Spontaneous Generation

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 our life come from? More to the point, where does our aliveness originate – our awareness, our skills, our 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. In watching him at work, the Emperor himself was instructed in how to rule his kingdom properly.

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. 

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.


Breaking Free

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”

Inner Space: The Final Frontier

One of the marks that speaks the loudest about our generation is the frenzy to define and control the environment around us. People clamor to “change the world,” to control even the weather, and push ever outward to find out what exists on other planets, or even the chemical make-up of faraway stars in distant galaxies. “We” focus our attention on all these things beyond our own selves, but what do we know of our selves?

We try to look strong, wise, and independent, but in whose eyes? What is strength, when we can’t control our own passions? Our bellies, or, our eyes, command us to take the shortest route to the refrigerator, the next exit with a burger joint, or the most enticing sexual interest  – are we so enslaved to our physical appetites? We grasp for the easiest conquest over others.  Does our pride have that much power over us? We seek to find out what is the smallest sub-particle in an atom, or the latest gossip in the entertainment world. Are we more than data storage units? We say we want independence, but from what, really? Are we more than our outward pride? Do we exist only to perfect our posing skills?

The most ancient sages of every culture reflect this one insight – that the human heart, the core of our being, is more expansive than the universe itself. It is deeper than any ocean trench, more complex than the finest study of physics, and broader than the very reaches of space-time, yet we have been taught to ignore it, to “pay no attention to the Man behind the curtain.” The Tao of Prayer invites us to explore and discover this frontier, and what it really means, what it costs, and what i really means to become truly,  fully Human, and Divine.


Three Dog Night sang in a great song some years ago, “How does your light shine in the halls of Shambala?” What is this place? What halls? What is Shambala? In short, from the earliest Indian and Tibetan traditions, we can interpret it as the City of Light, or the Kingdom of Heaven. Is this a place we can find on a map, or a place beyond all maps, even beyond our meaning of the word, “place?”  What are these “halls?”

Lao Tse says, “The Way that can be named is not the enduring Way.” Jesus famously said, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” Each of us is a “you,” so the path to this Kingdom is before each of us to travel. Do all arrive there? Are all traveling it, or are we sitting by the wayside wondering whether to bother with the Journey at all? What does it even mean to travel it at all? How does our light shine in those halls? Do we choose to travel the path to become all flame, or content ourselves with the shadows?

Being known

Our Western world has long emphasized knowledge—factual information and “proof”—over the process of being known by God and others. No wonder, then, that despite all our technological advancements and the proliferation of social media, we are more intra- and interpersonally isolated than ever. Yet it is only when we are known that we are positioned to become conduits of love. And it is love that transforms our minds, makes forgiveness possible, and weaves a community of disparate people into the tapestry of God’s family.


Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships

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