Spontaneous Generation


Where does life come from?
Where Does Life Come From?

In the early days of Natural Philosophy some thought that life just happens. Where there is old meat, flies happen. Where rags are left in a corner, rats happen. Grain, weevils, &c. A naive teen might worry about a kiss making babies. Today we’re a little smarter: life has to come from somewhere, right? Where does life come from?

Where does our life come from? More to the point, where does our aliveness originate – our awareness, our skills, our mastery?

Life, and Mastery

There is an old story that Zhuang Tse told about a butcher who could cut an ox with the grace of a dancer. His blade never dulled, and his motions were fluid, never meeting any resistance. He “knew” just where to apply the edge as the meat fell away and the joints divided as if on their own. The Emperor watched him work, and learned how to rule his kingdom more effectively.

The Sage said that Butcher Ding’s spirit knew where to cut as he followed the Tao. His own tao knew the tao of that particular ox, so that there was no time spent in finding the right path to cut. This did not happen by some magic, but he had practiced his art for many years. His mind – whether seated behind his eyes, in his hands, or even in the cleaver which extended them – lived in the mastery of his craft. He was spontaneous. 

Spontaneous Living

We speak today of being spontaneous as if meant just doing what we feel like doing – following our heart, and that’s that. In truth, it’s pretty much the opposite. Butcher Ding couldn’t spontaneously prepare a feast when still an apprentice. Neither could a pianist perform a Liszt concerto without visible effort, but by the invisible effort in years of study and practice.

Mind, body, soul, and spirit – all that one is – learn to operate as one. One stroke at a time, one note at a time, one prayer, one breath at a time. This is what it takes to attain mastery, and to be mastered.

Learn From the Masters

The Tao of Prayer is a small book which highlights the teachings of sages throughout time to help us grasp what it means to master, and be mastered by the fullness of all life. Big claim for a small book? When you read it I think you’ll agree with the pre-readers that it stands up for it pretty well.


Breaking Free

Breaking Free. Free from what?

Breaking Free: free from what? Franz Kafka wrote a story which you may have “had to” read at some time in school. A man had committed himself to a demeaning job to support his poor parents and sister. He awakes one morning to find himself changed into an insect so immense he can barely get out of his bedroom door. No longer able to provide any money, his very existence becomes a terror, a burden, and a source of real embarrassment for them. Ironically (and what is life if not ironic?), Continue reading “Breaking Free”

Bigger on the Inside

An open heart is the key to self-knowledge. We are bigger on the inside.

How big is the universe? How big is the mind? How big is the human heart? Modern reasoning would tell us that the first is the largest, and the third the smallest. Is it, though, or might we be bigger on the inside? All the “secrets of the universe” are there to be analysed, categorised, and conveniently packaged by the human mind, so the mind must be greater. Likewise, the ancient sages, who have known the human heart most fully, tell us that the first step of prayer or meditation is to bring the mind into the heart. So, at least in potential, the greatest space in all of nature is the very center of our own being. You’re really bigger on the inside – the inner world, your own heart!

King David, of early-ancient Israel, wrote in a hymn of praise, “You have set my heart in a large place,” and, “You have enlarged my heart.” In the speech of that day wisdom was seen as having a large heart. Today, a friend is someone who has given us their heart, and we, ours, to them. First of all, in doing this we give that friend the gift of space, of the possibility to be truly him- or her-self, and as our hearts enlarge we discover our place in the universe, and its place in us.

The Buddha gave us lessons on how to be more mindful of the workings of our hearts. Lao Tse taught that the Tao, the way to enlightenment is found in all places. Zen teaching tells us we find that road we have found its destination. Jesus said, “the kingdom of Heaven is within you.”

So, the inner road is greater than any outward avenue. It is also harder find. This is the greatest frustration of our day. We  can find maps in drugstores, truck stops, and GPS apps on how to get from New Orleans to Timbuktu. Finding the Way  which leads to this Inner Kingdom remains a mystery to most of us. It’s not for lack of information. All kinds of such is out there. It’s just too confusing for many of us, though, when so many people publish maps, and none of them seem to agree. Some tell us our true destiny is a “self-discovery” that means nothing but embracing our own passions. Some take it further, and make it about business success or finding “true love.” Passions are just “what happens.” “True love” most often means finding someone who is willing to affirm us as we are. No change, no growth, no progress.

The Tao of Prayer is a guidebook to help us find, and follow, the real Way. Where the sages agree, they’ve got something. Where others insert throw in own opinions they lead us on side-roads to nowhere. This book follows the path of agreement – not just in what the map looks like, but how to follow it. Kind of like an ancient Waze to spiritual fulfillment. After all, we’re bigger on the inside!

The Stranger and the Friend

the stranger and the friend | what is a friend?

An old Irish saying translates for us as, “The hand of a stranger is the hand of God.” No meeting is without meaning. Everyone who comes into our lives brings some insight,  direction,  blessing, or way to give worship. As we learn to listen we find that no encounter is wasted. The stranger, and the friend.

At the same time, our lives quickly fill themselves with strangers, colleagues, and acquaintances. True friendship can come once in a lifetime. The affection of a true friendship is far beyond anything social, sexual, or even ideological. Aristotle said, true wisdom comes from affection.

As I write this I have over 3,000 “friends” on Facebook, about half that in “followers” on Twitter, and various more on other networks. Some of these are acquaintances, in real-life terms, and most I will never meet face-to-face. We think that electronic media make us more connected with others. Yet we find ourselves more isolated and deeply set in our own opinions. This kind of “engagement” tends only to self-certainty, spite, and every kind of fundamentalism. We not only fail to connect with others, but we risk keeping ourselves from ever discovering the sacred experience of true friendship. It’s no coincidence that the most-requested pop song in history sings, “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.”

William Shakespeare gives us the remedy for this:

“The friends thou hast, and their attention tried, grapple them to thy soul  with hoops of steel.”


Fully Human, Fully Flame

fully human fully flame. discover the possibilities of your own humanity

What Does this Mean?

Fully human, fully flame! Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office.” He went on, “I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ The old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.” This is what it means to be fully human, fully flame. Life as it is meant to be.

Without dealing with the realities behind this story, the principles are as bright as the flame. We live in a world, not only of illusion, but delusion. The illusion tells us that what we see, taste, touch, &c. is lasting, so, to attach ourselves to it as all there is. The delusion tells us that we are right in whatever we think. Together they block us from our humanity. One gives us a false picture of what it means to be human. The other tells us we can be no more than we are.

Uniquely Human!

To put it another way, the illusion tells us that we are merely so many random organisms. We eat, breathe, excrete, and reproduce more of the same. Not substantially different from birds or cockroaches.The delusion tells us that this is all there is, or can be.

If we look at history, really, of any effort we see this is not what is so. With study, we learn. We exercise, we get stronger. Our hope moves us ahead in life. A hundred years ago a steam locomotive could move at about 60 miles per hour (100 kph) and people thought that was cataclysmic. Now we have motorcycles racing across the salt flats at five times that and it hardly makes the news. You can think of five better examples in the course of a minute. So, fully human, fully flame. life as it is meant to be.

Becoming Fully Human!

Life is about growth. Growth is about becoming. Becoming smarter, stronger, and, ultimately, more fully human. Fully flame!

What does this look like? This is a question explored by some of the greatest minds in history. The Tao of Prayer is a small collection of their wisdom with personal stories and insights to help us along in our own discovery of these things.

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