel.

Special thanks to this channel for making such impacting videos that are easy to watch.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery back together with exotic mixtures, such as with adhesive with flecks of gold or jade.  It’s the philosophical ideal that expresses the truest nature of Zen and the Dao, in that it helps us find the beauty in things that are simple, eloquent.  It expresses the fundamental concept that we are all imperfect, impermanent, and flawed, yet these are not faults or failures, but points that make us human.  Details that give us our uniqueness and our personality.

I recall the emotions I feel when I see someone who is, by the standards of their peers, “perfect”.  Perhaps it’s a very beautiful woman, or that guy with the great personality that you just go “Wow, that <person> is just perfect, aren’t they?”

Well, what do we mean exactly?  We don’t mean without flaw, do we? We can’t honestly think they have no flaws.  Perhaps it is our perception of the number of flaws they have or mistakes they make compared to the ratio of non-flawed, non-mistake actions they make.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “But I don’t consider those people perfect.. my idea of it is bigger than that.”

Good, it should be. 

I think that if we analyze it long enough, we come to the conclusion that ‘perfect’ isn’t really the word we mean.  Perhaps.. ‘complete’ is the word.

I have a friend, Pam, who is a curious creature.  She is always in deep thought, always analyzing the tires even as they spin while she’s driving down the road.  I tell her sometimes that she gets wrapped around the axle a bit.  It’s her attention to detail that I think does this.

She can over-analyze many things, go down rabbit holes, and make snap judgement.  She stumbles, and falls, and makes mistakes about as often as she doesn’t.  And to me, if she was anything else, she would be less perfect than she is.

This, I think, is because perfection comes not from the absence of flaws, but from the ownership of one’s self as a whole.  Through the ownership of each part of herself; from the perceived good, the perceived bad, she is whole and complete.

What this truly means is that we are all perfect if only we accept who we really are at this moment.  Not refute the person we used to be as ‘inferior’ or ‘lower quality’, and not demanding who we may become as ‘better’ or ‘superior’ to our present selves.  But by embracing ourselves, here, now, in this moment, worts and all, as being whole and complete and perfect just how we are.

If you can pick up this ideal and truly own it then you are perfect.  If you can’t, then you’re still perfect, you just haven’t realized it yet.  And if something happens that breaks you, or makes you change your shape or purpose, then glue yourself back together with flecks of gold and embrace your inner-Kintsugi, and know that you are a timeless and perfect creature beholden and embodied with ideals that have stood four thousands of years.

Know that you are every bit as amazing and as wonderful as you should be and all that’s holding you back is your belief.


Featured Image by Whatever4Ever16:

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Eastern Philosophy: Matsuo Bashō


I’ve recently begun watching these series from The School of Life and decided that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go over some of these concepts.  I’ve included in the video above so you can enjoy it from the perspective of the talented YouTuber who created them.

Matsuo Bashō was most famous for his very humbling and Zen-oriented Haiku and artwork collaborations.  The Featured Image of this post is an example of artwork he did, where his famous Haiku is written alongside it.  It’s called the Oku no Hosomichi and is renowned for its simplistic view on the world.

What I find particularly interesting about this story is the foundation of humility it produces and yet, if you review his life, how much fame and vanity he had access to.  He’s a man who was very much at the heart of the art scene for a period of time.  He was highly involved with the social and intellectual scene of Edo in the mid-to-late 1600s.

Yet, after a time, he decided to become a hermit.  He set himself aside to ensure that he could reconnect with his true self.

This — this process — is why I wanted to write about him.  We can all learn from his example.  No matter what our successes are, we must always remember ourselves and strive to stay connected to our True Selves despite how inflated our egos get.  And even at our worst, we can connect to who we really are and persevere.

I admire the man, and I wish I could have sat with him and listened to him.  I wish I could understand Japanese better (or even at all honestly) so I could read more of his words in their original tongue.

So, with all that said, I challenge you as readers of this blog to take some time to find yourself.  Ask yourself if you’ve been in your own head too long and whether or not you’d benefit from setting aside some time in your lives for Wabi-Sabi (the acceptance of imperfection and impermanence).

And don’t forget to breath.

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The Snowball Effect

Have you ever felt like once things start going, they only keep going that way unless some major force, usually proportionate to the gathered momentum of the thing, stops it?

Sir Isaac Newton said that an object in motion stays in motion unless altered by an external force. This isn’t just true of objects though. Life and destiny, it seems, follows the same rules. 

Sometimes when our lives gather up a certain amount of baggage, it keeps on gathering that baggage. You know that friend you’ve got that stays with her terrible boyfriend even though he’s terrible? Or that really negative guy that only ever sees the negative and seems to only experience negativity? 

It seems that “objects” includes energy. It includes the actions and reactions of things we do, think, and feel. It includes our emotions and our way of life. 

They say you should dress the part you want to play. They say you should be the change you wish to see in others. They say treat others as you want to be treated. 

It seems this fundamental law has been understood for centuries and yet it’s fundamental purpose remains unknown. Why does this happen? Does it really have to do with the physics of the universe on that basic a level? Is it more complicated than I can theorize here on my lonely blog?

Ah, who knows. As much as I’d love to know the “why”, observing the “what” is just as enjoyable. 

In hard times, I’ve found embodying the positivity I want to see in myself creates it within my life. I’ve found that the phases of negativity are often diminished by the positive reactions despite how difficult this is. 

So stay positive, my friends, and sweep those around you towards positivity too. It’ll all come around. 

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It’s been a long time (I feel like my last few have started this way).

I return to talk about Transformation.  Change.  Growth.  It happens to all of us.  Some might even say it’s the point.  But what does it mean, how do we recognize it, and how blasted long does it take?

I may argue that transformation and change are different.  Perhaps change that enables you to be something better than you were can be called transformation.  Let’s go with that.

Let me tell you a story that might help illustrate how I’m feeling right now.  About three months ago, I decided I wanted to move to Alaska.  I had mentioned this in another post but, for those who didn’t know, that’s a thing.  Up until when I made this decision, I had a lot of variables to consider — some were more important to others, needless to say, but all presented themselves, to me, as obstacles.  I interpreted them as such.  Each time I faced one, some part of me whispered “there’s always something.”

It had always been a negative connotation.  It had always been a “oh great, here we go, this again” sort of feeling.  Then something changed — transformed, you might say — in my perspective.  This perspective is likely one of the biggest considerations in making my trip here a successful one.

I realized that the obstacles I faced could be viewed a little differently.  Some might say that their being there were tests to my conviction.  Others might say that they make the journey more meaningful.  Others still might even call them blessings in disguise; fostering growth from within, adapting and overcoming and training myself to do that.

My realization wasn’t one of those things, exactly, but just that such perspectives exist and that when I perceive it that way, I ultimately arrived at a larger conclusion.

It is my choice.

No one else’s.  No one else can say that I can or can’t go, only me.  Sure, they might attempt to invoke a sense in me that might make me agree, but it’s my agreement that’s the contingency here, not their persuasion.  Prior to this, the world had always been an obstacle.  My daughter, my job, my debt, my family, my friends.  My life.  All these things aren’t things you can really negotiate with directly.  I can’t go to my life and say “Hey, life, would you mind..?” .. sure, I could go to my daughter and ask her how she felt, but in her response, I’ll already be looking for something specific:  A reason not to go.

But guess what? When I made my mind up ahead of time that I was going, the conversation wasn’t a plea for permission, but a statement of acknowledgement and inclusion.  My daughter said she would miss me but it would be cool to visit.  My Mom said “Go do what you have to do!”  My friends supported me.  The hurdles that I had perceived for so long were gone.  In an instant, my social roadblocks were gone.

Then it simply became a matter of logistics and logistics can always reach the goal you want if you try and you follow the plan.

You may be wondering what this has to do with transformation.

Well, consider this: the moment I realized that, I changed for the better.  I transformed. But there’s more than that.  Because I was able to change my view, I was able to change my world.  Because I could change my world, I was able to change my view more.  The snowball effect is that the more I followed my heart and dreams, the more the world reacted to my doing so and either enabled it or got out of the way.  When I did encounter a direct challenge, I thought about it and resigned myself to accept what I could change with the tenacity of someone following their dreams (a powerful source of willpower), to be patient with the things I could not change, and trusting that all of my unknowns would present opportunities for solutions.

I never gave up on it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle.  I didn’t always resolve the problems that I needed to exactly when I wanted to.  I waited, and I watched, and I believed in myself.

These all sound like crappy Facebook memes, but I can honestly say that these basic fundamentals are what I followed and I can see now as I look back are what I did.  It isn’t like I intended on being a walking cliche.  It just so happens that how I reacted taught me the lessons that everyone had been saying.

That leads me to another idea of transformation.  Growth.

When our parents correct us, they often tell us the lesson.  Have any of us heeded what our parents said and learned the lesson through-and-through without life’s intervention? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say “hell no”.

We all learned the lessons life wanted to teach us, just as soon as life taught them.  We applied them to our parents’ words when they told us because life had taught them too.  When your parents say “Don’t touch that fire, it’ll burn you.” You didn’t believe them, you touched the fire, and you got burned.  And then you believed them, and then you didn’t touch the fire again.

It’s only when we abolish doubt that we can be certain.  

While it may be true that we didn’t heed the words of our parents about the fire, it’s also true that we can influence just how much doubt we have by employing faith.  I’m not talking about God-fearing, spiritual faith, but faith in ourselves and in our ability to do our best when the time comes to do it.  Faith is the abolishment of Doubt.

Whether it’s remembering the sting of the fire that removes doubt from the equation, or it’s accepting and trusting in myself and in the universes’ responses to the energies I put out, being free from doubt is the first step in accomplishing your dreams.

Doubt, by the way, is a sub-category emotion to the core emotion of Fear. 

And so, I close this with a simple statement that has proven itself to be true to me just as assuredly as that fire was hot.

Moving through life presently and fearlessly is the only true path to happiness and to your dreams.  Go scroll through Pinterest for all the memes you need, then when you’re ready, it’s time to let life teach you the lessons you need to learn along the path towards the life you want.  

Today’s the day to start, the path awaits.


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